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Our Secret Moments

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Stood next to my friends, I should know you 

But given my luck, I'll run without thinking

And fall without blinking an eye

And I'm forced to bear witness

Like a fool that's just waiting in line. 

( Tobin - “Who Are You” by Aquilo)

But somehow I can't believe

That anything should happen

I know where I belong

And nothing's going to happen

(Christen - “She’s So High” by Tal Bachman)

 

Christen felt the soccer ball slip between her legs for the third time that day and she had to stifle a groan. This was not the start to her freshman season that she’d always envisioned.

Crystal dropped her hands to her knees and burst out laughing from her place a few feet away. “Should I serenade you with some High School Musical songs to help you get your head in the game, Pressy?” 

Christen rolled her eyes and retrieved the soccer ball from a few yards behind her. She kicked it back to Crystal with a little more oomph than necessary during their pre-game knock around.

“Dear Lord in Heaven, do not sing, Crystal. Please,” Megan pleaded, a horrified look on her face as she joined Crystal and Christen. “My ears have suffered enough today. I had to listen to Kelley’s whole life story on the bus ride over here.”

Crystal flicked the ball toward Megan, who trapped it with her chest and sent a volley towards Christen. Christen was quick to trap it and send it back to Megan. 

“Lots of life-changing events happened in Peachtree City, Megan,” Christen teased. Almost without permission, her eyes glanced over Crystal’s shoulder toward the reason she had been so distracted before, and the reason she was once again pulled away from her friends and their pre-game passing: Penn State’s Number 17. 

This girl, whoever she was, was captivating to watch. Christen hadn’t been able to look away from her for more than a few moments at a time, thus the multiple, embarrassing megs by Crystal. 

The girl, or as Christen had taken to calling her “Number 17,” walked zig-zag patterns around Penn State’s half of the field, keeping the soccer ball in the air with deft, soft touches. Oversized headphones covered her ears, her head bobbing to a song only she could hear. She was completely in her own world, unbothered by the other players around her. Her hair was up in a sloppy bun, her socks were bunched around her ankles, and her shin guards were slipping to the sides of her muscular calves with each step. Her legs were strong and smooth, and Christen let herself wish for a second that her own legs were that strong. She followed the brunette’s hands as they lifted into the air, clearly moving to the beat of whatever song was playing in her headphones. Her hands were thin but strong-looking, and her nails were painted a navy blue, like the rest of her teammates. Christen couldn’t help but wonder if the player had painted her own nails or had someone else on the team do it for her. Christen moved her eyes away from Number 17’s hands and up toward her face again, a grin pulling at the corner of her mouth at the way the Penn State player was sticking her tongue out in concentration. There was something completely adorable about her carefree but still focused demeanor. 

Christen’s eyes widened as the girl kicked the ball a bit higher in the air, bent over, and caught the ball between her shoulder blades. Christen watched as a goofy smile tugged on the girl’s face, and felt a matching smile threatening her own.

“Holy shiitake mushrooms, she’s good,” Megan’s comment drew Christen’s attention back to her friends. 

Crystal turned around, her eyes moving toward the same player that Christen and Megan were already staring at. 

“Well that’s not intimidating,” Crystal mumbled. 

“She’s just showing off. Anyone can learn tricks,” Christen asserted, straightening her shoulders and passing the ball toward Megan with her left foot. She only wished that she could believe her own words. 

True, anyone could learn tricks, but the girl her eyes kept drifting toward was not just showing off. It didn’t even seem like she could feel anyone watching her. She was just comfortable with the ball at her feet, safe in her own world. Christen had never felt safe or comfortable before one of her own games. She’d been anxious when her parents had taken her to her first day of soccer practice at age four, and the anxiety had only heightened with age. The stakes had simply gotten higher. She loved soccer, but she wasn’t naive enough to believe that a game didn’t have consequences. Playing well meant starting, and starting meant more opportunities to be noticed. 

Christen, Crystal, and Megan passed the ball between them a few more times until their coach called them over.

“All right, ladies! Bring it in!”

Christen’s stomach tightened as she jogged over to where Coach Foudy was organizing UCLA’s players for their warm-ups. As Christen stood on the edge of the huddle, her eyes drifted once more to Number 17, noticing the stupid way that she jogged toward Penn State’s coach, nutmegging her teammates on her way, her arms bouncing up and down at her sides, as if she were laughing.

“Press, you with us?” Coach Foudy asked.

Christen felt her cheeks heat up. She whipped her head around to look at her coach, her ponytail hitting Kelley in the face. 

“Jeez, tame the mane, Pressy,” Kelley grumbled. Christen ignored Kelley’s comment and met Coach Foudy’s gaze.

 “Sorry, Coach. I’m here.”

“You better be. This might just be a preseason game, but I expect us to go out there and compete like it’s the flipping National Championship game. Yeah?”

She was met by a chorus of excited murmurs from the UCLA players around the huddle. 

Megan, ever exuberant, threw her fist in the air and whooped, “You got it, Coach!” earning her a few chuckles and grins from the team. Even Coach Foudy cracked a smile. 

The team lined up for a dynamic warm-up. Christen willed herself to focus on the grass under her feet as she lunged and ran across the field. She knew two things about today’s game: one, she was a nervous wreck about starting. Her hands hadn’t stopped shaking since Coach Foudy announced her name in the locker room before warm-ups, and she was pretty sure her pre-game granola bar was going to come up at any minute. And two, Number 17 on Penn State’s team was a distraction she couldn’t afford. Not during her first collegiate game.  


Tobin slung her arm around ARod’s shoulders, her eyes sweeping over the tops of spectators’ heads. She knew her parents wouldn’t be in the stands, but she always liked to see how many people would actually choose to come to a collegiate game. Today, it was only a handful, but it was early days yet and the regular season hadn’t officially started. 

Tobin felt a finger poke into her side. 

“Pay attention, Tobs,” ARod hissed, her attention never leaving Coach Parlow.

Tobin tried to focus, she really did, but Coach Parlow was explaining, for the fourth time in two days, the “groundbreaking” defensive strategy she wanted to try out during today’s game. So, Tobin was finding it difficult to pay attention. She glanced down at Coach Parlow’s watch and found herself wishing she’d eaten a second bagel that morning to tide her over until after the game. 

That thought about a second bagel carried Tobin through the dynamic warm-up, possession drill, and shooting practice. But as it got closer and closer to game time, as Tobin put on the Penn State jersey for the first time, her thoughts moved toward more important things: soccer and kicking some UCLA ass. Oh, and making Allie Long cry. She still needed to get Allie back for pranking her at the U.S. U-17 camp last month, and megging her during the game today seemed like the best form of revenge. 

Tobin jogged towards the center circle, joining ARod, Alex, Lauren, and Moe in a small huddle. ARod looked around the group, a large smile on her face. “Baby Horse, Tobs. I know this is your first game, but don’t play scared. You both belong on this field with us. Now let’s show those Bruins what we’re made of!”

Tobin stepped out of the huddle with a grin on her face. She knew she belonged here, on this field, playing the sport she loved. Soccer was the only thing that had ever made sense to her. She was ready.

Lauren ruffled Tobin’s hair and backed away towards the other midfielders. 

“Have some fun today, Tobito.”

“Make good choices, Lo,” Tobin fired back as she made her way to the halfway line. As the referee handed the ball to a UCLA player for kickoff, Tobin took a second to look around the field, immortalizing this moment in her mind. She’d never have a first college soccer game again, she wanted to remember everything about it. The way one of the UCLA forwards with short, spiky, pink hair seemed to ooze bravado and confidence, even if she’d forgotten to lace up her left cleat. The way her Penn State teammates jumped around in place, looking loose and relaxed and ready. The way --

All coherent thought in Tobin’s brain lapsed as her eyes landed on the UCLA player standing directly across the halfway line from her. The first thing she noticed was her green eyes. Green eyes met Tobin’s brown for what felt like minutes but in actuality were mere seconds before the UCLA forward glanced down at the grass. Her hair was slicked back into a tight ponytail, only a couple strands of baby hair resting in front of her ears and along her forehead. Tobin wished that she’d glance up again, missing the eye contact as soon as it had ended. She glanced down to her shorts and read the number 23, repeating the number over and over in her head as if she needed to memorize it before the game started and her brain focused on the ball and not the dark-haired player in front of her. She was perhaps the most beautiful person Tobin had ever seen, and Tobin wanted to take in every detail that she could. Number 23 had a sharp jaw and cheekbones, strong legs that contrasted with slim ankles and hands. Her hands were shaking, and Tobin felt an urge to walk across the field and take her hands in her own just to stop them. 

The UCLA forward with shaking hands took a deep breath, her chest and shoulders rising with the intake of oxygen. She lifted her face, those green eyes meeting Tobin’s once again before they lifted up to the sky. Her face, pointed upward now, seemed to be soaking up sun rays, like some sort of plant or flower. Her eyelashes fluttered as she closed her eyes, and a smile spread out across her face. Tobin’s breath caught in her throat at the sight. She looked so peaceful, and Tobin was struck with two simultaneous desires: one, to stand rooted to her spot on the field and watch Number 23 for as long as she could, and two, to walk toward her and trace her fingers over her cheekbones and down her neck, memorizing every single thing about her. 

The referee blew her whistle, jolting Tobin out of her thoughts. As quickly as Tobin had noticed her, the UCLA forward was gone, sprinting down the field past Tobin and blending into the mass of white and royal blue jerseys. 

“Who are you?” Tobin mumbled to herself before sprinting after the ball. 


Christen looked up at the scoreboard, contemplating taking a picture to send to her parents, but opting not to, knowing they’d probably watched the game online. 

“Good game,” Penn State’s Number 3 held her hand out for Christen to shake. 

“You too,” Christen smiled. 

She walked across the field, shaking hands with the Penn State players she passed along the way, searching for one in particular. Not seeing Number 17 anywhere, Christen sighed and returned to the sideline. She collapsed into the grass, feeling the familiar ache in her muscles after a long game. 

She’d played the whole 90 minutes, and notched two of UCLA’s four goals. It was as if she’d hit a new gear, some level she never even knew she had inside of her. Her coaches and the upperclassmen on the team had told her to feel proud about her performance today, and Christen was starting to feel like maybe she could be. 

A small carton of chocolate milk landed in Christen’s lap. Christen looked up and saw Kelley dramatically throw herself down on the ground by her side. Kelley groaned, her face pressed into the grass.

“I hurt. Everywhere.”

Christen chuckled and opened the chocolate milk, taking a long drink before patting Kelley on the back.

“You did good today, Kel.”

Another long, dramatic groan.

“Thanks to that dumb left-winger, my legs are gonna fall off. I’ll never move from this spot.”

“Food’s waiting for us back at the hotel, bitches! Leggo!” the junior goalkeeper, Ashlyn, yelled.

Kelley suddenly popped up, her moaning and groaning abandoned in favor of food.

“Food?” Kelley repeated, her eyes alight with excitement.

Christen laughed once more, watching Kelley sprint after Ashlyn, her legs surprisingly recovered from their game. Christen took her time shedding her cleats and shinguards, finding solace in the quiet post-game moments. She had always loved how she felt after playing a great game. Like all of the preparation and anxiety and pressure had been worth it. Sinking into that feeling, Christen looked back up at the field. 

A pair of players, one in a white jersey and one in UCLA’s royal blue, stood in the far corner of the field. Christen realized one of them was her teammate Allie Long, a talented and hilarious sophomore with a killer shot, but the other…

Christen gasped softly when she caught sight of the “17” on the back of the white, Penn State jersey. Even though her back was turned, Christen could imagine the smile that was spreading across her face. Her messy bun was bouncing, as though she were nodding to whatever Allie was saying. Allie’s fingers were loosely intertwined with the Penn State player’s, their hands swinging softly between them. There was an intimacy, a familiarity, that made Christen feel like she should look away and give them privacy. She couldn’t. Christen’s throat felt dry, and her stomach clenched again like it was the beginning of the game, not the celebration of a win. She could hear her pulse in her ears, and her hands felt clammy against the milk carton that she was holding. 

“Are you jealous? Jeez, pull it together, Press,” she thought to herself. 

She’d only felt this way a few times before. First, in kindergarten when Randall Anderson had taken her favorite toy from her cubby and played with it all recess. Second, when she’d lacked the courage to ask Amanda Jackson to the sophomore dance in high school and had to watch her dance with Brian Daniels. Third, when she was fifteen and Sandra Mathis was chosen to start for their hometown soccer club, The SoCal Blues, instead of Christen. And most recently, when she’d seen her longtime friend and senior year crush, Martha Jacobs, get engaged to Harris Manes right after their high school graduation. She hadn’t felt jealous much, mostly because she was too busy to be jealous. 

Number 17 was definitely not someone she wanted to feel any feelings toward, especially not jealousy. She couldn’t deny that she was impressed by the player. She also wouldn’t lie and say the player was sore on the eyes. Number 17 was fit and carefree, not put together but not sloppy, in an adorable kind of way. She looked strong and sturdy, dependable, but also sweet and- “You need to leave now. Pick up your cleats and move out,” Christen thought to herself again. She stood, barefooted, her milk in one hand, her cleats in the other, and her shin guards and socks under her arm. She walked slowly toward the locker room, willing herself to look ahead and failing miserably. She glanced back up to see Allie hug Number 17, the two embracing tightly. 

“I love you, Harry!” Number 17 yelled, as Allie jogged over toward Christen. 

Christen quickened her pace, hoping that Allie wouldn’t catch up, having possibly noticed her staring. 

“I love you too!” she heard Allie shout before stepping out of the sunlight and into the tunnel, reaching her hand out for the locker room door. 


Tobin hated the quiet that came after losing. She especially hated it when she was the reason her team lost. She’d cost them the game, and she knew it. Everyone knew it.

With a shake of her head, Tobin kicked off her slides and threw her towel onto the small table next to the ice bath. She hopped in quickly, hoping the abrupt immersion into the freezing cold water would chase away those spiraling, negative thoughts. But after flipping on some Aquilo on Spotify and shutting her eyes, Tobin knew she was shit out of luck. Those thoughts just got louder and dragged her deeper into the muck.

She’d played well today. Not great, definitely not her best. Sure, she’d scored one of their goals, and assisted the other two. But all of that meant nothing because she’d missed when her team needed her not to miss. 

There had been a free-kick in the 88th minute. A UCLA defender, some hot-headed outside back Tobin thought they called Kira or Kiki, had tackled ARod at the edge of the eighteen-yard box. Thankfully ARod had been okay and had let Tobin take the kick. Free-kicks were Tobin’s bread and butter. A hundred times out of a hundred, Tobin would curl the ball into the upper ninety from that spot. She’d done it in practice, in club games, in high school. She’d done it since she first learned how to bend it like Beckham. But today, Tobin realized her one hundred out of a hundred mentality failed to factor in one thing: Number 23 on UCLA.

The gorgeous, green-eyed striker had been placed in the wall the UCLA goalkeeper set up between Tobin and the goal. Her green eyes had burned with intensity, and for a moment, Tobin had thought about those eyes, staring at her with that same intensity, just in a very very different scenario. She’d shaken her head quickly, trying to shake away any thoughts of the dark-haired forward underneath her, her hair spread out across Tobin’s pillow - 

“Shit. Focus,” Tobin had chastised herself before placing the ball on the spot designated by the referee and taking a few steps back. She’d taken a deep breath, one that she hadn’t needed since she was seven years old and taking her first free-kick during a game. Number 23’s eyes narrowed, her forehead shining with sweat and her jersey clinging slightly to her stomach. Her shorts were pulled up on her right thigh and - 

“Tobin Powell Heath, we didn’t make it all the way here to objectify an opponent!” Tobin turned around and swung her arms back and forth, needing to look away from Number 23, causing ARod to stare at her in obvious confusion. Tobin gave ARod a thumbs up before taking her place behind the ball and looking toward the goal. She probably would have fared better if she’d looked at the ground while trying to score. Instead of aiming for the goal, Tobin’s line of sight was interrupted by the dark-haired UCLA player and the soft smile that graced her lips. The ball flew acres above the goal, not even coming close to hitting its mark. “Was that a smirk?” Tobin thought to herself as Number 23 jogged past her across the field. 

“Rotten luck, dude,” Lauren squeezed Tobin’s shoulders, a sad smile on her lips. 

It wasn’t rotten luck, though, and Tobin knew that. Lauren was just trying to comfort her. She knew she’d messed up. She was the reason that UCLA was still up by a goal. The last time she’d completely sent a ball skyward was during a club game when she was eleven years old, in the middle of a growth spurt, and completely confused about her body’s new proportions. She was nineteen now, and apparently easily distracted by a pretty girl.

Tobin was brought out of her thoughts by the timer on her phone going off. Ten minutes submerged in the ice bath passed quickly when she spent it reliving her costly mistake. Tobin lingered for a moment in the water, letting the numbness in her legs and hips spread through the rest of her body.

“You’re better than what happened today. Don’t get distracted again.”

With that reminder for herself, Tobin got out of the ice bath, ready to put Number 23 out of her mind and move on. 


“What did I do?” Crystal asked from her seat against the bus window.

“Nothing. I just want to sit with Allie on the way to the hotel. Team bonding or whatever. Plus this way, Pinoe can get away from Kelley and sit with you instead,” Christen shrugged, gathering her hoodie, headphones, and book from her original bus seat. 

“YES!” Megan shouted from her seat, scrambling away from Kelley and slipping in next to Crystal. 

“All of you suck!” Kelley grumbled, popcorn falling out of her mouth and onto her lap. 

Christen laughed and trudged down the aisle toward Allie’s empty seat. No one sat with Allie that morning, leaving the sophomore with two seats to stretch across, and Christen was determined to grab the extra seat and talk to Allie. She wasn’t entirely sure what kind of information she’d get out of her, but she couldn’t help but feel curious about Number 17 and Allie’s relationship with her. Christen slipped past the aisle seat and settled in against the window, making herself busy with her phone while she waited for the rest of her teammates to get on the bus. 

“Well, well well, hey there new bus buddy,” Allie grinned down at Christen, immediately collapsing into her seat, her hair still wet from a quick shower. 

“Hey,” Christen replied, all of a sudden feeling nervous about having any kind of conversation with the blonde. She considered chickening out, returning to the safety of Crystal, or even opting to suffer beside Kelley and her aggressive popcorn eating, but Allie had her boxed in. There was no escape now.

“You better watch out. If you sit here and mess with the mojo on the bus, you might be stuck with me for the rest of the year,” Allie teased. She pulled a package of gummy bears out of her backpack and opened her phone to look at a few texts that she’d gotten during the game. “You did really well today, Press,” she mumbled through a mouthful of gummies. 

“Thanks. You too,” Christen blushed. 

“Want one?” Allie offered, tilting the bag of gummy bears toward Christen. 

“No thanks.” Christen started to fidget, drumming her fingertips along her thighs. Her nerves were out of control now. Pretty soon, they would take over and cause her to do something drastic - 

“Do you know people on the Penn State team?” Christen blurted, fighting off an embarrassed blush. Drastic, it seemed, was an understatement. 

“Huh?” Allie asked, her eyes leaving her phone screen and focusing on Christen.

“Oh, um...all of the upperclassmen just seem to know everyone who plays soccer, even at other schools. I was just wondering if you knew any of the people we just beat?” Christen replied, her words coming out in a hurried rush. 

“I mean we know a lot of people at other schools, just from playing against them last year. It isn’t like we’re best friends or anything. We just know of them.”

That was a good answer. A clear answer. Christen should have just left it at that. But she couldn't. She wanted to know more. She needed to. 

“How do you know Number 17?” Christen asked, cringing at her straightforwardness. There was nothing subtle about this question either. Thankfully, Allie seemed unfazed.  

“Oh, that’s Harry. I mean Tobin. She’s a good friend.” 

“Tobin. Tobin. Tobin.” Christen thought to herself, letting Tobin’s name roll around in her mouth and rest against her tongue. 

“We met at U-14 camp when we were little dorks.” Allie’s face completely lit up when she spoke about Tobin, and Christen couldn’t help but wonder what kind of relationship Allie really had with Tobin, whether they were more than just good friends. The thought caused a white-hot flicker of jealousy to flame in Christen’s chest.   

“Why do you ask?” Allie questioned, her head tilting and her eyebrow quirking up. 

Christen’s eyes widened as she racked her brain for a reason, any reason at all, why she’d peppered Allie with these kinds of questions. Something that would explain her curiosity, but throw Allie off the scent of her intrigue. The last thing she needed was for Allie to know about her...interest in Tobin. Interest that stemmed from professional admiration, of course. Nothing more. 

“Oh…right…” Christen began, willing herself to come up with something. Anything. 

Suddenly, Christen found exactly what she was looking for. With a hopefully convincing smile, she added, “Kelley said that Number 17, I mean, Tobin made her legs feel like they were gonna fall off. So I just wanted to know who exactly I needed to thank for tiring Kelley out for the rest of the night.”

Allie laughed and looked back down at her phone, seeming to have bought Christen’s lie. Christen sighed, leaning back into her seat. 

“Harry, Harry, Harry. She’s a good egg,” Allie mumbled before shoving a few more gummy bears into her mouth. 

Christen looked out the window, deciding not to open that can of worms and question the name Harry. 

“Tobin… Tobin what?” Christen thought to herself. “There can’t be that many Tobins in the world, let alone Tobins who went to the U-14 camp with Allie. Thank God for Google,” Christen sighed, resigning herself to Googling Tobin in the safety of her own dorm room when the team got back to UCLA the next night. 

The bus hummed to a start, the engine vibrating against the bottom of Christen’s sneakers. She twisted in her seat when she heard a group of girls laughing, worrying for a moment that a couple of her teammates had been left behind. Instead, outside the bus, she saw Tobin sandwiched between two of her teammates. The three girls were laughing, dressed in only sports bras and towels, having presumably soaked in an ice bath after the game. 

Christen’s mouth ran dry as she watched Tobin’s abs clench with every laugh she let out. She shouldn’t have been staring, she really shouldn’t have. But she couldn’t stop herself. Christen’s eyes traveled across previously-covered tanned skin, inadvertently dropping to where the towel sat low on her hips. 

Christen subconsciously wet her lips and looked to Tobin’s face, which was a mistake, of course, because now Tobin’s hair was down and framing her face perfectly. Her soft waves looked effortless, and Christen’s fingers itched to reach out and brush a few strands behind her ear. 

Much too soon, the bus started to pull out of the parking lot and away from Tobin. The brunette disappeared from Christen’s view when the bus turned a corner, and Christen felt a sigh escape her. She knew she was going to have trouble getting Tobin out of her mind after the game, but now...she was going to have to get a shirtless, six-pack-owning Tobin out of her mind too. 

Christen had an inkling that forgetting Tobin was going to be impossible.

Chapter Text

And I watch from a distance seventeen

And I’m short of the others’ dreams of being golden and on top

It’s not what you painted in my head

There’s so much there instead of all the colors that I saw

(Tobin - “Dream” by Imagine Dragons)

 

7 in the afternoon, half-asleep, count the cars

All I think about is you constantly, that's the hard part

Static on the line, I hear it all the time

But I'm quiet when you make me fade

(Christen - “Make Me Fade” by K.Flay)

 

All Tobin could see was darkness. It stretched on for miles, in every direction. She turned around in circles, over and over again, searching the inky blackness for any sign as to where she was or what she was doing here. But the unending darkness was unyielding. It made Tobin’s skin crawl, her heart racing and her breaths coming in short, worried pants.

Suddenly, the uneasy silence around Tobin was broken up by a hiss of electricity. Tobin’s head lifted up, eyes searching for the cause of the noise. She saw tall stadium lights turn on, illuminating her surroundings. She spied green grass, brilliant white lines, and soccer goals on either end of the field. A relieved sigh left her lips as she realized where she was -- Penn State’s Soccer Stadium. 

But she wasn’t alone. 

Tobin’s brow knitted in confusion as she saw UCLA’s Number 23 jog onto the field, coming to a stop a few feet away from her. Her hands were on her hips and she had a small smirk on her face. It was the same smirk that she’d given Tobin right before she missed the free-kick. It made Tobin’s blood boil.

“What are you doing here?” Tobin asked, unable to keep the confusion out of her voice.

The green-eyed girl shrugged and pointed toward Tobin’s feet. Tobin looked down and realized she now had her cleats on, a soccer ball in front of her left foot. The girl waggled her brows in a challenge and motioned for Tobin to dribble at her. 

Who was Tobin to deny her? Tobin danced circles around the girl, the soccer ball all but glued to her feet. Number 23 seemed content to play defense, keeping Tobin on her toes with a lunge or an attempted tackle, but never actually stealing the ball. 

Tobin didn’t know how long they played for. The sky overhead remained as dark as ever, with no stars freckling it or hints of the rising sun. They must have been at it for hours because Tobin’s throat felt raw and she found herself gulping down air, wishing for a glass of water or a Gatorade to chug. Her hair was damp against the back of her neck, and her jersey stuck to her stomach and back. She was starting to tire, her muscles twinging and twitching with every step over or rainbow she attempted in an effort to get past Number 23 and get a shot on goal.

When Tobin’s foot slipped over the soccer ball and she sent it further to the right than she’d anticipated, Number 23 pounced. The girl pulled the soccer ball away from Tobin’s feet. Her green eyes glowed under the stadium lights, full of playful mirth as she took off towards the opposite goal. Tobin sprinted after Number 23, completely in awe of her long legs that carried the dark-haired player across the field at a blistering pace. Tobin couldn’t even get close enough to reach out for the edge of her jersey before the UCLA forward was flicking the ball into the back of the net and spinning around, her hands held up to the sky in celebration. The celebration should have annoyed Tobin. It should have made her burn with agitation, but instead, she found herself smiling at the outstretched arms and huge grin on Number 23’s face. Her green eyes focused on Tobin’s once more, her competitive smirk replaced with a soft smile. Both girls were breathing heavily, their breath collecting between them in soft huffs. 

“Nice shot,” Tobin whispered, wishing that she could reach out and hold onto the other girl’s hand, longing to step forward and wrap her arms around her in celebration of her goal. 

The green-eyed girl just stayed quiet, her eyes moving across Tobin’s face, from her eyes to her lips and along her jaw. Her hand reached out, and for a moment, Tobin wondered if she was going to touch her, but instead, Number 23 pulled her hand back and ran her fingers through her own hair. 

“Who are you?” Tobin choked out, desperate for an answer. She wanted more than just her name. She wanted to know everything about her. 

The striker’s green eyes brightened and a larger smile broke out across her face. Number 23 opened her mouth, presumably to respond--

CRASH!

“Shit!” 

“Huh?” Tobin shot up in bed, her hair plastered to her forehead and the sheets tangled around her legs. 

“Sorry, Tobs,” Alex whispered from across the room. 

“What are you doing?” Tobin asked, her voice cracking.

“I didn’t want to turn the light on and wake you up. I just had to pee,” Alex shuffled across the room, picking up the water bottles and textbooks that she had knocked over in the dark. 

Tobin fell back against her pillow, letting frustration wash over her body. She couldn’t be mad at Alex for being her typical, clumsy self. She also couldn’t complain that she’d been woken up from a dream featuring UCLA’s Number 23. If she did, she’d be setting herself up to be teased for the rest of her Penn State career, maybe even the rest of her life. 

Tobin pulled the sheets back up her body, feeling suddenly chilly with her fan blowing right on her. She closed her eyes, wishing simultaneously that she could rejoin the forward in their dream world and also forget she existed at all.

Despite her best efforts, Tobin hadn’t been able to put Number 23 out of her mind. Her ice bath and dinner with ARod, Lauren, Alex, and Lindsey hadn’t helped her forget, even if her friends had been somewhat entertaining. Her brain had felt foggy during the entire dinner, and she hadn’t been able to eat more than half of her pasta and a few forkfuls of salad, despite having daydreamed about bagels the entire day. 

“Dude, did you leave your head in the locker room?” Lindsey laughed, knocking her shoulder into Tobin’s. 

“I left it on the field, staring at Number 23,” Tobin thought. But she couldn’t admit to that, so instead, she responded with, “Nah. I’m just exhausted.” That seemed to satisfy Lindsey, who proceeded to dive into a story about how she almost skipped coming to college to go pro in France.

Tobin was only half-listening, stabbing at another piece of lettuce, watching as the leaf slipped off her fork and landed in a pool of salad dressing that had gathered at the center of her plate. She’d ditched her friends soon after that and returned to the dorms early, hoping to find some solace from her thoughts about the UCLA forward while she slept. But even in her dreams, she hadn’t been safe.

She heard Alex tip-toe back into the room, her efforts to remain silent in vain. Once Tobin was up, she was up. There wouldn’t be any sleep happening anymore. So, Tobin resigned herself to be productive now that she was awake. Tobin waited until she heard Alex’s breathing even out before slipping out from beneath her sheets. Tobin slid on a pair of sneakers, grabbed a sweatshirt, a soccer ball, and her cleats, and headed out of the dorms.

Campus was quiet this early in the morning. It was a little after four AM on a Saturday, so there was nobody else out and about as Tobin headed to the practice fields. She made quick work of hopping the fence and then putting on her cleats. She dribbled the ball towards the eighteen-yard box, searching for the spot she’d taken the free-kick from in yesterday’s game. Once she found it, Tobin reached down for the soccer ball and gently placed it in the grass, moving it back and forth over the blades. She was looking for that sweet spot, where the ball would almost float on top of the grass. It took her a few tries, but then she found it. Tobin smiled as she left the ball perfectly situated in the grass and then stood up, moving a few steps backward.

Tobin looked up toward the goal and found herself momentarily disappointed that her view wasn’t obstructed by a certain dark-haired forward. She shook those thoughts from her head, refocusing on the task at hand. 

One deep breath, then another, and then Tobin was ready. She sprang towards the ball, taking three short steps and striking the ball with the inside of her right foot. The ball curled toward the goal, sinking into the top corner. A picture-perfect shot.

“Gooooooooal!” Tobin cheered, running a few feet forward, jumping into the air, and throwing her fists up in celebration. As she smiled, eyes on the ball sitting in the goal, Tobin couldn’t ignore the fleeting thought that echoed through her mind. She wished that Number 23 had been here to see her score, to celebrate with her. It left Tobin with an odd sort of pit in her stomach.

Tobin had never minded being alone on the soccer field before. In fact, she often preferred it that way, so she could practice new moves and fresh footwork without prying eyes or judgemental stares. She was good on her own.

But for the first time in maybe her entire life, Tobin didn’t want to be alone on the field.


Christen pinched the bridge of her nose, feeling the makings of a migraine looming.  

She’d been staring at her computer screen for an embarrassingly long time. A quick check of her wristwatch told Christen it had been about 2 hours since she’d gotten back to her room. 

After landing at LAX after their cross-country flight from State College, Pennsylvania, Christen had hurried back to the dorm she shared with Crystal and Megan. They had a suite that consisted of three, tiny single bedrooms, a living space with a couch, hardly big enough for the three of them to enjoy at the same time, and a small kitchenette. It was small, but having Crystal and Megan as roommates made Christen feel at home in the still relatively new surroundings. Normally, the three roommates had an open-door policy, each of them leaving their bedroom doors wide open so that they could easily see each other and socialize from anywhere in the suite. However, after the three of them had unloaded their bags into their bedrooms, Christen had encouraged Crystal and Megan to go to dinner without her, claiming a bit of a stomach ache and expressing the need for an early bedtime. 

She hadn’t completely lied to her roommates. Her stomach was feeling weird. Butterflies had been fluttering along the sides of her stomach since the game the day before in Pennsylvania. Her fingers had been itching to Google search Tobin at the hotel, but she’d forced herself to wait, knowing that Kelley or Megan would most likely sneak a peek at her computer or phone and tease her for the rest of her life. So, instead of team dinner, Christen had chosen to shut her bedroom door and curl up in her bed with her computer, typing phrases like Tobin U-14 Soccer Player or Allie Long and Tobin U.S. Soccer U-14 Camp or Tobin Penn State Soccer Forward, into the search bar. 

It was surprisingly easy to find the Penn State forward. Like Christen had expected, there were hardly any other Tobins worth Googling. She’d scrolled past a couple of Facebook links to men named Tobin in the LA area and a link to the BabyNames.com meaning for the name Tobin before finding the girl she couldn’t get out of her head: Up and Coming U.S. Soccer Star: Tobin Heath. The article was from a local paper in Morristown, New Jersey.

“Tobin Heath,” Christen whispered as she read, letting the forward’s name slip out of her mouth. It felt easy to say her name. It rolled off her tongue as if she’d already said it a million times. Tobin’s name tasted sweet and Christen found herself mumbling it every so often as she read. 

She only meant to skim the article once, maybe twice. But Christen couldn’t stop herself from reading it a couple of times, smiling at the description of Tobin as a young, carefree but incredibly talented soccer player. She’d been able to see that clearly on the field yesterday, without even interacting with her. Tobin’s mom was quoted at the end of the article, “We never had to tell her to practice when she was growing up. She just always wanted to. She loves it.” That much has been obvious as well yesterday. Tobin’s love for the game shone in every pass, every touch, and every word of encouragement she said to her teammates. 

After only ninety minutes on the field together, Christen was sure she’d never met anyone who loved soccer as much as Tobin did. 

Christen exited the article and returned to Google again, finding a few more articles about the U-14 camp, nothing really quite as detailed or Tobin-oriented as the Morristown newspaper article. 

She switched over to YouTube, hoping that there was more information on Tobin, or at least the U-14 camp that she’d attended with Allie. She wasn’t as lucky there either. Of course, she could see some of the U-14 practices and scrimmages on YouTube, but Tobin hadn’t really been a ham for the camera. Christen could pinpoint her by the way that she wore her hair in a messy bun and her socks on her ankles, but Tobin seemed to avoid the camera at all costs. Allie, on the other hand, loved the camera, winking and waving at it. Christen could see that nothing had changed much for Allie in the last few years, she was still the center of attention.

After her fifth YouTube video, Christen started to feel a bit strange. This was stalker-level behavior and she certainly was not that. She was merely intrigued. Some might go so far as to say bordering on fascinated. But that was all. It was strictly a professional curiosity. Coach Foudy had told them that knowing their opponents made them easier to beat. So that’s what she was doing - knowing and studying. 

Yet, Christen knew there was a bit more to it than that. There was just something about Tobin Heath that called out to Christen and made her impossible to ignore. 

Christen closed out of YouTube and knew exactly where she wanted to go next to continue her trip down the Tobin Heath rabbit hole. Her fingers twitched slightly, itching to open the desired app. Instead, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, her hands stilling at her sides. “Google and YouTube you can explain away, but if you open this app, there’s no going back,” Christen said to herself. With a frustrated huff, she closed her tabs and shut her computer. It was time to call it a night and put an end to this hours-long, semi-stalk session. 

Christen stretched her arms above her head and let out a long groan, feeling more than just the exhaustion from a long game and travel day in her muscles. She would need to stop in and see the team’s trainer, Alicia, before training tomorrow. It was too early in the season to take any chances. 

Abandoning her computer on her bedside table, Christen turned her light off and pulled her thick duvet cover up to her chin. She willed her mind to clear, hoping her racing thoughts would quiet down and she would be lulled to sleep despite her sore muscles and aching head. As luck would have it, though, the name Tobin Heath swam through her head with such force that she knew sleep would evade her until she searched for Tobin on one last app. 

Christen rolled over and grabbed her phone. She quickly opened Instagram, ignoring the little voice of reason in her head telling her to stop. Her fingers moved softly across her phone screen, typing Tobin Heath into the search bar. Christen was so engrossed with her search, that she failed to register the sounds of her roommates walking into the living room, Crystal laughing at one of Megan’s jokes. 

The results page held only one account - Tobin Heath (@tobito17). The small circle icon held a photo of Tobin that Christen was sure was meant to be a somewhat professional, college soccer headshot. Tobin was wearing Penn State’s navy jersey, her hair in loose waves dropping past her shoulders. She had the lightest dusting of make-up on her face, nothing too over the top. But instead of a serious look or even a shining smile, Tobin was winking at the camera, her tongue sticking out of the side of her mouth as she held up a shaka sign with her left hand. Christen rolled her eyes. It wasn’t fair how good Tobin looked while she was goofing off.  

Christen sat up a bit straighter when she realized Tobin’s profile was public. With shaky fingers, she clicked on the profile. Tobin’s bio was short and to the point, and Christen expected nothing less. It simply read: Every day is leg day when you’re running away from your problems. Penn State WSOC #17

“Pressy! We know you’re awake in there!” Megan sing-songed, knocking firmly on Christen’s closed door. 

Christen squeaked, her phone dropping out of her hands and into her lap. She rushed to get up, pushing the three layers of warm covers off of her. She lunged out of bed, her left leg getting tangled in a bedsheet and causing her to hit the floor with a thud.

“Christen, what’s going on?” Crystal asked from the other side of the door, a hint of worry in her voice. 

“No-Nothing. I’m fine!” Christen called, getting to her feet and reaching her hand toward the doorknob, unlocking the door, and pulling the door open. Her hair fluttered away from her face with the force of opening the door. Christen fixed her roommates with a look that hopefully exuded a sense of calm.  

Megan saw right past it, noticing Christen’s blushing cheeks immediately. 

“Were we interrupting something? Oh mah gawd were you getting yourself off, Pressy?!” Megan laughed, poking Christen’s arm. 

“NO!” Christen flushed again, a deeper red than she ever had before. 

“Yeah, yeah, likely story. Why else would you break our open-door policy?” Megan asked, pushing past Christen and flinging herself onto Christen’s bed. 

“Pinoe, please-”

“We brought you dinner just in case you were hungry,” Crystal interrupted, holding a to-go box up to Christen. Crystal’s eyes screamed, “I’m sorry about her.” Christen simply smiled, waving her off.

The food in the box smelled delicious, and Christen’s stomach grumbled automatically. “Traitor,” she silently scolded her stomach before taking the box and putting it on her desk. 

“Thanks, Crystal. I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”

Megan’s head perked up and she fixed Christen with an offended look. “What about me? All you’d have gotten was kale and unseasoned chicken if Crystal had been in charge.”

“And if you’d been in charge, we would have ended up at Tito’s Taco truck off-campus,” Crystal replied, leaning against the doorframe of Christen’s room. 

Megan stuck her tongue out at Crystal and flopped back down on Christen’s bed, “You say that like it’s a bad thing. Ugh, now I want tacos. Crystal what did you dooooo?”

Christen laughed as she opened up the to-go box and spied some mac and cheese in there. She smiled up at Megan in gratitude.

“Have I told you lately that I love you?” 

Megan stuck both arms in the air and gave Christen two thumbs up. “You love me so much we’ll get tacos tomorrow?”

“Fine,” Christen replied just as Crystal said, “Absolutely not.”

The three friends dissolved into laughter. Christen sat down at her desk, letting herself become completely occupied by the smell of dinner and her eager appetite. Her focus was wholly on the food in front of her, just barely listening to Megan’s ridiculous story about almost getting into a fistfight with a women’s basketball player over the last chocolate chip cookie at the dining hall. 

Ever since Megan and Crystal had shown up, Christen was no longer thinking about Tobin Heath, her effortless beauty, or the fact that Tobin’s Instagram profile was on her phone buried somewhere under the duvet. Tobin was out of sight and out of mind. 

Christen’s mouth was full of a cheesy bite of mac and cheese when she heard Megan yell, “Christen Press! You dog!”

Christen whipped around in her chair, her hair nearly landing in her to-go container. She was met by the sight of her pink-haired roommate holding her phone, a shit-eating grin on her face.

“Megan, I swear to God,” Christen growled. “How do you even know my password?”

“It’s literally 1-2-3-4, Press. I’ve cracked more difficult codes,” Megan rolled her eyes.

Christen dropped her face into her hands, feeling her cheeks burn. “I hate you,” she grumbled. 

Megan completely ignored Christen, instead choosing to zoom in on one of Tobin’s pictures. “Daaaamn, this is the sexy and talented forward that you eye-fucked at Penn State yesterday!” Megan screamed.

“Keep your voice down,” Christen hissed.

“You eye-fucked someone?” Crystal asked, dropping down onto Christen’s bed next to Megan.

“I did no such thing!” Christen defended herself. 

“You so did. I saw your face. Those eyes were literally moving all over her body during warm-ups,” Megan smirked. 

“She’s a talented player. I was admiring her skill,” Christen said, standing up from her chair and placing her hands on her hips. This was exactly what she hadn't wanted to happen. She’d specifically waited to search for Tobin Heath in the safety of her own room, and Megan had completely ruined that. 

“A talented player. Mhm, yeah. That’s all,” Megan rolled her eyes. She scrolled through Tobin’s Instagram, looking at each picture, and it took all of Christen’s strength not to tell both of her roommates to get out and leave her alone. 

“She’s got a great ass,” Megan objectified. 

“Let me see,” Crystal laughed, reaching her hand out for the phone. 

Christen leaped forward, wrapping her right hand around the phone and her left hand around Megan’s arm. 

“Pinoe, let go!” Christen yelled. She yanked the phone once more, not expecting Megan to actually release it, and stumbled backward, dropping her phone onto the floor and glaring at her roommate before squatting down to retrieve it. 

“Relax, Christen. We’re just teasing you. Tobin seems nice, and she’s super talented. No wonder you have a crush-”

“I don’t have a crush,” Christen interrupted Crystal, straightening her t-shirt and moving her hair over her shoulder. 

“Okay, okay. Fine. You don’t have a crush,” Crystal nodded, her grin completely giving her real thoughts away. 

Christen looked down at her phone, coming face to face with Tobin’s huge grin. It was a picture of Tobin in a pair of ripped jeans and a hoodie. She was perched on a porch railing, her arms around a woman and man, two people that Christen could only assume were Tobin’s parents. Christen smiled at the picture before her eyes drifted down.

“You totally like her!” Megan chirped. “Look at that smile, Crystal! She’s smilin-”

“MEGAN!” Christen whisper-shouted, her eyes widening and drifting up to Megan’s face. 

“What?” Megan asked, sobering within seconds of hearing Christen’s tone of voice.

“You liked the picture!” Christen explained, flipping her phone around to show both of her roommates. 


“Dude, that was totally a foul!” Tobin complained, grabbing another Sour Patch Kid and popping it in her mouth. She moved her fingers deftly across the controls, hoping that she could get the ball back from Jeff. 

“The Fifa ref doesn’t seem to think it was a foul,” Jeff grinned, jamming his thumb into his remote and sending a ball into the back of Arsenal’s net. 

“Duuuuude,” Tobin groaned, letting her head fall back into her pillow. “This game is rigged.”

“You just can’t admit that I’m better than you,” Jeff bragged. 

“We have another half to play, and you’ve only equalized the game. Arsenal never loses, so I wouldn't be so cocky if I were you,” Tobin countered, looking at her brother’s face on her phone screen.

“Hold on, I’m gonna grab a soda,” he called from off-screen. 

Tobin paused the game. She wanted to win and knock the smirk off Jeff’s face, but she’d never cheat and play when he wasn’t holding the remote and capable of defending. She listened to Jeff running down the stairs to the kitchen, just barely hearing her dad’s laugh and her mom’s soft voice. Her chest ached for a minute, a heavy homesickness looming over her. The house sounded like it always had, creaking softly with its familiar noises from her childhood, and if she closed her eyes, she could swear that she could smell her mom’s cooking and feel her dad’s tight hugs. 

“Are mom and dad still awake?” Tobin asked when Jeff came back onto the screen.

“They’re going to bed right now. They had a date night or something, so they were out later than usual,” he shrugged.

“I miss them,” Tobin admitted softly. “All of you actually.”

“We miss you too, Tobs. We all watched your game yesterday, and it made us miss you even more.”

“I wish it had been a better game to watch,” Tobin mumbled, still feeling responsible for the loss.

“I think it was a good game. Your goal was awesome, and you assisted the other two. You were on fire,” Jeff said, his enthusiasm almost infectious. 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Tobin blushed.

“Just focus on the next game, right? You’ll probably kick their asses. Who are you playing?”

“UPenn, and we’ll most definitely kick their asses,” Tobin agreed, her cockiness reappearing. 

The two siblings sat in silence for a minute, Jeff sipping his soda and Tobin wishing she were on the couch beside him and not miles away in a dorm room with a snoring roommate. 

“How’s school going?” Jeff asked. 

“It’s fine. I’m starting classes this coming week, and my teammates are all really nice. My roommate’s kind of loud in the mornings, but she’s really cool,” Tobin responded, looking over at Alex’s sleeping form under the covers across the room.

“I can’t wait until Mom, Dad, and I get to watch you play in person again.”

“Me too, Jeff,” Tobin sighed. “I think I’m getting a little homesick for all of you.”

“Well, we’re just over here doing our usual thing,” Jeff sighed. “I made the varsity tennis team at school.”

“That’s great, dude!” Tobin praised. “I’m so proud of you!”

“Oh yeah, next stop Olympics,” Jeff joked back sarcastically. 

“I really am proud of you, and I hope I get to see one of your games this year,” Tobin repeated, hoping he could hear the sincerity in her voice. 

“Want to keep playing, or are you stalling because you know I’m gonna beat you?” Jeff asked. He loved his sister, but the two of them were very alike, and sometimes serious conversations were too much for the both of them. 

“You’re gonna eat those words,” Tobin laughed, picking up her controller again.

She moved the joystick, watching as her Arsenal players moved across the screen. Jeff’s defense was too good, though. She couldn’t get a ball past him, and she’d just about resigned herself to a tie when her phone buzzed against her left knee. She looked down, seeing Jeff’s face, his eyes squinting in concentration. Above his head was an Instagram notification, the likes of which she would have typically ignored. 

Tobin never really cared about social media. She liked the artistic expression that Instagram supplied, but other than that it was more of a hassle than something Tobin really enjoyed. She’d post a picture every month or two and leave the app unopened until the next post. The notification at the top of her phone screen alerted her that someone had liked a picture. Normally, she would look away from her phone or swipe the notification away, but the username caught her attention: @Pressy_23. That number was enough to pull her away from the controller in her hands and her yelling brother on Facetime. The number distracted her long enough for Jeff to tackle one of her players and sprint the ball up the right side of the field. 

“GOOOOOAAAAALLL!” Jeff screamed from her home in New Jersey.

“Shit,” Tobin mumbled.

“Did you let me win? It’s like you weren’t even trying,” Jeff laughed. 

“I didn’t let you win. I was just distracted,” Tobin responded, her mind already miles away, thinking about the UCLA forward and her number 23 jersey, wondering if she was the girl behind the Instagram like.

“Distracted by what?” Jeff asked. 

“I’m just tired, buddy. Rematch tomorrow night?” Tobin asked, hoping to get her brother off the phone quickly but without being rude. 

“Sure, Tobs,” Jeff agreed, his eyebrow still quirked in question as if he didn’t quite believe her. 

“Good night, dude.”

“Good night,” Jeff replied. 

Tobin turned off her Xbox and reached for her phone, ending the call and switching over to Instagram. She clicked on her notifications, noticing that @Pressy_23 had liked only one picture from March of last year. It was a picture of Tobin and her parents at her grandparents’ beach house. Tobin clicked on @Pressy_23, her mouth immediately going dry when she saw the profile picture. There, in the small circle icon, stood the dark-haired forward. She was grinning softly, her hair in curls and the beach behind her. Her skin was tanned, hardly covered by the yellow tank top and jean shorts that she wore. Tobin pulled her eyes away from the picture and down to the bio. 

Christen Press

UCLA Women’s Soccer #23

99 Problems, 99,000 Blessings. Sky above, sand below, peace within. ☀️ 🌊

Dog mom for life 🐶 💖

“Christen Press,” Tobin spoke into the dark, her breath catching in her chest. “You’ve now lost me two games this weekend.” She sighed in frustration, wishing she could see more than just Christen’s profile picture and bio since the UCLA forward was private. Her mind felt like it was spinning faster than her fingers could move over her phone screen. She clicked back to her own Instagram page, searching through her followers to see if Christen Press was one of them. She didn’t want to feel bummed about not seeing Christen’s name under her list of followers. She hadn’t expected to see her name, since the two of them hadn’t even had a conversation yet. It was possible that Christen hadn’t even meant to like her picture in the first place. That being said, Tobin couldn’t stop her heart from dropping a little when she realized that Christen hadn’t followed her. 

“Why that picture?” Tobin wondered, clicking on the liked picture. It was just a picture of Tobin and her parents, one that Tobin had absentmindedly posted during the spring semester of her senior year of high school. She’d been feeling nostalgic then, really feeling grateful for all of the sacrifices her parents had made. They were her rocks, the people who’d helped her get all the way to Penn State. The people who she’d be most thankful for when she was wearing her World Cup medal someday. “It had to have been an accident,” Tobin decided, clicking away from the picture and returning to Christen Press’ private Instagram account. 

She looked at the profile picture again, noticing that Christen’s hair was slightly messy, blowing sideways with the wind. Her smile was face-splitting, and her eyes crinkled. Tobin couldn’t help but smile back at the picture, feeling butterflies beat against her stomach, up to her chest, and into her throat. “She was looking at your profile,” Tobin thought again, her heart practically floating out of her body and into the sky with that idea. Christen Press had been looking at her Instagram account, which meant Christen Press had been interested in Tobin. She’d been interested enough to find her name and search her on social media. 

Earlier that night, Tobin had been feeling down, not just because she’d lost her first collegiate game, but also because adapting to college had felt harder than she’d expected. She missed her parents and siblings. She missed the comfort of home and her backyard with her pop-up soccer goal. She missed her club team and youth coach, even mowing the soccer fields and painting the lines for the younger teams. For the first time since her parents had driven away from her dorm at Penn State and left her on move-in day, Tobin felt a sense of hope. Her heart felt light, maybe even giddy, because Number 23, Christen Press, the most beautiful person Tobin had ever seen, had looked through her Instagram and liked a photo. Christen was interested in her

“She’s probably just trying to scout out the competition,” Tobin’s brain interjected, stopping her from becoming too hopeful. Christen seemed like a focused player, one who did her homework, and Tobin was a competitor. It was very likely that Christen simply wanted to know more about Tobin and find her weak spots. Tobin turned off her phone, unsure of how to feel. Her brain was more logical than her heart, pointing out that Christen was likely preparing for the NCAA Championships way down the road by looking at as many competitors as possible. Her heart, on the other hand, was beating faster than usual, racing with anticipation that Tobin couldn’t fully quell. “Relax, Tobin. You might not even see her again if you don’t get yourself in check and start scoring more goals.”


The tiny red heart nestled in the bottom left corner of Tobin’s Instagram picture mocked Christen for a full 70 hours. It didn’t magically disappear just because she wanted it to or asked it to. It was there, and there was nothing she could do about it.

“You liked her picture. She knows you did because she got a notification. Tobin Heath knows you stalked her. Your life is officially over, all thanks to Megan freaking Rapinoe.” This anxiety-induced, soul-crushing internal monologue had accompanied Christen through her first few days of classes, her Facetimes with her family back home, and now into the locker room for today’s practice. It had been her ever-present company and there was nothing she could do to get rid of it.

Looking back on the moments following the scuffle and subsequent picture liking, Christen hadn’t reacted in the best way. At first, she was upset. She’d thrown the phone at Megan, begging her to fix the problem.

“Undo it now, Pinoe.”

Megan, having the decency to look embarrassed and contrite, handed Christen’s phone back to her with a small shake of her head, “There’s literally nothing I can do. Even if I unliked it, she’d still get a notification. I’m really sorry, Pressy.”

Christen snatched the phone, locking it and putting it down on her desk. She fought off a wave of nausea, willing her erratically beating heart to slow down and give her a chance to breathe.

“She probably didn’t see it...right?” Christen asked quietly, her words filled with such vulnerability that Crystal hated being the one to break the truth to her.

“She probably did, and that’s okay. Don’t bother unliking it and don’t stress about it. It’s not the end of the world,” Crystal assured, shooting Christen a comforting half-smile.

Christen wrapped her arms around herself, trying her best to believe Crystal’s words. But she couldn’t. It was the end of the world. And she was left to face it alone since Crystal had homework to do before classes started and Megan had a date. Christen was pretty sure it was with the very basketball player Megan had almost gone to blows with earlier, but she was too preoccupied to care. 

Once the anger and worry had faded with the setting sun, and the cool autumn night descended upon her, Christen finally felt something else settle deep in her chest: embarrassment. As she laid in bed, her eyes fixed on a small crack in her room’s ceiling, Christen felt shame burn through her entire body. She was usually always freezing, needing to burrow beneath layers of covers to sleep. But that night, she kicked all of her covers off the bed and onto the floor, leaving her in just a pair of soccer shorts and a sports bra to sleep in. Her bone-deep mortification was enough to keep her warm.

“PRESSY!”

Christen’s head lifted and she caught sight of Kelley barreling towards her. Christen readied herself for Kelley’s strong embrace, but nothing could have prepared her for the hug she received just now. 

“Kel, I saw you this morning in class,” Christen said, wiggling her way out of Kelley’s grasp and leaning down to untie her shoes.  

“Whatever dude, five hours feels like forever.”

Kelley walked off towards her locker at the other end of the locker room, leaving Christen to her thoughts. Christen dressed slowly for practice, her mind a million miles away as the rest of her team filtered into the locker room. 

“Hey,” came a quiet voice and Christen didn’t even need to look up to know it belonged to her roommate. 

“Hey,” Christen replied, eyes boring holes into Megan’s cleats. “Your shoe’s untied.”

Megan chuckled softly and sat down next to Christen. “It’s good luck. Or at least it used to be until I screwed things up for my roommate pretty bad.”

Christen softened slightly, shooting Megan a quick look out of the corner of her eye. She could read the apology clear as day on Megan’s face and she felt bad it had to be there in the first place. Things had been a bit tense between them since Saturday, and Christen knew she was to blame for it.

“I’m pretty sure you were wearing flip flops on Saturday night, so the whole lucky laces thing still works,” Christen replied, nudging her shoulder against Megan’s.

Megan smiled softly and reached out to give Christen’s hand a squeeze.

“I am super sorry, dude.”

Christen nodded, accepting the apology but wanting to move past all of this. “I know, I am too. Let’s just forget about it and focus on our game against USC on Thursday, all right?”

With the reminder of their upcoming game, Megan’s face brightened and she was back to being the Energizer bunny. 

“TWO DAYS TO GAME DAY PEOPLE!” Megan shouted, jumping up and down around the locker room, hyping her teammates up. 

Christen fought off a smile as she finished lacing up her cleats. While she was still mortified and upset, she was ready to put all that on the back burner and turn her focus to soccer. Coach Foudy told them that they had a real chance at making it all the way to the NCAA Championship game, and Christen believed her. Their team was full of talented and hardworking players, and their chemistry on and off the field was great. Christen knew they could make it to the finals. She had no doubt in her mind.

She just hoped Penn State wouldn’t end up in their bracket. After the whole Instagram thing, she would really like it if she never had to come face to face with Tobin Heath again. Christen wouldn’t survive that mortifying ordeal. 

Chapter Text

I'm scared

I've never fallen from quite this high

Fallin' into your ocean eyes

Those ocean eyes

(Tobin - “Ocean Eyes” by Billie Eilish)

I fill my calendar with stuff I can do

Maybe if I'm busy it could keep me from you

And I'm pretendin' you ain't been on my mind

But I took an interest in the things that you like, ah-ah

(Christen - “Crush” by Tessa Violet)

 

There wasn’t enough coffee in the world to combat the bone-deep exhaustion Christen felt this morning. When her alarm clock had gone off at 6:30 AM, she’d wanted to snooze it and never wake up again. She yearned for more sleep and for the bliss that came from staying cuddled up beneath her warm comforter. But her shift at the campus Starbucks started at 7 and Christen was never late to anything, ever.

As a Division 1 student-athlete, Christen had very little extra time in the day, especially now that it was September and classes had begun. Between practices, lifting and fitness, recovery sessions, film analysis, and mandatory team meals, she felt like she slept, ate, and breathed soccer, 24/7. On top of that, Christen was taking 18 credits this semester, wanting to push herself academically. It wasn’t enough to excel on the soccer field, she had to impress in the classroom as well. This left her with barely enough downtime to hang out with her roommates, watch the occasional Netflix rom-com, and get her requisite eight hours of sleep a night. 

For Christen, these quieter moments were deadly. With her mind free to roam, Christen would find herself thinking of a certain Penn State left-winger despite her best efforts not to. Tobin Heath just had this annoying persistence about her, leaving Christen unable to not think about her when she had a free moment. 

That wouldn’t do, of course. Christen couldn’t afford distractions, especially not gorgeous, talented, and too-cool-for-school ones. So, Christen found ways to limit her free time. Picking up a few morning shifts at Starbucks during the week seemed to do the trick, even if they left Christen exhausted and relying on extra cups of coffee to survive. 

“Welcome to Starbucks, what can I get started for you?” Christen asked, her customer service smile feeling a little stiff this morning. 

The girl standing at the counter pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, mulling over her options and taking her time to answer Christen’s question. She looked completely lost, her eyes running across the multiple menu boards hanging above Christen’s head. 

Usually, this sort of thing would irritate Christen. She hated indecision, especially about something as trivial as coffee flavors. She always preferred just to make a choice and live with the consequences. It was better than never choosing anything and forever living in the gray area. But with no one else in line behind the girl and the rest of the store pretty empty, Christen forced herself to take a deep breath, then another. Feeling a little less irritable and a bit more relaxed, she let herself study the girl.

Her red hair was cut short to frame her face. She wore circle-framed glasses and had a small nose ring, which made Christen wonder for a fleeting moment if she should get a nose ring herself. That thought didn’t last long though, and she continued to observe the customer. She was pretty in that untroubled sort of way and her blue eyes seemed to sparkle. Christen could just make out tiny swirls of ink on the girl’s collarbone, the rest of the tattoo covered by the flannel she wore. 

The girl smiled apologetically at Christen and cleared her throat, breaking Christen out of her reverie. 

“Full disclosure, I’ve never been to a Starbucks before...which is something I tell all the pretty girls to make me seem cool,” the girl joked, winking at Christen. “But seriously I’m totally lost here and have no clue what to order.”

Christen felt her customer-service smile morph into something a little more genuine as a light blush heated her cheeks.

“No, you’re totally fine. How about you tell me what you like in a coffee and I’ll whip up something for you?”

“Something strong and not very sweet, please,” the girl replied.

Christen wasn’t sure what to do with this sort of freedom, so she just decided to make her favorite coffee. After ringing the girl up and then crafting the coffee, Christen handed a simple cappuccino over to the redhead.

“Here you go. I attempted my favorite, an extra-strong cappuccino with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top. Try not to hold it against the entire Starbucks corporation if it sucks, okay?”

The girl laughed and took the cup from Christen. 

“I bet it’s perfect. Thanks,” the girl looked down to Christen’s name tag on her chest, “Christen.” With another wink and a small nod, the girl left Christen alone in the store and alone with her thoughts once more. 

Her name had sounded nice when the girl said it, but Christen couldn’t help but wonder about how her name would sound coming out of the mouth of Tobin Heath. Christen knew she shouldn’t be thinking about her. In fact, she specifically was trying to ignore her. But even here, in the safety of a Starbucks in Los Angeles, Tobin found a way into Christen’s head.


Tobin lifted her face to the cloudless, bright blue sky above her. She was sitting in the grass outside of the soccer stadium with her eyes closed, basking in the warmth and soaking up as many of the sun’s rays as she could. 

Penn State was in the dying days of September, which meant that winter was quickly approaching. Despite Tobin’s excitement to experience late fall and then winter in Pennsylvania, she would miss the sun and these warm days. 

“Tobin?”

Tobin cracked an eye open. On the sidewalk in front of her, Tobin saw a tall, lanky girl with stick-straight blonde hair. 

“You must be April?” Tobin asked, mustering up as much excitement as she could.

The blonde nodded enthusiastically, fixing Tobin with a large, beaming smile. Tobin tried to smile in return, she really did. She attempted a genuine smile, but with this being her third blind date, genuine smiles were a little unattainable. 

Lauren and ARod were both trying to help her settle into school, having noticed that she spent most of her nights Facetiming her brother or sisters and playing video games. Her two teammates, although well-intentioned, were convinced that Tobin needed a girlfriend to distract herself with, and Tobin wasn’t about to refuse and tell her two friends that she was too busy thinking about a certain green-eyed forward on UCLA’s team to date around. 

It was silly to be so hung up on Christen. One moment she was dead set on forgetting the green-eyed striker, and the next she was opening Instagram to stare at the other girl’s profile picture for far too long. Tobin was confusing herself with her hot then cold attitude towards Christen, but she’d be lying if she said Christen Press didn’t matter to her. She did, she mattered, simple as that. Tobin just hadn’t figured out what to do with that bit of information just yet.

“Should we get going?” April asked, startling Tobin out of her own foggy thoughts. 

“Of course, yeah,” Tobin sighed, standing up and scratching the back of her neck. 

April was pretty. She was wearing a short, white dress and sandals, her tanned legs attracting Tobin’s attention immediately. They were almost as long as Christen’s, and Tobin wanted to kick herself for even thinking of that comparison. 

Tobin walked next to April, feeling no sparks or butterflies when April looped her arm through Tobin’s. If she had been completely honest with herself and with April, Tobin probably would have told April not to waste her time by entertaining Lauren’s blind date idea. Tobin felt hot all of a sudden, stifled by the blonde’s arm in hers. Her skin prickled uncomfortably, and her stomach turned. 

“Where are we going?” April asked when Tobin opened the car door for her.

“I was thinking burgers.”

“I’m kind of more of a salad person right now. Coach has us on really strict diets… if that’s okay?” April asked, her cheeks flushing slightly. 

“Sure. Salads are good,” Tobin relented, knowing full well that she’d still be starving after a salad. 

Tobin sat in the driver’s seat of her Chevy truck, April fidgeting next to her. 

“The AC’s kind of broken,” Tobin mumbled, rolling the window down manually. 

Her truck was a hand-me-down from her grandfather, and although it lacked the bells and whistles of newer, more expensive trucks, Tobin liked the charm of it. April didn’t seem so impressed. Tobin whipped out of the parking lot, one hand on the steering wheel and the other dangling out the window.

“So you’re on the diving team?” Tobin shouted over the wind. 

April nodded, her body tense in her seat. 

“How do you know Lauren?” Tobin called again, wishing that she could be in her bed, playing Super Mario Bros with Lindsey and not making small talk with April. 

“We’re in the same Astronomy class!” April yelled, repeatedly brushing her hair out of her face. 

Tobin couldn’t think of anything else to ask. She rolled her window up, deciding that sweltering heat was better than annoying her date before they even arrived at the restaurant. The two sat in silence until Tobin clicked the radio on, hoping for a better station than the static-filled Top 40s that played. 

April had blue eyes. She’d been glancing at Tobin throughout dinner, the two of them silently chewing on salads and sipping waters. They were friendly eyes, bright and round, but they didn’t make Tobin’s heart stop in her chest. They didn’t make Tobin’s breath catch in her throat. She didn’t want to be rude, but she also couldn’t help but think about what she’d rather be seeing - Christen Press’s green eyes across from her. 

Christen Press was swimming through her mind, clouding any sort of attention that Tobin could have been paying to April. April seemed nice enough. Lauren wasn’t completely insane to have thought that her two friends might have had fun on a blind date. April was an athlete too, competitive and focused. She was from New Jersey and had a little brother. She’d even played soccer some in high school, so she knew enough about the sport to carry a conversation with Tobin. In fact, the only flaw that Tobin could actually fault April for was that she wasn’t Christen Press. Tobin pinched the bridge of her nose, hoping to focus her attention on the date and not the green-eyed forward. 

“This salad sucks,” Tobin thought to herself, already planning on stopping for french fries after dropping April off at campus. 

“Do you like your salad?” April asked. 

“It’s so good,” Tobin enthused, smiling through a mouthful of lettuce. 

“This date’s a total bust right?” April asked, placing her fork down and leaning against the back of her chair. 

“I’m sorry?” Tobin asked, hoping she hadn’t totally offended April but wholeheartedly agreeing that the date was definitely not one she ever wanted to relive. 

“You aren’t into this,” April responded matter of factly. 

“I wish I were,” Tobin sighed, smiling apologetically at April. 

April stared at Tobin, her eyes inquisitive and searching. After a moment, April smiled like she’d just figured everything out.

“Who is she? The girl you’re pining after?” April asked.

Tobin froze, her eyes bugging out of her head. “What is that obvious? Wait, am I even pining? Is this what pining is?” Tobin’s thoughts ran wild in her mind. She had no idea how April had figured it out. She thought she’d been so good at hiding her internal struggle. Nobody else had picked up on it, not ARod, Lindsey, or Lauren, not Alex or even Allie when they Facetimed each other. But this girl, who she’d met less than an hour ago, had been able to see right through her.

Tobin cleared her suddenly dry throat, wondering what to say. She could change the subject and ignore the question altogether. She could deny it. Or...she could just finally admit the truth out loud. Sometimes it was easier to admit something to a stranger than it was to someone you knew well. Throwing caution to the wind, Tobin nodded and felt her shoulders drop.

“She doesn’t go to our school. She’s another soccer player,” Tobin mumbled, feeling a weight lift off of her chest at acknowledging her feelings for Christen to another person. She still didn’t know what those feelings entailed, but she knew they were there. It was freeing to say them out loud.

“Why haven’t you told her?” April asked, her eyes squinting in curiosity. There was no judgement from her, nor even disappointment. It put Tobin further at ease and had her opening up in the middle of this crappy restaurant with crappy salads.

“I haven’t even spoken to her. I barely even know her. I just know her name,” Tobin admitted. 

“Oh, you’ve got it bad,” the blonde laughed. 

Tobin cracked a smile. “Yeah, you could say that.”

“Does Lauren know you like her?” April asked.

With a shake of her head, Tobin replied, “No one does. Well, I guess you do now. But that’s it. It’s kind of embarrassing, crushing on someone after only seeing them once.”

“Hey, I was in love with one of my teammates in high school, and I pined after her for months before realizing that she had a boyfriend and would never give me the time of day. It isn’t embarrassing,” April said, reaching across the table to squeeze Tobin’s hand gently. 

Tobin smiled at the gesture. “I’m sorry for wasting your time,” she said sheepishly. 

“I got a free salad, so my time was well spent,” April laughed, the corners of her eyes crinkling. “Just let me know if things don’t work out with the other girl, and maybe we can give this another try?”

“Sure,” Tobin said, trying to smile but feeling a pit in her stomach settle at the idea of never getting to spend time with Christen the way she wanted to. 

She drove April back to campus, her mind occupied with Christen Press in her number 23 jersey, Christen Press and her wild hair at the beach, Christen Press and her barefooted walk across the field after the game, Christen Press and the way she played soccer in so many of Tobin’s dreams. 

Tobin had barely taken two steps into her room when her phone started ringing. She looked down and saw it was Lauren. With a shake of her head and a small grin, Tobin answered the phone. 

“I could literally be naked with April right now. You could be interrupting us in the throes of pleasure,” Tobin teased, letting out a soft yawn.

“Wait really? It went that well? Did I finally find your soulmate?” Lauren asked excitedly.

Tobin yawned again, only much more loudly this time. She walked over to her bed and hopped onto it, kicking her shoes off as she did.

“No, no, and definitely no. I don’t think we’ll go out again, but she seemed nice,” Tobin admitted. She smiled at the frustrated groan she heard from Lauren on the other end of the phone.

“Tobs, that was rude. And you’ve said that about every girl we’ve set you up with. What could possibly be wrong with all three of them?”

“They just aren’t my type, I guess,” Tobin sighed, closing her eyes and imagining Christen’s smirk in her mind again.  “ They’re not Christen."

“ARod’s gonna find someone for your next date. She said she has a cute friend in her history class, and I think-”

“I don’t want to do blind dates anymore,” Tobin interrupted. “I appreciate what you’re both doing, but I’m just gonna focus on soccer. I don’t want to do this stuff anymore. I’m gonna find someone organically. No more set-ups.” 

“It’s 2020, Tobs, no one finds love organically anymore,” Lauren replied. “Look, I gotta go, ARod wants to start a new true-crime documentary like right now. See you at practice tomorrow, love ya!”

Tobin barely managed a “Love ya too,” before Lauren was hanging up abruptly. Sighing, Tobin dropped the phone to her bed. She stared down at it, fighting every urge inside of her not to open up Instagram and look at those familiar green eyes once again.


Sweat dripped off the tip of Christen’s nose as she panted, hands on her knees. Her jersey clung to her uncomfortably and her legs were heavy. She glanced up at the scoreboard and saw that they had less than a minute left in overtime. 

UCLA was playing their second-to-last conference game against Stanford. Up to this point, they’d gone undefeated. They’d obliterated Oregon State 6-0 a few weeks ago, and most recently had won a hard-fought battle 3-2 against a scrappy Cal Berkeley. And right now, they were tied 1-1 with Stanford, who was outplaying them. 

It looked like their streak would hold if they kept this tie, but Christen and her teammates would not be happy with it. They weren’t playing well and they knew it. Where UCLA struggled to string more than a few passes together, Stanford had run circles around them, dominating possession for most of the game. But Ashlyn was having the game of her career tonight, posting eight saves so far and keeping them in the game. Their lone goal had come off a penalty kick in the third minute that Allie had converted like a pro. Since then, they’d been on their heels struggling to hold onto the tie. 

Christen loathed ties. They always carried a small sense of disappointment with them, and she knew that tonight’s game would linger in the back of her mind for a long time if the scoreboard read 1-1 at the end of this double overtime period. 

“Get it out!” Coach Foudy commanded, bringing Christen’s attention back to the field. It was a corner kick for Stanford and they had thrown almost everyone into the box, going for the win. With 45 seconds on the clock, it wasn’t that much of a gamble. Christen flinched as she watched the Stanford player strike the cross, knowing this had the potential to be the game-winner. Except, instead of a game-winning cross that led to a game-winning goal, the Stanford player whiffed the kick, making it an easy catch for Ashlyn. Christen cheered along with the rest of her teammates, feeling a small sense of relief. 

Ashlyn looked up and saw Christen at the halfway line, marked by only one Stanford defender. The gamble Stanford had gone for was now going to cost them. Ashlyn threw the ball out to Megan who was sprinting up the field towards Christen and the Stanford defender. Megan streaked down the center of the field, the sole Stanford defender doing her best to keep Megan in front of her. 

Christen sprinted in time with Megan, keeping track of the defender so she didn’t run offsides. Her lungs were protesting and her legs were like lead, but Christen kept running. This was it, this was their moment. They had a chance to win, not tie, and Christen was going to take it. 

“Pinoe, I’m here! I’m with you!” Christen yelled. Together, they ran at the Stanford defender, the three of them now just 25 yards away from the goal. Megan pulled a quick step-over move, faking the defender out to the left and then slotting the ball to Christen to the right. 

Christen trapped the pass, only about twenty yards separating her from the goal and the goalkeeper. With a smile on her face, Christen sprinted towards goal, keeping the ball close to her feet. The Stanford goalkeeper looked panicked, face ashen and eyes wide as Christen got closer and closer. The goalkeeper stepped out of the goal and charged her, hoping to catch her off-guard. But Christen was better than that. 

As the goalkeeper approached, Christen poked the toe of her cleat under the ball and chipped the ball in the air. It sailed over the goalkeeper’s head and rolled into the back of the net as the clock reached zero. Christen threw her hands in the air, a relieved grin on her face. An elated giggled escaped her as Christen lifted her face to the sky, her eyes closing. 

“FUCK YES PRESSY!” Megan screamed, jumping into Christen’s arms. Christen opened her eyes and held tightly onto Megan, laughing breathlessly. Megan reflected her own joy right back at her, both of them thinking the same thing - They did it. SHE did it!

“SUCK IT STANFORD!” Kelley yelled, running up and tackling them all to the ground. Christen, Megan, and Kelley landed in a heap, giggling and enjoying the moment. The rest of their teammates joined them, some jumping on top of the pile, others sliding up next to them. 

Crystal rolled onto the grass right by Christen’s head and held her face between her hands. “What have you done, Christen Press?” she celebrated. “You absolute LEGEND!”

Christen felt happy, hot tears gather in the corner of her eyes. This was one of those moments that you remembered for the rest of your life, that you reminisced about and annoyed your kids with by telling them the same story for the fifth time, where everything was perfect, if just for a second. She looked around at her cheering, grinning teammates and let a few of her tears fall, knowing they were ones of joy and relief. She wanted to remember this moment for the rest of her life.

That night, as they were on a charter plane back to Los Angeles, with Lizzo’s Good as Hell echoing through the small plane, Christen relaxed back into her seat. Her smile hadn’t dropped since she’d walked off the field, since she’d hugged her family tight, since she’d danced around the visitor’s locker room with her teammates. She had a feeling she’d be hard-pressed to stop smiling anytime soon. 

Christen felt someone drop into the open seat next to her. She looked up and was surprised to see Allie.

“You’re my new idol, C.P.,” Allie said, her megawatt smile aimed right at Christen. “After losing to Stanford 5-1 last year, this felt fan-fucking-tastic.”

Christen blushed. “I’m just glad we won and that I could contribute something.”

“You’re so humble. It’s adorable. You delivered that W for us, so maybe Coach will go easy on us at practice tomorrow,” Allie said, waggling her brows at Christen.

“Unlikely,” Coach Foudy replied, having walked right by Allie and Christen at that exact moment. Christen and Allie dissolved into laughter. 

“At least she’s letting us dress up. Usually, she says no to parties AND costumes, but I think your goal tonight convinced her to lighten up a little,” Allie said.

Christen’s brow knitted in confusion. “Costumes? Parties? What?” she thought, wondering why she and her teammates would be dressing up for practice. Allie must have picked up on her complete and utter bewilderment because she was smiling knowingly at Christen. 

“It’s Halloween tomorrow, C.P., and costumes are mandatory. The seniors will be sending out a message to the team tonight about it,” Allie explained. “The positional group with the best costumes wins a free pass on fitness for a week!”

Allie got to her feet and waved goodbye to Christen, “See ya later, C.P. Great work tonight.”

Christen waved half-heartedly back, her mind already focused on what costume she could come up with on such short notice. 


The next day, Megan and Christen tagged along with the rest of the forwards as they went off campus to a Spirit store to find some costumes. It was slim pickings this late in the game, but it would be better than nothing. 

“All right ladies, we’ve got to pick a theme and stick to the theme,” a junior, Jessica McDonald, said. That earned her an eye roll from Abby Wambach, a senior who was currently sidelined with a broken foot. Their trainer Alicia was hopeful Abby could be back by the NCAA tournament, but for now, Abby was in a walking boot. 

Abby looked to Christen and smirked, “Is the theme bargain bin? Because there’s like nothing left here.”

Christen stifled a chuckle as Jessica glared at the two of them and then punched Abby in the shoulder. “Just spread out and try to find something we can use,” Jessica instructed. 

Megan dragged Christen towards the back of the store. They passed by empty racks and picked-over accessories, causing them to realize just how dire the situation was. With no luck there, Megan pulled them towards the hats and wigs section. At least there were quite a few things left in this section for them to look through. Christen drifted to the bags of wigs, cringing at the amount of multi-colored clown wigs that she saw. Clowns were a hard pass for her, it didn’t matter how desperate they were for costumes. 

Megan stood a few feet away, digging through a bin of hats. She brightened when she found two hats, one green and one red. She approached Christen and then knelt down, holding the green hat out to Christen, a mock-serious expression on her face.

“Christen Press, would you be the Luigi to my Mario?”

Christen laughed loudly and took the hat. She placed it askew on her head and winked at Megan. 

“It would be my honor.”

Megan grinned and accepted Christen’s offered hand, Christen helping her back up. Megan put the red hat backward on her head, and returned to the hat bin, rifling through it. 

“You ever done a group costume, Pressy? Or a couple’s costume?”

Christen shook her head, joining Megan at the hat bin. She found a pointy, pink princess hat and felt the makings of an idea form in her mind. 

“My group of friends in high school would always do joint costumes and stuff. But a couple’s costume requires a couple, so no, I haven’t.”

Megan looked up at  Christen, surprise written across her face. 

“Are you a relationship virgin?”

With a shake of her head, Christen set the princess hat aside and started digging through the bin again.

“Pinoe, you’re so weird. No, I’m not, I just never had a girlfriend during  Halloween. I’ve always wanted to do a couple’s costume though,” Christen said, allowing her mind to wander for a moment and imagine what that could be like. She had so many ideas. Baseball players from A League of their Own, Velma and Daphne from Scooby-Doo, Buddy the Elf and Jovie from Elf.  

Suddenly, she started picturing a certain someone doing a couple’s costume with her. Tobin as the Danny Zuko to her Sandy, dressed in a tight-fitting white t-shirt, ripped jeans, and a leather jacket. Tobin as the Devil to her Angel, clad in a red sports bra, some red spandex, and the quintessential devil horns on her head. Tobin as the -

“Earth to Pressy! Helloooooo?”

Christen blinked and looked over at Megan, who was smirking at her. “Got anything to share with the class?” Megan asked.

Christen shook her head and gulped, suddenly feeling a little parched. She pushed any and all thoughts of Tobin from her mind and forced a smile at Megan. 

“Sorry, I was just thinking about the theme. Maybe we could all do…” Christen trailed off, snatching a purple baseball cap from the pile of hats and holding it up to Megan. “Mario Bros. characters?”

Megan’s eyes lit up. “You’re a genius!”

Christen and Megan gathered the remaining hats they could find, hoping they covered all the bases for their fellow forwards. They had two pink and orange princess hats, baseball caps in almost every color, and a white bucket hat that they could draw red polka dots on. The forwards marveled at their find, even Jessica managed a smile, and everyone was feeling excited about practice that night. 

Christen expected fierce competition, but her teammates managed to surprise her. Even the coaches all showed up in costume, with Coach Foudy dressed as Gru from Despicable Me and the assistant coaches dressed as her Minions. 

The goalkeepers got the award for the most creative costumes. Ashlyn, Alyssa, and the other keeper dressed as the Three Blind Mice, wearing sunglasses over their eyes and carrying around pool sticks. The midfielders, led by Allie, got the award for the most original costumes. They dressed as characters from Orange Is the New Black. Everyone sported an orange jumpsuit and varying degrees of hand-drawn tattoos and fake facial piercings. 

For the best costumes, it came down to the forwards and the defenders. Christen had felt good about their chances. She and Megan had gone so far as to wear fake mustaches and overalls to complete their looks as Mario and Luigi. The rest of the forwards proved to be equally as committed, even Abby had donned a flowing pink dress to become their Princess Peach. But they were no match for the hilarity that the defenders would bring to the table. Their team captain, a phenomenal central defender named Becky, had convinced the entire group of defenders to think completely out of the box. Naturally, with Kelley in their group, out-of-the-box thinking wasn’t too much of a challenge. 

The defenders had rolled up to practice all wearing inflatable dinosaur costumes. It had taken a solid ten minutes for everyone to stop laughing, and at that point, Christen knew the defenders would be their stiffest competition. Sadly, the dinosaur defenders proved to be too good for the forwards and they took home the prize for best costume.

Christen’s disappointment at not winning was short-lived as she sat on the field at the end of practice, stretching next to Ashlyn and Becky. Becky was having a hard time sitting down in her costume, and any time she got close to accomplishing it, Ashlyn would poke Becky with her pool stick, causing Becky to jump back up. Christen could barely hold her laughter at bay watching the shenanigans unfold. But as she laughed, her fake mustache began to tickle her upper lip. With practice at an end, Christen saw no harm in taking it off. 

“Don’t you dare, C.P., you and your cute mustache are making it into my selfie,” Allie declared, settling on the ground near Christen and Ashlyn. She threw her arm around Christen and held up her phone, getting everyone in the frame, even a still-standing Becky. 

“Say Cheez-its!” Allie cried, taking the photo. Christen smiled way too big, feeling rather ridiculous in her get-up. Allie looked through her camera roll and then showed Christen the best photo she’d taken. While it was a cute picture and definitely one for the memory books, Christen couldn’t help but cringe. A fake mustache, way-too-large overalls, and a sweaty green baseball cap were not a good look for her.

“Please don’t show that to anyone, I look awful,” Christen complained, finally freeing her upper lip from the mustache by ripping it off. 

Allie grinned mischievously and wiggled her brows.

“Oh, of course, C.P., I wouldn’t dream of it!” Allie got to her feet and skipped away, her laughter reaching Christen’s ears. Christen looked over at Ashlyn, her expression one of horror. 

“She’s going to show literally everyone, isn’t she?” Christen asked.

Ashlyn nodded. “Yup, that’s Allie for ya.”

Christen bit back a groan and found herself praying that the picture didn’t end up in the possession of a certain someone. Someone that Allie knew very well. Someone who was probably having a super fun Halloween night, hundreds of miles away, and definitely not giving Christen a second thought.


“Don’t be a sloppy drunk, Sonnet!” Alex yelled, watching as Emily ran, practically tripping over her left foot.

Tobin felt the bubbles from her beer shooting up into her nose, forcing herself to swallow and not spit it out in front of her entire team. 

“You’ve got it, Tobs,” ARod coached from her left. 

“Shut up, Amy!” Alex yelled from across the grass. 

The entire team was at ARod and Lauren’s apartment for Halloween festivities. They’d played exceptionally well against Michigan, beating them 4-0. Tobin had scored two of the goals and assisted another, and she felt like letting loose was deserved. A few of the team members were standing in ARod and Lauren’s backyard playing a drinking game that Tobin hadn’t fully understood when Alex had explained it. 

“Remember whose beer you’re drinking, Baby Horse,” ARod shot back, joining in on Alex’s trash talk. 

Alex’s game consisted of two teams, standing on either side of the backyard and facing each other. On the right side of the yard, Tobin stood with Moe Brian, ARod, Lindsey, and AD. Alex, Lauren, Sonnet, Julie Ertz, and Lynn Williams stood on the left side. In the middle of the two teams, on the ground was a water bottle that was only ¼ full of water. The teams took turns throwing a soccer ball at the water bottle.

At first, Tobin thought it was too easy. She hit the water bottle on her first try. She didn’t account for how drunk she would get after a few throws though, since all of the participants in the game had decent aim. After Tobin’s first throw hit the water bottle, she and her teammates had to chug their beers as quickly as possible, hoping to finish as much of their bottles before Alex’s team could run across the yard and stand the water bottle back up. Once the water bottle was standing again, the teams would take turns trying to knock it over again. By her third bottle of beer, Tobin felt a soft buzz and threw with sloppy arms, albeit still decent aim. She’d been the last to knock the water bottle over and was regretting her athletic ability when beer started to burn her nose. She swallowed hard, choking slightly. Her teammates were all finished and waiting for her, and Emily Sonnet was still having trouble picking up the water bottle, clearly, lighter weight than she’d let on.

“She’s done!” ARod yelled, grabbing Tobin’s bottle from her and holding it upside down in the air.

“You guys suck!” Alex yelled back. 

Lindsey, Moe, AD, and ARod squeezed Tobin’s shoulders and patted her back, making the left-winger wonder if she might vomit with the force. 

“Clearly you’re a lightweight too, dude,” Tobin thought to herself, swallowing hard and stumbling toward the back door and into the kitchen. Alex and ARod were still arguing in the backyard, and Tobin took their distraction as an easy way out. She really needed a glass of water before another teammate came up with a new game. 

The kitchen was even louder than the backyard. ARod and Lauren’s other roommate, Erin was on the track team and had invited a ton of runners and other sports teams. Almost all of the other athletes were scattered in small groups in the living room and basement, and the speakers thrummed against the floor, vibrating into the kitchen and up the walls. The kitchen was full of solo cups and bottles, but Tobin was the only person in the room, so she didn’t feel bad about digging through Lauren’s kitchen cabinet to find a glass for some water. She tossed a couple of ice cubes into the glass and turned on the faucet. 

“Cute costume,”  a soft voice whispered, tickling the back of Tobin’s neck. 

Tobin stumbled back and sloshed some of her water onto her wrist, slightly startled by someone else so close to her. 

“Uh… Thanks,” Tobin responded, looking down at the costume she’d put absolutely zero effort into. She’d slipped on her pajamas, just a pair of white Supreme boxer briefs and a white t-shirt, and picked out some of her favorite sneakers. To complete the costume, she’d taken a long strip of duct tape and written “Sleeping Beauty” on it before taping it across her chest. Simple but effective. She hadn’t had time to go to Party City and buy an actual costume. She hadn’t even really planned on coming to the party, preferring to celebrate their win by kicking her brother’s ass in Fifa, but ARod and Lauren had begged, and the whole team was going to go, so Tobin felt obligated. She was having fun too, so she really wasn’t regretting the decision. 

“I’m Candace,” the girl in front of Tobin smiled, offering out her hand. 

“I’m Tobin,” Tobin replied, shaking her hand and looking the girl up and down.

Candace was shorter than Tobin with freckles and bobbed light brown hair. She was a tennis player. Tobin recognized her from a mandatory student-athlete meeting she’d attended the month prior. 

“I’ve been wanting to run into you all year,” Candace admitted, her cheeks flushing. 

Tobin couldn’t help but look down at her sneakers, her own cheeks blushing slightly at the admission. 

“Why?” she asked.

“You’re Tobin Heath. I’ve seen you play, and I guess I just wanted to meet you personally,” Candace smirked, running her hand up Tobin’s forearm. 

Candace’s smirk wasn’t like Christen’s. Instead, it made Tobin feel uneasy. She wished she’d stayed outside and chugged another beer instead. 

“Thanks?” Tobin mumbled, feeling Candace step closer. 

“How do you tell someone they’re being weird without being rude after drinking three beers?” Tobin thought to herself. “Or was it four beers?”

“Want to go somewhere quieter?” Candace asked. 

Tobin felt her palms start to sweat. She scratched the back of her neck, a nervous tell she’d never figured out how to school. She opened her mouth, ready to just say no, and turn around to head outside when her phone buzzed in her pocket. She reached down to grab the phone, stepping away from the tennis player. 

 

[Harry 😜 11:45pm ]

Happy Halloween, Harry! 👻🎃🕷️ Look at these dorks I play with. UCLA’s costume contest was rigged. Coach said the defenders won, but clearly my Orange Is the New Black outfit was the most impressive. I make the best Piper! I love you! Hope you’re wasted and having a blast!

 

Tobin’s eyes moved from the text to the picture that came through a few seconds after. Her lips fell apart immediately, a quick breath leaving her mouth. Allie was sitting on the right side, closest to the phone in an orange jumpsuit, her smile spread across her entire face. Next to her, posed three people, one dressed as a dinosaur and another as a mouse or something. Tobin hardly paused to look at them, though. Her attention was completely taken by the girl in the middle of the picture. 

Allie’s arm was wrapped around Christen Press, dressed in arguably the most unflattering outfit Christen had probably ever worn. She was dressed as Luigi, mustache and all, her green hat cocked on her head and her face red with exertion from practice. “How is she still that beautiful?” Tobin thought to herself. Christen’s eyes were even greener with the Luigi shirt and hat, and Tobin’s heart beat harder in her chest at the sight. For the first time in her life, she was jealous of her best friend because Allie had her arm around the girl that Tobin wanted to be near. 

“You okay?’ the tennis player in front of Tobin asked, clearing her throat. 

“Yeah, I’ve gotta go,” Tobin said, matter-of-factly. She spun on her heel, not worrying about being polite. Candace wasn’t Christen, and until Tobin could get Christen out of her head, she didn’t need to be trying to find quiet places to talk with other girls. She walked outside, stumbling slightly on her way to her teammates, immediately feeling lighter once she joined them. 

“You’re just in time!” Sonnet yelled, “On your stomach, Heath!”

Despite her confusion, Tobin grinned. She gave one last look at the picture Allie had sent her, her eyes lingering on Christen, before putting her phone away. Tobin’s heart felt so full, maybe the fullest it had felt since the beginning of the school year. Her team had beat Michigan and were another game closer to possibly playing UCLA again. She’d seen a picture of Christen, one that she’d probably obsess over for the next month. On top of all of that, Tobin was with her teammates, the people who’d made Pennsylvania feel more like home. 

Tobin looked to Sonnet. “On my stomach?” she clarified, hardly objecting when Lauren and Sonnet pulled her down onto the grass next to them. 

“Here,” Lauren handed Tobin a straw. 

“For what?” Tobin asked, still completely confused about the game they were about to play. 

“Jungle Juice relay!” Sonnet cheered, dropping her straw into the kiddy pool in front of them and sucking down some of the red liquid.

Chapter Text

Well I've been on fire, dreaming of you

Tell me you don't

It feels like you do

Looking like that, you'll open some wounds

How does it start?

And when does it end?

Only been here for a moment, but I know I want you

But is it too soon?

(Tobin - “I’m with You” by Vance Joy)

 

This feeling is hard to ignore

Please say you’ll never get bored 

Can you blame me for wanting a little bit more?

A little more of you

A little more, a little more of you

(Christen - “A Little More” by Alessia Cara)

 

“Aaaaaand action!” Allie yelled from behind her iPhone.

The rest of the team had quickly departed the locker room after practice, leaving Christen, Kelley, Megan, and Crystal at the whims of Allie 'I'm now a Director' Long. They had agreed to do a “Get to Know the Freshmen” video before the NCAA Tournament started this weekend, and Allie had elected herself the director. Allie was taking her role way too seriously and seemed far too comfortable in a position of power. But Kelley and Megan’s goofing off was causing her to stress more than Christen had ever seen. A huge vein throbbed on Allie’s forehead as she attempted to move Kelley onto one of the locker room benches.

“Kelley Asshole O’Hara put your booty on the bench NOW.”

Kelley took her sweet time skipping over to where Allie was, causing the vein on Allie’s forehead to pulse menacingly. 

Kelley was first up for interviews because she had been the first to shower and her hair was already dry and camera ready. She’d also insisted on being the one to get it started in order to get to the dining hall before all the good cupcakes were gone.

“It’s Maureen, actually. Not asshole,” Kelley corrected, dropping onto the bench and grinning at Allie.

“Whatever. Are you ready?” Allie asked, holding her phone up and focusing in on Kelley.

Kelley saluted Allie with two fingers, nodding toward the camera and trying to look serious.

“Aye, aye, Cap’n.”

“I’m just going to ask you some questions about you and our teammates. Try to act normal,” Allie smiled tightly, already annoyed with Kelley’s antics but doing her best not to let it show.

“That’s impossible for O’Hara,” Megan called out, holding up her hand for a high five from Christen. Christen chuckled and tapped her hand against Megan’s. From their spot on the other end of the locker room, they could just make out the glare Kelley shot at them before Allie recalled her attention.

Allie snapped her fingers, “Focus up, Kel. I don’t have all day.”

Christen’s stomach rumbled softly as she ran her straightener through her hair again. She hadn’t really had a full lunch that day, having opted to fit in an extra tutoring session for a student in a beginner Spanish class. The student paid well, much better than a shift at Starbucks, and she had seemed very stressed about an upcoming exam, so Christen couldn’t say no. But now she was desperate to get to dinner, and it seemed like she wouldn’t be getting it for a while. She was going last for the interviews, behind Megan and Crystal, and right now, Kelley was taking her sweet time in front of Allie’s iPhone camera.

“State your name, please.”

“Kelley Asshole O’Hara,” Kelley replied. When Allie flipped her off and then motioned for her to answer again, Kelley added, “Ugh, fine. Kelley O’Hara.”

“Where are you from?” Allie asked.

Megan rolled her eyes from her seat next to Christen, having heard way too many stories about Kelley’s home in Georgia where everyone drove golf carts around her neighborhood. She turned to Christen and lowered her voice.

“Yo, you want to get dinner with me and Crystal after this?”

“Quiet on set!” Allie whisper-shouted, throwing a mean glower over her shoulder at Megan.  

Megan stuck her tongue out at Allie then looked back to Christen in question. Christen quickly nodded, wishing she was already eating dinner instead of sitting in the locker room, surrounded by dirty workout clothes and cleats.

“I’d say my best quality is my sense of humor,” Kelley smirked. “Oh, and my work ethic.” Kelley beamed at the camera, her eyes crinkling.

Christen hadn’t even heard Allie’s second question, completely distracted by her hunger and Megan’s facial expressions next to her.

“Who do you think is the most competitive player on the team?” Allie asked.

“Hmmm…probably Abby, but Becky’s also really intense. Everyone wants to win,” Kelley replied seriously.

“Oooh, important question alert: What’s your ideal date?” Allie asked. Kelley’s immediate smirk earned her a hard eye roll from Allie.

“Well, she’d have to be tall and blonde. I’m really into lacrosse players right now, but I don’t discriminate when it comes to athletes,” Kelley shrugged.

“You’re such a fuck boy,” Megan quipped from across the room.

“You’re the one banging a basketball player! A junior might I add! She’s practically robbing the cradle by dating you!” Kelley shot back, lifting herself off of the bench.

“It was like one date, I’m not banging her!” Megan defended, crossing her arms over her chest.

“My mistake, you’re making looooove,” Kelley prodded with a grin.

Megan grabbed a water bottle from the ground and stomped over to Kelley. She took a sip of water from her water bottle before aiming it at Kelley and spraying a stream of water at her.

“MY HAIR!” Kelley yelled. “IT WAS PERFECT!” She leaped at Megan, trying to pry the water bottle out of Megan’s hand. Suddenly, Allie pinched Kelley’s ear and tugged her back to the bench.

“Please, please, please just let me finish this stupid video before you two kill each other,” Allie sighed, letting go of Kelley in favor of picking up her phone again. Megan settled back down next to Christen while Kelley re-adjusted her hair and rubbed at her smarting ear. 

“Kelley, if you had to choose one of your teammates to be the President of the U.S.A. who would you choose?”

“Not Megan,” Kelley grumbled.

“What was that?” Allie clarified, her eyes holding a warning. 

Kelley fixed a smile on her face. “Uh…probably me,” she said, her smile morphing from strained to teasingly cocky in an instant.

“You?” Allie asked, clearly not impressed with Kelley’s second attempt at an answer.

“Fine. Probably Christen, I guess,” Kelley shrugged, finally taking the question seriously. “Yeah, Pressy is really organized and smart. Plus, she’s all into peace and love and whatever.”

Looking mildly impressed, Allie wrapped Kelley’s interview up with a final question. “What are you majoring in and what do you want to do after you graduate?”

“That’s two questions,” Kelley pointed out, making Allie’s shoulders sag with exhaustion. Allie simply stared at Kelley, not gratifying her with a response.

“I’m majoring in Marketing and Public Relations, and I want to play professional soccer, duh,” Kelley answered, springing up from her spot on the bench and giving Allie a thumbs up. “We’re finished?” she asked.

“Yes, please go before I hit you,” Allie answered, wanting to get Kelley out of the way as quickly as possible. “Pinoe, you’re up.”

Megan stood up and walked over to where Kelley had just sat, situating herself on the bench and checking her hair one last time in her own phone camera.

“Hey Allie,” Kelley interrupted, pulling on a sweatshirt and grabbing her backpack, “make sure you ask Megan about Sue Bird.”

Megan pulled a shinguard out of the nearest locker and threw it at Kelley’s retreating form, hitting the edge of the doorframe. Kelley’s laughing could be heard bouncing down the hall.

“All right here we go.” Allie started, her voice much less enthusiastic than it had been during Kelley’s interview.

“Hi everyone, my name’s Megan Rapinoe and my least favorite person in the world currently is Kelley O’Hara.”

Allie hid her face behind her hand and groaned. “You freshmen are going to be the death of me.”

Megan held up her hands in surrender. “Sorry, sorry. I’ll be professional now.”

Allie’s eyes held her suspicions about that claim as she held her phone back up. “So where are you from, Pinoe?

“Redding, California,” Megan responded, not feeling the need to tell a long story like Kelley and further irritate Allie. She kept her answers short and sweet.

Christen listened as her roommate answered Allie’s questions, avoiding any talk about Sue Bird, the basketball player that she was kind of, maybe, possibly, sometimes dating. Megan brightened at the mention of her twin sister who was playing at a college in Oregon, gushing about how talented she was. Christen was somewhat envious of how comfortable Megan seemed in front of the camera. She never felt that way. She preferred to stay firmly out of the spotlight.

Crystal slipped back into the locker room from the bathroom, walking softly to avoid making any noise. She dropped onto the chair next to Christen and gave her a small smile, which Christen returned.

“Megan said something about grabbing dinner after this?” Christen whispered, hoping she was quiet enough not to incur Allie’s wrath. She was mistaken.

“QUIET ON SET MEANS QUIET ON SET!” Allie howled. 

Crystal nodded in response to Christen’s question while the two of them did their best to hold in their laughter at Allie and her current power-trip.

“Who’s the grumpiest person on the team?” Allie asked.

“Besides you right now? Hmm...I think it depends on the time of day,” Megan replied, winking at Allie. “Ashlyn’s super grumpy in the mornings, especially if you catch her pre-coffee. Kriegs has told me horror stories. I also wouldn’t recommend talking to Becky or Abby after a loss, or even a tie,” Megan laughed softly, remembering the one time she’d tried to give Becky a pep talk after losing an intrasquad scrimmage and received the most terrifying stare down in response.

“If you had a superpower what would it be?”

“Reading people’s minds,” Megan smiled deviously. 

Crystal couldn’t help but interject, loving to push Megan’s buttons just a little. “What if they thought something rude about you?” Crystal asked.

“Like anyone would! I’m me,” Megan scoffed, brushing her fingers through her hair. She had a point there, everybody loved Megan Rapinoe.

“Anyone ever told you that you need to work on your confidence?” Christen called out, smirking at her roommate. 

Megan made a face and then looked back to Allie. “Hit me with another, Long. I’ve fielded enough questions from the peanut gallery over there.”

Allie consulted her typed list of questions then grinned up at Megan. “Who on the team would make the best President of the U.S.A.?” 

Megan pretended to think on that for a minute, tapping her finger against her chin. “I’d say, Becky or Christen. Both of them are crazy organized and well-spoken. Plus, they’re super focused. I’d be too afraid to ever get in the way of them and their goals,” Megan responded, blowing a kiss at Christen.

Christen blushed a little. Both of her teammates had listed her as someone they thought could run the country, and she wouldn’t lie and say she wasn’t flattered by that. She did consider herself organized, but it was nice to feel like other people also saw her as dependable and focused.

“What’s your ideal date?” Allie asked.

“That’s a tough one. I’d have to say April 25th because it’s not too hot, not too cold. All you need is a light jacket,” Megan responded, trying and failing to keep a straight face.

“Did you just quote Miss Congeniality?” Christen chuckled. She loved that movie, and Megan’s response had completely caught her off guard, making her practically snort with laughter. “Wait! Can we watch that tonight, you guys?” Christen asked her two roommates, her eyes pleading.

“Yes!” Megan and Crystal responded simultaneously. 

“I should have saved myself the time and interviewed the three of you together,” Allie commented, readjusting the iPhone. “Last one Pinoe, what are you majoring in and what do you want to do after college?”

“I haven’t decided yet. I’m either majoring in Political Science so that I can be the first female president, or I’ll just get my Mrs. degree so I can fulfill my life’s dream of being the trophy wife of a hot athlete,” Megan smirked.

“Yeah, I’m cutting that last part,” Allie sighed, stopping the video and motioning for Crystal to take Megan’s place. Megan took a dramatic bow and then moved away from the bench, high-fiving Crystal as she walked by.

“Enjoy the hot seat.”

Crystal shook her head and settled in front of the iPhone, also looking extremely comfortable up there. Christen’s stomach fluttered with nerves when she realized she was up next. She wished she had just an ounce of Megan’s charisma and Crystal’s confidence. It would make this entire experience much easier.

“Crystal, would you please tell the lovely people watching this video who you are and where you’re from?” 

“I’m Crystal Dunn and I’m from New York,” Crystal responded, taking a sip from her water bottle between questions. 

Needing to keep busy, Christen shoved her now-cooled hair straightener into her backpack and pulled on her sneakers, lacing them loosely onto her feet. “It’s just an interview. You’ll be fine,” Christen thought to herself, even as her fingers shook while lacing up her shoes. Megan seemed to sense her dilemma and ran a hand over Christen’s back soothingly.

“Who’s the sweetest person on the team?” Allie asked. 

“I think Ali Krieger is really sweet,” Crystal smiled, thinking about her teammates. “Christen Press is also very sweet, and Alyssa’s really nice too.”

Megan scoffed from her spot off camera, making Crystal hurry to defend her response. 

“Everyone else is nice too, obviously. We have a great team! Kriegs, Christen, and Alyssa are just extra sweet and supportive.” 

“What are you majoring in, and what do you want to do when you’re finished with school?” Allie asked.

“I’m majoring in Sociology, and I want to be a professional soccer player. Super original answer, I know. But if that doesn’t pan out, I’m interested in social work too.”

After a few more questions, Allie stopped the video and bent down to pick up her Gatorade.

“You’re up C.P.,” she said between sips. 

Christen gulped and made her way to the bench. Crystal shot her an excited thumbs up as she passed, which helped to somewhat calm the fluttering in her stomach. She ran her fingers through her hair one last time, glad she’d had the forethought to bring a hairbrush and straightener with her for after practice. She had no idea what UCLA was going to use this video for, and she wasn’t about to let Allie film her post-practice, completely frizzy-haired and sweaty. 

“Your hair looks great, C.P. Stop fussing. You ready?” Allie asked.

Christen nodded, lifting her head toward the camera. 

“State your name please,” Allie said.

With a final deep breath to prepare herself, Christen fixed a large smile on her face. “Hi there, I’m Christen. Christen Press.” 

“And, where are you from?” Allie asked. 

“Palos Verdes, California,” Christen answered, her smile widening slightly at the thought of her parent's home where her little sister and dogs still lived. 

“You’ve been called one of the sweetest people on the team. How does that make you feel?” Allie asked, causing Christen to immediately blush. 

“Uh...it’s nice I guess. Totally unexpected, honestly. I’m a pretty competitive person, but if I can be sweet and a badass, that sounds like a good combination to me,” Christen replied. She could hear Megan and Crystal laugh quietly from the other end of the locker room.

“Are you an only child or do you have siblings?” 

Christen brightened at the question. Her family was one of the most important things in her life, and she was so lucky to have them. Part of the reason she’d chosen to play at UCLA, and not somewhere like UNC or Stanford, was to stay close to everyone. She was a homebody at heart and sticking close by gave her the chance to see her parents, her sisters, and her dogs whenever she wanted. It also gave her parents the ability to watch her play regularly, which was something they were extremely happy about. They had only missed a handful of her games over the course of her career, and even now at UCLA, they found a way to travel to almost every away game. The only one they’d missed so far this season had been the Penn State game back in August. “Whoa don’t think about that game right now. Stay. Focused,” Christen chided herself, readjusting her position on the bench.  

“I have two sisters, one older and one younger. Plus, my parents have two dogs, who have definitely become their favorite children,” Christen grinned. 

“Which teammate do you think would make the best president of the U.S.A.?” 

“I think Becky’s the only teammate I would trust to run a country,” Christen nodded matter-of-factly, causing Megan to sigh dramatically from her spot in the locker room. 

“What’s your ideal date, C.P.?” 

“Oh, umm, well I’m a simple girl,” Christen replied, her cheeks heating up. She knew this question was coming, but it didn’t make it any easier to answer. She was having trouble not imagining a certain date scenario with a certain someone on that date with her. Thoughts of Tobin drifted through her mind and Christen fought off the fierce blush that crept up her neck. “I’d love any date on the beach with some food and good company.”

“Aw, Pressy! That’s adorable,” Allie teased, causing the dark-haired forward to blush even harder. If only Allie knew who Christen had been picturing on that ideal date with her. She wondered if Allie would still find her answer adorable. “If you could have one superpower, which would you choose?”

“Teleportation,” Christen answered without hesitation, thankful for a return to normal questions. “I miss my family a lot, even though they’re close. But I’d love to be able to just pop back home any time I want instead of having to fight L.A. traffic to get there.”

“Last question. What’s your major, and what do you want to do after college?”

“I’m majoring in Communications and Psychology and minoring in Spanish. Like my teammates, I hope to play professionally. And maybe someday I’ll play for the national team too.” Christen felt her face flush and the tips of her ears turn pink. She always felt slightly embarrassed when she spoke her real goals aloud. 

Becoming a professional athlete was rare. The percentage of successful female athletes was so low, and Christen knew that anything could happen in four years to disrupt those plans. Nothing was guaranteed. But she’d always dreamt of playing professionally and for her country, on the world stage. She only hoped she could one day make that dream a reality.

“Aaaaand that’s a wrap! Okay guys thanks for sitting down and doing this!” Allie said as she put her phone away and swung her backpack over her shoulder. 

“No problem, Al,” Megan responded, throwing Christen’s jacket to the green-eyed forward and leading Crystal to the door. 

“Want to come eat with us?” Crystal, ever the polite one, asked Allie, ignoring Megan’s hand on her wrist. 

“I’m actually getting some food delivered to my dorm. I’m gonna edit all of these interview questions together, and then my boyfriend’s coming over later. Next time, though?” Allie replied, an easy smile on her face. 

Christened ducked her head while pulling on her jacket. She couldn’t help the smile that crept onto her face. “If Allie hadn’t already been acting like the straightest person in the world, now I definitely know that she and Tobin aren’t dating,” she thought to herself, shaking her head softly. “You shouldn’t be thinking about that. Tobin can date whoever she wants. It’s none of your business.”

“Let’s move out. I’m starving!” Megan called, practically out of the locker room already. 

Crystal and Christen laughed, waving bye to Allie before trailing after their friend. 


“I swear to God. If Coach comes back in here to tell me I’m not squatting low enough, I’m going home,” ARod grumbled, her legs shaking with strain. 

“I mean, she’s not wrong,” Lauren laughed. “You aren’t even really squatting today. It’s more like a little dip of the knees.”

Tobin burst into laughter, causing ARod to shoot a glare at her too. 

“Tobs, don’t get involved. I’m like your only friend,” she warned. 

“That isn’t true. Everyone loves me,” Tobin grinned back. “Even Coach does. Maybe it’s because I can squat.”

ARod reached out an arm and shoved Tobin over, almost knocking her into Alex and Moe behind her. 

“Watch it,” Tobin scolded, sending an apologetic smile to her roommate. 

The whole team was in the weight room, taking turns at different stations. ARod, Lauren, and Tobin were taking turns squatting with a weighted bar, Alex and Moe were passing a medicine ball back and forth, Lindsey and Sonnet were working on pull-ups and chin-ups, and Julie and Lynn were running through an ab workout that their assistant coach had created. The rest of their teammates were working on cardio and cross-training, taking turns jogging on the treadmills against the walls and riding the exercise bikes on the opposite side of the room.

“How many more rounds of this do we have?” ARod whined. 

“Once you’re finished, we’re moving on to the next station and going through everything one more time,” Lauren said, a yawn escaping her lips. 

“I’m starving,” Tobin sighed, stretching one of her legs behind her body. 

“You just ate two sandwiches,” ARod teased. 

“It was a sandwich and a half, and that was an hour ago,” Tobin groaned, holding onto her stomach for emphasis. 

“Switch!” their assistant coach yelled, checking the time on her watch. 

“FINALLY!” ARod cheered, moving toward the medicine ball and throwing it to Tobin. 

The three of them passed the ball back and forth, Tobin’s arms starting to ache a little after a few minutes. Then they moved to the next station, Lauren dominating her teammates in both pull-ups and chin-ups and Tobin complaining the entire time. 

“See, you guys make fun of my squats, but Tobin’s got toothpick arms. That isn’t a pull-up, Tobs!” ARod joked, lifting Tobin by the waist and helping her reach the bar with her chin. 

“I hate you,” Tobin grunted, dangling from the bar, her arms shaking. 

“You’re a little weak there, Tobs,” Lauren teased, pulling herself up next to Tobin with ease.”

“My legs are my tools,” Tobin wheezed, kicking her legs in the air. 

“Switch!”

“Thank you, God!” Tobin coughed, dropping to the ground and trudging to the next station. She could hear her friends laughing behind her but didn’t care. She was ready to show off during the ab workout, a workout she knew Lauren would have trouble doing without complaint. 

Once they finished their last station, Tobin, Lauren, and ARod raced to the locker room, hoping to get to the showers before their other teammates. 

“I’m not going to be able to walk tomorrow,” ARod grumbled, digging through her backpack to find her body wash. 

“We have a morning practice tomorrow, so you better figure out how to,” Lauren laughed, throwing her towel over her shoulder and walking back toward the showers. 

“You okay, Tobs?” ARod asked, noticing that Tobin hadn’t said a word since entering the locker room. 

Tobin lifted her head from her phone and smiled at ARod. 

“Oh, yeah. I’m fine,” Tobin said. She’d been looking for her shampoo when she’d seen her phone. Normally, it wouldn’t have stopped her in her tracks, but she’d seen four texts from Harry and three from her brother, so she’d decided to read them before showering. Her brother had only wanted to know if she had any Christmas gift ideas for their two older sisters, something that Tobin almost always saved until the last possible minute. Harry, on the other hand, had sent her a few texts, the first one absolutely startling her. 

 

[Harry 😜  3:37PM]

EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY! 

 

[Harry 😜  3:40PM]

Jk lol. I just need your opinion on this edit I did for the video I told you about when we Facetimed on Tuesday.

 

[Harry 😜  3:42PM]

(Video attachment)

 

[Harry 😜  3:50PM]

Let me know what you think! I think I did a great job. Catch me on ESPN after we’ve won a ton of World Cups and Olympic medals 💁

 

Tobin sent off a quick text, prepared to ignore Allie’s request, pretend like she watched the video, and take a leisurely shower in the locker room before getting dinner with her friends. 

 

[Tobin 4:15PM]

Just finished lifting. Don’t use the emergency text without a reason, dude. Great video! You’re totally ESPN material!

 

[Harry 😜  4:16PM]

You didn’t even watch it. Come on! PLEEEAAASE, Harry! You’re my best friend. 

 

Tobin could imagine Allie’s pouting face when she read the message. She immediately felt guilty for lying about watching it in the hopes of just ignoring her friend’s request. 

 

[Harry 😜  4:16PM]

I need your opinion before I send it to Coach Foudy. It’s the “Meet the Freshmen” video!

 

That gave Tobin pause. Even though she was sweaty and tired and hungry, she had a newfound interest in the video. “Wait UCLA Freshmen...will Christen be in this?”

Tobin ignored ARod’s and Lauren’s banter as they walked to the showers and quickly clicked on the video, butterflies bursting in her stomach as soon as she saw the face on the screen. Christen Press’s green eyes stared at her through her phone. Her smile was so radiant it was almost blinding. Tobin couldn’t tear her eyes away as she pressed play.

“Hi there, I’m Christen. Christen Press,” Christen said in the video. Tobin immediately hit pause, the video frozen on the image of Christen giggling slightly, her eyes crinkled, and her beaming smile on full display. 

“That voice,” Tobin thought, “it was like magic.” Christen’s voice hit Tobin square in the chest and knocked the breath from her lungs. It was sweet and honeyed, modulated, and full of purpose. Tobin realized that she’d never actually heard Christen speak before, not really. Sure, she’d heard Christen call for the ball and yell out commands during the game they played against each other. But her voice had been gravelly and matter-of-fact, raised and full of a deep, resounding power on the field. In this video though, she spoke so softly, so full of sunshine and light, that Tobin felt like she was hearing her for the first time. 

“Who’s that Tobs?” ARod asked. 

Tobin shoved her phone into her pocket and turned to face ARod, who was peeking her head back into the locker room. Tobin could feel the heat in her cheeks and she knew that ARod could tell she was blushing.

“Uh, no one,” Tobin lied, scrambling to pack her bag. “I gotta run. I’ve gotta go...shave…” Her flimsy excuse was just that, flimsy, and she was the world’s worst liar, so ARod definitely saw right through her. But Tobin wasn’t going to stick around and see if ARod bought it. She threw her bag over her shoulder, not taking the time to even put on her coat. She ran out of the locker room and into the freezing air outside. 

It wasn’t snowing yet in Pennsylvania, but it was cold enough to. Tobin shivered as she hustled through campus back toward her dorm. They were expecting a few flurries in the next few days and even had a snow warning for the game scheduled for Friday. They were playing Bowling Green at home in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But that was the furthest thing from Tobin’s mind right now. 

When she made it to her dorm room, she dropped her bag and threw herself onto her bed, her finger hovering over the video once more. She hesitated for just a second, wondering if she was ready to watch Christen Press talk and smile and laugh. She’d made it through just eight seconds of the video earlier and had to pause, overcome by her reaction to hearing Christen’s voice and seeing her for the first time since their game. 

“She’s just a girl. Get over yourself. You’re watching this for Harry, not to satisfy some stupid crush,” Tobin reminded herself. But the words felt hollow and untrue as they ran through her mind. She hadn’t been able to get the green-eyed striker out of her head and watching this video was definitely not going to help matters. 

If Tobin were honest with herself, she hadn’t paid much attention to the other freshmen in the video. Sure, she remembered the pink-haired forward from their game, who she now knew was Megan, but that girl and the two others weren’t why Tobin was watching. Christen was. 

Tobin found herself zeroing in on the screen every time Christen appeared. Every smile, every small giggle, every time she adjusted her hair or wet her lips. Tobin was transfixed. She also learned so much about Christen in such a short amount of time.

She was from California and was super close to her family. She was the sweetest person on UCLA’s team, something Tobin had zero doubts about. She had two dogs who she loved more than anything. And she had great ideas about first dates. 

“A day at the beach with food sounds perfect,” Tobin thought, finding herself imagining just what that would be like for them. Maybe they would go surfing and grab a meal from a local food truck. Or maybe they would play beach volleyball and lounge in the sun. Or maybe -

“Dude, chill. You legit don’t even know the girl. And why would she want to go on a date with you, anyway?”

Snapping out of it, Tobin clicked out of the video and went back to her messages with Allie.

 

[Tobin 5:43PM]

Looks great. I’ll hit up ESPN and make sure they hire you. 

Great work, Harry 👍

 

Tobin sent off the message, not bothering to check for a response. She laid back against her pillows, arms crossed behind her head, and let her mind wander. 

She’d learned three very important things from that video. Number one, Christen Press was far more beautiful than Tobin remembered. Her piercing green eyes seemed to shine in the video. Her cheekbones and jaw were more chiseled than Tobin had been able to see on the field. Still, there was a softness about her and the way she held herself. Her lips were full and soft-looking, breaking into sweet smiles throughout the video. Tobin couldn’t help but wish that she could put a smile like that on Christen’s face, that she could make those soft lips quirk up into a grin. Tobin also hadn’t noticed just how beautiful her hair was during the game. Christen’s hair had been pulled into a tight ponytail that day, but in the video, it hung below her collarbones. It was beautiful both naturally curly, like on her Instagram profile that Tobin had stared at far too often, and straightened and silky, not a hair out of place, like in the video. Christen Press was, in a word, stunning. 

Number two, Christen had the same career goals and dreams as her. Tobin was surprised that those things mattered to her, but they did. It meant that their hearts and minds were in the same place, that their priorities were aligned. It meant that the two of them could take the NWSL by storm, then go on to represent the United States together at the World Cup and the Olympics. With her on the left and Christen on the right, they’d be an unstoppable force on the field. The thought sent a shiver down Tobin’s spine.

Lastly, coming in at number three, Tobin learned that Christen Press was way, way out of her league. Not only was Christen a phenomenal soccer player, but she was funny and smart and kind. She was breathtakingly gorgeous and carried herself with a shy sort of confidence that Tobin found incredibly endearing. Her teammates all thought she was the sweetest person on the team and had whatever it took to be President. Which meant that Christen Press was leaps and bounds above Tobin in every single way. Tobin could live a hundred lives and never deserve Christen. 

That wouldn’t stop Tobin from thinking about Christen though, nor stop her from hoping that they both made it far along enough in the NCAA Tournament to face each other again. Tobin not only wanted a rematch, but she also wanted to actually introduce herself to Christen Press.


“I got popcorn!” Channing grinned when she slipped into Christen’s childhood bedroom. 

“Thank goodness! I’m starving,” Christen sighed, reaching out for the bowl in her little sister’s hands. 

She and her entire UCLA team had been granted two days off to rest and relax for the weekend after their Friday night win against Florida State. Their win had guaranteed them a spot in the semi-finals next weekend, and Coach Foudy thought they all deserved some time off. Christen hadn’t even hesitated after the news. Her parents had come to watch the game, and after hearing that she had time off, she’d packed a weekend bag and ridden back home to Palos Verdes with her parents. Megan and Crystal were sad to see her go, but they understood. They promised to see her Monday morning, bright and early, for practice. 

Christen had been exhausted Friday night. Their game had been a grueling one, both mentally and physically. Florida State was a good team, but UCLA had proved better in the end. Abby had been subbed in for Megan in the 79th minute. Abby was now fully healed and had been cleared to play, but Coach Foudy still wanted to limit her minutes. It had been a stroke of genius to sub her in though, because a minute later, Christen crossed the ball into the box and found Abby, who towered over the Seminoles defenders. Her goal had been a beauty and it had been enough to give them the win. 

Christen had hardly made it up the stairs to her bedroom on Friday night and slept most of the day away on Saturday, waking up just in time for a late brunch and an afternoon hike with her mom and the dogs. Her legs felt a bit better after the short hike, but her shoulder was a bit sore where she’d been hit by an overly-zealous Florida State midfielder. 

Much to her parent's disappointment, they had to attend a work dinner for her dad, so it was just Channing and Christen at home with the dogs for Saturday night. Christen couldn’t complain, though. She’d been so busy during her first semester at UCLA that she’d hardly had time to keep up with her little sister. 

“Scootch over,” Channing whispered, wiggling under the covers next to her older sister. 

Christen smiled, nostalgia warming her chest. She’d missed nights like this, cuddled up with one of her sisters, the two dogs at the foot of her bed. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed them until she was here, cuddled up with Channing.

“I really thought you’d be tired of soccer after all the playing you’ve been doing,” Channing muttered, shoving a handful of popcorn into her mouth. 

Christen looked down at her computer where the Penn State game against UNC was about to begin. They were playing their quarterfinal game in Chapel Hill, with UNC being the higher seed and the favorite to make it to the semifinals. The other quarterfinal games were already over, with Stanford and UVA making it to the semifinals along with UCLA. The College Cup of 2020 was scheduled to be held in Orlando, Florida and Christen knew the excitement in her stomach was two-fold. She was dying to make it to the finals and hoist the NCAA Championship trophy over her head with her teammates, but she was also giddy at the thought of seeing Tobin again, in person. 

“Not sick of it yet. I just want to prepare myself for the semifinals, and I’m gonna be playing one of these two teams,” Christen replied. 

It wasn’t a complete lie. Christen did want to watch the game and gauge her competition. Perhaps there was extra motivation since Tobin Heath played for Penn State, but Christen had convinced herself that she was watching solely for research purposes. 

“You look tired, Christen. I don’t want you to burn yourself out. Maybe we could just sleep?” Channing hummed next to her. 

Christen looked at her little sister, matching green eyes meeting her own. Channing was sensitive, perhaps even more sensitive than Christen, and Christen loved that about her little sister. That sensitivity made Channing incredibly kind, great at listening, and easy to open up to. That same sensitivity made Channing way too observant for her own good. Christen had been feeling tired and maybe a bit overworked, but she wasn’t about to slow down right before the NCAA Championship. She had already lightened her load, taking time away from Starbucks and tutoring. So, even if she was exhausted, she couldn’t take her foot off the gas now when it came to soccer. They were in the home stretch.

“I’m fine, really. I’m just getting into the swing of college,” Christen sighed. She squeezed her little sister’s hand, not sure which of them she was trying to comfort. “Are you okay watching soccer?” Christen asked. 

“Of course,” Channing nodded. 

Christen glanced at her sister, making sure that she was being serious. Her little sister had only recently expressed that she wanted to quit playing soccer and not follow in her sister’s footsteps and play collegiately. The last thing Christen wanted to do was make Channing feel uncomfortable by pressuring her to watch soccer. 

“I’m looking forward to it,” Channing assured. “I just like spending time with you.”

Christen leaned her head against Channing’s shoulder, sinking into that peaceful, at-home feeling again. The two sisters stared at the computer screen as the whistle blew, signaling the start of the Penn State and UNC game. 

Christen’s stomach was in knots the entire first half. She was sure that she was squeezing Channing’s hand way too hard, but she couldn’t stop. She hated that she was nervous about a game that she wasn’t even playing in, but she couldn’t help herself. She had trouble believing that Penn State, despite having Tobin Heath and a multitude of great players, could beat UNC. And if UNC won...Christen knew that she wouldn’t have another chance during the semester to see Tobin in person and possibly talk to her. 

Christen’s eyes were glued to the forward. Tobin was easy to spot, her hair sloppy and her jersey much too large for her thin frame. She ran purposefully, slipping the ball between defenders’ feet and passing with precision. She was beautiful to watch.

In the 43rd minute, Christen’s heart sank. Penn State’s defense had been slightly shaky from the beginning and UNC’s striker found a perfect moment to take a shot, a shot that Penn State’s goalkeeper couldn’t have stopped even if she’d wanted to. Tobin’s shoulders slumped on Christen’s computer screen. A deep line appeared on her forehead and her hands clenched into fists. Christen felt her eyes widen at the sight. She’d never seen that sort of expression on Tobin’s face. One of pure rage. Tobin tore down the field with the ball, passing UNC players as she went, only stopping when a defender took her down with a tackle. Tobin leaped back to her feet, knowing a foul wouldn’t be called and wanting to continue playing. 

“Damn, she’s fired up,” Channing said, startling Christen from her extreme focus. 

“Huh? Oh, Yeah,” Christen mumbled, watching as halftime was called and the girls jogged off the field. Her eyes searched for Tobin among the crowd leaving the field.

“She’s good too, though,” Channing added. 

“Yeah, she is,” Christen agreed, still looking at the screen, wishing she could catch sight of Number 17 again. 

“So,” Channing cleared her throat, “Any cute people at UCLA?” She grinned at Christen, wanting her older sister to gossip with her about her love life or crazy college parties. 

Christen paused, momentary uncertainty taking root within her. But one look at Channing’s easy smile and open expression, and Christen caved.

“Um...not at UCLA,” Christen admitted, feeling butterflies beat in her stomach again. She’d been keeping her feelings for Tobin to herself for so long, not even really telling Megan or Crystal about her. Sure, her roommates knew that she’d stalked Tobin’s Instagram. They’d teased her about it for a few days, but she hadn’t told either of them that she actually really liked Tobin. Well, what she knew about Tobin. She hadn’t told them that she thought Tobin was cute and talented. She hadn’t told them that she thought she might be crushing harder than she’d anticipated on a perfect stranger. 

“So someone at another school?” Channing pried. 

Christen nodded softly, tilting her head ever so slightly toward the computer screen. 

“Oh! Someone playing right now?” Channing asked, her eyebrows lifting and her smile growing. 

“Yeah,” Christen choked out. 

“Is she a Pennsylvania girl or a North Carolina girl?” Channing asked again, knowing that her sister preferred answering subtler questions, not being questioned outright. 

“She’s on Penn State’s team. Number 17,” Christen blurted out, finally feeling comfortable to spill everything about Tobin. Even if Christen still felt slightly weird for crushing on someone she hardly knew, admitting it to herself and her sister was oddly freeing.

“Number 17, you mean the really good one?” Channing asked, her smile brightening even more. 

“Yeah, the left-winger. She’s really really good, like ridiculously good. She’s played on the youth national teams,” Christen responded. 

“Holy crap dude! You’re crushing on a star! When did you two meet?” Channing asked, practically jumping off of the bed with excitement. 

“We had a preseason game against them. Remember? I flew to Pennsylvania in August,” Christen said, blushing slightly as she continued. “I haven’t actually spoken to her, though, so I guess we haven’t actually met,” she mumbled. 

Channing’s mouth dropped slightly before she schooled her face and smiled softly at her sister. “Well that’s okay, you’ll just have to introduce yourself when you play her at the semifinals.”

“They’re losing 1-0,” Christen reminded her sister. 

“I’m sorry,” Channing laughed, “Did you not see how mad your girl looked at the end of that first half? She’s about to score as soon as they start again,” Channing pointed at the screen. 

“She’s not my girl, Chan,” Christen said, her eyes drifting back toward the screen when the two teams ran back out onto the field. “Even if I kinda sorta want her to be.”

Christen found Tobin on the field immediately. She looked slightly calmer, still determined but definitely less angry. The entire team looked more determined actually, most likely having had a fierce pep talk from their coach before returning to the field. The game began pretty quickly after that, with Penn State kicking off and sending a long ball down the field.

“What’s her name?”

Christen spared her sister a quick look before moving her eyes back to the screen.

“Tobin...Tobin Heath,” Christen murmured. She could feel the heat crawl up her neck and color the tips of her ears. Her sister’s delighted giggle made her blush deepen.

“You got it bad, Mo, look at those heart eyes! Okay but important Q, does Tobin Heath know you exist?” Channing asked, more interested in her sister’s life than the game. 

“Uggghhh…” Christen groaned, placing her hands over her eyes, a mistake she immediately regretted when Channing gripped her arm tightly and gasped. Christen lowered her hands just in time to see the tail end of a beautiful Penn State goal from Tobin. Tobin ran to her closest teammate, jumping into the air and pumping her fist. Christen’s smile just grew and grew as the camera lingered on Tobin, hugging her teammates with the biggest grin plastered on her sweaty face. 

“You might play her in the semis after all,” Channing teased. “So, what’s this about her knowing you exist?” she immediately added, not letting her sister get away without a response. 

Despite her embarrassment and the constant cringing, Christen explained in all of its horrific detail how she’d stalked Tobin’s Instagram. She’d included how she’d Googled first and even ventured onto YouTube for information about the left-winger. To her credit, Channing kept her face neutral the entire time. She watched her older sister explain and blush, not saying a word or teasing her about her crush. 

“And then Megan accidentally liked a picture,” Christen finished, her hands running through her hair, feeling self-conscious after admitting all of that. 

“So, she saw the notification,” Channing stated, barely pulling her eyes away from Christen’s phone, which she was now using to peruse Tobin Heath’s Instagram. 

“Of course. Apparently, you can’t get rid of notifications, even if you unlike a picture,” Christen sighed. 

“And what did she do? Follow you?” 

“Nope, nothing,” Christen groaned again. “She probably thinks I’m a freak.”

“She most certainly doesn’t,” Channing replied, dropping Christen’s phone and urging her sister to look her in the eyes. “You are beautiful, and smart, and funny, and like the best person ever. She’s probably dying to talk to you and get to know you. You’re a catch,” Channing insisted. 

Christen shrugged, feeling unworthy of the praise like she always did. “She might not even be into girls, and now some weird soccer player from across the country who has a dumb crush liked her photo and freaked her out,” Christen replied, letting her deepest fears spill out to her sister. 

“I’m sorry have you seen her Instagram?” Channing asked, laughing softly. “Look at how she dresses. That is not a straight woman.” Channing held up the phone and pointed to a picture Tobin had taken a few months prior, in June. She was wearing a snapback, Nike joggers, and a Be True Nike t-shirt. She held up a shaka sign and posed in front of a brick wall that had a painted message on it in rainbow letters: Love is Love.

Christen laughed then too, her sister calming her fears, even if for only a moment. “I love you, Chan,” she sighed, holding tightly onto her sister’s hand. 

They watched the rest of the second half, both holding their breath at the 88th minute as Tobin sprinted down the field with the ball at her feet. She passed to another Penn State player, giving her the perfect opportunity to score. Which she did, causing both sisters to throw their hands up in the air and cheer loudly. They almost woke the dogs up with their screams, but they didn’t care.

“Looks like you’re gonna have to introduce yourself to her,” Channing said, wrapping her arms around Christen’s shoulders as the Penn State players on the computer celebrated their 2-1 win and ticket to the semifinals. 

Christen’s heart somersaulted in her chest. She held onto Channing, needing to ground herself at that moment. 

“Looks like it,” Christen whispered.

If she were honest with herself, she was terrified. She had no idea how she was going to behave around Tobin, how she was supposed to remain focused while playing against Tobin. The only reason she had been able to focus in August was because she hadn’t known who Tobin was. She hadn’t known her name then, she hadn’t yet become intimately familiar with her Instagram feed, and she hadn’t had repeated, intrusive thoughts about her goofy smile and tanned abs. But now...now she had. How was she supposed to play soccer with Tobin on her mind? She had a week to figure that out.

Yet, despite her fear, Christen was beyond excited. She was trembling with anticipation and wishing for time to speed up, for the game to begin, just so she could line up face to face with Tobin Heath one more time. And hopefully beat her at her own game, again.

Chapter Text

Cliff's edge, you turn me on

You lead me on

You got me on a

Cliff's edge, where I belong

You got me on

You turn me on

(Tobin - “Cliff’s Edge” by Hayley Kioko)

A meter apart

You blankly stare

We shout in our heads

Are you still in there?

Well this ends bad, then

We knew it would

So we won't eat our words

'Cause they don't taste good

(Christen - “Monster” by Dodie)

 

“You played really well,” the green-eyed forward smirked, walking across the hotel room. It was the same smirk that she’d given Tobin at their first game, the smirk that had lived in Tobin’s memory for more than three full months. 

“Christen,” Tobin choked out, causing the dark-haired forward to grin softly at her. 

“Tobin?” Christen replied teasingly, quirking her head to the side. 

Tobin had never seen someone so cute and sexy at the same time. It was a combination that shouldn’t work, but Christen found a way to pull it off. As Christen tugged her lower lip between her teeth, Tobin’s stomach flipped slowly. 

“Wh-What are you doing here?” Tobin mumbled, noticing that Christen was stepping forward, crossing the room to where Tobin’s feet were planted. 

Christen was wearing a pair of black leggings that hugged her body and a white tank top. Her shoes were off, lying near the door, leaving her in a pair of Nike socks. She looked comfortable in Tobin’s space, something Tobin found both amazing and terrifying. Christen’s hair was freshly washed and dried, wild and curly, falling over her shoulders. 

“You asked me to come over after the game,” Christen laughed, looking at Tobin as if she were crazy or forgetful or both. 

Tobin racked her brain for that memory, coming up empty. 

“You said we’d continue what we started before the game,” Christen added, reaching out and resting her hands on Tobin’s hips. 

Tobin’s skin immediately warmed at the touch, something that seemed strange considering Christen’s thin fingers were cold. She leaned her forehead into Tobin’s, their breaths collecting between them. 

“I missed you,” Christen whispered, her breath soft and warm against Tobin’s cheek. 

This was all happening too fast and not fast enough. Tobin willed her erratic heartbeat to slow as her eyelids fluttered closed, grounding herself with the feeling of Christen’s breath ghosting across her cheek.

“I never thought I could miss someone I didn’t even know,” Tobin whispered back. She reached out and pulled Christen’s hips toward hers, needing the green-eyed girl to be just a little bit closer. They stood there, breathing each other in, their hips practically pressed against one another. 

Christen’s lips grazed against Tobin’s jaw, causing the brunette to open her eyes with a start. Tobin couldn’t help the sigh she let out. She’d been waiting to feel this close to Christen for months. She’d been longing to know what she felt like and smelled like, what she sounded like when she whispered and sighed. Christen’s lips were on her jaw, moving down to her neck and trailing softly against her collarbones. Tobin had no idea why UCLA’s Number 23 was in her hotel room. Truth be told, Tobin couldn’t even really remember getting to the hotel or playing in the semis. She had no idea where her roommate was or what had led to this moment, but she was not going to question anything. She’d do anything to keep Christen Press this close to her, to feel Christen’s lips move against her own. 

Christen pulled away from Tobin, her pupils blown and her lips full. She stared at Tobin with the same kind of want that Tobin felt in her chest, and Tobin couldn’t help but lean forward and catch Christen’s bottom lip in between her own. 

She heard the noises that Christen made between each kiss, the soft moans and sighs, but Tobin could hardly process them, her brain too preoccupied with the feeling of Christen Press’s lips on hers, of her hips beneath her hands. Christen’s fingers tangled in the hem of Tobin’s t-shirt, sliding up against the bare skin along her ribs, and Tobin thought she might as well combust then and there. Her mind went completely blank, overwhelmed by the tingling sensation that Christen’s fingers left behind on every trace of skin. The backs of Tobin’s knees hit the foot of the bed, causing her to fall into a seated position, and Christen pulled Tobin’s shirt off in one fluid motion. 

Christen’s teeth grazed Tobin’s bottom lip, and Tobin let out another soft moan, knowing exactly what she was about to do with the UCLA forward. Images of Christen’s hair splayed across Tobin’s pillow, of Christen on top of Tobin, of Tobin leaving marks on places no one else would ever see, of Christen shirtless and moani-

“We are beginning our descent into Orlando, Florida. Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin,” the pilot announced over the loudspeaker. 

Tobin jerked up in her seat, her face immediately flushing a deep red. She took a ragged breath, trying to dispel every single image she’d imagined a second ago. It would have been one thing if she’d had the dream in the privacy of her own bedroom, but on the plane, Tobin was conscious of ARod and Lauren on either side of her, their thighs practically touching hers.

“Have a nice dream?” ARod snickered next to Tobin.

Lauren let out a snort too, high-fiving ARod over Tobin’s lap.

Tobin’s face burned even more. She was conflicted about her own desires, wishing she could have stayed in her dream for much longer and also wishing she hadn’t fallen asleep in the first place. She had no idea whether she’d made any kind of noises in her sleep or said anything. She hadn’t ever thought of herself as a sleep talker, but now she wasn’t so sure. Her friends both looked like they were about to tease her for the rest of her life. 

“I hate you both,” Tobin grumbled, closing her eyes again, pushing images of Christen Press to the back of her mind. 

The landing was turbulent. Tobin forgot how much she hated her friends, opting to hold onto both of their hands for the remainder of the flight. They rode in a team bus to their hotel, each getting assigned a room and a roommate. Tobin and Sonnett were put in room 308, and the two of them unloaded their bags in relative silence, Sonnett surprisingly tired after the long travel day. It wasn’t until after a catered team dinner that Sonnett’s energy returned, just in time for the team to gather in Lauren and Lindsey’s room for a movie night. 

“It’s called a recovery party! We’re not watching It,” Lauren shouted over the rest of the Penn State team. 

Tobin’s legs were already zipped into a pair of the team’s Normatec recovery boots, the air compressing her tired legs. “Let’s watch Toy Story! she yelled, offering up a movie that she knew wouldn’t scare any of her teammates. 

“That’s so lame,” Sonnett insisted, holding the remote and selecting a different scary movie. 

“I’m leaving and taking these compression boots with me if you play a scary movie,” Tobin threatened, her heart already beating faster with the possibility of a horror movie. 

“Fine, fine,” Sonnett relented, handing Lindsey the remote. 

They settled on Lilo and Stitch, a movie that Lindsey loved that would definitely not scare anyone. Tobin sat in the compression boots for forty minutes, nearly falling asleep before letting Lynn have a turn with them. She loved the way her legs felt after being compressed, practically floating back to her hotel room after the movie ended. 

The next morning, Tobin’s legs still felt good. They weren’t practicing anymore before the semifinals, just walking around and stretching their legs. Coach Parlow insisted that the entire team relax as much as possible, only requesting their attendance for an 11:00 am visit to the Orlando Pride Stadium where the semifinals would take place the next day. 

Tobin had slept like a rock, not even noticing that Sonnett snored, despite Lindsey’s original warnings. She was basically still in her pajamas, having worn a pair of sweatpants and a tank top to bed. She’d just woken up and thrown on a snapback and a pair of slides that morning for the walk-through. But either way, she was in a fantastic mood, bright-eyed, a bagel in hand, any and all thoughts about Christen Press and the dream far from her mind.

Right before stepping onto the field, Tobin slipped off her slides and dropped her water bottle onto a stadium seat. She wanted to feel the grass between her toes and fully take in this moment of peace before the game tomorrow. 

“This place is niiiice,” ARod whistled from beside Tobin. 

“Yeah, I can’t wait to play tomorrow,” Tobin mused, closing her eyes as she stepped onto the grass. 

“Jeez, Pressy! You’re lucky coach is in a good mood today,” Tobin heard a larger-than-life voice float across the field. She snapped her eyes up to the opposite side of the stadium where the voice came from, hardly even processing the pink-haired forward from UCLA’s team. Then she saw her. Christen Press, not fifty yards away from her. 

Tobin stared, her mouth practically hanging open. Her dreams hadn’t done Christen justice, nor did her memory. Christen was in a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops. Her legs were long and toned, and her skin was tanned. She radiated light and happiness, her infectious energy captivating Tobin. 

She watched as Christen looked apologetically at the pink-haired forward. Tobin couldn’t remember her name for the life of her, despite seeing her in the video that Allie had sent her. She’d been too focused on Christen to really remember the rest of them. 

Christen said something to the other UCLA player, and Tobin fought off a wave of disappointment that she was so far away. Tobin wanted to hear Christen’s soft voice. She wanted to hear how much better it sounded in person than on video, but Christen wasn’t as loud as her teammate. Instead, she spoke so only the pink-haired girl could hear and held her wallet and water bottle up with an emphatic shake of her hand. She moved her hair over her shoulder, turning to face her friend again when suddenly, her eyes met Tobin’s across the field. 

Tobin felt her breath stop in her throat. Even from a distance, those green eyes enthralled her. Even from this far away, Christen was so goddamn beautiful, that Tobin couldn’t help but smile. Her lips quirked up into a huge, face-splitting grin, one that she was positive was too dorky for Christen to think was cute. To Tobin’s delighted surprise, Christen Press smiled back at her, a large beaming smile that sent butterflies through her throat and chest and stomach. 

Without conscious thought, Tobin lifted her hand and waved. “A wave, really?” Tobin chastised herself, feeling embarrassment fill her chest. She was about to drop her hand back down, to cringe at her lame gesture, but then Christen lifted her hand in return. She waved shyly back at Tobin until her pink-haired friend pulled Christen away from the field and out of the moment. 

Tobin’s hand remained raised as she watched Christen and her teammate trek out of the stadium, wanting to look at Christen for as long as she could.

“Tobs! Don’t fraternize with the enemy!” ARod grumbled, smacking Tobin’s hand down and attempting to look serious. 

Tobin’s cheeks flushed, and she reached her hand up to scratch at the back of her neck. “Christen Press isn’t my enemy,” Tobin thought to herself, before realizing the implications of that thought. Christen was on UCLA, the team standing between her and the NCAA Finals. She might be the girl Tobin had a silly, stupid thing for, but she was still the girl who would line up opposite from her tomorrow. “Christen should be your enemy if you don’t want her to cost you another game.” 

Tobin set her shoulders, trying to embrace that logic and start thinking about Christen in only a professional sense. But as she traversed the field with her toes in the grass, Tobin couldn’t wipe the grin off of her face.  


“You better start talking. Right. Now,” Megan whispered harshly.

Christen looked between Crystal and Megan, who hovered over her. The three of them were huddled at the back of the bus, out of earshot from the rest of the team. Crystal and Megan leaned over the backs of their seats, crowding Christen, who sat alone in the last row. Crystal looked down at her, curious and slightly impressed, while Megan looked confused and vaguely annoyed. 

Christen grimaced and feigned ignorance. “Talk? About what?”

But Christen knew about what. Megan was talking about that “moment” with Tobin just now. The one she hadn’t anticipated, the one she was sure would haunt her in the best ways for days to come. Maybe even longer.

It hadn’t lasted more than a few seconds and it had happened completely by accident. 

Christen, Megan, and Crystal were walking a few yards behind the rest of their team, lingering in the stadium for as long as they could. They’d just completed a walk-through, with inspirational words from Coach Foudy and Becky, a few jokes from Ashlyn, and a quick fun game of soccer tennis. As Christen walked off the field, in between Crystal and Megan, she was confident that the field they’d just left was going to be the field on which they would win the NCAA Championships. Megan had been thinking about something else entirely.

“I could murder some donuts right now,” Megan commented, holding onto her grumbling stomach. “Pressy, you still got your wallet? Maybe we could convince Coach to stop on the way back to the hotel.”

Christen had laughed and patted her pocket, her eyes widening when she realized her pocket was empty. Her wallet was gone.

“Oh, shitballs. I left it next to my water bottle.”

Christen stopped walking, Crystal and Megan pausing with her.

“Where?” Crystal asked, noting the panic on Christen’s face and keeping her voice calm.

Christen hooked a thumb over her shoulder and pointed back towards the field, wincing. Megan hung her head and then looked to Crystal.

“Let Coach know we’ll be right there. Don’t let the bus leave without us!” Megan said, grabbing Christen’s arm and dragging her back into the stadium.

 Christen had been so engrossed with getting back to where she’d left her wallet and water bottle, that she hadn’t registered the fact that the stadium was no longer empty. Christen ran into the stands where she’d put her stuff down, happy to see her water bottle and wallet were still there. She’d picked them up and then she’d had this feeling. Something deep within her told her to look up, across the stadium. So, she had. 

At that moment, she looked right at Tobin Heath. Tobin was standing on the field, shoeless and carefree, directly across the stadium from her. Apparently, Penn State had entered the stadium once they’d left, probably to do a walk-through of the field just like UCLA had done. But none of that crossed Christen’s mind. All she could do was hold Tobin’s gaze and look deep into those brown eyes.

The moment their eyes met, her breath had been wrenched from her throat and her feet ceased to move forward, leaving her rooted in the stands. Even from a distance, Christen could feel the warmth in Tobin’s gaze, the sudden surprise that melted into shyness. She was sure her own surprise was evident, but Tobin didn’t seem to care. She simply grinned a goofy little grin that had Christen’s stomach doing somersaults. 

Christen’s skin prickled under Tobin’s gaze and her cheeks heated at the sight of Tobin’s smile. She’d seen versions of that smile all over Instagram - laid back and happy with her parents, cocky and cool with teammates, a little reserved but no less confident when she was on her own. But this smile Christen had never seen before. It seemed more open, more dazzling, more assured, albeit a bit bashful. It felt like a smile reserved only for her, a thought that nearly made Christen weak at the knees.

And then Tobin had waved. Honest to God waved. It gave Christen pause, because why would Tobin Heath be waving at her? So, Christen had given a quick look around, trying to see if Tobin had been waving at someone else, maybe Allie was behind her or something. But that was ridiculous, she and Megan were the only ones over there, and Tobin certainly wasn’t waving at Megan. 

When Christen’s gaze reconnected with Tobin’s, she felt a matching grin tug at her lips as she raised her own hand, giving Tobin a small wave in return. Tobin’s smile grew as she waved, and Christen was sure that there had never been a more perfect moment in the history of the world. And then someone had to go and break it, pulling her out of the stands and out of the stadium. Someone who was currently interrogating her, along with Crystal. 

“You sure as hell know what!” Megan said, her voice rising. Crystal quickly shushed her with a hand on her shoulder then turned back to Christen. 

“Christen, Megan saw the whole thing and then told me all about it, so by the transitive property of equality, I basically saw the whole thing too.”

Christen rolled her eyes at that. She then swallowed thickly and tried to deflect. “So you saw our competition for tomorrow show up? They looked a bit scared to me.”

Megan moved out from her row with Crystal and jumped into the seat next to Christen. She held a finger in Christen’s face and wagged it. 

“Tobin Heath gave you the look. The ‘I want to have lots of sex and babies with you for the rest of our lives’ look. When the hell did this happen?! How could you not tell us?”

It was then that Christen picked up on the underlying sound in Megan’s voice -- hurt. She looked up at Crystal and saw that hiding behind her curiosity, there was a bit of hurt also. Christen sighed. She hadn’t intentionally kept her roommates in the dark about Tobin, she’d just been trying so hard to forget about the annoyingly talented and annoyingly gorgeous Penn State forward, that she forgot to say anything to Megan and Crystal about it.

Christen looked around, making sure they truly were alone, and then beckoned her roommates closer.

“I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t - look, do you want the truth?”

Megan nodded enthusiastically in assent and Crystal clapped her hands together, grinning.

“Nothing’s going on-” Christen began. Megan looked ready to protest again, so Christen slapped a hand over Megan’s mouth and continued. 

“Seriously, nothing. Nothing’s changed. Her picture remains liked, she never followed me, I never followed her. We’ve never spoken. We haven’t even seen each other since the game in August.”

Megan’s brow furrowed. She clearly had something she wanted to ask, so she licked Christen’s palm. Christen groaned and wiped her palm against her shirt. 

“Gross, Pinoe,” Christen muttered.

“Whatever, I’m confused and need lots of clarification -” Megan tried to say, only to be interrupted by Crystal.

“Me too! She looked at you like that and you’ve never even talked?” she asked, seeming to struggle to wrap her head around this. 

Christen understood where her confusion was coming from. She was in the same boat. She was having trouble understanding why Tobin had smiled at her, let alone waved. It seemed so familiar the way she’d done it. Way too intimate for perfect strangers, which they were.

Was it possible Tobin had spent the last few months thinking about me, the way I’ve been thinking about her?” Christen wondered, entertaining the flicker of hope that bloomed in her chest for a moment. But then she extinguished it as quickly as it popped up. 

“I don’t know what you mean about a look, but we’ve never met, spoken, or interacted. I think she probably just waved so things weren’t awkward, after me liking her picture and stuff, or maybe she was just being friendly,” Christen said, hating the way her mind was rationalizing an interaction her heart desperately wanted to read into.

Megan and Crystal shared a look. They looked like they didn’t believe her, but her two friends seemed to silently agree to drop it for now. Christen sensed that Megan and Crystal had a million more questions, and if she were honest with herself, she kind of wanted to talk to them about how she was feeling.

Christen sighed. “Come to my room after the film session and we can talk about it?” 

Megan’s and Crystal’s eyes lit up at that, and Christen couldn’t help but smile at them. “Don’t look so excited, there’s not much to tell.”

Megan scoffed and nudged Christen’s arm. “Tell that to your face, you haven’t stopped smiling since I caught you making eyes at Tobin.”

Christen blushed and looked out the window. She wasn’t wrong in telling her friends that not a lot had been going on between them. Because nothing had happened or was happening. It was all one-sided...or so Christen thought. But with what Megan had said about Tobin and the way she’d been looking at her...maybe this was less one-sided than Christen had thought. Maybe her crush wasn’t unrequited. Maybe?

Bolstered by that thought, she decided to give her friends something to tide them over until tonight. Something she was nervous to admit out loud, but something that was a bit easier to do after her conversation with Channing last weekend.

“I like her, you guys. It’s irrational and insane and makes no sense, but I do. And that’s all you’re getting for right now,” Christen admitted, her eyes still trained on the scenery passing by outside the window of the bus. If she’d been looking at her friends, she would have seen the excitement and glee on their faces.

Megan and Crystal waited a few seconds after Christen’s quiet admission before they squealed and wrapped Christen up in a tight hug. They kept hugging Christen and whispering words of happiness and pride to her for the remainder of the bus ride, drawing weird looks from the rest of their teammates that they all chose to ignore. 

Unfortunately, their film session lasted way longer than anyone expected, as did dinner. By the end of the night, when Coach Foudy had sent everyone to bed with strict instructions not to stay up late, Christen, Megan, and Crystal were so tired that they didn’t even put up a fight, promising to talk more tomorrow after the game. They all shared a hug in the lobby before going off to their rooms, full of elation and anticipation about tomorrow’s game for all sorts of reasons.

Christen got ready for bed quickly, wanting to get in at least ten minutes of meditation before falling asleep. Thankfully, Becky had let her go first in the bathroom, something Christen was grateful for. 

She’d started doing meditation about two years ago, needing to find a way to calm the anxious ball of nerves that always settled within her chest the night before a game. While she liked to visualize and get into game mode on the day of, the night before she preferred to empty her mind and quiet her heart. It was the only way she knew how to dispel the anxiety within her and just focus on the game.

Tonight, the ten minutes flew by, leaving Christen feeling beyond relaxed and ready. Her breathing was steady and she felt completely at peace. Despite the fact that tomorrow she’d be playing in one of the biggest games of her life, opposite a girl she was crushing on hard, Christen had never felt more prepared. She was pretty sure she fell asleep with a smile on her face that night, excited for the day to come.


Tobin hadn’t heard her alarm that morning. She hadn’t heard Sonnett’s alarm either. She hadn’t heard Sonnett shower and move around the room in search of her warm-up gear and sneakers. Instead, she’d woken up to Lindsey’s worried and rushed voice. 

“Tobs, what the hell are you doing? We’re leaving in thirty minutes,” Lindsey said, shaking Tobin’s arm. 

Tobin peeled her eyelids open, the bright lights in the hotel room burning her eyes. 

“What?” she mumbled, still half asleep. 

“Get up! You missed breakfast, and you’re gonna miss the bus if you don’t hurry up,” Lindsey said, a bit more urgency in her voice than there had been before. 

Sonnett stood near the door to their room, looking slightly guilty for not waking Tobin up earlier. She’d thought that Tobin had wanted more sleep, and by the time she’d arrived at breakfast, Sonnett had forgotten about her sleeping roommate entirely. It wasn’t until ARod, Lauren, and Lindsey had asked about her that Sonnett had remembered. 

“Shit,” Tobin groaned, jumping out of bed and pulling on a t-shirt. She stumbled into the bathroom, immediately noticing the dark circles under her bloodshot eyes. She splashed water on her face, upset that she wouldn’t get a shower until after the game, having wanted to shower before seeing Christen. “Christen,” Tobin thought. She shook her head, staring down at the sink. “Don’t think about her. She’s the competition, and you can’t get distracted,” Tobin schooled herself. 

“You look great, Tobs,” ARod laughed as Tobin slumped into her bus seat next to ARod. 

“Don’t be mean,” Lauren chided, noticing that Tobin had her headphones in and a glare on her face already. 

Tobin had double-checked to make sure she had her shin guards and cleats. The last thing she needed was to forget important gear. Coach was probably already mad at her for missing breakfast, and despite having shoved a granola bar in her mouth before getting on the bus, Tobin was already starving. She hadn’t wanted to start the day like she had. She’d wanted to wake up early and shower. She’d wanted to stretch in the hotel room and eat a big breakfast. Instead, she was exhausted, starving, and quite frankly pissed off, and it was all thanks to Christen Press and that stupid smirk. 

After seeing Christen in person for the first time in months, walking the field with her team, and enjoying a team dinner, she’d dreamed again. She dreamed of Christen, those magnetic green eyes and full lips. Only this dream hadn’t been like the last. She’d been playing with her team, facing UCLA in the semifinals, tied 1-1. Christen had been sweaty and panting, distracting Tobin as usual, and Tobin had been chosen to take a penalty kick, one that would decide the game. 

Christen’s smirk had distracted her. She’d sized Tobin up, an amused look on her face, almost like she knew Tobin was going to miss. Tobin hadn’t disappointed. She’d taken a few steps back, trying to clear her head but only seeing Christen Press. When her foot met the ball, it hadn’t made the right noise. It wasn’t a hollow thump. It was sharp and short, and the ball shot into the air, flying away from the goal. UCLA’s goalkeeper hadn’t even had to move. She’d just stared at the ball, flying miles up and to the left of the goal. Christen’s smirk had grown, a laugh bubbling out of her lips. 

“Damn, Tobin,” ARod had scoffed, shoving Tobin out of the way with her shoulder. “Maybe if you’d stop eye-fucking the competition we’d actually have had a shot.” 

Christen had winked then, her smirk turning into something mean, something menacing. She turned away from Tobin, celebrating with her teammates. 

“Christen,” Tobin had tried to call, but the darker-haired forward was swept away in a mass of royal blue jerseys.

Tobin had woken up to her dark hotel room, the bedside clock reading 3:18 AM. Her sheets were stuck to her body, a layer of sweat covering her skin. She felt claustrophobic, Sonnett’s snoring not helping matters. On any normal night, Tobin would have climbed out of bed, grabbed her soccer ball and cleats, and jogged to the field. She would have worked through her sleeplessness and felt better in the morning. She hadn’t had that option, though. Coach Parlow would have killed her if she’d snuck out of her hotel room to jog or kick the soccer ball around, so instead, Tobin pulled the sheets back around her body and flipped onto her other side. She’d tossed and turned, trying to forget the way that Christen’s face had changed when she’d laughed at Tobin. 

She could still hear Christen’s mocking laugh as she tied her cleats in the locker room. She shoved her headphones deeper into her ears, wishing that she could get into her pregame playlist, but she couldn’t. She paced back and forth in front of her locker, knowing that she was probably worrying her teammates. 

Honestly, she was worrying herself. She’d been playing soccer her entire life. She didn’t remember a time before soccer, a time without the ball at her feet. For the first time in her life, however, Tobin wasn’t excited to play. She wasn’t dying to get her first touch on the ball. She was terrified. Her stomach twisted in knots, making her worry that she might actually be sick. Her palms were sweating, and her head was throbbing. She was nervous. Her teammates were depending on her. Her parents had flown to Florida to watch her play. Her coach was starting her, fully trusting that Tobin would do a good job. All the while, Tobin couldn’t help but wonder whether she could even perform in front of Christen. 

“Don’t let her take another game from you,” Tobin thought to herself, gritting her teeth and setting her shoulders. “Today is your day.”


“Great moments are born from great opportunity, and that’s what you have here today, ladies. That’s what you’ve earned here today,” Coach Foudy said, beginning her big pre-game speech. 

Christen looked to Megan and Crystal, stifling a small giggle at the thought that Coach Foudy plagiarized her speech from one of the best pre-game speeches of all time. But she wasn’t going to say anything, this speech always got her fired up, and by the looks on her teammates' faces, it was working for them too.

The atmosphere was what every player dreams of on game day. The team wasn’t too serious or too casual, people feeling like they could joke around and have fun, while also staying focused on the task at hand. 

In the locker room, everyone had fanned out and found a spot to get comfortable. They all got into their gear as Ashlyn played music on a portable speaker. Megan, Ashlyn, and Kelley had been the first ones to start dancing, jumping around the locker room to “International” by Chali 2na and “4ever” by The Veronicas, classics from the She’s the Man soundtrack. Gradually, everyone had joined in. Christen let Crystal drag her out into the middle of the locker room to dance, while Kelley found a way to convince Becky to hop into the mix as well.

When Coach Foudy had entered the locker room, her smile was one full of confidence. She had asked the team to retake their seats so she could read out the starting lineup.

“Ash, hold down the fort back there. Dunn, Becky, Dahlkemper, and Kriegs, you’re in front of Ash today. You’ve been so great this season, limiting our opponents’ opportunities in front of the net. Let’s keep it that way. K.O. and my other outside backs, expect to get some minutes today. I want to keep fresh legs out there. Allie, you’ll be our holding mid-”

Christen tuned out when Coach Foudy ran through the midfielders, trying to keep that sense of calm she’d had all morning, but refocused when she heard the forwards being listed.

“With your foot still not 110%, I’m going to keep you as a sub today Abby. So we’ll go with Pinoe on the left, Mac in the middle, and Press on the right.”

Megan reached over and squeezed Christen’s knee, while Christen gripped tightly onto Crystal’s hand. The three of them were starting together today, and they were ready.

For the first time in her entire soccer career, Christen wasn’t nervous. She was centered and calm, cool and collected. She was ready to step out onto that field and play the game of her life...and then hopefully talk to Tobin Heath.


When Penn State and UCLA faced off in August, the game was tame. There hadn’t been many fouls or much physicality at all. Each team was still sorting out their system, their dynamic. It had been a fairly even game between them, with equal amounts of possession and opportunities on goal. Mistakes were made and it was acceptable because that was preseason. 

But today was an entirely different story. This was the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament and neither team could be labeled tame. UCLA was all quiet strength and composure, while Penn State was scrappy and confident, and the clash between them would be one for the record books. These two teams were hardly the same ones that had faced off three months ago, and the same could be said for their leading scorers: Christen Press and Tobin Heath. 

Christen had lined up on the halfway line, with her team kicking off the game. She’d promised herself that she’d remain professional, but she couldn’t help but smile at Tobin Heath in front of her. Tobin’s jersey was too big on her and her socks were rolled down in their usual messy way. There was something so comfortable and familiar about Tobin’s appearance that for a brief second Christen wanted the game to fly by and end so that she could talk to Tobin. 

She stood in front of the girl she’d spent three months thinking about and found herself slightly confused about Tobin’s lack of eye contact. Tobin had always looked Christen directly in the eyes. During their preseason game, Tobin had stared at Christen up until the kickoff, and during Penn State’s walk-through just the day before, Tobin had stared at Christen. She’d smiled so big and waved. Christen wanted to see that Tobin, even if only for a second. She tried to meet Tobin’s eyes, lifting her hand slightly to wave, but her hand stopped in midair. 

Tobin’s eyes finally met Christen’s, but gone were the warmth and the shyness and the joy. Those brown eyes were dark and hard, practically icy. Christen’s smile faltered, slipping from her face as her hand fell back to her side. Tobin rolled her eyes in Christen’s direction before focusing her attention on the ball in the middle of the field. 

Christen wished it hadn’t hurt. She wished her heart hadn’t clenched at the sight of Tobin’s complete disregard for her, but it did. Her heart hadn’t been prepared for this complete and utter 180. Where there had been hope in her heart yesterday and even this morning, there was now an empty chasm, filled only with confusion and hurt. Christen didn’t want to care, but she did and she knew she shouldn’t. Despite the painful whiplash she felt from Tobin’s cold and detached demeanor, Christen had to refocus. She had to get her head in the game, as Crystal liked to say. While confusion and rejection settled deep in her gut and caused bile to rise in her throat, Christen pushed it away. She had a game to win. 

Thankfully, the game was fairly even, which kept Tobin and Christen at opposite ends of the field.  While Christen and her fellow forwards ran an attack on goal, Tobin was stuck around midfield, sitting tight on the UCLA defenders. While Tobin and her teammates attacked UCLA’s goal, Christen sat high on the field while Mac elected to hustle back and play defense. Without being near one another, they didn’t have to think about each other. Tobin could ride the wave of her cold fury she felt for UCLA’s Number 23  and Christen could avoid any and all thoughts about Penn State’s Number 17.

The professional air to the game and the stalemate were both broken in the 45th minute, moments before halftime. Up to that point, the game had been full of decorum, no silly fouls or brutal tackles. It was full of respect for the game and for each other. But then Christen had received a long throw from Ashlyn near half-field. Because of the quick change in possession and quick transition, Tobin was closer to Christen than she had been all game. She was also the closest Penn State player to Christen at that moment. Most of the Penn State players were out of position, leaving Christen and Tobin alone on the right side of the field. 

Christen locked eyes with Tobin, seeing the same darkness and coldness within her eyes that had been there at kickoff. It made Christen’s blood boil, her confusion burning into something resembling irritation. Christen felt her own face harden as she dribbled at Tobin, full speed.

The two battled down the entire length of the sideline. Christen kept the ball on her right foot, away from Tobin, and her forearm firmly against Tobin’s chest. Tobin’s hands grabbed at her jersey repeatedly, trying to pull her off the ball. It wasn’t until Christen got near the eighteen-yard box that Tobin’s attitude changed. 

Christen knew she had Tobin beat the moment the brunette’s shoulders slumped and brows furrowed in frustration. With a smirk, Christen poked the ball between Tobin’s open legs, nutmegging her smoothly.

“OOOOOOH!” the UCLA bench roared to life, causing Christen’s smirk to deepen. 

Tobin had had enough. That damn smirk and that damn girl using her own move against her. It was enough to drive anyone to drastic measures. Long gone was her composed defending, now she was haphazard and reckless and there was nothing she could do to stop it. 

Christen was barely a foot away from her, her outstretched foot looking to reconnect with the ball and drive toward the goal to get a cross off. Tobin couldn’t let that happen. She couldn’t let Christen Press cost her this game too. All of her anger and rage and exasperation bubbled within her, causing her to act without thinking. 

Tobin sprinted to catch up to Christen and then hooked her left leg in front of Christen. She didn’t get the ball, there was no way she did. She only got Christen. Her reckless slide tackle caused Christen to soar into the air, over the soccer ball, and land flat on her back on the grass. A choked gasp left her lips as she connected with the ground with a resounding thump. Tobin cringed at the look of pain that crossed Christen’s face, regret blooming swiftly in her chest. But there was no way to take it back now.

In her mind, Tobin knew it was a stupid foul. Sonnett was right there, a few yards away, backing her up, ready to contain Christen. But she had done it anyway. 

Tobin sat in the grass for a moment, post-slide tackle, knowing what awaited her when she stood up. Pissed off UCLA girls, maybe a yellow card from the ref. She got up slowly, pushing herself to her feet and brushing the grass from her shorts. She thought she knew what was coming. She never expected Allie Long.

“What in the ever-loving fuck was that, Harry?!” Allie yelled, getting right in Tobin’s face. Tobin dropped her chin to her chest, her eyes never leaving the grass, her cheeks burning with shame. Tobin deserved this. She deserved the yelling, the harsh words, the palms pushing against her shoulders aggressively. 

She even deserved the animosity thrown her way from the pink-haired forward, who now stood right at Allie’s elbow, her face filled with rage.

“Let me at her, Al. She hurt Pressy! She’s a dead woman.”

“Pressy...she means Christen. Christen.” At the reminder, Tobin’s eyes lifted from the grass and sought out the green-eyed striker. Christen was still on the ground, her eyes scrunched up in pain, her breaths coming out in ragged pants. 

Tobin’s heart dropped at the sight. “Get up, Christen. I’m sorry, get up,” Tobin pleaded silently, hoping Christen could hear her. 

“I’m gonna break her fucking face for going after Pressy like that,” the pink-haired forward all but spat at Tobin, causing Tobin to look away from Christen, away from the reminder of her temper and recklessness. She pushed the sweaty strands of hair out of her face in frustration. She’d let her emotions get the best of her. She’d let her nerves and her irritation get the best of her, and because of that, she’d hurt Christen. 

“Pinoe, walk away I got this,” Allie advised, sending the forward over to Christen, leaving Allie with Tobin. Tobin was already shrinking away from Allie, knowing this was nowhere near finished. 

“Focus up, Harry! Are you listening to me? What was that?!” Allie yelled again, her hands bunching in Tobin’s jersey, shaking Tobin like a rag doll.

Tobin kept her arms by her sides, but her hands clenched into fists. She let Allie shake her, not bothering to fight back. She deserved this. She knew that Allie was right. She knew she’d been a jerk. She’d been the type of soccer player she’d always hated, the ones who let their emotions get the better of them. Still, she couldn’t stop the thoughts from floating through her brain: “You let Christen get the best of you. She’s the reason you lost your temper. She’s the reason you aren’t playing well.” She knew those thoughts were wrong. She knew that Christen was just being a competitor, a really really good competitor, and Tobin was letting her feelings make everything more confusing. She was letting her feelings make everything worse.

“Back off!” ARod yelled, materializing at Tobin’s side, reaching around Tobin to push Allie’s hands off of Tobin’s jersey. 

“You did not just touch me,” Allie growled, her attention leaving Tobin and landing on ARod. 

“Oh, you mean like this?” ARod asked, a mix between a scowl and a smirk on her face. She stepped forward and pushed her hand into Allie’s chest, shoving the blonde UCLA midfielder backward. 

Allie stumbled then caught herself. With a huff, she moved forward, practically shoving Tobin out of the way to reach ARod. The two of them were moments from coming to blows, the temperature on the field rising as more and more UCLA and Penn State players approached the eighteen-yard box.

The referee was finally on the scene, coming right for Tobin.

“Number 17,” the referee called, “This is a warning. Next time it’ll be a card.”

Tobin rolled her eyes and stepped away from Allie and ARod, still unable to look up from the grass. She turned her back on the whole scene, passing Lauren on her way to the opposite side of the field. 

“ARod!” Lauren yelled, putting herself in between Allie and ARod, acting as a mediator. “Cool off. We don’t need a yellow card.” She wrapped her arm around ARod’s waist and pulled her toward Tobin. Allie watched them go, her eyes narrowed.

“Yeah, you better run!” Allie called out.

A pained gasp had her turning around and hurrying to Christen’s side. Megan and Crystal were already kneeling beside Christen, both of them hovering over her.

“Are you okay?” Megan asked, reaching her hand down and settling it on Christen’s shoulder. Christen forced a smile and sat up, hissing in pain as she did. 

“I’m fine,” Christen mumbled. She closed her eyes for a second, taking a mental inventory of her body. Her ribs hurt a little, but they just felt bruised, not broken. Her legs felt all right, if not a bit tired, and her head was fine. The only thing smarting worse than her back and her ribs right now was her heart. She was overcome with feelings of anger and slight embarrassment that the girl she’d had a crush on had completely taken her out. In front of both their teams, their families, friends, and everyone watching the game on television.

Here she was, laid out in the grass, all thanks to Tobin Heath. Who, for some reason, had a personal vendetta against Christen today. Yesterday, it was all smiles and cute waves and looks that Megan assured her meant Tobin was into her. But today? Today, Tobin’s eyes were cold, her expression closed off, her anger rolling off of her in waves. She was a completely different person, nothing like the goofy and carefree person Christen had seen. Christen just didn’t know what she’d done to cause such a sudden shift in the brunette. 

Christen’s eyes blinked open, the sunlight seeming just a bit brighter than it had moments ago. She let out another long breath and looked up at Megan, Crystal, and then Allie. She shot Allie a tired, half-smile.

“Did you say ever-loving fuck, or was I hit harder than I thought?”

Her teammates chuckled lightly at her weak attempt at a joke. Allie held out her hand, Christen taking it firmly. Megan and Crystal were there to support her as well as Christen was pulled gently to her feet. The crowd applauded as she got back to her feet, and she could hear her family cheering in the distance.

“Yes Mo-Mo, get back in there!” Channing screamed, only to be drowned out by her mother adding, “Kick some ass, babygirl!”

Christen waved at her family in the crowd, hopefully assuaging the worry she could see on their faces. She grimaced as she held onto her back but quickly shook it off as the referee approached.

“Are you good, 23?”

Christen nodded and then looked past the referee. Her eyes scoured the field for Tobin, needing to find her, needing to see her. 

She found Tobin crouching down near half-field, her body half-turned away, her eyes on the ground. Christen felt a fierce fury course through her, something she wasn’t used to feeling when she looked at Tobin. Whatever had happened for Tobin was no excuse for the egregious foul she’d committed. That could have been much worse than some bad bruises. Christen narrowed her eyes at Tobin and then turned back to the referee, taking the ball from her and placing it on the spot of the foul, determined to make Tobin and Penn State pay.

Unfortunately, they didn’t score. Christen played a gorgeous ball into the box but Megan hadn’t been able to get a clean shot off. The half ended quickly after that, sending the teams into their respective locker rooms. Everyone crowded around Christen once they’d made it inside, wanting to know if she was okay, or if Tobin had said anything to her, or if she wanted to get Tobin back. Their questions and the crowd dissipated once Coach Foudy entered the locker room. She crouched down in front of Christen, a concerned look in her eye.

“Tell it to me straight, Press, are you okay?”

Christen nodded at her coach, determined not to let Tobin Heath and her temperamental attitude get the best of her today.

“She’s not sidelining me, Coach. I’m going back out there to win this game,” Christen replied, mustering up as much enthusiasm as she could despite the pain she was in.

Coach Foudy patted Christen’s knee and then got to her feet, facing the rest of the locker room. She gave a rousing speech, getting everyone fired up to go back out there and dominate the second half. Which they did.

From the moment the referee blew her whistle, it was UCLA’s game. They dominated possession and attempts on goal. It seemed as if a fire had been lit under Christen and her teammates, while Tobin and her teammates were floundering. 

Tobin knew they were in trouble, and worse, so was she. She was off. Her passes weren’t connecting, her touches were poor. She couldn’t shake the funk she was in and it had everything to do with the fact that Christen Press was dominating on the field. Despite Tobin’s unclassy tackle in the first half, Christen had rebounded and was on another level. Her touches were crisp, her shots were well-placed. Penn State was just lucky A.D. was making saves left and right to keep them in this game.

Until the 67th minute, when not even A.D. could work another miracle. Tobin had given the ball away in the middle of the field, leaving her defense in a 3 v 2 situation, with Christen, the pink-haired forward, and their tall center forward, running at Sonnett and Julie. 

“Get back, Tobin. Get back!” Coach Parlow bellowed from the sidelines, but even if Tobin could, there was no changing fate. 

Christen slotted a perfect ball to the pink-haired forward, setting her up for a 1 v 1 with A.D. The goalkeeper had no chance as the forward sent a cracking shot into the upper corner of the goal. 

Tobin’s shoulders slumped as she heard the ball swish against the net, the sound reverberating around her mind. “That was your fault. You’re such an idiot, giving the ball away like that. Christen Press really is going to cost you this game,” Tobin thought, kicking herself.

She watched as Christen wrapped her arms around the pink-haired forward, an obvious familiarity in the way the two embraced. White-hot jealousy flamed in Tobin’s stomach at the sight. But she wasn’t the only one with less than positive feelings about UCLA’s goal celebration.

As Christen and the rest of her teammates obnoxiously posed like they were taking a selfie to celebrate their goal, ARod walked up to Tobin, her hands on her hips. 

“I hate that. Just score a goal and move on, no need to rub it in our faces,” ARod commented, her words laced with anger.

The UCLA players eventually stopped their celebration and spread out, moving to their half of the field for the kickoff. The pink-haired forward jogged right by Tobin and ARod.

“That goal? That was for my girl, Press. The one you were an asshole to earlier. Don’t ever touch her again,” the forward barked at Tobin, her glare full of unrepressed rage. 

The forward seemed to realize that ARod was there too. She relaxed her glare and shot ARod a toothy, cocky grin. “Hey, I can give you some pointers after the game if you want, since you’ve been having so much trouble finding the net today.” The forward ran off, leaving a chastened Tobin and a seething ARod in her wake. 

In the subsequent minutes, Tobin watched as ARod got angrier and angrier with the pink-haired forward. It was only a matter of time until ARod retaliated. Tobin just hadn’t expected it to be so soon or so bad.

It was the 72nd minute, and UCLA had a corner kick. Everyone was back for Penn State, even ARod and Tobin.

“Come on, Tobs. Pick it up, it’s our game to lose. We’ve got to get on the board,” Lauren said, running by Tobin as she got into position. Tobin nodded weakly, looking around the eighteen-yard box to find someone to mark. She saw that Christen was free, but chose to mark a different player, not wanting to be near her right now. 

The corner kick didn’t result in anything right away. It was cleared by Penn State, but only as far as the tall center back for UCLA. She kicked a long ball back into the crowded box, her pinpoint accuracy sending the ball right to the pink-haired forward, who found herself open on the far side of the box.

Christen watched as the ball Becky had sent forward sailed towards Megan. She knew this was her chance to crash the goal, knowing Megan would head the ball across the box. Except as Christen took off towards the six-yard box, she saw a blonde Penn State player running straight for Megan. 

It seemed to happen in slow motion. Megan leaped into the air, head stretched towards the ball. The Penn State player jumped straight into Megan, making absolutely no attempt at getting the ball. The two collided in midair, sending them both plummeting to the ground. Megan fell awkwardly, her ankle rolling beneath her, while the Penn State girl landed hard on her shoulder.

Megan let out a loud whine, grabbing at her ankle. She stayed on her back, her eyes clenching closed and her cheeks puffing out in painful breaths.

Christen saw red. First Tobin with her wild tackle, and now this blonde b-word who had the nerve to hit Megan. Christen stomped up to the forward, crossing the few yards between them quickly. She bent over the forward, who was still down, gripping her own shoulder in a poor attempt at acting in pain.

“What the hell is wrong with you? With your whole team?!” Christen yelled, staring down at the Penn State forward, her tone accusatory. 

The blonde sat up, still rubbing at her shoulder. “Us? Are you kidding me?! What about you guys?” 

Becky jogged up to Megan and squatted to check on her, noticing that Christen was too heated to think clearly about Megan’s possible injury. The rest of the UCLA and Penn State players gathered around as Christen stood above the blonde, everyone watching the drama unfold. This game had descended into chaos, and they were mere spectators to it.

As the blonde forward got to her feet, Christen got in her face, her temper getting the best of her. 

“First Tobin’s a total jerk, not to mention a physical danger to me and my teammates, and then you recklessly knock Megan out of the air!”

Tobin, who was standing just a yard or two away from Christen and ARod, whipped her head around toward Christen, hearing the green-eyed forward say her name. She’d dreamed about hearing Christen say her name for the first time. She’d longed for it, she’d yearned for it, but not like that. She’d imagined it would be sweet and breathy and light. She’d never imagined Christen saying her name with such hatred. Hearing her name spoken with such vitriol brought Tobin right back to all those feelings of irritation and insecurity.

“She just landed wrong. I didn’t-” ARod started, but was quickly interrupted by Tobin, who marched right up to Christen. 

“Don’t you dare talk about me like you know me!” Tobin barked, hating the way her own voice sounded but unable to control her anger. She pushed Christen’s shoulder, turning her away from ARod so that they were now face to face.

Christen didn’t take kindly to being touched. She smacked Tobin’s hand away, her eyes hardening. “You’re the one who took me out with that tackle. I don’t need to know you, to know that what you did was dangerous!” Christen countered, her own voice rising.

Tobin took a half step toward Christen, bringing them toe to toe. She was close enough now to see the small, golden flecks in Christen’s green eyes, the ones that now shined brightly with anger. 

“Just because you Instagram-stalked me doesn’t mean you get to pretend like you know anything about me!” Tobin yelled, having no idea why she was suddenly word vomiting all over the field. She wasn’t thinking about her words, they were just pouring out of her and she was helpless to stop them.

For a split second, she swore that Christen’s face fell, that the anger was replaced with embarrassment or even regret. Tobin couldn’t quite tell what it was, but she immediately wished she hadn’t said anything. It only lasted for a second, though. Christen’s steely expression returned quickly, her eyes piercing into Tobin’s.

“I never even looked at your Instagram. I didn’t like that picture! She did!” Christen screamed back, pointing a finger at Megan’s still crumpled body, completely lost in Tobin’s glare and unable to see that the rest of their teammates were staring at them, all other drama on the field subsiding. 

“What, so your girlfriend’s liking other girls’ pictures on your phone?!” Tobin asked, her voice somewhat hysterical. She felt that same jealousy bubble up in her chest. Christen and the other UCLA forward were so close, so comfortable with each other, and Tobin’s entire body ached at the idea of someone else being with Christen. She couldn’t stand imagining Christen in someone else’s arms or heart or bed. That was all she could do, though. She couldn’t stop herself from imagining Christen’s possible love life with the injured player on the field. 

“Megan?” Christen almost laughed, not able to get the words out but thinking, “She’s not my girlfriend.” 

“I mean what kind of twisted mind game is that? Do you do that to all of your competitors?” Tobin taunted, her mind spinning with thoughts of Christen and the pink-haired forward giggling over her Instagram. 

Allie watched on in horror, ready to step in and break this up, but Lauren put a hand on Allie’s shoulder, stopping her. “Let them go, they gotta work this out,” Lauren said, her tone resigned.

“Oh my God, grow up! I didn’t play some stupid mind game with you. You’re not worth the time that would take,” Christen snapped, surprising herself with the harshness of her words.

Tobin recoiled at that, hurt flashing across her face. She recovered quickly, though, anger taking over her features once more, but she wasn’t given a chance to respond. The referee had had enough of the drama and the antics and was putting an end to this. She ran over to the benches, her hard look traveling between both coaches.

“If you don’t pull your players, I’m giving them both red cards,” the referee told both coaches. The referee made her way back to the large group of players, dispersing them with her whistle. 

The only two who didn’t back away from each other were Christen and Tobin. They glared at one another, nothing but resentment passing between them.

“Press, help Rapinoe off the field! You’re done,” Coach Foudy yelled, pulling Christen out of her staring match with Tobin. 

“What?” Christen muttered, finally noticing everyone’s eyes were on her and Tobin. She looked back at the brunette, her brown eyes no longer boring into hers. Instead, Tobin was staring at the grass again. Christen stumbled back a few steps, shame burning in her cheeks as she hurried to Megan’s side.

The referee blew her whistle again, this time for substitutions on both sides. Tobin stalked off the field, passing her team’s bench and jogging straight through the tunnel and into the locker room. ARod also left the field after receiving a yellow-card, dropping heavily down onto the end of the bench.

Christen wrapped her arm around Megan’s waist, helping her friend hobble to the bench and watching as Kelley and Abby took hers and Megan’s places on the field. Christen sat next to Megan on the bench, both of them seething in anger, Megan shooting daggers over at ARod and Christen wishing Tobin were around for her to do the same. 

If she were completely honest, though, Christen was most upset with herself. She’d never lost control like that before. Tobin had brought out the worst in her. She’d made her feel angry and out of control. Worse, Tobin had confirmed Christen’s greatest fear: that Tobin thought she was a freak for stalking her on Instagram. Tobin had spat out those words like she’d thought Christen was a creep for accidentally liking the picture. Tobin didn’t know Christen at all, but it seemed like she knew just where to hit Christen so that it would hurt so that Christen would completely lose it. She’d never yelled like that on the field, and she knew Coach Foudy was going to have several choice words for her. That wasn’t something Christen was looking forward to, but she also knew that she would beat herself up about it more than Coach Foudy’s words would. She had been her own worst enemy today, and she’d berate herself for it for the next few weeks, if not longer. 

She leaned back in her chair, her ribs aching from Tobin’s stupid tackle, a physical reminder of the hurt Tobin had caused. 

“You okay, Pressy?” Megan asked from beside her. A trainer wrapped an ice bag around Megan’s already swelling ankle, then handed Christen an ice bag for her ribs. Christen took it gratefully.

“Just sore,” Christen mumbled, putting the ice against her ribs. “You?”

“Just pissed,” Megan replied simply, her shoulders bobbing up and down and her eyes remaining glued to the ball on the field. 

Christen smiled at Megan’s response, glad that her friend could still make her feel better even when she felt like crawling into a hole and never coming out again. 


Tobin threw a cleat across the room, immediately regretting it when she had to walk across the room to retrieve it and put it in her bag. 

She couldn’t stand to stay out there and watch the game, not after the way she’d behaved. Sure, she was mad. She was angry about what Christen had said. She was angry that her team was losing. More than anything, she was angry with herself. She’d been the kind of soccer player she hated. Really, she’d been the kind of person she hated. 

Christen had tried to wave at her at the beginning of the game. She’d tried to be nice, and Tobin had shut her down. Not only that, Tobin had knocked her to the ground, hurt her, and then yelled at her. That wasn’t like Tobin at all, and she was embarrassed. She peeled off her jersey and dropped it onto the floor, chugging down some more Gatorade before pulling her hair out of its ponytail and leaning her head back against the wall. 

“So much for talking to Christen Press and getting to know her,” Tobin thought to herself. “She’s never gonna want to talk to you. From what she said on the field, it sounds like she never even liked you in the first place. She isn’t even the one who liked that stupid Instagram picture. She probably hates you after that screaming match, anyway.” 

Tobin’s brain berated her heart, reminding Tobin just how stupid it had been to crush on a total stranger or to think that a total stranger might have had a crush on her too. Tobin cleaned herself up and sat in the locker room to wait for the game to end, knowing she’d be chewed out by Coach Parlow, and probably some of her teammates, for her behavior on the field. 


“I’m feeling a ton better after getting some ice from the trainer,” Megan said, her bad mood having disappeared after UCLA beat Penn State, officially advancing to the NCAA Championship Finals. The final score was 2-0, Abby having scored the penalty kick Megan earned with the foul that had injured her. 

“Honestly, I’d take that kind of tackle any day if it means getting my team through to the finals,” Megan added, her grin growing exponentially. 

Christen sat sandwiched between both of her sisters, Crystal and Megan shouting over their shoulders from the back seat so that Christen’s parents could hear. She hadn’t spoken since hugging her family and thanking them for coming to the game. Coach Foudy had seriously reprimanded her, explaining that she’d need to think carefully about putting Christen in for the final against Stanford. Christen had listened to her coach, feeling more and more disappointed in herself the longer Coach Foudy spoke. 

Her teammates’ celebration hadn’t made Christen feel better. Seeing Coach Parlow pull Tobin out of the locker room and to a quiet corner of the field to yell at her hadn’t made things any better either. Even hugs from her sisters and her parents hadn’t helped her dislodge the deep ache in her chest. She felt suffocated in her parent’s SUV, her mind spinning with all of the negative thoughts she was having about her own behavior. 

“I’m just excited to kick some Stanford butt!” Crystal cheered from the back seat, reaching her arms forward to squeeze Christen’s shoulders. 

Christen flinched, letting out a soft hiss, her back and ribs getting sorer by the minute. 

“You okay, Mo?” Tyler asked. “You took a beating out there.”

“I’m fine. Just ready for some dinner and an early night to bed,” Christen lied. She wasn’t even sure she could hold down food. She felt sick to her stomach, and the last thing she wanted to do was eat or sleep. Instead, she wanted to go out to the soccer field and shoot balls at the goal until her legs gave out. She deserved to wear herself out, but even that didn’t seem like punishment enough. 

“Take it easy, sweetheart. You don’t want to tire yourself out before Sunday,” Christen’s mom warned, turning around in her seat to get a good look at her daughter. 

Christen nodded, a soft smile creeping onto her lips. Her mom had always been good about making Christen smile when she really didn’t feel good. She’d made her laugh after her first big loss in high school, when Christen had stayed home from school with the stomach flu, and when Christen’s first crush turned her down. 

Her dad pulled the car into the Olive Garden parking lot, putting the car in park and clearing his throat. 

“Yes! BREADSTICKS!” Megan cheered. After Channing moved her seat forward, Megan hobbled out of the car, the ice bag still wrapped around her ankle. Crystal and Tyler filed out on the other side of the car, holding the door open for Christen. 

“Christen, stay in the car for a minute,” Christen’s dad said, waving Christen’s sisters, friends, and mom ahead. “Save us some breadsticks,” he joked. 

“What’s up?” Christen asked when they were alone. 

“We need to talk about that behavior today,” Cody said, turning around in his seat to look at his middle daughter. 


“Explain yourself,” Allie demanded as soon as the door slammed shut behind them. 

Tobin kept her eyes forward, staring at the wall and listening to the stereotypical Italian music blasting from the bathroom speaker. 

“What do you mean?” Tobin mumbled. 

Allie pulled on her best friend’s arm, spinning Tobin around to face her. Tobin’s eyes stayed glued to Allie’s sneakers, terrified to lift her head up and meet Allie’s eyes. She’d been holding herself together since she’d been taken off the field, since Coach Parlow had yelled at her, since her parents had commiserated with her about the loss, and since Allie had started glaring at her at the dinner table. She didn’t want to fall apart now.

“Don’t pull that shit! That was not the Harry I know out there on that field today! You were a total bitch to Christen, a.k.a. the sweetest human alive. So I repeat, explain yourself,” Allie said, trying to lower her voice slightly. Getting no response from Tobin, Allie took a deep breath. “Will you just look at me?” Allie asked, her voice even softer this time. She reached her hand out to lift Tobin’s chin up. 

Tobin’s bottom lip wobbled first. She looked into her best friend’s blue eyes, Allie’s typical kind, non-judgemental look within them. That was when the first, hot tears dripped down her cheeks. 

“Oh, Harry,” Allie gasped, completely caught off guard by her friend’s tears. Allie stepped toward the bathroom door, turning the lock quickly so that no one else would try to enter. 

“I’m sorry,” Tobin sputtered, more tears falling, despite her efforts. Her nose burned, and her throat thickened, but no matter how much she tried to contain the tears, they just kept falling. 

“I wasn’t expecting tears. What’s going on?” Allie asked, handing Tobin a paper towel to dry her face, rubbing Tobin’s shoulder comfortingly. 

“I hurt Christen,” Tobin blubbered, her voice wet and cracking. 

“She’ll be fine,” Allie replied, trying to speak lightly about Tobin’s aggression during the game, not wanting Tobin to feel worse about it. “It isn’t like you broke her leg or something. You just knocked her around a little.”

“No, but I - I hurt her. I hurt Christen,” Tobin repeated, her eyes pleading with Allie to understand what she was trying to say. 

Allie eyed her friend, taking in the swollen, red eyes, the tear stains on her cheeks, the torment in her gaze. Suddenly, Allie realized this wasn’t just about the game. This was about something else entirely, only she wasn’t exactly sure what.

“I know you did, sweetie, but why am I getting the feeling that there is more to the story here?”

Tobin nodded, the relief on her face palpable that Allie was finally getting it.

“There is. She’s important,” Tobin whispered. 

“Christen?” Allie clarified.

Tobin nodded again, softly this time, finally in control of her tears. She wiped at her eyes, brushing away the evidence. 

“I didn’t even know you two knew one another,” Allie said, cocking her head curiously. 

“We don’t!” Tobin snapped, feeling a fresh wave of emotions crash toward her again.

“Okay okay, you don’t. But so what’s important about Christen Press?” Allie asked, her hands on Tobin’s arms again. 

“I like her,” Tobin said to the tiled floor. 

“What was that?” Allie asked, lifting Tobin’s head up again so that she could actually hear Tobin’s response.  

“I like her,” Tobin repeated, louder this time, a little more confident in tone even if her words were shaky. 

“Holy shit,” Allie blurted, completely thrown off at the revelation. She hadn’t expected this out of her best friend. Out of the girl who didn’t do feelings or relationships. She hadn’t expected cross-country pining and explosions of emotions on the national stage during the NCAA Tournament either. Tobin was full of surprises today, it seemed. Reigning in her surprise, Allie schooled her features. “Since when?” she asked.

“August,” Tobin choked out.

“Wow. You know...people don’t really knock their crushes down after they graduate kindergarten and grow up,” Allie teased, trying to bring some light to the situation. 

It seemed to work as Tobin let out a wet chuckle, her lips quirking up in a half-smile. “Shut up, Harry!”

“You’ve got a really odd way of showing affection, dude. Make sure to warn a girl next time before you tackle her with the force of your loooove.”

“Harry. Shut. Up,” Tobin said, shoving Allie away and tossing her paper towel in the trash can. The two friends laughed for a moment before Tobin sobered, her face hardening once more. “No one said anything about love,” Tobin added.

Allie held up her hands. “Sorry, like. You like her. That’s no biggie, Harry! You’re hot. She’s hot. I see no issues here, like zero,” she shrugged. 

Tobin sniffled and stepped up to the mirror, eyeing her disheveled appearance. “I literally just sent her airborne and knocked her on her back. She hates me,” Tobin said, wanting to kick herself for being such a jerk. She had royally messed things up and she wasn’t sure there was any way to go back and make them right.

“Christen’s super sweet though. There’s no way she’ll hold that against you forever. Just apologize, and you’ll be good as new!” Allie said, her voice cheery once more. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me this sooner. We could’ve been gossiping about this literally all semester! I could’ve sent you pictures with Christen every day!”

“You can’t tell her,” Tobin begged, turning to look at Allie. “She thinks I’m a monster already, and I need to fix it without you getting involved.”

Allie could do ‘not involved’...maybe. She’d give it her best shot, but she already had the makings of a scheme in her mind. “Okay, okay,” Allie conceded, crossing her fingers behind her back, negating the promise she was about to make. “No involvement. Now, scooch, I’ve gotta pee.”

Tobin waited on Allie, leaning against the bathroom wall. She ran her fingers through her hair, the mindless motion doing a little calm the storm of feelings raging within her.

“Harry has a little crush, little crush, little crush. Harry has a little crush. Her name is Christen Press,” Allie sang to the tune of Mary Had a Little Lamb, her voice reverberating around the small bathroom.

“You suck,” Tobin groaned, leaning her head back and looking up at the ceiling in defeat. 


“Never, and I mean never, have I seen you do what you did today.  I’ve been watching you kick a ball around a field for fourteen years, but today I looked out there and I didn’t even recognize my own daughter,” Cody said, his voice even. 

There was no anger in his words, but Christen shrank under the criticism all the same. She mentally added her Dad to the long list of people disappointed in her after today’s game. She hadn’t been thinking about him or her family or really anyone else when she’d started fighting with Tobin. She’d only thought of Tobin and how angry she was at her. 

“I’m sorry, Dad-” Christen tried to say, but Cody interrupted her.

“No, I’m not finished. When I am, then you can speak.”

Christen nodded solemnly, pushing herself further into the seat of the car. Maybe if she tried hard enough, she could disappear into the seat and not have to sit here, knowing she’d disappointed one of the only people in this world that she wanted to make proud.

“You were rude and you were indignant. Above all else, you were disrespectful. Of your teammates, of Penn State, of your coaches, and of yourself.”

Christen sniffled and wiped at her watery eyes, willing the tears she’d managed to keep at bay all day not to fall now. For she knew once they did, she wouldn’t be able to stop them.

“But...you were justified,” her Dad finished.

Christen’s head snapped up, eyes widening in confusion. 

“I was?”

Cody nodded, his own frustrations getting the better of him as he began to complain about everything he’d been keeping inside since the game.

“That Number 17 was way out of line. She forced your hand, and while I don’t love the way you went about it, you defended Megan and yourself. I was a little lost about what you two were arguing about, but your Mom just told me not to worry about it.”

Christen felt a small chuckle escape her lips. She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around her Dad’s neck, bringing him in for a bruising hug.

“I love you, Dad. I’m really sorry for how I acted, but I promise that I’m going to make you proud on Sunday.”

Cody patted Christen’s back, a large smile on his face. “You make me proud every day. Now can we go get some breadsticks or what?”

With another laugh, Christen leaned back from her Dad. They got out of the car quickly, hustling towards the door, leaving the heaviness of their conversation outside.

Christen’s Dad held the door open for her, so Christen walked through first, her eyes searching the restaurant for her friends and family. They were nowhere to be found upon her initial scan of the room. So, she looked towards the back, near the kitchen and the bathrooms, and then felt her entire body tense up.

Tobin Heath, looking haggard and worn down, was here. She was being led out of the bathroom by Allie Long. 

Christen’s mouth flopped open in shock, silently cursing the universe for being so cruel as to make her face Tobin Heath again today. She heard her Dad pause behind her, his curse not so silent.

“Damn, what are the odds?”

Christen knew the odds were astronomical, so she must have pissed off the universe in a big way today to deserve this.

Tobin felt eyes on her and she looked up toward the front door. Her eyes widened into saucers as she made eye contact with Christen Press. She stopped walking, causing Allie to crash into her back.

“Harry, what the -”

Allie looked up then, seeing Christen and her Dad at the front door. She cringed and then shook her head. “What the actual fuck is today?”

Tobin didn’t know how to answer that. All she knew was that Christen was here and was glaring at her with such hostility that Tobin was sure that Allie was wrong in her assessment. Christen was going to hold everything against her. Forever.

Chapter Text

Even when one is dead and gone

It still takes two to make a house a home

Well I'm as lonesome as the catacombs

I hear you call my name but no one is there

Except a feeling in the air

(Tobin - “Dearly Departed” (feat. Esmé Patterson) by Shakey Graves)

After the wreckage

After the dust

I still hear the howling, I still feel the rush

Over the riots, above all the noise

Through all the worry, I still hear your voice

(Christen - “Us” by James Bay) 

 

“She’s staring,” Channing whispered to Christen, her hand gripping onto Christen’s thigh. 

“Ow, Chan,” Christen swatted her hand away, stabbing another piece of lettuce with her fork. “I don’t care.”

“Sure you don’t,” Channing mumbled under her breath. 

Christen forced herself to stare at her salad, fighting off the urge to look over her shoulder at Tobin’s table, which she knew was about halfway across the restaurant. As fate would have it, Tobin’s table, where she sat with her parents and Allie, was in the perfect eye line from Christen’s table. Not that Christen was looking over there. 

Megan, on the other hand, with her foot propped up on a chair and a fresh bag of ice on her ankle, wasn’t able to fight off that same urge. Her eyes were glued to Tobin Heath.

“I have half a mind to hobble over there and shove that breadstick down her stupid, motherfu-” Megan started to say, but was quickly interrupted.

“So, girls,” Christen’s mom, Stacy, cleared her throat. “How’s the first semester been so far?” 

Crystal eyed her roommates. Christen hadn’t looked up from her salad, seeming like she hadn’t even registered the question from her Mom. Megan continued to aggressively eat breadsticks, her eyes never leaving Tobin. Crystal sighed, realizing she would need to be the one to dispel the awkwardness around the table. 

She beamed at Stacy. “It’s been really great actually! I’m so glad we’ve been able to room together.”

Crystal continued to field questions from Stacy and Tyler, trying to keep the conversation going. But no matter how much she smiled and regaled half the table with tales of their first semester, she couldn’t distract anyone from the tension around the table and Christen’s terrible mood.

Cody and Megan were sending daggers in Tobin’s direction, both of them looking moments from standing up and confronting the reason for Christen’s mood in the middle of this Olive Garden. They passed the bowl of breadsticks back and forth, angry glares never leaving Tobin.

Channing was flicking her eyes between her sister and Penn State’s Number 17, waiting to see what would happen, too entertained to pay attention to anything else. She only wished Olive Garden had started serving popcorn, she could have really used some right then as she watched the tension unfold.

Christen hadn’t spoken since seeing Tobin come out of the bathroom. She sulked into her food, her movements robotic and a bit aggressive. Her parents and sisters were concerned, but none of them knew what to say. There was an elephant in the room, and they were doing backflips to avoid addressing it.

Christen didn’t know how much more of this she could take. Her eyes felt heavy, the constant burning and threat of tears making it hard to keep them open. She hadn’t been able to stomach anything past water and a few bites of salad. She just wanted to go back to the hotel and climb into bed. She wanted a good cry, a long night’s sleep, and then to wake up tomorrow and put Tobin Heath out of her mind.


Tobin was gnawing on her fifth breadstick, her eyes glued to Christen Press. She hadn’t been able to look away, completely engrossed with Christen’s entire being and absolutely heartbroken by the sadness and anger she could see in Christen’s tense, hunched form. She could see that Christen’s dad and the pink-haired forward were glaring at her, but she didn’t care. She only had eyes for Christen.

“You did this to her,” she thought to herself, shoving another bite into her mouth. “You did this and there might be no way to fix it.”  

“Thank you both so much for inviting me to come along to dinner,” Allie spoke up, smiling at Tobin’s parents. 

“You know you’re like our fifth kid,” Tobin’s mom, Cindy, smiled, reaching her hand across the table to squeeze Allie’s. She looked over at Tobin, who was fully faced away from their table. Her eyes held a question as she looked back to Allie.

Allie got the unspoken message and shook her head slightly. Now was not the moment to ask Tobin what had happened on the field, or what was happening currently. Tobin’s parents were obviously worried, but Allie hoped her entertaining stories and reassuring smiles were enough to distract them. 

Tobin rolled her shoulders and then reached for another breadstick. She could feel her parent’s concern, but she didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t known what to say a few hours ago at the soccer field either. 

She could tell her parents were worried as soon as she’d met up with them after the game. They’d shared forced smiles, pulling Tobin in for tight hugs. Her Mom had rubbed her back and whispered words of support, while her Dad had patted her arm and told her to move on, there was always next season.

As Tobin tactfully avoided their eyes and scuffed the toe of her cleat against the ground, her parents shared troubled looks with one another. They’d never seen her get that mad during a game before, but they’d also never seen her compete for an NCAA Championship. So maybe that was just an expression of all the pressure she’d put herself under. Like Tobin, though, they weren’t the type to pry or share too much of their own private thoughts. They’d always figured that their kids would speak up if and when they needed help or advice, and Tobin wasn’t speaking at all. As much as they wanted to pry, as desperate as they were to sit Tobin down and get answers, they didn't.  

So instead of asking her why she had verbally berated a UCLA player and acted out on the field, or why she was now staring across the restaurant at said player, they left her alone with her thoughts, content to let Allie Long catch them up on her fall semester at UCLA. 


“I hate her,” Megan growled to Crystal, annoyed that Tobin was still staring at Christen. 

“Calm down,” Crystal whispered. “I have to pee, and you better help carry the conversation when I’m gone because this table is about to explode with the amount of tension it’s holding.” 

Megan grunted softly, not agreeing to Crystal’s request fully, her eyes still drifting to Tobin’s table. 

Crystal pushed her chair under the table and walked to the bathroom, not realizing that she was being followed until the bathroom door didn’t shut behind her. 

“Hey, girlie,” Allie said. 

“Allie!” Crystal squeaked, slightly surprised at Allie’s presence behind her. “I didn’t even hear you come in.” 

“I’m sneaky like that,” Allie replied, pushing into the bathroom and closing the door behind her. “So, do you want to talk about our friends’ sexual tension completely terrorizing this restaurant and almost ruining the game, or are you as angry as Megan?” Allie asked, not beating around the bush at all. 

“Sexual tension?” Crystal asked, hesitant to let Allie know anything about Christen’s feelings toward Tobin. She had a feeling that Allie would look out for Christen’s best interest, but she had no idea just how deep her ties with Tobin were rooted. If she was eating dinner with Tobin and her parents, they must be close.

“Tobin Heath is my best friend,” Allie said like she could read Crystal’s mind. “I love her to pieces, but I’ve never seen her like this. She’s crushing super hard on Christen, and I need to know if there’s any chance Christen will forgive Tobin. Otherwise, I’m gonna need a lot more ice cream than the pint I already promised her.”

“Wait, Tobin likes Christen?” Crystal asked, her heart fluttering for her best friend. While she was immediately excited for Christen, this was also a complete surprise to Crystal. Thinking back to the way Tobin had acted during the game, nothing about her actions or words told Crystal that she was into Christen. It seemed like the exact opposite was true, in fact.

“Completely. She has since like August or something,” Allie nodded her head excitedly. Allie rationalized spilling Tobin’s secret to Crystal because, clearly, Christen and Tobin were fools who were both too stubborn and hurt to help themselves at this point. Allie had a plan, though, she just needed some assistance. “While I don’t fully agree with the way she chose to express it today, Tobin is into Christen.”

Crystal grinned, her mind running wild with all the possibilities. But she reminded herself that she was talking to Tobin’s best friend, not just her friend and her teammate. So, Crystal decided to rely on half-truths, as to not betray Christen’s trust. 

“I can’t speak for Christen, but I can say that there’s something there. There has been for a while,” Crystal said, not able to keep her excitement at a whisper. “Tobin’s feelings for Christen have a high possibility of being returned.”

“Hell yes!” Allie said, pumping her fist in the air. She smiled at Crystal and shook her head. “Those two are such idiots,” she sighed, rolling her eyes at the way Tobin and Christen had handled themselves at the game and continued to handle themselves now. 

“They just got off on the wrong foot. Whatever Tobin’s deal was today, she’s got a lot of explaining to do,” Crystal replied, knowing that Christen wasn’t going to be easy to win back. She’d never seen her friend like this before. Her light, her sunshine, were gone and Crystal only hoped Tobin could be the one to bring them back.

“Tobs just needs the chance to explain. I’m thinking they need to be shoved into a room and forced to work out their issues,” Allie smirked, her eyes lighting up with mischief. 

Crystal smiled right back at Allie, catching the underlying message in her words. “Name the time and place,” Crystal replied.


Tobin’s dad, Jeff, pulled the car up in front of Allie’s hotel, putting it in park. Cindy turned around in her seat and handed Allie a bag.

“You sure we can’t get you anything else?” she asked, eyes flitting over to Tobin, who stared out the window in a daze.

Allie took the bag and smiled. “Nope, just the ice cream. You can come back and get her in a few hours? I don’t think Coach Foudy would love it if I had a sleepover with grumpy gills, here.”

Cindy nodded then looked at Tobin. She reached out and patted Tobin’s knee. “Text us when you’re ready, Tobs, and we’ll come to get you.”

Tobin looked over at her mom, feeling guilt settle low in her stomach. She had barely spoken a word to her parents since the end of the game. Allie stepped out of the car, leaving the door partially open, to give Tobin some space with her parents. 

“Thanks for coming to the game,” Tobin muttered. “I’m sorry it wasn’t a better one to watch,” she choked out, feeling her eyes start to burn again. 

“Sweetheart, we love watching you play. No matter what,” Jeff replied, turning around in his seat and holding onto his daughter’s hand. 

“We just want you to be happy and have fun on the field, just like you’ve been doing since you were too tiny to lace your own cleats,” Cindy added. She leaned forward to kiss Tobin’s forehead. 

“I love you guys,” Tobin sighed, coughing a little in the hopes of getting rid of the lump in her throat. 

“We love you, kiddo,” Jeff smiled. 

“I’ll see you in a little while,” Tobin said, hoping her forced smile was convincing enough. She hopped out of the car, and Allie linked their arms, pulling Tobin into the hotel lobby and toward the elevator. 

In all honesty, Tobin had wanted to stay in the car with her parents. Sure, she had no idea what she would say to them, but she’d rather be with them than in UCLA’s hotel, with the possibility of running into Christen Press. 

“You promise she’s not here?” Tobin asked Allie, looking over her shoulder. 

“Christen?” Allie asked, completely oblivious to Tobin’s anxiety. 

“Shhh!” Tobin hissed. “What if she heard you?”

“I told you that she’s staying at her parents’ hotel or something,” Allie said, gripping the bag of ice cream tighter. 

“How much ice cream did you even buy?” Tobin asked, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to eat three pints, despite considering herself an aggressive eater. 

“More than enough,” Allie smiled.

That smile struck a chord of fear in Tobin. She didn’t trust that smile. She’d known Allie for five years, and she’d gotten to know her best friend’s facial expressions. This one always spelled trouble for her.

“What are you planning?” Tobin asked, too little too late since Allie was opening her hotel room door and pushing Tobin inside. 

The room was empty, both beds neatly made by housekeeping. Allie’s clothes were tossed messily into her suitcase. Another suitcase sat on the other side of the room, but Allie had assured her that her roommate was staying in another room until Tobin left. It would be Harry time, just movies and ice cream. 

Tobin felt herself calm down at the sight of the empty room. She slipped her shoes off and sat on Allie’s bed, opening the bag of ice cream. As she pulled out her favorite pint, Phish Food, she wondered if Allie had retired her meddlesome ways in favor of simply having a quiet night in.

That thought was quickly proven wrong when Allie didn’t sit down next to Tobin, despite historically loving Harry movie nights. She remained standing, checking the time on her phone, and fidgeting. She looked like she was waiting for something. 

“What is it?” Tobin asked, her mouth full of ice cream, a prickle of worry running through her stomach. 

Allie opened her mouth to respond, but a knock came at the door, interrupting whatever response she was about to give Tobin. Her face broke out into a huge grin, and Tobin knew she was screwed. Royally screwed. 

“Allie, what did you do-” Tobin started, her voice rising. 

“Shhh! What if it’s my coach? Be quiet,” Allie said, walking to the door and out of Tobin’s line of sight. “Oh, hey!” Allie said at the door, her voice way too chipper. 

“You said 6:30, right?” a soft voice floated through the room from the door. 

Tobin choked on the glob of ice cream that she’d just shoveled into her mouth. She couldn’t see the person at the door, but she was 10000% certain that the sweet voice she’d heard belonged to Christen Press. “Harry, you little shit,” Tobin thought to herself, wondering momentarily how long of a drop it would be if she went out the window. They were only on the second floor, surely she could find something soft to land on and make her escape. 

Tobin disregarded the window idea quickly, realizing it was ridiculous. She then looked around the room, wondering if she should try and prolong the inevitable meeting by hiding under the bed or behind the curtains. But she quickly dismissed that idea as well. Hiding would be childish and immature, and the last thing she needed was Christen to find her even more juvenile than she already did. Tobin decided she should just bite the bullet and remain in plain view. She arranged her legs and arms a few times, trying to appear casual and nonchalant, despite the flutter of nerves within her. She finally settled on a position, her legs stretched out in front of her, her back against the headboard when she heard Allie reply to Christen.

“Come on in! I got ice cream,” Allie practically sang. 

Tobin saw Christen’s slides first, her foot coming around the corner, followed by the rest of her body. She was freshly showered, her hair in a bun, wearing sweatpants and a faded UCLA t-shirt. Tobin couldn’t keep her eyes off of her, feeling her heart jump into her throat when her eyes met Christen’s green ones. Tobin knew right away that Christen wasn't happy to see her. Her eyes hardened and her face fell.

“What the fuck, Allie?” Christen seethed, turning away from Tobin’s gaze to stare at the blonde midfielder. 

“Your ice cream’s in the bag. Enjoy that while you work out whatever it is that’s happening here,” Allie pointed between Tobin and Christen. “I’ll be standing outside. No one can leave for at least thirty minutes. Play nice kids!”

“HARRY!” Tobin yelled, the closing of the door the only response she received. And just like that Allie was gone, and Christen and Tobin were alone for the first time.

Christen stood at the foot of Allie’s bed, a suffocating silence falling over the room in the wake of Allie's departure. Christen looked everywhere but at Tobin, purposefully avoiding looking at the brunette. With a huff, she turned on her heel and walked back to the door. She squinted to look through the peephole, checking to see if Allie was going to follow through with her threat.

Christen’s heart sank when she saw Allie standing in front of the door, a large grin on her face. “Good one, Christen. Way to get duped. But I guess there’s no escaping this now,” Christen thought to herself, her forehead hitting the door. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

Thirty minutes. That was all Allie required of them. She could handle thirty minutes alone with Tobin. 

She stalked back into the main part of the room, ripping the paper grocery bag open and pulling out her preferred flavor of ice cream, the pint cold in her hand. She pulled one of the plastic spoons out of the bag too, still avoiding Tobin’s eyes, before hopping onto the other bed and sliding as far away from Tobin’s side of the room as possible. 

Tobin watched as Christen shoved a few spoonfuls of ice cream into her mouth, completely forgetting her own Phish Food pint in her hand. This was the closest she’d ever been to Christen off of a soccer field, and she was struggling to take deep breaths. Christen’s entire presence was suffocating Tobin. 

The silence in the room was painful. Tobin swore that Christen could hear her heart beating rapidly against her ribs, but Christen didn’t seem perturbed, too focused on her ice cream. She occasionally looked out the window at the shopping mall across the hotel parking lot, the sound of her spoon scraping against her carton of ice cream the only sound in the room.

Tobin had been staring at Christen since she’d entered the room. She could see the exhaustion etched on what little she could see of Christen’s face. She could see Christen's frustration at their current situation in the way she pressed her lips tightly together, in the tension she held in her shoulders.

Tobin hadn’t even realized that she was picking at her fingernails, one of her few nervous ticks, until she felt pain shoot down her right index finger.

And then Christen let out a soft sigh, the sound involuntary. That small sound had broken the stalemate between them and Tobin realized that this could be a make or break moment. If she said nothing, if she let the silence continue to consume them for thirty minutes, she’d never get this kind of opportunity again. She’d lose any possible chance to be with, or even just know Christen Press. 

“I’m sorry,” Tobin whispered.

Christen froze, the whispered words of apology reaching her ears. She hadn’t expected Tobin to break the silence, and she certainly hadn’t expected an apology. She just assumed they’d suffer for thirty minutes, no words passing between them, and then go their separate ways. But now that Tobin had opened the door, had attempted to start a conversation, Christen found herself needing more than a feeble attempt at an apology. She wanted Tobin to mean it. She wanted Tobin to say it with her entire chest, making Christen believe that she was actually sorry for the way she’d acted and the words she’d said in anger. 

“Excuse me?” Christen asked, not turning to face Tobin just yet, gripping tightly onto her ice cream as the hurt she’d been pushing down all day resurfaced.

“I’m really sorry about what happened today,” Tobin sighed, running a hand through her hair. “I knew the tackle was a bad one as soon as I did it, probably before I did it. It was a huge mistake, and it wasn’t like me at all.” She stared at Christen’s back, willing UCLA’s Number 23 to turn around and look at her. She needed to see those green eyes, to see if there was any chance of forgiveness. 

Christen could hear the sincerity in Tobin’s words and she wanted desperately to believe them. But she couldn’t, not yet. She was still hurting and it wouldn’t be solved by accepting Tobin’s apology now.

“Not like you at all, huh? Well, I wouldn’t know that. We don’t know each other, as you made perfectly clear today on the field,” Christen replied, her voice hard, her words holding a bite to them. Clearly, she was more upset about what Tobin had said to her than what Tobin had done. This wasn’t about the slide tackle anymore, this was about more than that. 

Tobin cringed at Christen’s words, wishing she could forget how she’d acted on the field, better yet, wishing she could take back everything she’d done and said. Tobin hadn’t fully realized how much her words had upset Christen, but now that she did, she felt like a complete asshole. 

“I was a jerk,” Tobin said, sliding her legs off the side of the bed, subconsciously wanting to be closer to Christen. “I’m really sorry about what I said. It’s true that we don’t know each other, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to know you. I really do.” Tobin could feel her cheeks start to burn, and for the first time, she was glad that Christen was turned around.

As soon as she had that thought, though, Christen turned her shoulders slowly, half-facing Tobin, her eyebrows knitted in confusion. 

“I really do,” Tobin’s words reverberated around Christen’s mind. Tobin wanted to know her. Tobin freaking Heath wanted to know her. It was absurd, given everything that had happened today. The barbed words, the aggressive antics. Hours ago, Christen was sure Tobin thought she was a freak. With the mention of the Instagram-stalk and the liked picture, Tobin had made it sound like Christen’s actions weirded her out, like Tobin disliked her because of them. So to say Christen was a bit taken aback by the sudden declaration of the desire to get to know her would be an understatement. 

Somehow, Tobin had flipped the script on her, again. First at the field, and now in this hotel room. Here she was, sitting on the edge of the bed, with the most wounded, open expression Christen had ever seen, imploring Christen to forget what she’d said and done today. Tobin was asking her to believe that she wanted to get to know her, despite everything that pointed to the opposite. And the most shocking thing of all? Christen did believe her. 

Yet, Christen didn’t say that. Instead, she let the little voice of doubt within her speak, asking questions of Tobin to try and understand the gorgeous, frustrating, enigmatic girl sitting across from her.

“You want to get to know me? That’s not what you made it seem like today. Like, at all. That seemed like the furthest thing from your mind, in fact,” Christen said, pivoting a bit on the bed so that she was now sitting with her legs crossed, fully facing Tobin.

Tobin felt her shoulders slump forward. “Of course Christen thinks that. You literally tackled her to the ground and screamed at her,” Tobin thought, chastising her behavior for the thousandth time since the game. She took a deep, shuddering breath, trying to ground herself in the green eyes that were staring at hers. 

“Sometimes you - not you. I mean, people. I mean…” she started, trying to find the right words. “Sometimes I do things that I don’t want to do, like my brain isn’t really communicating with the rest of me. Sometimes I do things without thinking or I do the exact opposite of what I want to do. You know?” she finished softly, dropping her eyes to the pint of ice cream in her hands, the top layer melting and the little chocolate fish practically floating on the surface. 

“Actually I wouldn’t,” Christen shot back. “I always think things through.”

Christen winced at the harshness in her tone. While Tobin's explanation left a lot to be desired, she didn't need to be cruel. Noticing that Tobin’s eyes remained on the ice cream in her lap, Christen softened and added, “I think things through maybe a little too much sometimes. My Mom always tells me not to overthink, that life’s not that complicated, so I should just let it happen. I bet she was a little surprised when I decided to take her advice today and not think. I acted completely on impulse and things got a little ugly.”

Christen felt a small, half-smile tug at her lips when Tobin looked up at her hesitantly. Leave it to her Mom to help her even when she wasn’t here.

Butterflies fluttered softly in Tobin’s stomach. For the first time, probably in Tobin’s whole life, she was nervous under the gaze of another person. She was nervous, staring at Christen and seeing Christen’s soft smile. At first, she’d thought that Christen was going to yell. She’d sounded angry, but then, Christen’s voice had softened, and Tobin was able to glance up at her again. Her face had looked perfectly peaceful when she talked about her mom, and Tobin wanted to know more. She wanted to know everything. She wanted this conversation to go so well that Christen felt like she could share her whole self with Tobin. 

“I’m really sorry,” Tobin repeated again, knowing that she would need to apologize a lot before Christen would actually forgive her. “I was definitely not on my best behavior today.” 

Christen’s own shame burned through her then, making her face feel hot. Tobin wasn’t the only one who’d behaved badly today. Ducking her head, Christen chewed on her lower lip. “Neither was I,” she admitted finally, surprising Tobin. 

“You were only reacting to everything I was doing. I showed up to the stadium with a chip on my shoulder, and I took it out on you. What else were you supposed to do? If the roles had been reversed, I would have done the same thing,” Tobin said, wanting to take any and all blame away from the girl in front of her. 

Christen shook her head, not letting herself off the hook so easily. 

“It doesn’t matter, I shouldn’t have screamed at you or treated you like I did,” Christen murmured, her throat becoming thick with tears. “Keep it together, Christen. Do not cry in front of her, not now that you’re making progress.”

"I'm trying to shoulder the blame here, and you're making it super hard to do so," Tobin replied, a small smile tugging at her lips. 

Christen looked up at Tobin. The genuine smile gracing her features was the first one Christen had seen out of Tobin since the walk-through yesterday. It made Christen all warm on the inside, seeing that easy, effortless smile back on Tobin's face. 

Then, Christen realized something. Tobin had admitted to showing up at the game with a chip on her shoulder. So, why had Tobin targeted her? Why had that chip led to what had happened on the field today?

“Um, Tobin?”

Tobin could feel another blush traveling up her chest and neck, into her cheeks. Christen said her name so softly, her voice gentle and sweet, better than in any dream she’d ever had. “No one’s ever made my name sound that good,” Tobin thought to herself. A part of her wished she could ask Christen to just say it over and over, to repeat it until Tobin committed it to memory, but she knew that would be weird. She wasn’t about to creep Christen out when they were finally talking. 

“Christen?” Tobin responded, a part of her hoping that she had the same effect on the green-eyed forward. 

A matching blush heated Christen’s cheeks as she replied, “Why did you show up today with a chip on your shoulder? Did I do something wrong?” Christen’s face fell a bit as she asked that second question.

Tobin practically tumbled out of the bed, trying to answer her as quickly as possible and eliminate any negative thoughts Christen had. “No no no!” she basically shouted at Christen. “It was not your fault, I promise. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Tobin sighed. She couldn’t tell Christen the complete truth. There was no way that she was going to admit to Christen about the dreams she’d been having since August. She’d have to settle for some type of half-truth that might help Christen feel better and hopefully explain Tobin’s behavior.

“I just had a stress dream last night, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I overslept and missed breakfast. I’m also rooming with a snoring space cadet who didn’t wake me up this morning but has no trouble keeping me up at night. So, I was tired and hangry, and totally not myself. Today was the first day I’ve ever been nervous for a game, and I completely psyched myself out,” Tobin finished, scratching at the back of her neck when she realized she'd been going on and on, while Christen had just been sitting there listening.

Christen’s relieved expression morphed into something resembling slight amusement. Tobin's rambling was just about the cutest thing Christen had ever seen. She did feel bad about what Tobin was talking about though. She’d been there, she knew exactly what that felt like. 

“I’m really sorry,” Christen said, her eyes dancing between Tobin’s. “I know what you mean, though. I’m usually a big ole bundle of nerves on game day.”

Christen cleared her throat, a thought popping into her head. She hesitated, unsure if she should say it. She didn’t know if they had reached the point where they could joke about what happened today. This thing between them felt new and fragile, Christen didn’t really want to test it. But then the words were tumbling from her lips, and she was powerless to stop them. 

“Kinda stinks though, knowing you weren’t 100%. Here I was on cloud nine, thinking I’d bested the great Tobin Heath, but the win doesn’t feel as good now,” Christen teased, her smile growing a bit, her cheeks tinged a light pink.

“You have no idea how much you’ve actually bested me,” Tobin thought to herself, knowing already that she was completely powerless when it came to Christen Press. “Hey, you megged me in front of my entire team,” Tobin sighed. “You’ve pretty much done what I thought was impossible, so I think you can be proud.” 

She wasn’t lying to Christen or just gassing her up. Christen had played incredibly well, and she did deserve to be proud of herself. Normally, Tobin would have felt a pang of regret or frustration if a competitor talked about one of Tobin’s losses, but seeing Christen’s smile made Tobin’s heart flutter in her chest. 

“I did, didn’t I?” Christen asked, her blush deepening at the reminder. 

“I hope you took some pictures in your mind because that won’t happen again,” Tobin added quickly, her cockiness returning. 

“Never say never,” Christen quipped, forcing herself to look away from Tobin and down at her ice cream. Her reply had come out a touch flirtier than she’d been going for, and she had to fight off a wave of embarrassment. She dug into her pint and stuffed a large spoonful of ice cream in her mouth, effectively shutting herself up. 

“Was she flirting?” Tobin thought to herself. She desperately hoped the answer was yes. Tobin noticed Christen’s blush, smirking at the possibility that she was flustering Christen Press just as much as Christen flustered her. She took pity on Christen, though, noticing that she was digging her spoon in her ice cream as a distraction.

Tobin cleared her throat and grinned at Christen when their eyes met again. “Fun fact, my favorite color is orange," she said as if it wasn't the most random statement to have said right then.

“Excuse me?” Christen replied, the same question leaving her lips as before, but now her words were gentler, her tone less antagonistic. In the last twenty minutes, they’d undergone a huge shift, and neither one of them could complain about the direction they were now moving in.

“Annnnd I’m hopeless in the kitchen. Can’t cook to save my life,” Tobin said, sticking another bite of ice cream into her mouth, ready to return to her ice cream now that her stomach finally settled after Allie had surprised her with Christen’s presence. 

With that second statement, Christen realized exactly what Tobin was doing. Smiling, Christen abandoned her spoon and relaxed back onto the bed, putting her weight onto one hand and leaning back. 

“Are these fun facts supposed to help me get to know you better?”

Tobin grinned cheekily and nodded, silently waiting for Christen to catch up and offer her some facts too. She didn’t have to wait long.

“I have two dogs, Morena and Khaleesi. Khaleesi is scared of wrapping paper and hats, but both Morena and Khaleesi love to hike.”

Tobin grinned softly. She’d spoken to Christen for less than thirty minutes, but she already felt like it was a typical Christen move to talk about others before herself, even her dogs. “I like knowing that, but now I know more about your dogs than I know about you,” Tobin laughed, hoping that Christen wouldn’t be offended by Tobin’s request for a fact that was actually about Christen. 

With a small chuckle, Christen replied, “Fair enough. I don’t really like talking about myself, if you hadn’t noticed. But umm...I like doing yoga and my favorite place in the world is the beach.”

Tobin’s face broke out into a smile. She remembered Christen’s answer when Allie asked about her ideal date. She’d said any date on the beach would be perfect for her, and Tobin suddenly wished she could drive Christen to one of Florida’s beaches and spend more time with her. Instead, she nodded softly and continued, “My sister and I tried to go vegan last summer, but I gave up after a week because I couldn’t stomach any of the vegan ice creams. They don’t make a vegan Phish Food flavor.”

Christen giggled, eyes dropping to the carton of ice cream in Tobin’s lap, then back up to meet her gaze. “Is that what got chocolate all over your mouth? Phish Food?”

Tobin immediately ran the back of her hand over her lips, seeing chocolate on her knuckles and blushing. She dug through the bag in search of a napkin. “Of course Harry didn’t get napkins,” Tobin thought, grumbling as she stood up and walked to the bathroom to grab one of Allie’s washcloths. “You waited that long to tell me?” Tobin asked, walking back to the bed. 

“It didn’t feel right to say it before when we were all angry at each other,” Christen replied with a shrug. “Umm, okay. Another fun fact...oh! I hate the dentist. It’s why I tend to avoid super sugary things, like that chocolate monstrosity thing you’re eating.”

“Phish Food is a delicacy,” Tobin gasped. “I’m scared to ask what flavor you’re eating if you avoid sugar…” Tobin gestured at Christen’s ice cream with her spoon. 

“Oat milk ice cream, just plain vanilla. Sometimes I go a little crazy and put blueberries on top,” Christen confessed, admitting to that like it was a huge, earth-shattering secret.

“Woah! Settle down!” Tobin feigned surprise. “I’m gonna call the sugar cops.”

Tobin waited for Christen to finish laughing, steadying herself with a deep breath before she scooped a sizable amount of ice cream onto her spoon and stood up from Allie’s bed. “You cannot live your whole life without trying this,” Tobin said, nodding down at the spoon in her hand. “I would feel like I did you a disservice if you left this room without having a bite of Phish Food.”

Christen paled, eyeing the spoonful of ice cream like it could hurt her. She swallowed thickly and shook her head. 

“I’m good, thanks though.”

“Please, Chris,” Tobin asked, pushing her bottom lip out into a pout. “I need you to try this. I lost a really big game today, and you’re the one person who can make me feel better.”

Christen could feel herself caving. That stupid pout was beyond powerful. And the way the nickname had rolled off Tobin’s tongue, like she’d said it a million times before? It was all too much. 

“Fine, you win,” Christen said, fighting off a smile at the look of victory that passed over Tobin’s face.

Tobin moved the spoon between the two of them, unsure about how to share ice cream with Christen. She decided to let Christen decide, waiting patiently while Christen sized up the bite of chocolatey goodness. 

Christen reached out and grabbed the offered spoon, bringing it hesitantly to her lips. She was about to take a small bite when she realized how unfair this whole thing was. She looked up at Tobin and smirked. 

“I had a really hard day today, some girl tackled me to the ground and bruised my ribs, and you having a bite of my oat milk ice cream is the only way I’m going to feel better,” Christen said, her beaming smile aimed up at Tobin. She held out the carton of ice cream, her spoon stuck in it.

“Shit,” Tobin thought. As soon as Christen had smirked, Tobin knew she was a goner. That smirk had been one of the things Tobin hadn’t been able to forget. That smirk had starred in every single one of Tobin’s dreams. The way Christen was smiling up at Tobin, though, completely happy, a bit of mischief in her eyes, was possibly even better. 

“Fine,” Tobin sighed, taking the pint of ice cream out of Christen’s hands and scooping a small amount of ice cream onto Christen’s spoon. 

Their eyes held as they both lifted the spoons to their mouths, each taking a bite of the other’s ice cream at the same time. 

Christen was surprised she liked it, the way the chocolate and caramel and marshmallow flavors all combined together to make something so goddamn good. It was quite rich though, and Christen had had enough of it with that single bite. 

Tobin tried to keep her face neutral. She even managed a smile after swallowing the oat milk ice cream, handing the pint back to Christen in exchange for her spoon. 

“Wow, so yummy,” Tobin lied, bouncing back to her seat on Allie’s bed. 

“Liar,” Christen giggled. She eyed the distance that was once more between them. She found herself missing Tobin being so close to her, even if it had only lasted for a moment or two. 

“So, uh, another fun fact. I hate feeling like I have to shout at you to get you to hear me, since you’re sitting so far away,” Christen admitted, going for smooth and failing epically. She cringed at her awkward attempt and hid her face in her ice cream, avoiding looking at Tobin at all.

Tobin didn't let her sit in that awkward regret for long. “What a coincidence!” Tobin chirped, jumping up from her spot and sitting down next to Christen. Christen immediately relaxed when she felt the bed dip under Tobin's weight.

“We have so much in common already,” Tobin grinned, sticking her ice cream spoon back in her mouth. She felt Christen’s warmth practically radiating next to her, and she was dying to scoot just a little bit closer, just to touch Christen once. “Fun fact, I think people who sleep in socks are weird,” Tobin mumbled past her spoon, wanting to keep their conversation flowing. 

“I sleep in socks,” Christen deadpanned. 

“Weirdly coooool,” Tobin replied, trying to save herself. “I didn’t finish that sentence. I think they’re weirdly cool.”

Christen narrowed her eyes playfully. “Next time bring a shovel if you’re going to dig yourself that deep of a hole. Save yourself some time. Maybe bring a ladder too, so you can climb out when you’re done.”

Tobin blushed, knocking her shoulder into Christen’s. “I didn’t realize I was in the presence of a comedic genius,” Tobin teased. 

“Well, I guess you could say we both know each other a bit better now. You have zero taste when it comes to ice cream, and I’m hilarious,” Christen grinned, fighting off the urge to wink. “Oh my god, I almost winked at her. I’m FLIRTING with her! What is wrong with me?” Christen wondered, feeling a bit flustered all of a sudden, her confidence waning. 

“I bring life into this space,” Tobin moved her arms around in the air, scoffing at Christen’s criticism. “That’s the best you have? She’s totally flustering you,” Tobin thought to herself, realizing that Christen was completely knocking her off balance.

Christen simply rolled her eyes and went back to her ice cream. The two sat in silence for a few moments, until Tobin found herself breaking it.

“My little brother’s my best friend in the whole world. My teammates kept trying to get me to hang out and party this past semester, but I’m usually a stay-at-home and chill type of person. Jeff and I Facetime and play Fifa a lot,” Tobin admitted, slightly embarrassed, not knowing whether Christen was a partier who might think playing Fifa in a dorm room with your brother on a Friday night was lame. 

“I’d take a night in over a night out any day. Especially with my family. I didn’t realize how much I was going to miss them when I went to college,” Christen replied softly.

“I was so homesick for the first three months of college!” Tobin admitted for the first time to anyone other than Jeff. “I seriously thought about transferring to a school closer to New Jersey.” She wasn’t completely sure why Christen made her feel so comfortable, but she was aware that she felt safe enough to spill her deepest secrets to Christen Press. 

Their quick pivot from fun facts to something a bit deeper and more real should have felt awkward. But it didn’t. It felt like the most natural thing in the world. Christen could have listened to Tobin talk about anything, and she was more than happy to sit there while Tobin confided in her. 

“If it hadn’t been for Lauren and ARod, I probably would have,” Tobin sighed, remembering all the nights that her friends had dragged her out of her room to team parties and sleepovers.  

“ARod...is that the blonde who took Megan out today?” Christen queried.

“Yeah…” Tobin flinched. “She wasn’t on her best behavior today either. She’s kind of a hothead in general, but today’s game had such high stakes, and I think she just lost her temper. Off the field, she’s so fun to be around! The most loyal friend, but I’d never want to play against her,” Tobin laughed. 

“God, I was such a bitch to her,” Christen realized, her tone full of self-deprecation and regret. “Will you tell her that I’m sorry?”

“Hey, you were not a bitch,” Tobin emphasized, reaching out instinctively and resting her hand on Christen’s knee. She blushed at the contact, feeling Christen’s warm skin through the fabric of her sweatpants. Tobin never wanted Christen to talk about herself that way, so she squeezed Christen’s knee to get her attention. 

“Honestly, ARod deserved to be taken down a peg or two. So did I, and you did a great job!” Tobin laughed. “She’s got the attention span of a goldfish, anyway. She probably doesn’t even remember you getting upset with her.” Tobin hadn’t lied. ARod was the type of player who left everything on the field. She was good at separating “game self” from her “normal life self.”  

Christen was only half listening as Tobin talked about ARod. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from where Tobin’s hand rested on her knee. Sure, there was a layer of fabric between Tobin’s palm and her skin, but Christen could feel the heat of Tobin’s touch all the same. 

“Sorry,” Tobin coughed, pulling her hand away from Christen’s knee. She didn’t want to freak Christen out, and judging by the way Christen had stared at Tobin’s hand, she might have. 

“No! You’re fine,” Christen rushed to say, reaching out to take Tobin’s hand in her own. She gave Tobin’s hand a quick squeeze, hoping to communicate with the touch that everything was okay. She hadn’t hated Tobin’s hand on her knee. She liked it, and maybe she wasn’t ready to admit it out loud, but she hoped Tobin got the message. 

From the small smile on Tobin’s face, it looked like she had. Christen dropped Tobin’s hand and sat back a little. She put her ice cream down on the bed and reached up to undo her bun. With deft fingers, she re-did it, needing the familiar actions to calm her racing heart. 

“Can I tell you something?” she asked, eyes meeting Tobin’s for a moment, before skittering away. 

“Of course,” Tobin nodded, feeling simultaneously nervous and excited for whatever Christen wanted to say.

“This is not how I pictured today going. At all,”  Christen almost laughed, finally seeming to process the rollercoaster that was today. 

“What? Winning the semifinals?” Tobin laughed, her voice completely devoid of any kind of professional jealousy.

“No, I always pictured winning and going to finals, you know, visualization and all that,” Christen admitted. “But I guess I - I didn’t think this was how it would go between us,” she finished with a bashful grin, gesturing between the two of them shyly.

“You thought about how things would go between us?” Tobin asked, her heart speeding up in her chest. She suddenly wished that she were further away from Christen, worried that Christen would be able to tell that Tobin’s pulse was speeding up. For a second, Tobin let herself hope. She thought about Christen, who possibly had been thinking about her since August. She thought about future dates with Christen, future conversations, future plans to visit one another. She let herself get carried away, and then she stopped. In the back of her mind, she remembered a certain pink-haired forward that ARod had taken out, the forward who Christen had wrapped her arms around and helped off the field. Tobin’s stomach twisted painfully at the thought of Christen and someone else.

“What would your girlfriend think about that?” Tobin asked, her filter having been left in her parents’ car apparently. 

Christen’s forehead creased in confusion. “My what now?” 

“Uh…your girlfriend?” Tobin said, now less convinced that she’d understood everything during the game. “Pink hair, curses like a sailor, is probably currently icing her ankle?”

Christen was taken right back to the game when Tobin had asked her this for the first time. In the heat of the moment, Christen hadn’t given it much thought. But now she realized that Tobin actually thought that she and Megan were dating. It was laughable, honestly, but based on the somewhat serious expression on Tobin’s face, she didn’t share in the hilarity. 

Swallowing her laughter at the mere thought of dating Megan, Christen shook her head at Tobin. 

“Definitely not dating her. Pinoe and I, well it would be like you dating ARod. We’re best friends, but no. No, no, no.” Christen chuckled, then paused. “At least I hope she’s not dating ARod?”

Tobin appeared unfazed by the assumption, more relieved at the admission than anything else. 

“Ew,” Tobin laughed softly, her face scrunched up at the thought. She and ARod would kill each other before going on a single date.

“Exactly, ew for me and Pinoe too. Honestly, she’s not even my type,” Christen admitted with a shrug. 

“Poor Pinoe didn’t make the cut,” Tobin grinned, shaking her head softly. “What is her type?” Tobin wondered, hoping that she fit the bill, but not feeling brave enough to ask that question out loud.

“Nope, and I’m sure she’s really broken up about it. Apparently, I’m a catch according to my sister,” Christen joked.

“Smart sister,” Tobin mumbled, immediately wanting to kick herself for her brazen flirting. “Cool it, Tobin. You’re gonna freak her out.”

Christen’s cheeks flamed as she blushed, and she ducked her chin to her chest to hide it from Tobin. They’d slipped so easily back into this flirty banter and it had Christen floundering for solid ground. 

“I’ll, uh, pass on the message to her,” she replied, looking up at Tobin through her lashes quickly, then returning her focus to her hands in her lap. She played with the rings on her fingers, doing anything to keep her distracted from her hammering heart.

Suddenly, Tobin was struck with inspiration. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and tapped away at her phone screen, letting the no longer awkward silence envelop both of them, not wanting to ruin the moment with a stupid comment.

“Can I see your phone?” Tobin asked, reaching her hand out toward Christen. 

Christen looked up, her eyes narrowing at Tobin. “Why?”

“Pleaaaase?” Tobin begged, her lips pouting again and her eyelids fluttering. 

Christen was a weak woman for Tobin’s pout, and she had the sneaking suspicion that Tobin had already figured that out. She reached into her pocket and took out her phone, holding it towards Tobin. With a start, she pulled it back and opened her lock screen. She typed in her super-secret passcode, then handed Tobin her phone. 

“Don’t break it,” Christen advised playfully.

“Woah!” Tobin jokingly tossed the phone an inch into the air, catching it easily before Christen could get upset. She shot a grin at Christen before focusing on the phone. Tobin opened the Instagram app, already seeing the notification that @tobito17 had requested to follow Christen. From Christen’s account, she accepted her follow request and followed herself back. She smiled, satisfied that she could now get in touch with Christen after they separated for the night, and handed the phone back to Christen.

“There! Now I can stalk your Instagram,” Tobin winked. 

Before Christen could muster up a response, feeling tongue-tied at the flirty tone and the wink Tobin had given her, there were three loud knocks at the door. 

Christen and Tobin shared a puzzled look. Tobin went to get up, but Christen held her hand out. 

“You’re in UCLA territory now, Tobs. Let me get the door.”

Tobin fully flopped back onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling and wishing that they hadn’t been interrupted. 

“Allie?” Christen’s voice floated through the hotel room, causing Tobin to sit up on the bed. 

“Crystal and I got through two whole episodes of Dance Moms. We wanted to make sure we gave you two enough time to talk. Or kill each other. Speaking of, is Harry here? Or will I be helping you bury a body?” Allie replied, walking into the room, followed closely by Christen. Christen peeked her head around Allie and shot Tobin an amused look. “Will one of you tell me what this Harry business is about?” 

Tobin chuckled, shooting Allie the bird with her right hand, and looking back at Christen.

“It’s a long story, Chris,” Tobin began, only to be quickly interrupted by Allie. 

“You wound me,” Allie feigned hurt, returning a matching middle finger to Tobin and clutching at her heart with her other hand. “After all I do for you, Harry?”

“Harry,” Tobin said, a warning tone in her voice. She could see the mischief in Allie’s eyes. 

“I set you up with a pretty girl! I buy you both ice cream. I make sure said pretty girl doesn’t leave your ass. I-”

“HARRY!” Tobin yelled, slipping off the bed and covering Allie’s mouth with her hand. 

“I’m sorry about her,” Tobin said, leaning around Allie to see Christen, her cheeks burning with embarrassment. 

“I think we’ve had enough sorrys for one day,” Christen shot back with a small smile. 

“Oh, so we made up?” Allie asked, her voice muffled from behind Tobin’s hand.

Tobin and Christen shared a look, both of them grinning like fools. They had made up, and even though Allie proved to have terrible timing, she had been the one to bring them together. 

“I’ll buy you a Starbucks to say thanks tomorrow,” Christen said, her words meant for Allie, but her eyes unable to look away from Tobin’s. 

“Yeah, same. What she said,” Tobin added.

The two of them got lost in each other’s eyes for a moment, allowing Allie to wrestle Tobin off of her and look between them. Allie couldn’t help the shit-eating grin that made its way onto her face. 

“You two are adorable, and while I hate to be a party pooper, it’s time for Harry to go.”

“Right,” Tobin mumbled, her heart dropping slightly. She didn’t want to leave the room. She didn’t want to leave Christen. 

“I should get to my room too before Coach Foudy catches me running through the hallways and not resting for the final,” Christen added, sending Tobin a sad smile. 

“Oh, she’s starting you for the final?” Allie asked, having known that Foudy had threatened to bench Christen because of her behavior.

“I don’t think she wants to,” Christen sighed, slipping her slides back on in preparation to leave. “Megan probably won’t be able to play, and Abby isn’t really fully back, so I’m her only choice.”

“I’m s-” Tobin started.

“Don’t say sorry,” Christen stopped her with a small smile. “I’m glad I’ll get to play, despite how I acted on the field. I’m using Sunday as an opportunity to prove to Foudy that she starts me for a reason.”

“I’ll make sure to watch then,” Tobin said, grinning at Christen. 

“I love third-wheeling,” Allie said under her breath as she ushered Tobin and Christen to the door. “All righty, you two,” she chirped, standing in the doorframe, facing Tobin and Christen who now were outside of the room. “Harry, elevators are to the right. Pressy, I literally don’t know where your room is, so, find your own way back.”

“Thanks, Harry,” Tobin said, pulling Allie in for a quick hug. She backed away, making sure not to step too close to Christen. She scratched at the back of her neck as she watched Christen wave good-bye to Allie. 

“See you at breakfast, Al,” Christen grinned.

“And Starbucks,” Allie replied, looking between Tobin and Christen with a smile. 

The two of them nodded and then turned to look at each other. Christen’s smile changed as she looked from Allie to Tobin, the gesture becoming sweeter. Even though her smile was tinged with disappointment that their time had come to an end, it still made Tobin weak at the knees. Tobin looked into Christen's eyes, those green eyes that Tobin could look into forever, and saw that they were so much lighter and happier than they had been earlier tonight. It made Tobin's heart sing.

“I guess this is goodbye,” Christen murmured.

Tobin nodded, doing her best to hide her disappointment. “We’ll keep in touch,” she promised, tapping the pocket her phone was sitting in. 

“I can like, give you two some privacy,” Allie offered, halfway shutting her door. 

“Bye, Harry,” Tobin waved, not turning her head away from Christen, almost shutting Allie’s door for her. “Bye, Chris,” Tobin smiled, forcing herself to turn around and walk toward the elevators. 

“Bye, Tobs,” Christen replied, hoping Tobin heard her as she walked away.

Christen watched Tobin’s retreating form approach the elevators. The way Tobin carried herself, it was so much freer than it had been earlier. Gone was the tension, the pain. Her movements were languid and effortless. Christen couldn’t help but smile, knowing that it was their talk tonight that had gotten Tobin back to her old self. 

As the elevator doors opened, Tobin turned back around, her eyes meeting Christen’s. 

“Kick Stanford’s ass for me, Chris!” Tobin called, waving enthusiastically at Christen before getting into the elevator. Christen could only smile and nod as she watched the elevator doors close and Tobin disappeared from view. 

“I’m considering changing my name,” Allie’s voice brought Christen’s attention away from the elevator and back to Allie. 

“Yeah?” Christen asked.

“To the love guru,” Allie smirked, winking at Christen as she closed her door. “Night, Pressy!”

Christen chuckled and shook her head. She began walking in the opposite direction from the elevators, toward her own room down the hall, the bottom of her slides scuffing the carpet. 

Her phone buzzing in her pocket caught her by surprise. She pulled it out, opening the Instagram notification. At the sight of a message sitting in her inbox, Christen smiled. It was from Tobin. Her smile only grew as she read the message.

 

[@tobito17 8:34PM]

Fun fact, I’d rather be in UCLA territory right now 😉 Thanks for talking to me tonight. 

 

Christen grinned, deciding to respond to Tobin after she got to her room. Becky was already in bed, reading with her headphones on. She waved at Christen when she entered the room, but the two girls stayed quiet, enjoying the peacefully silent room. Christen washed her face and brushed her teeth, brainstorming what kind of response she could send Tobin. She could be serious or sweet or flirty. Her stomach flipped with nerves, feeling like this message would start an entirely new chapter in her life and relationship with Tobin, not that there really was one yet. Once she crawled under the comforter, she opened Instagram and started to type. She decided that honesty was the best policy, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t also be somewhat flirty...

[@Pressy_23 8:57PM]

Fun fact, talking to you was the highlight of my day. Let’s actually stay in touch?

 

Tobin’s reply came in moments later. 

 

[@tobito17 8:58PM]

I, Tobin Heath, pinky promise to stay in touch with you, Christen Press. And I don’t make a pinky promise lightly. 

 

Christen grinned down at her phone, burrowing under the covers as she typed out a response. 

[@Pressy_23 8:58PM]

Neither do I. Talk to you soon?

[@tobito17 8:59PM]

I’ll literally send you my notes on Sunday’s game. Make sure none of the Stanford players slide tackle you.

[@Pressy_23 8:59PM]

Oh, only you’re allowed to do that? 

[@tobito17 9:00PM]

That’s right! 😳

[@Pressy_23 9:00PM]

Your choice of emojis might be questionable, but I’ll make sure no Stanford player slide tackles me.

 

[@tobito17 9:00PM]

That’s the embarrassed face... right?

[@Pressy_23 9:01PM]

Oh Tobin, you need an emoji education.

 

[@tobito17 9:01PM]

Emojication? Lol I’m hilarious

 

Christen had to bite back a laugh, conscious of Becky sleeping a few feet away from her. 

 

[@Pressy_23 9:02PM]

I thought we agreed I was the funny one?

[@tobito17 9:02PM]

It takes two to tango💃💃

[@Pressy_23 9:02PM]

Oh boy. What have I gotten myself into here?

[@tobito17 9:04PM]

Am I embarrassing you?? 😳 😳 😳 😳

 

Tobin grinned in the backseat of her parent's car, her face illuminated by her phone screen. Both of her parents could clearly tell that her mood had significantly changed, not asking for any details about her movie night with Allie but grateful for the smile on their daughter’s face. 

Tobin could imagine Christen’s face when she saw those stupid emojis. Tobin hoped that she was making Christen smile. She wanted to be the reason for her smile, and she longed for the day that she could see it regularly. 

[@Pressy_23 9:04PM]

Yes. I just rolled my eyes, in case you were curious. Now I should get some sleep. Good night, Tobin!

[@tobito17 9:05PM]

Good night, Chris.

Chapter Text

I got a hand full of hope in my pocket

Got a heart full of love in my chest

Got a body full of rhythm

I got music in my head, and it's

All, all, all, all for you, and it's

(Tobin - “All for You” by Kid Quill)

 

I've got your photograph

But baby, I need more than that

I need to know your lips

Nothing ever mattered to me more than this (Yeah, you!)

Look at me now, I'm falling

I can't even talk, still stuttering

This ground I'm on, it keeps shaking

Oh, oh, oh, now!

(Christen - “Somebody to you” by The Vamps)

 

“CHRISTEN PRESS!!!” 

Christen jerked up in her bed, disoriented for a moment as she looked around. Sun was streaming in through the parted curtains, and Becky’s bed was empty. She must have already woken up and left their shared hotel room in search of breakfast. 

Knocking continued on the door as Christen stretched, rolling her shoulders and letting out a small hiss of pain at the residual ache in her ribs. But then she remembered why her ribs hurt and she forgot all about the pain. A smile tugged at her lips as she ran a hand through her hair, last night’s events running through her mind.

She and Tobin had actually spoken. They’d gotten past their issues on the field, the whole slide tackle and verbal argument thing, and then they’d talked. It had been so easy to talk to Tobin. Too easy. There was just something about Tobin that made Christen feel like she could open up, like she could say anything and Tobin would listen to her. They’d shared things with each other, they’d flirted a little, and they’d parted as friends. Or, something resembling friends. Christen wasn’t exactly sure what they were, but-

“PRESS!” Allie’s voice called again, breaking Christen out of her thoughts.

“Coming!” Christen called, pushing the sheets from her legs and hopping out of bed. As she opened the door, she schooled her features, not needing Allie to know that she’d already been thinking about Tobin today. 

Allie simply glowered at her, looking like she desperately needed caffeine. Christen bit back a smile. “Not a morning person, Al?”

Allie grumbled, eyeing Christen’s sports bra and shorts combo. “I’d suggest putting more clothes on. No shirt, no service at le Starbucks.”

Christen gestured for Allie to come in. She hurriedly got dressed, brushed her teeth, and washed her face. She paused in front of the mirror, adjusting her curly hair and fixing her clothes. She wore a pair of gray joggers, her slides, and a simple blue tank top. She wanted to make sure they hung just right on her, wanting to look good but not like she was trying too hard.

“She’s not gonna be there, C.P., so you can stop.”

Christen’s heart plummeted in her chest, but she continued to adjust her shirt in the mirror. She didn’t want Allie to know that Tobin’s presence at Starbucks was something she’d been seriously looking forward to. She definitely didn’t want Allie to know that she was trying to look good for Tobin. 

“Who?” Christen feigned ignorance, finally grabbing her wallet, phone, and room key and slipping a pair of sunglasses onto her head.

“Haaaarry,” Allie cooed, smirking up from her phone.

“She didn’t want coffee?” Christen asked, trying to play it cool and not seem interested but failing based on the fact that Allie was grinning even harder. 

The two girls walked to the door and exited the hotel room, Allie practically dragging Christen by the arm to the elevators. 

“Penn State changed their flight to super early this morning. She was up and leaving her hotel by like 6:00 AM, poor thing,” Allie hummed. 

Christen stepped out of the elevators and into the hotel lobby, trying to keep a neutral expression. She didn’t want Allie to know that she would miss Tobin, that she’d wanted one more moment with her before an indefinite amount of time apart. They’d left on such great terms last night, with shy smiles and hope in their eyes. But they’d also left so many questions unanswered, including the most important one: What were they?

“I’m sure that wasn’t fun,” Christen commented, trying but failing not to let her disappointment tinge her words. 

“Well, I’m sure Harry was extremely grumpy. She’s a night owl, so early mornings aren’t her thing,” Allie said, directing Christen across the hotel parking lot and to the shopping mall across the street. “I bet she also missed seeing you too,” Allie added, nudging Christen in the shoulder as they approached the shopping mall. Christen scoffed, but the blush creeping up her neck gave away her true feelings on the matter. 

The Starbucks they moseyed into sat between an Ulta and an American Eagle, the foot traffic between both stores full of teenagers on awkward first dates and parents with their preteens. 

“I’ll take a grande oat milk latte,” Christen told the cashier, pulling out her wallet to pay. She waited for Allie to finish ordering, pulling her phone out to check it for the first time all morning. 

She hadn't woken up to an alarm, since Allie had done the job for her, and she’d been too busy getting dressed to look at any of her notifications. There were a few from Channing and her parents, just checking on her after their awkward dinner. Tyler had sent a text demanding information about the Penn State player that Channing knew about and was keeping secret. Christen’s eyes skipped over their notifications completely, landing, instead, on an Instagram message from Tobin Heath. 

 

[@tobito17 6:20AM]

Fun fact, I am not a morning person. Penn State rescheduled our flight, so I’m at the airport, and I haven’t had any coffee 😫  I’ll miss getting coffee with you and Harry this morning, but I hope you’re sleeping well. Gotta get good sleep to beat Stanford. 

 

Christen couldn’t control the blush that burned her cheeks. She smiled down at her phone, rereading the message over and over again. She wished that Tobin had been able to join her and Allie for coffee, more than anything. She just wanted to see her again, to have more time with her. For a moment, she was struck with a deep feeling of yearning, like she was missing Tobin Heath with her entire heart. 

“You can’t miss her after one conversation. You hardly know her,” Christen chastised herself, but she couldn’t help the soft voice in the back of her head from speaking hopefully. She did miss Tobin, and she was getting to know her too. She knew that Tobin was a homebody, that she was close to her parents. She knew that Tobin loved sugary sweet ice creams and the color orange. She also knew that Tobin could apologize seriously when she knew she was in the wrong. Tobin was sensitive enough to put others’ feelings ahead of her pride. She was sweet enough to let Christen know why she wasn’t going to be at Starbucks, just in case Christen might have wondered. 

“You want to find a place to sit?” Allie asked, distracting Christen from her thoughts. 

“Sure,” Christen nodded, her smile still plastered on her face, despite Allie’s knowing and cocky grin. 


“Where were you last night?” ARod demanded once the plane reached cruising altitude, giving Tobin no way to escape. 

Tobin was sandwiched between Lauren and ARod, just like she had been on the trip to Orlando. Only this time, she swore that she wouldn’t fall asleep and have any dreams about Christen. This time, she was too busy thinking about her time with Christen to even entertain the thought of falling asleep. 

“I was in my room. I just needed a quiet night to myself to cool down,” Tobin lied, shrugging her shoulders and looking back at her book, trying to prepare for a final exam in her Psychology class. 

“Liar!” ARod hissed, aware that the rest of their teammates were sleeping around them on the plane. “I went to your room last night to check on you, and Sonny said you weren’t there.” ARod looked smug, her eyes squinting at Tobin. 

Tobin looked toward Lauren, hoping that her more reasonable friend would help her escape ARod’s question, but Lauren just shook her head softly, laughing to herself. 

“Fine. I was with Allie last night,” Tobin sighed. 

“Liar times two,” Lauren whispered, poking Tobin in the shoulder. “I saw Allie’s Instagram story. She and another UCLA teammate watched Dance Moms last night, and you weren’t in any of their videos.”

“Shit,” Tobin thought to herself. “Leave it to Allie to document every minute of her life.” 

Tobin looked between Lauren and ARod, wondering if there was any way out of this. Seeing none, Tobin decided to bite the bullet and confess.

“Okay, okay fine. I was in Allie’s hotel room. She kind of parent trapped me...and Christen Press,” Tobin let out quickly, making sure to keep her voice down, conscious of the sleeping teammates seated around them.

Lauren’s brow furrowed as if she were thinking hard, trying to figure out who Christen Press was and why that name sounded so familiar. ARod was in a similar boat.

“Christen Press…” ARod mumbled to herself, clearly racking her brain for the right face to put with Christen’s name. “Wait! I know her! That’s the UCLA forward who screamed at me on the field!” 

“Yeah, but she’s really-” Tobin began, intending to defend Christen’s behavior on the field, knowing that whatever ARod was about to say about Christen was probably not accurate. She didn’t know how sweet and cute Christen was. She’d only seen an angry, hurt Christen. A Christen that Tobin had hurt. 

“Hot? Yeah, I know. Like what’s in the water over there in L.A.?” ARod interrupted, clearly having forgotten that she and Christen had scuffled on the field, and instead was focused on the fact that Christen had looked good during their scuffle. 

Tobin blushed, not wanting to answer ARod verbally. But her face gave enough away for Lauren to put two and two together.

“Oooooh!” Lauren squealed. “Someone has a crush on Christen Press!”

“Nice job, Toby!” ARod cheered, forcing Tobin’s hand to high five her own. Tobin took her hand back and hid her face behind her hands, knowing that ARod and Lauren were just getting started.

“Wait, is this why you didn’t want to go on any of the blind dates ARod and I set up?” Lauren asked, making Tobin’s cheeks burn again. “Come on, Tobs! You could’ve just told us your heart belonged to a competitor. It would’ve saved us a lot of trouble trying to get you out in the dating pool.”

“Toby’s got a girlfriend! Toby’s got a girlfriend!” ARod practically sang.

Tobin dropped her hands and shot a sharp look at ARod. “Keep your voice down,” Tobin hissed, looking between her two friends. “First of all, I hate when you call me Toby. You know that! And second of all, I’m not even sure if Christen and I are friends. We literally have had one conversation,” she sighed, wishing she’d had more time with Christen so she could figure out exactly what they were. 

“Well, how did the conversation go?” Lauren asked, squeezing Tobin’s hand in a show of support. Their teasing was done, now it was time for help and advice, ARod and Lauren style.

“I mean, at first it was really awkward,” Tobin confessed with a small laugh. “We didn’t speak for a full five minutes. She’s just so....intimidating, but also amazing and like really pretty,” Tobin whispered softly, her voice tapering with those final few words. She hadn't meant to tell her friends that much about what she was feeling. She blamed the minimal sleep she’d had the night before. 

ARod beamed. “I’m obsessed with this,” she said, scooting closer to Tobin. 

“Me too,” Lauren said, squeezing Tobin’s hand again, a nonverbal request to continue.

Tobin took a deep breath, wishing her hand was free to scratch at the back of her neck. “But then I started word vomiting and apologized for being a jerk on the field, and-” 

“You were kind of a jerk yesterday,” Lauren interrupted with a grimace. 

“She was just playing hard,” ARod defended. 

“Can I continue?” Tobin asked, waiting until they both nodded to do so. “Once I apologized and explained myself a little, she apologized for yelling at us.”

“Ain’t no thing,” ARod shrugged, winking at Tobin. 

“And then we kind of just got to know one another, which was surprisingly super easy. She’s just so easy to talk to, and really funny. Like really funny. We definitely flirted some...I think? I mean, I definitely did. I think she did too, though. I really don’t know. You know I’m bad at gauging that kind of thing.”

Her friends laughed, remembering the countless times Tobin had thought a nice girl on campus was just being friendly, completely caught off guard when they slid her their number or asked her out. 

“So, you like her?” ARod asked, not wasting any time. 

“I...I mean…” Tobin hesitated. Of course she liked Christen. She’d been dreaming about her since August, and actually talking to her last night had been better than anything she’d imagined. But she had no idea where Christen stood or how Christen felt, so she wasn’t really sure what was acceptable for her to feel toward Christen. Despite her reservations, Tobin couldn’t deny the feelings in her heart, not to her friends. 

“I do. I like her. She’s...cool,” Tobin shrugged, trying to seem calm about the entire situation. Her friends were the exact opposite. ARod smacked her shoulder excitedly, and Lauren pulled her in for a tight one-armed hug.

“This is the best day ever!” ARod whispered, her excitement palpable. 

Tobin wrestled Lauren off of her, readjusting the snapback on her head that Lauren had knocked askew. 

“Are you going to make a move?” Lauren asked softly. 

Tobin ran a hand over her face in frustration. This was the question that was tripping her up the most. She knew where she stood. She liked Christen. She wanted to talk to her and get to know her and see what came of it all. But she also knew they were thousands of miles away from one another, with no crossing of their paths in sight.

“I mean what can I even do? Who knows when I’ll see her next, and who knows how she even feels about me. We’re not even really friends. I’d say we’re friendly,” Tobin said, hating the uncertainty she felt with each word. 

“Friendly friends,” ARod teased, leaning back in her seat, moving out of Tobin’s space. 

“Friendly friends,” Tobin thought, settling back into her chair. Maybe that’s what she and Christen were, or maybe not. All she knew was that she wanted to keep messaging Christen and talking to her. She now had gotten a glimpse at what it looked like to have Christen Press in her life and she wasn’t about to give that up, despite all of the uncertainty and the unknowns.


“I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU!” Megan bellowed, her swollen ankle propped up on two pillows. 

“Megan, stop!” Crystal said, her eyes never leaving Christen’s blushing face. 

“She fraternized with the enemy!” Megan argued, pointing at where Christen was sitting with her legs propped up against the headboard of the bed.

“Oh, come on! We beat them, so she isn’t an enemy anymore,” Crystal defended, her legs stretched out above her against the wall, right next to Christen’s. “Plus, she didn’t really have a choice. Allie and I kind of forced them to talk,” she admitted, turning her head to look at Megan sheepishly.

“Et Tu, Crystal?” Megan scoffed, laying back on the bed in a huff. 

“Don’t be so dramatic, Pinoe,” Christen said, a laugh escaping her lips despite her friend’s complaints. 

“You realize that her teammate is the reason I can’t play in the final,” Megan said, her eyes glaring off into space as if she were imagining ARod there with them in the hotel room. 

“Yes, and Tobin apologized for her behavior and ARod’s too,” Christen said, ready to defend Tobin Heath no matter what Megan said. She was surprised at how quickly she rose to Tobin’s defense. She had only really started to get to know the real Tobin last night, she’d been bonding and getting close with Megan and Crystal since late July. Numbers-wise, there was no competition. But when it came to matters of the heart, logic and numbers and reasoning went out the window. 

“I can’t believe you met with her. First, you secretly crush on her for months, and then you completely forgive her after she takes you out! What a wuss,” Megan grumbled. 

Christen’s brow furrowed and she readied herself to respond, but Crystal placed a hand on her arm. 

“Don’t be rude, Pinoe,” Crystal said. “Christen can talk to whoever she wants to talk to, and Tobin apologized, so I see no problem.”

Crystal squeezed Christen’s arm in a show of solidarity, and Christen found herself extremely grateful for Crystal right now.

“What did she even say to you? Did she grovel for an acceptable amount of time?” Megan asked, looking toward Christen again. 

“She said that she’d had a terrible stress dream the night before the game and an even worse morning. Her behavior was inexcusable, and she knew it was wrong, but she was having an off day,” Christen said, remembering Tobin’s apology the night before. 

“Oh, an off day?! Wow! How original!” Megan scoffed. “Did she say why she went after you specifically?” she asked, her eyebrows lifted like she knew she’d trapped Christen in a corner. 

Christen paused, realizing she didn’t have an answer for Megan. She wanted to have one, but she didn’t. She wished she’d pressed Tobin more the night before, but she hadn’t wanted to upset Tobin right when they’d just started being friendly with one another. 

“Maybe I should have asked that, but honestly, she was so polite and so apologetic, and I didn’t have the heart to make her feel even worse about how she acted,” Christen sighed. “I just want to put it behind me. Tobin and I can be friends. We can get along.”

“But you want to be more than friends, don’t you?” Crystal asked teasingly. 

“Bleeech,” Megan fake gagged. 

“Stop it! They’re cute together,” Crystal defended. “Like, couple goals!”

“What part of that is goals? The part when Christen hit the ground or the part when Tobin called her a stalker?” Megan grunted. 

Christen flinched slightly at Megan’s words, still feeling that ache in her ribs. She honestly needed more time with Tobin to really understand why Tobin had been so moody, but she wasn’t going to get that. She sucked in a deep breath, having already made up her mind to forgive and move on with Tobin. 

“I appreciate that you’re being protective, Pinoe. I know you love me, but you have to let me decide things on my own. I’m deciding to trust Tobin,” Christen asserted, her comment leaving no room for further discussion. She was trusting Tobin and that was that.

“So now that Pinoe’s done pouting, can we finally know how it went last night?” Crystal pushed, wanting all the details. 

Christen bent her knees and rolled to the side, getting her legs off the wall. She sat on the bed and looked between her friends, her smile growing as she recalled everything that happened last night.

“It was so nice,” Christen admitted. “It made me like her even more, honestly.”

Despite Megan’s reservations, she found herself grinning at how happy Christen looked. Crystal moved her legs off the wall as well and flopped down right next to Christen.

“Did you two kiss?” Crystal begged, bouncing up and down on the bed next to Christen. 

“Of course not!” Christen answered, her head shaking an emphatic no. “I told you, we just talked.”

“Lame!” Megan called out, the wink she added softening the blow and causing Christen to roll her eyes.

“But you flirted?” Crystal pried even more. 

“I think so? I mean I was definitely flirting with her, even if I’m terrible at it, and I think she was flirting back,” Christen paused to think about all Tobin had said. Tobin had agreed with Channing’s statement that Christen was a catch. Tobin had complimented her and teased her. It had all the hallmarks of flirting.

“Yeah, she definitely flirted back. Plus, then she followed me on Instagram, and we messaged until I fell asleep last night,” Christen admitted. 

“Hold up, you waited this long to tell us that you two have been messaging?!” Crystal complained, pulling Christen’s phone off the bedside table and opening the Instagram app. 

“Crystal,” Christen started to protest.

“Whoaaaaa, this is soooo flirty!” Crystal cooed, making Megan curious enough to abandon her bed to join her friends. 

Megan looked over Crystal’s shoulder, and the three of them reread Tobin’s messages. 

“She promised to stay in touch! That’s so cute,” Crystal said, squeezing Christen’s hand. 

“She’s a dork,” Megan scoffed, her words holding no real bite as she pointed to the emojis that Tobin had sent. 

“She is really dorky, but I like that about her,” Christen blushed. “Plus, her dorkiness complements my nerdiness.” 

“Awww she calls you Chris?” Crystal asked, her voice reaching a higher pitch than Christen had ever heard. “Look, Pinoe! Chris and Tobs, their little nicknames for each other!”

Christen ducked her head, wishing she could hear Tobin say that nickname in person again. It had been magical the first time, and Christen never wanted to stop hearing it.

“You’ve got it bad, don’t you?” Megan asked, her voice finally sincere, missing any teasing or protectiveness. Her smile reached her eyes as she grinned over at Christen. 

Christen couldn’t answer. She didn’t trust her voice to respond. She didn’t want to like Tobin Heath, because that was terrifying. Tobin was far away and possibly unavailable. Christen couldn’t put herself through something like that. But there was another part of her that wanted to like Tobin more than anything. She wanted Tobin to feel the same way, to hold onto her and make promises to her that she’d keep. She wanted Tobin to- 

“Christen, you aren’t even friends with her yet. You’ve talked once,” she grounded herself. 

Crystal and Megan shared a look, taking Christen’s silence as an answer to Megan’s question. Megan took the phone from Crystal’s hand and squinted down at the screen.

“You haven’t responded to her message,” Megan commented, pointing to Tobin’s message from early that morning. The three friends crowded around the phone again.

 

[@tobito17 6:20AM]

Fun fact, I am not a morning person. Penn State rescheduled our flight departure, so I’m at the airport, and I haven’t had any coffee 😫  I’ll miss getting coffee with you and Harry this morning, but I hope you’re sleeping well. Gotta get good sleep to beat Stanford. 

 

Christen read through the message for the tenth time that day, her heart still fluttering when she read that Tobin missed getting coffee with her and Allie. 

“Yeah, I haven’t really figured out what I want to say,” Christen admitted. 

“How about that you like her and want to kiss her and take her on dates and have her babies,” Crystal began, laughing as Christen’s face got redder and redder. 

“How about that you want to know why she came after you during the game?” Megan added, obviously still curious about Tobin’s behavior. “I mean, you can tell her you like her too, I guess, but only if she has a legitimate answer to the question,” Megan added with a shrug. 

“Can we just go get something to eat? I’ll think of something,” Christen sighed, taking her phone back from Crystal and putting it in her pocket. 


Tobin couldn’t turn her phone on fast enough when the plane landed in Pennsylvania. She’d tried to focus on her Psychology book, but after her conversation with ARod and Lauren, she had even more trouble keeping Christen out of her head. She’d practically been bouncing out of her seat, just waiting to turn her phone back on and see if Christen had messaged her back. It was just before 10:30 AM when the plane landed, and Tobin was glued to her phone before she’d even stood up from her seat. 

She tried to control her facial expressions, knowing that ARod and Lauren would notice any change on her face. She didn’t want them to notice that she was bummed, but her heart felt like it had deflated somewhat. She stared at her Instagram message, the small word “seen” underneath her message. Christen had opened her message and presumably read it, but she hadn’t responded. Tobin tried to remind herself that Christen was busy with her teammates, preparing for tomorrow’s NCAA Final. Logically, she knew that Christen was likely just distracted by something else, but another part of Tobin worried that she’d misread how things had gone with Christen. 

“You okay, Tobs?” Lauren asked. 

“Yeah, just tired. I’m ready for a nap,” Tobin mumbled. 

“Me too,” ARod yawned, laying her arm over Tobin’s shoulder. 

The three of them stumbled down the aisle and off the plane, following the rest of their teammates to a bus that would take them back to school. Before Tobin had even stepped foot onto the bus’s stairs, she felt her phone buzz in her pocket, sending her heart into a frenzy. “Settle down, Tobin. It might just be your mom,” she thought to herself. 

Tobin sat down in her seat, taking the whole row to herself since Lauren and ARod were sitting together in the row across the aisle. She slipped her phone out of her pocket, her breath slipping out of her lungs at the sight of Christen’s Instagram handle in her list of notifications. 

 

[@Pressy_23 10:41AM]

Thank you! I would have slept better if Allie hadn’t woken me up and forced me out of my room to get coffee with her this morning. Allie is very grumpy when she hasn’t had caffeine, but I’m sure you already know that. 

 

She read the message over and over, trying to imagine what Christen would be like in the morning, how Christen had looked when she pulled the door open for Allie. 

She just couldn’t picture Christen grumpy. She seemed like the kind of person who woke up happy to start a new day. The kind who did sun salutations and never slept past 8 AM. She also probably looked just as beautiful, if not more so, in the mornings. Tobin was in the middle of her thoughts when her phone buzzed again, this message sending her into a daze. 

 

[@Pressy_23 10:45AM]

Fun fact, I wish you’d been there too. Allie made me buy two coffees for her.

 

“Christen Press missed you. Christen freaking Press missed you!” Tobin thought to herself, her legs bouncing up and down on the floor of the bus. Tobin had to take a few deep breaths before she could type a message back. 

 

[@tobito17 10:46AM]

How rude! I’ll Venmo her and tell her to buy you a coffee tomorrow on me...or better yet a drink after you win 😉

 

Tobin didn’t have to wait long at all to receive another message, her heart stopping in her chest, despite having expected it. 

 

[@Pressy_23 10:47AM]

You’re very confident about this final against Stanford, aren’t you?

[@tobito17 10:48AM]

Absolutely! You gave me a run for my money. If it weren’t against collegiate athletics rules, I’d bet on you. 

[@Pressy_23 10:49AM]

I’m glad it’s against the rules. That’d put way too much pressure on me!

[@Pressy_23 10:49AM] 

How was your flight?

[@tobito17 10:49AM]

It was long considering it was only two hours, so I’m definitely ready for a nap. The company wasn’t quite as good as it was last night either.

 

Tobin could feel her cheeks blush. Christen had flirted with her the night before, but today was a new day, and Tobin was slightly hesitant to flirt, or even simply admit that she liked her company. Last night could have been an anomaly. In the light of day, maybe Christen would feel differently...

 

[@Pressy_23 10:49AM]

I’m sure ARod would be offended to know that I’m better company than 

she is 😏

 

Not overly flirty,  but she did use a smirking emoji. So maybe in the light of day, Christen still felt the same way. The thought sent warmth radiating through Tobin’s chest.

 

[@tobito17 10:50AM]

Trust me, ARod thinks you’re better company than ARod. 

[@Pressy_23 10:50AM]

So she’s forgiven me for being horrible? My coach hasn’t quite gotten there yet, I’ve got to meet with her before the game tomorrow and I’m pretty sure she’s going to read me the Riot act. 

[@tobito17 10:51AM]

Oh, please. ARod now refers to you as the hot UCLA forward. She’s definitely over it. 

[@tobito17 10:51AM]

I’m really sorry 😟  I wish I could meet with your coach and explain that it’s my fault. You’ll just have to play and show her just how valuable you are. 

 

Tobin started to feel guilty all over again. As far as Christen was concerned, they buried the hatchet with their talk, but Tobin couldn’t help but feel like she’d ruined Christen’s tournament by pushing her to lose control. She wanted to apologize over and over again, and she almost typed out another apology when Christen’s new message came through. 

 

[@Pressy_23 10:51AM]

It’s okay, Tobs. She didn’t seem as mad today. I can’t wait to play and prove that to her.

 

Tobs. There was that nickname again. It was one Tobin had heard for years, from her parents and friends, and teammates. But from Christen, the nickname just sounded different. If she tried hard enough, Tobin could imagine the breathy way Christen had called her “Tobs” yesterday. She could hear it echo around her as she smiled.

 

[@Pressy_23 10:51AM]

More importantly, I’m the “hot UCLA forward”? Pinoe will be crushed.

 

Tobin practically snorted out loud, holding a laugh in. She could imagine Christen’s teasing tone, and she suddenly ached to be with Christen in person, hearing her make jokes and laugh. 

 

[@tobito17 10:52AM]

Yeah, it seems like ARod has a little crush. I’m sure Megan would rather kill ARod than date her haha! Could you imagine? Those two?!

[@Pressy_23 10:52AM]

Truly a pairing beyond comprehension. 

[@Pressy_23 10:52AM]

Is that just what ARod calls me? Or has it caught on with others?

 

Tobin nearly choked on the sip of water she’d just started to swallow. ARod stared at her from across the aisle, an eyebrow quirked in question, but Tobin just shook her hand in her direction. She looked back at her phone, wondering how she could get out of this. 

 

[@tobito17 10:54AM]

Anyone you’re wondering about in particular?

 

Tobin felt somewhat satisfied, knowing she’d thrown the ball back in Christen’s court. Yet she found herself wishing that Christen would admit that she hoped Tobin also used the nickname. 

 

[@Pressy_23 10:55AM]

You can’t answer a question with a question. That’s like, Instagram DM’ing 101

 

“Well shit,” Tobin thought, falling back into her seat. Not the answer she wanted from Christen, or the one she hoped for. But maybe she could have a little fun still.

 

[@tobito17 10:55AM]

I don’t think Penn State offers that course.

[@Pressy_23 10:55AM]

Anyone ever tell you you’re funny?

[@tobito17 10:56AM]

No, but there’s this hot UCLA forward who’s convinced that she’s the funny one.

[@tobito17 10:56AM]

I think you know her...pink hair, goes by Megan?

[@Pressy_23 10:56AM]

🙄 I’m going to brunch now with your favorite UCLA player, I’ll make sure to tell her you say hi…

[@tobito17 10:57AM]

You eat brunch with a mirror? That’s weird, Press.

 

Tobin patted herself on the back for that response. It perfectly threaded the needle of funny and flirty, a combination she found might be her default when it came to messaging Christen Press.

 

[@Pressy_23 10:58AM]

Why do you have to be so irritating and cute? It’s hard to stay annoyed at you.

 

“Did she just call me cute?” Tobin thought to herself, her hands suddenly feeling clammy and her pulse speeding up. “Play it cool. Just be cool.”

[@Pressy_23 10:58AM]

And no, I’m not eating with a mirror. That would be weird. 

[@tobito17 10:58AM]

Did you hear that folks? She thinks I’m cute. This is gonna go to my head.

[@Pressy_23 10:59AM]

I...what’s that? I think I hear Pinoe calling me...gotta go! 

[@tobito17 10:59AM]

Have a great time at brunch, Chris. I’ll just be over here trying to fit my head through my dorm room doorway. 

[@Pressy_23 10:59AM]

My condolences to your door frame.

[@tobito17 11:00AM]

Fun fact, I think you’re cute too.

[@Pressy_23 11:02AM]

Fun fact, you’re a dork, and I’m hungry. Bye, Tobs.

 

Tobin smiled even wider, her fingers moving over her screen for a final text. 

 

[@tobito17 11:02AM]

I’m off to take a nap. Bye, Hungry.


“What can I expect out of you today?”

Christen set her shoulders and looked at Coach Foudy. She had expected this question from the moment Coach asked her to stop by her hotel room after the pre-game meal. She knew she had royally messed up the other day, and nothing she could say right now would make up for that. She only hoped she’d get the chance to make up for it on the field today. 

“Nothing like Friday’s game, Coach. I promise.”

Coach Foudy narrowed her eyes, uncertainty flashing across her face. 

“It was a one-time thing. The other player and I already worked everything out, so it’ll never happen again. I really am sorry, Coach. Today’s game will be different, you’ll see,” Christen assured.

With a nod, Couch Foudy relaxed just a bit. She shot a quick smile at Christen.

“You don’t mess around, Press. I like that about you. I also hope that Friday’s game was an outlier like you say and that today you’ll go out there and prove to me why you deserve to be here.”

Christen smiled at Coach Foudy, letting go of any guilt around Friday’s game in favor of nerves and excitement over the final today. 

“How do a few goals sound? Will that make up for it?” Christen asked.

Coach Foudy laughed and clapped Christen on the shoulder. “That oughta do it, Press. Now, get out of here. See you on the bus in a few.”

Christen left Coach Foudy’s room ready to leave the negatives of Friday’s game behind. While she was able to put her mistakes behind her, she wasn’t able to fully quell the nerves inside her stomach. They stuck with her through her last-minute meditation session before they left, the whole bus ride to the game, and now into the locker room.

On Friday, she’d felt no nerves. She’d felt ready and excited. But today, she was shaking, her legs bouncing as she sat in her locker and put her cleats on. Her brain was running a hundred miles a minute, her heart rapidly beating in her chest. She couldn’t calm down no matter what she did. Her breathing exercises weren’t working, her visualization was failing. 

Her teammates seemed just fine, though, dancing and laughing around their locker room. The music and the laughter grated on Christen’s nerves. She was almost ready to abandon the locker room altogether when her phone buzzed in her locker. She looked at it, feeling irritation swirl within her. But it all melted away when she saw the notification was from Tobin.

 

[@tobito17 9:45 AM]

Good luck today, Chris. Not that you’ll need it. You’re an incredibly talented player, and I know you’re going to kill it. Fun fact, I’m rooting for you and am even eating oat milk ice cream in your honor. 

 

Attached to Tobin’s message was an image of a carton of oat milk ice cream held in front of a laptop. On the screen was coverage of the NCAA finals. 

Christen felt every nerve, every anxiety, every worry, seep out of her body. With one message, Tobin had calmed the tumultuous storm within her.


Tobin pulled her comforter up to her waist and leaned back against her pillows, opting to hang around her dorm today. 

She’d already talked to ARod and Lauren twice on the phone. She hadn’t wanted to go to their apartment and drink the day away with the rest of her teammates. They had planned to spend the day of the NCAA Final getting as drunk as possible, but Tobin didn’t want to join in. Unlike them, she wanted to watch. She had someone to watch.

Tobin had her computer open on her lap, and a sandwich, a huge bottle of lemonade, a half-eaten pint of oat milk ice cream, and a bag of chips on her bedside table. She was early, the game not starting until 11:00 AM. Warmups were now over, and the teams would be coming out of the locker rooms soon for the national anthem. Even though the field was currently empty and she still had a few minutes, Tobin’s eyes were glued to the screen. She didn’t want to miss the moment when Christen Press would run onto the field. 

They’d been messaging since she’d landed back in Pennsylvania yesterday. Some moments were flirty, others casual. But no matter the tone, the conversation flowed effortlessly. 

Her phone buzzed softly against her leg. She knew it wouldn’t be Christen. Logically, she knew that Christen was too busy preparing herself for the game, too preoccupied with listening to her coach or putting on her jersey to send a message, but that didn’t stop Tobin’s heart from leaping in her chest.

 

[ARod 10:43AM]

Tobyyyy, you’re missing out!

 

Tobin deflated at the sight of ARod’s message. No matter how illogical, anytime her phone buzzed, Tobin wished it was Christen. But this time it was ARod, and clearly, by the number of y’s she’d put in Tobin’s nickname, she was not anywhere near sober.

 

[Tobin 10:43AM]

Are you drunk already?

[ARod 10:44AM]

Tipsy, and you could be too

[Tobin 10:45AM]

I’m good resting over here. Plus my punishment is tonight. Gotta stay sharp for my workout.

 

Because of Tobin’s behavior on the field, coach Parlow had given her a workout to do the evening of the NCAA Final. She’d told Tobin to meet with the assistant coach in the weight room at 8:15 PM for an extra workout. After that workout was done, Tobin was supposed to clean all of the equipment and each of the machines to fulfill her punishment. 

Honestly, Tobin didn’t mind. She often found herself having trouble falling asleep on off days when the team didn’t have a workout. When they didn’t work out or play a game, Tobin was left with way too much energy to fall asleep, so an extra workout didn’t really seem like a punishment. Cleaning the equipment...that was a little more of a punishment, but Tobin was prepared to own up to her behavior and mistakes and clean without complaint. 

 

[ARod 10:50AM]

Boo! Parlow sucks!

 

Tobin grabbed the unopened bag of chips from her desk then and moved her eyes back to her computer, waiting for the announcers to begin talking, waiting to catch her first glimpse of the green-eyed UCLA forward. 

The teams started their walk out onto the field and Tobin sat up a little straighter, her chips could wait. She scoured the screen for Number 23 on UCLA’s side, wishing these dang camera people would do her a favor and show Christen. Finally, the two teams were lined up for the national anthem and they showed her. They showed Christen.

Her hair was pulled up into a tight ponytail, her curls loose and wavy. Despite the excitement in the air, Tobin could tell Christen was nervous. She chewed mercilessly on her lower lip, and there was a small crease between her brows. Then, Crystal leaned over and whispered something in Christen’s ear. Christen instantly relaxed, a slight smile tugging at her lips. Tobin was dying to know what Crystal had said and made a mental note to ask Christen later. Or better yet, maybe she could ask her now.

 

[@tobito17 10:57AM]

All aboard the live-text train, buckle up! I’m going to message you every thought I have during this game. You’re welcome! 

[@tobito17 10:57AM]

First things first, what did Crystal just say to you? I have a few guesses...and they all involve me 😉

 

The playing of the national anthem drew Tobin’s attention back to the screen. She watched as Christen and the rest of her teammates all took a knee, just like they’d done on Friday’s game. The sight made Tobin’s heart soar. Then the camera panned to the Stanford starting line-up and only about half of them were kneeling.

“There goes any respect I could have had for them,” she mumbled to herself, shaking her head. 

After the anthem was over, the two teams huddled on their respective sides. Tobin couldn’t catch sight of Christen before the broadcast went back to the two announcers in the booth. Tobin was happy to see that one of them was Heather O’Reilly. She had been an incredible player at UNC back in her day and still tore it up in the NWSL. But when she wasn’t playing the game, she was talking about it for ESPN. The other announcer, though, some guy, had Tobin wondering where they’d found him and why he was invited to announce the finals of the NCAA College Cup.

“So, Alexi, what do you think we can expect out of this UCLA team today?” Heather asked her co-host. Tobin turned up the volume on her computer, curious as to what this guy would have to say. 

“Well, Heather, a week ago I would have told you to expect victory. But after that showing on Friday, I have to say, I’m a bit skeptical these girls can set aside their emotions and perform. Especially the freshman forward, Catarina Press,” Alexi replied, his disdain for the women’s game evident in every word he spoke.

Tobin squeezed the bag of chips in her hand so hard, she popped it open and crushed basically every chip inside. First, that wasn’t even her name. Like, do your job. Second, he didn’t get to talk about Christen like that, with such contempt in his voice. 

“These women are some of the best in the country, so I’m confident they can perform,” Heather replied, her icy tone making Tobin smirk. “But in regards to Friday’s game, I’m left wondering what UCLA will do after that as well. They lost one of their star forwards, Megan Rapinoe, to an ankle injury late in the game -”

Alexi interrupted Heather, totally unaware of his rudeness, “Off a pretty dirty tackle from Penn State, I’ll add. In football, the Penn State girl would have been ejected and fined for targeting.”

Tobin rolled her eyes, hard. She shoved a handful of chip crumbs into her mouth angrily, hoping Heather would take control of the comments and Alexi would shut his stupid mouth. 

“Maybe so, Alexi. But that other player you mentioned, Christen, not Catarina, Press? She is a true talent. She’s the team’s leading scorer and I reckon, has a very, very bright future in the game, not just at UCLA but for our country as well.”

Alexi scoffed and adjusted in his seat. “So long as she keeps her head and plays her game. If Friday is anything to go by, she’s too immature to have a future in the sport. But that’s just one guy’s opinion.”

Heather fixed a smile on her face and looked into the camera. “One guy whose opinion I don’t share. I have a feeling Press will surprise us all today.”

Tobin pumped her fist in the air, finding herself extremely thankful for Heather O’Reilly. 

“Hell yeah she will!” Tobin cheered, opening up her phone again and clicking back to Instagram.

 

[@tobito17 11:00AM]

HAO is Team Christen Press, the other announcer is a doorknob. Guess it’s time to make Team Press T-shirts and send one to HAO.

 

Tobin’s eyes returned to the screen right as UCLA was lining up on their half of the field. Tobin immediately found Christen, not because of her place on the field or her number, but instead, by the way her arms were stretched out at her sides and her face was raised to the sky. She half expected Christen to sprout roots and turn into a flower on the field.

Just like when she’d seen it the first time, Tobin was captivated by this moment of utter peace Christen was able to get in the middle of the pandemonium.

Then the referee blew the whistle and the game began. Right away, Tobin realized this was going to be a bloodbath. She knew that earlier in the year, UCLA had beaten Stanford in double overtime to secure their unbeaten regular-season record. Apparently, Stanford held a grudge and planned on enacting their revenge today.

Tobin cringed as a Stanford forward went up for a header against the UCLA captain and made a point to elbow the captain in the face. The center back shook off the contact though and kept playing. If this was how the game started, Tobin was worried to see how the game would progress. She especially worried about Christen.

She shouldn’t have though, because, in the twelfth minute, Christen was dribbling the ball at the Stanford backline, about thirty-five yards from goal. Tobin wasn’t sure if Christen looked to the goal and saw the goalkeeper out of position, or if she’d just had this sixth sense, but suddenly Christen wound up and struck the ball. Her shot was a screamer that soared into the top corner, the Stanford keeper having absolutely no chance at saving it. 

“Holy shii-” Tobin thought to herself, grabbing her phone, having trouble typing in her passcode, since she didn’t want to pull her eyes off of the screen and miss Christen’s celebration. 

The celebration itself was quick since Stanford didn't want to give UCLA any time to relax. Christen lifted her arms to the sky, a grin plastered to her face. She was absolutely beautiful, shining with sweat, her hair windblown, eyes crinkling in delight. Tobin had to remind herself to breathe. The celebration felt private, almost like Tobin was seeing an intimate moment between Christen and the universe. It was private until she was swept into the air by the UCLA striker and Allie Long.

 

[@tobito17 11:15AM]

THAT WAS AN AMAZING GOAL! LITERALLY THE BEST GOAL I’VE EVER SEEN! 

 

The game didn’t slow down from there. It seemed to be end-to-end opportunities for both teams.

 

[@tobito17 11:18AM]

Oh my gosh I think I just closed my eyes. Your keeper’s really good! I seriously thought that Stanford’s number 4 was about to score. I’m gonna need to take some deep breaths now 😰

 

[@tobito17 11:23AM]

THAT WAS SOOOO CLOSE! Your cross was great, Chris!

 

[@tobito17 11:37AM]

Someone ate their Wheaties this morning...you might even be almost as fast as me! 😉

 

They were nearing the last ten minutes of the first half, and Alexi was on his bullshit again. He had remained mostly silent throughout the first half, letting Heather control the commentary. He hadn't even celebrated Christen’s goal, which was ridiculous. But now he chose to come back and get on Tobin’s nerves.

Christen had gone back for a defensive corner kick and had ducked out of a header. Not intentionally, she’d been pushed a little in the back by a Stanford player. But it had led to an opportunity on goal by Stanford, and luckily the UCLA goalkeeper made the save. 

Alexi didn’t even comment on the opportunity, instead preferring to tear into Christen.

“I like my forwards to actually have some defensive abilities. If you don’t, what is your purpose? Heather, you might be ready to fan-cast Press onto the National Team, but if she ducks out of headers, she’s a no for me,” Alexi commented.

Tobin growled and hit the mute button. 

 

[@tobito17 11:40AM]

That was a total shove in the back. Stanford’s number 30 is on my list 😡

 

The half ended pretty soon after that, with a few more quality chances for both teams. Tobin stretched her arms over her head, stretching out her legs and back. She stood up to throw away her trash from lunch and kill some time during halftime. When she sat back down, she’d only managed to waste about five minutes of halftime, so she pulled out her phone, considering texting Christen again, but she didn’t want to accidentally bother her when she was in the locker room with her teammates and coach. 

Instead, Tobin clicked on Christen’s Instagram handle and scrolled through her Instagram pictures. She couldn’t help but grin at a picture that Christen had recently posted. It was a throwback picture of a tiny Christen, maybe three or four years old, dancing with her mother. Tobin scrolled again, stopping at a picture of Christen and her two sisters. Tobin had been extremely focused on Christen when they’d been eating with their families at Olive Garden, but she had managed to notice who Christen was eating with. There was no doubting that the three girls were related, their hair and eyes matching almost perfectly. 

Tobin’s favorite picture on Christen’s account was of just Christen. Christen was holding what looked like an empty box of cupcakes, her fingers still covered in icing. Her hair was natural, curly, and windblown, and she wore a huge smile, her eyes squinting with joy. It was the first picture that Tobin had seen when she and Christen had followed one another on Instagram, and it was the picture that Tobin went back to most often. There was an infectious happiness to Christen that Tobin had never seen in anyone before. It made Tobin’s chest ache, missing the girl she’d only spoken to in person once. It was so easy to miss Christen Press, but looking at that picture made the ache a little less strong. 

Tobin happened to look up at the screen and realized the teams were lined up for the second half. She clicked back to her messages with Christen.

 

[@tobito17 12:06PM]

Okay, let’s test out my psychic soccer skills…(try saying that ten times fast) I think this half, you’re gonna score in the 86th minute to beat Stanford 2-0. 

 

[@tobito17 12:07PM]

I also think Megan is going to find a way to run onto the field and kick the ball in her boot. She’s looking really fired up on the bench 😂

 

With a smile, she set aside her phone and watched as the second half unfolded. It didn’t take long for Christen to prove that her psychic soccer skills were sorely lacking. 

In the 52nd minute, Christen received a cross from UCLA’s number five, who Tobin recalled from the Meet The Freshman video as Kelley. Instead of ducking, like she had in the first half, Christen rose above her defender and sent a header sailing towards the far post. Tobin knew it was going in the moment the ball connected with Christen’s head. She had looked so focused, so sure of herself, that Tobin knew Christen was going to score.

“YES!” she cheered as the ball sailed into the net, jumping up onto her bed and pointing down at the screen in celebration. She could see Crystal and Kelley pull Christen into tight hugs, and Tobin wished she could do the same. What she wouldn’t give to be the first person Christen hugged after scoring. 

It only took two minutes for Tobin’s emotions to swing in the complete, opposite direction. 

Tobin saw the tackle before it even happened. It was as if the Stanford midfielder had somehow found a way to replicate Tobin’s tackle from Friday, only worse. Way worse. Because this time, all Tobin could do was watch in horror as the Stanford midfielder slide tackled Christen, as Christen basically flipped over in the air and landed hard on her side, as Christen didn’t get up. 

“Please get up, please get up,” Tobin willed, staring at the screen. Two of Christen’s teammates leaned over to talk to Christen, clearly getting a response from the green-eyed forward who was still sprawled on the field. “She’s talking. That’s a good sign,” Tobin rationalized, her heart still thrumming erratically in her chest. Tobin decided right then and there that there was nothing she disliked more than watching Christen Press get hurt. She’d known that after she had tackled Christen herself, but watching from far away was even worse. Not only that, but the Stanford midfielder had hit her harder than Tobin had. 

For the first time in a long time, maybe even ever, Tobin felt like she had absolutely no control. She couldn’t control the Stanford team. She couldn’t make Christen feel better or help her stand up to continue playing. She couldn’t yell at anyone. All she could do was watch and wait. 

 

[@tobito17 12:18PM]

You’re scaring me, Chris. Stand up, please?

 

Tobin didn’t know how long she held her breath. But finally, Christen got to her feet shakily, and Tobin relaxed. There was a ferocity in Christen’s eyes, a hunger that Tobin hadn’t even seen when she’d knocked Christen down. Tobin immediately knew that Stanford was screwed.

 

[@tobito17 12:19PM]

You scared me, Chris. You’re officially not allowed to do that ever again. This girl is also on my shitlist. I have half a mind to fly back to Orlando and see how she likes being slide tackled. Also, make them pay with this free-kick!

 

Christen heeded her words, even if Christen had no idea Tobin had said them. With a perfect curling shot around the wall, Christen Press completed her hat trick in the NCAA College Cup finals and Tobin felt herself fall a little bit harder for Christen. 

 

[@tobito17 12:21PM]

A HAT TRICK?! CHRISTEN PRESS! You just scored a hat trick in your first NCAA College Cup final as a FRESHMAN?! You’re an ICON! Don’t forget I was your first fangirl when you’re sponsored by Nike, sent to Disneyland, and called up to the USWNT!

 

The rest of the game passed in a total blur. UCLA completely dominated a defeated Stanford side, which Tobin couldn’t have been more pleased about. In the dying seconds of the game, she saw UCLA’s bench get to their feet, even Megan in her boot was ready to storm the field. 

And then the game was over and every UCLA player ran towards Christen. The green-eyed striker was quickly buried underneath a large, sweaty dogpile of soccer players and all Tobin could do was laugh. She typed out one final Instagram message for Christen. 

 

[@tobito17 1:02PM]

CONGRATULATIONS, CHRIS! You played so great today. Not that I’m surprised at all. I’m so proud of you! Make sure to ice your ribs and get home safe 😊


Christen was sore. Her adrenaline had carried her through her third goal and into the dogpile with her teammates, but as soon as she’d made it into the locker room, she’d started to feel an ache on the left side of her back and ribs. It had only gotten worse at the airport, spreading through her lower back and along either side of her ribcage. She’d already been checked out by a trainer, and even though she knew she was just badly bruised, she couldn’t help but feel like she’d broken something. 

Tobin’s messages had helped. They’d made her smile and taken her focus away from her aching muscles, instead, placing it on the butterflies in her stomach. She hadn’t had time to message back, having to rush to the airport to catch the flight back to Los Angeles, but just knowing that Tobin had watched her play made her feel better. 

She and Megan had sat together near the trainer, both of them icing on the flight back, knowing that once they started partying, drinks in hand, they would feel better. 

“Drink up, bitches!” Ashlyn yelled, finally pulling the cork out of the biggest champagne bottle Christen had ever seen. 

Ashlyn and Ali hadn’t scrimped on the alcohol. They’d bought champagne and beers and ciders before leaving for Orlando, saying that it was good juju to buy the alcohol in advance. Ashlyn had convinced Ali that win or lose they’d need the alcohol, and thankfully they’d won and invited everyone on the team to their apartment for a celebratory party and possible sleepover if enough people passed out in the living room. 

“To Christen Press, who got her first collegiate hat trick today and helped us dominate Stanford!” Allie yelled, holding up her glass of champagne, which wasn’t actually a glass, but a plastic solo cup. 

“To Abby, who played on her basically still broken foot!” Ashlyn added, holding up her cup. 

“To Pinoe, who took her beating from Penn State like a champ,” Crystal joined in. 

“To Ashlyn who didn’t let Stanford score on us, once! Fuck yes!” Kelley screamed, holding up her cup, the champagne sloshing a bit. 

Christen laughed at her teammates' dramatics, swallowing a sip of the bubbly liquid once they’d all clinked their glasses together. 

She slipped out of the living room and into Ali and Ashlyn’s bathroom, just wanting a quiet moment to respond to Tobin before the celebration really got started. She placed her solo cup on the counter and opened Instagram, smiling again at Tobin’s sweet messages. 

She’d gotten them hours ago and finally had a free moment to respond. She scrolled through the running commentary of the game, trying to decide just what to say. Rereading the messages containing Tobin’s excitement about her goals made her cheeks flush, heat traveling from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. Then she got to the messages full of protectiveness, the ones where Tobin was so upset with the Stanford player who’d tackled her, and a different kind of heat burned through her. It was clear that Tobin cared, to what extent Christen wasn’t sure. But that didn’t matter, because on some level Tobin cared about her.  

With a smile, Christen composed a reply.

 

[@Pressy_23 7:04PM]

I’m sorry it took me so long to reply, it was a pretty hectic past few hours. But I wanted to thank you for your good luck message, and all your very detailed live-texts. Knowing you were watching makes everything that happened today, that much better.  

[@Pressy_23 7:04PM]

And my ribs are VERY sore, but I’m not icing them. I’m trying a new method of treatment: champagne. Lots of champagne 🍾

 

Maybe it was the high of winning. Maybe it was the bit of adrenaline that still hummed through her after scoring a hat trick. Maybe it was the slight buzz she had from just half a glass of champagne. She wasn’t entirely sure what to blame. But whatever it was, Christen suddenly felt a little brazen.

 

[@Pressy_23 7:05PM]

Fun fact: I scored one of those goals for you. I know it’s not a bouquet of flowers or a Starbucks coffee, but it’s the best I could do given you were already back in Pennsylvania. Thanks for being amazing today, Tobs 😊

 

Christen locked her phone and put it back in her pocket. She took another sip of champagne and then looked up at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair was still a little wild, having only had time for a quick shower after the game, but she didn’t mind. She hadn’t been able to wipe the grin off of her face since the end of the game, since she’d held the trophy in her own hands with her teammates around her. For the first time in her entire life, Christen felt genuinely proud of herself after a soccer game. Of course, scoring a hat trick made her proud, but a part of her mind wondered if Tobin’s compliments had sweetened the deal. If it was Tobin who had permanently put the face-splitting grin on her face. 

“PRESSY!!!” Kelley called through the door, banging on it with what sounded like her foot. 

Christen pulled the door open, her solo cup back in her hand and her phone securely in her pocket. 

“Don’t be a fuddy dud! Party’s out here!” Kelley cheered, wrapping her arm around Christen’s shoulders and leading her toward the backyard, where half of her teammates were relaxing in lawn chairs and the other half were playing prosecco pong. 

“I call Pressy for my team!” Allie called, pulling Christen to her side at the prosecco pong table. 

It was just a ping pong table covered in glasses of prosecco, but Christen underestimated just how difficult it would be to toss a ping pong ball into the glasses that Ashlyn had picked up at the store. The glasses were basically plastic martini glasses with short sides that the ping pong ball easily bounced off of and out of. 

“Shoot,” Christen mumbled when she missed for the dozenth time. 

Megan’s ping pong ball landed with a slosh in one of Allie and Christen’s glasses, and Christen was responsible for drinking it. Another thing she’d underestimated was just how difficult it would be to chug prosecco. The bubbles tickled her throat and nose, and she quickly realized how buzzed she felt. 

“Come on, Press!” Allie grumbled, trying to bolster the both of them and catch up to Megan and Kelley’s score. “I’m gonna tell Tobin that you suck at prosecco pong,” Allie threatened. 

“Noooo,” Christen slurred softly. Another addition to the list of things she’s underestimated? Just how quickly she’d get drunk off of prosecco. They’d only been playing for about 10 minutes, and already Christen’s lips were tingling and her head was fuzzy. “Don’t tell her. Tobin’s so cute and pretty, but it’s a secret,” Christen added with a blush.

“Who are we talking about?!” Kelley asked from across the table, her pupils blown and glassy. 

“No one. Focus, O’Hara,” Megan growled, tossing her ping pong ball and missing the glass by a centimeter. 

“Oh, you think Harry’s cute?” Allie teased. 

“She’s soooo cute,” Christen sighed, her filter completely gone. “There’s just something about her. She’s special. I wish she were here.” 

“I think Christen needs some food,” Crystal laughed from beside Christen, pulling her gently away from the group.

“I think Christen needs to get laid!” Allie called, making a few of their other UCLA teammates whoop in agreement. 

“She’s just soooo cute. Am I supposed to be immune to her looks?” Christen sputtered, reaching for a handful of pretzels in Ali and Ashlyn’s kitchen. 

“No, you don’t need to be immune. Sober you just might regret saying that she’s cute in front of all of our teammates,” Crystal hummed. 

“Drunk me has no regrets, not a single one,” Christen replied, feeling all floaty all of a sudden. The prosecco had officially gone to her head. 

Crystal shook her head, insanely amused by drunk Christen Press. The usually so buttoned-up, logical girl was now a stumbling, giggling mess. A mess who couldn’t stop talking about Tobin Heath. 

“Have I told you she has abs? Like a full-on six-pack. She’s so hot,” Christen murmured, leaning back against the counter with a dopey grin on her face. She continued to stuff pretzels into her mouth until she stood up, a light of inspiration in her eyes. 

“I’m gonna send her a selfie!” Christen declared like it was the best idea in the whole world. She looked at Crystal, batting her lashes in a hopefully convincing manner. “Will you be in it with me? Pleeeease?”

“No way, I will take no part in drunk selfies for your girl. That’s all you,” Crystal replied, backing out of the kitchen. “Tell her I say hi, Pressy. Love you.”

“I love you!!” Christen yelled back, her voice far too loud for the enclosed space. Once Crystal was gone, Christen surveyed the kitchen, looking for something to spice up her selfie. Then she saw it: the oversized, now-empty champagne bottle. 

Christen grabbed it off the counter and cuddled with it, taking a quick picture of herself. Feeling like she was looking good, she clicked over to Instagram to send it to Tobin and found messages waiting for her. She’d somehow missed the notifications while she was busy playing prosecco pong.

 

[@tobito17 7:53PM]

I bet it was super hectic getting back to L.A. I’m glad you got home safely, though.

[@tobito17 7:53PM]

Ah...the old champagne method. How bougie! I hope you all have a ton of fun! (Maybe you should ice the ribs tomorrow though…) 😉

[@tobito17 7:54PM]

I’ll take a championship-winning goal over flowers or coffee any day! Which goal was supposedly scored for me?? 

 

Christen felt the corners of her mouth lift into a large smile. Tobin was just so cute

 

[@Pressy_23 8:02PM]

Safe anddd sound, back in the city of angels! And it mighht be bougie, but I make cchampagne look goooood 😎



Christen attached the image of her and the champagne bottle and sent it off to Tobin without giving it a second thought. Sure, her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were a bit glassy, but she looked good. She looked good and she wanted Tobin to see her looking good. 

 

[@Pressy_23 8:02PM]

Attachment.

 

Christen paused, unsure how to answer Tobin’s final question. But she was momentarily spared from a response by Tobin sending her a message. 

 

[@tobito17 8:03PM]

Attachment.

 

Christen felt her mouth flop open at the selfie Tobin had sent back to her. Tobin was in a sports bra, a sheen of sweat on her forehead. She looked to be in a weight room of some kind and she held a squirt bottle full of cleaner in her arms, mimicking Christen and the champagne bottle pose. 

 

[@tobito17 8:03PM]

I don’t look as good with my bottle as you do with yours, but in my defense, I had a punishment workout and now I have to clean this entire weight room. 

 

Christen wet her lips, feeling suddenly a little thirsty as her eyes ogled the selfie Tobin sent her. Tobin was this infuriating combination of gorgeous and adorable and cute and hot all at the same time. It wasn’t a combination that should work, but here Tobin was, proving Christen wrong. But Christen shouldn’t be focusing on that. She reread Tobin’s caption and finally processed her words. 

 

[@Pressy_23 8:03PM]

agree to disagree, Tobin Heath. waait doo you haave a middle name? Of course youu do, that’s sillyyy. Everyone does!!! well…..not everyone?? That’s not importaant, sorryyy. focus up Press!!  sooooo you have to clean the whole place by yourself?? is this cause of Friday????

 

The text bubble with those three little dots appeared, meaning Tobin was responding right now. Christen hopped up onto the counter, careful not to jostle her ribs too much. Not that she could feel much of anything if she were to jostle them. She had passed tipsy awhile ago, and she was fully drunk now. 

 

[@tobito17 8:04PM]

Are you drunk texting me, Christen Press? That was too many typos and punctuation marks for normal you to use.

 

Christen was caught. She pouted as she typed out her reply. 

 

[@Pressy_23 8:04PM]

champagne just sneakks up on you, ya know?? it’s not my fault, i plead the sixth. wait, the fifth. i don’t know, i’m drunk  

 

[@tobito17 8:05PM]

Hahaha. You deserve it, you kicked major ass today, Chris! Just be careful okay? Drink water, eat snacks. Popcorn always helps ARod and Lauren when they get drunk. I could text Harry and make sure she gives you some?

 

“She is so cute. Like, how is she so cute. And thoughtful. Why does she have to be so far away?” Christen grumbled to the empty kitchen.

 

[@Pressy_23 8:05PM]

water, check. snicky snacks, double check. No neeeed to drag allie into this mess, i’m good. i’m talking to youuuu! i’m greeat!!!!!

 

Suddenly, Christen realized she hadn’t responded to one of Tobin’s earlier questions. As she typed an answer, she tried to explain that her first goal was for Tobin. But her answer quickly turned into something else entirely. Something she couldn’t control. It was as if the champagne and the highs of the day and everything she’d been feeling for Tobin combined together and had her admitting to something she shouldn’t be admitting to.

 

[@Pressy_23 8:05PM] 

I lied...I didn’t score one goal for you.

[@Pressy_23 8:06PM]

I scored them all for you. because you are so coooool, Tobs. and even tho Pinoe’s the one who ‘liked’ that picturee of yours in August, i’m the one who liked it. get it, liked ittt??? i liked it! i like all your pictures, Tobs, because you’re cute and cooooool and i’m champagne druunk so i’m going to stop right now before i embarrass myself further. 

 

With a squeak, Christen dropped her phone to the counter, staring at the Instagram message thread on her screen. She reread her messages and cringed, feeling her already flushed cheeks heat up further with embarrassment. She reached out, a moment of sober thinking allowing her enough clarity to turn her phone off completely and stick it back into her pocket. “Oh my god,” Christen thought, holding her hand against her forehead. “You did not just do that…” She wanted to kick herself for being so overly confident with Tobin. “She’s going to think you’re a lovesick weirdo,” Christen thought again, her mind, despite its drunken state, spiraling into deeper worry. 

“PRESSSSSSY!” Kelley called, interrupting Christen’s thoughts about Tobin for the second time that night. “We’re doing shots, and you’re joining!” Kelley cheered, her arms wrapping around Christen’s shoulders in a hug. 

Christen instinctively wrapped an arm around Kelley’s back. 

“I love you, Pressy. You really are the sweetest on the team,” Kelley murmured, pulling back to grin at Christen before leading her out the back door and toward their teammates. 

~8 Hours Later~

Christen’s first thought was that her head hurt. Her second was that her tongue felt heavy and her mouth felt dry, so she’d kill for some water. And her third thought? Pure panic at the feeling of an arm around her bare waist and soft breaths hitting the back of her neck. Her heart started beating rapidly, fear constricting her throat. 

“What did you do?” she thought to herself, trying to assess her surroundings through the banging headache she had. She’d watched enough teenage “ABC” dramas to know that waking up in a strange place after heavy drinking never led to good things. She was bracing herself to face some stranger or worse some teammate that she’d made some huge mistake with. 

It took her a moment to remember that she had stayed over at Ashlyn and Ali’s house, but as soon as she heard Ashlyn laughing down the hall, she felt a sense of calm rush through her body. She pulled the blanket off of her, looking down at her own body. She was in the same pair of jeans and sweater from the night before, her sweater pushed up on her left hip and her shoes and socks abandoned in the house somewhere. She pulled away from the arm around her waist, twisting on the couch to turn around and face the arm’s owner. Megan’s pink hair was the only thing Christen could see, the other forward covered by a second blanket. She’d never been that happy to see the bubblegum-colored hair and had to hold back the laugh of relief that wanted to bubble up out of her throat. 

“You’re up,” Ali whispered, waving softly at Christen from across the living room. “Ash ordered some bagels from UberEats.”

“Thank God,” Christen sighed, running a hand through her hair. 

“Pressy’s up?” Allie asked, walking into the living room from the kitchen, a bagel in hand. 

Christen could only grunt back at Allie, her head hurting more with each second. 

“Sounds like you need coffee before I remind you about what you texted Harry last night,” Allie laughed. 

Christen’s jaw completely fell open, her mind moving sluggishly. 

“I what?” Christen asked. 

“Harry texted me this morning to check on you. Apparently, you texted her some drunk messages last night before going MIA,” Allie smirked. 

“Oh. My. God,” Christen groaned, falling back onto the couch and waking a very disoriented Megan. 

“I SAID NO RACHEL!” Megan yelled, sitting up with a start. 

“You arguing with your sister in your sleep, Pinoe?” Ali asked, watching as Megan fell back onto the couch with a soft thud. 

Christen slipped off of the couch, clutching at her head as she stumbled into the kitchen and toward the coffee maker. She carried her cup of coffee into the backyard and sat on the grass, pulling her phone out of the back pocket of her jeans. She squinted in the early morning sun, the light causing her headache to worsen. 

She braced herself, took a deep breath, and then turned her phone on. It buzzed softly in her hands, only making her grimace more. She scrolled past the text messages from her family members, congratulating her on the NCAA Championship, stopping only when she saw Tobin’s Instagram messages. 

 

[@tobito17 8:07PM]

I’m glad you liked the pictures, Chris. I like yours too. I really am tempted to text Harry and ask her to make sure you get home okay…

[@tobito17 8:07PM]

Fun fact...I think you’re cute and cool too, and I’m not even champagne drunk

[@tobito17 8:56PM]

Not to be a total stick in the mud, but I hope you’re partying responsibly

[@tobito17 10:37PM]

Good night, Chris. Congratulations on your game today! You deserve all the champagne. I’ll talk to you later.

 

Christen reread her messages from the night before, wishing she could sink into the ground and let the earth swallow her whole. “You were totally weird. You probably freaked her out by being so drunk and flirty and pushy,” Christen thought to herself, shrugging off Tobin’s responses as her just being polite. She took a sip of coffee and forced herself to type a reply. 

 

[@Pressy_23 11:42AM]

Well, I’ve never been that drunk before…

Tobin responded immediately, causing her heart to jump in her chest. 

 

[@tobito17 11:42AM]

Really? You took it like a champ. Quite a few typos, but overall, a very cute and classy drunk 😂

[@Pressy_23 11:43AM]

Tobin, I am so so so sorry! I didn’t mean to be weird last night or drunk text  you. I am so embarrassed.

[@tobito17 11:44AM]

Relax, Chris. It’s no big deal. Honestly, I thought it was cute and funny! Very entertaining at the least. 

[@Pressy_23 11:45AM]

So...I didn’t totally make you wish that you’d never met me?

 

She knew Tobin would say no. She knew Tobin would be sweet and understanding and chill, but Christen still needed to hear it. Her insecurities were sneaking up on her, whispering that Tobin didn’t want to talk to Christen anymore. She needed Tobin to push those fears aside for her. 

 

[@tobito17 11:45AM]

Of course not! I wake up every single day and am like, damn, I’m so glad I know Christen Press. 

[@tobito17 11:45AM]

I mean it. 

 

Before Christen could even process the butterflies that sprang into her stomach at the words or think about responding, Tobin changed the subject. 

 

[@tobito17 11:45AM]

So, tell me. Did Harry sing the opening number to Annie the musical last night? That’s her go-to when she’s drunk. 

 

With one text, Tobin completely set Christen at ease again. She laughed out loud, not just because Allie singing Annie had been funny the night before, but also because the relief she felt at Tobin’s acceptance was too strong to keep inside. She smiled at her phone, her heart thrumming again, feeling secure with Tobin’s easy-going attitude.

 

[@Pressy_23 11:45AM]

Oh my gosh! She did, and it was terrible!

[@tobito17 11:47AM]

If she couldn’t kick a ball, she’d be trying to make it on Broadway. She’s too stubborn to realize she can’t carry a tune. 

[@tobito17 11:47AM]

So...not to fully take advantage of you in your hungover state, but...you never answered my question yesterday about the game, and I’m dying to know.

 

Christen’s brow furrowed as she took a small sip of her coffee.

 

[@Pressy_23 11:47AM]

Which question is that?

[@tobito17 11:48AM]

What did Crystal whisper to you right before the game? It made you smile and relax and I’ve been dying to know.

 

Christen huffed out a laugh. She’d completely forgotten that Crystal had done that. 

Even though Tobin had dispelled a lot of her nerves before the finals with that good luck message, Christen was human. And she was a nervous human by nature. So as she stood next to her teammates, moments from the NCAA finals, she’d felt her nerves return with full force. She’d been so antsy, practically jumping right next to Crystal during the pre-game announcements. 

Then Crystal had casually leaned over and whispered something to Christen that she would never be able to forget. A short sentence that had Christen holding back a smile and her nerves running for cover. 

But what Crystal had said to her? Christen vowed to never admit it to Tobin Heath. Ever.

 

[@Pressy_23 11:48AM]

Hmmm... I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you, and I wouldn’t want that 😉

 

[@tobito17 11:48AM]

Good thing I’m patient. I’ll get it out of you one day.

Chapter Text

Feels like there's oceans

Between me and you once again

We hide our emotions

Under the surface and try to pretend

But it feels like there's oceans

Between you and me

(Tobin - “Oceans” by Seafret)

 

Summer comes and winter fades,

Here we are just the same,

Don't need pressure, don't need change,

Let's not give the game away

...

Just please don't say you love me,

Cause I might not say it back,

Doesn't mean my heart stops skipping

When you look at me like that

(Christen - “Please Don’t Say You Love Me” by Gabrielle Aplin) 

 

JANUARY - FRESHMAN YEAR

“Harry, are you serious right now?” Allie asked, staring at Tobin on her Facetime screen. 

“Shut up,” Tobin growled, digging through her dresser again before pulling out three more shirts. 

“Christen’s already seen you in person. She thinks you’re cute. You don’t need to look cute on a Facetime call from your dorm room,” Allie sighed, struggling to remain non-judgemental when all she wanted to do was laugh at Tobin for worrying so much. 

“I just don’t want her to think I’m a slob. She could still change her mind and decide I’m totally lame,” Tobin sighed, pulling on a plain white t-shirt over her black skinny jeans. 

“It’s not like you’re going on a date, Harry. We’re all just hanging out and catching up, something you and Christen don’t need to do since you’re literally messaging each other every single minute of every day,” Allie smirked.

“We do not,” Tobin muttered, knowing her lie was feeble. 

“This’ll be a good chance for ARod and Lauren to meet Christen and for you to meet Christen’s friends,” Allie said confidently. 

“Easy for you to say. You’re not meeting anyone new,” Tobin huffed, throwing herself onto her bed in preparation for their group Facetime call. “What if her friends don’t like me?” Tobin whispered. 

“Harry, have you met yourself? You’re great! Megan’s gonna give you a hard time, but she’ll chill after a second. Crystal’s amazing and already likes you. Kelley’s just weird, and you two will get along just fine. Relax, dude,” Allie said, her attempt at putting Tobin’s fears to rest failing miserably when she decided to go ahead and add everyone else to the call. 

Before Tobin could even complain, ARod and Lauren’s faces popped up in another window. The two of them were sitting together in their apartment across campus, and Tobin suddenly wished that she’d made the trek through the snow to sit with them. Tobin sat upright in her bed, fixing a stray piece of hair behind her ear. 

“Allie!” Lauren cheered, smiling brightly on the screen. 

“Hey, guys!” Allie smiled back, still distracted on her phone. 

“No excited greeting for me?” Tobin grumbled. 

“We literally just saw you at team dinner,” ARod teased. 

“Toby is a little nervous,” Allie laughed, sticking her lip out in a little pout.

“Tobin’s nervous?” a sweet, soft voice asked before her video turned on. 

Tobin would have known that voice anywhere. She suddenly wished that Allie Long had never been born or at least never learned to speak. Christen’s face appeared in another window, soft and gentle, her eyes looking somewhat worried. She was sitting on a couch, Megan and Crystal on either side of her, but Tobin could only focus on her. 

“I-I have a- an exam tomorrow,” Tobin sputtered. 

“You have an exam the first week back at school after Christmas break?” Megan blurted out. 

“Isn’t it still syllabus week?” Crystal asked. 

Christen just lifted her eyebrows, still somewhat concerned and definitely confused. 

“Oh, yeah. My Physics professor is really tough,” Tobin lied, hoping that Allie wouldn’t call her out. 

“That sucks,” Megan said before lifting her foot up to the camera. “Hey, look I’m boot-free and rehabbing away! Tried to keep me down, but you couldn’t SUCKA!” 

ARod burst out laughing, already vibing with Megan’s personality. 

“Yeah, I’m sorry about that, Megan,” ARod said, a hint of seriousness in her tone. 

“No biggie,” Megan replied, waving her hand at the camera. “I got to get on the plane first when I flew home for Christmas because of the boot, so it had its perks.”

Tobin smiled at the camera, happy that her friends and Christen’s were getting along and happy that she and her fake Physics exam were no longer the centers of attention. She took a sip of water, frowning when a knock came at one of the girl’s doors and Christen stood up and left the computer screen. 

“Oh, Kelley’s here,” Crystal said, scooting over on the couch. 

Christen reappeared, Kelley following close behind in a tank top and shorts. 

“You guys are so lucky it’s warm there,” Lauren sighed, snuggling deeper into her sweatshirt. 

“I don’t think it’s actually warm enough for shorts and a tank, but yeah we’ve had nice weather,” Christen grinned, sitting on the arm of the couch since Kelley had taken her spot. 

Tobin listened as Allie told the other girls about the date from hell she and Bati had last Friday at a local mini-golf place. She nodded along when ARod and Lauren told the UCLA girls about Penn State’s pick-up games. It wasn’t until Megan started talking about her twin sister that Tobin felt her phone vibrate next to her leg. She looked down, surprised to see a message from Christen. She glanced back up at the computer screen, noticing Christen’s soft smile and knowing it was directly aimed at her. 

 

[@Pressy_23 10:28PM]

Are you okay? You’re just nervous about the exam?

[@tobito17 10:28PM]

I’m totally gooooood! Physics is my jam. Fun fact, I was part of the Physics Club in high school. 

[@Pressy_23 10:28PM]

Nerd alert haha

[@tobito17 10:29PM]

SAYS YOU, MS. I TUTOR PEOPLE IN MY SLEEP, 5.834 GPA PRESS! Not all of us can be perfect off the field.

 

Christen’s laugh was barely audible, but Tobin caught it. Megan kept going with her story, not having caught onto the fact that Christen and Tobin were no longer paying attention and were instead looking down at their phones. Crystal seemed to clue into it though. She smirked at Christen and then at Tobin, shaking her head at the two of them. 

Tobin’s phone vibrating drew her attention back down to it.

 

[@Pressy_23 10:29PM]

5.834’s aren’t possible, Tobs.

[@tobito17 10:29PM]

I never said I was good at math. Now who’s showing their nerd status?

[@Pressy_23 10:30PM]

Okay, fine, I’m a nerd. A big nerd. 

[@Pressy_23 10:30PM]

Fun fact: I was nervous about this Facetime. 

 

Tobin’s heart practically leaped out of her chest. “She was nervous too,” was all she could think. Christen had been nervous, just like Tobin had been, and that fact made Tobin want to spill every single thought and secret and feeling she’d been holding in. She wanted to share them right then and there with Christen Press. She glanced up at the computer screen, noticing that Christen was smiling at her phone. Tobin wanted nothing more than to reach through the screen and touch Christen. She just wanted to hold her hand, to feel her skin, to know she was real, that she wasn’t going anywhere. Instead, Tobin typed out another message.

 

[@tobito17 10:30PM]

Oh thank God! So was I! Harry was teasing me about it. 

 

On-screen, Christen’s brow furrowed and she shot a quick look at Tobin before returning to her phone.

 

[@Pressy_23 10:30PM]

Why would she tease you about that?

 

Tobin tensed, realizing that maybe she’d read into things a bit. Maybe Christen had been nervous for an entirely different reason than she was, one that was not tease-worthy. 

Tobin had been nervous to see Christen after a month of messaging every single day. It was one thing to talk and build a relationship over messages. It was easy, you had time to think through answers and you never had to worry about the blush that was ever-present on your face, because they couldn’t see you. But when you hopped on Facetime, you couldn’t hide the blush or the smiles or the hope in your heart that one day you could have more than a friendship. That was why Tobin had been nervous, with clammy hands and a flushed face to boot.

But it sounded like Christen hadn’t been nervous in the same way. Now Tobin had to do some verbal backflips to get out of admitting her real reason for being nervous.

 

[@tobito17 10:31PM]

Umm...I mean I was just kind of nervously moving around the room. I have trouble staying still when I’m nervous about something.

 

Tobin cringed, knowing how lame that excuse was. She only hoped Christen would drop it and move on. 

 

[@Pressy_23 10:31PM]

What was making you nervous?

 

“Shit,” Tobin muttered under her breath, not realizing her mic was on until Megan replied.

“Yeah, exactly! Shit! That’s what I’m saying Tobito!” Megan said.

Tobin’s head whipped up from her phone. She could see the smirks Crystal, Allie, ARod, and Lauren were giving her, and she knew she hadn’t been subtle about focusing on her phone the entire time. She scratched at the back of her neck and grimaced.

“I got you, Pinoe. Anytime.”

Tobin looked at Christen and saw the curiosity in her green eyes even through the computer screen. She also looked vaguely amused at Tobin’s attempt at covering up her accidental interjection. The corner of her mouth was lifted into a smile, making Tobin’s grimace soften into an actual grin. 

“You rock, now back to what I was saying. Rach and I were slaying it out there on the playground…”

Tobin went back to tuning Megan’s story out and flicked her gaze down to her phone, her smile never dropping.

 

[@tobito17 10:31PM]

What was making YOU nervous?

[@Pressy_23 10:31PM]

Jinx, you owe me a Coke. And I asked you first, rules are rules.

[@tobito17 10:31PM]

I didn’t think perfect Press would drink soda!

[@Pressy_23 10:32PM]

I don’t...fine, jinx you owe me a green smoothie with extra kale

 

Tobin looked up and saw Christen smirking at the computer screen. That goddamn smirk. It was powerful even from thousands of miles away.

 

[@tobito17 10:32PM]

Your coach must love you haha! You could come over here, and I’d buy you one right now.

[@tobito17 10:32PM]

I was just a little nervous about the Facetime call that’s all… Why were you nervous?

[@Pressy_23 10:33PM]

Counteroffer: you come here and buy me one since it’s supposed to be 68 and sunny tomorrow. A smoothie in the snow sounds awful.

[@Pressy_23 10:33PM]

And that’s still not really an answer, Tobs. But I’ll accept it...for now 😉

[@Pressy_23 10:33PM]

I was nervous because Pinoe and ARod definitely did not get off on the right foot…

 

Tobin felt her heart drop slightly. She hadn’t even thought about her friends. She’d been so incredibly nervous about Christen. She’d just wanted to keep making good impressions. She wanted Christen to like her and want to talk to her, not just type out long messages every day. 

 

[@tobito17 10:34PM]

I so wish I were there! Sunny California and you?! That sounds like the best!

[@tobito17 10:34PM]

I honestly didn’t even think about ARod and Megan…That probably makes me a bad friend.

[@tobito17 10:34PM]

Also, Chris? Was that a foot pun about Megan’s injury? You’re a total dork 😂

[@Pressy_23 10:34PM]

Maybe you should come visit sunny California?

[@Pressy_23 10:34PM]

Oh hush,  you’re not a bad friend. As your friend, I’m uniquely qualified to know if you are or not, and you’re not.

[@Pressy_23 10:34PM]

It was...not my best pun work, but it made you smile.  Don’t deny it, I saw! 

 

[@tobito17 10:35PM]

Maybe I will. Harry does live there too, so I could visit you both. Especially since we’re officially friends now, I see. 

[@tobito17 10:36PM]

Fun fact, you always make me smile.

[@Pressy_23 10:36PM]

Even when I’m dorky and nerdy?

[@tobito17 10:36PM]

Especially when you’re dorky and nerdy. That’s the best Christen there is!

[@Pressy_23 10:36PM]

You might be the only one who thinks so...

[@tobito17 10:37PM]

Hell no! I bet there are hundreds of people lined up outside your dorm just waiting to tell you that.

[@tobito17 10:37PM]

What’s that? Channel 5 News just called. There’s a huge traffic jam because of all the cars waiting outside to tell you that you’re amazing!

 

This time Christen couldn’t hold back her laugh. She rolled her eyes at Tobin’s message, a small laugh slipping from her lips. Tobin grinned at her computer screen, loving the way her message had made Christen’s cheeks blush. 

“Care to share with the class, Pressy?” Allie asked, a smirk plastered on her face. 

“Yeah, Christen, you’ve been on your phone like this whole time. What’re you doing?” Crystal added. 

“Who’re you texting?” Kelley asked, practically leaping behind Crystal to grab Christen’s phone out of her hand. 

Christen was too fast for Kelley, snatching her phone away quickly and sliding off the couch. 

It wasn’t quick enough, though. 

“Who’s tobito17?” Kelley asked, not knowing anything about Christen and Tobin’s Instagram messaging. 

“Toby, you’ve been messaging Christen this whole time and ignoring us all?” ARod teased. 

“What’s so important you needed to message her right now?” Lauren asked, her smile turning mischievous. 

“Nothing,” Tobin choked out, she crossed her arms over her chest, a sign to her friends that she wouldn’t budge. 

The little bit of Christen’s face that Tobin could still see on the screen was completely red. 

“Should we hang up and leave you to it?” Allie asked, waggling her brows as her smirk grew. 

“NO!” Christen and Tobin both blurted at the same time. 

That caused everyone to laugh, even Kelley, who still had no clue what was going on but decided to laugh anyways. Tobin and Christen could do nothing but blush and struggle to form coherent sentences, both completely thrown off by their friends’ teasing.

Crystal was the first to take pity on the blushing, blubbering fools.

“Hate to break up the party, but we UCLA ladies have practice tonight,” Crystal said, her smile a bit sad.

“And a 5 AM lift tomorrow,” Kelley added. “That's how champions are made.”

Lauren and ARod’s mouths flopped open in sync, causing the rest of the group to laugh once more. This time, Tobin and Christen joined in. 

“You all better go before you get ARod all fired up again,” Tobin warned with a smile, her eyes still stuck on Christen.

“Or Tobin,” Megan chimed in, earning her a smack to the arm from Christen and then another from Crystal.

“Not nice, Pinoe! We’re all friends now,” Allie said. 

“Yeah! KUMBAYAAA,” Kelley started to sing, earning groans from everyone. Allie waved at everyone and quickly ended the call before Kelley could continue with her singing. The last thing Christen saw was Tobin’s mouth turned up in a grin, her brown eyes dancing with amusement, and her left hand held up in a shaka sign.

Kelley pouted when the screen went black, signaling the end of the Facetime call. 

“Dudes, I was just getting to the good part. Why did Allie have to end me like that?” Kelley asked, groaning dramatically. 

Megan, Crystal, and Kelley all got up from the couch, chatting amongst themselves as they went to their rooms to get ready for training. Christen remained seated on the edge of the couch, her mind lost in thought. 

Tobin had looked good. She’d never seen her out of soccer gear or sweats before, and sure maybe it was just a plain white t-shirt and ripped jeans to some, but to her, it was an outfit that was the perfect combination of beautiful and laid back. It was just so Tobin. It was something that she could even see Tobin wearing on their first date-

“Whoa, slow down there. Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Christen thought. “You’re friends who live 2,582 miles from each other.”

Friends. They were friends. Christen had trouble remembering that sometimes,  especially recently. They’d been talking non-stop since that night in the Orlando hotel room. There had never been an awkward moment or a moment where they were unsure what to talk about or say. Conversation just seemed to flow between them so naturally. And more often than not, their messages erred on the side of flirty. So flirty in fact that both Channing and Tyler had teased her mercilessly over the Christmas break about Tobin. 

Christen thought she’d be safe once she got back to school and could distract herself with soccer and classes and her friends. But her crush on Tobin Heath was ever-present, and nothing she did could silence it. Especially during this group Facetime call.

She hadn’t totally lied to Tobin earlier. She had been nervous to get all their friends together, especially Megan and ARod who had bad blood between them. But mostly, she was nervous to see Tobin. If her crush was uncontrollable and all-consuming when Tobin was only sending her Instagram messages, how would her heart fare when she could see Tobin? When she could hear her laugh and see her smile? 

The answer? Not well. Christen’s blush had heated her cheeks from the moment she and her friends jumped on the call, until Allie hung up on everyone.

“So,” Kelley stated, jumping onto the couch and plopping her socked feet in Christen's lap. “You’ve got a crush on Tobin, or should I say, tobito17.”

Christen turned beet red. She spluttered and avoided looking at Kelley. 

“What? Me? Tobin? I - uh - I don’t-”

She was saved by Crystal and Megan coming back into the room, smirks on both of their faces. 

“She guessed, huh?” Crystal asked, nodding in Kelley’s direction.

Christen hung her head and hid her face in her hands. Her muffled, “Yes,” was barely audible.

Megan whooped and hopped next to Kelley. She held her hand up in a high five, which Kelley excitedly gave her. 

“Another member of Team Tosten!” Megan said with a grin.

Crystal wrinkled her nose. “That’s not our team name, Allie already shot that down. Stop trying to make Tosten happen.”

Christen uncovered her face and eyed her friends warily.

“Why is there a team and why do I have a feeling I’m not going to like your answer?” she grumbled.

“Maybe team is the wrong word. We’re...captains of the Chrisbin ship!” Megan replied, holding her arms out as if to say, “How about that name?”

Crystal shot her down, again. “It’s a no from me.”

“Same, that sounds like a brand of pita chip,” Kelley added with a shudder. “And I hate pita chips. Like little daggers to your gums.”

“Guys!” Christen cried, bringing everyone’s attention to her. She looked at Crystal with a brow arched. “Explain, please?”

“Well...there are a select few of us who love the idea of you and Tobin together. Me, Pinoe, Allie. Now Kelley too. So, we’re like your own personal fan club who just want what’s best for you two,” Crystal explained.

Christen shook her head, barking out a laugh. “Why am I friends with you guys?”

Megan shrugged, “Cuz we’re hot.”

This caused everyone to laugh, the momentary tension dissipating. Suddenly, Kelley jumped to her feet and cried, “I’ve got it!”

Christen, Crystal, and Megan shared confused looks. Kelley rolled her eyes and explained, “The ship name. I’ve got it!”

After a beat of silence, Kelley drum rolled against her legs and then cried, “PREATH!”

Christen could only chuckle. Her friends were crazy, but she had to admit, the ship name wasn’t half bad.


MARCH

Tobin had reached a new record. She hadn’t messaged Christen for a full 24 hours, and it was killing her. Christen was still busy at school, their spring breaks not aligning, and Tobin’s parents had insisted on having quality, phone-free family time, so needless to say, Tobin was ready to race up to her room and grab her phone before her older sister came over with her nephew. 

 

[@tobito17 12:38PM]

I’m about to meet the baby who made me an aunt 😊😊😊

[@Pressy_23 12:39PM]

A BABY?!

[@tobito17 12:39PM]

Not just any baby! THE CUTEST BABY!!! He’s my first nephew 😍

[@Pressy_23 12:39PM]

Tobs, that is so cute. You’re an aunt! How does it feel?

[@tobito17 12:40PM]

Honestly? I’m just nervous. I want him to like me so much!

[@Pressy_23 12:40PM]

How could he not like you? You’re YOU.

[@tobito17 12:40PM]

I’ve gotta be his favorite aunt. It’s my life’s goal. Screw the World Cup! haha

[@Pressy_23 12:41PM]

Guess I’ll have to go win it without you… 😉

 

[@tobito17 12:41PM]

WOAH WOAH WOAH let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The plan is for you and me to check that off the bucket list together.

[@Pressy_23 12:41PM]

Oh, so I made your bucket list? 😊

[@tobito17 12:41PM]

You’ve made it quite a few times...

[@Pressy_23 12:41PM]

WHY AM I ONLY JUST LEARNING THIS?

[@Pressy_23 12:41PM]

THIS IS BRAND NEW INFORMATION!

[@Pressy_23 12:41PM]

What are they? 

[@Pressy_23 12:42PM]

Please tell me? I’m so curious!

[@tobito17 12:42PM]

That is top secret information. I can’t tell you. They’re like wishes, and if I tell you they won’t come true. It’s science.

[@Pressy_23 12:42PM]

Just because you were in the Physics club doesn’t mean you get to make up fake science stuff!

[@Pressy_23 12:42PM]

Ugh...you won’t tell me them, will you? No matter what I do?

[@tobito17 12:43PM]

You’d be more convincing in person, I’m sure. 

[@Pressy_23 12:43PM]

Speaking of, when are you coming to visit me? Sunny California is still very sunny and I was promised a smoothie. With LOTS of kale.

 

Tobin grinned at the message. There was nothing she wanted more at that moment than to be in California with Christen, on the beach, sipping a smoothie. She’d been waiting to tell Christen about her summer plans, since they were really dependent on her parents, more specifically on her dad’s new job, but now seemed as good a time as any. She took a deep breath and typed out her message, pressing send and then deciding that she’d much rather tell Christen, face to face. She wanted to be able to gauge Christen’s reaction. 

 

[@tobito17 12:43PM]

Actually, there’s something I wanted to tell you…

[@tobito17 12:44PM]

Incoming call

 

Christen froze, seeing the “INCOMING VIDEO CALL” from Tobin on Instagram. She was in no shape to answer this video call right now. Her hair was in a curly, messy bun atop her head, she hadn’t been sleeping all that well so the bags under her eyes were ghastly, and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d showered. She’d been overwhelmed with projects and essays and exams this week, and it showed. She was in a ratty, old high school soccer sweatshirt and she’d forgotten contacts this morning, so she was currently wearing her glasses. She was a far cry from put together or even remotely passable-looking, and she knew it. 

She wondered, just for a moment, whether or not she should ignore the call. She could always make up some excuse like she was studying in the library and couldn’t answer right now. Which was a total lie, she was on the couch in the suite’s living area, alone since her roommates were gone for the day. 

But the longer she waited, eyes stuck to the screen, she knew she couldn’t ignore it. This was her chance to see Tobin for the first time in a few weeks, and actually talk to her alone, and not in their usual group Facetime sessions which had become less frequent as spring breaks forced them all apart. 

Christen took a moment to gather herself. She ran a hand over her baby hairs, trying to smooth them out. She fixed a large smile on her face and decided to just answer the call, knowing she didn’t look her best but unable to deny herself the chance to see Tobin and talk to her.

“Hey!” Tobin practically sighed into the phone, her face softening as soon as she saw Christen. 

Christen could barely formulate a response. On her screen, looking absolutely gorgeous, was Tobin Heath. She was smiling in that easy, relaxed way of hers and her brown eyes sparkled. Her hair was loose and falling around her shoulders, and she wore an orange beanie on her head. Her plain, gray t-shirt was fitted and featured a graphic of the Mighty Ducks cast. She was as beautiful as Christen remembered, maybe more so. Tobin Heath never failed to take her breath away.

“Uh, hello, I mean, um hi there,” Christen replied, internally cringing at her awkwardness.

Tobin couldn’t help the soft giggle that left her lips. Not only was Christen slightly flustered, but she also looked adorable in her glasses and soft sweatshirt. Tobin had always seen Christen in a cute outfit or in her uniform. Even her sweatpants were perfectly creased and wrinkle-free. She loved how put-together Christen was, but she had never seen her in ratty clothes, and she was beginning to wonder if that was her favorite way to see Christen, completely relaxed in her own space. All Tobin wanted at that moment was to be near Christen, to fly to California and hang out with her, even just sit with her while she studied for her next midterm exam. 

“Did I interrupt you? Were you studying? I can call back later,” Tobin choked out softly, worrying for a second that she’d annoyed Christen by calling without warning. 

“NO!” Christen yelled, before taking a breath and repeating herself, only much softer this time. “No, you didn’t and I wasn’t.” 

Christen forced herself to take another deep breath. This was just Tobin. Just her friend, Tobin. She needed to stop acting like a lovesick spaz and relax. 

“You are a welcome distraction. I was getting nowhere with my Anthropology review anyways,” Christen added with a small smile.

“I just didn’t really want to type anymore,” Tobin said, scratching the back of her neck awkwardly. That wasn’t true, but she didn’t want to tell Christen just how much she’d been missing her face since group Facetiming had slowed down recently. “And I have big news…” Tobin trailed off, waiting for Christen to encourage her to continue. 

“You’re an aunt and you’re about to meet your niece or nephew, I know! That’s so exciting, and I’m not at all jealous,” Christen teased sarcastically. “I can’t wait to be an aunt!”

“I am an aunt, and I’m dying for my sister to get here so I can meet him, but no,” Tobin laughed. “It’s other news actually. It’s probably not as exciting as a baby, but it’s big news.”

Christen’s brow furrowed. “What’s up? Is everything okay?”

“Well, it wasn’t okay for a couple of weeks, but it is now,” Tobin nodded.

“Are you being intentionally vague?” Christen replied, arching her brow.

“Just trying to make sure you’re interested in the story,” Tobin laughed. “So, back in December, right after the NCAA Championships, actually, my dad was laid off at work.”

“Oh, Tobs,” Christen sighed, her chest tightening with emotion. Apparently, her teasing had been a bit premature. This seemed like news of the bad sort and she felt horrible for making light of it. “I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks, Chris. It was stressful for a few weeks, but my dad decided instead of waiting around to see if he got his job back, he wanted to look at other opportunities. So, he had maybe seven job interviews, and he decided to take one of those jobs at the beginning of this month. He’s been flying back and forth a little bit and is just renting an apartment there. Obviously, he can’t keep flying back and forth though, so this summer, we’re going to look at houses there. Jeff’s only a freshman right now, so it shouldn’t be too hard for him to switch schools and have three years there,” Tobin rambled, her excitement getting the best of her. 

Christen nodded, smiling a bit at the way Tobin’s words had basically run together. Her excitement was palpable and infectious.

“That sounds like a lot of changes, but I’m glad your dad found a job and everything!”

“You aren’t curious?” Tobin teased, smirking softly at Christen.

Narrowing her eyes, Christen replied, “Curious about what?”

“Maybe I’m misreading this friendship, but I thought you’d be curious about where I’ll be spending all of my vacations, Chris,” Tobin laughed. 

“Wait, where is the job? Where will you be?” Christen asked. The glint in Tobin’s eyes looked a little like hope and it had Christen’s heart pounding in her chest. She wasn’t sure why she was suddenly nervous about Tobin’s answer, but she was. It felt big, whatever this news was. It felt like more than Tobin’s dad’s job and moving. It felt like something was going to shift between them.

“I believe you call it the City of Angels?” Tobin giggled, unable to keep her happiness inside. “Or is that just what tourists say? I want to fit in,” Tobin feigned seriousness. 

Christen’s eyes bugged out, her mouth dropping open in shock. “Did Tobin just say what I think she said? Is she moving here? To L.A.?” Christen’s thoughts ran wild through her mind as she struggled to process exactly what Tobin had just said.

“You’re moving...here?”

“I mean, I’ll still be freezing my butt off in Pennsylvania for most of the year, but yeah! Sunny California is about to be home base for the Heaths,” Tobin said, her grin practically splitting her face. She watched as Christen smiled. “She’s happy about it,” Tobin thought to herself. “Probably not as happy as you, but she’s happy.” 

Tobin couldn’t help the thrumming of her heart in her chest. She felt like all of her nerve endings were activated, like she couldn’t sit still. She walked down the stairs, unable to stay in one room after seeing Christen’s face light up. “You’re going to get more time with her,” was the thought that continued to loop through her mind. She couldn’t help but feel a surge of energy shoot through her. All she wanted was more time with Christen, time to get to know her, time to make her feel special, time to build something between the two of them. This move, although drastic, was a dream come true for Tobin. She knew when she first saw Christen that she wanted to know her. She knew when she first spoke with Christen that she wanted more than friendship. She just needed more moments with her to build that relationship, and moving to L.A. felt like fate had stepped in to help her. 

“I’m so happy for you, Tobs. This is so great!” Christen replied.

Christen could feel the smile on her face, despite the warring emotions in her heart. She couldn’t deny the pure, unadulterated elation at the thought of Tobin being in L.A., moments away instead of thousands of miles, for a few months out of the year. That was almost enough to silence the whispers of doubt within her. Almost.

“Tobin will still be at Penn State for 9 months out of the year. Three quarters of the year, she will be all the way across the country. This doesn’t really change anything,” Christen’s doubt whispered. All of that quelled the overwhelming joy she initially felt at Tobin’s admission. Now she was stuck, feeling like nothing had changed and everything had changed, all at once. It was completely overwhelming.

“I know! I guess I’ll have to take you and Allie to Starbucks after all,” Tobin teased.

Christen laughed, the sound a little forced. “I guess so…” she replied.

“You okay? You seem a little-” Tobin was cut off by the front door opening and her sister, Katie, calling out a greeting, if you could call it that. 

“Help! I have a newborn, and I’ve had to pee for two hours!”

“Oh, I’ll go, your family is there. Go be an aunt,” Christen said quickly, ignoring Tobin’s cut-off question.

“No! I want you to meet him!” Tobin begged. “Please, Chris?” She put on her best pout before looking up at her sister, holding her nephew out toward Tobin.

“I’m a mess, I can go, really -” Christen tried to say, only to be quickly met with the image of Tobin cradling her nephew, a large smile on her face. Any protest died on her lips. Christen instantly softened, her chest warming at the sight of Tobin looking at her nephew with such a fierce and powerful love. “Awww, Tobs, he’s so cute,” Christen cooed.

“Who said that?” Katie asked, eyes narrowed in the direction of the phone in Tobin’s hand. “And why are you holding my child with only one arm?”

“It’s Christen. Go pee, Katie,” Tobin sighed, not looking up from her nephew’s sleeping face. “I need time with this little dude.”

“Oh, the Christen? Christen Press, Christen? Jeff told me about her, and about how you-”

“KATIE,” Tobin warned, looking up from her nephew to glare at Katie.

“Watch his head, Tobs!” Katie laughed, walking toward the bathroom.

Tobin’s cheeks burned as she risked a look at her phone screen. Christen was simply grinning at her, torn between amused and slightly embarrassed. The blush in her cheeks was noticeable. 

“Sorry about her, motherhood’s loosened a few bolts,” Tobin said, rocking her nephew gently in her arms. 

“It’s fine. It just gives me more ammo to tease you with, knowing that you’ve told your siblings all about me,” Christen replied with a smirk. “Now introduce me to your nephew, he is literally so cute!”

Tobin felt her heart dip slightly, wondering for a moment if Christen talked about her with her sisters as much as Tobin talked to Jeff. “She has more important things to do than to talk about you with her sisters,” Tobin thought, sobering some of the excitement and hope she might have had from previous flirty talks with Christen. 

“And your siblings don’t know about me?” Tobin whispered, trying to mask the urge to frown slightly with a little bit of teasing. 

“They don’t not know about you…” Christen blushed.

“Oh, I see,” Tobin grinned back, her heart lifting somewhat. “They know that I’m…?” she encouraged. 

“They both know you love Olive Garden breadsticks,” Christen replied, her eyes swimming with mirth.

“Not my finest moment, buddy,” Tobin sighed, shaking her nephew’s hand that was wrapped around one of her fingers. “Those breadsticks are so good, though. I can’t wait until you have teeth and can eat them with me. Maybe we can convince Chris to come too.”
Christen’s heart jumped into her throat. “Tobin wants me to meet her nephew? To get breadsticks with them? That feels...like a huge step,” Christen thought to herself, surprised that the thought didn’t immediately scare her off. 

“You’ll have to ask really nicely,” Christen replied. She grinned down at the sleeping baby in Tobin’s arm. “And maybe I’ll even learn your name before then if your Auntie Tobin ever decides to formally introduce us.”

“Cole,” Tobin whispered softly into the phone, completely enamored by the sleeping baby on her chest.
“Nice to meet you, Cole. I’m Christen and I’m going to leave you with Tobin now,” Christen replied, her volume matching Tobin’s.

“Nooo,” Tobin whined, her voice soft and sleepy. “Stay. Come here and stay,” Tobin couldn’t help but think when she stared at Christen’s face on the screen.
“This Anthropology midterm won’t take itself. But…” Christen trailed off, working her lower lip between her teeth.
“Oh right, shoot! You have a midterm,” Tobin said, losing her train of thought as soon as she looked away from Cole and toward Christen, who was more distracting than the infant in her arms. Tobin couldn’t help but stare at Christen’s lips, wondering how they’d feel, how they’d tas - 

“Nope, not with the baby present,” Tobin chastised.
“I do,” Christen acknowledged. “But...maybe we can do this again soon? It’s way better than messaging. Not that messaging you isn’t fun. It totally is. But this is just, well it’s just…”

“Better? Easier? Completely relaxing?” Tobin offered. Getting a smile in response, she added, “And no offense to our friends, but I think I prefer just talking to you...I don’t have to yell over you, you know?”
“I feel the same way,” Christen beamed.
“Good luck with your test,” Tobin sighed, watching as Cole’s eyes fluttered open, his chubby hand reaching up toward her face.
“Good luck with Cole,” Christen replied softly, all but melting at the sight of Cole reaching up to touch Tobin’s face. “Message me later? Or better yet…”

Christen’s brows knit in concentration for a moment. She exited the video and tapped her screen a few times. She then returned, smiling.

“There. Now you can text me when you’re free,” Christen added.
Tobin’s heart beat even faster in her chest. Allie had always been the group Facetime facilitator, the one with everyone else’s phone numbers, and Tobin had been too much of a chicken to ask Christen for her number, not when Instagram worked well enough. 

“I will. Happy studying, Christen,” Tobin said, her eyes crinkling with a smile.
“Bye, Tobs,” Christen replied, a matching smile on her face.


BEGINNING OF MAY

“Tissues, check. Lots of chocolate, double-check,” Christen mumbled to herself as she strolled the aisles of CVS. Her basket was stocked full of the essentials, but she was still missing a few things.

“I found The Notebook and 10 Things I Hate About You,” Channing announced, looping her arm through Christen’s and dropping the DVDs into the basket. “Maybe it’s just me, but if I’d just had my heart thrown into a blender by a boy, the last thing I’d want to do is watch gross, sappy romcoms,” she added.

Christen shook her head and pulled Channing towards the chips and snacks aisle. 

“Well, you’re not Tyler,” Christen replied.

“You can say that again. My heart’s intact,” Channing shot back, earning her an eye roll from Christen. “What? I never liked that douche-canoe.”

A laugh bubbled up in Christen’s chest. In all honesty, she had never liked Clint either and had never seen why Tyler had stuck with him for so long. They were high school sweethearts who’d tried their hand at long-distance college dating. Which had served to bite Tyler in the butt when Clint had broken up with her three days ago, after six years of dating, saying that distance was too hard. Christen had found that a bit ridiculous, seeing as Tyler attended the University of Oregon and Clint went to Portland State which was 2 hours away by car. Real distance was like Los Angeles to Penn State…

Christen sighed, perusing the chip options alongside Channing. “If Tyler couldn’t make it work with her long-term boyfriend and overcome a meager 2-hour distance, how the heck am I supposed to make it work with someone who lives on the other side of the country?” Christen thought to herself.

“I found the wine, girls,” Stacy said, interrupting Christen’s thoughts. “I got three bottles just to be safe.”

Christen held out the basket, letting her mom slip the wine bottles into it. The three of them quickly grabbed a few bags of salt and vinegar Lay’s and checked out, rushing to get home to Tyler.

They found Tyler burrowed beneath a pile of blankets, mascara under her puffy red eyes, sitting on the couch in almost complete darkness. 

Christen, Stacy, and Channing jumped into action. Christen got the chocolate and chips into bowls, Channing set up the movie, and Stacy uncorked the wine and poured three glasses. She gave a small glass to Christen with a wink, earning a huff from Channing.

“Rose-hey! Where’s my glass?” Channing complained, flopping onto the couch by Tyler’s side. 

“You live under my roof, you live by my rules,” Stacy replied, handing a large glass of rosé to Tyler and then sitting on the couch with her own glass in hand. 

Christen grabbed a box of tissues, the snacks, and her wine, then scurried to the couch. She sat on Tyler’s other side and pulled her sister in for a tight hug.

“Boys suck,” Christen said, squeezing Tyler a little extra as she hugged her.

Tyler sniffled and nodded. “Distance sucks more,” she replied.

“And romcoms suck the most, so let's get this suckfest going,” Channing added, pressing play on the remote so the movie would start.

They were about halfway through the movie when Christen’s phone started buzzing. She removed her arm from around Tyler’s shoulder and pulled her phone out of her jeans pocket.

It was an incoming Facetime from TOBIN HEATH. Christen’s stomach fluttered at the sight, but she quickly hit ignore, knowing she couldn’t answer right now. She was busy wallowing with her heartbroken sister.

Christen opened up her messages to text Tobin to make sure she knew that she wasn’t ignoring her. Christen was acutely aware of her mother’s eyes on her, so she angled the screen away from Stacy’s probing gaze.

[Christen Press 3:23PM]

Sorry, we’re at Defcon 1 over here in the Press house. Tyler’s boyfriend dumped her and we’re all elbows deep in chocolate, wine, and romcoms. Call you tonight?

 

Christen turned her attention back to the movie for a moment, waiting for Tobin to respond. She wasn’t kept waiting long.

 

[Tobin Heath 3:24PM]

No worries, Chris. Let me know if there’s anything I can do. I have a mean left hook if necessary.

 

Christen grinned then put her phone away, not wanting to be on it for too long. She could still feel eyes on her, so she looked up and met her mom’s gaze. Seeing the knowing look Stacy was giving her, Christen felt the flush creeping up her neck shoot up to her cheeks. 

She shook her head at her mom and went back to the movie. Tyler needed her right now. She shouldn't be thinking about Tobin. But as she watched Ryan Gosling write letter after letter, all of them going unanswered, her thoughts naturally drifted to the captivating Penn State forward.

Her biggest fear had happened, just not to her. To her sister. After all that time and effort, Tyler’s relationship had ended in heartbreak because of the distance. It made Christen’s stomach roll just thinking about it. If Tyler and Clint couldn’t make it, how could she and Tobin?

Christen looked over at her sister, noting the tear stains on her cheeks and the pain in her eyes. Christen snuggled closer to Tyler and put her head on Tyler’s shoulder. She wanted to believe that she and Tobin could be different, that they wouldn’t end up like this - the tears, the hurt, the copious amounts of chocolate to ease the pain. But fear had her running in the complete opposite direction. 

“I’m never going to let something like this happen to me,” Christen vowed. “Long-distance isn’t worth the inevitable heartbreak.” 


May 29th

“We’re almost there,” Tobin’s dad said, turning the car onto a two-lane road.

Tobin hardly heard him, just nodding in affirmation. She was too busy running through a script in her mind. It was the script she’d been working on since the beginning of March when she’d first called Christen and spoken to her one-on-one. If she were honest with herself, it was the script Tobin had been working on since she’d seen Christen for the first time. 

“I know that we’ve only known each other for five months and only really spent in-person time together once, but I feel like there’s something here that’s more than friendship...no, no that’s weird,” Tobin thought, sighing to herself. She’d been changing the script obsessively for the past few hours, worrying herself into a dizzy mess. “I feel something for you that’s more than friendship...no, that’s weirder. She’s gonna think you’re a freak. She probably doesn’t even like you,” Tobin leaned back in her seat, trying to block out her thoughts, trying to focus on the California scenery outside the car window.

She’d flown out to L.A. to spend time with her dad for her birthday weekend and help him pick the house that her parents would buy and move to. He was stuck between three houses, and he’d invited Tobin to help him choose, wanting some quality time with his youngest daughter. 

They’d already toured two of the three houses, but her dad had work for the next two days, so the third house would have to wait until Sunday or Monday. Tobin had originally planned on spending her actual birthday in her dad’s apartment, accompanied only by Netflix and some Chinese takeout. However, when Allie had learned about her depressing birthday plans, she’d invited her to spend the weekend at the Long house. While she felt like she was slightly intruding on Allie’s family, she was more than a little excited to surf and spend time with her best friend. 

Not only that, but Allie had convinced Tobin to surprise Christen with her presence in L.A., hence the obsessive and worried thoughts that kept running through Tobin’s mind. She hadn’t actually planned on seeing Christen during this trip to L.A. She expected to be busier with her dad, and she knew that Christen was busy trying to keep Tyler distracted post-breakup. The last thing she wanted to do was annoy Christen with a visit when she was too preoccupied to really spend time with Tobin. When Tobin had voiced those concerns, however, Allie had insisted that Christen and Tyler had both spent time at Allie’s house and would probably love to get out and surf at the beach. 

Initially, despite her worrying, Tobin had been excited to see Christen and surprise her. She’d been eager, the butterflies in her stomach racing. Even if she hadn’t settled on exactly what to say to Christen, she was getting to see the gorgeous, green-eyed girl in person. Only a fool would focus on the bad instead of the good. 

Now, though, Tobin felt like a fool. She kind of wished she’d told Allie that she didn’t want to see Christen. She wanted to give herself another week or month or few months to pick out each and every word that she wanted to say to Christen. She wasn’t sure if she was ready or had all the things she wanted to say just yet. But there was no turning back now. 

Tobin smoothed her hand over her hair one more time and jumped out of her dad’s car before turning around to wave at him, having already promised to let him know when she and Allie got to Allie’s house safely for the night. She stood at the edge of the parking lot, facing the ocean, the sand dunes obscuring her view of the actual beach. Tobin scratched at the back of her neck, feeling unsure and insecure. 

She shuffled her flip-flops off, picking them up in her hand and stepping into the sand. The beach was her favorite place, regardless of which coast she was on. She loved the ocean, the sand, the sun. There was just something so peaceful and healing and perfect about the beach, even on a day like today when she felt so nervous.

As soon as Tobin moved past the highest part of the dunes, she saw the umbrella Allie had told her to look out for. It was orange with yellow stripes, practically blinding in the sunshine. Underneath the umbrella were three girls, all with dark, curly hair, facing the water. Tobin’s breath caught in her throat, and her feet faltered on the steps down to the beach. 

She could recognize Christen immediately, her slender hands moving quickly to emphasize whatever she was talking about. Tobin couldn’t help but grin, having missed Christen’s mannerisms and laugh, two things that just weren’t the same over the phone. By the fluttering in her stomach and the clamminess on her palms, Tobin knew her feelings for Christen were as strong now as they ever had been. “This is it. You have to tell her. Don’t chicken out. You’ve both flirted for months. It’s time to tell her and get on with it,” Tobin thought to herself, trying to buck up the courage to walk right up to Christen and profess her feelings. “You got this, Tobin. Surprise her, hang out with her, show her how cool you are,” Tobin continued to psych herself up. 

She walked forward, ripping her eyes away from Christen to look out at the water, hoping for one last moment to settle her nerves. Allie was easy to spot, floating on a surfboard with two other people, presumably Megan and Kelley. The two other UCLA players were staying with Christen for two weeks before visiting Crystal in New York. 

“Tyler, he’s a jerk,” Christen’s voice carried all the way back to Tobin, practically blowing in the sea breeze. 

Tobin was too far away to yell toward the three Press sisters. She also didn’t really want to interrupt them, somewhat nervous to meet Channing and Tyler, since their opinions mattered so much to Christen. 

Tyler was quieter than Christen, her shoulders shaking softly, and Tobin stopped in her tracks, not wanting to step into their emotional moment. She remained a few yards away, within earshot, but not in the eye line of any of the Press sisters.

“You’re so much better off!” Christen announced, her arm wrapping around her older sister’s back. “A long-distance relationship isn’t worth it anyway,” Christen said gruffly. 

Tobin’s heart sank in her chest, her legs practically giving out beneath her. She needed to sit down, to stop her head from spinning and her stomach from knotting. 

“She doesn’t like long-distance. She doesn’t think it’s worth it,” the thought repeated like a mantra through Tobin’s mind. “She doesn’t like long-distance. She doesn’t think it’s worth it. She doesn’t think that I’m worth it...”

“A distance relationship is hardly a relationship at all!” Christen asserted, her voice holding a hard edge that Tobin had rarely if ever heard from her. “You hardly ever get to go out with your significant other when you’re far away, and that’s no way to be in a relationship. You deserve more!”

“I know, I know,” Tyler sighed, leaning into Christen’s side. 

Tobin’s vision blurred, tears stinging the corners of her eyes. It felt like with every word, Christen was mounting a defense against a potential relationship with Tobin. Sure, they were just friends. But for the past few months, they’d Facetimed and texted every day. They’d started to move into the gray area between friends and...something more. They’d never actually talked about it, the flirty messages and smirks and winks. The fact that their family and friends teased them about each other. It went unspoken between them, but Tobin had been hoping that this summer would be the perfect time to talk about it, that this surprise trip would be the perfect moment to tell Christen how she felt. She only now realized how wrong she had been.

“She deserves someone who will be there all the time. Who can take her out on dates and make her feel as special as she deserves,” Tobin thought, shaking her head and willing the tears away. “She deserves something you can’t give her right now.”

“You couldn’t pay me enough money to put myself through dating long distance,” Christen added, her back straightening.

Those words were the final nail in the coffin. Any and all hope in Tobin’s heart was now extinguished. “I’m not enough,” Tobin thought to herself, all logic leaving her brain. “This whole time I’ve been feeling all of these things for Christen, and she hasn’t felt any of it.” Tobin knew her brain was spiraling. She knew her thoughts were irrational, but she couldn’t stop herself. Her mind was simultaneously flooded with negative self-talk and inundated with images of all the hopes she’d had with Christen. She’d hoped to be with Christen, to be Christen’s person. She’d dreamed of celebrating holidays together, of knowing how to cheer Christen up on sad days. She’d imagined what it would be like to hold Christen and kiss her, to show up to parties with Christen’s hand in hers. She’d gotten ahead of herself. And now, her mind was screaming, “You aren’t enough for her,” over and over again. “She doesn’t think you’re worth it. You’re just friends. You can’t be more than that.”  

Tobin took deep breaths to ground herself. She needed to pull herself together, in order to survive the rest of this day at the beach. For a moment, she thought about Ubering back to her dad’s apartment, but her feet were still stuck in place in the sand. 

“HAAAAARRRRRYYYYYY!!!!!!” Allie yelled, dragging her surfboard behind her on the beach. 

All three Press sisters turned around, Channing’s mouth immediately dropping open, Tyler still sniffling softly, and Christen’s cheeks already red. 

Tobin lifted her arm in an awkward wave, her mouth pulling up in a lopsided half-smile. She jogged toward Allie, letting her friend pull her into a tight hug despite the wet bikini that drenched Tobin’s clothes. 

“I missed you, Harry,” Tobin whispered into Allie’s ear, channeling her emotions into Allie instead of Christen. She needed to choke down whatever disappointment she felt from Christen’s words before actually facing Christen and her sisters. 

“I missed you too, dude,” Allie grinned, ruffling Tobin’s hair with her wet hands. 

Tobin jerked back from Allie, her white t-shirt already wet enough for her bikini top to be seen through it. 

“Hey, Tobs,” came a soft voice from behind her. Tobin’s eyes slammed shut, a ragged breath leaving her lips. It was Christen. Christen was behind her, and Tobin wasn’t sure if she was ready to face her. She could still feel the hurt and disappointment weighing heavily on her chest, and she was sure those emotions were palpable on her face. But if Allie caught her reaction, she had the good sense not to say anything. She simply squeezed Tobin’s shoulder and gave her a “we’re talking about this later” look.

Tobin nodded at Allie then set her shoulders, fixing an attempt at a smile on her face. She turned around right as Christen launched herself at Tobin, wrapping her arms around Tobin’s neck and pulling her into a hug. 

“She smells better than I remember,” Tobin thought, sinking into the sweet mix of lavender and sunscreen and something completely unique to Christen that Tobin couldn’t name. As much as she knew it was going to hurt later on, Tobin turned her face into Christen’s neck, taking in this moment before it was gone.  

“Hey,” Tobin sighed, wishing that the hug didn’t feel as amazing as it did, that Christen didn’t feel so soft and warm and good in her arms. “You’re her friend,” Tobin reminded herself. She stepped away from Christen, making sure there were several feet between the two of them. She needed to keep space, to keep the distance between them and keep herself from falling any harder. 

The blush on Christen's cheeks was noticeable, even from a few feet away.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to ambush you,” Christen said, shooting a bashful half-smile at Tobin. 

Tobin grimaced in response, waving a hand in the air. 

“All good,” she replied, eyes looking anywhere but at Christen. 

Tobin smiled at Tyler and Channing, not knowing whether a hug was in order or not. The five of them stood there, awkwardly, the tension between Tobin and Christen palpable to both Press sisters and Allie. Tobin had no idea what to say, struggling to find the right words and clear her throat of the lump that had shown up when she’d heard Christen’s denouncement of distance. 

“Tobin, it’s so good to actually meet you,” Tyler said, her voice soft and tired. 

“Ditto,” Channing chimed in.

“Yeah, you guys too,” Tobin said in response, mustering up as close to a real smile as she could for Christen’s sisters.

Before the silence could turn awkward again, Christen decided to speak up.

“You didn’t tell me you’d be coming here,” Christen observed, trying to catch  Tobin’s eye.

“Surprise,” Tobin said weakly, lifting her hands up in mock surprise. 

“Harry and her dad are looking at real estate this week for the new family house, and since it’s her birthday and her dad has to work, she’s partying at Casa Long this weekend,” Allie said, laying her arm over Tobin’s shoulders. 

“It’s your birthday?” Christen asked, her brows furrowing. 

Tobin didn’t miss the look of hurt that crossed Christen’s face. 

“I don’t really celebrate it…” Tobin trailed off, wanting to take the disappointment off of Christen’s face. It didn’t really work, though, as Christen continued to look at her with confusion and hurt.

“Until now!” Allie said. “We’re gonna go on a birthday surf! STRIP STRIP STRIP!”

Whatever comfort Allie had been trying to give Tobin was clearly taking a backseat to her desire to catch waves. 

Tobin dropped her flip-flops onto the ground under the umbrella and pulled her wallet out of her pocket. She’d forgotten a towel but figured she could borrow Allie’s or just dry off in the sun. She reached down to grab ahold of the hem of her t-shirt, ready to strip off her clothes and get into the water and away from the beach as quickly as possible. 

“Hey there,” Christen grinned, bumping her shoulder into Tobin’s.

“Hi,” Tobin mumbled, letting go of her shirt and looking at Christen, that pang of hurt hitting her heart again. She moved her eyes away from Christen’s trying to avoid looking into the green eyes that had drawn her to Christen in the first place. “She’s just a friend. That’s what we need to be.”

“Why didn’t you tell me it was your birthday?” Christen asked, stepping just a bit closer to Tobin, wanting some semblance of privacy beneath the umbrella while her sisters and Allie stood a few feet away, Allie entertaining them with a story.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Tobin shrugged. “I’ve just never been a big birthday person. It’s not really my thing.”

“Fun fact, I am a HUGE birthday person,” Christen confided, still trying and failing to catch Tobin’s eye. It was like the brunette was purposefully avoiding her gaze and it compounded the confusion settling in Christen’s heart.

“I’ll try to remember that,” Tobin said, forcing a smile onto her face and meeting Christen’s eyes. “December 29th, right?” She didn’t need to ask. She knew. She’d imagined what it would be like to take Christen on a birthday date. She’d pictured the cake she’d attempt to bake for Christen and the dinner she’d probably have to order from a restaurant since she couldn’t cook herself. She’d pictured the gifts she’d get her and the way they’d spend the day. She’d- “It doesn’t matter anymore. She’s your friend. You can get her birthday presents and nothing more.”

“Correct,” Christen half-smiled, her eyes darting between Tobin’s. But what she saw there, the closed-off distant look, looked so foreign in Tobin’s brown eyes that Christen found herself pausing. She went to reach out for Tobin’s arm, to do something to bridge this weird divide she could feel between them, but she couldn’t. Her arms were rooted at her sides. “Are you okay, Tobs? You seem...different.”

“20 looks weird on me?” Tobin tried to joke, watching as it fell flat between them. 

“Weird is definitely not the word I’d use,” Christen replied, her eyes glancing down at Tobin’s practically see-through, wet t-shirt, heat flooding her cheeks. She expected a flirty response, something the Tobin she’d been talking to the past few months would have said. 

“Cool,” Tobin mumbled. “Thanks,” she said, so softly that she wondered if Christen had even heard her. 

Christen’s stomach churned at the evasive response. “What in the actual heck is happening? Why is Tobin acting so weird?” Christen wondered.

“Um...so surfing. That’s all you want to do for your birthday?” Christen asked, hoping a change of topic would help get them back on track. Maybe this was just nerves, jitters from seeing each other in person again after all this time. Growing pains caused by moving from Facetimes and texts to in-person interactions. 

“Yeah. It’s my favorite thing to do. I’m staying at Harry’s this weekend too, so we’ll probably watch some movies and kick the ball around or something. Just Harry and me,” Tobin shrugged, itching to leave this conversation before she shoved her foot deeper in her mouth. She couldn’t stand the look on Christen’s face, the awkwardness between them. 

“Oh. Right, of course,” Christen replied, the sting of rejection following Tobin’s dismissive response. 

There was no mistaking it, the clear avoidance and detachment in Tobin’s words. This went beyond growing pains and jitters. This was something else entirely and Christen was at a loss.

Tobin reached down, unbuttoning her shorts and slipping them down her legs. She kicked them off and dropped them on top of her shoes. She was finished waiting on Allie, and she had to get away from Christen before her heart exploded and begged for Christen to give long-distance a shot. She’d come to the beach today completely prepared to lay all of her feelings bare in front of Christen, but now she felt completely suffocated. She didn’t want to be rejected, not on her birthday. Worst of all, she didn’t want to be pitied when Christen did reject her, which, knowing Christen’s kind heart, she would be. 

As Tobin’s hands reached for the hem of her wet t-shirt, Christen whirled around, wanting to give Tobin some privacy. She cleared her throat and wrung her hands together.

“So, maybe this is a total shot in the dark, but can I join you? Surfing or movie watching or something? Maybe convince you to love birthdays as much as I do?” Christen asked, cringing at the way her voice broke slightly with the final question.

“Sure, Christen. Whatever you want to do. I won’t stop you,” Tobin mumbled. Without waiting even a second, Tobin stalked down the beach, snatching Allie’s extra surfboard on her way to the water. 

She didn’t want to wait around to see Christen’s face. She didn’t want to be lectured by Allie. All she wanted to do was feel bad for just a minute, to feel sorry for herself. She didn’t want to hang out with Christen, to flirt with Christen, to feel things for Christen, all the while knowing Christen would never want more than friendship. 

Logically, Tobin knew that she was being incredibly selfish. She had been raised better than that. She’d been taught to be kind and accepting, to love others even if they couldn’t love her back in the same way. Still, for just a minute, for just a few moments, Tobin wanted to be selfish, to be hurt, to protect herself from any more pain. 

Christen watched Tobin walk away from her, beyond confused and more than a little hurt. This was not the Tobin she’d grown to know these past few months, that she’d fallen for. This Tobin was cold and far away, slightly resembling the Tobin she’d faced off against in the NCAA semifinals all those months ago. But they’d grown so much since then, separately and together. Tobin had shown the depths of her heart, of her kindness, of her compassion. She’d been goofy and funny and sweet. She’d been everything Christen had dreamed she’d be and more. 

But now, unlike that night in Orlando five months ago, watching Tobin walk away from her didn’t feel hopeful. As Tobin trudged towards the water, Christen had a sinking feeling in her stomach that was the complete opposite of hope.


“YO, PINOE!” Kelley called, wobbling on her surfboard despite the small wave. 

Megan heard Kelley calling for her, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the shore. She’d just witnessed the most cringeworthy, the most awkward, the most horrific encounter ever and it had been between Christen Press and Tobin Heath.

“Pinooooooeee,” Kelley whined, paddling up next to Megan. 

“The fuck you want? I’m busy!” Megan grumbled, eyes watching as Christen sank to the blanket spread out across the sand beneath the umbrella, and as Tobin made her way out to the waves.

“I just surfed fully standing up. I thought you’d be proud,” Kelley said, a small pout on her face. “What are we looking at?” She asked, now next to Megan and aware that her attention was elsewhere. 

Megan looked over at Kelley and sighed, realizing she should just tell her what she’d seen, knowing there was no point in boxing Kelley out.

“Okay, K.O., here’s the deal. Something of epically terrible proportions just went down on that beach between Pressy and her lady lover. I have no fucking clue what happened because they’re so into each other it’s disgusting. But I’m gonna go figure it out.”

“Oh, Tobito…” Kelley sighed. “You know, my parent’s therapist is always talking about communication, and from what I’ve seen, Pressy and Toby are sorely lacking in that area.”

“That was...surprisingly thoughtful, K.O.,” Megan replied, nodding in Kelley’s direction. 

“I’m gonna rip into Tobito,” Kelley said, determination on her face.

“From thoughtful to impulsive in two seconds,” Megan grumbled to herself. She reached out and pushed Kelley’s board so that they were facing one another. “The only ripping you’ll be doing is out in the water on these waves. Got it? And do not, I repeat, DO NOT talk to Tobin before I get the 4-1-1 from Pressy. Capiche?”

“Capoche!” Kelley cheered, already facing away from Megan and looking for her next wave. 

“Such an idiot. Lovable idiot, but an idiot nonetheless,” Megan said to herself as she paddled away, headed right for the shore. She passed by Tobin, who barely acknowledged her, seeming to be in a world of her own. Megan hurried out of the water and up towards Christen.

“Pressy! I’m feeling a walk along the beach, join me?” Megan asked, her tone leaving no room for disagreement.

Megan held out her hand and latched onto Christen’s, dragging her away from her sisters and down the beach. 

“Pinoe, I was comfortable. Why don’t you take Channing? She loves you,” Christen asked, her tone betraying the depths of her sadness.

“I love Chan Chan, but I need some Christen time, and you’re the Press I’m worried about right now,” Megan said, holding tighter onto Christen’s hand, worried that Christen might try to pull away.

Christen scoffed. “Worried? Why are you worried about me? I’m...I’m fine. I’m great.”

“Liar liar. If you were wearing pants they’d be on fire,” Megan teased. “So what did Tobin do this time?”

Christen paled and wrestled her hand away from Megan’s. She crossed her arms over her chest defensively.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Okay, what did you do this time?” Megan pressed, knowing that one of them had to have done something to create such a weird tension, a tension that Megan could feel all the way out in the water. 

Christen pushed Megan’s shoulder, not appreciating the accusation. “What makes you think I did something?”

“You have your sad, ‘I did something but I don’t know what’ Pressy face on,” Megan said, bending down to pick up a shell. 

With a heavy sigh, Christen kicked at the sand underfoot. “I don’t know. I...I must have done something, though,” she replied with a shrug.

Megan grabbed one more shell before the two continued walking down the beach. “I thought you’d be happy about Tobin surprising you and joining us at the beach. Allie and I had so much trouble keeping Kelley in the dark,” Megan chuckled.

“I was. I am! I-” Christen paused, looking sharply over at Megan. “You and Allie planned this?”

At the sheepish look Megan gave Christen, Christen groaned and ran a hand through her hair.

“You two need to let us work things out on our own. Not that we need to anymore...Tobin seems to have worked things out for the both of us,” Christen added a little bitterly.

“Oh did she profess her love finally?” Megan asked, regretting the question immediately when Christen stiffened next to her. 

Christen’s eyes burned, tears threatening to fall at Megan’s question. She laughed sardonically, wiping at the few tears that escaped her eyes.

“Not at all.”

“Shit! Pressy, I’m sorry,” Megan backtracked, reaching her arm out to link through Christen’s.

“No, you’re fine. It’s not you,” Christen replied, leaning into Megan’s touch and smiling at her friend.

“What do you mean Tobin’s worked things out?”

Christen shook her head and looked out at the stretch of beach in front of them. It was just miles of sand and coastline, as far as the eye could see. Christen let the serenity of the view comfort her as the memories of her and Tobin’s earlier conversation ran through her mind. 

“She seemed...different today. No flirting, no smiles, nothing. It felt like she just wanted to be friends. It felt like we’d gone right back to the semifinal game and everything we’ve gone through these past few months, getting to know each other and all that, didn’t even matter,” Christen admitted, her heart sinking as she realized that was exactly how Tobin had acted. Tobin was pulling away and Christen was clueless as to why.

“Are you sure she wasn’t just nervous? I mean that girl literally always has heart eyes for you on Facetime calls, and being in person might have scared her a little,” Megan said, giving Tobin the benefit of the doubt. 

“They were M.I.A. today. She could barely even look at me,” Christen replied, another tear escaping her eye. She wiped at it quickly. 

“Did you say something to upset her?” Megan asked, her eyebrows furrowing in concentration.

“I told her that I like birthdays and that I wanted to spend time with her this weekend. That’s it,” Christen replied, racking her brain for any clue as to what she could have done wrong, as to what she could have said to make Tobin treat her like this.

“Maybe she really hates birthdays and is in a funk…?” Megan wondered aloud. “I don’t know, but I can give her a talking to if you’d like.”

“Pinoe, don’t. Please?” Christen asked, looking over at Megan, her eyes pleading.

“All I’m saying is that Tobin Heath literally messages you all the time, looks like a love-struck puppy on Facetime with you, and ignores everyone else when you’re around. I don’t think one bad day should change how you feel about whatever you two have,” Megan said, putting all her logic behind her words and hoping her best friend would hear them. 

Christen was quiet for a few moments, and then said, “She called me Christen.”

“Well, that is your name,” Megan laughed. 

“Not to her, it isn’t. She always calls me Chris. Always. Something happened and I feel like she’s pulling away from me. What if she just wants to be friends? What if she showed up today to tell me that?” Christen rambled, her worries fueling her words. 

All Megan could do was pull Christen in for a side hug and continue walking down the beach, both of them unsure of the answers to those questions.


“I showed up today planning on telling her about all of my feelings, planning to tell her that I like her as more than a friend, and then I overheard her and her sisters!” Tobin sighed, throwing herself back onto the surfboard and looking up at the sky. 

“And they were talking mad shit about you, Harry?” Allie queried with a smirk, her arms atop her surfboard as she treaded water and looked at Tobin.

“Of course not. Chris would never talk bad about anyone,” Tobin sighed, the familiar nickname for Christen slipping through her lips without permission. 

“So her sisters talked mad shit? Shocking if I do say so myself.”

“Shut up, Harry. Chris said that she could never do a long-distance relationship, that you couldn’t pay her enough money to be in one,” Tobin huffed, hating that a tear slid out of her eye and down her cheek. 

That had Allie pushing her sunglasses up on her head and widening her eyes in Tobin’s direction. 

“She said that to you? She said she doesn’t want to date you?” Allie asked, her tone full shock.

“Not in so many words,” Tobin mumbled.

“Nuh-uh, Harry. Don’t go reading into things that aren’t there,” Allie admonished, arching a brow in Tobin’s direction before sliding her glasses over her eyes.

“Fine, I overheard her saying it to her sisters, but she literally said that she thinks long-distance relationships aren’t even relationships at all, that they hardly count.”

“Huh, well that is a stumper…” Allie said, poking her tongue out of the corner of her mouth in thought. “C.P. clearly likes you, a lot. So maybe she just meant that long-distance with anybody else BUT you isn’t worth it?”

“She didn’t specify,” Tobin muttered. Her shoulders slumped as she looked at the clear sky overhead, wishing there were a few dark clouds in it to reflect her mood. “What if I’ve been reading her wrong this whole time?”

“Okay, enough with this mopey crap,” Allie said, splashing water up at Tobin. “How do you know if you didn’t talk to her about it? I heard you two lovebirds under the umbrella. C.P. sounded interested and you sounded like a dick.” 

“Jeez, Harry. Way to be on my side,” Tobin spluttered, wiping at the water on her chest. 

“Sweetie, I am on your side. Always,” Allie promised. “But sometimes you’re not even on your own damn side. You self-sabotage. I’m here to be your super sexy Jiminy Cricket, not tell you what you want to hear. And Harry? You were rude.” 

Tobin sighed, knowing Allie was a little right but also knowing that she had reacted like that only to protect herself. She reached her hand out across the water and linked her fingers with Allie’s. “I know I was harsh on the beach,” Tobin admitted. “I was just hurt and caught off-guard. I didn’t want to cry in front of her either. I don’t want to make her feel bad if this isn’t something she wants to do.” 

Allie squeezed Tobin’s fingers with her own. “And you have every right to feel that way. But have you considered that maybe you’ve got to show her that long-distance between the two of you can work? That she’s just scared? Fight for her, bish! The Harry I know doesn’t go down without swinging.”

Tobin moved her head to the side to look at Allie. Her brown eyes were heavy and lacking their usual light, something that had Allie softening. 

“And what if she doesn’t want to do distance, even if I try to show her that I’m worth it?”

Allie sighed and hopped up onto her board. She sat facing Tobin and fixed Tobin with a hard, but caring, look. 

“Lemme ask you a question.”

“Oh God,” Tobin sighed, looking back up to the sky and bracing herself for whatever Allie had to say.

“Is she worth it? The wait, the fight. Everything,” Allie said softly.

Tobin was a little surprised at the question, having expected something either inappropriate or R-rated. 

“Of course,” Tobin replied, not waiting even a second to respond. She didn’t even need to think about it. Christen Press was worth everything.

Allie nudged Tobin’s leg with her foot and grinned. “Then why are you sulking? If she’s worth the wait, then wait. Be there for her until she’s ready. So why don’t you get your ass over to that beach and spend time with her?”

Tobin nodded, mulling Allie’s words over. “Can I do that? Can I wait?” It wasn’t so much a question of if Christen was worth it, but more so if that was something Tobin could do. But Tobin already knew the answer. She’d wait forever for Christen Press. 

“I can be her friend. I can be by her side and be there for her. I can wait,” Tobin thought to herself, those promises reigniting the stubborn flame of hope in her heart. With a smile for Allie, Tobin started paddling immediately toward the shore, her brain finally free of all the negative self-talk. 

“Thanks, Harry!” Tobin called back, not even turning around to look at her best friend. Her eyes were trained on the beach, on Christen as she made her way back to the umbrella, arm-in-arm with Megan. 

At the end of the day, she wanted Christen in her life, in any capacity. She waited for the perfect wave to come before paddling harder and standing up on her board, making her trip to the beach a little bit quicker. 

Allie shook her head, watching Tobin ride away to go get her girl. “Freshmen,” she grumbled good-naturedly. She was about to follow Tobin when a voice from her left scared the living shit out of her. 

“Soooooo,” Kelley said, a large smile on her face. 

Allie held a hand to her chest and breathed deeply, trying to calm her erratic heart. 

“Literally, fuck you,” Allie said, flipping Kelley the bird which earned her a belly laugh from her teammate. 

“Tobito’s going to wait for Pressy?” Kelley asked, her head jerking in the direction of the beach. 

Allie looked to the beach with a smile. “As long as it takes,” she replied.

Chapter Text

It's always for you

And never for me

And I need it to stop

So let me tell you, please

I'm always sad

And I'm always lonely

But I can't tell you

That I'm breaking slowly

Closed doors

Locked in, no keys

Keeping my feelings hidden

There is no ease

(Tobin - “feelings are fatal” by mxmtoon)

 

I tell myself that you can be replaced

I try with someone else but it's you that I taste

We go in circles on this rusty old ride

Maybe it's our time to say goodbye

Maybe it's our time

(Christen - “Mary Go Round” by The Struts)

 

SEPTEMBER - SOPHOMORE YEAR

Christen jerked herself out of bed, practically peeling her eyes open. Her alarm had been blaring for nearly thirty seconds, and she knew Megan, Crystal, and Kelley would start to wake up if she let it go off any longer. 

The four of them had moved off campus into a townhouse for their sophomore year, and while Christen enjoyed the extra space, she did miss the proximity to campus. That being said, living off-campus had helped her learn to wake up and get out the door quicker than usual. Typically, she woke up around 6:00AM for classes, but this Sunday, she was up much earlier.

It was 4:45AM when she finally climbed out of bed, shuffled down the stairs, and into the kitchen. She fixed a pot of coffee, pouring herself a huge cup and stirring in her favorite oat milk creamer. She fixed her hair in a bun and climbed back up the stairs, hoping that her eyes were somewhat more alert by the time she got to her computer. 

 

INCOMING FACETIME CALL: Tobin Heath

 

Christen grinned to herself and answered the call.

“Right on schedule, Heath,” Christen whispered, smiling at Tobin’s equally sleepy face, despite it being 7:55AM in Pennsylvania. Tobin was dressed in a baggy pajama shirt, her hair in her typical messy bun and her glasses sitting on her nose. 

“I try not to disappoint,” Tobin chuckled. “Plus, I’m energized this morning.”

Christen hated that her heart sped up in her chest. “Was that flirty?” she wondered to herself. She’d been wondering that about almost everything Tobin had said to her since Tobin’s birthday in May. 

They’d had a rocky start to their day at the beach, but after a quick surf with Allie, Tobin had come back to the beach to apologize for being weird. She’d blamed it on feeling jet-lagged and not loving attention on her birthday, and even though Christen had wondered about it being more than that, she hadn’t said anything initially. She hadn’t wanted to push it. But she would never forget what Tobin had said next…

 

“Chris?” Tobin whispered, her eyes fixed on the patterns she was tracing in the wet sand with her fingers. The two of them sat down the beach from the rest of their friends, enough for some semblance of privacy, but with a sizable distance between the two of them.

Christen let out a shuddery breath at the casual use of the nickname, not having realized that she’d missed Tobin using it. She also hadn’t realized how much it had hurt to not hear it from Tobin until right now. 

She chanced a look over at Tobin before replying. The brunette appeared to be back to her old self. Ever since Tobin had returned to the beach, quietly asking Christen to join her near the water to talk, the distance between them had disappeared. She didn’t feel so far away anymore. But even the sight of the warmth back in her brown eyes and the goofy grin back on her face hadn’t completely dispelled Christen’s confusion about what had gone down earlier. 

Sure, Tobin had apologized and explained it all away. She blamed her sour mood on jet lag and her dislike of birthdays. Yet, just like that night in Orlando, Christen knew she wasn’t getting the full story. Tobin was telling her half-truths and hiding the rest.

Christen sighed, her eyes moving out to the waves. It didn’t feel like that apology was enough to send them back in time to the gray area they’d once been in. It didn’t feel like they were once more hovering between friends and something more. It felt like the pattern Tobin was drawing in the wet ground was a literal line in the sand between them, communicating an unspoken message to Christen.  

Christen dug her feet into the sand, feeling a flicker of stubbornness ignite within her. She wanted to push Tobin. She didn’t want to give in. She wanted to know why Tobin had this weird habit of treating her so coldly, like suddenly they were miles apart, like everything that happened between them didn’t mean anything. 

But she didn’t do or say any of those things.  

“What is it?” she replied, stiffening a bit as she felt Tobin scoot a bit closer to her.

“I - uh - I decided what else I wanted for my birthday,” Tobin said.

Christen nodded, waiting for Tobin to continue, unable to find the words to reply. 

“I want to rewind and re-start today. I want to spend the rest of my birthday with my coolest friend -” Tobin paused, poking Christen’s calf with her finger, “-and forget about my jerk behavior from earlier. What do you say?”

Friend. The word echoed around Christen’s mind and heart. Tobin wanted to be friends. That was what she wanted for her birthday, just a friendship between them. If she hadn’t before, Christen was now getting Tobin’s message loud and clear. She was seeing the line in the sand and hearing her spoken request. And even if it hurt, even if it was disappointing, Christen couldn’t fight it. If Tobin wanted to be just friends, she could do that. She would do whatever it took to have Tobin in her life.

Christen pushed down her hurt, her disappointment, and fixed a smile on her face. She looked over at Tobin, thankful her watery green eyes were hidden behind her sunglasses. 

“Of course, Tobs. It’s already forgotten.”

 

Christen didn’t mind waiting for Tobin, as long as she got to have Tobin in her life, something that she’d never regret. Tobin was becoming one of her closest friends. She could talk to Tobin about literally anything, aside from her romantic feelings. Those feelings were reserved for Megan and Crystal, occasionally Kelley and rarely Allie. 

“Why are you energized this early in the morning?” Christen asked, her head cocking slightly. 

“Arsenal is about to kick Chelsea’s ass, and I get to watch you get all upset when it happens,” Tobin yawned, reaching her arms over her head and leaning back into her pillows. 

“Yeah right, Tobs. You’re gonna be the really disappointed one for the rest of the day,” Christen teased back, just wanting to see Tobin’s smile. 

Tobin did smile, that sleepy smile that Christen absolutely loved. It made Christen’s heart speed up and breath catch in her lungs. It made her skin prickle and heat up. She knew that she should hold back all of her feelings, she had quite a few months of practice doing just that under her belt now, but sometimes she just couldn’t help herself. 

“How about this,” Tobin stated, “If Chelsea beats Arsenal today, I’ll buy you coffee when we’re home for Christmas break.”

“Is that a date?” Christen thought to herself, wishing she hadn’t immediately. She couldn’t think about Tobin like that, not if she wanted to save herself from feeling perpetually hurt by the current status of their relationship. 

“Hmmm...How about two coffees and some banana bread?” Christen wagered. 

Tobin simply rolled her eyes. “Dream on, Chris.”

The two of them grew quiet as the game started. But, like every other game they watched together, Tobin had trouble focusing. She was always too distracted by Christen’s face, Christen’s laugh, Christen screaming “GOOOAAAAAL!” in the cutest way possible. 

After their day at the beach, Tobin had promised herself to hide her feelings for Christen, at least enough that Christen could develop her own feelings for Tobin without Tobin’s interference. That being said, Tobin wasn’t always the best at hiding her feelings, her words sometimes slipping out and sounding flirtier than intended. Plus, she still hadn’t managed to get her “heart eyes,” as ARod called them, under control.

“Damn it!” Christen said, hiding her face in her sweatshirt. 

“That’s 2 goals for me and nothing for you!” Tobin giggled, loving the way Christen looked in her ratty sweatshirt and glasses. 

“Oh, are you an Arsenal player now?” Christen quipped. 

“I’ve been an Arsenal fan since birth, so I think I’m an honorary player by now.”

“Chelsea still has time to catch up. Don’t underestimate them,” Christen warned. 

“You’re cute,” Tobin thought to herself, almost speaking the words aloud. 

“I’ll look out for a surge of greatness,” Tobin laughed. 

Tobin didn’t care who won. Not really. Of course, she loved Arsenal, but if Chelsea won, then Christen would be oozing happiness, and Tobin loved seeing that more. She just wanted Christen to be happy, and she was prepared to do anything to make sure Christen would be. If that meant being captain of the friendzone, Tobin could do that, with a smile on her face to boot. 

As the final whistle blew, Christen hung her head and dramatically groaned. “I really wanted that banana bread,” Christen complained.

“I guess I can make an exception,” Tobin replied, her eyes looking down at her hands. 

A blush crept into Christen’s cheeks at the sly answer. 

“In that case, I would also like to place an order for some blueberry scones too. Fun fact, I love a good scone,” Christen teased. 

“Slow your roll there, Chris,” Tobin laughed, her eyes crinkling, finally meeting Christen’s. “What do I get for winning?”

Christen gulped. Despite their unspoken agreement to be friends, they had never really left the gray area they’d always occupied, the area between friends and friendlier. As much as Christen loved flirting with Tobin, she couldn’t deny that it was getting more and more painful to live in that gray area. It physically hurt to be Tobin’s friend while also harboring an unrequited crush for her. It was too early in the morning for Christen to be held accountable for her words. She needed to back them up to safer shores before she said something to Tobin that she’d regret. She couldn’t lose herself to her feelings.

“Whatever you want, Tobs,” Christen replied, her smile not really meeting her eyes.

“You,” Tobin thought to herself, shaking her head softly. She picked up her phone, exited the video, and started to type, aware of Christen’s soft huff on the other end of the line. 

“I think I want a burger and fries. Think you can manage that when we see each other next?” Tobin teased. 

Christen shrugged, slightly confused as to why Tobin had paused her video. “Um, sure. There are lots of great places we could go.”

Tobin clicked back to the video, a grin on her face. “My parents are loving L.A. so far, and Jeff says the weather is amazing. I hardly got to settle down at the house before I was flying here, so I’m gonna need a real Californian to show me the best places. I’m really picky about my burgers,” Tobin said, winking softly. 

Christen’s brow furrowed even more. “Was that a wink? A wink?” Christen thought to herself, completely surprised. This was so far past the line in the sand they’d drawn over the summer. For someone who wanted to be friends, Tobin was still as flirty and sweet as she had always been. Christen couldn’t decide if Tobin was just a touchy-feely person or if there had been a misunderstanding at the beach. Despite her confusion, Christen felt herself smiling just a bit. 

“I’m assuming you’d need a competent tour guide. Someone really familiar with the area, who knows all the best burger joints in town,” Christen said, joining Tobin in the gray area this morning. She’d blame it on sleep deprivation later.

Tobin hadn’t meant to wink. It had been an impulse, an impulse that she should have controlled. She knew she was probably giving Christen five thousand different mixed signals, and she hated that. She’d promised herself to just be Christen’s friend, but she also couldn’t always help the flirting. It came naturally around Christen. She loved seeing Christen blush at her compliments and grin at her stupid flirting. It was magnetic and addicting. 

“Would you mind?” she asked, somewhat shyly. “I mean, I guess I could ask Allie, but she’s got really bad taste…”

Christen laughed. “That she does. I’ll check my schedule and see if I can pencil you in, Tobs.”

“I need you to check something else,” Tobin said, her grin growing even more. 

“What’s that?”

“Your front door…” Tobin said.

“My front door?” Christen parroted, her stomach doing somersaults at the smile Tobin was giving her. 

“Yep, go check the door. I just got an alert, and something is there.”

Christen huffed and threw her sheets off her lap. She decided to take Tobin with her as she left her room, went down the stairs, and approached the front door. 

“What did you do, Tobin Heath?” she asked, her hand on the doorknob.

“I just wanted you to have a good morning since your team lost and all,” Tobin chuckled. “Plus, you’ve got to be alert for your home opener against Utah tonight.”

Christen narrowed her eyes at Tobin and then opened the door. She looked down at the doormat and felt herself melt at what she saw there: two Starbucks coffees and a bag that she was sure held a piece of banana bread. She was also sure that those coffees would be oat milk lattes, made just the way she liked them. Tobin Heath was making it really hard to just be friends. 

“Tobs, what?” Christen asked, shaking her head as she bent over to collect the items off the front porch. 

“Consider it my good luck message to you,” Tobin said, loving the way that Christen’s face had changed immediately when she saw the coffees. Tobin had been worried that she might be overstepping by ordering Christen breakfast, but Christen not wanting a long-distance relationship didn’t have to mean that she never wanted to be with Tobin. Tobin had decided to wait, but if she could make Christen smile and feel special in the interim, that’s what she wanted to do. If they could stay in the gray area, friendlier than regular friends, then maybe Christen would someday be ready to be more.

Christen felt like her heart was going to burst from her chest. This was one of the sweetest things anyone had ever done for her. But the fact that Tobin had done it? Well, it just made the gesture a thousand times sweeter. She knew she should quell the thoughts and feelings swirling around inside of her. In order to preserve their friendship and put aside her feelings for Tobin, she should do just that. But for a moment, she let herself revel in the gesture and everything it was doing to her heart.

“This is the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done for me,” Christen admitted, smiling at Tobin.

“You know I’d be at the game if I could be, so I thought I’d at least try to do something nice,” Tobin said, feeling herself start to blush. She loved the way Christen looked at her, the way Christen spoke with such surprise at being cared for. She loved it too much, and she knew she’d acted more than just friendly. 

“It’s what friends are for, right?” she added, hoping that Christen would do all the hard work and tell her that they were more friendly than friends would normally be, hoping that Christen would pull them out of this gray space that they found themselves in. She longed for clarity and for Christen to be the one to give it to her.

Christen’s face dropped just a bit, but she masked it quickly with another smile. “Right, the best of friends,” Christen replied.

Her heart ached in her chest. A familiar lump rose in her throat, and she forced herself to swallow it down. “I can’t do this,” Christen thought, staring at Tobin’s sweet face and goofy smile. There was no way that Christen could talk to Tobin and pretend that everything was okay, that she felt okay just being friends. Tobin couldn’t call her a friend and then turn around and buy her breakfast and flirt with her and text her all day. It was too much. It was too painful. 

“When do you have to get ready for your game?” Tobin asked, quickly changing the subject, wanting to mask any disappointment she had at Christen’s response. 

“It’s at 1, so I gotta get going actually,” Christen said, her voice tinged with sadness. “Are you gonna watch?” she asked, her tone a bit more reserved than normal.

“Of course I’m going to watch, Chris,” Tobin practically whispered. She needed Christen to know how much she cared, even if Christen wasn’t ready for a long-distance relationship just yet. “I’d never miss it. Getting to see you in action after all the training you did this summer? Sign me up!”

“Thanks, Tobs,” Christen smiled halfheartedly. If nothing else, they would always be able to go back to this, to soccer. It was their North Star, their common ground. Whenever Christen got bogged down with the what if’s, with the confusing feelings, with the uncertainty, she could always go back to the thing that had brought her and Tobin together in the first place. 

“Always,” Tobin said, hoping the intensity in her eyes wouldn’t scare Christen away. She couldn’t help how serious she felt about Christen and the more she tried, the more she realized that she couldn’t hide her feelings completely. She couldn’t bury them out of sight totally. 

“I’ll text you after,” Christen replied. 

“Maybe you can call and we’ll rehash the game?” Tobin asked, hoping her request wasn’t too much. She just wanted to know that she’d hear Christen’s voice again that day.

Christen melted and nodded. She didn’t have the heart to say no. She didn’t have enough strength to tell Tobin that talking to her at the frequency that a girlfriend would was killing her slowly. Tobin was only looking to talk about soccer anyway, just like any friend would do. There was nothing more there and imagining there was would only serve to hurt her down the road.

“Of course,” Christen said, nodding a bit. 

“Okay, well enjoy the coffee and have a great game,” Tobin grinned. “I’ll talk to you after.”

“Thanks again, Tobs. Talk to you later.”

With a small wave, Tobin hung up, set an alarm for 3:30EST, and went back to bed.


Christen always tried really hard not to look at the stands. She didn’t need the added pressure of knowing how many people were in the crowd, or just how many spectators would see if she made a mistake on the field. But for some reason tonight, as they lined up for the kick-off following Christen’s second goal of the night, their fifth total against Utah, Christen looked into the stands. 

Her eyes ran over the collection of families and teammates’ parents, landing on the student section. It was a packed night, with it being their Pac-12 home opener, but one person caught her attention right away. 

Christen’s brow furrowed as she tried to think about why the girl in the front row looked so familiar. She had striking red hair and was holding a handmade sign…

“Wait, that’s Starbucks girl,” Christen thought to herself. It was the girl who had come in during her morning shift, freshman year. The one who had shown up in two of her classes this semester. “Kayla? No...Kate, maybe?” Christen thought, trying to recall the girl’s name. She sat a few rows behind Christen in Spanish class and a few seats away in Statistics. They’d never spoken, not since that day in Starbucks a year ago. But the girl, Kate, often nodded or waved at Christen before classes. They’d shared occasional smiles too, usually when Kate was rushing out of class, always seeming like she had somewhere important to be.

Kate locked eyes with Christen and smiled. She waved then cheered loudly, shaking the handmade poster in her hands, causing Christen to focus on it. The poster read: I know you’re #23 on the soccer field, but what’s your other number?

The message made Christen blush and she hesitantly raised a hand to wave back at Kate. Megan jogged over, lining up next to Christen for the kickoff. Megan realized Christen’s attention was elsewhere and looked to the stands. Megan caught sight of the girl and the poster and rolled her eyes.

“Oooh Tobin’s got some competition, huh?” Megan teased, knocking her shoulder into Christen’s.

“Shut up, Pinoe,” Christen grumbled. She shoved Megan back and turned away from the stands, trying to refocus on the game.

The game ended with a score of 6-0, with Christen logging one more goal in the final minute of the game. It hadn’t been due to any real talent, just the right place and the right time. She hadn’t been able to do much more than go through the motions in those final minutes of the game, her thoughts consumed by Kate, her poster, and of course, Tobin.

“Can I get your autograph?” a voice asked, bringing Christen’s attention back to the autograph line she had in front of her. She and her teammates were seated at a long table, a line of fans and spectators waiting to get posters or balls or hats signed by the UCLA team. 

Christen looked up and saw Kate standing right in front of her. Her eyes danced with a playful glint as she held out her poster to Christen. Christen took the poster, feeling her face flush.

“What would you like me to write?” Christen asked a little breathlessly.

The redhead grinned down at Christen. “If the message on the poster wasn’t clear enough, I’ll take the recipe for that cappuccino you made me last year. It was the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had,” Kate replied. “Or your number, whatever you’re up for.”

Christen paused, her sharpie hovering over the poster. Her brow furrowed as she looked away from Kate. A tiny stab of pain pierced her heart, knowing this girl was flirting with her the same way a certain someone else would. 

For some reason, she felt like she was cheating on Tobin by talking to this girl, by even entertaining the idea of giving away her number. But that was ridiculous. “You can’t cheat on someone you’re just friends with,” Christen reminded herself. That didn’t take the sting away, though. 

That sting, that pain, was a constant reminder that her feelings for Tobin were as strong now as they ever had been. They couldn’t be, though. She couldn’t keep harboring a crush for Tobin, she couldn’t keep holding a flame for the Penn State forward. Her feelings for Tobin Heath were only serving to hurt her and the universe was giving her the opportunity to do something about them. The universe put Kate in front of her, with her cute sign and sweet smile, and challenged Christen to finally do something about her feelings for Tobin. It was time to put herself first, to choose herself. It was time to move on.

Christen was so deep in her own head, deliberating for so long, that a back-up had started to form in the autograph line. 

“Yo, hurry up, Pressy!” Kelley called out from the start of the autograph table. 

“Quit flirting and move it!” Ashlyn added, earning her a slap to the shoulder from Ali.

Christen blushed and snapped out of it. She looked back up at Kate, a sheepish grimace on her face. 

“Sorry about them. How about I…” Christen trailed off. She took a deep breath and reminded herself that it was time to move on. It was time to put Tobin out of her heart and her mind as anything more than a friend. “Um, how about I show you the recipe for the cappuccino? Wait for me outside the locker room?” Christen replied, with a small, shy smile.

Her answer was apparently the one Kate was looking for. She grinned down at Christen and nodded.

“Okay,” Kate hummed, moving down the autograph line. Once she was gone, Christen let out a long breath. She was surprised at herself. She didn’t flirt with other girls, only Tobin. Not recently, but still. For almost a year, she’d been so wrapped up in everything Tobin Heath that she’d never even considered anyone else. Not that she would want to. She wanted Tobin. 

But Tobin had made it perfectly clear they were just friends. There was nothing more than that between them. So maybe Christen should allow herself the opportunity to try and move on. Maybe this girl was a way to do that. Maybe the pit in her stomach would go away if she ignored it in favor of getting coffee with Kate.


Tobin looked at her phone for the third time that night. Nothing. She let out a soft sigh and refocused on her computer, determined to write her Art History paper ahead of the due date and finish it with several days to spare. It was so unlike her, she wondered if Christen was rubbing off on her.

Just like she’d promised, Tobin had watched the game earlier and cheered every time Christen scored. Tobin wasn’t always a big fan of watching other college teams play, but watching Christen play had quickly become one of her favorite things to do. It wasn’t hard to enjoy watching Christen kill it on the soccer field. She was just so naturally gifted, both athletically and with the ball at her feet. Tobin could only find one word to describe it - magic. Christen Press was magic personified.

While watching the game, Tobin had done some mental math and determined that Christen would be calling her around 7:00 or 7:30PM EST, maybe a little later if she decided to go to dinner first. She loathed to admit it, but she’d been glued to her phone the moment the clock struck 7:00. 

It was now 9:47PM EST, and Tobin was slightly concerned. Christen wasn’t one to forget. She never forgot to call or text if she promised. Tobin’s eyes drifted to the clock at the top of her computer again: 9:48PM. 

She sighed before closing her computer, knowing she wouldn’t get any more work done. Instead, she lifted herself out of bed, slipped on a pair of sneakers, grabbed her soccer ball and cleats, and jogged to the practice fields. She juggled, dribbled, and shot, happy to be on her own, practicing in the dark. The field had always been her place. It was where she found peace, where she found clarity. But tonight, peace and clarity were elusive. 

She’d been practicing at night more than usual, trying to work out her feelings, trying to calm her anticipation. She was officially pining over Christen, just waiting for Christen to want to try a long-distance relationship, just waiting for a day when they would no longer be so far apart. Tobin took a few short steps toward the ball, kicking it toward the goal and hitting the post. She jogged after the ball flicking it up into the air and juggling it with her knees. She took a few deep breaths, catching the familiar smell of fresh grass. “Settle down, Tobs. She’s worth waiting for. Just be her friend, and someday maybe she’ll want more than that,” Tobin thought to herself, kicking the ball into the air and catching it in between her shoulder blades. 

When she got back to her dorm room, Alex and Lindsey were already both in their separate rooms. She quietly walked through their suite and into her own room. That had been the best part about sophomore year, getting her own space. She threw herself onto her bed, her legs already tired and ready for bed. Her phone read 10:33PM. 

“I think she’s forgotten,” Tobin thought, hating the way her heart dropped in her chest. “Nothing left to do but go to sleep and get up for morning practice.” So, she did just that. She washed her face, brushed her teeth, and curled up under her covers, hoping for a dreamless night’s sleep. 


“And I seriously thought we were going to die!” Kate laughed, holding her slice of pizza in her hands still. 

Christen laughed, still amazed that she was enjoying her night with Kate, more than she’d expected. At first, she’d worried that it would be awkward or that she’d feel guilty the entire time, but after reminding herself that she and Tobin were not together, she was able to set Tobin in the back of her mind and focus almost all of her attention on Kate. 

“That sounds like an amazing trip,” Christen mused, sipping on her water. 

“It was amazing. It really made me love Nicaragua, but it’s nothing compared to Costa Rica,” Kate continued, already moving onto another topic. 

Kate was easy to talk to, mainly because Christen didn’t have to talk much. Kate did a lot of the talking, enjoying Christen’s reactions, especially enjoying whenever she could make Christen laugh. 

The two of them had left the soccer field and walked around campus for over an hour, each holding their own cup of Christen’s famous cappuccino and talking casually about the game and their classes. It wasn’t until Christen’s stomach had grumbled that Kate had suggested they should stop somewhere for dinner. Ever cautious, Christen hadn’t wanted to hop into Kate’s car and leave the safety of campus, so she’d suggested a pizza place close enough to walk to so they could enjoy the early fall evening. 

Kate was very different from Tobin. She wasn’t quite so goofy, some of her actions seeming somewhat performative, but who didn’t perform on a first date...if you could call walking to a pizza place post-soccer game with a practical stranger a date. She was more uptight than Tobin, not as relaxed. Tobin’s entire aura was chill, her voice, posture, and personality completely calm. She set Christen at ease. Kate didn’t put Christen on edge by any means. She just didn’t have the same calming effect that Tobin did. 

The differences didn’t stop there. Kate was always in motion, always gesturing with her hands or moving around, her rushed pace not just reserved for exiting the classroom. Kate ordered a pizza on a cauliflower crust, and Christen almost laughed out loud just because she thought about Tobin’s reaction to that order. She probably would call cauliflower crust an indictment against the whole institution of pizza. Kate hated soda, and even though Christen also avoided soda, she couldn’t help but think about Tobin’s sweet tooth and the night they’d first spoken and shared ice cream. Tobin’s ice cream had been so incredibly sweet. 

But despite all those differences, Kate was nice and funny and confident. She had pulled out Christen’s chair for her when they were seated, and cracked jokes like it was the easiest thing in the world. She was brazen and so sure of herself. She was also very sure about what she wanted. Another difference between her and Tobin. Where Tobin was unsure and hesitant when it came to the idea of them, Kate was confident.

Kate reached across the table and laid her hand atop Christen’s, bringing Christen’s focus back to her.

“Where’d you go just now?” Kate asked.

Christen forced herself to relax, to find comfort in the feeling of Kate’s hand on her own. She must have been taking too long to respond, because Kate squeezed Christen’s hand and tried again.

“Chris? You okay?”

“Please don’t call me that,” Christen said without hesitation. She shouldn’t have sounded so gruff, but Chris didn’t sound good coming from Kate. That was Tobin’s name for Christen, even her friends referred to her as Pressy or Press, even C.P., but not Chris. Chris was for Tobin only. 

“Oh, sorry,” Kate said, her cheeks blushing softly as she retracted her hand.

Christen immediately regretted snapping at Kate, it wasn’t her fault that Christen was sensitive about the nickname. This was not turning out to be a great date, and it was all because of her. She had been terrible, oftentimes lost in her own thoughts and only half paying attention to Kate when she talked. 

Christen smiled at Kate, shaking her head slightly. “Don’t. I should be the one saying sorry. I...I haven’t been on a first date in a long time and I think I forgot how to do this,” Christen admitted sheepishly. 

Kate returned Christen’s smile. “That’s hard to believe. You’re gorgeous, brilliant, a great soccer player. I was worried I’d be fighting to just get your attention.”

With a laugh, Christen felt the tension in her shoulders loosen and the last vestiges of her thoughts about Tobin completely move to the back of her mind. She eyed Kate, almost like she was seeing her for the first time. It was as if she finally had given herself permission to look at Kate and see her for everything she was, not for everything she wasn’t in comparison to Tobin. 

“Nope, you’re the only one,” Christen replied, surprising herself at how not bitter she sounded. Sure, it still stung to know that the person she truly wanted to be with, the person she’d been falling for for over a year, just wanted to be friends. She wasn’t sure how long it would take not to feel some semblance of hurt over that. But as she sat there looking at Kate, Christen had the sneaking suspicion that maybe this girl sitting in front of her could help her get over those feelings. If nothing else, Kate could be the perfect distraction as Christen did her best to bury her feelings for Tobin deep within a small corner of her heart.

“And you’re not half as bad at this as you think you are,” Kate said smoothly, a cocky grin on her face. “But just to be safe, maybe we should do this again sometime?”

Christen found herself nodding, an actual genuine smile on her face at the prospect of going out with Kate again.

“I would really like that,” Christen shot back, watching as Kate’s face lit up with her response. 

Kate didn’t let her pay for dinner, citing something about chivalry and being a gentlewoman as the reasons why Christen wasn’t allowed to split the bill with her. They ambled slowly back to campus, trading jokes and light conversation as they headed toward the soccer stadium. As they approached, Christen noticed that the stadium lights were now on, the field illuminated under the bright lights as the sun set in the distance.

“I think this is my cue,” Kate commented, reaching the door of the locker room. She turned to face Christen, a flash of nerves crossing her face for the first time. “I’ll see you in Spanish tomorrow morning?”

Christen nodded, her fingers toying with her car keys on her UCLA Soccer lanyard. 

“Can’t wait,” Christen replied with a smile. 

Kate hesitated, looking like she wanted to pull Christen in for a hug, but also a bit unsure as to if she should or not.

Christen made the choice for the two of them. She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Kate’s middle. The redhead was a bit taller than her, and she felt Kate’s arms curl around her shoulders, returning the hug. 

Kate wasn’t warm like Tobin. She didn’t smell like pine and mint and eucalyptus. Instead, Kate used vanilla perfume and almond conditioner, two scents that Christen liked but didn’t love. But maybe she could grow to love them. 

Kate stepped back and gave Christen one last smile, her confidence returning as she swaggered away. 

As Christen made her way to her car, she didn’t feel that ache in her chest that she always felt when she left Tobin. “You just met her. You have to build feelings for someone. That’s why you go on multiple dates,” she thought to herself. 

She didn’t remember until she’d already brushed her teeth and changed into her pajamas, but when she did, her stomach dropped rapidly. She hurriedly jumped into bed and opened up her phone. 

Tobin answered on the fifth ring. 

“Hello?” Tobin whispered, her voice foggy with sleep. 

“I am so so so sorry, Tobs,” Christen said, her words shaky and genuine. 

“Hey, Chris. It’s fine,” Tobin mumbled. 

“Were you asleep?” Christen asked, checking the time on her watch. 

“Mhm,” Tobin mumbled, turning in her bed, the sheets shuffling audibly. “I have a morning practice.”

“Oh, Tobs. I’m sorry I woke you up,” Christen sighed, lightly smacking herself in the forehead. 

“All good. You played really well today, Chris,” Tobin said, her voice calm and relaxed, still slightly tinged with sleep. 

Christen couldn’t tell if there was a hint of sadness in it too. She thought there might have been, but before she could listen for more, Tobin’s voice had changed. 

“That first goal was awesome!” Tobin enthused, shifting her attention to soccer in the hopes of ignoring the disappointment she felt at not being at the forefront of Christen’s mind post-game. 

“Thanks,” Christen said shyly. 

“Did you have a nice night?” Tobin asked. 

“Yeah, it was fine,” Christen responded, hoping Tobin would talk more about the game and ask fewer questions. 

“What did you do? Anything fun?” Tobin pressed, now sounding more awake. 

Christen paused, unsure how to answer. She didn’t know why, but telling Tobin she’d gone out with Kate, that she’d agreed to another date, that she’d hugged Kate, that all felt like something she needed to hide. 

“I, umm...I went to dinner with a friend,” Christen said finally, lying down in her own bed and pulling the sheets up to her chin. 

“Megan and Crystal?” Tobin asked, her curiosity getting the best of her. 

“No...you don’t know her. She doesn’t play soccer,” Christen said, feeling that same pain in her heart. “You aren’t cheating on Tobin. You aren’t even dating Tobin,” Christen reminded herself. “You’re allowed to see other people.”

“Oh, cool,” Tobin whispered, her voice catching in her throat. “I missed you,” she whispered, so softly that Christen wondered if she’d actually heard her correctly. 

“I missed you too, Tobs,” Christen whispered back. 

They sat in silence for a few minutes, just listening to each other breathe, neither wanting to break the tension or ruin the moment.

“I need some sleep before practice tomorrow,” Tobin said, finally ending the silence. 

“Of course, sorry,” Christen replied. 

“You played a great game,” Tobin yawned. “Night, Chris.”

“Good night,” Christen whispered into the dark, waiting for the line to go dead before she rolled over in bed. 

Sleep remained elusive for Christen for a long while, she just couldn’t turn off her brain. She was obsessively worrying about the fact that she’d lied to Tobin, not directly but out of omission. She also worried about the fact that she’d gone on a first date and was entirely torn about how to feel about it.

A part of her was embarrassed and annoyed with herself. She shouldn’t be going around and dating other girls when her heart clearly belonged to another. She should remain faithful to the feelings in her heart, faithful to Tobin.

But the other part of her, the stronger part currently, was stubborn and very convincing. This part of her rationalized that it was no use being faithful to Tobin while Tobin just wanted to be friends. It was self-sacrificing and painful to do so. With Kate, there was a chance to move past all of that. She could get over Tobin by getting with someone else. It was the oldest trick in the book and seemed to work for others, so why not for her?  

Her head was convinced, but her heart was holding out. Maybe the butterflies in her stomach weren’t as powerful when Kate smiled at her, maybe her skin didn’t tingle when Kate hugged her, but maybe that would change with time. 

As Christen felt sleep overtake her, she only wished that her heart would catch up with her head.


OCTOBER

Tobin’s heart was still racing, her forehead dripping with sweat and her baby hairs sticking to her face. 

“Jesus, Tobin! I swear you’re even faster than last year,” Alex panted next to her. 

“Makes sense. She literally lives on the field or in the gym these days,” Lindsey gasped, squeezing her water bottle and sending a stream of water into her mouth. 

“I want to win it all this year,” Tobin sighed, laying back onto the grass and looking up toward the sky, shielding her face with her forearm. 

“I mean me too, but I’d like to be alive to hold that trophy,” Sonny wheezed, throwing herself onto the ground next to Tobin. 

“Yeah, Toby. You sure you aren’t working a little too hard?” Alex asked, her voice softening with worry. 

“I’ve never felt better,” Tobin lied. 

Physically Tobin was at the top of her game. She’d never been as fit as she was this semester, partly because she wanted to win but mostly because she spent all her time working out in order to focus on something other than Christen Press. 

Christen had been more distant than usual. They still talked every day, but their texts were less constant. Mainly, they waited to call until both of them were in bed at night, both sleepy and whispering in the dark. They caught up on each other’s weeks, discussing school work and soccer more than anything else. Tobin was Christen’s sounding board for all of her worries. She let Christen vent without complaint or judgement, and Tobin was certain that Christen would do the same whenever Tobin needed her. 

Emotionally though, Tobin didn’t feel quite as strong. She felt like any minute she’d combust with the feelings she hadn’t yet shared with Christen, like she’d explode if she had another conversation with Christen about free kicks instead of the crush she’d had for more than a year. Feeling further away from Christen than she had over the spring semester of freshman year was troubling, and Tobin kept wondering if something was going on that she was just too blind to see. Not only that, but Christen was slowly becoming her best friend, her person, and it was killing Tobin to have a secret from the one person she wanted to share everything with. 

“Tobin!” Coach Parlow called from across the field. 

“See you guys later,” Tobin groaned, rolling over onto her stomach and pushing herself off the ground. She jogged over to her coach, feeling the familiar post-practice ache in her legs. 

Coach Parlow beamed at Tobin as she arrived. “I got good news, Heath,” she said, clapping her hands together excitedly.

“You’re giving us a weekend off?” Tobin teased, grinning a lopsided smile. 

“Never,” Coach Parlow replied with a wink. 

“Worth a shot,” Tobin shrugged. “What’s up?”

“The coaches are going to be voting next week on the All-American first and second teams. I nominated you way back in August, and after what I’ve seen since, you’re a shoo-in for the first team. You’re leading the league in points and have the most goals on the team. Just have another great game against Minnesota on Friday and the All-American title is yours, all right?” Coach Parlow patted Tobin on the shoulder.

Tobin’s chest felt like it was inflating, like she’d bubble up from inside if she didn’t celebrate or tell someone her news. A part of her felt like she might jinx it if she told someone, but the more dominant part wanted to yell it across campus. She’d been working so hard all semester, harder than she’d ever worked, and she felt a sudden urge to cry. Not sad tears. She just felt an urge to let out all that she’d been holding in, to let out tears of relief because she was actually doing well. Better than just well. She was playing like an All-American. 

“I won’t let you down, Coach,” Tobin said, holding in her emotions.

“Don’t let yourself down. You earned it, Heath. Now hit the showers.”

Tobin was buzzing all the way to the locker room, her heart hammering in excitement and a warm-up song bouncing around in her head. She knew exactly who she wanted to tell first. Tobin pulled out her phone, ignoring the rest of her teammates who were showering, changing, and gathering up their stuff. 

 

MISSED CALL AND VOICEMAIL: Christen Press

 

Tobin almost called Christen back immediately, her finger hovering over Christen’s contact, but then she remembered that Christen had a Psychology exam that she was either studying for or currently stressing about, and Tobin didn’t want to interrupt. Instead, she clicked play on the voicemail and listened, sinking into Christen’s soft and sweet, albeit a bit stressed sounding, voice: 

“Hey, it’s me. Obviously. Anyways, hi. I hope your Wednesday was amazing. I just thought I’d try you earlier than I usually do, but you’re obviously busy with practice or something. I just...it’s been a week, Tobs. I screwed up a Stats quiz and can’t wrap my head around the Psych stuff for Friday’s exam. On top of that, I can’t seem to find my groove on the field. Every shot I take feels wrong coming off my foot and I haven’t been able to find the net. Everything just feels messed up and I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. I just need to talk to you. You’re the only one who ever knows what to say to make me feel like the sky’s not falling down around me. I’ll talk to you tonight, Tobs. Miss you.”

 

Tobin sighed, hating the crestfallen and stressed-out way Christen had spoken in the voicemail. It made her chest tighten with worry. She quickly clicked over to their messages and typed furiously.

 

[Tobin Heath 7:18PM]

Hey, Chris. Sorry I was at practice, and Coach Parlow wanted to talk to me after practice for a few minutes. 

[Tobin Heath 7:18PM]

I’m so sorry you’re so stressed. I wish I could actually do more to help you than just being your sounding board. 

[Tobin Heath 7:19PM]

I’m sure the Stats quiz didn’t go as poorly as you think, and you’re gonna kill the Psychology exam. You’re the smartest person I know and you’ve got two nights to prep. If it’ll make you feel any better, we can study tonight and tomorrow night too. I’ll call out flashcards or ask you questions. 

[Tobin Heath 7:20PM]

As for soccer, everyone has good and bad moments. I swear last Spring I had like two months where I thought the ball hated me! We can practice this too, though. We can Facetime on the weekends and run drills on our own. No worries. You’re your biggest critic, Chris, when in reality, you’re amazing. One of the best. Just be patient with yourself. 

[Tobin Heath 7:20PM]

I miss you too, Chris. So so much... 

[Tobin Heath 7:21PM]

Maybe we can talk after the group Facetime call tonight? I’m free for the night now. I have some news to tell you too, so maybe we can catch up. 

 

Tobin waited a few minutes to see if Christen was holding onto her phone and might text back or call immediately. When she didn’t, Tobin stuffed her phone back into her bag and walked back to the showers, her brain spinning with her own excitement and worry for Christen. 


Christen surveyed her outfit in the mirror’s reflection - a pair of blue jeans, a black sweater, and some black booties. Simple, but dressy enough for date night.

As she sat down at her desk, her makeup spread out in front of her, she heard three sets of footsteps hurrying up the stairs. Sighing, she tried to focus on applying mascara but was quickly interrupted by the door to her room opening.

“Fan out, roomies,” Megan said, leading the pack as she, Crystal, and Kelley entered Christen’s room. The three of them stood in a half-circle between Christen and the door, all of them fixing Christen with stern looks. 

Christen continued to apply mascara, not bothering to look up. She knew this was coming, the inevitable confrontation. She’d been keeping her private life very private this past month, especially from her roommates. She’d been seeing Kate on the down-low and her roommates were none the wiser. All they knew was that she stayed out late some nights and ignored their constant badgering for answers. But it seemed that tonight, the three of them had decided enough was enough. 

“You could have knocked,” Christen muttered, capping the mascara and looking down at her lipstick options. 

You could stop sneaking around behind our backs,” Megan shot back, her arms crossed over her chest defensively.

“Yeah, that’s just hashtag rude, Pressy. I thought roomies didn’t have secrets from each other,” Kelley added, her words tinged with hurt. 

“We’re also just worried about you,” Crystal added sweetly, trying to soften the blows Megan and Kelley seemed intent on dishing out. 

Christen hung her head, knowing her friends were making some excellent points. Initially, she hadn’t said anything because this thing with Kate was really casual and didn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. But as time passed, as casual dates turned into day-trips to the beach and fancier dinners, Christen had remained just as quiet about the whole thing. If she thought long and hard about it, she knew why she hadn’t told them about Kate. She knew they would be confused. She knew they would be upset that she was dating someone else while still holding a flame for Tobin. Most of all, she knew they would be disappointed in her and she wasn’t ready to deal with that. But even if she wasn’t ready, it didn’t seem like she had the choice to ignore her friends any longer.

Christen turned to face her friends, her eyes narrowing in Kelley’s direction. “I take it Pinoe and Crystal told you about the secret Sour Patch Kids stash we keep hidden from you then, Kel? Or are my secrets the only ones you guys have an issue with?” 

Kelley scoffed and looked between Megan and Crystal, disbelief on her face.

“A secret stash? No way. I’d sniff that shit out so quick,” Kelley said. But Kelley’s confidence waned when she saw the sheepish looks on Megan and Crystal’s faces.

“Pressy, you traitor!” Megan huffed, dropping her hands off of her hips. 

“You guys SUCK!” Kelley announced, crossing the room and flopping onto Christen’s made bed. “But that doesn’t mean we’re done talking about you, Pressy,” she added.

“Yeah, don’t avoid the intervention, Pressy,” Megan said, joining Kelley on the bed.

“We’re worried about you. What’s going on? Why are you sneaking around?” Crystal said softly.

“I’m fine. Really. I…” Christen trailed off. She looked between her friends, feeling defeat creep up on her, knowing she’d probably need to come clean with them tonight.

“You’re dating someone,” Megan supplied. 

Christen blanched and turned back to her makeup, her silence enough of an answer for her roommates.

“You didn’t put mascara on after practice at the beginning of the school year, and now you do all the time, so either you’re sleeping with someone, you have a girlfriend, or both…” Kelley added, feeling proud of herself for joining in on Megan’s train of thought.

“We’re not sleeping together and she’s not my girlfriend,” Christen huffed sharply. 

“Sure, just like Pinoe wasn’t screwing Sue. And look at them now, basically wifed up,” Kelley replied, winking at Megan, earning her the bird in return. 

“This has been going on for like a month? Is it the same girl?” Crystal asked, ignoring her other roommates and focusing completely on Christen. 

Christen sighed, deciding to just bite the bullet. “Yes, it’s been a month. Yes, it’s the same girl. No, it’s not serious. At all. Not like Sue and Pinoe.” 

“What happened to Tobin?” Crystal asked, her lips turning down in a frown. “Did you just get over that crush and move on?”

Christen felt her throat thicken at the mention of Tobin’s name. Her eyes started to burn, so she blinked them quickly, hoping the looming threat of tears would recede.

“Tobin wanted to be friends, so we’re friends. End of story,” Christen explained, avoiding answering if she’d gotten over Tobin. She knew she still wasn’t over the Penn State forward, even after going out with Kate for the past month. Kate was fun and sweet and nice, but she wasn’t Tobin. 

“I don’t know a lot about Tobin, but she doesn’t look at you like she just wants to be friends,” Megan snorted. “She looks at you like she wants to make lov-”

“She doesn’t just want to be friends, but I’m sure you dating someone else hasn’t made her feel all that confident,” Crystal interrupted. “What did she say when you told her about this new girl?” 

Christen’s cheeks flamed. Crystal had inadvertently brought up something she’d been so keen to avoid. She hadn’t actually gotten around to telling Tobin about Kate. How could she? What would she even say? “Hey Tobin, I’m dating this other girl in hopes of getting over this silly crush I have on you, which isn’t actually working all that well, but I keep hoping it will.”

“You haven’t told her,” Kelley deadpanned, her jaw practically dropping. 

“I - uh - well,” Christen stuttered, feeling a flush creep up her neck as her stomach rolled. 

“You literally talk to her every night before bed. We all hear you two,” Megan said, eyes narrowed in Christen’s direction. “It hasn’t come up once?”

Christen sniffled, the burn of tears almost excruciating at this point. She dropped her eyes to her hands in her lap, her fingers flexing and fidgeting.

“I can’t...she’s the reason I’m dating Kate in the first place. It’s the only way to get over her, which I clearly am still working on doing,” Christen explained, wiping at the lone tear that escaped her eye, hoping her mascara wasn’t completely ruined.

“Oh, sweetie,” Crystal cooed, seeing Christen’s eyes starting to water. 

“You could get under Tobin instead,” Kelley choked out before Megan dragged her from the room to give Christen some privacy with Crystal. 

Christen’s tears began to fall faster now, there was nothing to stop them. The dam had broken.

“It’s the only way, Crys. What else was I supposed to do? Liking her just hurt too much,” Christen whispered, her arms lifting to wrap around her middle protectively.

“Do you like this girl? Or are you just hoping to like her?” Crystal asked quietly, kneeling on the ground in front of Christen, her hands placed gently on Christen’s knees. 

“I could like her. Maybe. She’s great,” Christen hiccuped.

“Do you think you’ll ever like her the way you like Tobin?” Crystal practically whispered, her fingers rubbing soft circles on Christen’s kneecaps. 

“No!” Christen’s heart screamed in protest. “The way I feel about Tobin, I’ll never feel this way about anyone else.”

But Christen didn’t voice that. She merely looked up at Crystal with sad eyes and shrugged, unable to find the words.

“I’m not going to judge you for going out with this girl, with Kate, but I want you to do it because it feels right. I wish you’d told me instead of sneaking around. I wish I’d made you feel comfortable enough to tell me,” Crystal sighed. 

“I didn’t know how to tell the captains of the Preath ship that their ship had sunk, under friendly fire from Tobin no less. I didn’t want to disappoint you guys,” Christen replied, grabbing a tissue from her desk and running it under her eyes, trying to salvage the little makeup she’d put on for her date.

“I may love the Preath ship, but I love you more. You’re my best friend, and if Tobin isn’t what will make you happy, then I’ll no longer captain that ship. But, I think she does still make you happy…” Crystal trailed off. “I don’t know if you or Tobin have really given it as much of a chance as you need, but it’s not my place. If you want to date Kate, then give me time and maybe I’ll captain the ChrisKate ship. We’ll work on the name.”

Christen smiled at Crystal, her chest warming at the depths of her friend’s kindness. “Thank you. I’m sorry I snuck around, I won’t anymore.”

“Good. Let’s clean up that mascara before she gets here,” Crystal said, reaching out for a makeup wipe. 

She and Crystal managed to salvage her makeup and reapply where necessary before the doorbell rang. Crystal shot her an excited smile as the two of them left Christen’s room and headed downstairs. 

“Not-Tobin’s here,” Megan said with a saccharin smile, her arms crossed over her chest as she stood near the front door. 

Christen rolled her eyes and opened the front door, not seeing the pinch Crystal gave to Megan’s arm in retaliation for her snarky comment.

As the door swung open, Christen saw Kate on the front porch, a bouquet of red roses in her outstretched hand. Kate was beaming at her and Christen wished for a flutter in her heart or butterflies in her stomach, but she only felt a small twinge of guilt. She didn’t even like roses. She’d grown up thinking that roses were overrated. Her favorites were orange and pink dahlias, something only her mom and Tobin knew. It had been an early fun fact she’d told Tobin, and she was sure that Tobin wasn’t going to forget something like that, even if they were just friends.

“Hi,” Christen said, taking the roses from Kate and smiling at the redhead. 

“Hi yourself,” Kate winked, stuffing her hands into her front pockets. 

“Thanks for the flowers. You’re very sweet,” Christen mumbled, aware of the audience she had. 

“You’re welcome,” Kate replied. Her eyes moved to the congregation of people in the hallway behind Christen and her smile grew. “Hi, Christen’s roommates.”

Crystal was the only one to acknowledge Kate, offering the girl a small wave. Megan and Kelley glared in Kate’s direction, their distaste quite evident.

“Wow, roses. This totally isn’t serious,” Megan scoffed, rolling her eyes. 

“Red roses mean only one thing,” Kelley said, shoving a handful of popcorn into her mouth. “Seriousness,” she added, the word garbled around the popcorn.

“Okaaaay, let’s go,” Christen said, handing the flowers to Crystal and practically dragging Kate out the door behind her. “Don’t wait up!” she called to her roommates.

As she got into Kate’s Jeep, she felt her phone vibrate from inside her purse, but she ignored it. It was probably just Megan or Kelley trying to get in one last word.


Tobin’s hair had finally dried after her shower, some of the strands wavier than others, since she’d been sitting in bed since practice had ended. She pulled on her favorite sweatshirt, opting for comfort over something cute. Christen had already seen her at the crack of dawn, in her glasses, with bedhead, so she wasn’t too concerned about looking flawless for group Facetimes. 



[Harry 😜 9:53PM]

I’m gonna call in a second. Just got back to my apartment.

[Tobin 9:53PM]

Cool. I’m free whenever

 

Tobin sat back in her bed, scrolling back through her messages to Christen. It wasn’t like Christen to ignore so many messages for such a long amount of time, especially since Christen had been the one to call and leave a voicemail in the first place. Tobin couldn’t help but feel a little worried that Christen was having a really bad day and Tobin was miles away and couldn’t help. She kept wondering whether her messages had only upset Christen more or frustrated her. “Maybe you shouldn’t have tried to give her solutions to her problems. Sometimes people just want to vent and commiserate, not problem-solve,” Tobin thought to herself, pushing the heel of her hand against her forehead. 

Tobin hadn’t yet told her parents about the All-American news. She’d wanted to tell Christen first, but she was becoming more and more worried that today wasn’t the day to tell Christen, that Christen needed her to be there for her, not share the good news that might make Christen feel worse. She didn’t have too much time to worry about it before Allie’s face was on her computer screen, a huge grin on her face. 

“Harry!” Allie cheered, clicking her mouse on her computer to add the others into their chat. 

“Hey, Harry,” Tobin said, feeling immediately better just by seeing her best friend’s face. 

“Toby!” ARod practically shouted when she appeared on the screen, causing Lauren to cringe and lean away from her. 

“Hey, guys,” Crystal joined in, sitting on her couch between Megan and Kelley. 

“Sup, e’rbody!” Megan added, shooting a peace sign toward the camera. 

Tobin glanced at the computer screen, only allowing herself to look briefly. She didn’t want the others to see her disappointment. Instead, she leaned away from her camera, grabbing her water bottle as a distraction. “Keep it together, Tobin. Don’t worry about Christen. She’s probably just running late,” Tobin thought, giving her a silent pep talk before lowering her water bottle and smiling at her friends. 

 

[Tobin Heath 10:11PM]

You okay, Chris? Allie just started the Facetime call. 

 

Tobin waited for a response from Christen, practically feeling phantom phone vibrations against her leg in anticipation, but nothing came. She still hadn’t responded to Tobin’s earlier messages, and as much as Tobin prided herself on her chill demeanor, she was really starting to worry. Not much really rattled Tobin, and that was something that she liked about herself. She’d learned to go with the flow at a really young age. Now, though, she was worried. It wasn’t like Christen to avoid text messages or miss Facetime calls without warning or an excuse. 

Tobin nodded along, smiling when appropriate at whatever Allie was saying, but she wasn’t digesting anything. She just stared at the computer screen, her mind spinning with all kinds of dangerous scenarios Christen could be in, scenarios that would cause Christen to go M.I.A.

“Yo, Heath, who killed your cat dude?” Megan asked, drawing Tobin’s attention back to Facetime and away from Christen. 

“I’m more of a dog person,” Tobin sighed, snapping out of her fog for a second.

“Wait, was that a sex thing?” Kelley asked, her brows knitted in confusion as she looked over at Megan.

“K.O.!” Allie screeched at an inhuman volume, hiding her face in her hands.

ARod burst into laughter, practically spitting out the water she’d just sipped. Lauren even cracked a smile.

“Dude, if you need to ask...send my apologies to that softball chick you’ve been seeing,” Megan teased, sticking out her tongue and laughing so hard, she almost fell off the couch.

Despite the hilarity in the air, Tobin wasn’t joining in. She couldn’t even force a genuine-looking smile. In fact, a prickle of pain had started behind both of her eyes, perhaps from lack of sleep, but more likely from her stress about Christen’s safety. Finally, she couldn’t take it any longer. She tried to keep her voice level, to make sure it wasn’t wobbly with worry or frustration, but she had a feeling she hadn’t succeeded.

“Pinoe, have you seen Christen today?” Tobin asked, her voice softer than usual. 

Oddly, Megan, Crystal, and Kelley shared a look between the three of them. Some silent conversation passed between them before they turned back to look at the camera.

“She’s at the dining hall,” Crystal said. 

At the same time, Megan said, “She’s studying.”

“She’s in the gym,” Kelley threw in last minute.

Tobin narrowed her eyes at the three UCLA players, knowing without a doubt they were lying, and not even that well. 

“That smells like buuuullshit to me! What’s going on guys? Since when am I in the dark?” Allie questioned, looking at her teammates and fellow co-captains of the Preath ship. 

“New development,” Kelley quipped, earning her an elbow to the boob from Megan. 

“Dude,” Megan warned in a low tone, furthering Tobin’s confusion and worry.

“It isn’t ours to tell,” Crystal murmured, wishing she could excuse herself from the hot seat. 

Tobin’s head began to spin. “What could Christen be keeping secret, and why didn’t she tell me? I thought we were best friends,” Tobin wondered to herself, her eyes becoming sorer by the minute. 

“Will someone explain what’s going on here? It’s like you guys are talking in code,” ARod said. Lauren nodded along, sharing in the sentiment. “Yeah, we’re really lost,” Lauren added.

Allie paid them no mind, her sole focus on her teammates and their secret-keeping. 

“I’m literally going to hang up on all of you and kick your asses on the field tomorrow if you don’t tell me,” Allie huffed out, crossing her arms over her chest. 

“Christen has a girlfriend,” Kelley word-vomited. She immediately regretted it, throwing both of her hands over her mouth, her eyes widening in surprise, her face paled in distress.

Megan groaned and hung her head, while Crystal shot a worried look at Tobin. 

“Excuse me?” Allie almost growled, her protective best friend instincts kicking in. 

Tobin blinked rapidly, her brain trying to catch up with what Kelley had just said. “Christen has a...a girlfriend? No, she can’t. She wouldn’t. I would have noticed something like that. She would have told me,” Tobin tried to rationalize, but the sinking feeling in her stomach made her think otherwise. 

The pain behind her eyes increased tenfold, causing her to squeeze her eyes shut. She rubbed at the bridge of her nose, focusing on breathing in and out. “This was just a mistake. Kelley was joking around. This wasn’t real. Breathe in, breathe out.”

Tobin wasn’t sure if she wanted to scream or cry or vomit. Her stomach was rolling, her skin felt too hot, and her heart rate kept on increasing. This feeling inside of her chest, this agonizing ache, was overwhelming. She was beyond devastated. She didn’t even think there was a word for how she felt right now.

 “You’re never going to be with her. She isn’t waiting for you. You won’t get to hold her or take her on a date to the beach. You missed your chance,” Tobin’s thoughts sunk deeper and deeper, almost punishing her for not telling Christen sooner. She couldn’t concentrate on anything besides her racing thoughts, barely listening to her friends and teammates as their conversation continued.

“We only just found out tonight after we cornered her and asked her point-blank,” Megan mumbled out an excuse. 

“She’s been sneaking around for like a month,” Kelley blurted out, anything to keep an angry Allie off her case. 

“Shut up,” Crystal hissed, squeezing Kelley’s arm tightly. 

“Hell no!” Allie bellowed. “I’m literally going to kill her tomor-”

“I have clothes in the washer downstairs. I forgot about them,” Tobin choked out, hearing her voice crack but not finding it in herself to care. 

“Tobs,” Allie whispered, but the rest of her sentence was cut off when Tobin ended the call, slamming her computer closed with a resounding click. 

Tobin’s ragged breathing was the only sound in the room as she curled up under her sheets, hugging a pillow to her chest. She squeezed her eyes tightly, finally letting the first tears fall down her cheeks. They soaked into her pillow, but Tobin couldn’t find it in herself to care. She was beyond caring at this point. Christen had moved on, had found someone else, and Christen had left her behind. Here she was, broken and crying and alone, in Christen’s wake. 

Once the tears had slowed, Tobin was left with a raging headache. She stared at her ceiling, too tired to get up and wash her face or take out her contacts. She listened as Alex and Lindsey walked around the suite, finishing up a movie and finally getting ready for bed. Her phone buzzed softly somewhere under the sheets, presumably messages from her friends who’d practically seen her fall apart on video. She didn’t even look for her phone, more interested in the crack in the left corner of her room’s ceiling near the window. 

She didn’t know how long she stared at that crack. It could have been five minutes or five hours, but finally, she fell into a restless slumber, her subconscious tormenting her with images of Christen kissing some other girl.

She had no idea what time it was when her phone vibrated against her foot. Her eyes were heavy. Her head was throbbing as if she were hungover, only the night before hadn’t been fun-filled or celebratory. 

She jerked up in bed, her room completely dark and her hoodie twisted around her waist, evidence of all of her tossing and turning. It took her a few more buzzes before her hands found her phone under her sheets. She pulled it up to her ear, swiping across the screen to answer it without looking at who was calling. In all honesty, she expected Allie to speak, or maybe her mom. She wasn’t expecting the voice she’d fallen asleep haunted by. 

“Hey, Tobs,” Christen said softly.

Chapter Text

Some mistakes get made

That’s alright, that's okay

You can think that you’re in love

When you're really just in pain

Some mistakes get made

That's alright, that's okay

In the end, it’s better for me

That's the moral of the story, babe

(Tobin - “Moral of the Story” by Ashe)

 

Make sure nobody sees you leave

Hood over your head

Keep your eyes down

Tell your friends you're out for a run

You'll be flushed when you return

Take the road less traveled by

Tell yourself you can always stop

(Christen - “illicit affairs - the long pond studio sessions” by Taylor Swift)

 

“Hey, Tobs,” Christen said softly.

Tobin’s breath caught in her throat. Her tongue felt like cotton, completely drying her mouth and throat. She still felt those damn butterflies in her stomach, Christen’s voice always having that effect on her. This time, however, her stomach rolled too, sending bile into Tobin’s throat. 

“Tobin? You there?” Christen asked, the bit of worry in her voice causing Tobin’s stomach to churn even more.

“Yeah,” Tobin practically choked out, her voice shaky and hoarse. 

“I’m sorry I know it’s late...again,” Christen replied, having the decency to sound remorseful.

“Yeah,” Tobin repeated, hardly registering Christen’s words, again too consumed by images of Christen with someone else, in someone else’s arms, holding someone else’s hand. 

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I had the literal worst day ever,” Christen began, sliding off her shoes and kicking them into her closet. She hopped onto her bed and collapsed back into her mountain of pillows. A small part of her registered the lackluster sound of Tobin’s voice, but she wrote it off as tiredness and promptly ignored it. She’d been dying to talk to Tobin all day, needing to hear her voice, and she finally had the chance.

“Oh?” Tobin sighed, not yet ready to question Christen about what she’d learned on the Facetime call. It was almost like she wanted to sit in her last moment of normalcy with Christen, the last moment before everything fell apart. 

“Yeah, I rambled in my voicemail about it, but I guess I’ve just had a really crappy time lately and I wish we could just blow off school and soccer and go to the beach together or something. I just need a break from everything, with you of course.”

Each word was like a punch to the gut. Christen had a girlfriend, and yet was over there whispering into the night about needing a break from everything in her life, except Tobin. It wasn’t fair, to feel this needed and this wanted, and know deep down that they couldn’t be together.

Tobin wasn’t entirely blameless. She was giving out mixed signals and flirting with the gray area, like Christen was too. They were both guilty of it, but it was now clear that it was only hurting her, that she was the only victim of their game. Christen was happy to have Tobin and happy with her new girlfriend. She was fine, while Tobin was dying slowly. 

She could walk away. She didn’t have to hurt this much, pushing down her feelings for Christen for the sake of their friendship, if you could even call it that. She didn’t have to feel pushed and pulled in every direction, second-guessing every word, every action. She didn’t have to bury her face into her pillow every night and wonder why she wasn’t enough for Christen to consider long-distance, why she wasn’t enough for Christen.

“You know what I mean?” Christen asked, bringing Tobin’s attention back to the phone call.

No, she didn’t know what Christen meant. She had been under the impression that they’d do this dance, this flirty fun vaguely friends thing, and then one day they’d be together when the distance was gone. But then it had hurt. God, did it hurt to try and just be Christen’s friend when her heart begged and screamed and ached for more. And then she found out Christen had a girlfriend. So no, she had no clue what Christen meant and she was going to say as much.

“I don’t think your girlfriend would like that,” Tobin mumbled into the phone, finally awake enough to feel the pain in her heart all over again. Her eyes were back to stinging, and there was a throbbing feeling in her ears. She listened to Christen’s sharp intake of breath and waited. 

Ice shot through Christen’s veins at Tobin’s words. “Did she just - how did she - when did she - what the hell?” Christen wondered, forcing herself to swallow the lump in her throat. She was quiet for a long time, unsure what to say to Tobin, unsure if there was anything really to say. This was going so wrong so fast, and she had no idea how to stop it. Finally, she broke the tense, awkward air between them.

“My - my what?” Christen asked, her voice tight.

“We had a really eventful Facetime call tonight, which you missed by the way,” Tobin laughed bitterly. “Your girlfriend was a hot topic.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Christen said quickly, hating the way the word sounded coming out of Tobin’s mouth, hating the way the word sounded coming out of hers even more. 

“You’ve been dating for a month and she isn’t your girlfriend?” Tobin asked, a part of her hoping that this was still a huge misunderstanding, that Christen was tutoring someone or just friends with someone Megan, Crystal, and Kelley didn’t know. But she knew, deep in her heart, she knew this was the truth.

“We’re not - she’s just - this is just casual. And I don’t know who said anything tonight, but they shouldn’t have. It’s none of their business,” Christen replied, any warm and fuzzy feelings she’d had about talking to Tobin tonight long gone. She was fighting off repeated waves of nausea as her heart hammered in her chest.

“If it’s so casual, why didn’t you tell me about her? We literally talk every day, and you didn’t bring her up once. I thought we told each other everything!” Tobin argued, her voice cracking despite wishing that it would stay strong and steady.

Christen felt herself getting angry. Who was Tobin to judge her? To sit there on the other end of this call and make her feel bad? Tobin was the only reason she was in this stupid mess in the first place. Despite her better judgement, Christen sat up in bed and let her anger carry her away from her feelings of shock and guilt.

“That’s so rich coming from you, Tobin,” Christen spat, running a hand through her hair in frustration. 

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Tobin hissed into the phone, angry but still aware that her roommates were sleeping next door. 

Christen knew she shouldn’t go down this path. In the past, she hadn’t, knowing that their friendship was still too new and too fragile to survive. But now, she was beyond furious and she was finally ready to confront Tobin about something that had been eating away at her since Orlando. 

“You know exactly what I’m talking about. We’ve never told each other everything! The first time we talked, you lied to me about why you’d been such a dick to me on the field at Nationals. And then just a few months ago, you did it again. Jet lag and a dislike of birthdays? Was that really the best you could come up with?” Christen asked, her voice tinged with bitterness.

“What was I supposed to say?” Tobin replied, having always known those lies would catch up to her but not expecting them to blow up in her face tonight. 

“The truth, maybe?”

“You and I both know that if I’d told the truth you would have run away!” Tobin nearly pleaded into the phone. She regretted the words immediately, knowing they came too close to the heart of the matter, that they were far too revealing. She waited with bated breath for Christen to reply.

Christen paused, feeling her heart clench painfully in her chest. Things had suddenly taken a turn. They were standing on the precipice of something they’d been merely dancing around for over a year, and she wasn’t ready. She didn’t want to do this. Not now, with so much anger and pain between them. 

“I don’t know what you mean,” Christen said finally, feeling beyond hypocritical for lying mere moments after calling Tobin out for doing the same thing. 

“Maybe I read too much into it,” Tobin mumbled, clearly reading Christen’s hesitation and deciding to backtrack as well.

“Tobs,” Christen tried to say, but Tobin quickly cut her off.

”Don’t. Look, I’m glad you found someone who makes you happy. I really am. I just want you to be happy,” Tobin said softly, desperately hoping beyond hope that maybe one day she could be the one to make Christen happy, and knowing that right now she couldn’t be. She ran a hand furiously through her hair, feeling her chest tighten and her stomach flutter. She knew exactly what needed to be said next but she didn’t want to say it. She knew what path she needed to follow, to put herself first and protect her heart, but she knew that path would be walked alone, and that made her heart break anew.

”But, Chris? You can’t date her and need me the way that you do. You can’t go to dinner with her, then call me and tell me you need me. It’s too painful. I can’t do this anymore. It hurts too much to be your friend. It’s all too much.”  

“Wait, I -” Christen tried to say, but Tobin was gone, the click Christen heard signaling that Tobin had hung up the phone. 

The sobs came on without warning or preamble, shaking Christen’s frame with their ferocity. She tried to hold them back, covering her mouth with her hand, but there was no stopping them. So instead, Christen curled her knees to her chest and buried her face in them, her hot tears seeping into her jeans. 

She had been wrong. This wasn’t Tobin’s fault. Tobin hadn’t forced her to date someone else. Tobin hadn’t suggested it. The only thing Tobin had done was give Christen whiplash with her hot and cold behavior. The only thing Tobin had done was not return Christen’s feelings. She’d needed Christen as a friend, and Christen hadn’t even been able to do that. Not only that, but Christen had now brought another heart into the equation, a heart that Christen was bound to break since she would never be able to feel for Kate the same way she felt for Tobin. 

Christen’s phone buzzed on the bed next to her, and for a moment, she let herself believe that Tobin was calling back, that Tobin wanted to start over, to work through things, to rewind time, to actually communicate and not just talk.

Instead, it was an Instagram notification, one that Christen nearly ignored until she realized it was a photo she was tagged in. She slid her phone open and saw Kate’s post. It was a picture she’d snapped of Christen from across the dinner table on their date that night. Christen wasn’t even really looking at the camera, her eyes focused on a piece of artwork that was hanging in the restaurant. She was holding her glass of water, completely in her own world, checked out from the rest of the world. 

Christen didn’t mind the picture. It wasn’t an unflattering picture, just a little random, not that she would have posed for a picture if Kate had asked. Christen didn’t really like when people took pictures of her, especially not when she was eating dinner.  Kate’s caption, Dinner with my girl ❤️, was what bothered her most. It made her stomach twist and her throat tighten. It made her worry about Tobin. It made her wish that she could fly to Pennsylvania, wrap her arms around Tobin, and tell her everything, not that Tobin would even want to know everything. 

Christen’s hands shook as she typed out a message to Kate. She couldn’t help but imagine how Tobin would react to Kate’s post, which made their “casual dating” situation seem a lot more serious than Christen had claimed. 

 

[Christen Press 10:04PM]

Can you take that picture down?

[Kate 10:04PM]

Why? It’s cute!

[Christen Press 10:04PM]

I just really prefer to keep my private life private.

[Kate 10:05PM]

...people know we’re dating, though. It’s not a big deal.

[Christen Press 10:05PM]

It’s a big deal to me, Kate. Can you please just take it down? Or untag me?

[Kate 10:05PM]

Who do you not want to see it?

 

With an almost inhuman growl, Christen threw her phone against her pillows and collapsed back onto her bed. Tobin had been upset with her for not telling her, and as much as she hated it, an extremely small, hopeful part of Christen wondered if Tobin was upset, not just because Christen hadn’t told her, but because Christen was going on dates with someone else. If that were the case, seeing Kate’s post would completely ruin any damage control that Christen could possibly do.

 

[Christen Press 10:06PM]

Kate, can you please just take it down?

[Kate 10:06PM]

Are you serious?

[Christen Press 10:06PM]

Yes.

[Kate 10:07PM]

Fine. It’s down. You know we should talk about this tomorrow. If this relationship is going to work, we need to figure out why you want to hide it.

[Christen Press 10:07PM]

Let’s talk tomorrow. Good night, Kate.

[Kate 10:07PM]

Yeah, good night. 

[Kate 10:10PM]

Are we okay?

 

Christen sighed. Of course, they weren’t fine. They hadn’t even started out remotely close to fine, and they weren’t headed in that direction any time soon. Or ever.

 

[Christen Press 10:11PM]

We’re fine, get some good sleep, Kate. Good night.

 

In the quiet moments that followed, Christen could only think of one thing - the utter heartbreak in Tobin’s voice when she’d said, “You can’t date her and need me the way that you do...It hurts too much to be your friend. It’s all too much.”

The familiar sting of tears caused Christen to screw her eyes shut. She had been so caught up in her own pain, in her own struggles with their friendship, that she never even considered that it would be difficult for Tobin. 

“But why? Why was being my friend too much?” Christen wondered, her mind spinning with possibilities. She couldn’t figure out why Tobin would be so upset about her keeping a secret. She’d kept the same secret from Megan, Crystal, and Kelley, the people she shared a home with, and they had only cornered her and teased her. Tobin was hurt, she wasn’t annoyed. She didn’t feel left out, she was in pain. Then again, if Christen were completely honest with herself, she knew that her relationship with Tobin had never been comparable to her relationship with her other friends. 

Tobin was different. She’d always thought that her relationship with Tobin was different because of the crush she had on her, but she was more confused than she ever had been. There was the quiet voice in her mind wondering whether Tobin was upset because Christen was with someone, but that would require her to have feelings for Christen, which she’d made clear she didn’t. 

Christen rolled onto her side, not even bothering to change out of her clothes or get ready for bed. She buried her face in her pillows, just praying for sleep to take over. She couldn’t figure out exactly what she’d done wrong, what she’d done to cause Tobin so much pain, what Tobin was most upset about. Tobin was likely asleep, her own emotions exhausting her like Christen’s were. 

Christen let out a shaky breath, vowing to call Tobin tomorrow and straighten everything out. She wasn’t going down without a fight. This night had taken a turn she’d never seen coming, but she wasn’t ready to lose Tobin. She still wanted Tobin in her life. Somehow, someway, Tobin had carved a spot for herself in Christen’s life and Christen wasn’t ready for that spot to be empty. Not now, not ever.

She just had to find a way to let Kate down easily first.


Tobin stared at the cereal options, her eyes basically glazed over. She wasn’t hungry, but her team had insisted on a team breakfast, and she needed to at least fill her bowl with something, in order to keep them off of her case. She reached out and scooped some granola into her bowl, filling it with milk. When she put the milk back in the fridge and caught sight of a carton of oat milk, her eyes started to water again. She took a deep breath, trying to keep herself together before spinning on her heel and heading straight to the table her team had chosen. 

Lindsey and Sonnett were arguing loudly, captivating most of Tobin’s teammates’ attention, so Tobin didn’t even bother pretending to eat the granola. Instead, she leaned back in her seat and stared out the nearest window. Fall had finally hit Pennsylvania, and the leaves were changing color and starting to fall. Tobin made a mental note to try and set aside an afternoon to drive around, maybe even to a park for some hiking. She needed to do something, anything to get off of campus and away from her teammates, to get ARod and Lauren to stop worrying about her, to get Christen out of her mind. 

“Hey, Toby,” ARod said softly, placing her hand on Tobin’s shoulder. 

“Sup?” Tobin greeted, trying to act relaxed and nonchalant. 

“How are you?” ARod asked. 

Tobin’s stomach tightened at the concern in her voice. She didn’t want ARod to be worried. She’d wanted to wake up in the past. She’d wanted last night to have been a dream. 

“I’m fine,” Tobin muttered. 

“You look like you didn’t sleep last night,” ARod pushed. 

“I didn’t,” Tobin thought. Last night Tobin had tossed and turned. She’d gone for a walk to the soccer field, only to figure out that she wasn’t in the mood to play soccer for the first time in her life. She’d listened to music, all of the songs reminding her of Christen. Ultimately, she’d just waited for the sun to rise, taking refuge in practice with her teammates, finding peace in pushing her body to its limits. 

“We’re here for you, Tob,” Lauren murmured, reaching across the table and placing her hand atop Tobin’s. She gave Tobin’s hand a comforting squeeze. “We know how hard it must be -”

Tobin pulled her hand back and shook her head sharply. “No, you don’t. You have no idea what this feels like.”

Tobin got to her feet, ready to grab her tray and abandon this team breakfast, but a hand on her arm stopped her. ARod looked up at her, nothing but compassion shining in her eyes. 

“Then help us to. Let us be here for you,” ARod said, her voice soft.

“You’re not alone,” Lauren added, a small smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.

Tobin let out a soft sigh. Her friends were only trying to help, and she was grateful to have them. But right now she couldn’t do this.

“I know I’m not. I know you’re here for me, and I’m glad you are. I just- I think I need to be alone for a little while,” Tobin shrugged, leaving the table and exiting the cafeteria, only stopping once to get rid of her full bowl of granola. 

The silence was worse. Tobin gripped her steering wheel, despite her keys not being in the ignition. She sat in the parking lot outside her dorm with no destination in mind and hardly any gas in the truck’s tank. She missed her teammates’ chatter. At breakfast, she hadn’t really listened to their conversations, but the voices helped her drown out her own thoughts. Being alone might have not been the best choice. It only got worse when she felt her phone buzz in her back pocket. 

She knew who was calling without even looking. Something inside of her just knew that Christen was on the other line. Her heart ached and she desperately wanted to pick up the phone. She wanted to apologize and hear Christen’s voice and take back everything she’d said, even if it had been the truth. She went so far as to pull her phone out of her pocket and verify that it was in fact Christen’s name and picture that appeared on her phone, the buzzing still continuing. 

“You have to put yourself first,” Tobin thought to herself, dropping her phone in the passenger seat next to her. “It’s too painful to do this, to wait for someone who doesn’t want anything to do with me.” 

Tobin thought back to the Instagram picture she’d seen the night before. The picture Christen’s girlfriend had posted about their date. It had made her feel physically ill. She’d blamed it for her awful night’s sleep, although she probably would have had one anyway after her fight with Christen. “Christen is happy. She’s with someone who can give her more than you can,” Tobin reasoned, her hands tightening on the wheel at that thought. 

Her phone finally stopped vibrating, the call ended. She only got a moment’s respite before her phone buzzed again, this time with incoming text messages.

 

[Christen Press 10:07AM]

Tobs, please answer? I know you’re there.

[Christen Press 10:07AM]

You didn’t give me the chance to explain last night. There’s so much more I want to say, so much more I have to tell you.

 

Tobin shook her head at the messages. She didn’t need to hear Christen’s sweet voice asking her to stay, to hear her gush about her girlfriend. She wasn’t in the mood and she was fresh out of chances to give. 

 

[Christen Press 10:10AM]

Please don’t throw everything away over something we can talk about and fix. Tobs, please please please don’t shut me out. 

 

With an exasperated sigh, Tobin discarded her phone once more. She didn’t want to shut Christen out. It was the last thing in the world that she wanted. But she had no choice. This was the only way to protect her heart, to put her feelings and herself first. She had to let Christen go. She had to let Christen be happy with someone else, so she could pick up the pieces of her broken heart and try to heal. But she had to do that on her own, she couldn’t do it with Christen constantly there.

Tobin turned her phone on “Do Not Disturb” before putting her keys into the ignition, cranking up the car, and backing out of her parking spot, still unsure about where she was going. She just needed to get away. 


DECEMBER

Break-ups always sucked, even if you were the dumper and not the dumpee. They especially sucked when they happened right before a shitty game, adding to a less-than-stellar season. They especially especially sucked when the dumpee sent her an eight-page letter, two months after the break-up, begging Christen to take her back. Megan had snatched the letter from Christen and tried to perform a dramatic reading of it, but Christen was quicker and able to dispose of it, not wanting to read all of the pages. There was no way she’d date Kate again, not after the way she’d basically just used her to try and get over Tobin. She didn’t need to read a letter that would only make her feel worse.

It was the last day of finals and Christen was packing her bags to move home for the break. She had been in a real rut recently and was grateful that she got to spend the next six weeks at home. 

These past two months, ever since her last conversation with Tobin, had sucked. She’d broken up with Kate the day after talking to Tobin, feeling like she had to make it a clean break as soon as possible. She couldn’t keep pretending like trying to date someone else was working. She still had feelings for Tobin, and her plan to get over them backfired. In fact, she was arguably more eager to talk to and be with Tobin than she had been before. Instead of helping her, it had hurt her and hurt Tobin as well. 

Kate had initially taken it well, seeming like she understood when Christen told her that it wasn’t anything Kate had done wrong. She’d decided that honesty was the best policy and truthfully told Kate that she should never have started a relationship with her since she wasn’t fully over someone else. Christen had assured Kate that she’d not cheated on her and wasn’t just breaking up with her to date the other person. Christen knew that she couldn’t start a relationship with Tobin, since Tobin was still not answering any calls or texts. Kate had seemed somewhat curious and even asked who Christen was interested in, but eventually, Kate had respected that Christen didn’t want to discuss it more fully. At least, Christen had believed that Kate respected her decision. The eight-page letter said differently. Christen hated that she’d hurt Kate. She didn’t think she was the type of person to hurt others, but she’d hurt both Tobin and Kate because of her own selfish attempt to feel better. Despite feeling guilty for hurting Kate, Christen didn’t owe her any more of an explanation, and she felt strong in her decision to throw away the letter and move on with her very single, very lonely, Tobin-less life. 

In terms of soccer, things hadn’t gone any better. Her team hadn’t been able to repeat their magic from freshman year. They’d lost in the round of the Elite Eight to a scrappy and brutal Duke team. It had come down to PKs, and Christen’s had been the one saved, sending Duke to the final four and  UCLA back home. Coach Foudy had told her to keep her head up, but Christen still felt a little sick to her stomach when she thought too long and hard about it. 

And then there was Tobin.

Christen had spent the better half of that first week trying to call her, Facetime her, text her. She’d even tried Instagram messaging her. But she had gotten no response, nothing to indicate Tobin had even read her messages. 

The silence hurt the most. Christen knew in her heart that given the chance, they could get over this. She could explain that she wasn’t happy with Kate, that it was over between them. She could apologize for not telling Tobin about Kate in the first place, for getting angry, and for hurting Tobin. She could tell Tobin that she missed her, that she missed their friendship. She could ask if they could start over, if they could hit the refresh button and get a fresh start to this whole thing. But she was shouting into the void right now, with no sign that Tobin was going to answer her any time soon. What made it possibly worse was that she knew Tobin was still in contact with Allie, the two of them talking nearly every day. It took all of her strength not to sneak Allie’s phone out of her locker after practice and call Tobin, just to hear her voice. 

A throat clearing from her doorway caught Christen off guard. Everyone else had already headed home, she was the last person in the townhouse to leave, so there shouldn’t be anyone else there. 

Turning around, Christen relaxed just a bit when she saw it was Allie. She wasn’t thrilled to see Allie though if she were honest with herself. The two of them hadn’t been on the best of terms since that fateful night a few months prior. Allie had barely looked at her, barely even spoken to her. She was definitely Team Tobin in this scenario, and Christen didn’t blame her one bit for it. 

Masking her surprise, Christen tried to smile at Allie, the expression falling flat. “Hey, what are you doing here?”

“I came to finally call a truce, I guess,” Allie shrugged, leaning softly against the doorway to Christen’s room. 

“A truce?”

Allie sighed, clearly frustrated with the entire situation. “I’ve been kind of a bitch lately, not that you didn’t deserve it, but I came to say I’m sorry.”

Christen shook her head, collapsing down onto the edge of her bed. “You don’t have to say that. You’re not the one who fucked everything up by being an idiot.”

“You can say that again,” Allie laughed bitterly, awkwardly hovering in the doorway and making no move to enter the room. 

Christen motioned for Allie to come join her on the bed, noting Allie’s hesitation.

“Will you sit? You’re making me anxious.”

“Yeah,” Allie nodded, plopping down on the bed next to Christen. 

Silence swallowed the room whole. The two teammates sat, their knees almost touching, neither knowing what to say. 

“Is she okay?” Christen said, finally voicing the question she’d been dying to ask Allie since October. She’d been desperate to know how Tobin was doing, and now she had a chance to get an answer.

“I mean...no?” Allie answered honestly. “You really hurt her. I haven’t seen her like that ever. On the bright side, she channeled the hurt into soccer, and now she’s an All-American,” Allie laughed. “Leave it to Harry to kill the game even when she’s in pain.”

Christen’s chest tightened at the admission, her heart sinking. Then she realized what else Allie said and looked up at her sharply.

“She got it?” Christen asked, a hint of wonder in her voice.

“Yeah, she found out yesterday,” Allie nodded. 

Christen couldn’t contain her smile or the small flicker of pride that warmed her heart. Tobin, an All-American as a sophomore in college. It was an amazing accomplishment, and of course, Tobin had done it. Tobin was the most incredible player Christen had ever seen. She only wished she could congratulate Tobin herself, to see her beaming goofy grin.

“Wow, that’s…” Christen trailed off, her throat suddenly feeling thick with emotion. “She’s extraordinary.”

“Yeah, she is,” Allie agreed, her face becoming serious again. “That’s actually why I came here. She’s amazing, the best friend I’ve ever had, and the kindest person I’ve ever met. I want to make sure that you know that.”

Christen hung her head, shame burning through her. She did know that. She knew all of that. She knew that Tobin Heath was the best person in the whole world, she just hadn’t acted as if she knew it.

“You don’t have to tell me things I already know, Al,” Christen replied quietly.

“You sure? Because you don't seem like you do know them,” Allie sighed. “I thought - I thought you liked her. The two of you were like lovesick puppies when I got you ice cream in Orlando.”

“I did - I do,” Christen assured quickly, openly admitting to the feelings that had stubbornly taken root in her heart and hadn’t left, even after all this time. “I just got the impression that she only wanted to be friends...and then being friends with her was great but also so hard because I wanted more. And then I tried dating someone else and it all just blew up in my face."

Allie remained quiet, giving Christen a chance to continue to talk, to explain herself. "Do you have any idea what it’s like, to talk to someone all the time, to get surprise coffees from them before big games, and know in your heart that your feelings for them are unrequited? That 'just friends' is all you'll ever be?” Christen asked quietly, emotion making her voice shaky. 

“I don't. But either way, you two are idiots,” Allie huffed. “And you both suck balls at communicating. Sure, you talked all the time, but what did you actually even talk about? Because you sure as hell weren't communicating, which is exactly what you need to start doing." 

Christen sighed but nodded in agreement. “I know, that’s what I’ve been trying to do, but I’m getting the silent treatment from Miss All-American. Which I deserve, I know. But still, I’m trying here, Al. I just don't know what else to do.”

“Sometimes Harry doesn’t know what’s best for her,” Allie replied, reaching over to pat Christen's knee, almost as if to silently say, You're what's best for her. "And when she’s hurt, she shuts down completely."

“What do I need to do?” Christen practically begged, hoping that Allie could help her, could point her in the right direction so that she could finally talk to Tobin. It was all she wanted, just the chance to apologize and set things right. Maybe ask for another chance, a fresh start at friends. But first, she needed to get Tobin to agree to speak to her.

“That’s the other reason I came here actually. I throw a Christmas party at my house every year, and I want you to come,” Allie said matter-of-factly. “Obviously Harry can’t ignore you in person, and she never misses my party.”

Christen felt this odd feeling swirling around inside of her. It felt a little like hope, a feeling she hadn’t felt in over two months. She blinked away the few tears that sprang to her eyes as a blinding smile broke out across her face.

“You are the BEST,” Christen replied, throwing her arms around Allie and pulling her in for a tight hug.

“Yeah, I know. Don’t mess this up, C.P. I’m serious. If you hurt her again I’ll be so mad at you,” Allie warned. "I'll, like, put red Kool-aid in your cleats and have Kelley shit in your locker or something."

Christen chuckled and then pulled back, fixing Allie with a serious look. “I never want to hurt her again, I just want another chance.”

“Good. We’re on the same page then," Allie said, standing up from the bed and walking to the door. "I’ll text you the details. Get home safe, okay?”

As Allie reached the door, Christen called out softly, “Thank you.”

Allie paused, half-turning to look back at Christen. “You know, you could probably text her about the All-American thing. I’m not supposed to tell you this, but she’s read all your texts. She’s just too stubborn and hurt to reply,” Allie shrugged, leaving Christen in her room and letting herself out of the townhouse. 

Christen sank back onto her bed, wondering if she should do what Allie suggested. If Tobin had seen all her other messages, the ones full of apologies and requests to talk, and hadn’t answered, why would she answer a text now? 

“Because she still cares,” a small voice inside of Christen said. “And so do you. So pony up, Press. Time to send another shout into the void.”

Christen grabbed her cell phone and opened up her text thread with Tobin. All of the blue bubbles, signaling all of her sent messages with no replies, mocked her and made her doubt for a moment if she should do this. But she forged ahead, wanting to congratulate Tobin on this feat. 

 

[Christen Press 3:43PM]

I heard the news. Congrats, All-American. It’s so deserved and I’m really happy for you, Tobin. I hope you’re doing well.

 

Christen didn’t second guess the message and quickly sent it, not expecting anything in return. Any hope of getting a response from Tobin had all but died in November, after what felt like her hundredth message going unanswered. Yet, on this cloudy, chilly December day, Christen hoped for a change. She hoped Tobin would answer her. She hoped this small olive branch would be accepted. 

It didn’t happen immediately, or even remotely close to the time Christen had sent the text. But after she’d gotten home, eaten dinner with her family, and had just left the house to take Khaleesi and Morena out for a quick night walk, her phone dinged in her pocket.

Her heart jumped into her throat at the sound of the specific, personalized text tone she’d assigned to Tobin oh so long ago. She couldn’t open her phone fast enough.

 

[Tobin Heath 9:16PM]

It was a pretty cool surprise. Thanks.

 

It wasn’t much, in the grand scheme of things. A few words, a handful of letters, very typical Tobin. Tobin was surprised, humbled, not bragging about her talents even though she could. Christen expected nothing less from Tobin, and it made every part of her ache, missing Tobin more than ever.

This text wasn’t much, but it made Christen smile. It made her feel like maybe things could be fixed, maybe there was a way forward. As she stood under the moonlight, Tobin’s response playing on a loop through her mind, Christen finally felt like she could breathe again.


“Harry, don’t eat those before people show up,” Allie smacked the pretzels out of Tobin’s hand. 

“Come ooon,” Tobin whined, waiting until Allie turned back toward the counter designated for drinks to grab another handful. 

“I can hear you chewing,” Allie huffed. 

Tobin smiled cheekily, her mouth still full of pretzels. She chewed slowly, looking around the room at all of Allie’s snacks. Her parents had left for the weekend to celebrate their anniversary like they’d done every year since Allie had turned fourteen. Allie’s parties weren’t as loud and chaotic as regular college parties, but there were always some drinking games, and someone always ended up passing out on Allie’s couch. 

“Harry?” 

“Hmmm?” Tobin sighed, tearing her eyes away from the Christmas cookies that Allie had put in the center of the kitchen table. 

“Have you talked to 'you know who' lately?” Allie queried. 

“Oh? Who are you referring to? Voldemort?” Tobin teased. 

“No, nerd. Someone with green eyes, a rocking bod, a fabulous personality, but who sometimes goes and fucks up a little bit?”

Tobin’s stomach flipped. Of course, Allie was talking about Christen.

She couldn’t help but imagine Christen’s eyes, their depths and swirls. They’d been what had drawn Tobin in that very first day. Allie wasn’t wrong either. Christen’s body was...well it was- “Tobin, stop. You’ve already complicated your relationship with Christen enough. No need to think about her in that way when you’ve hardly spoken since that night,” she chastised herself. Tobin couldn’t help it though. She’d been thinking about Christen more than she ever had before. Absence truly did make the heart grow fonder, and no matter how much Tobin wanted to get Christen out of her mind, to heal on her own, she just couldn’t. Out of nowhere, she’d imagine Christen’s laugh and her heart would thrum against her ribcage. At the grocery store, she’d see a girl with curly dark hair and practically choke on her own breath, just thinking it was Christen. Christen lived in her mind, and no matter how much she drove around aimlessly at night or surfed at the beach or played Fifa with Jeff to block out her thoughts, she couldn’t get Christen Press out of her thoughts or her heart. 

“I could give you more hints, but I don’t think you need them,” Allie said, bringing Tobin out of her thoughts with her teasing tone and knowing smirk.

“No, I don’t,” Tobin choked out. “We haven’t really been talking, something you already know.”

“Nothing recently? Say, like, for a crazy example, a text after the All-American news dropped?” Allie asked, feigning innocence but not doing a good job of it.

“What did you do?” Tobin groaned, putting her hands on her hips and staring at Allie. 

“My job as your official best friend. I just offered a little gentle guidance to someone in need.”

“So, it wasn’t Christen’s idea to text me...Did she even want to reach out?” Tobin thought, her mind turning toward negative thoughts as soon as Allie had mentioned Christen’s text. 

“Haaarry, I hate that you told her to text me,” Tobin grumbled. 

Allie shrugged and started to arrange the trays around the table. “Not in so many words...okay kind of. But I know she missed you and wanted to talk to you, so she just needed a little push! You two are horrible at communicating and it was starting to get on my nerves, so it was time to take matters into my own hands.”

“You really shouldn’t meddle in our lives,” Tobin said, knowing that nothing could stop Allie. 

Allie turned to face Tobin and narrowed her eyes. “Harry, do me a favor.”

“What?” Tobin flinched, preparing herself for the worst. 

“Look me in my gorgeous eyes and tell me you don’t miss her too.”

Tobin immediately looked away from Allie’s face, unable to look at her stupid smirk. Of course, she missed Christen. She missed every single thing about Christen. She’d literally been aching for Christen since their argument. Being Christen’s friend when Christen was with someone else was extraordinarily painful, but it wasn’t until Christen was completely out of Tobin’s life that she realized there were more painful things in life. Not having Christen at all was insufferable. 

Tobin’s silence and the look on her face were all Allie needed to confirm her suspicions. “I’m glad you feel that way. Because I invited her to come tonight,” Allie announced, turning on her heel and skipping off to the drink table.

Tobin’s mouth fell open, her lips moving but no sound coming out. Her throat dried instantly, suddenly making Tobin regret the handful of pretzels she’d shoved in her mouth. 

“Harry,” she choked out finally. “How could you? I’m literally wearing sweatpants and my grandfather’s Christmas sweater,” Tobin whined, looking down at the horribly ugly and baggy sweater.

It practically swallowed her frame, the hem of the sweater ending at the middle of her thighs. The sweater was supposed to be dark green, but an encounter with some bleach-based cleaning fluid left it blotchy and discolored around the chest area. That being said, the large image of Rudolph still remained stitched in the middle of her sweater, the red velvet nose more pink than red after so much wear.

Allie returned with a plastic martini glass full of a bright red liquid and handed it off to Tobin with a smile. 

“You’re welcome. Don’t fret, you look hot. And drink this, you’ll like it, it’s sweet,” Allie replied with a wink.

“I’m gonna need a few more of these. I don’t even know what to say to her,” Tobin sighed, gripping the drink in her hands. 

“It’s an open bar, sweetie, you’ll have all you need,” Allie said. She stepped closer and placed a comforting hand on Tobin’s shoulder. “Just tell her the truth. Tell her you’ve missed her and want to be back in her life.”

“I haven’t spoken to her in two months. Do you know how awkward that would be? I wanted to say that to her a month ago, and it was already too awkward then. I took too much time. I lost my shot. She’s gonna think I’m insane or weird or a jerk, maybe all of the above,” Tobin panicked. 

Placing her other hand on Tobin’s other shoulder, Allie recalled Tobin’s attention away from her impending panic attack.

“Harry. Breathe. Just talk to her. Stop worrying about shit and just go with the flow. She doesn’t think any of those things about you, I promise.”

Tobin took a slug of her drink, the sugar completely masking the alcohol. Just as she swallowed, the doorbell rang. 

Allie’s eyes widened at the sound. She checked in with Tobin first before going to answer the door. “Game face, Harry. You have so totally got this. Drink your Christmas cosmo and prepare to get your girl back.”

Allie didn’t wait for Tobin’s reply, flitting off to the front door and opening it with a large, hostess smile. “Merry Christmas you fucking filthy animals!” Allie sang, gesturing for her guests to enter. 

Tobin took another sip of her drink, pulling at her sweater and contemplating raiding Allie’s closet for a pair of real pants to replace her sweatpants. Instead, she turned around and grabbed one of the Christmas cookies, shoving it into her mouth. 

Thankfully, the first guests to arrive were high school friends of Allie’s, three girls who had played on her varsity soccer team. Tobin listened to the three of them talk, feeling out of place, her mind still spinning in preparation to see Christen Press, in all her glory, in person for the first time in seven months. She was so distracted by her own thoughts that she didn’t notice the other guests arriving. She hardly acknowledged Allie’s neighbors, some of the few people Tobin actually knew. She didn’t remember any of the names of the guys from UCLA’s basketball team who showed up. More than a few times Tobin considered calling Jeff or her parents to come and pick her up. Instead, she found herself trying to slip into corners and take deep breaths to calm herself down. 

“C.P.!!” Allie’s voice echoed around the room, announcing the arrival of the one person Tobin wasn’t sure she was ready to see. 

Tobin spat out a little bit of Christmas cosmo at the sound of Allie’s voice. The red liquid dribbled down her chin and landed on her ugly sweater. She grimaced at Allie’s friends, her cheeks burning with embarrassment. She grabbed a napkin off the table and shuffled away from them, trying to clean herself up before she ran into Christen. She was so focused on getting the liquid off her sweater, she didn’t realize she had walked into the kitchen until she heard Allie’s hostess voice. She was too engrossed with the red splotch on her sweater to bother to look up at who Allie was talking to. 

“Here you got your Christmas cosmos. Careful, they’ll sneak up on you and bite you in the ass,” Allie explained to Christen and Ali Krieger, pointing at the punch bowl on the counter. 

Christen had gone completely still, her eyes having seen Tobin enter the kitchen, Tobin's focus on her sweater. She’d had plenty of time to prepare for this. In theory, she should be completely calm. She’d written down what she wanted to say to Tobin at home, fixing her sentences to sound as sincere and kind as possible. She was convinced that she’d be able to walk into the party confidently. Part of the reason she’d asked Ali to arrive with her is that she thought having a friend nearby would make her feel even more comfortable. She hadn’t expected that at the moment when she caught sight of Tobin for the first time, she’d forget all of her words, unable to even think properly.

Tobin looked adorable, the green sweater swallowing her thin frame. She looked relaxed and goofy and beautiful, just as Christen had remembered. Christen couldn’t pull her eyes away, not even long enough to acknowledge what Allie was saying. 

“But if that’s not your cup of tea, we got soda and beer in the fridge,” Allie added.

“Thanks, Allie,” Ali Krieger smiled, picking up a drink. 

Tobin looked up at the sound of the unfamiliar voice and froze at who she saw occupying the kitchen with her and Allie. Her hand hovered over Rudolph’s antlers, the part of her sweater that was now stained with cosmo. Her eyes met Christen’s green ones, freezing immediately. She felt warm all over, suddenly wishing she’d worn a tank top and could pull the sweater off and ditch it in Allie’s room.

Christen looked flawless, her black dress hugging her hips and hitting her mid-thigh. Tobin had trouble tearing her eyes away from Christen's legs, but when she did, she saw how beautiful the rest of her looked. Her hair was down and curly, just the way Tobin liked it. Her ugly Christmas sweater didn’t even look ugly, instead, looking cute and so very Christen. It was a sweater vest with presents and candy canes covering it. The buttons were sparkly, shaped like snowflakes, and Tobin instantly wondered where Christen had found it. 

“Is it hot in here? Kriegs, why don’t you come check the thermostat with me?” Allie announced, hooking her arm through Ali’s.

“Uh...okay! Good cosmos,” Ali said, letting Allie Long lead her out of the kitchen. 

Christen had learned how to speak early as a child, far earlier than her other two sisters. She’d been considered a prodigy, stringing together words and sentences before everyone else her age. But right now, at the age of 19, she completely forgot how to speak. Her tongue felt heavy in her mouth and her brain felt foggy. She had been so prepared for this moment, to see Tobin and say everything she’d wanted to, but when it was time to do so, she was frozen. 

“Uh - umm - uh,” Christen stuttered, uncharacteristically lacking eloquence. 

“Hi,” Tobin choked out, wishing she’d had more time to actually become tipsy, knowing alcohol might make this easier. 

Christen threw her hand up in an awkward wave, cringing internally at the gesture. 

“Nice sweater,” Tobin mumbled, realizing she’d have to do the talking and hating every second of it. She wasn’t as good at talking as Christen was...at least historically, but gosh did she want to talk to Christen. 

Christen opened her mouth to reply, thought better of it, and screwed her mouth shut. She looked around, spotted an untouched Christmas cosmo sitting on the counter, and hastily picked it up. She downed it in one go, barely even registering the sickly sweet taste. She coughed once, wiped her mouth, then looked back up at Tobin, who had a slightly alarmed expression on her face. 

“Sorry, give me one second,” Christen said, sliding out of the kitchen the way she’d come in. Christen knew Tobin had to be beyond confused at this point, but she’d finally gotten her chance to talk to Tobin and she wasn’t going to waste another moment of it being silent and awkward and cringey. 

Christen took a deep breath and walked back into the kitchen. This time, she smiled a little shyly at Tobin and took a few steps toward her, stopping at the edge of the counter and leaning against it. 

“Hi, fancy seeing you here,” Christen said, pleasantly surprised her voice wasn’t shaking. 

Tobin couldn’t help the small grin that spread across her lips. “What a coincidence. It’s like someone wanted to get us both here,” Tobin mumbled, her eyes moving to where Allie’s voice could be heard in the next room. 

“I think at this point, I owe her like fifty Starbucks coffees,” Christen replied.

“Why’s that?” 

Christen shrugged, eyes falling to the floor as a hand ruffled the curls close to her head. “She keeps finding ways to help me when I mess things up, which I have a really bad habit of doing. But I’m finally ready to kick the habit,” Christen confessed with a small shrug, hope shining in her green eyes as she looked back up at Tobin. She gave herself a mental high-five, thankful that her words were back and that she was finally able to tell Tobin what she’d been wanting for so long.

Tobin didn’t know how to respond. She’d imagined what it would be like to see Christen again. She’d had dreams about every different kind of scenario. In some of her dreams, Christen and her girlfriend were at the same restaurant as Tobin. In others, Christen professed feelings for Tobin. None of her imagined or dreamed scenarios could really match this exact moment. 

Christen was more beautiful in person than her dreams could recreate. Christen’s silly reentry into the kitchen was more adorable than Tobin could have ever imagined. Tobin also had an inkling that Christen was subtly apologizing, or at least owning up to messing things up, and Tobin had never expected that. To be honest, Tobin had been feeling guilty for her behavior in the whole situation. She’d been hurt, of course, and she’d looked out for herself. Tobin wasn’t upset with herself for that, but she could have chosen her words more kindly. She could have waited to talk to Christen when they were calmer. She could have texted her sooner or called her back after Christen had left so many voicemails. 

“They have rehab programs for that?” Tobin teased, taking a sip of her cosmo to try and avoid the conversation that Christen wanted to have. After two months of not talking, Tobin wasn’t sure she could be as open and honest with Christen as this conversation would need.

“Don’t do that. Don’t joke,” Christen said gently, taking her lower lip between her teeth and tugging on it mercilessly, the gesture full of nerves.

“Sorry,” Tobin mumbled, glancing down at her slides. “You really should have dressed up for this party, dude,” Tobin thought, wishing she could rewind and look a little more put-together for the girl across from her.  

“Don’t apologize either. That’s my job,” Christen quipped. 

“You really don’t have to,” Tobin sputtered. An apology would make everything real and raw, and Tobin was not prepared to cry at Allie’s party.

Christen paused, sensing that Tobin might not be ready for the big, heartfelt apology she’d been practicing. Tobin seemed a bit cagey, her eyes a little wild and nervous. So, Christen took a deep, grounding breath, and put her plans aside. 

“Maybe not tonight, but I will. I promise, Tobs.”

Tobin couldn’t help the sigh that slipped from her lips. Leave it to Christen to basically read her mind and set her at ease, even after everything. 

“Want to sit on the porch?” Christen asked, feeling the need to get out of this stuffy kitchen and breathe the night air in, desperate for time alone with Tobin.

“Sure,” Tobin nodded, following behind Christen, through the party, and out the back door.

Allie’s back porch had the perfect view of the beach. From where Christen and Tobin were sitting, they could see the moonlight strike the waves, making them glow in the distance. 

They sat with a good bit of space between them, the chilly air full of unspoken thoughts and unasked questions. Even if the silence was less awkward than the one they’d found themselves in earlier, Christen was ready to break it. 

“Fun fact, I didn’t own an ugly Christmas sweater to wear to the party, so I had to make it,” she confessed quietly, her cheeks burning slightly with the admission.

“Are you serious?” Tobin asked, genuinely surprised. 

“They don’t call me crafty Christen for nothing,” Christen joked, giggling a bit at herself.

“You’re such a dork,” Tobin practically snorted, her chest aching as soon as she heard Christen’s laugh. 

As they both continued to laugh softly, Christen was beyond thankful that the two of them fell so easily back into this rapport, somewhere between friends and friendlier. It was like they just couldn’t turn it off.

“It’s your turn,” Christen said, looking over at Tobin, admiring the way the moonlight played off the angles of her face, making her look even more beautiful than Christen remembered.

“Fun fact, Allie’s friends intimidate me. Every single one,” Tobin sighed, leaning her elbows forward onto her knees. 

“They intimidate you? Are you sure it’s not the other way around?” Christen asked, half-turning her body so she could fully look at Tobin.

“I’m literally wearing a sweater I borrowed from my grandpa’s closet,” Tobin quirked an eyebrow at Christen. “I didn’t get the memo that ugly sweaters are still supposed to be cute.”

“You don’t look like you missed the memo,” Christen responded softly, her cheeks tinged with pink. 

“What, this old thing?” Tobin teased, a blush spreading across her cheeks. Christen was as smooth as ever, as easy to flirt with and talk to as ever. As much as Tobin enjoyed it, though, there was a small voice in the back of her head that reminded her that, as far as Tobin knew, Christen still had a girlfriend. 

Christen narrowed her eyes playfully. “Fine, I take it back. That puts the ugly in ugly sweater. Happy now?”

Tobin nodded, her throat feeling thick, just thinking about Christen and the girl she was with at UCLA. She couldn’t answer. She couldn’t speak. 

“My turn, huh? Okay...let me think…” Christen trailed off. She turned back to the ocean, her eyes sliding shut as she thought of something to share with Tobin. “Fun fact, I ate Phish Food a few months ago. By choice.”

“What happened to oat milk ice cream only?”

“Not enough of a comfort food after breaking someone’s heart,” Christen replied, her voice a little sad and full of guilt. She shook her head slightly and sighed, eyes opening to look out at the water. 

Tobin swore her heart stopped beating in her chest. "Does that mean Christen broke up with her? Or is Christen referring to my heart?”

“Whose heart was that?” Tobin asked, unable to curb her curiosity. 

Christen swallowed thickly. Her eyes remained trained on the water as she wrung her hands together in her lap.

“Kate, my not girlfriend's.” 

Tobin’s stomach turned at the mention of her name. She didn’t like the way it sounded coming from Christen’s mouth. It made her skin crawl. It made her picture Christen with Kate, kissing Kate, holding Kate.“Stop it. She broke up with her. She broke up with her. She broke up with her,” Tobin thought, that piece of information swimming around her head. She had no words for Christen, nothing she could say about that breakup. Speaking about the whole situation with Kate would reveal too much, and Tobin couldn’t do that, not yet. 

“Still way too sweet for me, but it did its job,” Christen added, forcing a smile on her face.

“It’s the best,” Tobin whispered, her throat feeling tight. “Fun fact, I learned how to make scones,” Tobin mumbled. 

Christen blinked a few times and then looked over at Tobin, unsure if she was kidding or not. “Tobin Heath, who is terrible in the kitchen, learned how to make one of my favorite baked goods? Did she do that for me?” Christen wondered. It was now her turn to remain silent, her words caught in her throat.

“That being said, I’m still a terrible cook, and Jeff is the one who takes them out of the oven because if it’s left up to me, they burn,” Tobin added, grinning softly at the memory of her first failed batch of scones. “I get distracted by other things and forget,” she added sheepishly.

Christen cracked a smile at that. “That’s a very you thing to do.”

“What, bake scones or ruin them?” Tobin laughed.

Tobin’s laugh was infectious, goofy and rough and throaty. It had Christen laughing right along with her. At that moment, it felt like everything that had transpired between them, the misunderstandings and the pain and the hurt was all in the past, and they were both taking a tentative step forward. Together.

“If I say both, will I incur your wrath or something?” Christen teased.  

“My wrath?” Tobin laughed again, her eyes crinkling and her smile growing even more. 

“I said what I said,” Christen replied.

“This isn’t the NCAA semifinals,” Tobin teased, quickly poking her finger into Christen’s knee and retracting her hand just as quickly. 

If anyone asked her later, Christen would blame it on the Christmas cosmo she’d chugged on an essentially empty stomach not ten minutes ago. But instead of keeping her distance and respecting the newness of their clean slate, Christen scooted a bit closer to Tobin and knocked her shoulder into Tobin’s.

“You were rather wrath-eous that day.”

“I wanted the ball,” Tobin shrugged, knowing full well that she had gone after Christen for other reasons that day. “Did you just invent a word there, Chris?”

There it was, the nickname. God how she’d missed it. Christen felt like she was floating, a lazy grin on her face as she chanced a look over at Tobin. 

“Maaaaybe. Or maybe those Christmas cosmos just unlocked my mind’s true potential,” Christen said, momentarily distracted by how close Tobin’s face was to her own. 

“The drinks are strong, right? I’m lucky most of mine ended up on Rudolph,” Tobin laughed, looking down at her sweater. 

Christen giggled, eyes dropping to the sweater as well. She noticed a large, red stain above Rudolph’s head. 

“He looks good in Cosmo red.”

“It really brings out his nose, right?” Tobin played along, trying to remind herself to breathe normally, despite her close proximity to Christen. 

Christen’s eyes rose to meet Tobin’s, and for a moment, she forgot how to breathe. They were so close to one another, a handful of inches apart. She’d never been this close to Tobin before, where all it would take was a slight lean from either one of them to bring their lips together. It was totally disorienting. 

“Um, yeah, totally,” Christen replied, her voice tight, her cheeks a little flushed. 

“It’s your turn,” Tobin whispered, not knowing how to deal with the tension between them and unable to think of anything clever to say. She couldn’t pull her eyes away from Christen’s, and she was starting to worry that her heart was beating fast and loud enough for Christen to hear. 

Christen gulped, eyes dancing between Tobin’s. She should move away and put some space between them, but she couldn’t. She was rooted here, eyes locked with Tobin’s, Tobin’s warmth pulling her in. 

But before Christen could formulate a response, the porch door opened with a clang. 

“Harry? You out here?” Allie called, leaning out of the door and peering out into the night.

“What’s up?” Tobin asked, already standing up from her spot on the porch. As much as she hated putting more distance between her and Christen, she was slightly relieved that Allie had broken the tension. She needed to step away, to move before something happened. The two of them hadn’t even talked about their falling out. They hadn’t apologized or cleared the air really, and Tobin didn’t want to do anything stupid before actually having a real conversation. 

Christen could feel the heat in her cheeks as she turned away from Tobin’s retreating form to look back at the ocean. That was a close call, too close. Damn, Christmas cosmos. She was too lost in her own head that she didn’t even hear Tobin come back out.

“Hey, Chris?” Tobin called, having stepped back out onto the porch.

Christen whirled around, eyes finding Tobin hovering in the doorway.

“Yeah?”

“Someone just threw up in Allie’s mom’s crystal vase, so I’m gonna help her get that cleaned up. Jeff’s supposed to be picking me up to go home soon, too. He’s got a tennis tournament early tomorrow, and I promised I’d watch him play. I guess - just- well, in case I don’t make it back out here, drive home safely,” Tobin finished lamely. She wanted to kick herself for sounding dumb, but she couldn’t take back her words.

Christen couldn’t help the small flare of disappointment she felt rise up in her chest. She quickly pushed it down though, in favor of getting to her feet and approaching Tobin. She stopped a few inches away, closer than she should be but unable to stop herself. She smiled warmly at Tobin.

“Don’t worry about it, go do your thing, Tobs. Wish him luck for me?” Christen replied, getting lost in those warm, brown eyes for the hundredth time that night.

“He doesn’t need it,” Tobin winked, her face absolutely beaming with pride for her little brother. 

“Then maybe I can use the luck? Like right now...umm, I know you don’t love birthdays, but mine’s coming up and-”

“December 29th, I know,” Tobin interjected.

Christen melted, loving that Tobin remembered her birthday. “- and I’m throwing a party on New Year’s Eve to celebrate it, a little belatedly. Allie’s gonna be there, and Megan is coming down, even Crystal and Kelley are going to try and make it. But I just wondered if - well, I wanted to know if you - you know if you’re free if you wanted to -”

“Crash it? Cater it? DJ it?” Tobin laughed, trying to set Christen at ease. 

“Attend it, you dork,” Christen replied with a small shake of her head.

“That sounds fun,” Tobin said, her heart racing in her chest at the thought of visiting Christen’s house, meeting her dogs and her family, spending more time with Christen. 

“Yeah?” Christen asked, her voice almost shy.

“There isn’t a theme, right? Because Rudolph only makes one appearance per year,” Tobin pointed at her chest. 

Christen laughed at that, grinning at Tobin. "I don’t think Rudolph would fit in at a black-tie event.”

Tobin’s stomach dropped. She gulped slightly, suddenly worried about what she owned that was black-tie appropriate. 

“Fancy,” Tobin replied, trying to hide her worry.

Christen ducked her head, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “I know it’s short notice, but my parents really like black-tie attire for New Year’s Eve parties, and this year it’s kind of a dual birthday party. You can totally wear your sneakers or even nice sweats if you want! I won’t let them kick you out.”

“I do own things other than sweats, not that it appears that way,” Tobin blushed. “But I might take you up on the sneakers.”

“I look forward to seeing that then. I’ll...text you?” Christen asked, her green eyes full of so much hope that she was sure Tobin could see, but she couldn't find it in herself to care.

“Yeah, and I’ll see you on the 31st,” Tobin affirmed before backing up toward the door. “I should really go help her.”

“Go, I’ll talk to you soon. It was really good to see you, Tobs. I’m glad Allie meddled again,” Christen replied, already feeling the absence of Tobin’s warmth by her side and missing it terribly.

Tobin immediately felt herself go weak at the knees when Christen called her Tobs. She waved awkwardly, nodding in agreement.

“See you, Chris,” Tobin said, stepping back inside the house and finding Allie in the kitchen, the sink already full of soapy water. 

Chapter Text

11 blocks from my door to your doorstep

Three years later and it feels too close

I thought I broke the last of that breakdown

The morning I sold your winter coat

...

But I'm two blocks away and you're just like a drug

My mind won't stop, it's just 11 blocks

I know that you're home

(Tobin - “11 Blocks” by Wrabel)

 

Come up to meet you, tell you I'm sorry

You don't know how lovely you are

I had to find you, tell you I need you

Tell you I set you apart

Tell me your secrets and ask me your questions

Oh, let's go back to the start

(Christen - “The Scientist” by Coldplay)

 

DECEMBER 30th

“Jeffrey, focus!” Tobin begged, holding up a black button-down in one hand and a white button-down in the other.

Jeff looked at his older sister, amused at her clear panic. She’d been stressed about Christen’s party since she’d been invited a week ago. 

“I think the white is classic. Plus, your suit jacket is going to be black,” Jeff finally responded. 

Tobin hung the black shirt back on the rack, still deliberating about her choice to wear a suit. She could easily borrow one of her sister’s dresses, but she knew she’d feel uncomfortable in them. “What if Christen doesn’t like suits?” Tobin worried, absentmindedly chewing on her bottom lip. 

“Stop worrying, dude,” Jeff whispered, pulling his sister in for a hug. “It’s gonna be great. Christen will totally be impressed, imPRESSed, get it?”

“Navy or black?” Tobin asked, pointedly ignoring Jeff’s teasing and holding up the two suit jackets she was stuck between. 

“I already said black. We’re going for a classic look here, Tobin,” Jeff said, focusing on the task at hand. 

“Okay I’m gonna try these on,” Tobin sighed, carrying the matching black pants, the shirt, and jacket away and toward the dressing room. 

“Have fun!”

Tobin changed quickly, not wanting to see herself in the mirror and start to judge herself for trying so hard for a girl that she wasn’t even sure had the same feelings she had. When she stepped out of her dressing room, she looked at her brother’s face to gauge his reaction. 

Jeff let out a low whistle and jumped to his feet. “Dude, YES. This is the move. Christen won’t even know what to do when she sees you in this.”

“Do I need a belt?” Tobin worried, her cheeks completely red from Jeff’s comments. 

Jeff nodded his head at the mirror behind Tobin, silently encouraging her to look at herself. “See for yourself,” Jeff replied.

Tobin turned around, finally facing herself in the mirror. Aside from her messy bun and sock feet, Tobin had to admit that she looked good. The shirt and pants were fitted, showing off her muscular legs and strong shoulders. The jacket fit perfectly, not making her look boxy or swallowing her completely. She rarely thought she looked great. She preferred workout gear and sweats to anything else because it made her feel most like herself, but standing in the suit, Tobin felt authentic and confident, two things she would definitely need when she saw Christen again. 

“I think I’ll just use the black leather belt I have at home,” Tobin said, unable to vocalize how she felt upon seeing herself in the mirror.

Jeff sighed, his sister’s sudden lack of confidence a source of mystery for him. He wasn’t about to stand by and let her feel anything less than ready for this party. 

“Say it with me, ‘I am totally rocking this outfit.’ Come on, Tobin, say it.”

Tobin rolled her eyes but grinned at her little brother. “I’m rocking this outfit,” she mumbled, the smile on her face growing even more. 

“Sorry, couldn’t hear you, what was that?” he teased, leaning towards her with a hand around his ear.

“Jeff,” Tobin groaned, pushing him out of the way of the dressing room door. “I’m rocking this outfit, dude. Totally rocking it, but now I’m gonna take it off so that I can pay for it.”

Jeff stuck his hands into his pockets, a satisfied smile on his face. 

“Meet ya at the register. We gotta get moving if we’re gonna find her a present before we have to get home,” he said, backing out of the dressing area.

Tobin quickly changed back into her jeans and t-shirt, hanging her new attire on the hangers and carrying them to the register. 

“Do I actually need to wear a tie for a black-tie event?” she asked, her worry still bubbling up in her chest. 

“I’m sixteen, I didn’t even know what black-tie was until today.”

“I’m gonna skip it. I don’t need to feel like I’m gonna choke all night,” Tobin said more to herself than Jeff.

Jeff reached out and grabbed a black bow tie off a display near the register. He tossed it onto the counter when they got to the front of the check-out line. Tobin was about to protest, but Jeff waved her off.

“Trust me, Tobin. That will seal the deal.”

Rolling her eyes, Tobin paid for her clothes, ignoring the large price that showed up on the cash register and reminding herself that she’d get a lot of wear out of the suit since it was the only one she owned. 

“Let’s find a present,” she said, leading Jeff out of the store, across the parking lot, and toward another section of stores. 

Tobin flipped through another book, having abandoned the sporting goods store for the book store, deciding that Christen didn’t need a soccer-themed gift. Just like Tobin, Christen probably had enough soccer gear to last a lifetime. She had no idea what Christen needed or wanted. Not only that, but Tobin wanted her gift to be special but also not too special. She wanted Christen to know that she cared, but she also didn’t want to freak Christen out by caring too much. She and Christen were finally in a sort of friendly place again, not texting daily but sending a text every few days to check-in or share news. They’d wished each other a Merry Christmas, and on Christen’s actual birthday the day before, Tobin had sent her a few texts, just wishing her a happy 20th birthday. Tobin didn’t want her feelings to get in the way of any kind of progress she and Christen were making toward repairing their friendship. 

“What about this?” Jeff asked, letting out another yawn. He held up a children’s book on dinosaurs.

“Not funny,” Tobin sighed, glancing out at the darkening sky outside. The party was tomorrow, and Tobin was starting to really panic about not finding something for Christen. “I’m gonna look at the non-fiction section,” Tobin said. 

“Oh, yeah. Nothing says happy birthday like non-fiction,” Jeff teased. 

Tobin ignored him and continued to browse. She’d almost given up hope when she glanced at the bottom of one of the shelves and saw a book with a white spine, small flowers decorating the cover. She pulled it off the shelf and read the title, Flowerpaedia 1,000 Flowers and their Meanings. Tobin grinned at the title, remembering one of her late-night conversations with Christen in the early days of their friendship, back in freshman year. 

 

“Fun fact, I love dahlias,” Christen whispered softly into the phone. 

“Like the Black Dahlia?” Tobin yawned, completely confused about why Christen loved the mysterious murder of an aspiring L.A. actress. 

“The flowers, Tobs. Dahlias are flowers,” Christen said, trying to stifle a laugh. 

“Oh, I don’t know much about flowers, clearly,” Tobin grimaced, feeling her cheeks go red. 

“That’s okay. Neither do I. I just think dahlias are beautiful,” Christen sighed. 

“I’ll google them,” Tobin whispered, already typing the name into her computer. 

“You don’t have to-” Christen insisted.

“Too late. I already am,” Tobin said, smiling when she saw the flower. It was so Christen, so unique and beautiful. “What color do you like?” Tobin asked. 

“The pink and orange ones are my favorites,” Christen sighed, her voice soft and warm. 

“I’ll remember that,” Tobin said, tucking the information into the back of her mind. 

 

Tobin flipped through the book until she found the right page. She read it slowly, letting her eyes settle on the page. “Dahlia flowers are viewed as symbolizing basic themes like grace under pressure,” she whispered to herself. Tobin immediately thought about how graceful Christen was, how good she was in stressful situations, how put-together she could be, while Tobin felt like she was spinning out of control. 

She continued reading, “They symbolize inner strength and the move toward major life changes. Dahlias can also represent a commitment to an idea or a person, or the balance between certain ideas, like relaxation and adventure.” 

That settled it for Tobin. She closed the book, marching toward the register, pulling Jeff away from the Fantasy section as she went. She paid for the book, making a note to stop at a florist the next day before the party. 


Christen peeked her head out of her closet. She saw Channing, Tyler, Megan, and Crystal sitting on her bed, chatting amongst themselves. They had all lived up to the black-tie theme. Crystal was in a gold, sparkly floor-length dress, Tyler was in a deep plum jumpsuit, Channing wore a simple maroon cocktail dress, and Megan dazzled in a fashion-forward dark gray suit and a plaid button-up. Christen gulped and looked down at her outfit, hoping it was up to par. 

She hadn’t been nervous about her outfit until about a week ago. Inviting Tobin Heath to her birthday party was, of course, a step in the right direction for them and so very exciting. But it had added a layer of stress to the evening for Christen. She had to make sure she looked perfect. She wanted to blow Tobin away.

With another deep breath, Christen stepped out of the closet, eyes tightly shut, her arms held out at her sides.

“Well? Does it look okay?”

At the silence in the room, Christen cracked an eye open. Both her sisters and her friends look absolutely gobsmacked, hopefully in a good way. 

Megan was the first to break. “Pressy, I just have one thing to say…”

At Christen’s arched brow, Megan winked and said, “Bow-chicka-wow-wooooow!”

Laughter broke out amongst the girls and Christen relaxed just a little. 

“Girl, you look hot,” Crystal complimented. “Tobin’s going to pass away when she sees you.”

Christen’s cheeks flamed at Crystal’s comment. She ducked her head shyly and took in her outfit. 

It was a dress she’d gotten for Christmas, a wonderful gift from her mom. It was an elegant, two-piece dress that hugged her in all the right ways. It had a navy blue halter top, the straps crossing over her collarbones and then looping around her neck. The skirt was also navy blue and flowy, with a thin sheer piece of fabric covering the skirt that shimmered. When she twirled, the skirt fanned out and twirled with her, the sheer fabric catching the light and sparkling. 

“You think she’ll like it?” Christen asked quietly, running her hands over the skirt of her dress and looking between her sisters and friends. 

Channing rolled her eyes. “Have you looked in a mirror yet? Of course, she will. Now can we go party or what?”

Tyler grabbed Channing’s hand and tugged her to her feet. 

“We’ll meet you downstairs, Christen. You look beautiful,” Tyler murmured, smiling at Christen as she pulled Channing out of the room. 

Christen moved to the bed and sat down between Crystal and Megan. The three of them laid back on the bed in tandem, their eyes on the ceiling. 

“Are you ready for tonight?” Crystal asked, taking Christen’s hand in her own. 

Christen let out a sigh, and shrugged, unsure how to answer that question. In some ways, she was completely prepared to see Tobin. She was ready to apologize and move forward. She was sure that they could continue to build off the start they’d had at Allie’s Christmas party, and slowly find their way back to the friendship they’d been developing before it had all gone wrong. 

But in some ways, she was so not ready. First of all, she was nowhere near ready to see Tobin in black-tie attire. There were so many directions to go with that theme, and she knew that whatever Tobin chose, it was going to completely stun her. Second, she wasn’t sure if she was ready for their big talk. Tobin had seemed so hesitant the other night; it made Christen a bit nervous. 

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Christen replied, trying to sound strong.

“We got your back, however this goes down,” Megan assured, grabbing a hold of Christen’s other hand. “I’ve been wanting to sock Tobito in the face for over a year, so if it goes south tonight…”

Christen laughed, thankful for Megan’s attempt to lighten the conversation. But then she heard the doorbell ring downstairs and the butterflies in her stomach roared back to life.

Crystal and Megan squeezed her hands, comforting her and communicating their support. 

“Let’s go party,” Christen said, giving her friends’ hands each a squeeze in return.

Christen, Megan, and Crystal made their way downstairs, winding their way through the small groups of adults Christen’s parents had invited over. They headed outside to the designated “birthday” section of the party. 

The outdoor patio space was covered in market lights, with balloons and streamers hanging off of chairs, tables, and the gazebo. There were a few food tables, a make-shift dance floor under the gazebo, and a very well-stocked drinks table. Christen’s dad had decided to allow alcohol, so long as anyone who drank either crashed at the Press house that night or got rides home from their parents. 

Despite the time of year, the night was unseasonably warm. The added heat from the patio heaters Christen’s dad had rented from a party company kept the temperature outside comfortable enough for the guests. 

To Christen’s surprise, a lot of guests had already arrived. Some of her high school friends had shown up, a handful of their UCLA teammates who’d stuck around L.A. for the holidays or who lived in the area were there, and then some of Tyler and Channing’s friends had already shown up too. But a certain someone wasn’t there yet, at least as far as Christen could tell.

“You can relax, she’s not here yet,” Crystal whispered, handing Christen a glass of wine. 

Christen took the offered drink and sipped it slowly, feeling herself follow Crystal’s instructions. She breathed deeply and slowly, trying to keep her heart rate nice and even, actually feeling like she could relax. And then Allie Long showed up. 

“The party can start now, bitches!” Allie cried, walking out onto the patio. 

Tobin followed shyly behind Allie, absolutely hating that Allie had called attention to their arrival. She could feel her cheeks warm up, just because there were so many eyes on her and Allie. Tobin tugged softly at her jacket, feeling uncomfortable in front of so many strangers. She stopped tugging on her jacket as soon as she caught sight of the birthday girl. Christen was still talking with Crystal, having only looked up briefly to wave at Allie, clearly not having seen Tobin behind Allie. Tobin’s mind immediately went blank. She was unable to think or move, her eyes completely stuck on Christen Press. 

Christen Press was a vision. She had clearly straightened her hair, and then curled it, her shiny black curls falling loosely around her shoulders. She had on more make-up than Tobin had ever seen her wear, not that Christen needed it. Christen looked beautiful with no make-up on, but tonight, with the smokey eye shadow and the dark lipstick, it was a totally different kind of beautiful, and it had Tobin struggling to breathe. Her dress was spectacular, and she was gorgeous in it. The color, the style, the way it moved when Christen moved, it was all just so perfect. Everything about Christen tonight was perfect and Tobin felt lucky to have even gotten the chance to witness her looking so beautiful. 

Tobin’s feet moved without her permission, carrying her through the throngs of people toward where Christen stood near the edge of the backyard. It was as if she had to be near Christen right now or she’d die. She barely had the presence of mind to put Christen’s gift down on the gift table before she hurried to the spot where Christen and Crystal stood.

“Happy birthday,” Tobin breathed out, hovering a few steps away from Christen and Crystal, her eyes locked on the gorgeous, green-eyed girl in front of her. 

Christen couldn’t stop the smile that spread across her face at the sound of Tobin’s deep, soft voice. She turned, ready to greet Tobin...and then she caught sight of her. 

“Fuck,” Christen whispered under her breath, desperately hoping no one could hear her, but knowing Crystal probably had. But she didn’t care. She didn’t care about anything else in the world when Tobin Heath was standing in front of her, looking absolutely drop-dead gorgeous in a suit. Christen bit her lip as her eyes trailed across Tobin and her choice of black-tie attire. 

The crisp, white button-up was tight across Tobin’s chest and the suit jacket clung to her shoulders. The dress pants tapered at her ankle, leaving a small line of tan skin free above the black Nike shoes Tobin had chosen to wear. But what really had Christen’s heart hammering and heat pooling low in her stomach was the untied bow tie hanging around Tobin’s neck. On anyone else, it would appear careless or casual, but on Tobin, it was the epitome of sexy.

On top of everything, Tobin had chosen to wear her hair down in soft waves, the way Christen loved. Every time she saw Tobin with her hair done like that, so effortless and inviting, Christen had this desire to run her fingers through Tobin’s hair, to push it away from her face, to tuck it behind her ear.

Any and all other responses Christen could have had to Tobin were lost the moment she laid eyes on her. Tobin just looked so damn good and it made Christen so damn tongue-tied. 

“I think I’m gonna go...get some water or something. Nice to see you, Tobin,” Crystal said, smirking at Christen and then at Tobin, walking away with a knowing shake of her head. 

Christen and Tobin barely registered Crystal’s words or exit, their eyes locked, the rest of the world fading away. 

“How’s 20 been treating you?” Tobin asked, not able to think of anything else to say.

Christen cleared her suddenly dry throat, wishing she hadn’t already finished her wine. 

“Good- great- I mean, I can’t complain,” Christen stammered, hating the flustered feelings inside of her right now. “God, she looks so good. I barely survive Tobin in sweats, and now she’s here in a suit. I might not live to see 21,” Christen thought to herself.

Tobin pushed a few strands of hair behind her ear, unsure of what to say, sifting through all the things she wanted to say but knew weren’t appropriate at this stage of their friendship.

“You look beautiful,” Tobin mumbled, glancing at Christen again, her eyes traveling up and down her body. 

Christen’s cheeks burned at the compliment. She fought off the urge to duck her head and break their eye contact, preferring to keep staring into those warm brown eyes as she replied. 

“So do you. You clean up really nice, Tobs,” Christen said, her voice airy and light.

“It is black-tie,” Tobin grinned. “That’s why I put this on,” she said, reaching up to point to the untied bowtie around her neck. 

Christen gulped, eyes falling to the undone bowtie. She shivered involuntarily as she looked back up at Tobin, pushing any and all non-PG rated thoughts from her brain. 

“Do they- uh, teach you that etiquette at Penn State? Or do you come by it naturally?”

“Natural talent,” Tobin smirked. Tobin couldn’t deny that she’d noticed how Christen seemed to be affected by her appearance. She’d seen her roaming eyes and the way she bit her lip when she first saw Tobin. That of course had only served to drive Tobin crazy. Tobin had a sudden urge to pull Christen close, to hold onto her, to kiss her- “Stop. Relax,” she forced herself to take deep breaths. 

“Talent or not, thanks for coming. It’s really great to see you again,” Christen hummed.

“It’s great to see you too, Chris,” Tobin agreed, keeping her eyes on Christen’s face instead of the rest of her body. 

“Can I get you something to drink?” Christen asked, feeling the need to play hostess but hoping that Tobin would say no so she could stay here.

“That’s okay,” Tobin smiled, not really wanting a drink and more importantly, wanting to keep Christen by her side as long as possible. She knew that if Christen headed to the drinks table to get her a drink, she’d be stopped by multiple people before making it back to Tobin. 

Christen nodded, a small smile playing on her lips. She looked around, noting that everyone else seemed to be distracted with the food, the drinks, or the dancefloor. Without letting herself second guess it, Christen reached out and grabbed Tobin’s hand in her own. 

“Come on, I want to show you something.”

Tobin followed behind Christen, her heart beating faster than it ever had before and her hand tingling incessantly in Christen’s soft, thin hand. She watched as Christen’s hair moved back and forth along her back, wishing that she could just reach out and feel how smooth and soft it was. 

Christen led Tobin down a hidden path at the rear of the backyard. The sounds of the party faded, the crashing waves taking over as the only thing to be heard in the night around them. Christen tried to keep her grip on Tobin’s warm hand loose and relaxed. The last thing she needed was to get an idea of what it felt like to really hold Tobin’s hand. She’d never be able to forget that if she did. 

“Where are we going? Is this the part where I get murdered?” Tobin joked. 

 “Shh, you’ll spoil it,” Christen whispered, her voice betraying her amusement at Tobin’s question.

A few more seconds and they’d reached it: a secluded part of the beach, with a path directly from Christen’s backyard. The sand was soft and pale, falling apart under Tobin’s feet. She knew that if she’d been barefoot it would have felt smooth and cool on her feet. For a second, Tobin thought about taking her shoes off, just to feel the sand between her toes, but then she thought about having to put her shoes back on for the party and decided against it. Instead, she looked out at the ocean, admiring how the stars were bright enough to almost seem like they reflected off the water. 

“Fun fact, this is one of my favorite places in the whole world. When I was little, my mom told me that this small stretch of beach was all mine, that it was made just for me. I don't know why I believed her, but I did. Even if I know better now, I still love this place. For as long as I can remember, this is where I would come to think, to escape, just to be. And I always make a trip down here for my birthday. I didn’t get a chance the other day, so I figured tonight was as good a time as any. I’ve just never brought anyone else with me before,” Christen admitted softly, her eyes fixed on the waves, her hand still loosely clinging to Tobin’s.

Tobin was practically speechless. If the scenery hadn’t taken Tobin’s breath away, Christen’s words definitely had. The waves lapped softly against the sand, immediately calming all of Tobin’s nerves that she’d felt about the night. The stars were bright in the sky, and Christen’s hand was still holding onto hers. 

“I’m honored,” Tobin whispered, completely in awe. 

“It was you or Pinoe, so,” Christen joked, squeezing Tobin’s hand before releasing it. 

“I don’t know. Megan’s pretty cool,” Tobin said, missing Christen’s hand immediately. 

Christen shook her head. “She’s not you,” she replied, her words holding a reverence that almost brought Tobin to her knees.

Tobin’s ears pounded with her increased heart rate. She could feel a soft sting behind her eyes, hinting at the possibility of good tears. Tobin looked up at the sky again for the sole purpose of keeping herself from crying on a secluded beach in front of Christen at her birthday party. She didn’t want to scare her away. She couldn’t be too serious or too emotional, not when she was only just starting to rebuild her relationship with Christen.

“I’m really, really sorry, Tobs,” Christen said quietly.

“For what?” Tobin asked, her eyebrows furrowing in genuine confusion. Christen hadn’t said anything rude that night. It was her birthday party. She shouldn’t be apologizing. 

“For not being honest with you. For making it hard to be my friend. For hurting you. For a lot of things, really.”

Tobin gulped softly, feeling the stinging behind her eyes again.“I’m sorry I said all those things. It was unfair. You deserve to be happy with whoever you want, and I shouldn’t have gotten so upset just because you didn’t tell me.”

Christen turned away from the ocean, her brow furrowed. She crossed her arms in front of her chest in an effort to keep herself warm, the sea breeze causing her to shiver.

“Unfair doesn’t make something untrue,” Christen replied, her tone serious. She shivered once more, rubbing at her upper arms.

Without speaking, Tobin slipped off her jacket and wrapped it around Christen’s shoulders. The action brought them within inches of each other, something Tobin hadn’t thought through, but couldn’t find it in herself to regret. 

“Thanks,” Christen whispered, her tongue poking out to wet her lips.

“Even if it was somewhat true, it was still ill-timed,” Tobin mumbled, her eyes moving down to Christen’s lips. 

A flicker of white-hot desire shot through Christen at the sight of Tobin’s eyes on her lips. It would be so easy to close the space between them, to kiss Tobin like she’d wanted to for so long. But she couldn’t, not yet.

“Remember how I said I always think things through? Even to the point of detriment?” 

“You said that in Orlando,” Tobin affirmed.

Christen nodded, eyes falling from Tobin’s. She reached out and brushed at the sleeve of Tobin’s shirt, wiping away a piece of fuzz. 

“Yeah. I...I started to overthink things, even more this year. I made a lot of mistakes and did things that I’m not proud of. With Kate, with you. At the time I thought I was doing what was right, but now I know I wasn’t. I’m just really sorry you got caught in the crossfire of it all,” Christen hummed into the space between them, her fingers falling away from Tobin’s sleeve.

Tobin turned her head away from Christen, not wanting the green-eyed girl in front of her to see that a tear was slipping down her left cheek. She looked at the waves crashing against the shore. Tobin would have forgiven Christen without a heartfelt apology. She’d already been ready to take her back into her life, as a friend, as more than a friend, as anything that Christen wanted. Tobin knew that it was hard to set her feelings aside, but now she knew from experience that it was harder to set Christen aside, to push her out of her life. All she wanted was to pull Christen into her, to hold onto her, to make sure that she was really there on the beach with her, that she was real. Instead, Tobin took a deep breath and reached her hand up to wipe her cheek. 

Christen wasn’t entirely sure what to make of Tobin’s silence. She stared at what little she could see of Tobin’s face, hoping the words she continued to say were enough to earn Tobin’s forgiveness.

“I don’t need you to say anything. I just wanted you to know how sorry I am for everything. And if it’s not too much to ask, I wanted to see if we could hit reset on this whole thing and try again?”

Tobin finally turned to face Christen, resigning herself to the fact that Christen was in fact going to see a tear or two. She couldn’t stop them. They were uncontrollably slipping from her eyes, and Tobin was helpless to regain control of them. She couldn’t even determine if they were happy tears because Christen wanted to rewind time and try again or sad tears that grieved for the two months she’d spent without Christen. 

“Oh, Tobs,”  Christen murmured, catching sight of the tears falling down Tobin’s cheeks. She immediately wrapped her arms around Tobin’s neck, bringing their bodies flush in a tight embrace. 

“I’m sorry,” Tobin choked out, her face buried in Christen’s perfectly done hair, probably messing it up, not that Christen seemed to care much. 

“No, shush, don’t you dare. This beach has seen a lot of tears. Don’t apologize for yours,” Christen cooed softly, rubbing a hand down Tobin’s back in a soothing motion.

“I want to try again,” Tobin whispered when she’d finally controlled her breathing, her cheeks still damp but now tearless. 

Christen’s breath caught in her throat at the watery, choked-out words she heard from Tobin. “She wants to try again. She forgives you,” Christen thought, an overwhelming sense of relief washing over her. Her eyes burned a little at that realization, but she kept her tears at bay, knowing they both shouldn’t be sobbing messes right now. She needed to stay strong.

“I missed you, Tobs,” Christen said, tugging Tobin a little bit tighter with the admission.

“I missed you so much, Chris” Tobin sighed, breathing Christen in, just letting herself have this moment. 

Christen wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that, embracing on the beach, with her hands rubbing soothing circles across Tobin’s back, with Tobin’s face buried in her neck, and Tobin’s hands gripping her waist. But the ache in her arms told her it had been a while, far too long to have stayed down here, away from her own birthday party. She slowly unfurled her arms from around Tobin and took a step back, unable to quell the sigh of disappointment as she did so.

“Best birthday beach trip ever,” Christen said with a smile. “And I hate to end it, but we should get back.”

“Yeah you’re kind of the worst hostess,” Tobin teased, finally back to her old, goofy self. 

“Ouch, five minutes back as best friends and you’re already being rude to me,” Christen teased.

Tobin had to swallow down the slight disappointment when she heard the word friends. Of course, she knew that she and Christen were still just friends. One emotional apology on the beach wouldn’t change that. They still spent most of the year miles apart, Christen was not a fan of long-distance, and neither of them was ready for a relationship greater than friendship. They were still hurting and healing, still figuring out what this was. Even so, this felt like a shift from where they were before. Behind Christen’s words of friendship, there seemed to be the promise of more.

“Fun fact, this is the best birthday party I’ve ever experienced, even better than the ones my mom used to throw me as a little kid, and she once threw a pretty epic NASA party when I turned nine,” Tobin laughed, feeling an urge to grab onto Christen’s hand. She shoved her hands into her pockets instead. 

“Why wasn’t that one as good? I mean, space is pretty cool.”

“You weren’t at the NASA party,” Tobin shrugged, turning to head back up the path to Christen’s backyard. 

With such few words and an effortless way of saying them, Tobin had caused her heart to flutter. Tobin was the only one who ever did that to her, the only one who could make her heart race and her skin tingle and her palms ache to hold onto her. Christen felt a small sigh of relief leave her lips that they were back to a place where Tobin could say those things, and she could embrace her reaction to them, instead of ignoring it. 

Christen fought off a small smile as she hurried to catch up to Tobin, looping her arm through Tobin’s as they reached the base of the secret path leading back up to the party.


“Where did you run off to?” Allie asked, accepting the glass of champagne that Tobin had picked up from the drink table. 

“Christen wanted to talk,” Tobin mumbled, sipping on her own glass of champagne, her eyes flitting around the party, taking in the decorations and other people that she’d ignored upon entering the patio space and seeing Christen for the first time. 

“Oh, how did that go?” Allie teased, smirking at the grin that Tobin hadn’t been able to wipe off her face since her talk with Christen. 

“It was great,” Tobin said genuinely, her stomach still full of butterflies. 

“What’s great?” Megan interrupted, slinging an arm across Allie’s shoulders, clearly somewhat tipsy and unbalanced on her own two feet. 

“Harry and Christen’s talk,” Allie smirked. 

“OOOOOHHHHH, Toby and Pressy got it on?” 

“No, we didn’t. We had a conversation,” Tobin corrected, unable to stop the blush from rising in her cheeks. 

Tobin heard Christen’s laugh from across the backyard and spun on her heels to look at her. Christen had walked with Tobin to get drinks before she apologized and explained that she needed to play hostess for a few minutes and talk to everyone else. Tobin had agreed, but as soon as Christen wasn’t right next to her, she felt a huge sense of loss. She’d gone to find Allie, not wanting to awkwardly stand alone, but her eyes hadn’t left Christen for more than a few minutes, traveling around the patio as Christen talked to her friends from high school or club soccer or UCLA. 

“You’re so into her still,” Megan cooed, poking Tobin in the ribs. 

“No shit,” Allie snorted. “Look at Harry’s heart eyes.”

“Can you guys stop it?” Tobin hissed, not wanting their voices to carry far. She and Christen had just sorted things out, and she didn’t want to ruin it. 

“Hey, is Christen wearing your jacket?” Crystal asked, coming up to the group with a glass of wine in her hand. 

Tobin’s face flushed again, and she suddenly wished she’d stayed alone near the drinks instead of finding her friends. 

“She got cold,” Tobin mumbled. 

“Whipped,” Megan coughed out, earning an elbow in her side from Crystal. 

“I think it’s sweet,” Crystal sighed, reaching out to squeeze Tobin’s hand. “I’m glad you two are okay now.”

“Yeah, mopey Pressy is the worst,” Megan huffed.

“Thank god I got involved,” Allie said, flipping a strand of her hair over her shoulder. 

“Seriously, dude,” Megan laughed, holding out her glass to Allie’s for a quick cheers. “Next, we have to get them to confess their actual feelings.”

“No,” Tobin said, her eyes now focusing on the three girls in front of her instead of on Christen, who was now talking to her sisters. “I appreciate everything you guys have done. I really do, but Chris and I need to figure things out on our own. No more parent trapping, no more telling us to text the other person, no more tricking us into going to the same parties. We need to figure this out without your interference.” Tobin crossed her arms over her chest, hoping they would take her seriously. 

“Fine,” Crystal muttered first. 

“Yeah, whatever,” Megan sighed. 

“The sun has set on my time as the love guru. I will forever miss it,” Allie said, her tone dramatic as she held a hand to her chest.

“I need another drink,” Tobin groaned at Allie’s dramatics, turning around and making her way to the table. She refilled her champagne glass, enjoying the slightly floaty feeling she was already getting from her first two glasses. 

“Make some room, it’s time for cake!” Tyler called out, causing Tobin to turn. 

Christen’s dad carried out a large sheet cake and placed it on one of the food tables. The guests gathered around as he lit the array of candles. Tobin watched as Christen made her way to the table, a shy smile on her face. 

“Happy birthday to you,” Christen’s dad began to sing, the rest of the guests jumping in and joining the birthday song. 

Tobin found herself singing along, quite loudly, enjoying the way Christen’s cheeks turned pink now that she was the center of attention. Christen was scanning the crowd, almost like she wanted to make sure she looked at everyone while they sang to her, and then, she finally met Tobin’s gaze. 

The singing, the people, the party itself melted away as Christen’s green eyes stayed locked with her own. They were in a world all by themselves, with Tobin singing happy birthday just to Christen. Tobin tilted her glass of champagne in Christen’s direction and smiled as she continued to sing. Christen’s blush deepened and then she looked away, her gaze traveling around the rest of the group. 

“Happy birthday to youuuuu!” everyone sang, finishing off the song with a fun flourish, causing Christen to giggle. She clapped her hands together, her eyes shining, as she bent over to blow the candles out.

As she did, Christen felt her heart wish for something it shouldn’t, but she wished for it anyway. She wished for Tobin to be hers, for them to actually get a shot at being together. Maybe it was foolish or misguided or downright idiotic, but after their time on the beach tonight, Christen felt like she could wish for something like this. Like maybe it wasn’t the craziest thing in the world to ask to be with Tobin.

She smiled as all the flames went out and then stood back up. She quickly hugged her parents and her sisters and then went about passing out slices of cake to her guests. 

“Go, we got this,” Stacy murmured to Christen quietly. She smiled warmly at Christen and then nodded at something over Christen’s shoulder. “Bring her a slice of cake and tell her I’d like to meet her sometime soon, okay?”

Christen blushed, not needing to turn around to know who her mom was talking about. She grabbed two pieces of cake and then spun on her heel, heading toward Tobin and the drink table. She felt her smile grow as Tobin realized she was coming and left the conversation she’d been in with two of Christen’s high school friends. She met Christen halfway between the two tables, the two of them now in the middle of the make-shift dance floor.

“One of those for me?” Tobin asked. 

Christen nodded and handed Tobin the cake. “Hope you like chocolate cake,” she replied. 

“Fun fact, it’s my favorite,” Tobin grinned, already scooping up a bite with her fork and popping it into her mouth. 

Christen beamed and then dropped her focus to her own slice of cake. The two of them ate in comfortable silence, finishing off their slices quickly. Tobin was quick to grab Christen’s plate from her, dropping the used paper plates into the trash nearby before returning to Christen’s side.

They looked at each other for a moment, both wanting to say something, and choosing the same moment in which to do so.

“Do you want to-?” Tobin asked.

“How’s the-?” Christen started, stopping her question when she realized Tobin had asked something as well. They both chuckled.

“You go ahead,” Tobin offered, nodding toward Christen. It was her birthday after all, and chivalry wasn’t dead.

“No, please, what were you going to say?” Christen replied, shaking her head and taking a small step closer to Tobin.

“Do you want to- umm,” Tobin hesitated. She felt silly asking Christen if she wanted to open her present. For all Tobin knew Christen was the type of person to wait until after everyone had left to open gifts. She seemed like that kind of person, the kind of person who sent thank you notes to every single person after a party. She’d started to ask already though, and with Christen’s eyes on her, she didn’t feel like her brain could work quickly enough to make up a new question. “Do you want to open your present?” Tobin mumbled, feeling her cheeks blush immediately. 

Christen’s stomach filled with butterflies as a smile spread across her face. Of course, Tobin had gotten her a present. 

“You didn’t have to get me anything,” Christen said quietly.

“I wanted to,” Tobin said, finally able to meet Christen’s eyes again.

Christen was so caught up in Tobin’s eyes, in the emotion she could see nestled inside of them. It was a peculiar emotion, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. But whatever it was, it was one that caused her heart to beat a little faster and foolishly dream that one day there could be more between them. She was so lost in those warm brown eyes that she didn’t even register that it was almost midnight until a bunch of party guests started to verbalize the countdown.

“Nine...Eight...Seven...Six…”

Christen felt her heart leap into her throat. It was almost midnight, almost the moment where people celebrated the coming year with a kiss. Surely there had to be a reason why she found herself seconds away from a new year, standing inches away from Tobin Heath, with the promise of more hanging in the air between them. 

Tobin couldn’t pull her eyes away from Christen’s, despite the countdown that signaled the coming of a New Year. She was completely caught in her eyes, completely overwhelmed by the way they shined in a way that only Christen's eyes could. Her eyes had been the first thing that Tobin had noticed about Christen, and no matter how much more she learned about Christen, they were still the most captivating. 

Later, she’d blame it on those eyes, but deep down she knew it was all her. Tobin took a step closer, practically breathing the same air as Christen. 

“Five...Four...Three,” the guests continued to yell. 

Tobin couldn’t stop herself from reaching her hand out and brushing her fingers against the back of Christen’s hand. Christen was intoxicating. She was addicting, and no matter how many times Tobin reminded herself that they were only friends, she couldn’t help but listen to the small hopeful voice in her head that whispered that there was more. 

“Two...One,” everyone cheered. 

“It’s her birthday. Friends can celebrate on a birthday,” Tobin rationalized, linking her hand with Christen’s and relishing in the warmth there. Christen was looking at Tobin with wide eyes, her smile soft and warm and a little curious. 

It was all too much. It was too much for Tobin to ignore or push down. So, instead, Tobin leaned forward, completely helpless to Christen. She felt Christen’s breath against her cheek as she moved closer, cocking her head to the side and pressing her lips against Christen’s cheek. She kissed her cheek for longer than she probably should have, completely overcome by Christen’s soft skin, by the way Christen’s breath hitched in her throat, by the way Tobin could feel Christen grin softly. 

When she finally moved her lips away from Christen’s cheek, Tobin missed the warmth. She wanted to kiss her again and again and again. She wanted to rewind time just to feel her cheek against her lips one more time. 

“Happy New Year, Chris,” Tobin whispered, her breath hot against Christen’s cheek and ear. 

Christen sucked in a gulp of air, trying to collect herself before she could respond. 

“Happy New Year.”


FEBRUARY 14th

Christen always loved Valentine’s Day. It didn’t matter if she was single or crushing on someone or in a relationship, she still loved February 14th. Maybe it was the fact that chocolate was just everywhere, and Christen did love her some chocolate. But it probably had more to do with the fact that Christen Press was a hopeless romantic, and this was the day of the hopeless romantic. Love was in the air and there was nothing that could suck the wind from Christen’s sails today...

“We can’t make it tonight,” Megan admitted, hovering near the kitchen island.

Wind in the sails, meet Megan Rapinoe. Christen pulled the heart-shaped sugar cookies she’d spent that last hour making and baking out of the oven and glared over at Megan. 

“I’m sorry, what?” she asked, putting the hot tray down on the counter and fisting her hands on her hips. 

“Sue asked me to come over and attempt homemade sushi with her. You know I’m weak for sushi,” Megan explained, her tone apologetic.

“And Sue,” Kelley snorted from the couch, a heart-shaped box of chocolates now empty and resting on her stomach.

“I’m really sorry, Pressy. I was looking forward to it,” Megan groveled. 

Christen had spent all week planning this evening’s festivities. She had coordinated with ARod, Lauren, Tobin, Allie, and all of her roommates. They were meant to all bake something sweet to eat and then Facetime while they watched a rom-com together. 

Her perfect plans were quickly souring and Christen had to remind herself to stay calm. It was her favorite day besides Christmas, and it wasn’t going to be ruined by Megan Rapinoe ditching their plans.

“It’s fine,” Christen replied, fixing a smile on her face. “At least I’ve still got Kel and Crys.”

Kelley hopped off the couch, a sheepish and distressed look on her face. “About that…”

Christen sighed, knowing that tone. Kelley wasn’t staying in tonight either. At least she still had -

Crystal hurried down the steps, hopping into heels and grabbing her keys off the counter. 

“Cute boy from French class?” Megan asked, a grin on her face.

“Finally!” Crystal cheered. She looked to Christen with an apologetic grimace. “I’m so sorry, sweetie, he just asked if I wanted to go out and -”

Christen held up her hands in defeat. Crystal was leaving her too, and now she’d be home all alone with two dozen sugar cookies.

“You still have Allie, Lauren, ARod, and Tobin,” Megan shrugged, snatching one of Christen’s cookies off of the baking sheet. 

Crystal flinched, having to be the bearer of more bad news. 

“Actually Allie’s out too. Bati’s good friends with the cute boy from French class, so we’re doubling,” Crystal admitted quietly.

Christen groaned and hopped onto the counter. “What is this, ditch Christen day?” 

“No, it’s Valentine’s Day,” Kelley mumbled sarcastically, her mouth stuffed with one of Christen’s cookies.

“One of your favorite days, so don’t let this get you down! At least Tobin will definitely show up,” Crystal added with a wink, sliding on her jacket as the doorbell rang. “Gotta go, love you guys!”

Megan and Kelley left quickly after that, and then Christen was all alone. She got into her comfiest pajamas, skulking back downstairs with her computer under her arm. She left her computer open on the coffee table in the living room and went to go grab a few sugar cookies to help her feel better. 

The tell-tale Facetime ringtone sounded and Christen felt her heart skip a beat. 

 

INCOMING FACETIME CALL: Tobin Heath

 

Christen flopped onto the couch, the plate of cookies in her hand, and answered the call. 

“You’re early,” Christen said, taking a large bite of the cookie, her eyes immediately taking in the image of Tobin Heath on her computer screen.

“Hello to you too,” Tobin laughed. “Coach let us leave practice early. Where are your roommates?” 

Christen grumbled and aggressively bit off another piece of cookie.

“Dead to me,” Christen replied. “Also, hi,” she added, a sheepish smile on her face. She didn’t need to be taking out her frustrations on Tobin, especially when the Penn State forward looked so cute, with her glasses on her nose and a snapback on her head, almost drowning in the oversized sweatshirt that she wore.

“You killed them?” Tobin teased, aware that Christen was frustrated and wanting to make her laugh. 

“I am taking a ‘How to bury a body’ class this semester, so I was well prepared for today,” Christen quipped, her tone teasing. 

“I’ve never met this side of you. Who knew that Scary Chris would make an appearance on V-Day of all days,” Tobin grinned, finding Christen’s frustration with her roommates actually adorable. 

Christen forced herself to take a deep breath. She closed her eyes and tilted her face to the ceiling. She took another deep breath, then one more, feeling her irritations melt away. She opened her eyes and shot Tobin an apologetic smile.

“I was just really excited to all be together, watching cheesy movies and eating way too many cookies,” Christen admitted.

“I brought cookies,” Tobin said, making sure that Christen knew she’d followed the plan. 

“Store-bought, Tobs?” 

“Slice and bake. They have hearts on them,” Tobin mumbled. “I kind of burned the second batch, but the first one is good.”

Christen shook her head, laughing at Tobin’s reply. That was another thing she’d learned about Tobin Heath: the girl always managed to burn the second batch of anything. It was insanely endearing.

“That is your M.O. in the kitchen,” Christen replied with a smile.

“Remember when I tried to make cinnamon rolls for ARod’s birthday and set the timer for 20 hours instead of 20 minutes?” Tobin asked, still laughing even though it had been months since ARod’s birthday. 

Christen laughed, easier and more freely now. Her prior disappointments were gone, and it was all thanks to Tobin.

“I do, you’ve never trusted an oven timer since. Speaking of ARod, where is she? And Lauren too?” Christen wondered, checking her watch and seeing that it was almost 5:30 PM.

“They left practice the same time I did. Lauren said she’d text me when they got back to their apartment, but apparently, they wanted to stop and get carry-out first,” Tobin said, still completely believing that her friends would show up, even if they were a little late. 

Christen shrugged, grabbing the TV remote. “While we wait we can pick a movie. I’m thinking -”

“You’re thinking... The Mighty Ducks?” Tobin suggested, a hopeful smile on her face

“Since when has that been a romcom? Isn’t it just about some kids who play hockey?” Christen asked, wrinkling her nose at Tobin’s suggestion.

“Ummm Coach Bombay and Charlie’s mom kiss,” Tobin defended. 

“Who’s Coach Bombay?”

“CHRISTEN PRESS!” Tobin gasped. “Have you never seen The Mighty Ducks?”

Christen’s cheeks flamed and she stuck a cookie in her mouth instead of responding. She knew that movie was one of Tobin’s favorites, but she just couldn’t convince herself to sit down and watch it. 

“I know what we’re doing when I come back home in March,” Tobin sighed, shoving a cookie into her own mouth and grinning at Christen. 

Christen shook her head, pointing at the computer screen with her half-eaten cookie. “I am not spending my spring break anywhere that’s not the beach.”

“Even if I ask you reeaaaally nicely?” Tobin teased, her voice already somewhat flirty. 

Christen pretended to think about it, eating her cookie slowly.  “I don’t know...that’s a big ask…”

“Chris, I’ll do anything you want if you just come over and watch that movie with me on one night of your spring break. We don’t even have to watch the second or third movies,” Tobin promised, knowing that the first movie was by far the best. 

“Anything I want?” Christen wondered, feeling her cheeks flush. That was a dangerous thing to throw out there, and Christen was having trouble keeping her thoughts out of the gutter. She cleared her throat, wishing she had some water.

“Even…” Christen trailed off, trying to match Tobin’s flirtiness, not wanting to be left behind but not wanting to surpass it either. Thinking of something, Christen smirked. “Try a super kale, green smoothie?”

“For you?” Tobin gagged. “I’ll try it.” She put on a brave face, smirking at Christen’s happy reaction.

Christen pumped her fists in the air in celebration. “You’ve got yourself a deal. Now, the Ducks might not be on the table tonight, but how about Imagine Me & You or She’s the Man?”

“I literally just watched She’s the Man with Lindsey the other day,” Tobin laughed.

“So good, though,” Christen replied, smiling as she attempted her best Amanda Bynes impression. “'And when my eyes are closed I see you for what you truly are...'” 

“‘Which is uuuugly,’” Tobin quoted, her smile mirroring Christen’s. “It is really good. What’s the other movie?”

Imagine Me & You? It is a classic, Tobs! A florist falls in love with the bride of the wedding she’s hired to work. It’s corny and cliche, but it’s such a feel-good!”

“You mean two women-loving-women are in a movie and they both get to live happily ever after?” Tobin teased.

Christen laughed, queuing up the movie and then looking back down at Tobin on the computer screen. She could see the playful glint in Tobin’s eyes and it made the butterflies in her stomach flutter.

“Happily ever after and then some,” Christen replied. “It makes my hopeless romantic heart happy.”

“That’s what The Mighty Ducks does for me,” Tobin quipped, knowing that Christen would shove against her shoulder or poke her in the arm if they were in person.

Christen rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t help the smile that seemed to be permanently fixed on her face. 

“It’s on Netflix if you want to get it set up,” Christen replied. She checked her watch again, seeing that it was past the agreed-upon start time for the night. Her brow furrowed as she looked up at Tobin. “Do you think they got caught up with something? Should we wait for them?”

“I have no idea,” Tobin mumbled, checking her phone for any missed text messages. “Why don’t we just go ahead without them. They can catch up,” Tobin said, having received no text messages. 

Tobin grabbed her TV remote and turned on the TV, scrolling to Netflix and selecting Imagine Me & You

Christen’s finger hovered over the play button, her eyes drifting back to the computer screen.

“Ready? One,” Christen said, starting their count.

“Two,” Tobin chirped, a small smile tugging at her lips.

“Three,” Christen murmured, pressing play at the same time as Tobin.

This movie was definitely one of Christen’s favorites, and she knew almost every line by heart. So instead of watching it with the same level of focus that she normally did, Christen allowed herself to watch Tobin watching it. 

Christen loved the way that Tobin’s eyes lit up when the two women flirted over the punch bowl during the wedding reception. She adored the way Tobin’s breathy chuckle filled the air around her after a particularly funny line from the Mother character. It wasn’t until about halfway through the movie that Tobin finally spoke, ignoring her slice and bake cookies to look over at Christen. 

“Pause?” she asked, her brows knit together like she was thinking super hard.

Christen agreed, the two of them pausing their movies at the same time.

“What’s up, Tobs?”

“I can see why you love this movie. It’s pretty good. But, I’m calling B.S. on that line. The lily means, ‘I dare you to love me.’”  No way does the lily actually mean that. It’s just some cheesy thing the writer came up with and assumed nobody would fact-check her on,” Tobin said, arms crossed over her chest. 

This expression of skepticism was probably one of the most adorable things Christen had ever witnessed. She was about to reply, to defend the movie and its writer, but then she had a better idea. She brightened and jumped to her feet, leaving a confused Tobin in her wake. She scrambled upstairs, headed for her bookshelf. She grabbed the small book off the shelf, the one with the white spine and the flowers on the cover, and sprinted back downstairs. She held the book up to the screen with a smile.

“I know one way we could know for sure,” Christen said, already flipping through the pages to find the lily. “Someone’s birthday gift is the gift that keeps on giving.”

Tobin couldn’t help the blush that spread across her cheeks. Christen had already thanked her for the book and the bouquet of dahlias multiple times over the phone, not actually having gotten the time to open the gift in person after their New Year’s Eve countdown kiss. Tobin had been somewhat nervous about the present, wanting Christen to love it. So, each time that Christen brought it up or read a page aloud for Tobin, it made swarms of butterflies take flight in her stomach and chest and throat. 

Christen found the page describing the hidden meaning behind the lily and grinned. “Hate to break it to you, Tobs, but that’s what the lily means.”

“Did you ever look and see what the dahlia means?”

Christen blushed, running a hand through her hair as she set the book aside.

“I didn’t have much of a choice, the page was clearly bookmarked for me,” Christen replied, remembering the birthday card that Tobin had stuck between the pages, drawing her attention to the meaning of the dahlia before anything else.

“You know it’s a pretty appropriate favorite flower for you then, right?” Tobin grinned, remembering the dahlia’s meaning that she’d read about in the bookstore. 

“I didn’t choose it for its meaning. I just thought it was pretty,” Christen said in reply. 

“But the meaning is so perfect for you,” Tobin sighed. “Elegance, inner strength…” Tobin trailed off, suddenly feeling shy about complimenting Christen. 

Christen chuckled, trying to keep her nerves at bay. “I’ll take your word for it, Tobs,” she said. Realizing something, she added, “What’s your favorite flower? I don’t think I know it.”

“I have no idea,” Tobin shrugged. 

“Come on, everyone has a favorite,” Christen teased. She grabbed ahold of the book and added, “I can tell you what it means?”

“Whole-wheat flour is pretty good,” Tobin joked.

With a shake of her head, all Christen could do was laugh. Tobin was such a dork but never failed to make her smile or laugh or forget about all her other worries. 

“I got some flowers once from my dad when I signed my letter of intent to play at Penn State,” Tobin said, searching her brain for the name of the type of flowers and coming up empty. “I don’t know what kind of flower they were.”

“What did they look like?” Christen queried, flipping through the pages of the book, intent on helping Tobin find her favorite flower.

“Like miniature sunflowers,” Tobin laughed, knowing the description was awful. “I think it started with a G…” Tobin trailed off. “Gerber- Gerb- Garb- Maybe?”

“Oh!” Christen exclaimed, turning to the “G” section. “I know those, Gerbera daisies. They symbolize beauty, happiness, and purity,” Christen said, reading from the book with a smile. All three of those sounded like Tobin Heath to her.

“Yeah, those are cool,” Tobin sighed, leaning back against her bed and grabbing another cookie.

“Now I know what to get you for your birthday,” Christen replied with a smile, setting the book aside and grabbing the remote again. “Wanna go back to the movie?

“Sure,” Tobin agreed, picking up her remote. She couldn’t help the way her heart sped up at the thought of spending her next birthday with Christen. She’d make sure it was better than her last one had been. 

They watched the rest of the movie in comfortable silence, Christen still paying more attention to Tobin than she should. As that movie finished and they decided to watch another, Christen couldn’t find it in herself to be upset that everyone else had ditched them. This had turned out to be a pretty perfect Valentine’s Day.

Chapter Text

For you, I would cross the line

I would waste my time

I would lose my mind

They say she's gone too far this time

Don't blame me, love made me crazy

If it doesn't, you ain't doin' it right

Lord, save me, my drug is my baby

I'd be usin' for the rest of my life

(Tobin & Christen - “Don’t Blame Me” by Taylor Swift)

 

How do you fall in love?

Harder than a bullet could hit you

How do we fall apart?

Faster than a hairpin trigger

Don't you say, don't you say it

Don't say, don't you say it

One breath, it'll just break it

So shut your mouth and run me like a river

(Tobin & Christen - “River” by Bishop Briggs)

 

MARCH

Tobin winced as she swallowed her shot of tequila. The lime and salt hadn’t helped. Her eyes were stinging by the time she slammed her shot glass back onto the counter. 

“Good job, Toby,” Ashlyn clapped Tobin on the back. 

Tobin had been introduced to almost all the girls on UCLA’s team since Allie insisted that Tobin join them on their night out to celebrate spring break finally starting. They were in Ashlyn and Ali Krieger’s apartment, pregaming before a trip to a nearby club. Christen, her roommates, and Tobin were the youngest in attendance, but each of them was able to attain a fake ID or borrow someone’s that would work well enough to get through the front door. 

“Another one!” Allie cheered.

“Harry, no,” Tobin groaned, already feeling floaty. 

“It’s too expensive to drink at the club. You’re gonna want to pregame here,” Allie insisted.

“Or I could just stay sober,” Tobin argued, knowing full well that she was already tipsy. 

“Come on, guys! One more!” Kelley cheered, patting Tobin on the back. 

Tobin hadn’t meant to get cornered by the three wildest players on UCLA’s team, but as soon as she’d stepped away from Christen to grab a bottle of water from the kitchen, Kelley had grabbed her by the hand and insisted that she join them in taking a few shots. 

Tobin lifted the shot glass to her mouth again, this time grabbing a cup of lemonade to chase the tequila with after. She winced again, hating the way her throat burned. Ashlyn, Kelley, and Allie cheered, clearly unaffected by the alcohol, but Tobin moved away from them, drinking her full glass of lemonade before finding a bottle of water and trying to down as much as possible. 

“Harry, we’re doing another,” Allie insisted.

“No thanks. I’m good,” Tobin waved her off.

“Please, Harry? Just one more, and then I’ll leave you alone,” Allie begged.

Tobin didn’t even respond, just grabbing the shot glass from Allie and tossing it back. She was too tipsy to argue with Allie, and honestly, being a little drunk would make the club a lot more bearable. As she placed the shot glass down, her eyes inadvertently flitted to the living room, searching for Christen.

The green-eyed striker was deep in conversation with Crystal, both of them huddled close together. Tobin watched as Christen’s smile lit up her whole face, as she threw her head back in laughter. She was completely captivated by Christen, just like she always was. She was pulled out of her reverie by a full shot glass entering her line of sight.

“Bottoms up, buttercup,” Allie quipped. All Tobin could do was groan and take the offered shot glass.

Christen looked across the living room of the townhouse, eyes finding Tobin without difficulty. A small smile broke out across her face at the sight of Tobin taking another shot of tequila under the pressure of her teammates. The UCLA girls were definitely hazing Tobin just a little bit, taking their chance to pay her back a little for the trouble she’d caused during her freshman year.

With a smile, Christen looked back over at Crystal, who was eyeing her with quite a bit of doubt.

“Crys, it makes perfect sense!” Christen explained, her lips loose and her words a little slurred. She was already on her third vodka cranberry and was feeling no pain. “We’ve got to rebuild the friendship we had and get back to where we were so that maybe we can be together later.”

Crystal just shook her head, shooting the rest of her mixed drink. “I just don’t get why you can’t be together now. It seems like y’all are already closer than you were before,” she commented, eyebrow quirked in Christen’s direction.

“We are, but we’re still thousands of miles apart for most of the year. You didn’t see Tyler after Clint dumped her, distance never ends well,” Christen replied. 

“Distance doesn’t work if you don’t make the distance work,” Crystal shot back, her words profoundly said.

Despite the truth she could hear in Crystal’s voice, Christen was still hesitant. “I just don’t want to lose her,” Christen admitted quietly, fingers flexing around her empty glass.

“Whoa, shit just got a little too heavy. Let’s lighten this back up,” Crystal said, slinging her arm over Christen’s shoulders. “Press? Why don’t you forget about the distance for tonight, she’s literally right over there and can’t stop staring at you.”

Christen’s cheeks burned as she looked up, making eye contact with Tobin.

“Wanna do some shots?” Christen found herself asking, wanting to be in the kitchen by Tobin’s side more than anything right now.

“I could flex with some shots,” Crystal replied, letting Christen pull her toward the kitchen. 

Christen quickly abandoned Crystal with Megan, walking over to where Tobin was leaning against the counter. She smiled a bit as she leaned her hip against the countertop, a few inches away from Tobin. 

“You take tequila like a pro,” Christen complimented, noting the glassy look already present in Tobin’s eyes.

“Really? Because I feel like I was just tequila-boarded by your teammates,” Tobin hiccuped, the shots going to her head much quicker than she’d expected.

“I noticed. I also noticed that they don’t teach Penn State students how to shoot tequila properly,” Christen quipped, her mouth lifted in a smirk. 

“Oh? And what’s the proper way to get shit-faced, Ms. Press?” Tobin asked, cocking her head to the side. 

“Hey, Krashlyn,” Christen called over her shoulder, knowing all she needed to do was challenge the couple and they would rise to the occasion. She wouldn’t be able to handle showing Tobin the real way to do a tequila shot, especially right now. She was dangerously close to drunk and she didn’t want to make any missteps, especially now when things were going so well.

“What up, Pressy?” Ali replied, looking over to where Christen and Tobin were standing in the corner of the kitchen. 

“Tobs here doesn’t know the proper way to take a tequila shot. Wanna grab your girl and show her how it’s done?” Christen said, her green eyes dancing with mirth. 

“Don’t mind if I do,” Ali smirked, turning around to get the necessary supplies, including a very befuddled Ashlyn. 

Tobin watched, at first very confused as Ali handed Ashlyn a shot glass full of tequila. Ashlyn held it for her, smirking at Ali’s focused face. Ali held onto a slice of lime and a container of salt, and Tobin waited for things to start to make sense. She wondered if she were simply too drunk to fully understand what was going on. 

When Ali leaned forward to kiss Ashlyn’s neck, Tobin averted her eyes. Suddenly she felt like she was intruding on someone’s private moment. Instead, Tobin looked at Christen and immediately regretted it. Christen held her bottom lip between her teeth. She wasn’t looking at Ali and Ashlyn either, her eyes glued to Tobin, in order to watch her reaction. Her pupils were completely blown and glassy, probably from the alcohol she’d already had but possibly because she was looking at Tobin. Tobin was sure her eyes looked the same. 

“So, then you put the salt here,” Ali hummed, placing salt on Ashlyn’s neck where she’d just kissed her. 

Tobin turned back to the couple. She watched as Ali placed the lime slice in Ashlyn’s mouth, the two completely enamored with one another. Tobin couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to stand that close to Christen, to be in her space, touching her body, kissing her neck. She couldn’t bring herself to stop her thoughts, not after the shots she’d already taken, not with Christen standing so close that their arms brushed every few seconds. 

Tobin watched as Ali licked the salt off of Ashlyn’s neck. She couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to touch Christen like that, to taste Christen’s skin. She couldn’t help but wonder how Christen’s body would react to that. Ali took the shot quickly, a smirk on her face. Ali then leaned forward and took the lime out of Ashlyn’s mouth, sucking on it before dropping the rind onto the floor. She and Ashlyn turned around to look at Tobin, both of them laughing at the obviously turned-on look on Tobin’s face.

Tobin looked down at her water bottle, taking a sip to cool her flaming cheeks and neck. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Christen, not yet, not with all the thoughts running through her mind about Christen in that scenario. 

“Who broke, Harry?” Allie laughed from across the room. 

“I can’t decide if it was Pressy or us!” Ashlyn called back. 

“At least if I break it, I buy it. Unlike that beanbag in Love Sac at the mall last weekend, right Al?” Christen quipped, throwing a smirk in Allie’s direction. Allie had been foolish enough to believe that she could take a flying leap and land on an oversized bean bag with no consequences. When the bean bag burst open, sending foam beads scattering all across the floor, Allie had high-tailed it out of the store, joining her chuckling teammates and racing toward the exit.

In hindsight, she probably shouldn’t have challenged Allie Long. It never ended well for anyone who did. But Christen was tipsy off of the vodka cranberries she’d drank and the intoxicating scents of pine and eucalyptus from Tobin’s soap or body wash or shampoo, so her mouth was not listening to her head.

“That so, Pressy? All right, pay up. Let’s see you do it with Harry now,” Allie called out, a mischievous grin on her face,

Christen blanched at the challenge, feeling suddenly very sober.

“Harry,” Tobin warned, trying to telepathically remind Allie of the promise she’d made not to intervene anymore. But Allie wasn’t getting the message.

“Do it, do it, do it,” Allie started, all the other players joining in on the chant as well. “Do it, do it, do it!”

Christen hid her face behind her hands for a moment to collect herself. She could do this. She could lick Tobin’s neck and take a lime slice from her mouth. She could totally do that. “Get real, Press. You’re about to combust just thinking about it. You really aren’t going to live to see 21 now,” Christen thought to herself.

But if there was one thing about Christen Press, it was that she never backed down from a challenge. 

Tobin stared dumbly, her mind not fully catching up to what was being asked of them. She watched as Christen took a full shot glass, lime slice, and the salt from Ashlyn’s outstretched hand. 

“Okay, okay!” Christen called out, silencing the cheers. She looked to Kelley, who was currently in control of the AUX cord. “Play something good, Kel.”

Kelley smirked before tapping her phone screen, the opening notes to “Like a Virgin” playing out of the speaker. 

“K.O., you’re my hero!” Allie shrieked, cackling so hard that she had to lean over. 

“Nope!” Ali Krieger said, feeling a bit bad for Christen and the situation in which she found herself, so she tried to help out in the only way she could. “Next one, O’Hara!”

Kelley grumbled then went back to her phone. After a few moments, she stuck her tongue out of her mouth, throwing her hand into the air.

“Got it!” she called out, pressing play on her song of choice.

Christen heard the opening notes of “Don’t Blame Me” by Taylor Swift and reminded herself to breathe. This song was just as suggestive as Kelley’s other choice, but the team didn’t seem to want to let Ali or Christen ask for another change. 

“Don’t blame me, love made me crazy, if it doesn’t you ain’t doing it riiiight,” all of the UCLA girls sang.

 As the song and her teammates' bad singing continued, Christen knew there was no escape. She took a deep breath, catching sight of Megan and Crystal standing near the kitchen island. They both shot her encouraging smiles and thumbs-up, Megan adding in a saucy wink. Christen offered them a weak smile before turning to face Tobin.

“I’ll be quick,” she whispered quietly, handing Tobin the full shot glass and the lime. “Right or left?” she asked, her voice shaking slightly with nerves, aware of all of the eyes on them. 

“Huh?” Tobin asked dumbly, her hands shaking slightly as she gripped the shot glass and the lime. She looked like a total deer-in-headlights, and Christen felt horrible for getting them into this mess.

Christen pointed to her own neck, then at Tobin, and repeated her question. “Right or left?”

Tobin’s cheeks flamed. She’d felt so incredibly foggy and slow, just watching Christen move around her, and suddenly her head cleared long enough for Tobin to realize that Christen Press was about to lick salt off her neck. She was asking which side of her neck she preferred like Tobin would ever care where Christen wanted to touch her. She wanted Christen to touch her everywhere. Maybe not like this, with everyone watching them, but she wanted her to touch her. 

“Left is fine,” Tobin choked out, pointing to the left side of her neck. “Your right, I guess.” 

Christen smiled a soft smile. Tobin knew it was supposed to be comforting, but all she could think about was that Christen was about to lick her neck and probably would be able to feel her pulse beating rapidly beneath her skin. 

Before Christen leaned forward, she hesitated, her fingers twitching around the salt shaker. She met Tobin’s nervous gaze.

“Breathe, Tobs. They just want a little show. Allie doesn’t like being outwitted,” Christen murmured, her eyes dancing between Tobin’s, her smile hopefully reassuring. “It’ll be over before you know it, then we can scheme on how to make her pay.”

Tobin gulped. She wished she could send everyone else out of the room. She didn’t need an audience for this. She hadn’t planned for things to happen like this. She’d imagined taking Christen on a date someday, buying her dinner, and driving her home. She’d fantasized about walking her to her front door and kissing her good night. Maybe things would get heated. Maybe Christen would invite her inside. Never in all of Tobin’s daydreams did she imagine that Christen would be this close, simply because of a dare from Allie Long, who was suddenly on her shit list. 

Christen could feel the blush in her cheeks as she took a breath to prepare herself. This was going to cross so many unspoken agreements, so many lines, but there was no going back. Christen stepped into Tobin’s space, her breath quickening and her heart hammering erratically in her chest. She tilted her head to the right, her lips landing in the small hollow of Tobin’s collarbone at the base of her neck. Her tongue darted out to wet the warm skin, which was a total mistake. A guttural moan begged to be released from her throat, and Christen had to use every bit of willpower to keep it down. She screwed her eyes shut, trying to keep it together.

She had imagined this plenty of times, had even dreamt about it often these past few months. She’d pictured what it would feel like to have her lips, her tongue, on Tobin’s skin. This was better than anything her imagination could come up with. She never wanted to stop letting her tongue dip into the hollow of Tobin’s collarbone, letting her lips graze across the area gently. She knew she should, but she was powerless to resist the pull within her to continue.

Tobin’s breath rattled in her chest. She had to close her eyes, not wanting to see Allie’s stupid face when Christen’s tongue was on her neck. For a split second, Tobin thought she might let a whine slip from her lips. She had to swallow it down, forcing herself to stay quiet. Her heart thrummed rapidly in her chest, sending blood throughout her body and heating up all of her skin. She felt like she was on fire. Her skin tingled, and her lungs ached. She wasn’t breathing. She couldn’t, not when at any moment an unwanted sound could escape her lips. She wanted to pull Christen closer, to let the fire and Christen Press completely consume her. “Breathe,” Tobin reminded herself, sucking in a gulp of air and forcing it out again. 

It wasn’t until she heard a few whoops and cheers from her teammates that Christen realized she should probably stop. She still had three more steps to go and she wasn’t at all sure she could complete them. Her knees felt wobbly and her head was foggy as she stepped back. She didn’t risk a look at Tobin’s face, preferring to focus on pouring a bit of salt onto the wet mark she’d left on Tobin’s neck. The only clue she had that maybe this was affecting Tobin just as much as it was affecting her was the ragged breaths hitting the side of her face, the strong grip Tobin had on her hip with one hand tightening ever so often.

“Any day now, Pressy!” Allie called out. 

“Shut up, Harry,” Tobin practically growled, keeping her eyes tightly shut. She couldn’t face Allie or the rest of Christen’s teammates right now. She immediately regretted answering Allie, though. Her voice had sounded even more gravelly and husky than she’d imagined, her words wobbly and gruff, completely affected by Christen’s actions. 

Christen chanced a quick look at Tobin, noting the deep flush in her cheeks, the way her eyes were tightly shut. She smiled at the look of concentration on Tobin’s face before leaning back in and licking the salt from Tobin’s neck in one swift motion. She couldn’t linger again, she wouldn’t be able to stop if she did. 

Pulling back, Christen grabbed the shot from Tobin’s hand, noting the lime slice was still there. She stepped out of Tobin’s space, tossing the shot back quickly, hoping the tequila would chase away her desire to grab Tobin by the hand and drag her outside, or upstairs, or to the bathroom, and kiss her like she desperately wanted to. But tequila wasn’t made for that. If anything, it made the desire pooling low in her stomach that much more noticeable. 

The tequila burned down her throat and Christen felt herself wince at the taste. She really hated tequila and she really needed the lime to chase away the taste. 

Tobin opened her eyes slightly, enough to watch Christen toss the shot back. Heat pooled in her stomach, making her hands itch to reach out for Christen’s hips and pull her closer. She couldn’t help her eyes from focusing on Christen’s neck and the way it tipped back when she poured the shot in her mouth. Tobin suddenly had the urge to repay the favor, to kiss Christen’s neck, to taste her skin, to make her heart race. Instead, she put the lime wedge in between her teeth, letting a portion of it stick out for Christen to take from her. Tobin willed herself to remain calm, to keep her lips to herself. She watched as Christen looked toward her again, forcing herself to gulp down another breath of air before Christen approached her. 

“Oh, boy,” Christen thought to herself. If she thought kissing and licking Tobin’s neck was challenging, now she had to get that lime straight from between Tobin’s lips. “Just do it quickly, you got this.”

Christen dropped a hand to the counter behind Tobin’s back, needing to ground herself, worried that she’d stumble and kiss Tobin if she didn’t have something to hold onto. She looked into Tobin’s eyes and saw the unabashed hunger she felt, swirling around within them. With a small smirk pulling at her lips, Christen leaned forward. She wrapped her lips around the tart lime slice, her teeth sinking slightly into it so she could pull it away from Tobin. She forced herself to pull back, knowing their lips had almost touched and not allowing herself to do something silly like actually kiss Tobin. 

The lime taste exploded on her tongue, chasing away the tequila and Christen sighed in relief. Her teammates hooted and hollered around her, some even clapping her on the back in congratulations, but Christen paid them no mind. All she could do was stare at Tobin: her lips parted, her pupils blown, her chest heaving slightly.

Tobin stared blankly at Christen, her tongue moving to lick her lips and taste what remained of the lime. Her lips were tart, just like Christen’s likely were. Tobin watched as Christen’s eyes moved over her face, and Tobin wished for the hundredth time that they were alone. Maybe that would be a mistake, though. They’d surely cross even more lines if they were alone. Tobin released a ragged breath and leaned back against the counter. She was still having trouble wrapping her mind around the fact that Christen Press had just done that to her, that Christen’s tongue had been on her neck, that she’d had her hand on Christen’s hips. Tobin pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, holding back all of the impulsive things she wanted to say to Christen. 

“Who wants to go dance?! Ubers are almost here!” Ashlyn yelled, earning her plenty of shouts in agreement. The rest of the UCLA girls were oblivious to the tension-filled stare between Tobin and Christen, all of them filtering out of the kitchen and the apartment quickly. 

Christen swallowed thickly, her eyes stuck on the way Tobin was pulling her lower lip between her teeth.

“Want to go?” Christen asked breathlessly.

Tobin nodded dumbly, knowing her voice still hadn’t recovered from what Christen had been doing. 

Christen slid her hand into Tobin’s and tugged her out of the kitchen, not entirely sure why she’d done that, but not finding it in herself to complain when Tobin interlocked their fingers and followed her out of the apartment.


The club they ended up at was a hole-in-the-wall with underpaid bouncers who looked the other way when the underage girls handed them their fake IDs. It was pretty packed, the group of them practically having to hold onto one another to weave through the crowded dance floor and claim a corner table. There weren’t really enough seats for everyone, but most of them didn’t want to sit anyway, choosing to head to the dance floor immediately. 

Christen hadn’t let go of Tobin’s hand this entire time. She only did once she’d pulled Tobin to the table, sliding to the back of the booth and dragging Tobin with her.

Alyssa and Crystal also hung back, sitting on the other side of the table from Tobin and Christen. 

“Anyone want something to drink? I’m going to get a bunch of waters and probably some beers,” Alyssa said, looking between the three sophomores.

“Beer sounds great,” Tobin choked out, knowing she needed to stay drunk, or at least tipsy, if she was going to survive this night. 

“If I give you money, could you get me a vodka cran?” Christen asked, smiling at Alyssa.

Alyssa nodded, turning to get a drink order from Crystal as well. “I’ll go with you and help,” Crystal offered, getting to her feet to join Alyssa.

Christen patted her pockets, looking for the cash she’d put somewhere, but a hand on her arm stopped her. 

“I got it, Chris,” Tobin said, handing Alyssa a twenty-dollar bill for both of their drinks. 

Christen smiled at the gesture and sank back into the booth, running a hand through her curls. 

“Thanks,” Christen murmured.

“Anytime,” Tobin awkwardly responded. She needed a beer quickly. She couldn’t stop the images of Christen’s mouth on her neck from flashing through her mind, and it was getting harder and harder to keep her hands to herself when Christen was so close to her, their thighs pressed together under the table. 

Christen noted the tightness in Tobin’s voice and looked over at the brunette. Tobin sat ramrod straight in the booth. Despite their closeness, Tobin felt far away. She looked tense and uncomfortable and regret flashed through Christen. This was her fault, Tobin acting this way was her fault. 

“Tobs?”

“Yeah?” Tobin answered, turning her head to look at Christen, their eyes meeting, causing Tobin’s heart to speed up and relax simultaneously. 

“You okay?” Christen asked, cocking her head to the side slightly.

“Of course,” Tobin lied, reaching her hand out to squeeze Christen’s hand, which was resting on top of the table. 

Christen scoffed and poked the tip of her finger against the spot between Tobin’s brows. “Tell that to your worry wrinkle.”

“My worry wrinkle?” Tobin laughed, her nerves starting to sink into the background.

Christen nodded, smiling a bit at the relaxation she could see in Tobin’s eyes now. 

“It was pretty prominent a second ago, had me worried that you were upset or uncomfortable or something.”

“How could I be upset or uncomfortable with you?” Tobin whispered, hoping that the music was loud enough that her conversation with Christen couldn’t be heard by anyone else. 

Christen’s face grew hot and she had to look away. God, they both were on a whole new level tonight. They kept getting further and further away from the safety of friends, sliding deeper into the gray area. Christen knew she should be responsible and take them back to safer shores. She should pull back and put some space between them. She should stop thinking about kissing Tobin or the way her skin had felt beneath her tongue. But there was something about the way Tobin was looking at her right now that had Christen throwing caution to the wind. 

“Want to dance?” Christen blurted, not knowing where those words had come from.

“I’m not very good at it,” Tobin laughed. 

Christen doubted that was true. Tobin was probably a wonderful dancer, she just didn’t know it. But she wasn’t going to say that. 

“This is drunk, club dancing. Nobody’s good,” Christen replied, hoping to put Tobin at ease.

“Okay,” Tobin nodded, her brain already starting to spin at the idea that she’d get to touch Christen again. She’d get to be close to Christen again. She’d get to hold onto her and pull her close. 

They left the booth and made their way onto the dance floor, Tobin’s hand pressed to the small of Christen’s back so she wouldn’t lose her in the crowd. The music was hypnotic, a deep thumping bass that invaded Tobin’s mind and had her instantly ready to dance. She followed behind Christen, unable to stop herself from watching as Christen’s hips swayed back and forth. She couldn’t wait to put her hands there, to watch Christen’s hips rock back and forth on the dance floor. 

Reaching the middle of the packed dance floor and finding a small pocket of space, Christen reached behind her and grabbed Tobin’s wrist. She turned around, bringing them face to face, dropping Tobin’s wrist as she did so. She put her arms above her head and started to move once more, her hips swaying back and forth to the beat, her eyes silently asking Tobin to join her.

Tobin stared at Christen, unable to move. She watched Christen move her hips to the music, sending heat through Tobin’s body. Tobin tried to focus on Christen’s face, on the music, on breathing, but she couldn’t help but admire Christen’s body, the way her legs looked in her short dress and high-top Converse. Tobin started to think that maybe she could keep her hands to herself, that maybe she could keep her desire under control, but then Christen reached up, her eyes screwed tightly shut, and pushed her hands through her curly hair. Tobin reached out then, without thought, and cupped Christen’s hip with one of her hands, pulling her softly toward her. 

Christen gasped softly in surprise at the touch, her eyes flying open. At the look of complete desire on Tobin’s face, she grinned and let Tobin pull her close. She dropped her arms to Tobin’s shoulders, letting Tobin take control, beyond ready to surrender.

Tobin watched as Christen’s pupils dilated, moving her free hand to Christen’s other hip and pulling her even closer, just wanting to eliminate all space between them. They’d waited long enough. There had been enough space, and Tobin was dying to feel Christen. 

As Bishop Briggs’ song “River” started, Christen felt Tobin match the beat of this song with her movements, swaying them side to side. Their bodies moved together fluidly, completely in sync.

Christen wasn’t sure who moved first, her or Tobin. But suddenly, their foreheads were pressed together, their bodies even closer now. Christen wasn’t sure where she ended and Tobin began, their bodies moving as one on the dance floor. She kept her eyes closed, relishing in the simmering strength behind Tobin’s touch, in the quick pants of breath hitting her parted lips. She couldn’t open her eyes and run the risk of looking into Tobin’s eyes. She wasn’t sure what would happen if she did. So for now, she let herself be pushed and pulled to the rhythm, completely under Tobin’s control and loving every second of it.

Tobin felt a surge of confidence, her shots from earlier completely clouding her mind and making her more brazen than usual. She turned Christen around, just wanting to hear Christen’s reaction. Her hands stayed on Christen’s waist, pulling her close to her hips so that Christen’s back was pressed against Tobin’s front. Tobin leaned forward her lips nearly brushing against the shell of Christen’s ear. “You look beautiful,” Tobin whispered, almost like she was simply breathing out the words.

“Jesus,” Christen husked, feeling Tobin’s breath ghost across her ear. She fought off a shiver and dropped her head back against Tobin’s shoulder, trying to remember how to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. “You do too. You always do,” Christen replied, her hands covering Tobin’s on her hips. 

Tobin squeezed Christen’s hips, eliminating any space that was left between them. She started to move to the music, moving Christen against herself, despite a tiny sober voice in her head whispering that she shouldn’t.

“Is this okay?” she choked out.

Christen could only nod, not trusting her voice right now. She swallowed thickly, trying to formulate a response. 

“Yes. God, yes,” Christen all but whined, her head lifting off Tobin’s shoulder, so she could lift an arm and hook it around Tobin’s neck. 

“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” Tobin sighed, her bottom lip touching Christen’s ear.

Christen didn’t fight off the shiver this time, Tobin’s words hitting her low in the stomach. “Mhm, yeah,” Christen whispered, sinking into the feeling of Tobin pressed against her, of Tobin’s fingers flexing against her hips. She buried her hand into Tobin’s hair and tugged gently.

Tobin couldn’t hold back the moan that left her lips when Christen pulled her hair. Her hips faltered for a second, her entire body bracing for Christen’s reaction. The fog in her brain cleared for a split second, just enough time for Tobin to worry. If Christen could make her moan in a public club, just by pulling on her hair, Tobin had no idea how she’d ever be able to survive anything more with Christen, that is if her reaction hadn’t just scared Christen away for good. Tobin felt her fear deepen when Christen pulled away slightly. 

Christen might be drunk, on her way to very drunk right now, but she knew a moan when she heard one and Tobin had definitely just moaned. It was just about the sexiest thing Christen had ever heard. 

Christen pivoted out of Tobin’s grasp, needing to look at Tobin, needing to see her again. She flipped around and saw Tobin withdrawing into herself, away from Christen and away from whatever was happening between them.

“Sorry,” Tobin choked out, her eyes growing wider as Christen looked at her. 

Christen shook her head, wrapping an arm around Tobin’s shoulders once more. With her free hand, she pushed a strand of hair behind Tobin’s ear, letting her fingertip trail down Tobin’s jaw. 

“We say sorry far too often,” Christen replied. She dropped her hand to find one of Tobin’s that now hung stiffly at Tobin’s sides. She wrapped her fingers around Tobin’s wrist and moved Tobin’s hand back to her hip, keeping it there with a firm grip. Christen bent her head to catch Tobin’s eye. “Don’t say it now when you have nothing to say it for.” 

“Did she not hear me?” Tobin wondered, knowing that was absolutely impossible since she’d basically moaned directly into Christen’s ear. Tobin swallowed softly, nodding her head at Christen and placing her free hand on Christen’s other hip.

Whatever fast-paced, club song that was playing suddenly halted, a slower track coming over the speakers. 

Christen’s eyes held a question, asking Tobin silently if she wanted to keep doing this, now that the tempo had slowed and the fog had cleared, bringing them both back to their senses.

Tobin pulled Christen closer, her fingers squeezing Christen’s hips. She smiled softly at the green-eyed girl. Tobin didn’t want to stop dancing. She’d never loved dancing, especially not in clubs, but with Christen, she wanted to stay on the dance floor for as long as she possibly could. 

Christen melted into Tobin’s arms, her eyes sliding shut as they began to sway much more slowly now on the dance floor. 

Tobin moved her right hand to Christen’s back, letting her fingers trace small circles and designs against the fabric of Christen’s dress. 

Christen felt her heart stop at Tobin’s touch, her arms tightening around Tobin. Their previous pace had been torturous, quick, and impassioned. They had moved against one another with reckless abandon, letting hot desire fuel their movements. But this pace, this slow and deliberate speed, was even more beautifully agonizing. They couldn’t blame what they were doing now on the alcohol or the heat of the moment. This was purposeful and calculated and wanton, and Christen reveled in it. 

Tobin could feel Christen’s breath against her cheek, the way they were holding each other, possibly even more intimate than how they’d danced to the faster songs. It was intentional and sensual, not wild and hormone-fueled. Tobin could feel Christen’s hands caught in her hair and her shirt, holding onto her for dear life. She couldn’t understand what kind of decisions in her life had led to this moment with Christen, but Tobin was eternally grateful. She kept her hand on Christen’s back, lifting her free hand to push a strand of hair behind Christen’s ear, to clear it off of Christen’s face, just so she could see all of her. She couldn’t bring herself to move her hand away from Christen, letting it rest against the side of her neck, her thumb running along the bottom of Christen’s jaw.

Christen leaned into Tobin’s touch involuntarily, her eyes fluttering open. She suddenly realized how close they were. Just a little movement and their lips would meet. They’d found themselves in this situation, again, where it felt like the kiss between them was inevitable. 

Christen’s breath caught in her throat as Tobin leaned in just a little, her movement slow. She found herself wanting to do the same, to surge forward and capture Tobin’s lips with her own and finally be done with it. 

“Is this how you want your first kiss to be? Drunk and sloppy in a club?” a voice ran through Christen’s mind. Christen knew the answer, she knew it in her heart and her head, but she still hated that the answer wasn’t yes. She’d been dying to kiss Tobin for so long and it was within reach right now, but it wasn’t the right moment for them. She knew she would regret kissing Tobin now, with so much left unspoken and unsaid between them. 

Christen blinked a few times and leaned back just a bit, a small smile on her lips. She could see the flash of disappointment in Tobin’s eyes, and she couldn’t bear to see it. Taking a short, stuttering breath, Christen leaned to the right, ghosting her lips across Tobin’s cheek, so close to Tobin’s lips that if she had misjudged the distance by even a millimeter, she would have kissed her lips. 

Tobin’s eyes widened, her cheek tingling. She lifted her hand up to her cheek, brushing her fingers over the spot that Christen had just kissed. She’d originally been prepared for a real kiss, a kiss that she’d only dreamed about for more than a year. She’d been certain that they were about to kiss, that Christen was going to meet Tobin halfway, but then she’d pulled away, and Tobin’s heart had immediately sunk. “This was too much for her,” Tobin thought, worrying about Christen running away from this, from her. 

Instead, Christen had returned, her perfect, soft lips brushing against Tobin’s cheek and warming Tobin’s entire body. That’s all Tobin needed tonight. In fact, it was what she wanted. Tobin wanted to be completely sober, completely clear-headed when she kissed Christen for the first time. She wanted to be able to talk to Christen, to know where they stood, to know how Christen felt before she really kissed her. 

“Think our drinks are at the table?” Tobin said, angling her head in the direction that their table was in. 

Christen recognized the out for what it was and found herself a bit thankful for it. There was too much-charged energy between them on the dancefloor and they needed a breather. 

“Let’s go find out,” Christen replied with a smile. 


Tobin curled into the warmth, her fingers fisting into the fabric of...something. She hadn’t slept this well, this peacefully, since she was a little kid. Her head had hit the pillow, and she’d completely sunk into a dream, one that included a certain green-eyed girl and a lot more than just dancing at a club. She’d thought the dream was the best part of her deep sleep, but this, waking up, was somehow better. 

She hadn’t yet peeled her eyes open, the sunlight coming into the room too bright, even with her eyelids closed. Instead, Tobin kept her eyes shut, focusing on how incredibly comfortable she was. She was so warm, so so so warm that she wondered if she was even waking up or if she was in some weird space between dreaming and awake. Tobin didn’t care enough to find out. Instead, she moved her head on the pillow, making herself even more comfortable and gripping the fabric in her fingers even tighter, pulling whatever she was holding onto closer to herself.

It wasn’t until she moved her leg forward and felt two strong thighs on either side of her one leg that Tobin froze. Her leg was definitely in between someone else’s. 

With that knowledge, Tobin slowly felt for more information, moving her fingers along the fabric to feel what she was holding onto. She moved her hands until she felt smooth skin, clearly having run out of fabric to touch. She heard a sharp intake of breath from whatever she was touching, too scared to open her eyes and see just who it was. 

She knew without having to do that. She could smell the lavender shampoo and the citrus lotion. Tobin could even feel a few soft strands of curly hair against her cheek, pressed in between her face and the pillow.

“Oh my gosh. I have to take a picture,” Allie cooed from somewhere above Tobin.

Tobin quickly reached behind her, grabbed the pillow she was resting on, and whipped it in the direction of the voice she’d heard. She cracked an eye open and saw Allie holding onto the pillow, having caught it, a shit-eating grin on her face. 

“Harry,” Tobin warned, trying to sit up and untangle herself from Christen as quickly but gently as she could, all without looking over at Christen or waking her up. 

“You ruined the moment, Harry!” Allie complained, showing her the blurry picture she had on her phone of a sleeping Christen and a moving Tobin. 

“You deserve it,” Tobin growled, pulling her leg out from between Christen’s as slowly as possible, the UCLA forward still completely dead to the world. 

“She’s a really cute sleeper, isn’t she?” Allie mused. “Here, I’ll take another picture for you.”

“Dear God, just stop,” Tobin muttered, pushing Allie’s hand away. Tobin stood up from the floor, still in her black skinny jeans and black v-neck from the night before. 

“Okay, okay, last one,” Allie muttered, taking another picture of Christen before standing up and following Tobin into the kitchen. 

“Coffee?” Tobin practically grunted at Allie. 

“DIY with the Keurig over there,” Allie replied, grabbing her mug from the kitchen island and taking a sip. She grinned at Tobin over the rim, biding her time before asking Tobin about last night.

“Where’s everyone else?” Tobin asked, noticing that the house was much emptier than it had been the night before. 

“You don’t remember?” Allie asked, her brow furrowing. 

Tobin couldn’t remember much of the night other than Christen. Her mind had been completely overtaken by the girl, and that was all she could and wanted to remember. 

“Uh…should I?” Tobin asked. 

Allie shrugged. “Almost everyone crashed at the sophomore’s place. Megan invited everyone over for an after-party.”

“Did we not go?” Tobin asked, her mind still fuzzy. “Jeez, was I that drunk last night?”

“You guys were dead set on coming back to Krashlyn’s place to make mac and cheese, and of course I couldn’t leave you two unchaperoned,” Allie grinned. 

“Was the mac and cheese good?” Tobin asked, cracking a smile in Allie’s direction. So what if she forgot a little bit of last night. She remembered the important parts. She remembered taking shots with Christen and dancing with Christen and holding Christen. She remembered that Christen kissed her cheek and held her hand. 

Allie laughed, conscious to keep it quiet so that Christen wouldn’t wake up. “No clue, I was given express orders to leave you two to your midnight mac and cheese party. Last I heard, you two were getting drunk on the leftover tequila and quoting She’s the Man back and forth to each other. It was kind of cute in a really weird way.”

“Ew, is that why my mouth tastes so weird?” Tobin mumbled more to herself than Allie. She grabbed a mug and pushed a few buttons on the Keurig, just wanting any type of coffee but having no idea how to actually work the machine. 

Allie took mercy on Tobin and pushed the right buttons for her. As coffee filled Tobin’s mug, Allie hurried to finish up her own cup of coffee and grab her keys.

“I’m gonna get some breakfast burritos, you think you two could stomach some?” Allie asked, nodding in the direction of Christen’s sleeping form.

“Hell yes!” Tobin whisper-shouted, her stomach already growling. “You know how hangry I get after a night of drinking. I’ll take a steak and potatoes burrito with extra guac. Chris doesn’t like cheese on her burritos, and make sure the bacon’s extra crispy for her too, please.” Tobin gave Allie a big smile, forever grateful that her friend wanted to go out and get her breakfast. 

“Sometimes I can’t handle how cute you two are,” Allie teased.

Tobin rolled her eyes, a brow arched in Allie’s direction. “Don’t think these burritos will make up for what you did last night. Challenging Chris like that?” Tobin warned, curbing her smile for a few seconds, remembering how Allie had pushed Christen to take a shot off of Tobin. “Do you realize how badly that could have turned out? I thought I told you not to intervene.”

“I’m sorry, okay? I was drunk and missing my job as your love guru. You have my word, no more meddling,” Allie replied, crossing her heart with two fingers. “Scout’s honor.”

Tobin pulled another mug from the cabinet and pressed the same button that Allie had pressed, pleased when the coffee machine started to work. “You think Krashlyn has oat milk here?” Tobin asked, already poking her head in the fridge. 

“Ali’s weird about the shit she puts in her body, so probably,” Allie replied, sliding on her sunglasses. 

“Sweet,” Tobin hummed, pulling a carton out of the fridge and pouring it into one of the mugs. 

“I’ll be back shortly. Tell Sleeping Beauty I say hello when she wakes up!” Allie called out, walking out the front door and closing it behind her.

All Tobin could do was yawn, waving at Allie’s retreating form and then taking a sip of her own coffee. She moaned as the caffeine started to flow through her, pushing away any lingering sleep. 

“Why does the world have to be so bright?” came a groan from the living room floor. “And why is there mac and cheese in my hair?”

Tobin chuckled lightly and grabbed the second cup of coffee. “Gooood morning,” she called from the kitchen, her voice much more chipper than Christen’s. Tobin walked back into the living room, eyes landing on Christen who was now sitting up amongst the piles of pillows and blankets that made up their pillow fort.

“Ugh,” Christen grumbled, holding a hand over her eyes. “Of course you’re one of those people who doesn’t get hungover.”

“I mean…I might be one of those people,” Tobin replied with a small laugh. “But I also made you coffee, so you can’t be too upset with me.” She offered Christen the mug with oat milk, hoping it would help her feel better. 

Christen dropped her hand away from her face and cracked an eye open. At the sight of the steaming mug of coffee, a small half-smile made its way onto her face.

“My hero,” she mumbled, taking the mug. She continued to keep her eyes squinted, the light in the room almost unbearable. “Do you think you could-?” Christen asked, gesturing to the open curtains.

“Oh sure,” Tobin nodded, putting her own coffee mug on the coffee table and jogging to the windows to close the curtains.

“Never let me drink tequila again,” Christen grumbled, taking a sip of her coffee, hoping it would combat the raging headache and pounding behind her eyes. After Tobin closed the curtains, the light in the room was much dimmer, which allowed Christen to fully open her eyes. She looked around, noticing she was still in the short, black dress she’d worn last night. She was nestled amongst a pile of blankets and pillows on the floor, with no real recollection of how she’d gotten there.

“I mean was it the tequila or was it the volume of tequila?” Tobin smirked. 

Christen shook her head, regretting it instantly. “Your smart ass is cute usually, but right now I kind of wanna hit you.”

Tobin moved her hand across her mouth as if she were zipping her lips shut and throwing away the key. She shot Christen a thumbs up and silently sipped her coffee, waiting for Christen to get a few sips of coffee and feel better before she spoke again. Tobin propped herself up on the coffee table, pulling her feet up and sitting cross-legged, enjoying Christen in all her beheaded glory.

Christen chuckled at the gesture then winced, her fingers massaging her temple. The two of them sipped their coffees in silence for a few moments, Tobin’s eyes on Christen, Christen’s eyes screwed shut.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been that drunk,” Christen admitted quietly, finally able to open her eyes again now that her headache was receding. She looked up at Tobin and realized that Tobin was also in the same outfit she’d worn the night before. She didn’t think about that too hard, not having the energy to process what it meant just yet. 

“Really? What about when you won the NCAA Championship freshman year and sent me all those text messages?” Tobin probed. 

Christen let out another groan, dropping her mug onto the coffee table and putting her face into her hands. “First I wake up with mac and cheese in my hair and now you’re throwing drunk texts in my face? What a way to start spring break.”

“You still look cute, even with mac and cheese in your hair,” Tobin laughed, loving the way that Christen looked and sounded in the morning. She had a sexy and adorable morning voice that made Tobin’s stomach do somersaults, and her hair looked even wilder and more beautiful. 

Christen fought off a blush and focused instead on her confusion. “How did this get here anyway? How did we get here?” she asked, picking out the last few mac and cheese noodles from her hair with a shudder.

For the first time all morning, Tobin felt anxiety creep into her body. She wondered for a second whether Christen had remembered their time together or whether she’d forgotten the entire night. “You don’t remember last night?” Tobin asked, feeling out the situation to really gauge how much Christen actually did remember of the night before. 

It came back in flashes. The kitchen tequila shot, the dance floor, the almost kiss, the return to Krashlyn’s apartment. Christen remembered mostly everything, except for a few insignificant details like the mac and cheese. But what she really remembered was how Tobin had tasted under her tongue, how Tobin’s hands had felt on her hips, how Tobin’s moan had sounded, how close they had come to kissing. She couldn’t forget any of that if she tried, not that she would want to. Last night might have crossed some lines, but Christen didn’t want to forget. She just wasn’t sure if she was ready to talk about it, especially if Tobin didn’t remember anything, but she didn't want to forget. She didn’t want to worry Tobin though, so she smiled, hoping her eyes communicated the things her words could not.

“I didn’t say that. I just don’t remember why we made mac and cheese when popcorn is clearly the better drunk food to eat,” Christen replied, her smile growing.

Tobin huffed out a laugh, her anxiety receding. So, Christen did remember some things, but it was clear from her answer that she didn’t want to get into it right now. Tobin couldn’t blame Christen for that, she didn’t really want to either. She knew Allie would be pissed that they were avoiding communicating, again, but right now, they were in this incredible little bubble full of happiness and hope and Tobin couldn’t find it in herself to pop it with questions like “What are we?” and “What did last night mean?”.

“Apparently you and I insisted on making mac and cheese and drinking tequila. We may or may not have watched She’s the Man, but I don’t remember that,” Tobin replied. “Harry filled me in on some things before she left to go get us breakfast burritos.”

Christen shared in Tobin’s laugh, noting that Tobin also seemed like she remembered the events preceding the mac and cheese, but was choosing not to mention them. Maybe they wouldn’t talk about it, this tension between them that had boiled over last night thanks to copious amounts of tequila and dirty dancing in the club. Maybe Tobin was going to choose to ignore it, and maybe so would she. Just like she’d told Crystal last night, she wasn’t going to lose Tobin to the perils of long-distance. They both deserved better than that. So if that meant ignoring the elephant in the room and biding her time, while feeling a little more confident in the fact that Tobin might return her feelings, that was what Christen would do. 

“I hope she knows about my love for extra crispy bacon,” Christen said, grabbing her coffee mug once more.

“I told her, and no cheese, right?” Tobin nodded at Christen. 

Christen hid her smile in her coffee. Tobin knew her so well, and sometimes it just made her want to throw caution to the wind. But instead of doing that, she sipped her coffee and then looked back up at Tobin. 

“Right, thanks for remembering.”

“Always,” Tobin said, lifting her coffee mug toward Christen, winking, and taking a sip. “You know what I’m thinking?” Tobin asked, her face splitting into a huge grin. 

“You’re dying to brush your teeth? Or is that just me?” Christen replied with a shrug.

“I am, yes,” Tobin nodded. “But that’s not what I’m predominantly thinking about.”

“Do tell, what predominates your thoughts,” Christen teased.

“I think...and tell me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the perfect time to... drumroll please,” Tobin played her own version of a drumroll by slapping her hands on her leg. 

Christen’s brows lifted expectantly, unsure where Tobin was going with this and desperately hoping it didn’t involve moving from this spot on the ground.

“Watch my favorite movie of all time! The Mighty Ducks !”

Christen wanted to groan or complain or say no. But Tobin was giving her that look with those eyes and that pout, and Christen was weak. She couldn’t say no. So instead, she found herself nodding in defeat, loving the way Tobin’s face lit up. 

“Yes! Best morning ever!!!” Tobin cheered, pointing the remote at the TV and searching for the movie. “Do you need more coffee, Chris?” Tobin asked, excitement spilling from her eyes. 

Tobin’s sweetness and thoughtfulness were some of Christen’s favorite things about her. But there was something about the way those things came out in her words and actions this morning when Christen was feeling like dirt and Tobin was looking beautiful, that gave her pause. Her sweetness and thoughtfulness weren’t just Christen’s favorite things anymore, they were the things that had Christen realizing these feelings she had for Tobin were so much more than a crush. She was falling, falling hard, maybe even falling in love. 

“Love? Get a grip, Press. You’re hungover and not thinking clearly,” Christen chided herself. But her head had nothing to do with the feelings swirling around in her heart, and try as she might to deny them, they were there. These feelings, these deep scary big feelings should scare her, but they didn’t. They just made her chest feel warm and her hangover recede to the background for a moment, allowing Christen to smile brightly for the first time all morning. 

“I’ll take that smile and your silence as a yes, please Tobin get me another coffee?” Tobin asked, still grinning at Christen, her hand stretched out for Christen to give her the mug. 

Christen could only nod, handing her mug over to Tobin, still reeling from the revelation she’d just had.

Tobin whistled as she made her way into the kitchen, ready to settle down with the coffees and have an amazing morning with her favorite person in the world. “Did you just think about Christen as your favorite person?” Tobin wondered, stopping in her tracks. She hadn’t consciously thought about how important Christen had become. Of course she knew Christen was important. Losing her for those two months wouldn’t have been as terrible as it was if Christen weren’t important, but Tobin had never put it into words. She’d never really thought about where Christen stood on the list of people she needed in her life. She didn’t dwell on the thought, not worried that Christen meant so much to her. “Of course she does. You’ve been falling for her since your freshman year,” Tobin shook her head, pressing the Keurig’s buttons and pulling the oat milk out for Christen’s coffee and the regular milk out for her own. 

“Here you are,” Tobin handed the coffee over with a flourish before sitting down on the floor next to Christen and starting the movie. 

Christen held the mug between her hands, feeling the warmth through the ceramic and realizing it was nothing compared to the warmth radiating off of Tobin beside her. She didn’t realize how cold she was until just then, shivering slightly and snuggling deeper under the blanket she was under. 

“You want me to go steal something from Ashlyn or Ali’s closet?” Tobin asked, watching as Christen burrowed into the blanket. 

Christen shook her head and scooted closer to Tobin, sinking down and laying her head against Tobin’s shoulder.

“I’m good,” Christen mumbled, eyes on the TV, a soft smile on her lips.

Tobin was dying. She was trying to figure out how to sit this close to Christen without acting weird. She couldn’t decide if it was appropriate to put her arm around Christen’s shoulders and hold her close or if it was better to just keep her hands to herself. The smell of Christen’s shampoo was overwhelming, and with her head on her shoulder, all Tobin could think about was how Christen had leaned back against her when they were dancing the night before, resting her head on Tobin’s shoulder and grinding against her. She had no idea how she was going to survive not talking about the night before, but Christen seemed completely content to avoid the conversation, so she kept her mouth shut. 

“Will you stop thinking so loudly? I’m trying to watch some ducks be mighty,” Christen said softly, a teasing lilt in her voice.

“Sorry,” Tobin mumbled, scratching the back of her neck and laughing a little at Christen’s teasing. 

“We say that too often,” Christen observed, feeling the familiar words leave her lips, so similar to the ones she’d said on the dance floor last night right before almost kissing Tobin. It was the closest she could come to admitting that she remembered everything, and she hoped Tobin would get what she was trying to say.

Tobin’s body tensed, immediately thinking back to when Christen had said those same words to her the night before, right after Tobin had moaned in public. Tobin could feel a blush spread across her cheeks. She was having trouble not replaying the entire event over and over in her head. 

“I can’t enjoy this if you’re going to be all tense and uncomfortable to snuggle with,” Christen whined, her voice a little sleepy and distracted by the events on screen.

“Sor- I almost said it again,” Tobin sighed, trying to focus on the TV and the ragtag hockey team on screen, instead of the feeling of Christen pressed against her side. 

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Christen replied, unconsciously moving a little closer to Tobin.

Tobin tried to relax. She crossed her arms across her chest and leaned back against the coffee table. She tried to ignore the warmth radiating off of Christen. She tried to stop comparing it to how warm Christen’s body had been last night, completely pressed up against her own, how warm Christen’s lips had been on Tobin’s neck, on her cheek, so close to her lips but just too far. 

“Tobs?”

“Yeah?” Tobin muttered, pretending to be glued to the movie and not spiraling down memory lane. 

“You have seriously questionable taste in movies,” Christen teased softly, giggling into Tobin’s shoulder, hoping her joke would help Tobin relax just a little.

“This is a classic!” Tobin argued. “You haven’t given it enough time to really make an impression! They have to bond, Chris. Team chemistry doesn’t just appear overnight,” Tobin sighed. 

“I’m trying to keep an open mind, but I’m so distracted by the literal brick wall I’m leaning against to pay much attention to their team chemistry.”

“Well-” Tobin huffed, blowing a long stream of air from her lips. “How should I be sitting?” she finally asked, point-blank. 

Christen sat up and set her coffee down on the table. She grabbed Tobin’s arm closest to her and held it up, burrowing underneath it and snuggling into Tobin’s side. 

“There, now you can keep me warm and I can try and enjoy this movie,” Christen said, enjoying the weight of Tobin’s arm across her shoulders.

Tobin’s heart flipped in her chest at the even closer contact. “Okay, now watch,” Tobin whispered, trying and failing to keep her voice neutral. She couldn’t help but run her fingers along Christen’s arm and shoulder, drawing shapes and words, just like she had last night on the dance floor. 

When Allie returned, forty-five minutes later, the Mighty Ducks were passing eggs around on the ice. She dropped the burritos off in the kitchen and then peeked into the living room, and the sight that met her eyes just about melted her heart. Tobin had her arm around Christen, Christen was tucked into Tobin’s side, the two of them were sleeping soundly. 

Allie finally got her chance to take a cute picture, which she did, before having a little fun with them.

“QUACK QUACK QUACK QUACK!” Allie called, once she was done looking at her best friend and her lady lover. 

Tobin shot up first, worried she’d slept through the best part of the movie, and Christen followed quickly after, missing Tobin’s warmth immediately when Tobin removed her arm from around Christen’s shoulders. 

“Jeez, Harry! I thought you were the movie!” Tobin groaned from the floor. 

“Why is she quacking at us?” Christen asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and scooting just a bit away from Tobin.

“They’re the mighty ducks, C.P. Not the mighty turkeys,” Allie laughed. 

“It’s their cheer,” Tobin tried to explain, realizing that she sounded a lot dorkier when she tried to explain the movie’s plot. 

Christen shook her head, her headache threatening to come back full force. “I’m gonna need that burrito if those kids are going to quack before every game.”

“Good thing I brought you some fooooood,” Allie cooed at her two friends. 

Tobin shot up first, her feet moving faster than they ever did on the field. She ran into the kitchen and ripped the paper bag open, digging through the napkins and plastic utensils to find her burrito. She unwrapped it quickly and took a huge bite, her mouth completely full by the time Christen and Allie entered the kitchen. 

“Save some for the rest of us, Harry,” Allie chided, elbowing Tobin out of the way so she could dig through the bag.

Tobin managed to snag Christen’s burrito before being shoved out of the way by Allie. She looked up at Christen, her mouth full of burrito, and winked, tossing Christen’s burrito at her. Christen caught it with a smile, holding in a laugh at the complete, adorable mess that was Tobin Heath scarfing down a burrito at an inhuman speed.

The three of them returned to the living room shortly, Allie lounging on the couch, consumed with texting Bati, while Christen and Tobin returned to the floor. Tobin sat down first, getting comfortable, and noticed Christen hesitating, unsure where to go. With a smile, Tobin lifted her arm up, a silent invitation. Christen huffed out a small laugh and crawled under Tobin’s arm, getting comfortable all snuggled up to Tobin.

As the movie continued to play on screen, both Tobin and Christen were completely content to be cuddled up together, any worries about what had happened and what had almost happened between them last night fading away. 

Chapter Text

You're wonder under summer sky (Summer sky)

Brown skin and lemon over ice

Would you believe it?

You don't have to say you love me

I just wanna tell you somethin'

Lately, you've been on my mind

(Tobin - “Adore You” by Harry Styles)



Now you're liftin' me up, 'stead of holdin' me down

Stealin' my heart, 'stead of stealin' my crown

Untangled all the strings, round my wings, that were tied

I didn't know [her] and I didn't know me

Cloud nine, was always out of reach

Now I remember what it feels like to fly

You give me butterflies

(Christen - “Butterflies” by Kacey Musgraves)



MAY

It was the morning of a gorgeous, sun-filled Thursday. Christen knew they should be in their classes, her Psychology lab had started five minutes ago, but it was just too beautiful of a day to spend it cooped up inside. 

Instead, she, Crystal, Megan, and Kelley had decided to play some soccer. Their spring season had wrapped up last week, and they now had three months off before their Junior season began, but they were all missing the game. They played some small-sided games, a little 2v2 action, and then a crossing and finishing game. They finished with soccer tennis, with Christen and Crystal beating a bickering Megan and Kelley.

The four of them now lounged in the middle of their practice field, a little sweaty and a lot happy. Christen leaned back on her forearms, her legs stretched out in front of her across the grass, with her face to the sun. She was so busy soaking up the sunshine, she hadn’t noticed her friends share a quick look between them. She did notice when they tried to whisper amongst themselves though.

“I’m dying, I need to know,” Megan mumbled.

“Just ask her, you weenie,” Kelley hissed.

“It’s none of our business,” Crystal replied.

Christen’s eyes fluttered open and she looked around at the three of them, fixing her friends with a look.

“What’s none of your business?” Christen asked.

Silence fell over the group and it had Christen’s curiosity rising. “What were they talking about?” she wondered, her eyes narrowing at Kelley, who was definitely the weakest link of the three. 

Kelley didn’t even last three seconds. She sighed and threw her hands up in the air.

“Fine. We’re all just wondering why you’ve been shitting rainbows recently, and if Tobin is the reason you’re so annoyingly happy?”

Christen’s blush was immediate, she couldn’t fight it off if she tried. She hadn’t realized her mood had changed all that much recently, but looking back, she could see that maybe it had. She’d always been a relatively happy human, quick to smile or laugh. But this past month, after having spent most of her spring break with Tobin at the beach or at their respective houses, she’d found a new level of happiness. It was like the colors were brighter and the world was full of better things. Everything was just better, her morning coffee, her grades, her performance on the field. She’d never felt better and it had everything to do with Tobin Heath.

They still hadn’t talked about that night in the club, but it didn’t weigh on Christen’s conscience. She just took it in stride and tried to sink into their new normal. They talked all the time now. When they weren’t on the soccer field or in the classroom or at team meals, they were texting or Facetiming or talking on the phone. They had weekly movie nights and study sessions, sometimes even getting meals to go to bring back to their respective houses so they could eat together. Tobin often was eating dinner at like 9 or 10 PM, which Christen always felt a little guilty about, but Tobin assured her it was fine. It was worth it so they could eat together.

There had been a definite shift between them ever since spring break. Their flirting had been turned up, their compliments were more direct, they didn’t shy away from charged looks. For the first time, Christen truly felt herself believing that maybe Tobin returned her feelings. After the way Tobin had touched her, the way she’d looked at her, there was no other alternative. Tobin had to feel something, even if it was just attraction. But still, Tobin feeling something for her didn’t change the facts. They could talk all the time, have Facetime dinners and movie nights, but it didn’t erase the thousands of miles between UCLA and Penn State. It didn’t make Christen forget all that Tyler had been through, the utter heartbreak that had come from trying to make a long-distance relationship work.  

“I...yes, it’s Tobin,” Christen admitted quietly, earning her hoots and cheers from her friends. 

Crystal and Kelley high-fived, while Megan pounded her hands on top of the soccer ball. 

“I called it! K.O. thought you’d wait until summer to get together, which is totally ignoring the fact that you two have been lusting after one another for over a year. So I’m right, she’s wrong, as per usual,” Megan said, a beaming grin aimed in Christen’s direction.

While Christen shared in her friends’ elation, she also needed to set the record straight. They weren’t together, despite how much Christen wished they were.

“We’re not together, guys. Nothing’s changed really,” Christen admitted, knowing that everything had somewhat changed between them, but also knowing that there was nothing to be done about it. 

“That’s now what it looked like at the club last month,” Megan commented.

“Or during tequila shots,” Kelley quipped. 

“Or at your birthday party when she kissed you on the cheek,” Crystal added.

Christen held up her hands, silently asking her friends to stop. She hadn’t realized they’d all been paying such close attention to her and Tobin, especially at the club, but nothing they’d mentioned changed the most important reason why she and Tobin couldn’t be together.

“None of that matters when she’s thousands of miles away,” Christen reasoned. “Crys, we’ve talked about this.”

“I know, I know. But I still think long-distance is worth it when you’re with the right person,” Crystal replied with a shrug.

“I agree. Love knows no distance when distance gives you even more reasons to love,” Kelley added, sounding very wise all of a sudden, surprising her friends. Kelley noticed their looks of confusion. “What? I’m deep sometimes!”

“More like you’re sleeping with a poetry student,” Megan jeered.

Kelley tossed her ponytail over her shoulder. “Those are not mutually exclusive things, Pinoe.”

Christen chuckled and then ducked her head, a bit overwhelmed by the certainty in her friends’ voices. Crystal and Kelley were making pretty decent cases for long-distance, so maybe she shouldn’t be so opposed.

But then Megan spoke up, any teasing gone from her voice. “I gotta disagree with these ladies, Pressy. If Sue and I weren’t in the same place, no way would our relationship work. It probably wouldn’t have even started. There are just too many chances to miscommunicate when you’re not in the same place. And you know that you and Tobito don’t have the best communication track record.”

Christen sighed, her eyes falling to her hands. She picked up a blade of grass from the field and rolled it between her fingers.

“What should I do?” Christen asked quietly, her friends straining to even pick up her words. 

“What do you want to do?” Crystal shot back.

Before Christen could reply, her phone dinged. Christen looked down at the screen and saw that she’d gotten a text from Coach Foudy.

 

[Coach 10:17AM]

Got time to chat today?

[Christen Press 10:17AM]

Sure thing. What’s up, Coach?

[Coach 10:17AM]

Come to my office at 12:30PM.

 

Christen closed her phone and looked up at her friends, her brows knit together, a small flicker of trepidation shooting through her. 

“Tobito?” Megan wondered.

Christen shook her head. “Coach Foudy. She has something she wants to talk to me about.”


Tobin tossed the remainder of her t-shirts into her overflowing duffel bag. She wasn’t an over-packer and hadn’t brought too much to school, at least not in the clothing department. The hard part had been getting all of her soccer gear and her longboards tied down in the back of her pickup truck. She’d left her truck in Pennsylvania last summer, not certain about when her parents were planning to move or where she’d be. 

Now, though, she had every intention of driving her truck to L.A. for the summer and possibly leaving it there for Jeff to borrow, now that he had his license. She didn’t really have much use for it at school, spending most of her time on campus or with teammates who had their own cars. In L.A., though, Tobin wanted to drive. She wanted to be able to drive Christen to the beach or visit Allie’s house without waiting for her parents’ cars to be available. 

“Do you know how to fold clothes?” Lauren criticized. She and ARod were both sitting on Tobin’s bed, neither being very helpful despite offering to help Tobin pack and carry her stuff to her car. 

“I’m just going to wash everything when I get home,” Tobin shrugged, pulling the last few soccer shorts from her dresser and pushing them into the duffel. She yanked the zipper shut and deposited the duffel bag outside of her bedroom door. 

Alex and Lindsey had already moved out, both of them dying to get home and start their summer vacations immediately. Tobin probably would have too, but she’d needed to finish a few papers and take a Physics exam. She hadn’t minded the quiet dorm. The suite had been cleaner than it ever had before, the halls were quieter, perfect for studying, and Tobin had enjoyed the privacy. She’d been able to Facetime with Christen without Alex or Lindsey making kissy faces over the back of her laptop screen. 

“This summer is going to suck,” ARod sighed, trying to adjust her leg on Tobin’s bed. She’d stepped wrong during their last practice and torn a ligament in her ankle, which wouldn’t have been a huge issue, but it kept ARod from accepting her call-up to U-23 Camp. Because of that, Tobin was trying extremely hard to avoid any topic related to soccer or the National Team. 

“Don’t say that. I’m visiting in June, and Tobin said we can visit L.A. any time we want to in August,” Lauren said, trying to be optimistic. 

Lauren shot Tobin an apologetic look before continuing, and Tobin suddenly realized that she was about to be used as the butt of some joke to cheer ARod up. 

“Pluuuus, if we visit Toby in L.A., we can see how she’s getting along with Operation Get Press in Bed,” Lauren added.

“That is not what I’m trying to do,” Tobin immediately defended, her words drowned out by ARod’s laughter. 

“That so is what you want to do! We saw the video!” ARod hollered, pointing her finger at Tobin and shaking with laughter. 

“What video?” Tobin demanded, punctuating her words in the hopes that ARod would knock it off and be serious. 

“You weren’t supposed to tell her about that,” Lauren mumbled, suddenly paling. 

“What video, you guys?” Tobin asked again, putting her hands on her hips and kicking one of her empty dresser drawers closed with her bare foot. 

“Allie shared a video…” Lauren started. 

“You and Pressy were all up on each other in that club!” ARod snorted. 

“I’m going to kill her,” Tobin growled, pulling her phone out of her pocket and opening her text messages. She ignored the new notification she had from Christen, not wanting a sweet message from Christen to calm her down before she had time to text Allie with the full force of her anger. 

 

[Tobin Heath 12:37PM]

YOU TRAITOR!!!! 

[Tobin Heath 12:37PM]

YOU ARE NO LONGER MY BEST FRIEND! FROM NOW ON, I WILL REFER TO YOU ONLY AS ALLIE. 

[Tobin Heath 12:37PM]

THE HARRY DAYS ARE OVER!

 

Tobin dropped her phone on the top of her dresser and glared at her two friends in front of her. 

“She shouldn’t have shared that video. She shouldn’t have even taken a video. It was just a dance. We were both super drunk, and we haven’t spoken about it since. Who knows if she even remembers that we danced like that,” Tobin tried to shrug noncommittally.  

“You two have been all over each other since spring break!” ARod argued. 

“Yeah, there’s hardly a moment when Christen isn’t messaging you or you aren’t calling her,” Lauren added. 

“Okay, so I like her. You’ve known that for a while now. That doesn’t change anything,” Tobin defended, carelessly pushing the stuff on her desk into a small moving box.

“You know that she wouldn’t dance with you like that if she didn’t like you back, right?” Lauren pressed, reaching out to grab Tobin’s arm and pull her attention back to her two friends. 

“Yeah, Toby she was all over you,” ARod agreed, her eyes fixed on her phone, likely watching the stupid video again. 

“I know, I know,” Tobin relented. “I think she feels the same? Or at least, she’s attracted to me, well drunk her is attracted to me. I just can’t ruin this. I can’t push her when I know that she doesn’t want a long-distance relationship. I won’t ask her to do something she doesn’t want to do,” Tobin sighed. 

“What if she needs a push, though?” Lauren asked, her voice soft and logical. 

“What if I push her and she says no and then everything changes? I can’t lose her again. Those two months that I spent ignoring her and trying to cut her out of my life were the worst months I’ve ever experienced. I can’t risk losing her again. I’d rather be her friend and keep her in my life than push her and lose her.”

“I don’t think you’ll lose her. She needs you too. It’s obvious in the way she talks to you and looks at you that she needs you too,” Lauren murmured, squeezing Tobin’s arm. 

“I think you should tell her how you feel,” ARod said, her eyes now fully focused on Tobin. 

“I’m going to U-23 camp. It isn’t like I’ll be around L.A. for a long time this summer. I’ll be going there and then visiting my sisters in Florida. I won’t have time to even start an in-person relationship with Christen,” Tobin argued. 

“You could tell her your feelings right before you leave for camp and tell her that you’re willing to wait, that you won’t put any pressure on her, that you just wanted her to know how you feel,” ARod huffed, clearly annoyed with Tobin’s excuses. 

“She deserves to know how you feel,” Lauren said, her eyes sincere. 

Tobin let her friends’ words swirl around her head. She wasn’t afraid of actually speaking the words to Christen. She was just scared of how Christen would respond. She didn’t want to scare her away or make her feel like Tobin only wanted one thing from her. Tobin needed Christen Press in her life in any capacity that Christen was comfortable with. 

That being said, Tobin couldn’t deny that she was realizing more and more that Christen felt more than just friendship for her. Christen was flirtier than normal. They were in constant contact. Since spring break, they’d Facetimed more and more without their friends, even eating dinner together, something that Tobin had trouble not thinking was date-like. Christen was a central part of Tobin’s life. If Tobin wasn’t eating, sleeping, going to classes, or playing soccer, she was talking to Christen. Someone who didn’t care about Tobin wouldn’t talk to her as much as Christen did. Someone who only thought of Tobin as a friend wouldn’t tell her she’s beautiful as much as Christen did. 

“Maybe I’ll tell her,” Tobin mumbled. “I just wish this summer would be easier. I wish she were going to Florida with me to visit my sisters or going to camp with me. I mean, they’re blind if she doesn’t get called up.”

“Well, it isn’t too late. People are still being called. And, if she doesn't get to go to camp, you could always invite her to visit your family in Florida,” Lauren suggested. 

“I said I'll tell Christen how I feel. I’m not subjecting her to my entire family just yet. She’s already overwhelmed with just my parents and Jeff,” Tobin huffed. “All right, get up. I need to take the bedsheets now.”

Tobin stuffed her bed linens into a trash bag and checked every last drawer and closet in her dorm room. Once she was satisfied that the room was empty, she carried her last duffel bag, trash bag, and box to the truck, ARod and Lauren trailing close behind. It was already pretty full, so Tobin just stuffed the last three things in the passenger’s seat next to her. 

“Let us know when you get home. It’s a long drive,” Lauren said, her arms wrapping tightly around Tobin’s shoulders. 

“I will, mom,” Tobin teased. 

“And let us know how it goes with Press,” ARod reminded. “We want a full report.”

“I’ll try and work up the courage,” Tobin sighed, letting ARod pull her in for a hug and ruffle her hair. 

“I better get going if I’m going to make it to St. Louis before it gets super late,” Tobin said, hating goodbyes more than anything. 

“I can’t believe you’re driving by yourself all the way to L.A.,” Lauren worried.

“I’m stopping at hotels overnight, and I’ll get home in three days,” Tobin assured her. “I’ll text you every day, okay?” she offered, knowing that Lauren would worry no matter what. 

“Deal,” Lauren sighed. 

“I love you guys,” Tobin mumbled, slipping into the driver’s seat of her truck. 

“We love you,” ARod replied, both of Tobin’s friends waving her away. 

Tobin hadn’t even gotten off of campus before she remembered that she hadn't read Christen’s latest text message. She also hadn’t texted Christen that she was on the road home, something she promised to do. So, Tobin pulled her truck into another dorm’s parking lot and pulled out her phone. 

 

[Christen Press 11:58AM] 

How’s the packing coming?

[Tobin Heath 1:46PM]

Sorry, I just loaded the car and said goodbye to ARod and Lauren. I’m officially on the road to L.A.! Call whenever you want. I just won’t be able to text much until I get to St. Louis tonight. 

 

Tobin stuck the phone into the cupholder, turned up the music, and got on the road, hoping Christen would call her soon. She missed her.


Christen took a deep, steadying breath. She raised a fist and knocked on Coach Foudy’s office door, feeling her stomach fill with butterflies and her palms start to sweat. She had no idea why Coach wanted to meet with her, and if she were being honest, she was a little worried. These sort of unannounced meetings always caused her anxiety to flare.

“Come in, Press,” Coach Foudy called out.

Christen let herself take one final breath and then opened the door, fixing a smile on her face. 

“You wanted to see me, Coach?” Christen asked, shuffling into the office.

Coach Foudy sat behind her desk, a scattered mess of papers in front of her. For such an organized, disciplined coach, her office was a mess of papers and trophies and framed jerseys and pictures adorning the walls. 

“Sure do. Shut the door.”

Christen gulped, hating the way her stomach dropped at the command. She did as she was told and then took a seat in front of Coach Foudy. She tried not to fidget, but her leg bounced and her fingers drummed against her thighs, her worried eyes darting all over the office. She ran through every possible mistake she could have made recently that Coach would get upset about, her mind drawing a blank.

“Press?”

Christen finally looked at Coach Foudy and tried her best to smile.

“Yeah?”

“Why don’t you take a few deep breaths for me. I’m not cutting you or anything, you’re not in trouble,” Coach Foudy assured. She folded her hands in front of her, a smile threatening to break out across her face. “Actually, it’s the opposite.”

“What do you mean?” Christen asked, willing her heart rate to slow as she wiped her palms across her sweats.

“What do you think of Portland?”

Thrown off by the drastic change in subject, Christen felt her brow furrow.

“Um, cold, rainy, good coffee?” Christen replied, trying and failing to figure out what Coach Foudy had brought her in to talk about.

“True. Nike HQ is up there too, along with some U.S. Soccer training centers. Actually, the U-23 camp is being held there at the end of the month. I was asked recently to come and head up the camp.”

Christen grinned at her coach, overjoyed that Coach Foudy was getting the recognition she deserved. She was the best coach she’d ever had and deserved to be coaching at the national level, if not at least the professional one. 

“That’s amazing, Coach!”

Coach Foudy grinned, ready to deliver the best news of all. 

“Thank you, Press, but I didn’t call you in here to brag. I asked if I could be the one to tell you...you’re getting called up. You’re coming to camp with me! You should be getting a bunch of emails soon with the details, but the camp is two weeks long, from May 25th to June 8th…”

Whatever else Coach Foudy said was completely lost on Christen. She was getting her first call-up into a U.S. Camp. She had been working so hard for this, for so long. Sure, she hadn’t had the best fall season. But this spring, she had really hit her stride. She played lights out and she knew it. She just hadn’t realized anybody in U.S. Soccer had noticed. 

“Holy shit, Coach, really?” Christen asked, almost unable to comprehend what she’d just heard. She was having trouble wrapping her mind around it.

Coach Foudy laughed, leaning back into her chair.

“Damn straight, kid. Go tell your family the good news and I’ll see you in Portland.”


Tobin was sipping on the first coffee of many she’d consume in the next three days when her phone started buzzing in the cupholder. 

“Shit,” she grumbled as hot coffee fogged up her glasses. She placed her coffee in the other cup holder and pulled her phone toward her, all while staring at the road. 

“Hello,” she said once the phone was on speakerphone, not having checked the contact before answering. She didn’t want to take her eyes off the road, not while she was driving down the highway. 

“Tobs, oh my God, hi! I am like freaking out right now!” Christen practically yelled, her excitement palpable in her voice. 

“Hey, Chris! What’s up? Everything okay?” Tobin asked, a grin spreading across her face as soon as she heard Christen’s voice. 

“Beyond okay! I got called up! I’m going to camp!!” Christen cheered. She was pacing around the empty UCLA locker room, her phone held in her hand. She couldn’t stop shaking, too overwhelmed from the news Coach Foudy had just told her. She had immediately raced to the locker room and called Tobin, wanting her to be the first person she told. 

“Are you serious?” Tobin asked, feeling like the words were bubbling out of her chest. Her smile grew more than she ever thought possible. “Chris! That’s amazing!”

“I just- I’m- I can’t-,” Christen spluttered, suddenly unable to even put into words how excited she was. It was all too much suddenly, the elation, the emotion. She leaned against the wall and sank to the ground, holding the phone to her ear with one hand and her face in the other. Tears burned her throat as she struggled to talk, to tell Tobin what Coach Foudy had told her.

“I- I’m going to Portland with the U-23s,” she finally choked out, sniffling a bit to get rid of the threat of tears

“Chris, I’m so proud of you,” Tobin whispered, completely aware that Christen was getting choked up on the other end of the phone. Tobin could remember the first time she’d been called up. She had been fourteen and completely bouncing off the walls with joy. She completely understood the emotions Christen was experiencing right now.

“It’s at the end of this month and- oh shit, Tobs, I’m gonna miss your birthday,” Christen realized suddenly, sobering a bit. “I had the best surprises planned.”

“And what makes you think I’m not going to be in Portland?” Tobin smirked, wishing she could see Christen’s face when she realized what Tobin was suggesting. She hadn’t told Christen about going to camp. For Tobin, going to camp was still amazing, but it was also something she’d done a few times now. She didn’t mind keeping it on the down-low, especially since most of her friends were also vying for a spot at camp. She didn’t want to make anyone feel bad or jealous or inferior. 

“Wait, what?” Christen asked, shaking her head slightly. There was no way this was real, the world didn’t work like this. There was no way Tobin Heath was going to be there for her first U.S. Camp, for the first time she put on the U.S. Soccer crest. “You’re going to be there?”

“Of course! I was an All-American this year, I will remind you,” Tobin replied, letting her voice sound a little cocky. 

Christen chuckled, the burn of tears receding as her smile came back with full force. 

“True. And what kind of best friend would you be if you weren’t there with me for my first call-up?” Christen said.

“Not a very good one,” Tobin joked in reply. At the small bout of silence on the other end of the line, Tobin hazarded a guess that Christen was beginning to overthink things.

“Is someone nervous?” she asked, her voice softening immediately. Of course, Christen was nervous. She was often anxious, something that Christen tried to hide with her beautiful smile and killer goals, but she was still anxious just the same.

Christen blew out a long breath. “Honestly? Not yet. But I know I will be an absolute wreck when I get there,” she confessed, her head tilting back against the wall, wishing more than anything that she could be with Tobin right now.

“Can I tell you a secret?” Tobin asked, gripping the steering wheel a little tighter. She’d never told anyone this, but she had no qualms about telling Christen. 

“Always, Tobs,” Christen whispered in reply.

“My first camp, I cried the entire time,” Tobin mumbled, a little embarrassed by the admission. 

Christen softened at the mental image of a younger Tobin crying at camp. She really wished she could be with Tobin now. She’d give her a tight hug and buy her a pint of Phish Food. “Aww you did? How old were you?” 

“Poor Harry probably hated rooming with me. I was fourteen. Harry was fifteen, but for some reason, Harry just clicked with everyone. I was so homesick, and I felt so little, way too young to be doing anything important,” Tobin sighed. “I think Harry begged to stay in someone else’s room just to get some good sleep, since I literally cried myself to sleep.”

“And look at you now, a couple of Harry’s doing Harry things. How far you’ve come,” Christen replied with a smile. “I hope we get to room together,” she found herself adding quietly, almost like she hadn’t expected those words to come out of her mouth.

Tobin gulped at the idea. “I hope we don’t,” she thought to herself. She couldn’t handle watching Christen get ready for practices and get out of the shower. She’d probably combust if Christen Press was her roommate at camp. Of course, Christen was one of her best friends, so rooming with her would be nice. Not only that, but Tobin did want to explain her feelings to Christen, and rooming with her would give her a lot of time to do that. Still, if things went poorly, she’d be trapped with Christen as a roommate, and that would be horrifically awkward. 

“Yeah, that’d be cool,” Tobin choked out.

“Then you could make sure I don’t cry myself to sleep the whole time,” Christen said, trying to make a joke, but the tightness in her voice betrayed her nerves about the whole situation.

“You will most definitely not be crying the whole time,” Tobin laughed, hoping to assuage Christen’s worries. “Let’s remember that you aren’t fourteen. Plus, you’re way cooler than I am, so I’m sure you’ll be friends with everyone within the first couple days.”

Christen chuckled in response. “Yeah, maybe. Wow. We’re going to camp together, Tobs. How crazy is that?” Christen asked, the wonder in her voice making her words light.

“I’m not surprised in the slightest,” Tobin said confidently, grinning at the awe in Christen’s voice. 

“I am. Not about you, obviously,” Christen replied.

“I’m sorry, have you seen yourself play? You ‘megged me the first game we played against each other!” Tobin groaned with feigned frustration. 

With a shrug, Christen chewed on her lip, unable to formulate a response to that.

“Chris, I can hear you doubting yourself. You’re amazing and incredible, and you deserve to be at camp. You’re going to kill it!” Tobin encouraged, just wanting Christen to see herself the way Tobin always did.

The confidence in Tobin’s voice made Christen’s chest warm. While she still had worries and anxieties and fears, she did feel a bit better knowing that Tobin had faith in her. Suddenly, Christen brightened, an idea popping into her head.

“Will you train with me? We’ve got a few weeks before camp starts and you know what to expect, so you can help me prep. If you want?”

“As long as my soccer gear doesn’t fly out of the bed of my truck on the highway during this drive,” Tobin teased, her eyes glancing at her rearview mirror to check on her stuff in the back. 

“Oh right, you’re driving. How is it so far? Are you being safe? Tell me I’m on speakerphone,” Christen said.

“I don’t like using the word boring, since the world is full of exciting things, but the highway between Pennsylvania and St. Louis, Missouri is pretty bleak,” Tobin laughed. “Yes, you’re on speakerphone. Yes, I’m being safe.”

Christen laughed right along with Tobin, another idea popping into her head, this one even crazier than the last.

“Where’s your second-to-last stop?”

“Albuquerque, New Mexico,” Tobin hummed, interested to see where Christen’s question was going to lead. “I'm driving over ten hours a day,” Tobin groaned, “But at least that gets my car to L.A. for the summer.”

“Would you like some company from Albuquerque to L.A.? I hear that stretch is boring too, but it’s better with a passenger who has great taste in music and road snacks,” Christen said in a rush, wondering what possessed her to think this and then actually ask it. It was crazy to even consider this, but she just wanted to see Tobin, so she was willing to entertain crazy.

“Umm...are you talking about yourself? You’re in L.A. not Albuquerque, right?” Tobin asked, confused about what Christen was planning.

“No, I’m talking about Kelley O’Hara,” Christen joked. “Yes, Tobs, I’m talking about me!”

“I was about to completely reject Kelley,” Tobin snorted. “I couldn’t deal with her constant talking.”

“Me neither, so you’re lucky it’s my dad who collects Southwest miles like it’s his job and not Kelley’s. But he’s been meaning to use some and I’ve always wanted to see Albuquerque’s airport,” Christen replied, running a hand through her hair nervously.

“Just the airport? I see,” Tobin replied. After a pause, she added, “You really want to fly to New Mexico just to sit in a packed car with me for over thirteen hours?” Tobin’s skepticism was getting the best of her. There was no way that Christen would actually do all of that just to keep Tobin company.

“Why do you make it sound like that would be torture for me?”

“Because I do think it would be torture for you,” Tobin snorted, already hating that she had to drive for three days straight and not wanting to subject Christen to any part of it. 

“Where’d all that confidence go from a few minutes ago? You would be amazing car company,” Christen reasoned, unable not to smile as she thought of singing along to the radio with Tobin, of sharing snacks and stories, of just being together.

Tobin blushed, her cheeks completely heating up. “Christen wants to do all that just to spend time with you,” she thought. For a moment, Tobin wanted to just spill all of her feelings to Christen on the phone. She wanted to tell Christen exactly how she felt about her, but instead, she bit her bottom lip and grinned because Christen wanted to spend time with her on a boring road trip through the desert. 

“I guess it’s a good thing I got the air conditioning in the truck fixed,” Tobin said. 

Christen laughed, her cheeks heating at the thought of actually doing this. This was so unlike her, this impulsiveness. She usually thought things through, planned weeks in advance, even made itemized packing lists and extensive itineraries. But here she was, ready to throw that all away and fly to Albuquerque just to spend a little extra time with Tobin. 

“I should call my dad and make sure those miles are up for grabs,” Christen hummed, hating the thought of getting off the phone with Tobin.

“No worries if they aren’t,” Tobin said, not wanting Christen to feel stressed. “And don’t worry if you just decide you don’t want to.”

“First no confidence, and now that infectious optimism I’m so used to hearing is gone too, Tobs?” 

“I must have left it in Pittsburg after the first two hours of this torturous drive,” Tobin laughed. “Sorry, let me try again. I’M SO EXCITED, CHRIS!” Tobin yelled, just wanting to make Christen smile. 

Christen laughed freely at Tobin’s over-exuberance. “You’re ridiculous, I can’t believe I want to sit in a car with you across multiple state lines. But here we are. What day should I meet you?”

“If all goes as planned, I’m getting into Albuquerque on Saturday night. I can pick you up from the airport then or on Sunday morning before we start the drive to California. Your choice,” Tobin said, immediately wondering how she’d survive sleeping in the same hotel room as Christen if she, in fact, flew in on Saturday night. 

“I’ll see what the flights look like and let you know. I’ll call you after I talk to my dad?” Christen asked, already looking forward to the next time they got to talk.

“I will literally be completely free for the next ten hours,” Tobin sighed, running a hand through her hair.

“Drive safely, okay? Precious cargo and all that. I can’t prep for camp if you lose your soccer stuff,” Christen teased.

“Ha. Ha,” Tobin deadpanned. “I’ll talk to you later, Chris.”

“Bye, Tobs,” Christen said, hanging up her call with Tobin and quickly calling her dad. She drummed her fingers across the locker room floor as she waited for him to pick up the phone. Finally, he did.

“Christen, what’s up?” her dad said, a smile in his voice.

“Hey, Dad, I have a huge favor to ask.”


Tobin had peeled her eyes open at 5:30AM, the hotel parking lot still dark. She’d arrived in Albuquerque the night before, immediately falling into bed and crashing. She’d barely even felt awake enough to text her friends and family that she was safe at stop number two. Christen’s arrival at the airport was the only thing that had motivated her to get up with her alarm, take a shower, reconfigure bags in the truck to free up the passenger’s seat, and get on the road. 

Tobin stopped at Starbucks, ordering two coffees, one with oat milk and one with regular milk, before making her way to the airport. It was still dark, the sun just barely peeking over the horizon, when Tobin pulled up at the airport pick-up location, her thumbs drumming on the steering wheel in anticipation. It had been over a month since she’d seen Christen in person, and she was dying to be in her presence again. 

 

[Christen Press 5:58AM] 

Landed and walking through baggage claim! Also, I need coffee, stat 😴

 

[Tobin Heath 5:58AM]

I’m right outside, and I have caffeine just for you!

 

Christen stepped out from between the sliding doors, into the dark early morning, suppressing a yawn. She looked around at the all-but deserted arrivals area and felt a smile grow on her face at the sight of the overloaded truck parked on the curb, with none other than Tobin Heath leaning against it. Christen tightened her grip on the strap of her backpack and hurried toward Tobin.

“I’m so glad I did this, that airport was so cool,” Christen said, stopping a foot away from Tobin, her smile so big it was starting to hurt. 

“So you did do this for the airport,” Tobin teased, opening her arms and stepping forward to wrap Christen in them. 

Christen sank into Tobin’s embrace, her arms tightening around Tobin’s middle. She had missed this, being with Tobin. She had missed the way she felt, the way she sounded. Mostly, she’d missed the way everything just seemed better when Tobin was by her side. 

“That depends, did you really get me coffee?” Christen teased right back, leaning out of Tobin’s embrace, but staying close by.

Tobin turned around with a smile, opening the passenger door and signaling that Christen could get in. “After you,” Tobin grinned. 

Christen rolled her eyes and hopped up into the truck, dropping her backpack onto the floor. She turned back to Tobin, to ask where the coffee was, and found Tobin leaning into the truck, their faces inches apart.

“Uh-” Christen blurted, suddenly self-conscious at their close proximity and very distracted by the scent of pine and mint coming from Tobin.

“Here you are,” Tobin hummed, trying to act casual, having misjudged how close her face would be to Christen’s when she’d leaned in to grab the right coffee out of the cupholder. She handed Christen the cup, smiling softly before she leaned away. 

“Thanks,” Christen whispered, her heart hammering in her chest.

“My pleasure,” Tobin mumbled, stepping away from Christen to close her door and walk around to the driver’s side of the truck. 

Christen forced herself to take a few deep breaths. This was ridiculous, getting this flustered this early into the drive. But she’d forgotten what it was like to be near Tobin, to feel that desire to touch her, to feel that need to be close to her. It was intoxicating and overwhelming and Christen needed to get a handle on it, like now.

“Okay, so I don’t have an aux cord, but I have a portable, Bluetooth speaker, so if you want to connect to that, you can play whatever music you want,” Tobin began, hoping that talking would distract her from the butterflies that had taken over her whole body as soon as she’d seen Christen. She suddenly felt wide awake, the cab of the truck full of electricity.  

“You’re giving me control over the music?” Christen asked, pushing down her flustered feelings and focusing back on the task at hand. She had over 13 hours in a car with Tobin Heath and needed to get her head in the game.

“Of course, that’s why you flew all the way here right? The airport and complete say over the music, right?” Tobin laughed, pulling out of the arrivals area and getting them on their way. 

“I have been meaning to make you listen to Taylor Swift’s entire discography, from start to finish, spending time in every era so you can really appreciate her talent,” Christen replied, connecting her phone to the speakers and pulling up her music app.

“What makes you think I’m not a Swiftie?” Tobin cocked her head to the side, focused on the road ahead of her. 

“If it took you almost two years to tell me you’re a Taylor fan, I will feel seriously cheated.”

“I won’t tell you then,” Tobin giggled, reaching out for her coffee and taking a sip.

“Ugh you are, aren’t you?” Christen asked, narrowing her eyes at Tobin. 

Tobin’s large grin was answer enough and it had Christen shaking her head. Could Tobin get any more amazing? She had to stop wondering that, because every time she did, Tobin proved, again and again, she was even more incredible than Christen expected.

“I swear, Tobs, one of these days I’ll find your bad quality. I haven’t yet, but someday I will, because you have to have at least one. Nobody’s this perfect,” Christen said distractedly, focused on finding music for them to listen to.

“Christen Press thinks I’m perfect?” Tobin flirted shamelessly. 

Christen’s head whipped up and she looked over at Tobin, her brows knit. “Did I say that?”

“Are you taking it back?” Tobin challenged.

“No...but I am blaming it on my lack of sleep and caffeine,” Christen replied with a smirk, eyes tracking over Tobin’s side profile.

“I think you’re pretty perfect too,” Tobin mumbled behind her coffee cup, her cheeks reddening immediately. 

“You’re just saying that because I’m a fellow Swiftie,” Christen teased, ignoring the way her heart fluttered and her cheeks burned.

“Nope, Alex is a major Swiftie too, and after living with her for two years, I think she’s faaaar from perfect,” Tobin chuckled, one hand falling from the steering wheel to reach up and push through her hair. 

The movement caused Tobin’s arm muscles to flex and Christen unconsciously licked her lips. Christen was reminded once again just how gorgeous Tobin really was. Even at 6 AM, with slight bags under her eyes and exhaustion on her face, Tobin Heath was lovely.

“Chris? Did you hear me?”

Christen snapped out of it at the sound of Tobin’s voice. She forced a weak smile and nodded.

“Yeah, sorry, zoned out there for a second,” Christen replied. “And maybe after we room together for two weeks, you’ll feel differently about me too.”

Tobin tightened her grip on the steering wheel, her stomach clenching. “Who says we’re rooming together?” she asked, her words a little tight. 

Christen pulled up her email and scrolled to the one she’d received last night, reading from the email so Tobin could hear it.

“Hi Christen, my name is Cherry and I will be the manager for U-23 camp. Below you’ll find your flight information and your roommate’s name and information. Feel free to get to know her before you arrive in Portland...blah blah blah,” Christen said, grinning up at Tobin. “And guess who's name is at the bottom of this email?”

“Uh...Jennifer Wheeler? Sarah Johnson? Lane Clemens? Should I continue making up names?” Tobin teased, just wanting to push Christen’s buttons and wanting to get over her immediate nerves at the prospect of sharing a space with Christen. 

“Wow, didn’t realize you were so opposed to rooming with me,” Christen said with a teasing lit in her voice.

“I’m not!” Tobin rushed to say, causing her to blush again. “It’ll be great!” Tobin couldn’t help that her mind immediately thought about all of the compromising situations the two of them had found themselves in: dirty dancing with Christen, how Christen’s tongue felt on her neck, how Christen had kissed her on the dance floor. “This is going to be torturous,” Tobin thought, keeping a smile on her face despite her worries. 

“Bring this speaker so we can jam to Taylor the whole time, and it really will be great,” Christen replied with a smile. 

“Oh, Chris I have to tell you something, though…” Tobin said, a serious tone in her voice.

Christen’s brows knitted together in confusion, her eyes tracking over Tobin’s features. 

“What’s up?”

“I only listen to heavy rap when I’m at camp,” Tobin said, her voice completely deadpan. 

Christen barked out a laugh. “Sure you do, Tobs.”

“Excuse? Do I not seem cool enough for that?” 

“You seem like a baby pool, shallow end kind of rap fan. Definitely not deep end rap,” Christen teased, smirking at the look of total indignation on Tobin’s face. She couldn’t help but pivot in her seat, fully facing Tobin as they talked. This way, she got to watch Tobin the whole time, while Tobin had to look at the road.

“Woooow! You’re in for a surprise,” Tobin lied, knowing full well that she’d be happy to listen to Taylor Swift for the entire camp. 

Christen giggled, pressing play on her phone, one of Taylor’s earliest songs playing from the speaker. “Whatever you say, Tobs. I am really happy we’re rooming together, though. Now I don’t have to worry about hiding how nervous I am in front of my roommate.”

“I am too, Chris. Trust me, you have nothing to be nervous about,” Tobin assured. “Also, not fair! You get to stare at me while I have to sit here and drive for more than ten hours!” Tobin was dying to turn her head to look at Christen. She wanted to see Christen’s smile and eyes. She wanted to see Christen talking and laughing. It had been too long since she’d just gotten to stare at her. 

“We can switch, you know? I’m a great driver, hands always at the ten and two, never going over the speed limit.”

“I bet you are. Probably aced your test on the first try,” Tobin mumbled. 

“100%, no mistakes,” Christen shot back with a smile.

“I went fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit and ran a red light my first try,” Tobin replied honestly. 

Christen gulped, eyeing Tobin hesitantly. “And you grew out of that right?”

“I’ve had a lot of practice since then,” Tobin nodded, reaching one hand out to squeeze Christen’s for a second. 

Christen didn’t want to let go of Tobin’s hand, but she knew she should. As she did, she scooted just a bit closer to Tobin and put her arm along the back of the bench seat, her hand right behind Tobin’s neck. She shouldn’t hold Tobin’s hand, but she could at least get closer to her.

“Want to switch in a few hours?” Christen asked, her fingers dying to reach out and play with the baby hairs curled at the base of Tobin’s neck.

“I don’t know,” Tobin hummed. “You flew all the way out here. I’m not gonna make you drive too. Maybe we can stop for breakfast at some point, though.”

“Sounds good. I’m happy I’m here,” Christen replied softly. 

“Me too. I missed you,” Tobin whispered. 

“How cool is it that we don’t have to miss each other for like the next month, at least?” Christen asked, her cheeks heating up and butterflies exploding in her stomach at the question. She got to spend every day with Tobin for the next month, at least a few days a week until camp. It was the most time they’d had together since they met and Christen was beyond excited. 

“Extremely,” Tobin nodded. “I was really worried we’d both be too busy this summer to actually spend time together.”

“Me too. Thank goodness for U-23 camp and my dad’s Southwest miles.”

“Good ‘ole Cody,” Tobin sighed, leaning her back against the driver’s seat.

Christen’s fingertips ghosted across the back of Tobin’s neck as Tobin leaned back. Tobin immediately sucked in a breath at the contact. 

Christen pulled her hand off the back of Tobin’s seat quickly, an embarrassed flush on her face. She put her hands in her lap and tried to forget the intimate sound of Tobin’s gasp.

“Umm, yeah my dad won't stop talking about how you fixed the grill over spring break. I swear, every time I get him on the phone he mentions it! Like, I could have figured out the gas wasn’t plugged in too, I just was busy with Morena and Khaleesi,” Christen said, laughing a bit at the memory of Tobin and her dad fiddling with the grill for over an hour, until Tobin realized the gas was unplugged.

Tobin let out a loud laugh as well, remembering how Christen had called her and asked her to come over to help with the grill. Of course, after fixing it, she’d been invited to stay for their family cookout. 

“Yeah, sure. You were busy,” Tobin rolled her eyes. “You pretending you know how to grill would be annoying if you weren’t so cute,” Tobin said, the words practically spilling from her lips without being filtered. 

“I can totally grill. You throw things down, flip them over, and take them off. Easy, peasy,” Christen teased, loving that she could get Tobin riled up with something as simple as grilling.

“Chris, do you even know how to prepare a grill for grilling?” Tobin challenged, chancing a look at Christen and loving the way Christen’s eyes were already scrunched in thought. 

“You ask it nicely to behave?”

Tobin snorted, just nodding her head softly. “Sure. Or when it’s you, you just ask me nicely to come do it,” Tobin added. 

Christen shrugged, running her free hand through her messy curls. “Guilty,” she blushed.

“Well any time it breaks, you know who to call,” Tobin said, knowing she was powerless against Christen. Christen could ask for anything, and Tobin would oblige. 

“And I’ll help by watching you fix it, since asking the grill nicely isn’t the right thing to do apparently,” Christen replied with a small laugh.

“Why would you want to watch?” Tobin asked, her eyebrows scrunching together. 

Christen took a long sip of coffee, finding that her cup was almost empty but that it was the perfect distraction to give her time to think of a suitable response. Something other than, “It’s hot” or “You’re hot when you do it. ” 

“Uhhh...when do you think we’ll get that breakfast?”

“Solid avoidance tactic,” Tobin murmured, wishing that Christen had answered, wishing that she could be honest with Christen without fear that Christen would get scared or freaked out. “Hmmm…we could stop within the hour, I guess.”

“Tell me pancakes don’t sound so good right now?” Christen asked, appreciating that Tobin dropped the whole barbecue thing and seemed to be content to move on. 

“Pancakes literally always sound good,” Tobin agreed, her stomach growling without warning. 

“Then get us there safely. I’ll buy us the first round,” Christen replied, sliding her sunglasses on as the sun began to rise over the horizon.


“If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?” Tobin asked, stretching her legs forward, her feet resting against the dashboard of the car. 

“Damn, that’s a good one,” Christen replied, her eyes focused on the road. They were about 45 minutes away from her house, and the two of them had taken to asking each other questions to pass the rest of the time. She signaled with the blinker and changed lanes, letting a Mustang roar past them.

“Probably something to better help others, like volunteering or giving back. I don’t have enough time to do it now, and if I didn’t have to sleep, I think I could manage to make more of a difference,” Christen replied with a small shrug. 

“Well that’s super selfless. I was going to say that I’d practice free kicks,” Tobin mumbled, completely in awe of Christen Press, as usual. 

Christen laughed, looking over at Tobin quickly before moving her eyes back to the road.

“Hey, that’s a good answer too!”

“You don’t need to protect my ego, Chris. I know you’re the good one in this car,” Tobin laughed. 

“One woman’s opinion,” Christen shot back with a smile. “Okay, my turn. Um…” Christen trailed off, racking her brain for another question. She’d been dancing around one in particular for the last hour, and with only a short bit left in their drive, she thought now might be the time to ask it.

“Do you believe in soulmates?” Christen asked quietly, hoping her curiosity and desire to know Tobin’s answer wasn’t obvious. 

Tobin nearly choked on the water she’d been sipping on and off throughout their car ride. Most of the questions she and Christen had been asking each other were stupid, meaningless really. Questions like: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be, or if you could take only one thing to a deserted island what would you choose? Tobin was taken aback by how serious Christen’s question was. Not only that, but she wondered if there was a possibility that she might answer incorrectly and cost a possible chance with Christen. “Can you pretend you didn’t hear her?” Tobin wondered, knowing just how stupid that would be, since they were side-by-side in her tiny truck. 

“Umm…” Tobin faltered. She could feel her palms start to sweat and her heart start to thrum faster, just trying to find the right words to say. “I think so,” Tobin nodded, trying to watch Christen’s face for a response. “I don’t think people only have one soulmate, though.”

“How so?” Christen queried, wishing she could turn to face Tobin, slightly regretting asking such a serious question when her attention had to be on the road in front of them and not on Tobin.

“I mean,” Tobin laughed. “I consider Jeff my first soulmate. He’s my baby brother and my best friend, and he always understands me best, not that I don’t love the rest of my family. Jeff and I are just cut from the same cloth. And I consider Harry a soulmate, despite how annoying she is. She’s my best friend, and I think it was fated that we would meet. I consider ARod and Lauren soulmates. They’re my best friends and the reason I’m still at Penn State. I consider…” Tobin trailed off, not knowing if she wanted to say the last part just yet, while Christen was operating heavy machinery. 

“You consider…?” Christen parroted, the warmth in her chest from Tobin’s response evolving into something resembling hopeful curiosity at the way Tobin failed to finish her last sentence. 

“I consider you a soulmate. A new kind of soulmate that I’ve never had before,” Tobin thought to herself. Not that she could tell Christen that, though.

Before Tobin could find the words to answer, they suddenly hit a pothole in the road, the front left tire popping loudly. The truck shuddered violently as the tire popped.

“Shit!” Christen shrieked, gripping the steering wheel tightly with two hands, her heart beating so fast in her chest she thought it would explode.

“Okay, okay, just ease over to the shoulder,” Tobin hummed, keeping her cool. She slid her feet off of the dashboard and reached over to put her hand on Christen’s shoulder, noticing that Christen’s entire body was tensed. 

“Yeah, right, the shoulder,” Christen replied, thankful for Tobin’s touch. It was the only thing keeping her grounded right now.

“You’re doing great,” Tobin assured her, looking over her shoulder to check for cars behind them and seeing none. 

Christen pulled the truck to a stop on the shoulder of the highway. She parked the truck, her lower lip pulled between her teeth. Her guilt was eating away at her and she couldn’t bear to look at Tobin just yet.

“All righty, let me assess the damage,” Tobin muttered, hardly seeming fazed by anything that had just happened. She didn’t even look over to Christen, too intent on solving the problem quickly and getting back on the road. Tobin turned on the hazard lights, slipped a pair of flip flops onto her feet, and slid out of the passenger’s side. She checked the highway before walking around to the driver’s side where the tire had popped. She peered at the tire, looking at a huge gash in the rubber. She’d never actually seen a gash that big in a tire, and thought about taking a picture for her dad to look at after she got home. He’d probably think it was cool. “Well that’s super flat,” Tobin laughed, glancing up to finally look at Christen. 

Christen rolled down the window manually, her face tight with guilt as she kept her eyes on some spot on Tobin’s shirt, avoiding Tobin’s eyes completely. “I am so sorry, Tobs, I didn’t see the pothole and if I did, I would have swerved out of the way and-”

“Chris, relax,” Tobin whispered, reaching a hand into the car and pushing a strand of hair behind Christen’s ear. “It’s no big deal. You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just a pothole and a flat tire.” Tobin moved her hand under Christen’s chin, trying to get her to meet her eyes. “I’m not upset. I promise.”

Christen huffed out a laugh, her eyes suspiciously wet. “Yeah,” she replied, trying her best to smile in Tobin’s direction.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Tobin asked, her voice the softest it had ever been. 

Christen shrugged and tried to turn away, but Tobin’s hand on her chin kept her in place.

“Please talk to me,” Tobin asked, her voice somewhat pleading. She just wanted to make whatever sadness had completely taken over Christen go away. 

“I didn’t mean to destroy Frank,” Christen muttered, feeling beyond bad that she’d not only derailed their road trip, but had done damage to Tobin’s car, a car she loved so much she’d spent an hour of the drive talking about it. “You love Frank so much and I killed him, basically.”

“Frank is totally fine,” Tobin assured her, lifting her free hand to tap on the hood of her car. “Replacing a flat tire is no big deal.”

“You totally know how to do that on your own, huh?” Christen asked, her hand coming up to pull Tobin’s away from her chin. But she didn’t drop Tobin’s hand this time, instead keeping it in a tight grasp.

Tobin nodded slowly, letting a smirk creep onto her face.

“You want to watch? It’ll probably be a lot like when I fix the grill,” Tobin teased, just wanting to see Christen’s smile again. 

And smile she did. Christen fought off a blush as she dropped Tobin’s hand, shoving the brunette away from the driver’s side door. 

“Move, let me get out,” Christen grumbled, grabbing her jacket so she could throw it on once she got outside.

Tobin grinned wide enough that her cheeks ached. She dug under a few of her bags to pull out the lug wrench and jack she kept in the back of the truck’s cab. Then, she climbed into the bed of the truck, moving even more of her belongings to pull the spare tire out.

“I’d offer to help, but you seem stubborn and determined,” Christen quipped from the ground, her green eyes dancing with amusement.

“I’m sorry, do you want to learn?” Tobin asked, a sincere look on her face. 

Christen swallowed her sarcastic response once she saw the genuine smile Tobin was giving her. With a sigh, Christen pulled a hair tie off of her wrist and began to tug her curls up into a bun. 

“I guess now’s as good a time as any,” Christen replied.

“Awesome!” Tobin said, rolling the spare tire toward the front of the car. She was hoping more than anything that helping her with the tire would make Christen feel less guilty about the pothole. “You did put the parking brake on, right?”

Christen blanched and hurried back to the driver’s side door. She peeked her head into the truck and let out an audible sigh of relief. 

“Parking brake, engaged,” Christen called out, returning to the side of the truck.

Tobin nodded in approval, showing Christen how to loosen the lug nuts, raise the truck with the jack, and replace the tire. There were a few steps that Christen definitely ignored, choosing instead to look at the night sky and let Tobin tighten the nuts with the wrench, but Tobin enjoyed Christen’s interest, even if feigned. There was something so incredibly normal, maybe even domestic, about doing this with Christen. The road trip, replacing the tire. It was all just so normal, and all Tobin wanted was more moments just like these. 

“That should do it,” Tobin sighed, tossing the flat tire into the bed of the truck. She glanced at Christen, loving that the dark-haired girl was still looking up at the sky, her face lifted. It reminded Tobin of the first moment she’d ever seen Christen on the soccer field with her head facing the sun and her hands lifted from her sides. Tobin felt a sudden urge to wrap her arms around Christen’s waist and hug her from behind, to just sit in this moment with Christen. 

She didn’t though. She stayed near the driver’s side door, one hand on the door handle, her eyes glued to Christen’s profile, her thoughts drifting.

Christen hadn’t mentioned anything about their night at Ali and Ashlyn’s house or at the club. She’d acted as if it never happened or like she couldn’t remember. Tobin wasn’t hurt by that. After all, she also had no idea how to bring it up with Christen. Because of that, however, Tobin had no idea how to be around Christen without short-circuiting. All she wanted to do was touch Christen. She wanted to pull her into her arms. Tobin just wanted to feel Christen’s lips on her cheek again, on her neck. She wanted to kiss Christen softly, tasting her lips, taking one between her own and-

“Are you okay to drive the rest of the way?” Christen asked, her eyes wide and curious. 

“Ye- yeah. Yep,” Tobin coughed out, yanking open the truck’s door and sliding into the driver’s seat. 

The rest of their drive was peacefully quiet, the two of them tired after a full day of driving. A soft song played over the radio as Tobin drummed her fingers to the beat. It only took a few minutes of driving away from the pothole for Christen’s eyes to get heavy. Tobin could tell she was fighting to stay awake, her head lolling against the window, the day’s events taking their toll. 

“You can lie down,” Tobin whispered softly, glancing over at Christen’s fluttering eyelids. 

Christen hesitated, not wanting to ditch Tobin for the dream world, when she’d been able to stay awake all day long.

“That’s okay-”

“I’m wide awake, I promise,” Tobin said. “We’ll be home in half an hour anyway. You can sleep.”

They were going to Christen’s house, which definitely wasn’t Tobin’s home, but the sound of that word rolling off of her tongue made Christen’s chest warm. Christen let herself wonder for a moment if one day they would be in the same place, if they would both be able to call somewhere home, maybe even if they would become each other’s homes. But she shouldn't be thinking about that, not when sleep was muddling her brain and the words for telling Tobin how she truly felt were ready to come out.

“You’re sure?” Christen asked, wanting to give Tobin one more chance to renege her offer.

“I can’t promise it’ll be comfortable,” Tobin warned, looking down at the bench seat that the two of them shared, “But it’ll be better than the window.”

Christen couldn’t deny herself the chance to be this close to Tobin. So, she smiled and bunched up her jacket, positioning it against Tobin’s thigh. She gently tucked her legs onto the seat and then dropped her head onto the jacket, careful to stay a few inches away from Tobin. 

“You can take up more room than that,” Tobin laughed, taking her eyes off the road to look at Christen. She was making herself as small as possible, but all Tobin wanted was for her to be comfortable. Christen had chosen to take this trip with her. She’d sacrificed an entire day just to sit in a car with Tobin, and the least Tobin could do was help keep her comfortable and happy. Not only that, but Tobin was dying to touch Christen. Today, every time her hands met Christen’s or her knee brushed against Christen’s leg, she could feel every inch of her skin warm up. All she wanted was to feel that again and again. 

“More room...it’s like she’s trying to kill me,” Christen thought. She was trying to respect the last bit of space between them left in this truck. Especially after they’d just huddled on the ground on the side of the road together, after Tobin’s hands covered her own as they turned the lug wrench. She was trying not to cave and give in to her desire to cuddle up to Tobin. But she couldn’t do it any longer. 

“Fine, but if I drool on you, it’s your fault for offering,” Christen muttered, moving her jacket out of the way and then placing her head down on Tobin’s leg. The jeans Tobin wore were way more comfortable than her jacket, and Christen couldn’t help but feel immensely grateful for Tobin’s complete disregard for personal space.

“I’ll put my jeans in the wash as soon as I get home. I won’t even tease you for it,” Tobin laughed, trying to act normal when her entire body was heating up at Christen’s contact. She was happy that the car was pitch black so late at night, allowing her reddened cheeks to stay hidden. 

Christen could feel Tobin’s warmth through the jeans, and it made the heaviness in her eyes even harder to fight. As sleep started to completely pull her under, Christen placed her hand right by her face, wrapping her hand around Tobin’s thigh. She fell asleep faster than she ever had before, with a small smile tugging at her lips.

Tobin didn’t want to wake Christen up. The closer they’d gotten to Christen’s house in Palos Verdes, the slower Tobin had driven. At some point on their drive, Tobin’s right hand has slid off the steering wheel, falling to rest on Christen’s shoulder, drawing random shapes against her skin. She couldn’t stop herself from glancing down and looking at Christen’s sleepy face, her eyelids fluttering softly with whatever dreams she was having. She looked more peaceful than Tobin had ever seen her before, and Tobin didn’t want to ruin that. She didn’t want to wake Christen up and lose the contact Christen was making with her leg. She didn’t want to feel cold as soon as Christen left her car. 

“I’m falling in love with you,” Tobin thought, her stomach dropping as soon as she’d processed the thought. She glanced back down at Christen, hoping that her brain hadn’t been thinking hard enough for Christen to hear. That thought, those words would terrify Christen. They weren’t even together. They were only friends, and Tobin was already feeling more for Christen than she’d ever felt for anyone else. There was no denying it. Tobin was quickly and helplessly falling in love with the girl asleep on her lap. What surprised her more was that Tobin wasn’t afraid to fall. If she were going to fall in love with anyone, she wanted it to be Christen. She needed it to be Christen. 

No matter how slowly she wanted to drive, though, there was no stopping the inevitability of actually arriving at Christen’s house. It was late, only two upstairs windows were illuminated in Christen’s house and shining down into her front yard. Tobin took one last look at Christen, loving the way Christen’s breath came out in puffs against her leg. 

“Chris,” Tobin whispered, moving her hand from Christen’s shoulder to brush a few strands of hair out of her face. She let her fingers move softly through Christen’s curls, hoping that it would be a relaxing way for Christen to wake up. 

“Mmmm, five more minutes,” Christen grumbled, burrowing closer to Tobin, her grip tightening on Tobin’s thigh.

Who was Tobin to deny Christen? How could Tobin say no to the girl who was holding so tightly onto her? She glanced back at Christen’s house, noticing that a person was passing one of the bright windows, presumably having seen Tobin’s car pull into the driveway. 

“I wish,” Tobin sighed, knowing Christen was too sleepy to really dissect what exactly Tobin was wishing for. Tobin wasn’t even fully sure what she was wishing for. “I wish we could stay right here, like this, forever. I wish I could tell you how you make me feel. I wish you could feel how fast my heart beats when you touch me. I wish you’d feel the way I feel for you. I wish we were falling in love together.”

“I wish too,” Christen replied, her voice heavy with sleep.

“You want to do some training tomorrow?” Tobin asked, clearing her throat and clearing her mind of all of its jumbled thoughts. She felt completely unable to leave Christen before they had another scheduled time to hang out, like she couldn’t drive away before knowing when she’d come back. 

Mention of training had Christen wrinkling her nose and blinking her eyes open. She moved out of that pleasant, sleepy state and became a bit more alert. She was about to slide her hand off Tobin’s thigh, her cheeks burning that she’d been holding Tobin that way for the past thirty minutes, but then she felt Tobin’s blunt nails scratch at her scalp and Christen couldn’t have pulled away even if she wanted to.  

“Training, sprints, whatever you want, so long as you keep doing that,” Christen mumbled, letting her eyes fall shut once more.

“Doing what?” Tobin asked dumbly, her hands moving without her conscious thought. She hadn’t intended on running her fingers through Christen’s hair for long, but Tobin had gotten lost in the feeling. She’d gotten lost in how close she felt to Christen.

Christen sighed as she removed her hand from Tobin’s thigh. Without turning her head or looking up, she pointed at where Tobin’s hand was buried in her curls, still scratching at her scalp and making Christen’s entire soul happy.

“That.”

“Oh, sorry,” Tobin blushed, knowing she shouldn’t have done that without asking. She pulled her hand away, gently in order to not pull any of Christen’s curls. Tobin didn’t even like putting her arm around Christen without asking permission, afraid that the other girl wouldn’t like it. 

With Tobin’s hand gone, Christen resigned herself to sit up and move off of Tobin. She regretted it immediately, feeling cold and far away as she sat back on her side of the truck.

“I’m gonna make you pay me a dollar every time you say sorry for things you don’t need to say sorry for,” Christen said, rearranging her curls after the small mess of them that Tobin had made with her subconscious scalp massage. 

“You’d probably be very wealthy,” Tobin sighed, running her hand through her own hair now to refocus herself. Sitting this close to Christen was intoxicating, and she could feel herself weakening. She didn’t want to drop Christen off at her house. She didn’t want Christen to leave. 

“So wealthy I could afford a top-notch trainer to show me the ropes before we fly to Portland together,” Christen teased, finally looking over at Tobin. She was mesmerized by the way the moonlight filtering in through the windshield was playing off the lines and angles of Tobin’s face. It made her look even more beautiful.

“For you?” Tobin feigned deep thought. “I’ll train, no cost.” Tobin turned to look at Christen, grinning when she saw that Christen’s eyes were glued to her. 

“Nine AM? I can pick you up or we can meet somewhere-”

“What? You don’t want Frank?” Tobin gasped.

Christen grinned. “Frank needs a new tire and some time away from me.”

“It’s okay, buddy. She doesn’t mean it,” Tobin whispered, tapping her hands against the steering wheel. 

Christen rolled her eyes. She turned to look at her house, noting the lights were on upstairs, as well as on the porch. Her cheeks grew hot, knowing what that meant.

“My dad’s been watching the truck this entire time,” Christen said. She pointed to the upstairs windows, her eyes still on the house. “He always sits behind the blinds and peeks out when he knows one of us is coming home.”

“That’s a good dad. Good thing we weren’t making out,” Tobin blurted out. “Really?! You’re that tired?” Tobin chastised herself, immediately wishing that she could drive away from the situation. 

Christen whipped around, fixing Tobin with a surprised look. “Did Tobin really just say that?” she wondered, feeling like all the things they’d been tactfully avoiding, the building tension and the lingering looks, were about to explode, right here in this truck, after a 13 hour car ride.

“Not that- I mean. Not that we’d…” Tobin couldn’t finish her sentence. She couldn’t save herself from her own words. Instead, she just sat back in the driver’s seat and looked straight out the windshield. 

Christen chuckled at Tobin’s flustered rambling, knowing that she’d need to be the one to pull them back from this, to salvage this before Tobin further withdrew. 

“What was that thing I said to you in Orlando? Next time bring a shovel if you’re gonna dig yourself that deep of a hole?” Christen teased, reaching down to grab her backpack from the floor.

“You’re really proud of that line, aren’t you?” Tobin teased. She still couldn’t look at Christen, her eyes glued to Christen’s neighbor’s mailbox. 

“It was pretty good, and always seems fitting whenever I’m with you,” Christen replied, eyes locked on Tobin’s side profile, wishing Tobin would just look at her. “But, uh, thanks for the ride. This was really fun.”

“Thanks for the company,” Tobin mumbled. “I’ll see you tomorrow at 9:00. You can drive. Frank’ll sit this one out.”

“Hey, Tobs?”

“Yeah?” Tobin replied, just hoping that the driver’s seat would swallow her whole and take her away from the awkwardness she was feeling. She shouldn’t have said that. She’d crossed a line, and Tobin hated when she said things and couldn’t take them back. 

“Feeling sorry and then not saying it means you owe me five dollars,” Christen quipped hoping that would get Tobin to look at her.

“I’ll buy you a coffee in the morning,” Tobin replied, giving Christen a half-smile, her eyes shifting from the windshield to Christen for a second. 

Christen beamed, reaching out to grab ahold of Tobin’s hand in her own. She gave it a quick squeeze. 

“Thanks again. And, um, I believe in soulmates too, you know. I never got to tell you before the whole pothole-mageddon thing,” Christen said, her words a little rushed, her blush deepening. “Good night, Tobs.”

“Good night, Chris,” Tobin whispered, her voice hardly working. She couldn’t take her eyes off Christen, wishing she could ask her even more questions, wishing Christen would clarify just a little bit more. 

Christen finally let her hand fall away from Tobin’s. She forced herself to turn around and open the truck door, knowing that if she didn’t right now, she’d do something absolutely silly like kiss Tobin Heath. 

“Sweet dreams,” Tobin murmured, stuck in her seat and unable to do anything but watch Christen scramble out of the truck and grab her backpack. 

“You too,” Christen grinned, shutting the door gently and then waving one more time before walking up to her house.

Tobin sat in her truck long after Christen walked through the front door and turned off the porch light. She watched as another window brightened and Christen’s shadow moved across the room. Only then did Tobin crank the car up and pull out of the driveway, the thought “I’m falling in love with you,” returning to her brain and keeping her company for the rest of the night.  

Chapter Text

If we lay, let the day just pass us by

I might get to too much talking

I might have to tell you something

Damn

I like me better when I'm with you

I like me better when I'm with you

I knew from the first time, I'd stay for a long time

'Cause I like me better when

I like me better when I'm with you

(Tobin - “I Like Me Better” by Lauv)

 

Well, everything has changed

And now it's only you that matters

I will find any way to your wild heart

(Christen - “Wild Heart” by Bleachers)

 

“Fuck!” Christen yelled, slapping the dewy morning grass with both hands. 

She and Tobin were at a local field and had the whole place to themselves. Tobin had brought small, pop-up nets, a bag of soccer balls, and some cones. They’d started their first training session with some light conditioning, not wanting to wear themselves out. Christen had thrived, of course, like she always did when fitness was involved. It felt extra good to beat Tobin in those long, full-field sprints. 

But now Tobin was getting her revenge. They were practicing 1v1s against each other, and Tobin had just successfully nutmegged her for the fifth time. 

Christen slapped the grass one more time before collapsing backward, her forearm covering her eyes from the blinding sun slowly rising overhead.

“You alright, Chris?” Tobin jogged over, knocking her cleat against one of Christen’s. Tobin felt a little guilty for frustrating Christen, but Christen had completely shown off during the sprints, and Tobin had wanted to protect a little bit of her pride. Christen was extremely fast, faster than Tobin had ever given her credit for, and Tobin was leaning back into her tricks to beat Christen.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I promise I can actually defend,” Christen grumbled, not lifting her arm away from her eyes. 

“I know you can. I’ve seen it,” Tobin agreed, squatting down next to Christen to get a better look at her partially-hidden face. “Chris, I’m sorry. I was being too, uhhh… aggressive?” Tobin tried, scratching the back of her neck. 

Never in her life had Tobin ever apologized for beating someone at a 1v1 drill, but then again, she’d never felt the way she felt about Christen Press for anyone else before. She couldn’t help but feel a little guilty when she frustrated Christen when all she wanted was to make Christen happy. She wanted Christen to feel confident and joyous, not disappointed and frustrated. For better or for worse, she was falling in love with Christen and becoming completely weak for Christen in the process. 

Christen held up a finger, silencing any more of Tobin’s words. “One more sorry and I’m gonna smack you, Heath.”

“Noted, noted,” Tobin mumbled. She looked down at Christen, wishing she could make her feel less discouraged. She’d never trained with Christen before. She didn’t know how Christen liked to practice or whether Christen typically got frustrated. She immediately noticed how determined Christen was, a trait that clearly served her well since she refused to quit without winning. “Umm, you want to do something else then?” Tobin asked, picking at the grass on her cleats. 

Finally, Christen rose to a sitting position again. She wiped the grass from her face and fixed Tobin with a hard look. 

“No. Your start,” Christen replied, pushing Tobin’s shoulder, hard, and causing her to fall to the grass. With a small attempt at a smirk, Christen quickly hopped to her feet and stood in front of her small pop-up net, ready to defend. 

Tobin had expected that answer, but she hadn’t expected such a cheap shot from Christen. “Hey!” Tobin protested. “What was that!”

Christen shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You slipped.”

“I should have brought my yellow card,” Tobin grumbled, rolling over and lifting herself off the ground. She began to dribble toward Christen, grinning at Christen’s immediate focus. It was simultaneously adorable and hot, and Tobin needed to look down at the ball to avoid getting distracted. 

Christen kept herself low, trying her best not to let her feet drift far enough apart for Tobin to poke the ball between them. She pivoted backward, keeping Tobin and the ball in front of her, her brow knit in determination. She wasn’t going to let Tobin beat her again.

Instead of kicking the ball between Christen’s legs this time, Tobin sidestepped to the right of Christen, trapped the ball between her cleats, and flicked it over her shoulder. She didn’t even wait to see if Christen was impressed with her rainbow move. She raced around Christen and tapped the ball into the goal. 

If Christen was annoyed before, now she was frustrated and humiliated. She placed both hands on her hips and dropped her chin to her chest. She took deep breaths in, hoping they would dispel the red haze threatening to descend upon her.

“Was that too much?” Tobin asked, her celebratory smile long gone, a sheepish one in its place. 

Christen shook her head and walked over to where they’d dropped their stuff. She needed a break, and some water, and a little bit of space from Tobin Heath. She was annoyed that in addition to just being frustrated with her lack of defending, she was impressed with Tobin’s skills and found them extremely hot. This was not the way she wanted to feel when preparing for the biggest opportunity of her life.

Tobin watched as Christen retreated, unsure of whether she should follow or not. Her guess was Christen didn’t want her around, since she’d turned her back so quickly and was already sitting next to their things. Instead, Tobin grabbed the bag of soccer balls that she’d brought and jogged toward one of the goals. She placed each of the balls along the eighteen-yard box, knowing that Christen excelled in scoring. This was Christen’s bread and butter, and Tobin knew Christen would be able to beat her and release some frustration at the same time. 

She waited patiently for Christen to calm down, choosing to give her space. Tobin sat near the line of soccer balls, letting herself have a breather and looking up at the clouds every few minutes, just enjoying the scenery. 

Christen finally felt her heart rate slow enough for her to consider going back out on the field. But when she looked up, she saw Tobin sitting near the eighteen-yard box with all of the soccer balls. With a final sip of water and a deep breath, Christen jogged over to Tobin.

“Done with small-sided already?” Christen asked, hating that her voice was so tight and full of annoyance still.

Tobin jumped to her feet as soon as Christen spoke. She curled both of her hands into fists and raised her arms over her head, trying to ooze as much excitement as she could. All she wanted was for Christen to feel excited about camp and training. She didn’t want Christen to start her summer feeling discouraged. 

“Christen Press, this is the World Cup Final!” Tobin said, a huge grin splitting her face. “Take your shot!” 

Christen’s brows drew together. She looked around and then back to Tobin, her confusion deepening as Tobin seemed very committed to whatever it was she was doing.

“Do you...do you not do that?” Tobin asked, her arms falling to her sides in slight embarrassment.

“Do what?”

“Every time I practice shooting, I pretend it’s the World Cup Final and it’s this shot that’s going to decide whether we win or lose,” Tobin said, feeling somewhat stupid that something she had done throughout her life, from the age of five on, was less common than she’d thought. 

Christen melted at the admission, some of her frustration and confusion seeping away. Of course, Tobin Heath would think something like that when she practiced shooting. It was part of her effortless and free way of playing the sport they both loved, something Christen envied.

“I don’t think I’ve ever let myself dream like that, especially if I’m just shooting some balls at the net,” Christen admitted.

“Well start dreaming, Chris, because we have two weeks before it starts getting really real. I’m not going to the World Cup without you, and I’m going to the World Cup,” Tobin asserted, her hands resting on her hips now. She needed to get Christen’s confidence up and fast. Tobin had no idea how Christen couldn’t see herself the way everyone else saw her, a natural-born talent and a fierce competitor.

Christen’s smile came without warning, and definitely without her expecting it too. Usually, when she got this frustrated, she just shut down for the rest of the session and couldn’t let it go until she meditated on it. But Tobin’s goofy grin and big dreams, dreams that involved her, were working wonders for her right now.

“Guess I better score some goals then,” Christen replied, turning to face the goal. She started at the far end of the line of balls and looked back over at Tobin with a smile.

“Press will be the one to take this shot for the U.S.,” Tobin spoke, making her voice sound as much like an ESPN commentator as she could. She just wanted to make Christen smile again. The smile made Tobin’s stomach do somersaults, the smile that she wanted to see on Christen’s face literally every second they were together. 

Christen let her eyes fall shut, trying her best to center herself. This was just shooting. Simple shooting. She’d been doing it since she was a kid. It was something she was impossibly good at, and it was time to show that. 

Christen took a few strides and struck the ball with her laces, sending it skyrocketing over the goal. She immediately cringed, her palms rising to smooth out the hair on her head, her nervous tic.

“The thing about Press that makes her so deadly on the field,” Tobin continued, not even phased by the ball that Christen had sent sailing acres over the net, “is that she isn’t afraid to make mistakes. Players who make it as household names, as real legends, can’t be discouraged by a mistake, and Press is the perfect example of that. You see that smile, folks. That’s a smile that says she’ll try again. Opponents should fear that smile,” Tobin finished, waiting for Christen to take her next shot.

Christen could feel the smile Tobin was talking about on her face, and she couldn’t do anything to stop it. So, she merely narrowed her eyes teasingly at Tobin and shook her head. She then moved down the line, ready to send this next ball into the goal. This time, Christen hit the ball with the inside of her foot, the ball curling into the back of the net.

Christen bent down and pumped her arms at her sides, exuberant at making the shot. It was one she’d made hundreds of times, and would easily make again, but it felt more important than ever before. 

“AND IT’S A BANGER, FOLKS! That is what makes Christen Press one of the best forwards in the world!” Tobin yelled, her hands flying into the air in celebration. 

Every shot left in the line went exactly like that. Christen would line up, send a beautiful shot into the back of the net, celebrate it like she was scoring at the World Cup, and Tobin would comment on it. Each of her comments was different but no less adorable or full of compliments. They always made Christen’s smile that much bigger.

As the last shot curled into the very top corner of the net, Christen lifted her arms into the air and turned to face Tobin. 

“CHRISTEN PRESS! WHAT HAVE YOU DOOOOONE!!!!” Tobin yelled, running toward Christen with her arms outstretched, a huge grin on her face. She couldn’t help herself. Looking at Christen so happy and carefree made Tobin want to lift her off the ground and spin her in her arms.  

Christen couldn’t help but laugh, feeling her gratitude for Tobin settle in her heart. She let Tobin scoop her up and hug her tight, almost as if they were celebrating a goal they’d scored together, Tobin assisting her and her sending it into the back of the net. It was an embrace that had so much hope, so much ‘someday’ in it, that Christen needed to close her eyes and take it in. It felt real, it felt like they could go all the way to the international stage together. And it all started here, on a sunny morning in Los Angeles, where Tobin had helped her get out of a bad place and back into her groove. 

Eventually, Tobin set her down and Christen took a small step back, her smile never falling.

“Okay, I’ll hand it to you, Tobs. You always know how to make the game feel fun,” Christen said a little breathlessly.

“It’s supposed to be. It wouldn’t be called a game if it weren’t,” Tobin shrugged, not really taking the compliment. 

Christen cocked her head to the side, her smile growing, her awe at everything about Tobin, her mentality, her love for the game, her giving heart, growing as well.

“It’s fun when I play with you,” Christen confessed.

“Good thing we get to do that all summer,” Tobin hummed. “You’ll learn all my secrets and kick my butt when we’re back at separate schools.” 

Tobin hadn’t meant to mention their separation. They had all summer and really didn’t need to think about separating in the fall. That being said, it was something Tobin couldn’t stop thinking about. As much as she wanted to tell Christen about all of her feelings, she was terrified that Christen wouldn’t want to give it a shot because of the distance. Their separation was inevitable, and Tobin didn’t want to ruin things between them over the summer.

The reminder chilled the warmth spreading around Christen’s heart. Her smile faltered just a little bit. At the mention of their impending separation and time apart, even if it was months away, Christen backed away toward the goal.

“Right. I’m gonna go shag these,” Christen said, hooking a thumb over her shoulder. “Then we can do some crossing and finishing?”

“Sure, Chris,” Tobin nodded, knowing she’d brought the mood down considerably. “I’m just gonna get some water.”

Christen jogged over to the goal, kicking the balls over towards the touchline so she could cross them for Tobin. 

When they were together, things were so easy. Tobin just had this calming effect on her, putting any of Christen’s worries or anxieties at ease. She also had such infectious energy, making Christen always want to be around her. They were good together, a nice balance of put-together and laid-back, of serious and silly. They complemented each other so well, and with every passing day, it was getting harder to deny it. But no matter how great things always were when they were together, no matter how much her heart raced and the butterflies in her stomach fluttered, she knew  Tobin couldn’t be by her side in the long run. At some point, she’d go back to Penn State and leave Christen all alone in L.A.

“It always comes back to that. To the distance. Stupid freaking distance,” Christen thought, juggling the last soccer ball as she made her way over to the pile of balls near the sideline. 

Tobin took one last gulp of water, hoping that she could clear her head of all the warring thoughts she had about telling Christen how she felt. “She asked you to practice together, not freak out about feelings,” Tobin reminded herself. “You need the practice, anyway. You’re panting out there.” Tobin capped her water bottle and stood up. She placed a grin on her face, hoping that it would convince Christen that everything was fine. Tobin didn’t want Christen to think that Tobin’s mind spiraled all the time. She wanted to be fun to be around. She wanted Christen to enjoy spending time with her, and making things complicated with feelings was not the way to do that. 

“I’m ready when you are,” Tobin called to Christen, genuinely smiling at the way Christen messed around with the ball, sliding her cleat down the front of the ball and sending the ball spinning back toward her across the slick grass. 

Christen looked up, a hand over her eyes to shield them from the sun. She returned Tobin’s smile, albeit a little hesitantly. She quit messing around and focused on the task at hand. Christen dribbled down the sidelines, pulling a quick move for an imaginary defender, and then taking a touch toward the goal. She picked her head up and saw Tobin hovering near the back post. 

“Tobs, head!” she yelled, winding up and sending a floating ball to the back post for Tobin to head home. 

Tobin hardly had to tap the ball with her head. It was extremely well-placed by Christen, and Tobin suddenly longed to know what it would be like to play with Christen in an actual game. She wanted to know what it would be like to be on Christen’s team, on the receiving end of one of her passes or crosses. In two weeks, she got to find out and she was beyond excited about it.

“GOOOAAAAAL!!!!!” Tobin cheered, running away from the goal and pumping her fist. 

Christen threw her head back in laughter at Tobin’s celebration and then hustled back toward the pile of soccer balls. 

“That was just a warm-up, let’s see what you can do with this one,” Christen called out, her tone challenging.

Tobin prepared herself, her focus back on Christen and her legs twitching in anticipation to start running. 

Christen smirked and then took off with the ball at her feet. She drove to the end line, cut the ball back like she was faking out a defender, and then looked up. Tobin was situated a little behind the penalty kick spot. Wanting to give her something more difficult, Christen sent a knee-height, driven ball toward Tobin.

Tobin’s total focus was on the ball. She didn’t look away to see if Christen was smirking, not that she needed to. She knew that Christen thought she’d bested her. Instead of bringing the ball down and shooting, Tobin lifted her right leg off the ground, got her hips around the ball, and volleyed it into the upper ninety. 

Tobin didn’t run or celebrate. She didn’t scream “goal” or pump her fist. She didn’t need to. Tobin put her hands on her hips and looked right at Christen, the smirk that had probably been there before completely gone. Instead, Tobin was wearing the smirk, just waiting for Christen’s complaint. 

Christen simply shook her head, her tongue poking out of her mouth to wet her lips. That was one of the sexiest things she’d ever seen on a soccer field, and she’d seen Tobin play numerous times. But that, that side-volley into the top corner, done with such precision and patience and ease, was beautiful and had Christen struggling to ignore the heat settling low in her stomach. 

“Take a picture. It’ll last longer,” Tobin laughed, loving the way Christen was looking at her.

“Shut up, Heath!” Christen replied, hoping her blush couldn’t be seen from all the way over there.

“Ooooh, someone’s grumpy. Do you want me to teach you how to do that volley, Press?” Tobin asked, partially just to bother Christen but also seriously willing to teach her.

Christen narrowed her eyes, feeling the need to rise to the challenge. She’d let Tobin best her too often today. She motioned for Tobin to switch with her and jogged away from the sidelines and into the eighteen-yard box. As she passed Tobin, she stuck her tongue out. 

“Give me crosses like the ones I gave you, and you won’t have to teach me anything,” Christen said.

Tobin could only laugh, having nothing left to say. She took one of the balls and started to dribble, too distracted by Christen to even fake dodging defenders. She sent a driven ball across the ground to Christen, watching as Christen smoothly tapped the ball into the goal.

“Challenge me, Tobs! Can’t make it to the World Cup with easy tap-ins like that,” Christen yelled, backing up toward the top of the eighteen.

“Fine, fine. Bossy,” Tobin mumbled, her words not even reaching Christen’s ears. Tobin kicked a ball up into the air and juggled it in the air for a few yards. She then wound up and sent a volleyed cross into the eighteen-yard box. She knew she’d over-hit it the moment it left her foot. She cringed as she watched it soar toward Christen.

Christen sucked air through her teeth, gauging the cross from Tobin. It wasn’t perfect, and it certainly wasn’t the cross Tobin intended to give her, but Christen wasn’t going to let that stop her. Instead, she read the trajectory of the ball, pivoted a few steps to her right, and jumped into the air. She threw a bicycle kick and sent the ball streaking into the back of the net. She hit the ground pretty hard, but she didn’t care. She’d just scored a beautiful goal and she couldn’t be happier.

“Holy shit,” Tobin mumbled, her mouth nearly falling open. Tobin felt conflicted. On the one hand, she wanted to run over to Christen and make sure she was okay. She wanted to make sure she hadn’t hurt a rib or knocked the wind out of herself. On the other hand, she was incredibly turned on. Tobin could feel heat spread throughout her body, her abdomen practically aching to reach out and touch Christen. She felt a fire burning in her stomach that she knew wouldn’t go away, no matter how much water she drank. Only after a few more seconds of Christen lying on the ground did Tobin walk over, her worry overtaking her desire. 

Christen couldn’t get up, too happy with herself to end the moment she was in. Her eyes were on the blue, cloudless sky above her, and her arms were out to her sides. She knew she had the biggest smile on her face, she could feel it. And then she saw Tobin’s face pop into her view. 

“Are you okay?” Tobin asked, her brow creasing in concern. 

“Did you see that?!” Christen gushed, sitting up, smiling at Tobin. “I have never done that before and God, that felt good. That was incredible!”

Tobin’s worry immediately slipped away, replaced with complete awe. 

“Yeah, I did. You were amazing!” Tobin said, matching Christen’s excitement. “That was something special, Chris.”

“Thanks,” Christen blushed. She held out her hand for Tobin to help her up, which Tobin quickly offered. Christen let Tobin pull her to her feet. 

“You want to get lunch or something?” Tobin asked, her legs tired from a full day of training with Christen. 

Right on cue, Christen’s stomach grumbled. 

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Tobin laughed, kicking the closest soccer ball up into her hands. 

Christen shared in Tobin’s laughter, knocking her shoulder against Tobin’s. 

“I know just the place,” Christen replied, a grin on her face.

“Oh no. I know that look. That look never ends well for me,” Tobin groaned, already on her way to gather all of their gear. 

Christen could only smile, knowing exactly what their destination would be.


“This is the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth,” Tobin winced, pushing the cup away from her and across the table toward Christen. 

Christen giggled and rolled her eyes at Tobin’s theatrics. She could be such a baby about trying new things, especially new and healthy things. They were sitting at a table outside a small smoothie place near Christen’s house, both positioned under an umbrella as the afternoon sun beat down around them.

“I’m serious. I’ve literally eaten dirt before and that was better than this,” Tobin whined. “I need fries. Now.”

Christen grabbed Tobin’s discarded kale and ginger smoothie, not seeing the purpose of wasting a perfectly good smoothie. She’d already finished hers and had been patiently waiting on Tobin to take a sip of the green liquid for the past ten minutes. She took a small sip, hiding a smile at the fact that even if it had a distinct ‘healthy’ taste, the smoothie was really good.

Tobin couldn’t stop her eyes from landing on Christen’s lips. Her lips were on the same straw that Tobin’s had just been on, and there was something intimate about that, something that Tobin couldn’t really rationalize. “Friends drink after one another. College athletes drink after one another. It’s not a big deal,” Tobin reminded herself. Despite the reminder, Tobin couldn’t stop herself from thinking about what it would be like to take one of Christen’s lips between her own. 

“This tastes way better than dirt, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Christen replied, licking her lips subconsciously. 

“Oh, so you’ve tasted dirt too?” Tobin quipped, her voice breaking softly. She quickly moved her eyes up to meet Christen’s. 

“Everyone eats dirt as a kid, it’s a right of passage,” Christen replied, taking another long sip of Tobin’s smoothie.

“I ate an acorn in seventh grade,” Tobin blurted, not knowing what it was about Christen that made her say stupid things. 

Christen coughed, nearly choking on the smoothie she’d just sipped. She could feel tears spring in the corners of her eyes and she tried her hardest not to let out the laugh bubbling up in her chest.

“Acorns don’t have the best flavor if you ask me, but what do I know?” Tobin teased, wishing she had something cooler to say but happy that she was able to make Christen laugh. She’d literally do anything to make Christen laugh. 

“You are so weird,” Christen finally said, her smile sweet and a bit teasing.

“Yeah,” Tobin nodded, her face falling for a millisecond, wondering for a moment if that was a good thing or not. 

“Weird’s a compliment, Tobs,” Christen added.

“Well, you’re weird too then,” Tobin smiled back.

Christen beamed and bit the straw of the smoothie. She sat back in her chair and fixed Tobin with a look. 

“What are you doing Saturday?” Christen asked, feeling that familiar flutter of butterflies in her stomach.

“Am I spending time with you?” Tobin asked, hoping that Christen wasn’t about to ask her to just pet-sit her dogs or something while the Press family went on vacation. 

Christen ducked her head, suddenly finding the smoothie cup very interesting. 

“My dad got a new burger-flipper thing, and of course he wants his favorite grill helper there by his side when he tries it out for the first time,” Christen replied, chancing a look up at Tobin quickly before dropping her eyes back to the cup. 

“Oh? So, Cody wants me to come over?” Tobin laughed. “I can do that. Saturday night’s free for me.”

Christen relaxed just a bit at Tobin’s response. She didn’t know why she’d gotten so nervous all of a sudden. Tobin had come over for barbecues before, this wasn’t something new. But for some reason, it felt different this time, like there was more at stake.

“Great, cool,” Christen replied softly.

“You okay?” Tobin asked, reaching her hand across the table to hold onto Christen’s. 

Christen nodded, unable not to love the feeling of Tobin’s hand on her own. “Yeah, just exhausted. I did throw a pretty sick bicycle kick today.”

“You definitely did. That was so cool,” Tobin said, squeezing Christen’s hand before taking her hand back and leaning back against her chair.

“The U-23s won’t know what hit ‘em if we show up and do what we did today,” Christen replied with a beaming smile.

Tobin grinned at Christen and the complete 180 her confidence had done since the start of their practice. 

“No, they won’t,” she nearly whispered, feeling Christen Press and her beautiful smile take her breath away, just like they always did. 


Christen tied the strings of her red bikini top, her fingers fumbling as her nerves flared up once more. 

“Roommates, huh?” Channing asked from her spot on the floor. She was scratching Khaleesi’s belly as she waited for Christen to get ready for the barbecue. 

“Yup,” Christen replied, popping the ‘p’ on the word as she finally got the knot tied. She grabbed a simple gray tank top and pulled it on over her bikini. 

“Are you worried?” Channing wondered.

Christen scoffed, feigning like being in the same hotel room as Tobin for two weeks was no big deal. Sharing a space, falling asleep and waking up together, getting changed...nope, nothing to worry about there.

“Uh, no,” Christen mumbled, fidgeting with the hem of the tank top as she searched for a pair of shoes.

“So you’re not gonna lose your shit when she walks out of the bathroom, all shower-fresh and wet, in only a towel?” Channing teased, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively at her sister. 

Christen huffed and threw a slipper at Channing’s head, which her younger sister easily dodged.

“What? Chan- no! Of course not!” Christen complained, her tone a bit forceful.

Channing’s grin grew at Christen’s protest. Christen might have said no, but the flush creeping up her neck told Channing otherwise.

“There are only two types of people in this world, Christen. The kind who bring their clothes in with them, and the kind who leave the bathroom in only a towel. Tobin Heath strikes me as the latter,” Channing replied.

Christen’s cheeks burned at her sister’s words. Up until right now, she’d just been so happy to have the chance to go to camp and spend more time with Tobin, she hadn’t considered much else. She’d been feeling thankful that Tobin would be there for her, especially off the field. She’d been so focused on all of that she hadn’t paused to consider all of the...implications of rooming with Tobin Heath. She’d have to see Tobin every hour of every day, in various states of undress. She’d have to resist the urge to hug early morning, sleepy Tobin, to kiss late night, flirty Tobin. She’d have to avert her gaze and ignore her desire any time Tobin changed. 

Her heart rate skyrocketed at the thought of having to deal with her feelings for Tobin while occupying the very same room as her. It was hard enough keeping a lid on them while spending only a few hours a day with Tobin, mostly on the soccer field where their attentions were more focused on training and fitness. But at camp, Tobin would be there in the quiet moments at night and the soft moments in the morning. Tobin would be everywhere and Christen suddenly realized she was not prepared for that. At all.

“Oh, God. What am I gonna do?” Christen asked, her face filling with alarm and worry as she sank onto the floor by Channing’s side. 

“You’ve been ignoring your feelings for her for like, almost two years. Two weeks shouldn’t be a big deal,” Channing said, throwing her arm around Christen’s shoulders and giving her a side-hug. “And maybe just hope Tobin decides to never shower.”

Christen choked out a laugh. “Gross, Chan.” After leaning into her younger sister, she sighed and added, “I just don’t want to blow my chance with the National team by letting whatever’s going on between us distract me.”

“What is going on between you?” Channing wondered, smiling over at her sister and noticing the immediate blush on her cheeks. “This is the third family barbecue Mom  and Dad have invited her to.”

“I know,” Christen replied. With a shrug, she leaned out of the side hug and ran a hand through her straightened hair. “Honestly, Chan? I have no clue what’s going on or what we are. We’re...something, and I’m pretty sure she likes me. But the distance- ”

“Ugh, enough about the distance. It’s such a cop-out,” Channing shot back, getting to her feet. 

Christen was a little stunned at her younger sister’s reaction, not having expected that out of Channing. 

“Tyler would disagree,” Christen said, rising off the floor as well.

“Tyler’s experience is not universal. Just because Clint’s a fucking asshole doesn’t mean Tobin is.”

Christen crossed her arms defensively over her chest. She hated being lectured, especially by her younger sister. Even if there was a little voice inside of her that agreed with Channing, the larger part of her was annoyed.

“I know that!”

“Do you?” Channing challenged. Then she noticed that the defiance on Christen’s face was masking the fear in her eyes. Channing sighed and put a hand on her sister’s shoulder. “I just don’t want to see you lose a good thing because you’re scared. Don’t look for an excuse just to keep yourself from getting hurt.”

Channing half-smiled at Christen and then backed up, whistling for Khaleesi. “I’m gonna go help mom with the fruit salad. Sorry, I yelled,” Channing added, having the good sense to be a little apologetic for getting on her soapbox.

Christen waved Channing off, trying to return her smile. “Don’t worry about it, Chan. I’ll be down in a few.”

After Channing left, Christen walked over to her bed. She sank onto the edge of it, Channing’s words turning over in her mind.

“Am I scared of losing her or am I scared of being with her?” Christen wondered, for the first time trying to get at the root of her fear over a long-distance relationship. Of course, it had been a bit traumatic to see what a long-distance relationship had done to Tyler. It was enough to scare the daylights out of the most hopeless romantic, which Christen was. She couldn’t risk losing Tobin Heath, no matter the cost. She’d rather have Tobin in her life as something than lose her completely.

But she’d never thought if there was more to that fear. If maybe she was so scared of starting something with Tobin, of admitting her feelings and giving them a shot because there was a small part of her that was worried it would turn out just like it had with Ryan Oliver.

Ryan Oliver had been Christen’s best friend from fifth grade until 10th grade. In that time, they’d rarely spent more than a few hours without seeing each other. They were more than just best friends, they were next-door neighbors and teammates. Christen wouldn’t have asked for it any other way. Seeing Ryan made every day better, and spending afternoons on the field with her and weekend sleepovers at each other’s houses was fundamental to Christen’s childhood. But by their freshman year of high school, Christen wondered if she enjoyed spending so much time with Ryan and sleeping over at Ryan’s house because she didn’t think of Ryan just as her best friend anymore. 

It was a whole giant mess of confusing, deep, life-altering feelings and it took her over a year to figure out what they meant. It took her months to accept and understand the butterflies in her stomach and her racing heart. When she did, Christen had felt so naively hopeful. Surely, if she felt this way, Ryan must as well. 

Then, it had all come crumbling down. She’d gone over to Ryan’s house for a sleepover before their first club soccer game of the season, intent on telling Ryan about her feelings, hopeful that maybe she’d experience her first kiss. Except when she did, there were no fireworks or fanfare or reciprocated feelings. Instead, Ryan had awkwardly explained that she only saw Christen as a friend and then asked Christen to leave. 

Maybe Christen would have apologized or put up more of a fight if she’d known that she wouldn’t ever visit Ryan’s house again, that she wouldn’t be invited over for birthday parties or extra soccer practice sessions with Ryan and her brother. 

Christen had called Tyler in tears, begging her to come pick her up and take her home. The two of them had spent the next twenty-four hours snuggled up in Tyler’s bed, watching Audrey Hepburn movies as Tyler assured Christen that she would get through this, that she would survive her first heartbreak. Christen did survive, but it had taken time. The game the next day was the only soccer game she’d ever missed in her entire career. 

She hadn’t thought about Ryan in years, but maybe the scars from what Ryan had done to her, how Ryan had cut her out of her life, were still there, raw and unhealed. Maybe she was so fearful of starting something with Tobin because over these past two years, while Christen tried to deny or hide her feelings, the two of them had developed the deepest friendship Christen had ever had. Tobin Heath was, without a doubt, her best friend, and Christen didn’t want to lose another one. She didn’t want to be rejected and humiliated again. She was scared to be heartbroken.

Christen grabbed a pillow off her bed, covered her face with it, and groaned loudly into the pillow. This was all so messed up and convoluted. Somehow, this thing between her and Tobin had become even messier than that complicated thing with Ryan. If that had been a small, tangled ball of yarn, this thing with Tobin was a twisted, confusing mass the size of the sun. 


Tobin huffed, digging through the pile of clothes on her bed, still in the baggy t-shirt and shorts she’d been wearing all day. 

She’d spent a lazy day with Jeff, playing video games and eating sandwiches on the couch. In hindsight, she should’ve given herself more time to get ready to go to Christen’s house, but Tobin hadn’t wanted to abandon Jeff and make him feel like Christen was more important. She also hadn’t wanted to start to get ready, leading to the inevitable stress she now felt about picking out an outfit. She didn’t consider herself very stylish, especially in comparison to Christen. Outfits just kind of happened randomly. She’d pull on a shirt that she liked and throw on the closest pair of pants or shorts and call it a day. She didn’t put much stock into clothing or thought into planning outfits, but now, Tobin wished, for maybe the first time in her life, that she had a few more outfits that really went together. 

“You okay, bud?” Tobin’s dad asked from the hall. 

“I have nothing to wear,” Tobin mumbled, immediately embarrassed that she was worrying so much about a barbecue at the Press house. 

“Really? That looks like a huge pile of clothes,” he laughed, gesturing at Tobin’s covered bed. 

“Yeah, I just-” Tobin sighed, turning to face her dad. He was standing in the doorway, his shoulder resting against the doorframe, a patient but knowing smile on his face. 

“I’m not good at this,” Tobin mumbled. 

“At what?” Tobin’s dad asked, his brow furrowing for a second. 

“I don’t know...being a girl. Perry and Katie were always just naturally good at it, and I just don’t get it.” 

“Tobin, you don’t have to be a girly girl to be a girl,” he laughed, walking toward his daughter and sitting next to her on her bed. 

“They just always knew how to like dress and act. I don’t even know what matches and what doesn’t,” Tobin pointed at the pile of clothes. 

Her dad looked at her for a moment, waiting for Tobin to finally meet his eyes. When she did, he placed a comforting hand on her back. “You’re nervous about going to Christen’s,” he said, not even a hint of a question in his voice. 

Tobin could only clear her throat in response, unable to actually answer him but unwilling to look away from his love-filled gaze. 

“She clearly likes spending time with you, otherwise she wouldn’t have invited you to the barbecue tonight, and let’s not forget that she flew all the way to New Mexico just to drive back to L.A. with you,” Tobin’s dad said, squeezing Tobin’s arm softly. 

“I just want her to like me,” Tobin nearly whispered. “I want her to keep liking me.” 

“You’re the most likable person I know, bud. Not finding the perfect outfit isn’t going to change Christen’s mind about you.”

“It isn’t just the outfit,” Tobin thought to herself. She didn’t answer her dad though, she didn’t know what she could say, how to explain what she was feeling.

“And from what I’ve seen, Christen thinks you’re pretty perfect no matter what you’re wearing or doing. The way she looks at you...well anyone can see that she thinks you’re amazing. As she should,” he grinned, the same grin that Tobin had inherited. 

“I don’t know about that,” Tobin shrugged off his response. She moved her eyes back to the pile of clothes, deciding on a white v-neck and a pair of jean shorts. She threw them onto the bed next to her dad.

“Are you excited to be going to camp together? It’ll be nice for you to have someone there since Allie isn’t going this summer,” Tobin’s dad, continued. 

“Yeah, it’ll be nice to have someone to talk to. I’m glad she got called up too. She’s worked really hard, and she deserves this,” Tobin answered, folding her other clothes and putting them back into drawers and her closet. 

“Your mom-” Tobin’s dad cleared his throat softly. “Your mom seems to- ah-”

“What?” Tobin asked, her body freezing, wondering what had her dad so flustered. 

“She seems to think that you have feelings for Christen,” he blurted out, scratching at the back of his neck. That was another thing she’d inherited from him, his nervous tic. “Which is obviously totally fine. It’s good. We all like her a lot.” 

“Relax, dad,” Tobin hummed, her cheeks reddening quickly. She and her dad were close. Tobin had told him about her first crush on a girl when she was fourteen, and he’d been supportive even then. It wasn’t abnormal to talk about girls, but Christen was different. With Christen, Tobin wanted to be gentler, more sincere. She wanted to take things at Christen’s pace, which wasn’t very fast since they were still long-distance for most of the year. 

“I do like her,” Tobin admitted. “I just can’t tell her right now.”

“Why?” Tobin’s dad asked, reaching for a few of Tobin’s t-shirts and helping her fold them. 

“We’re about to start camp, and it’s already going to be stressful, especially for Chris, since it’s her first one. I already know that she’s worried about a long-distance relationship, which is what we’d have to be. I just don’t want to ruin the friendship we have for a relationship that can’t happen right now,” Tobin huffed, shoving her dresser drawer closed with her hip. 

“So, you’re just going to torture yourself instead, worrying about what to wear in front of Christen and ignoring the feelings you clearly have?” Tobin’s dad nearly chastised. 

“If that’s what I need to do to get through two weeks of camp, then I will,” Tobin replied with a shrug. She knew it was a bit self-sacrificing, but there was no other way.

“You’ll call me if things get too hard and you need to talk through stuff?” Her dad looked concerned, his eyes wide and accepting. 

“Of course,” Tobin sighed, walking two steps across the room to wrap her arms around her dad’s neck. 

“I love you, Tobs,” her dad whispered against her head. 

“I love you too.” 

Tobin got dressed quickly once her dad left her room. She picked out a black bikini to wear under her clothes and slipped on a pair of flip-flops. She didn’t waste much time after checking her watch, aware that she was going to be a few minutes late. Tobin grabbed a pool towel, her car keys, and wallet, giving herself a pep talk as she walked to the truck. “You’ve literally done this exact thing before. It’s just a family barbecue. It’s good practice for the two weeks you’re about to spend with Christen, with literally no break.”

Tobin released a long breath and pulled out her phone, deciding that she could be a few minutes later if need be. After all, the Presses were inviting her over to their home. The least she could do is not arrive empty-handed. 


Her phone dinging on her nightstand caused Christen to pause her muffled groaning. She blew out a long breath, removed the pillow from her face, and grabbed her phone from her nightstand. 

 

[Tobin Heath 2:43PM]

Does your mom like Dahlia’s too?

 

Christen shook her head, unable not to smile despite the emotions and thoughts and fear still swirling around inside of her. Tobin Heath was such a sweet, sensitive charmer, one she’d gone and fallen hopelessly head over heels for.

 

[Christen Press 2:43PM]

What are you up to, Tobs?

[Tobin Heath 2:44PM]

Making sure Stacy likes me!

[Christen Press 2:44PM]

She already does, but if you’re worried, grab some tulips and a box of Charleston Chews. She loves them!

[Tobin Heath 2:44PM]

Your assistance is appreciated...oh and obviously I’m gonna be a few minutes late.

 

Christen rolled her eyes and typed out a response.

 

[Christen Press 2:44PM]

Get here safely, okay? See you soon, Tobs.

 

Christen locked her phone, not waiting for a reply from Tobin, and headed downstairs. She’d only managed to bring some plates of snacks and appetizers out to the backyard before the doorbell rang. 

“I’ll get it!” Tyler said, springing to her feet and racing inside, the pool floaties she’d been trying to inflate discarded by the edge of the pool. 

Christen took a few deep breaths as she nervously rearranged the plates on the large table outside. 

“You got this, just relax. It’s just a barbecue. You’ll be fine,” Christen whispered to herself.

She felt a hand squeeze her shoulder and she knew her mom had snuck up on her, probably having heard every word she’d said.

“My sweet girl,” Stacy murmured, turning Christen to face her. “What's got you whispering at my pita chips and hummus platter?”

Christen sighed and shrugged. She hadn’t quite gotten around to telling her mom, and not even her dad, about her feelings for Tobin. They’d just taken Tobin’s place in her life in stride, not questioning her on it and waiting for her to come to them. She’d always appreciated that about her parents. They were curious and interested in her life, but never nosy. They let her live it and then come to them whenever she needed to. 

“Can I ask you a question?” Christen replied, nervously chewing on her lower lip. She had to get this out fast before Tyler returned with Tobin in tow.

“Always,” Stacy said, giving Christen a knowing look. That look made Christen feel like her mom already knew what was going on, already had some idea of just how deeply Christen’s feelings for Tobin ran. A mother always knows.

“How do you know when a risk is worth taking?”

Stacy smiled, rubbing Christen’s shoulder soothingly. “When you’re more scared of not taking it than you are of what could happen if you do.”

Christen chewed on those words, not really sure just how she felt about them yet. But she nodded up at her mom in thanks. “You and Chan, always so wise with your words.”

Stacy pulled Christen in for a hug, placing a kiss on the crown of Christen’s head.

“And you, my girl, have always had the biggest heart. Don’t hide it away, especially from someone who seems to have already won it,” Stacy whispered. Christen blushed at the implication behind her mom’s words, clinging onto her mom just a little bit longer.

“Look who I found out front!” Tyler called, leading an already blushing Tobin into the backyard. 

“Hi,” Tobin mumbled, holding her towel under one arm, a box of candy under the other, and flowers in her left hand. Tobin could immediately tell that she and Tyler had interrupted something between Christen and her mom. She couldn’t help that her cheeks were warming up, both Christen and Stacy now looking at her, a voice in the back of Tobin’s mind suggesting that they might have been talking about her.

“Tobin! My barbecue buddy!” Cody yelled, hustling over to where Tobin and Tyler stood near the door that led back into the house. Cody shook Tobin’s free hand enthusiastically like he always did anytime she came over. “Those tulips for me?” he asked, earning a laugh from Tobin and an eye roll from Tyler.

“Uh- they’re for all of you,” Tobin muttered. “I didn’t want to come empty-handed.”

Christen and her mom chuckled to themselves as they joined the small group. 

“That’s very thoughtful of you, dear,” Stacy said, taking the flowers from Tobin’s outstretched hand. “But I do hope those are just for me,” she added with a smile, pointing at the box of Charleston Chews under Tobin’s arm.

“Yeah,” Tobin grinned, “Someone might have mentioned that you love these.” Tobin held out the box for Stacy to take, happy that she’d texted Christen for her help at the last minute. 

Christen grinned at the interaction, watching as both her mom and her dad fell under the effortless spell of Tobin Heath.

“All right, all right,” Christen said, grabbing Tobin’s arm and pulling her away from the group. “Stop hovering and give her a chance to breathe.”

Christen led Tobin toward the table under the gazebo, away from her parents and Tyler. She slipped her arm around Tobin’s waist and gave her a side-hug as they walked.

“Is your goal to make my parents like you more than they like me?” Christen asked, letting her arm stay around Tobin for a little longer than entirely necessary.

“That’s unattainable. I’m settling for as much as they like you,” Tobin smirked, feeling slightly more comfortable now that she was out of the spotlight. She squeezed Christen’s shoulders, her arm having found its way there as soon as Christen’s slipped around her waist. 

When they reached the table, Christen stepped out of the embrace, missing the feeling of Tobin’s arm around her immediately. 

“You can put your towel down anywhere. We’re probably going to swim first then eat later if that’s cool?” Christen asked.

“Oh crap! Should I have brought a bathing suit?” Tobin teased, loving that she could make Christen laugh or smile just by being goofy.

Christen rolled her eyes in amusement. “Ha ha, very funny. The bathroom’s inside if you need to change and my mom will definitely make you put on sunscreen, so don’t try to avoid that. And once we're in the water, it’s PYOF.”

“PYOF?” Tobin sounded out slowly, trying to figure out what the letters meant. 

“Pump your own floaty. Tyler started on hers like an hour ago and hasn’t gotten anywhere, but Channing’s already lounging,” Christen replied, gesturing at the pool where Channing was sitting in a large, inflatable Unicorn, sipping a Virgin Strawberry Daiquiri. 

“Don’t worry, lungs of a champion over here,” Tobin smirked, pulling her v-neck up and over her head in one swift motion, leaving her in only her black bikini top and shorts. 

Christen cleared her throat and dropped her eyes to the ground, wanting to give Tobin some privacy and not be caught staring at Tobin’s six-pack, or her arms, or the sharp angles of her hip bones- “Nope, don’t go there,” Christen said to herself. 

At the throaty chuckle she heard from Tobin, Christen set her jaw. “Something funny, Tobs?”

“You’re just cute,” Tobin smirked, placing her hands on her hips and kicking off her flip-flops. 

Christen looked up, a hint of a challenge in her eyes. “Cute? I’ll show her cute,” Christen thought to herself. Two could play at this game. With a small smirk, Christen reached down and pulled off her tank top, leaving her in just her very small, very flattering, red bikini top and very short shorts. 

Tobin’s mouth went dry, her smirk slipping from her lips. She’d seen Christen in bikinis before, at the beach and Christen’s house, but none of them were quite as nice as the red one in front of her. “This is exactly what you’re going to have to deal with for two weeks,” Tobin reminded herself, forcing her eyes away from Christen’s chest and back up to Christen’s eyes. 

Christen felt a small thrill of satisfaction at the reaction she was getting from Tobin. The wide eyes, the blown pupils, the blush-filled cheeks. But since Christen didn’t just want to play the game, she wanted to win, she wasn’t going to stop there. She quickly pulled off her shorts and kicked them to the side, her smirk growing. She didn’t feel self-conscious or nervous for a second, being this undressed in front of Tobin. She knew she looked good in this bikini, and even if she didn’t know, everything about the look Tobin was giving her would have told her so.

Tobin sighed. She was so weak for Christen’s legs. She’d known that the minute she saw Christen in August of their freshman year. Seeing those legs in a tiny red swimsuit made Tobin’s jaw literally drop, her mouth hanging open and her eyes glazing over. All she wanted to do was reach out and touch. She wanted to feel Christen’s strong legs. She wanted to hold onto her waist and run her fingers up and down her ribs, listening for any noises that Christen might make. She wanted to-

“Take a picture, it’ll last longer,” Christen quipped before turning on her heel and waltzing over to the edge of the pool. 

“Fuck,” Tobin thought, turning around and yanking her shorts down. Her cheeks were beet red, and Tobin could feel a fire, pooling deep in her stomach. She gulped down a few mouthfuls of air, killing some time by putting her hair up into a messy bun. Then, she walked across the pool deck and picked up a deflated floaty, determined not to look toward Christen and that red bikini until she was in the swimming pool’s cool water. 


“And I swear she pulled my hair, literally yanking me to the ground. Then, she tried to help me up, like nothing had happened! I was so mad! But after I got up off the ground, I couldn’t stop laughing. It was just so stupid. Who goes for the hair?” Tobin laughed genuinely.

Christen looked around, at her parents and her sisters laughing earnestly in response to Tobin’s story, and felt her heart soar. She could get used to this, having Tobin in her space, at her home, with her family. It was a dangerous thing to get used to, knowing how deeply she’d fallen for Tobin and how much she’d be risking if things didn’t work out between them. But for the night, Christen decided just to enjoy herself and enjoy the way Tobin Heath fit into her family, thoughts of feelings and falling put on the back burner for now.

“What’s crazy is she didn’t even get carded!” Christen added, having watched the game Tobin was referencing and wanting to jump in to add to the story. “I don’t even think the ref noticed.”

“Oh, she noticed. She told me to calm down,” Tobin rolled her eyes. “Apparently she didn’t see it happen and couldn’t take my throbbing scalp as evidence.”

“Florida State is such a dirty team, I hate those guys,” Christen grumbled.

“They’re brutal when they get desperate,” Tobin nodded, glancing around the table to make sure that she and Christen weren’t boring the rest of the Presses. 

Which based on the amused expressions on everyone’s faces, they weren’t. But Tobin wasn’t sure if their amusement came from the story or the piggy-backed way she and Christen had told it.

Christen caught on to what Tobin was doing and also looked around the table, realizing the two of them had been caught up in their own world. 

“Umm, great burgers, Dad. Best ones yet,” Christen complimented.

Cody grinned and sank back into his chair. “Thanks to Tobin. I almost burned the daylights out of them!”

“Me?! I didn’t help with the burgers at all,” Tobin replied, her brow furrowing.

“Well, if you hadn’t accidentally hit me in the back of the head with the beach ball you were trying to kick at Christen, I never would have noticed they needed to be flipped,” Cody teased, winking over at Christen and then at Tobin. 

“Turns out I have better aim with soccer balls,” Tobin shrugged, perfectly happy with Cody’s teasing. She did feel a little guilty that she’d hit him with the ball, something everyone had noticed when she’d apologized five times and offered to get some ice. 

“Don’t let him make you feel bad, Tobin. He’s got a hard head,” Stacy replied. “Now how about some help clearing these plates?”

Christen was about to get to her feet, but Tobin put a hand on her arm. 

“I’ll help you, Mrs. Press.”

“Stacy’s perfectly fine, Tobin,” Christen’s mom smiled, picking up a pile of plates and heading into the house. 

Tobin followed after, carrying the rest of their dishes and leaving Christen, her sisters, and dad at the table. 

Stacy quickly got them settled into a routine. Tobin washed the dishes, then Stacy dried and put everything away. She let Tobin get comfortable with the routine, washing a few plates before she spoke up. 

“Can I talk to you about something, Tobin?” Stacy said quietly, cognizant that the door to the backyard was left open.

“Of course,” Tobin replied, pausing her movements to face Stacy and read the situation. She couldn’t help that her stomach was churning slightly at Stacy’s serious tone. 

Stacy dried a plate slowly, running the towel over it as she figured out the right words to use. 

“I would never presume to know things about you, and I certainly would never poke my nose into my kids’ business,” she started, looking at Tobin, almost like she was appraising her. “But I’m a mother and my kids will always come first for me.”

“As they should…” Tobin trailed off, her anxiety completely taking over her body. She forced herself to finish rinsing the plate she was holding and pass it to Stacy. 

“I just want to know where you stand, my dear. Because I’ve stood in this kitchen with only one other person, someone I was sure was planning to stand by my daughter, through thick and thin. Sadly, he proved me and Tyler wrong. I’ve never had to do that for Christen before. None of the people she’s brought home or spent time with have ever made it to the kitchen sink talk. But now that she has you, I’m asking,” Stacy said, her attention now on drying the dishes, giving Tobin a moment to process her words and respond, or make a run for it, should she choose. 

Tobin couldn’t swallow. Her eyes were stuck on the soapy sponge in her hand, the dishes in the sink long forgotten. She hadn’t expected Stacy to ask her about her intentions before she and Christen were even together. That being said, Tobin knew exactly how she would answer Stacy’s question, with a resounding yes. Of course, she’d stand by Christen no matter what. She was willing to wait for Christen, as long as needed. She was willing to be Christen’s friend if the feelings weren’t returned, not that she believed that anymore. She knew Christen felt something. She just didn’t know when and how Christen wanted to go about everything. 

Stacy could tell that she’d given Tobin quite a bit to think about, and to Tobin’s credit, she was still standing here. 

“Maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit, and if Cody or Christen knew I was saying this, they’d be pretty upset with me. But I see the way you look at her, Tobin, and I wouldn’t be a mom if I didn’t look out for her. She’s got the biggest, most generous heart. I just want to know it’s in the right hands,” Stacy said, dropping the towel to the counter and turning to face Tobin.

“I know she has the biggest heart,” Tobin whispered, her voice shaky. “That’s what I like most about her. I don’t know if anyone would be good enough to hold her heart in their hands,” Tobin replied honestly, finally looking up at Stacy. She could feel a small prickle behind her eyes and knew that they were starting to water. But she didn’t shy away from it, knowing Stacy was asking for vulnerability.

“I would never hurt her. I know she doesn’t want to be with me right now because she’s scared of being in a long-distance relationship and getting hurt, and that’s okay. I won’t be in school all the way across the country forever, and when she’s ready, I’m ready. She’s the most important person in my life, and I’m prepared to wait as long as it takes. But if I’m wrong, if she never wants that from me, well at least I get to be her friend. At least I get to have her in my life. But you have to believe me, I’m not planning on going anywhere,” Tobin whispered, wanting to turn back to the dishes in the sink and hide her tears, but choosing not to. She looked at Stacy with watery eyes and hoped she’d answered the question in the right way. She hoped it was enough.

“Oh, sweetheart,” Stacy murmured, wrapping her arms around Tobin and pulling her in for a tight hug. That was everything she could have wanted in an answer and more. She had such a good feeling about Tobin, and that had confirmed it. Tobin Heath wasn’t just a good person, she was good for Christen. “I know you won’t.”

Tobin leaned into the hug, wrapping her arms around Stacy. She held her hands away from Stacy’s back, not wanting to get any soap or water on her. Stacy hugged like Christen, fully and warmly, with strong arms and wholehearted kindness. 

“That was a very mature response. Not that I expected anything less from you,” Stacy added, rubbing her hands up and down Tobin’s back as she felt a few tears hit her shirt. “My sweet girl isn’t known for her speed, off the field that is. She’s a thinker, and she’s really thinking hard about this. Just be patient with her.”

Tobin nearly choked out an “of course,” but the words died on her tongue when she saw Christen step through the back door and into the house. A few more tears slid down her cheeks, mainly from the relief of being able to tell Christen’s mom about how she felt. Stacy had made her feel completely accepted, like she truly thought that Tobin was doing a good job with Christen, even when Tobin felt like she hadn’t done anything for Christen. 

“Uh, what happened?” Christen asked, her eyes shining with concern as she looked from Tobin to her mom, noticing their tight embrace and the tears in Tobin’s eyes. “Is everything okay?”

Tobin couldn’t reply, instead, pulling out of the hug and turning around to finish the remaining dishes in the sink. 

“None of your beeswax, sweet girl. Go grab the cookies and scoot back out. Tobin and I will be there in a moment,” Stacy said, smiling reassuringly at Christen.

Christen’s brow furrowed as she looked over at Tobin, her concern refusing to wane until Tobin looked at her and confirmed that everything was truly okay. She’d seen the tears, and she couldn’t for the life of her figure out what her mom could have said to make Tobin cry.

Tobin lifted the next clean plate from the sink and passed it to Stacy, her eyes meeting Christen’s finally. She could see her concern, could see the question written across her features: “Are you okay?”  

Tobin placed a lopsided smile on her face, hoping that Christen would stop worrying. She had no idea what she’d say if Christen decided to question her about anything. 

It wasn’t enough to quell her worry, but the smile on Tobin’s face was enough to get her moving. Christen grabbed the tray of cookies, shot a quick look at Tobin, and then went back out the door. 

Once Christen was gone, Stacy reached up and patted Tobin on the back.

“Your secret’s safe with me. Just please don’t prove me wrong, Tobin. You and I will be having words if you do,” Stacy said, her words holding a bit of bite to them. She was still Christen’s mom, after all, so she couldn’t forego all protective instincts.

“I’d expect nothing less,” Tobin nodded, finishing with the last dish and rinsing out the sponge. 


Christen had been patient. She’d waited while everyone sat around, munching on cookies and sharing stories. She’d waited while Tyler and Channing hooked Tobin into a deep discussion about Hogwarts Houses. But now, with her dad about to get Tobin to sit down and watch a replay of the Arsenal vs. Manchester City game from earlier in the week, Christen had been patient long enough. She was dying to know what had gone down in the kitchen and now was her chance to find out. 

“We’re taking the dogs on a walk!” Christen announced, grabbing Tobin’s hand and pulling her toward the door. 

“Get it set up, and we can watch when we get back!” Tobin called to Cody, letting Christen pull her away from the living room. 

Christen huffed and got the dogs into their harnesses. She grabbed their leashes, some treats, and Tobin’s hand and walked out the door, with Tobin and the dogs in tow.

The sun was setting, creating a beautiful orange and pink sky overhead. The heat had all but burned off, leaving the night cool and the perfect temperature for a stroll. 

Christen and Tobin walked in silence for a bit, the dogs meandering down the sidewalk in front of them. Christen knew she was tense, her hand gripping tightly onto the leashes, but she couldn’t help it. She was desperate to know, but was too stubborn to cave and ask. 

“Is something bothering you?” Tobin asked, taking mercy on Christen, knowing that she was dying to ask Tobin about the scene she’d walked in on in the kitchen. 

“Does something have to be bothering me for us to take a walk together?” Christen shot back, cringing at the hardness in her voice. 

“No. I guess not,” Tobin replied, somewhat caught off guard at Christen’s harsh response. She glanced at Christen for a second before staring straight ahead, letting her eyes settle on the sunset and the scenery around them. “But it usually does mean you have something you want to talk to me about.”

Christen sighed, her shoulders loosening and her grip on the dogs’ leashes relaxing. 

“Yeah, sorry, Tobs. I just- what did my mom say? She tends to overstep sometimes and she’s super blunt, so if she upset you-”

“She didn’t upset me,” Tobin interrupted. “She didn’t overstep either.”

Christen suddenly stopped, tugging Tobin’s arm so she stopped as well. Christen looked into Tobin’s eyes, searching them for the truth. 

“You promise?”

“I pinky promise,” Tobin smiled, loving the way that Christen’s eyes visibly relaxed when she promised. 

“So why were you crying?” Christen asked gently.

Tobin shrugged, knowing she couldn’t tell her the truth without word vomiting her feelings all over Christen. “Would you believe me if I said I got soap in my eyes?”

Christen laughed and shook her head. “No, but it’s cute that you think I would,” Christen said. “You don’t have to tell me, just know that I’m always here if you need to talk about something. I pinky promise,” Christen added with a smile.

“I’ll tell you someday,” Tobin nodded, wanting Christen to know that she wasn’t just shutting her out. 

“I can work with someday,” Christen replied. She reached out and threaded her fingers through Tobin’s, gently pulling so they could continue their walk. Their clasped hands swung between them as the hope of someday lingered in the air. 

Chapter Text

And all this in between

You think it's hard for me to tell you're fallin'

Oh, we're fallin'

And bein' chill, bein' chill with you

Oh, it kills, I ain't chill at all, at all

(Tobin - “Ain’t Together” by King Princess)

 

Like when I close my eyes and don't even care if anyone sees me dancing

Like I can fly, and don't even think of touching the ground

Like a heartbeat skip, like an open page

Like a one way trip on an aeroplane

It's the way that I feel when I'm with you, brand new

(Christen - “Brand New” by Ben Rector)

 

CAMP DAY ONE

“You know I don’t mind rolling that,” Tobin said, looking up at her dad. 

“He’s not gonna let you take over, Tobs,” Tobin’s mom, Cindy, whispered, walking arm and arm with Tobin. 

“I got it, bud. No worries,” Tobin’s dad replied, the smile never leaving his face. 

Tobin didn’t put up much of a fight. Her dad always liked rolling her suitcase for her when she flew anywhere. It was his way of being helpful and sweet, of taking care of her before she left his side for however long. 

“I already miss you,” Tobin’s dad said, reaching out his hand to squeeze Tobin’s. 

“It won’t even be a full two weeks if you and Jeff are serious about driving to see our game at the end of camp,” Tobin teased, secretly loving that her dad got all mushy about saying goodbye to her. 

“You bet we’re serious! Jeff said he’ll drive too, so I’ll get to snooze in the car and be wide awake for your game,” he winked. 

“Do you have your boarding pass on your phone or do you need to print it?” Cindy asked as the three of them walked through the sliding doors of the airport. 

“It’s on my phone,” Tobin answered, trying to be patient about her parents’ fussing. 

They’d always worried like this, even more so when she was fourteen and flying to her first camp. That had been her first flight by herself, and she’d been terrified the entire time, not that she would ever admit that to anyone else. Her whole family stressed during travel. They always had fun once they arrived at their destination, but getting to the airport and actually traveling stressed everyone out. Tobin had tried to make flying as stress-free as possible, knowing that she’d have to do it as a professional soccer player. She’d created a Spotify playlist for the actual plane ride. It consisted of calming, slow songs that nearly put her to sleep. She always packed a neck pillow and sometimes took a melatonin to help her sleep on the plane. Tobin also made sure that check-in was as easy as possible, making sure to have her boarding pass ready and only travel with her backpack as a carry-on. 

“Oh, there’s Christen,” Cindy said, giving Tobin’s hand a squeeze. 

Tobin grinned, loving that her mom seemed to love Christen more than her own children. It probably helped that Christen insisted on helping Cindy cook or bake when she came over for family movie nights or to watch the English Premier League games. Christen had only been over to her house a couple of times, but she’d clicked instantly with her mom. She also had a sweet rapport with Jeff and a respectful but warm relationship with her dad. 

“Chris!” Tobin called out, waving excitedly at Christen and then dragging her family over to where Christen, Stacy, and Cody were standing at the United bag check kiosk.

Christen beamed at the sight of Tobin and her parents approaching. Her eyes lingered on Tobin, taking in the way the royal blue U.S. Soccer polo fit her perfectly. Christen’s was a bit too big on her and she felt like a little kid playing dress-up. She had a feeling she wouldn’t actually feel like she belonged in this polo or even at this camp for quite some time.

“Hey guys,” Christen greeted with a large smile. She turned around to her parents and said, “Mom, dad, these are Tobin’s parents.”

Cindy and Jeff stepped forward, meeting Stacy and Cody in the middle. They all exchanged smiles and handshakes before returning to their daughters’ sides. A brief silence descended upon them, with Christen and Tobin sharing an amused look at the awkwardness of their parents meeting for the first time.

“Tobs has told us a lot about you, especially about your grill,” Jeff finally said, grinning at Cody. 

“Hope she mentioned how helpful she is at making sure it runs smoothly,” Cody replied. “Christen’s been very complimentary of you two, and we appreciate you letting her come over and crash your movie nights.”

“She’s welcome any time,” Cindy offered, smiling at Christen and then looking between Christen’s parents. “As are you two, we’d love to have you over for dinner.”

“We would absolutely love that! If our girls can be so close, we deserve the chance to be as well,” Stacy said in reply, squeezing Christen’s shoulder and giving Tobin a knowing look. Tobin scratched at the back of her neck and quickly looked over at Christen.

“Are our parents bonding?” Tobin asked with a teasing lilt in her voice.

Christen shrugged, unable to stop smiling. “I think so, isn’t it cute?”

“The cutest. And since these two are so quick to tease us, I think all of us should do dinner once they’re done with camp so we can swap war stories about their younger years,” Stacy said with a small laugh. 

“Mom,” Christen groaned, covering her eyes with her hand. 

“Oh, we have such embarrassing Tobin stories,” Cindy cooed, poking Tobin in the ribs. 

“Don’t tell the mascot story,” Tobin hissed, knowing that would be her mom’s first pick. 

“I need to hear that one,” Christen grinned, getting a wink from Cindy in return. 

“You really don’t, and we’re going to miss the flight if we don’t get a move on,” Tobin asserted, knowing that they had plenty of time to make their way to the gate. 

Christen rolled her eyes but decided not to push it. If Tobin was ready to go, then she could be too. She turned around to face her parents, pulling them both in for a tight hug.

“Love you guys,” Christen whispered, feeling her mom and dad squeeze her tightly in return.

“We love you too, my sweet girl,” Stacy replied.

“Go kick some ass,” Cody added, causing Christen to chuckle. 

She pulled back and willed the sting of tears in her eyes to recede. She didn’t need to cry right now, especially in front of Tobin’s parents. She picked up her backpack and swung it onto her back. She took her boarding pass from her mom, her Nike roller bag with her bag tag on it from her dad, and gave her parents one last smile.

“I’ll call you from Portland,” Christen said, heading toward the United flight check-in.

“I love you both,” Tobin said to her parents, giving each of them a tight hug. “I’ll see you at the game, Dad.”

“Of course,” Jeff answered. 

“We love you, sweetheart,” Cindy replied, giving Tobin a kiss on the forehead. 

“Have fun, bud!” Jeff said, handing Tobin’s suitcase to her. 

Tobin shot her parents a thumbs up and rolled her suitcase to the kiosk, slipping into line behind Christen. 

They quickly checked their bags and got through security, swapping jokes and teasing comments the whole way. They arrived at their gate, a full hour before boarding, and settled into the back corner.

“Okay, we’ve got two choices,” Christen said, dropping her new, USA-issued Nike backpack onto the ground and flopping into one of the two chairs.

“For what?” Tobin asked, setting her matching backpack on the ground next to Christen’s and sliding into the seat beside her. 

“We can Facetime Pinoe and Crystal to tell them we're going to camp, or we can get Jamba Juice,” Christen replied.

“Both?” Tobin asked, her eyes wide, hoping Christen would agree. 

Christen laughed and whipped out her phone. “Fine, but Facetime first, smoothies second.” 

She huddled close to Tobin so they were both on the screen, their matching blue polos making her grin at how adorably ridiculous they looked. She and Tobin looked like some sort of wannabee twins, and Christen could already imagine what Megan was going to say when she saw them on screen. 

She wasn’t expecting Megan and Crystal to answer Megan’s phone together, grinning like fools in their own set of matching blue U.S. Soccer polos.

“Ayyyy!” Megan greeted, her pink hair looking extra bright today. “Looking good over there you two, but not as good as us!”

Crystal nodded in agreement and smirked at Christen and Tobin. “Yeah, they got nothing on us.”

“Woah woah woah,” Tobin warned, looking down at her own fitted polo. “Those are fighting words, Pinoe.”

Christen chuckled at Tobin’s warning, but couldn’t get over her surprise at seeing Megan and Crystal in U.S. Soccer gear. The last time all three of them had messaged with each other, there had been no mention of going to camp.

“When did you guys get the call-up?” Christen wondered, smiling at her friends. “Are you joining us in Portland?”

“Nope,” Megan answered, shaking her head. “We’re headed to Frisco, Texas. Yeehaw!”

Crystal rolled her eyes. “The U-20 camp just got organized, so it was super last minute. That’s why we didn’t tell you. We planned on calling you today, but you beat us to it,” Crystal added. 

“Sweet!” Tobin mused, grinning at Christen’s friends who’d slowly become friends of her own. “Frisco’s actually pretty cool.”

Christen wrinkled her and looked over at Tobin. “Tell me you’re joking, I’m not rooming with someone who thinks Frisco is cool.” 

“I mean...Frisco’s interesting. Listen, I had a really good burger there once, and I can’t forget it. I dream about it still,” Tobin defended. 

“Of course your opinion is based on food. You’re so predictable,” Christen shot back.

“You love that I love food,” Tobin scoffed. “That’s how you rationalize eating french fries! You eat them when I order them for myself,” Tobin added. 

“That was one time! And whatever you have to tell yourself to get to sleep at night is fine by me.”

Megan clearing her throat brought them back to Facetime. Christen felt a slight blush heat her cheeks, realizing that she and Tobin had done it again. They’d gotten so lost in each other, so caught up in their own world, they ignored the actual world around them.

Megan and Crystal shared a quick look before Crystal spoke up. “So...you guys are rooming?” Crystal asked, trying not to let her worry or curiosity color her words.

“Yeah, we’re roomies,” Tobin said, hoping that there wasn’t an anxious edge to her voice, despite how nervous she actually was about surviving these two weeks without an incident. “Any advice? Does Chris snore?” Tobin teased, opting to reduce tension by poking fun. 

Christen scoffed and poked Tobin in the shoulder. “Don’t be rude, I don’t snore. Right guys?”

“Well, how should I know that?” Tobin defended, looking back toward the screen to watch Crystal and Megan’s faces. 

“Pressy’s not a snorer, but she definitely talks in her sleep sometimes,” Megan teased.

“Interesting…” Tobin whispered, her stomach nearly flipping at that piece of information. “What if she says something in her sleep that you shouldn’t hear?” She couldn’t help the thought. She couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if Christen spoke about her feelings in her sleep. 

“I do not...do I?’ Christen wondered, fighting off a feeling of complete mortification that she had a sleep habit she’d never known about until now. “Crys, do I?”

Crystal chuckled. “Sorry, girl, you totally do. It’s usually nonsense, but sometimes I can make out a word or two. Occasionally a name.”

“A name?” Tobin choked out, immediately wishing she’d stayed quiet. 

Christen’s cheeks reddened and she was suddenly worried about whatever Crystal and Megan had heard her say in her sleep.

“Okay, we’re gonna go get some Jamba Juice. Bye guys, love you! Good luck! Let’s Facetime in a few days!” Christen rushed out, her goodbye short and sweet.

“Bye, Pressy!” Megan laughed. “Bye Tobito!”

“Bye you two, have fun!” Crystal added with a wave.

Christen quickly hung up the phone, her blush still coloring her cheeks as she tucked her phone into her pocket.

“So whose name ?” Tobin prodded, knocking her foot against Christen’s.

Christen shrugged and jumped up to her feet. “I didn’t even know I talked in my sleep until right now, what makes you think I remember a name?”

“Fair enough,” Tobin sighed, slinging her backpack over her shoulder and following behind Christen toward the Jamba Juice. “Are you gonna get something green?”

“Don’t I always?” Christen teased, keeping pace with Tobin so they walked side by side.

“They’re gonna love you,” Tobin replied. 

Christen pulled a face and scuffed the ground with her shoe. “I hope so,” she admitted quietly. She’d forgotten all about her nerves until right now. She’d been so caught up in packing, in saying goodbye to her parents, in catching up with Megan and Crystal. But now that they were close to boarding that plane to Portland, the anxious fluttering in her stomach returned.

“What’s not to like?” Tobin asked, bumping her shoulder into Christen’s. She’d made sure to change the word love to like, not wanting to walk herself into a corner and have to spill any of her feelings out in front of Christen right before Christen’s first camp. 

“What if I’m not U.S. Soccer material?” Christen replied, worry seeping into her words.

“I wouldn’t be friends with you if you weren’t, so you definitely are,” Tobin teased, reaching her hand to hold onto Christen’s and give it a tight squeeze. 

Christen didn’t let Tobin pull her hand away, not yet. She needed something to ground her at this moment, or else she’d fall off the deep end with her anxious thoughts and worries. She knew her grip was too tight, but Tobin didn’t seem to mind.

“What even is U.S. Soccer material? There shouldn’t be a cookie-cutter standard. You’re an amazing player, and that makes you perfect for U.S. Soccer. I told you I’m not going to a World Cup without you,” Tobin continued, wanting to dash any of Christen’s imposter syndrome before even getting on the plane. 

Christen let the words soothe the nerves swirling around inside of her. She let Tobin’s confidence in her bring her back to the present moment, away from her worries.

“Thanks, Tobs. I don’t think I could do this without you,” Christen said, leading them to the Jamba Juice line and finally letting go of Tobin’s hand.

“You could, but I’m glad you aren’t doing it without me,” Tobin mumbled, letting Christen go ahead of her in line. 

The two of them got their Jambas and boarded the plane soon after that, thankful their seats were next to each other’s and that they got their own row. 

Christen settled in the window seat, leaving Tobin to choose the middle or the aisle. If Christen was surprised that Tobin sat in the middle seat, she wasn’t going to say anything. She liked that Tobin had sat close to her.

Tobin took a few deep breaths, tightening her seatbelt for the seventh time. She said a quick prayer, her eyes squeezing shut and her hands squeezing the armrests on her chair. The pilot spoke over the plane’s intercom, alerting the passengers that their plane was second in line to take off and would be in the air shortly. Tobin had to take a few more breaths to ground herself, suddenly wishing she could have opted to drive and left a few days early. 

Christen could feel the tension rolling off of Tobin in waves. Her entire frame was stiff, and her hands were gripping the armrests so tightly, Christen thought they’d snap. She reached over and laid a hand on top of Tobin’s, rubbing her thumb along the back of Tobin’s hand soothingly.  

“Hey, Chris?” Tobin sighed. 

“Mhm?” Christen replied softly, her thumb still moving across Tobin’s hand.

“It’s my turn,” Tobin mumbled, glancing over at Christen’s face. 

It took Christen a second to realize what Tobin was saying, and when she did, her eyes lit up. She smiled at the brunette, encouraging her to continue.

“Fun fact, I hate takeoffs and landings,” Tobin whispered, her eyes boring into Christen’s.

Christen’s grip on Tobin’s hand tightened. She gently lifted Tobin’s hand and placed it in her lap. She flipped Tobin’s hand over and began to trace patterns along her palm. Her eyes remained locked with Tobin’s, hating the worry she saw nestled within those warm brown eyes.

“My sister's the same way. My mom does this for her though, holds her hand, and tries to distract her. I can try that if you want?” Christen asked, knowing she’d do anything and everything to help Tobin feel better.

“That sounds nice,” Tobin said, trying to fight off the urge to pull her arm away and protect her ego. She didn’t want Christen to think she was helpless or silly for being scared. Flying on planes was a huge part of being a professional athlete, and this was something Tobin needed to get over. She just hadn’t yet managed to do that yet. 

Christen’s eyes dropped to Tobin’s hand as her fingers traced mindless patterns on her palm. Her mind ran through a million possibilities of what she could talk to Tobin about, before finally settling on something she’d almost forgotten about. 

“Remember the NCAA finals our freshmen year?” Christen asked.

“Are you seriously asking me if I remember knocking you to the ground, getting pulled out of the game, and losing?” Tobin laughed, not sure what Christen’s goal was in this moment. 

Christen rolled her eyes and looked up at Tobin. “Okay, not the game I was referring to. Remember the finals?”

“Of course, you scored a hat trick,” Tobin nodded, remembering how she’d watched the game from her dorm room, messaging Christen on Instagram the entire time. 

Christen ignored her heart fluttering in her chest, the same flutter that happened every time Tobin remembered some small detail, something she said in passing. It just made her feel like Tobin listened to her, like Tobin cared.

“That thing that Crystal told me before the game? You still want to know it?” Christen asked, pulling her lower lip between her teeth as her eyes danced between Tobin’s.

Tobin immediately remembered what she’d begged Christen to tell her during their freshman year. She’d seen Christen, so nervous on her computer screen, lined up for the game. Then, Crystal had whispered something that had completely changed Christen’s demeanor. It had completely calmed her, and Tobin had been dying to know what it was. 

“Yes,” Tobin nearly stumbled over the word in excitement. The plane could have been spinning in circles on the tarmac, and Tobin wouldn’t have noticed. 

Christen dropped her eyes back to Tobin’s hand held between her own. She knew she wouldn’t be able to admit this if she were looking into Tobin’s eyes.

“She said to me, ‘The sooner we beat Stanford and win the Natty, the sooner you get to message Tobin back.’ I was so surprised she said that, and then I was just so happy there were no mics anywhere closer to us,” Christen admitted quietly, tracing her pointer finger along the zig-zagging lines on Tobin’s palm.

“I don’t know. I probably would have been completely floored if I’d heard that coming from my computer in my dorm room,” Tobin grinned, loving the way Christen’s cheeks were reddening by the second. 

Christen huffed out a small laugh, feeling a little embarrassed at having just admitted that to Tobin, and very thankful Tobin didn’t seem to want to press her on it. “You and every other viewer. That’s definitely not what people were tuning in for,” Christen replied.

“I mean, speak for yourself, Press,” Tobin teased. “I tuned in especially for that and the missing mics really ruined my viewing experience...my auditory experience?”

With a chuckle, Christen finally looked up at Tobin. The fear and anxiety had receded from her eyes, and her usual carefree attitude was back. Christen could tell that they were moments from take-off and knew she’d need to keep them talking a little bit longer. 

“Is that what you expected? I kept you in the dark for like, 17 months.”

It was Tobin’s turn to feel slightly embarrassed. Of course, Christen would ask that, and now she was going to sound like a conceited dork if she answered honestly. Christen’s eyes were focused on her, though, and she didn’t want to lie. 

“This is going to make me sound really dumb…” Tobin trailed off. 

“Don’t say that, you’re one of the smartest people I know,” Christen shot back, not wanting Tobin to feel anything less than amazing about herself.

“Okay, it’s going to make me sound really self-centered, better?” Tobin tried again. 

“I can live with that. Hit me with it,” Christen replied with a small smile.

“I might have thought that it had something to do with me…” Tobin mumbled. 

Christen laughed this time, louder than she should have in such a confined space. Somehow, this didn’t surprise her in the slightest. 

“Maybe I was just hoping that it had something to do with me,” Tobin added, her cheeks flushing quickly. She pulled her eyes away from Christen and looked at the seatback in front of her, wondering if she could open the unused barf bag and use it to cover her face for the rest of the flight. 

Christen sucked in a small breath. That surprised her. Her heart screamed at her to ask, “Why did you hope that? Why?”, but her mind quickly shot that down. That kind of question would open a door she couldn’t close, not with camp starting today. She had to remain focused, and any sort of deep dive into feelings would have to wait for camp to be over.

“You hoped right then,” Christen whispered, pausing her tracings along Tobin’s palm, instead threading their fingers together and pivoting away so she wasn’t facing Tobin anymore. She used her free hand to slide up the window covering. “And look at that, we’re in the air and you didn’t even realize it,” she added with a small smile.

Tobin stared out the window, surprised that Christen was telling the truth. She’d completely distracted her, completely calmed her, and shifted her focus away from the flight. Tobin’s heart fluttered, longing to take Christen in her arms and hold her tightly, to let her know how important she was, how special she was. Instead, Tobin leaned back into her seat and cleared her throat. 

“Thanks, Chris,” she whispered, pulling her hand away to grab her neck pillow and get some sleep. 

“Always,” Christen hummed, pulling out the book she’d stashed in the seatback pocket.


Every moment from the minute they landed to getting into the U.S. Soccer sprinter van was a blur. Christen felt like she’d blinked and suddenly she and Tobin were off the plane, getting their luggage, and outside by baggage claim with a U.S. Soccer employee. The drive in the U.S. Soccer van was going by even quicker, barely giving her time to register the names of the other girls occupying the van. Tobin, on the other hand, was in her element. She was chatting with the other players and joking around with the staff, an ever-present smile on her face. 

Christen had never felt this nervous in her entire life. It felt like every early morning training, every late-night practice, and every extra skills or shooting session had led up to this moment. She couldn’t blow it. There was this weight settling between her shoulder blades and pressure starting behind her eyes. She was starting to feel incredibly overwhelmed, drowning under her nerves and anxieties, and self-induced pressures. That was until Tobin threw her a lifeline.

Tobin reached her hand out, resting it, palm up, on the seat between her and Christen, a silent offer to hold Christen’s hand if she needed it. Even though Tobin was laughing and talking with the other players, her attention never left Christen. She didn’t have to be looking at Christen to know that the girl next to her was tense and nervous. She could feel her, sitting stiffly next to her, and all Tobin wanted to do was calm Christen down. She wanted Christen to feel as comfortable at camp as she did. She wanted Christen to feel free enough to laugh and smile with everyone else, knowing that if Christen felt safe enough to be herself, everyone would fall for her charm and kindness and beauty, just like Tobin had. 

Christen slid her hand into Tobin’s, incredibly thankful for the support silently offered by the brunette. It was like Tobin had sensed her distress and was offering to help in some small way, that wasn’t actually that small. With her touch, Tobin was helping to quell the raging storm inside of Christen. Christen took a deep breath, forced her eyes to look away from the scenery passing the window, and turned in her seat. 

Tobin glanced toward Christen for a second, squeezing her hand softly in her own. She grinned, hoping that Christen would match her smile, hoping that smiling would help to release some of the tension. 

Christen returned Tobin’s smile, albeit a little hesitantly. She scooted closer to Tobin, keeping their clasped hands in her lap as she faced the rest of the van.

“So you’re at Penn State too, right?” Christen asked the girl sitting behind her and Tobin, having recognized her when they’d gotten into the van.

“Yep, I’m Moe Brian,” the player nodded, smiling brightly at Christen. “You’re the forward at UCLA who ‘megged Toby and made her hulk out our freshman year,” Morgan laughed, reaching forward to ruffle Tobin’s hair. 

Christen laughed, feeling a little lighter at the friendly banter she was settling into with Tobin’s teammate.

“That’s me,” Christen replied. “Megging Tobs here has been the highlight of my soccer career so far.”

“Not true. Your bicycle kick last week was way cooler,” Tobin added, squeezing Christen’s hand in hers. 

“You two train together?” a voice from the back asked. Christen leaned to look past Moe and noticed a bleach-blonde in the backseat, lounging with her feet propped up on the seat.

“My family’s in L.A. now, so Chris and I are basically neighbors,” Tobin nodded, sending a grin to the back of the van at Kristie Mewis. 

“How adorable,” Kristie replied with a wink at Tobin before looking at Christen. “I’m Kristie Mewis, but you can call me KMew. And if you want some actual competition in training, feel free to call me up.”

“Don’t you live in Boston?” Tobin glared, her face melting into a smile when she saw Kristie’s mischievous grin. 

“What’s a few thousand miles between friends?” Kristie replied with a shrug. “Oh, Christen we’re friends now by the way. I got a good feeling about you, and if you’re good enough for Tobinho you’re good enough for me.”

Christen nodded at Kristie, feeling a slight blush heat her cheeks. “I take it you two know each other pretty well?” she asked, looking between Tobin and Kristie.

“We were at U-18 and U-20 camps together. They forced us to room together at one of the U-18 camps but never again after Kristie broke that bidet and blamed it on me,” Tobin laughed. 

“Hey, what happens in France stays in France,” Kristie replied with a chuckle.

“This is your first rodeo right Christen?” Morgan asked, eyes falling to Tobin’s and Christen’s clasped hands on the seat in front of her but not saying anything about them.

Christen noticed Morgan eyeing them and she felt her cheeks flush. She went to pull her hand away but Tobin held on even tighter, not letting her go. 

“U.S. Soccer finally decided they could handle her on the field,” Tobin answered for Christen, sending a wink in Christen’s direction. 

“More like someone messed up some paperwork somewhere and I got invited by accident,” Christen quipped, her words joking but her tone holding onto the worry and the inadequacy she still felt. 

Tobin narrowed her eyes at Christen, hating that she wasn’t more confident in her own abilities. 

“I don’t think so,” Morgan said. “I’ve seen you play first hand, and it’s definitely not a paperwork error.”

“I haven’t, but you can bet your bottom dollar I’m ready to,” Kristie called from the back

“Good thing we get to play tonight!” Tobin said, kicking her legs forward, narrowly missing the console and earning an eye roll from the staff member driving the van. 

Christen tried to share in their excitement, but at the mention of stepping out onto the field and having to perform for her life, to prove that she deserved to be there, the pressure behind her eyes started again.

If she thought she was overwhelmed by meeting Morgan and Kristie, she was completely blown away when the four of them from their van walked into the hotel lobby. About twenty girls, all wearing matching blue polos, milled about the lobby. Most of them seemed so much older than her, so much more sophisticated and mature. They talked loudly and goofed around, their rapport and their relationships evident. They all seemed like they already knew one another. Not for the first time that day, Christen felt like a little girl who’d stumbled into National Camp and didn’t deserve to be here.

She was thankful that Tobin once again picked up on her floundering. Tobin guided them away from the group, gathering their room keys and pulling Christen toward the elevators. 

“Training gear pick-up in an hour in room 323,” Cherry called out in Tobin and Christen’s direction. Cherry was an older woman with her short, spiky hair dyed a maroon-red color. She had warm eyes and a kind smile, but a sense of authority to her. 

Tobin shot a thumbs up over her shoulder, intent on getting into the elevator and up to their room as quickly as possible. Christen needed as much time to decompress as possible, and Tobin was bound and determined to help her get out of all the chaos quickly. 

“Fourth floor,” Tobin hummed, pushing the right button in the elevator and praying that the doors would close before any other girls joined them. 

Christen only nodded, chewing on her lower lip as her foot tapped against the carpeted floor of the elevator.

“Hey,” Tobin whispered as soon as the doors closed. 

Christen looked over at Tobin, trying her best to smile. “Hi,” she replied.

“I have a secret,” Tobin nearly sang, trying to make Christen laugh. 

Christen’s brow furrowed, a small smile pulling at her lips. “You’re not actually a Swiftie?”

“Really? That’s your guess? I gave you my list of favorite songs. What more do I have to do?” Tobin sighed, loving that Christen was still able to joke around when she was clearly stressed and nervous. 

Christen actually felt a laugh escape her lips, the weight on her shoulders and the tension in her frame loosening just a bit. 

“Fine, what’s the secret?”

“In about, oh, I don’t know three hours,” Tobin mused, looking down at her watch, “All those girls down there are going to be incredibly intimidated by you.” 

Christen blushed at Tobin’s words and had to look away from the confident look in Tobin’s eyes. Tobin just had so much faith in her, it would absolutely destroy her if she let Tobin down too.

“I just want to get through training without throwing up,” Christen confessed. “Or slipping on the ball.”

“You aren’t going to throw up, but if you do I’ll hold your hair back,” Tobin promised, ushering Christen out of the elevator first. “Plus, if it makes you feel any better, I can slip on the ball first. And we’re in room 417. Lucky me,” Tobin grinned, loving that the room number included her number.  

Christen shook her head, stepping out of the elevator and heading down the hallway to their room. 

“What is it with you and number 17?” Christen asked, letting Tobin open the door to their room as she fidgeted with the handle of her Nike roller bag.

“Honestly?” Tobin replied, waiting for Christen to walk into the room first. “I just really like the number 7. It’s my favorite number, but my club coach’s niece was number 7, so I settled for 17. It was probably fate. 17 and I just fit,” Tobin sighed, pushing her roller against the wall and letting Christen choose her bed first. 

Christen threw her backpack onto the bed on the far side of the room, depositing her roller at the foot of it. She sat down on the edge of the bed and fixed Tobin with a curious look.

“I never know what to expect from you. Even a question as simple as that, you took it in a direction I wasn’t expecting,” Christen said.

“What were you expecting?” Tobin laughed, wondering what kind of story Christen had made up in her head. 

“I don’t know, it was your mom’s number when she played or it was the last number left when it was your turn to pick.”

“I’m the only soccer player in my family. The others play tennis,” Tobin hummed, bouncing down onto her bed and leaning back until her head hit one of the pillows. 

Christen nodded, having forgotten that. She twisted the ring that she had on around her finger, eyes taking in the hotel room. It wasn’t anything fancy, two beds, a TV, a small recliner in the corner.  But there was a tray of snacks and a small refrigerator near the TV stand, something Christen was sure was filled with water bottles and  Gatorades.

“Do you need to dance it out? Or meditate? Or something? I give good hugs, as you know. If you need one,” Tobin offered from where she was lying on her bed, opening her eyes slightly to look at Christen and noticing that she was nervously spinning her ring, an anxious habit that Tobin had quickly picked up on during her time knowing Christen. 

With a sigh, Christen ran a hand through her hair. “Maybe I’ll try to meditate,” she confessed quietly.

“I can step out and find something to do if you need the room,” Tobin offered, already sitting up on the bed, glad she hadn’t taken her shoes off yet. 

“No,” Christen said quickly, the thought of Tobin leaving her alone scarier than the thought of not being ready for practice tonight. “Stay? Please?”

“Always,” Tobin nodded, leaning back on her elbows and watching as Christen got settled.


Tobin took a deep breath, loving the smell of the grass that hit her immediately. She was lacing her cleats, taking her time to be present in the moment and enjoy her first practice at camp. Christen had meditated for a while in the hotel room, leaving Tobin to take a quick nap before the two of them had to pick up gear and get ready for practice. After a relaxing nap, Tobin was itching to run across the field and put in some hard work. The only thing stopping her from sprinting away from her spot on the bench was the girl next to her. 

Christen was double knotting her cleats next to Tobin, her hands clearly shaky. All Tobin wanted to do was wrap her arms around Christen and take Christen’s hands in her own. She just wanted to calm her down, but she knew touching her wouldn’t be the right thing to do. Christen wouldn’t want that at her first practice, in front of their teammates and coaches. Instead, Tobin searched her mind for something to distract Christen with. 

“Chris?” Tobin hummed, sliding off the bench to stretch her hip flexors in a lunging position. 

Christen looked up at Tobin, noting the way the golden-hour sun was hitting Tobin, making her glow. 

“I’m good, Tobs. Really,” Christen assured, standing up from the bench and swinging her arms back and forth over her chest to get her nervous energy out, hovering near Tobin.

“I know you are,” Tobin nodded, turning her face to look at Christen. “I wanted to ask you something.”

Christen cocked her head to the side, waiting for Tobin to elaborate. 

“Well, I guess tell you something and ask you something,” Tobin admitted, suddenly feeling a little nervous about what she was about to say.  

“Okay, shoot,” Christen said with a shrug. 

“You know when I first saw you…” Tobin trailed off, trying to get her thoughts together. “We were playing that preseason game.” Tobin looked up at Christen to make sure she was paying attention, not caught up in her nerves. Seeing Christen nod and smile a bit, she continued. “When I first saw you, I was mesmerized,” Tobin blushed, wishing she’d picked a less serious-sounding word. 

Christen’s smile grew at Tobin’s admission. She gently folded her legs and sat down in the grass across from Tobin, a light blush coloring her cheeks. 

“You looked so nervous, and then you did this thing where you looked up at the sky and you held your arms out, and I was literally certain that you were rooted to the ground and about to grow in the sunshine,” Tobin blurted out. 

Christen laughed, light and free. She’d never been compared to a plant before, but coming from Tobin, it made those pesky butterflies flutter in her stomach.

“And then, you looked completely at peace,” Tobin muttered, not loving how jumbled and quick her words had spilled out. “What is that? That thing you do?”

At the genuine curiosity and care in Tobin’s eyes, Christen knew she couldn’t write it off and joke her way out. She couldn’t just say it was her best Timothy Green impression and leave it at that. Tobin deserved the truth. So, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes, considering her words carefully. 

“When I was younger, I used to make myself sick before every practice and every game. It got so bad to the point where my parents were considering making me quit. But I love soccer, and they knew that. So I went to see a sports psychologist instead. One thing that she really wanted me to work on was not worrying so much about what could happen and instead focus on the beauty of the moment I was in. I had to work on a ton of breathing techniques, and meditation definitely helped me. Obviously, I still get anxious, as you’ve seen today, but not the way I used to. I don’t get so anxious that I can’t be grateful for the moment. I guess rooting myself in the moment makes me look like a plant,” Christen snorted, glancing at Tobin again. “But when I have my arms out and my head to the sky, it’s like all the worries that were there go away, and I can be grateful that I’m about to play the sport I love.”

“Can I try?” Tobin asked, hopping up from her lunge position. She wasn’t asking to put Christen at ease, at least not fully. She was genuinely interested in trying something that had completely enamored her for nearly two years, something that Christen liked to do, something that Tobin wanted to better understand. 

“You want to do it here?” Christen asked, looking around and seeing that the rest of the girls were already passing the ball around or juggling, and the coaches hadn’t shown up yet. But Christen wasn’t sure if she wanted to do it where everyone could see, feeling a flicker of embarrassment curl in her stomach.

“Why not?” Tobin shrugged, still smiling easily at Christen. 

“I don’t know, Tobs,” Christen replied, not getting up from the grass just yet.

“I’ll buy you coffee tomorrow,” Tobin bartered. “We can even do it with our backs to everyone else. Or…” Tobin turned around, looking for something to walk behind. “We can stand behind the benches,” Tobin pointed, knowing that the sheltered benches would keep them from their teammates' view if that was something Christen was concerned about. 

Christen sighed, knowing she probably wasn’t getting out of this either. But deep down, she knew that she needed to do this to get focused on training. She just hadn’t expected company while she did so. 

“If you don’t want to-” Tobin started, not wanting to push Christen to do something she was uncomfortable with.

“Come on,” Christen grumbled, hopping to her feet and grabbing Tobin’s hand. She dragged Tobin behind the sheltered benches, away from prying eyes.

Christen took a few steps away from Tobin, knowing they’d need the space.

“So, uh- I guess just put your arms out to your sides, tilt your head back, and close your eyes,” Christen instructed. She looked into Tobin’s eyes and smiled a bit at the excitement she could see in them.  “No laughing though, I gotta get focused.”

“What do you think about?” Tobin whispered after they’d stood quietly for a minute, their eyes closed.

“Nothing usually. I just take mental stock of my body and ground myself with my breathing, stuff like that,” Christen hummed, feeling the sunlight hit her face and chase the last of her worries away.

“My body feels great,” Tobin teased, not even opening her eyes to see if Christen was smiling. “I did my push-ups and sit-ups this morning to get my blood pumping. I’m ripped and ready to go. ”

Christen chuckled and swung her arm around, trying to hit Tobin’s without opening her eyes. “I said not to make me laugh!” she said, finally smacking Tobin’s arm with her own.

“I’m sorry is that not allowed? I was always told that laughter is the best medicine,” Tobin smirked, proud of her ability to make Christen laugh. Christen’s laugh was beautiful, and Tobin would listen to it all day if she could. 

Christen merely grinned and kept her face lifted to the sky.  “This won’t work if you keep talking,” Christen whispered.

“Sorry,” Tobin mumbled, enjoying the warmth of the sun on her cheeks. 

Christen reached out and hit Tobin again, chastising her silently for apologizing when she didn’t need to.

“Ouch, Press! What was that for?” Tobin jerked her arm away, one of her eyes squinting open slightly. 

“The word sorry needs to be removed from your vocabulary. Meditate on that,” Christen replied, feeling Tobin’s gaze on her but not letting that distract her.

“Ah I see, I apologize then. Is that better?” Tobin replied, sidestepping slightly, knowing her smart-ass response was going to get her another swat. 

Christen swung out again, trying to catch Tobin’s arm, but just found air. She finally cracked on eye open and found Tobin standing even further away from her, her eyes closed and a huge grin on her face.

“Tobs, this whole ‘make me laugh’ thing is cute and all, but I do have to do this. Don’t say sorry, don’t apologize, just come enjoy the quiet with me for a second,” Christen said, holding her hand out for Tobin to take.

Tobin sidestepped back, taking Christen’s hand and finally staying quiet since Christen said she needed to do this properly. She kept her eyes closed, enjoying the closeness she felt with Christen and the warmth from the sunshine. She loved that she was close enough to hear Christen’s deep breaths and found herself following Christen’s example, her own breaths lengthening and calming her jittery, energized body. 

“Do I want to know what this is?” Coach Foudy’s voice sounded from close by. Christen quickly opened her eyes and dropped her hands to her sides, and an embarrassed flush creeping up her neck.

“We’re meditating, Coach,” Tobin sighed, her eyes still closed and her face still facing the sun. “Getting into game mode, if you will.”

“No games today, Heath, just some training. Which I’d like to get started by the way, so let’s hustle,” Coach Foudy replied.

“Aye aye, Coach,” Tobin saluted, jogging toward the field, her shoulders bouncing up and down as she went. 

Christen smiled hesitantly at Coach Foudy and got a beaming smile in response. That smile, coupled with the meditation she’d been able to do with Tobin made her feel prepared for tonight’s practice. Christen jogged after Tobin, ready to kick some major ass.


“My legs are throbbing. How are you that fast, Pressy?” Kristie groaned as she lowered herself into her seat. 

Christen couldn’t stop smiling, even when she heard the pain in Kristie’s groan. Tonight had gone better than she’d ever hoped. It was like every touch she took was perfect, every shot perfectly-placed. Even better than that, she and Tobin had tapped into this chemistry they seemed to have on the field, finding each other with no-look passes and impossible crosses, impressing even Coach Foudy with what they were able to do. They’d finished tonight off with sprints, and that had sealed the deal for a great first night at camp.

“I warned you about challenging Chris to sprints, Kristie,” Tobin hummed, taking a sip from her water bottle. “No matter how fast you can go, she always has another gear.” Tobin shook her head softly, a smile growing on her face. 

Christen rolled her eyes at the compliment, not wanting to take it but knowing she couldn’t really disagree. Not when she’d been the last one standing tonight, beating every returner in the sprint challenge. 

“If you want, you can come out to California and I can teach you how it’s done,” Christen joked, throwing Kristie’s words from earlier today right back at her.

“Oof, you wound me! Tobin where did you find this girl?” Kristie laughed. 

“She found me,” Tobin shrugged, remembering how Christen technically was the one to find her on Instagram first. She hadn’t realized how serious her words sounded until the group around her chair stopped talking and looked at her. “What?” she asked, the mouthpiece of her water bottle dangling from her lips.

“On Instagram, she means I found her on Instagram,” Christen corrected, her cheeks warm. “My roommate accidentally liked one of her pictures and a rivalry turned friendship was born.”

“Ah, the old enemies to friends thing?” Kristie teased, jabbing Tobin in the ribs with her finger. 

“However it happened, we’re glad you’re here,” Morgan said, smiling at Christen. “Now we won’t have to rely on Tobinho to score all our goals.”

“A weight off my shoulders,” Tobin nodded, leaning back into her seat. 

“That’s just rude, Moe. Syd and I are like, right here,” Kristie pouted.

“She’s just trying to boost Tobin’s ego after she completely bombed those defensive drills today,” Sydney said, slinging her arm over Tobin’s shoulders. 

“As if her ego needs boosting,” Christen quipped, loving that she was able to engage with the friend group’s banter and even earn a few laughs.

“Can I swap rooms with anyone?” Tobin asked, loud enough for the next two rows of seats to hear. 

Christen squirted a bit of water from her water bottle into Tobin’s face, laughing at Tobin spluttered.

“Serves you right, I’m a great roommate,” Christen said with a grin. 

“Chris! Ugh, what is it, gang up on Tobin day?” Tobin grumbled.

Christen melted at Tobin’s slight pout. She did feel a little bad since more water came out of the bottle than she’d expected. It dripped down Tobin’s face, falling from her chin and staining her gray Nike t-shirt. Without thinking, Christen pulled the sleeve of her sweatshirt over her hand and wiped the water from Tobin’s face.

“Poor baby,” Christen cooed, wiping up the last of the water and sinking back into her chair.

Tobin didn't know whether to blush or be offended. A part of her felt butterflies soar in her stomach at the possible pet name, a pet name that was reserved for relationships and girlfriends. The other part of her just thought that Christen was teasing, making fun of Tobin for feeling sorry for herself. Her mind was warring with what Christen had meant by it, but her body was completely enamored by the pet name, her skin warm and tingly and her stomach flipping with excitement. “Relax. It was a joke. She’s bonding with everyone,” Tobin reminded herself, looking down at her water bottle again. 

Christen wasn’t completely clueless. She could see the looks passing between Kristie, Morgan, and Sydney. But she just ignored them, preferring to face the front of the meeting room as Coach Foudy entered, thankful for the interruption.

“Welcome to camp, ladies!” Coach Foudy grinned. “We’ve got an exciting two weeks ahead of us. Once we get through fitness testing tomorrow, the fun can start. We’ve got a scrimmage against the University of Portland in a few days, as well as a game against the U-23 team from Brazil at the end of camp. You’ll get two off days and we’ve also got some fun surprises lined up for you too.”

“Surprises like pizza?” Kristie called out, earning her a few laughs and a half-smile from Coach Foudy.

“More fun than pizza,” Coach Foudy answered. 

Christen nudged Tobin and leaned over to whisper in her ear, “What could be more fun than pizza?”

“Two pizzas?” Tobin shrugged, chills running down her body as soon as Christen’s breath hit her ear. It reminded her of how close they’d been at Ali and Ashlyn’s apartment and at the club. It reminded her of Christen’s tongue on her neck and breath on her cheek. 

Christen hid her snort behind her hand and prayed Coach Foudy hadn’t heard her. But based on the sharp look Coach gave her before turning back to the group, she definitely had.

“Who wants to hear about your fitness tests tomorrow?”

“As long as it’s about fit-ness whole pizza in my mouth,” Kristie grinned, earning her a snicker from Sydney.

“Two words,” Coach Foudy continued, “Beep Test.”

Tobin groaned, pulling her t-shirt over her face. 

“Yes!” Christen whispered.

“Don’t you dare Press. That’s how you lose friends here,” Tobin said in a low voice. 

Christen hesitated, sinking back in her chair. “I mean...grr, beep test, bad?”

“I’m kidding,” Tobin whispered, pulling her shirt down and winking at Christen. “It’s kind of cute that you like it,” Tobin added. 

Christen rolled her eyes and focused back in on Coach Foudy, pretending not to notice that her hand had landed on the chair right next to Tobin’s, their pinkies brushing occasionally. 

“- and then the vertical jump and 20-meter dash to finish the day,” Coach Foudy finished. “Unless you’d all like to do the beep test twice?”

“No thank you,” Tobin called out, smiling as soon as Coach Foudy’s eyes met hers. 

“Your opinion is noted, Heath,” Coach Foudy replied. “Now get some sleep, ladies. This will be a brutal camp, mentally and physically, but we’re also here to have some fun. So take care of yourselves and I’ll see you in the morning.”

“I think she likes me,” Tobin whispered to Christen, hoping to hear her laugh again.

“I think you’re more amusing to her than anything else,” Christen replied, gathering her water bottle as the rest of the players left the meeting room.

“The funny bone is the pathway to the heart,” Tobin teased, sipping another bit of water as they all filed out of their row. 

“Press? Can I have a word?” Coach Foudy called out, interrupting the two.

“Want me to wait outside?” Tobin asked, glancing between Christen and Foudy. 

Christen shook her head and tried to squash the small flutter of anxiety swirling around in her stomach.

“I’ll see you up there then,” Tobin smiled, hoping that it would help ease the tension that Christen was now holding. She waved as she left the two alone in the room, hoping everything was okay. 

Christen approached Coach Foudy at the front of the room. “What’s up, Coach?”

“I just wanted to let you know you did well today. You and Heath have quite the connection on the field. I’m thinking about starting you together against Portland,” Coach Foudy replied, thoughtful gaze trained on Christen.

Christen beamed at her Coach. “Thanks, we seem to work pretty well together.”

“That’s an understatement. Good night, Press,” Coach Foudy offered with a wink, waltzing out of the meeting room, whistling a little tune.


Tobin had raced upstairs to change into her pajamas, somewhat glad that Coach Foudy had asked Christen to talk, giving her the opportunity to change clothes without any worry that Christen might see her. After pulling on her baggy red, Arsenal t-shirt and a pair of black soccer shorts, Tobin suddenly wished that she owned cuter pajamas. 

She was in the middle of brushing her teeth, the bathroom door wide open, when Christen entered the room, catching Tobin’s eyes and grinning. It wasn’t until Tobin turned back to the bathroom mirror that she saw the dribble of toothpaste that was slipping from her mouth. “Smooth, Heath,” she thought, spitting into the sink and rinsing her mouth quickly. 

Smirking at the image of Tobin Heath looking all cute and adorable with toothpaste on her face, Christen collapsed onto her bed face-down, feeling the exhaustion in her muscles and the heaviness in her eyes. Five minutes like this, and she could fall asleep.

Tobin padded back into the main room, her cheeks still flushed from her toothpaste mishap. When she saw Christen lying face down, all worry about herself fell away. She had no idea what Foudy had wanted to talk about. In her opinion, Tobin thought Christen had played amazingly tonight. She had been flawless, but the way Christen was lying left Tobin somewhat wary about the conversation. 

“Are you okay?” Tobin mumbled, not knowing whether she should step forward and touch Christen or give her space. 

“Mhm. Coach thinks we have a great connection,” Christen replied, her words muffled in the comforter under her face.

“I’m sorry, but you’re currently face-down in a soundproof comforter, Chris,” Tobin said, holding back a laugh, just in case there was bad news. 

Christen rolled over onto her back and propped herself up on her elbows. “I just said that Coach thinks we have a great connection, and she wanted to tell me that. And that I did well tonight.”

“Well, duh,” Tobin sighed. “She isn’t blind.”

“Mhm, now tell your worry wrinkle to skedaddle,” Christen added with a small smile.

“I didn’t have a worry wrinkle,” Tobin huffed, turning around to climb into her own bed and slide under the covers. 

“If my legs weren’t dead, I’d walk over and point it out,” Christen groaned, falling back to the bed. 

“Well, you’re gonna need to resurrect them. Dental hygiene is really important,” Tobin hummed, pulling her glasses out of the backpack that was propped next to her bed and slipping them on. 

Christen held her arms up in the air, a small whine leaving her lips. “I can’t get up, I can’t get uuuup.”

“Are you serious,” Tobin laughed, glancing at Christen and grinning at her theatrics. 

“Tobs, please, I literally can’t move,” Christen whined, making her voice sound extra desperate and her pout extra strong.

Tobin let out a long sigh, rolling out of bed and walking over to Christen. Tobin reached her arms out and grabbed a hold of Christen’s outstretched hands, trying to ignore the warmth that flooded her body immediately or the butterflies that fluttered throughout her stomach and chest. “Just holding her hands shouldn’t do this to you,” Tobin chided herself. Once Christen was seated at the edge of the bed, she opened her eyes, making Tobin’s heart beat even faster against her ribcage. “You’re beautiful,” Tobin thought, nearly letting the words slip off the end of her tongue. 

“You good to go?” Tobin asked, needing to step away from Christen before she said anything stupid. 

Christen’s pout grew. “Help me stand up?”

Tobin was completely weak for Christen Press. She pulled on Christen’s hands, not realizing that Christen was literally going to be no help. For a moment, she thought about holding onto Christen’s hips, but she knew that would end in an awkward moment. Instead, she lifted Christen up, moving her hands up Christen’s arms for better leverage.

“There you go,” Tobin whispered, very aware of how close she and Christen were now standing, face-to-face at the foot of Christen’s bed. 

Christen didn’t know what had just come over her. Maybe it was the high of the day, of killing it on her first day at camp. Maybe it was the complimentary words from her Coach and the way she was fitting into the fabric of the team. Or maybe it was that Tobin Heath looked too adorable in her glasses and pajamas to be all the way across the hotel room from her. 

“Thanks,” Christen whispered, clearing her throat a bit before gliding around Tobin to head for her suitcase. She grabbed a ratty UCLA t-shirt and a pair of sliders and headed for the bathroom. “You done in here?” she called out over her shoulder, turning around to look at Tobin.

“Mhm,” Tobin nodded, glancing up only once before she returned to one of the books she’d brought with her to camp. 

Christen stepped into the bathroom and immediately shut the door. She deposited her clothes onto the counter and then gripped the edge of the sink, eyeing her reflection in the mirror. 

“You can do this. You can sleep less than ten feet away from Tobin Heath,” Christen reminded herself, needing the little pep talk. “You can do this.”

She got ready for bed quickly, only lingering on her hair. She took it out of the bun she’d had it in all day and let it fall freely past her shoulders. She gave herself one final look in the mirror, not letting the butterflies roaring around inside of her stop her from leaving the bathroom. She could do this. She could share a space with Tobin. She could do this very domestic, very intimate song and dance with her every night and every day for two whole weeks.

But as she left the bathroom and returned to her bed, Christen had a feeling this would be harder than she anticipated. 


Tobin had a history of nightmares. She’d had them since she was a little kid. Some of them were simple, revolving around her fear of snakes and natural disasters. Others were more complex, depicting the loss of a loved one or serious accidents. At the age of twenty, she was used to bad dreams. She knew that she’d wake up, in fact, sometimes she could force herself to wake up. She knew that dreams didn’t have to change the outcome of her day. She knew that she could conquer her fears during the daytime, even if she couldn’t in her unconscious state. 

The first night at camp was different though. She couldn’t wake herself up. She didn’t even know where she was. 

 

“I love you,” Tobin whispered into Christen’s ear, melting into Christen’s arms. 

“Tobs, I can’t love you. I don’t love you,” Christen choked out, grabbing Tobin’s wrists and moving Tobin’s hands off of her waist. “Why did you say that? Why did you ruin everything?”

“Ch-Chris,” Tobin stuttered. 

“No, don’t. You’ve said enough,” Christen said, pushing Tobin away from her.

“I take it back. I can take it back,” Tobin begged, trying to hold onto one of Christen’s hands, trying to keep her in the room with her. 

“You can’t take something like that back,” Christen replied, tugging her hand away from Tobin’s and finally walking away from her. 

“Please, don’t leave. Chris, I’m sorry!” Tobin called, walking to the door that Christen had just walked out of. She pulled on the handle, unable to get the door to open. The lock was bolted, and the door handle wouldn’t turn. “Chris!” Tobin called again, banging on the door. 

 

At the sound of her name leaving Tobin’s lips, Christen bolted upright in bed. She was disoriented for only a moment, taking in her surroundings and realizing they were in the hotel, in Portland, together. A quick look at the clock told her it was 4:46 in the morning.

She looked over at Tobin’s bed, noting the bunched sheets and the slightly flailing limbs. But what alarmed her most was the slight whimpering she could hear. Christen got up without thinking, hurrying over to Tobin. She hovered over the bed, one hand holding Tobin’s face still, the other smoothing out the worry lines on her forehead.

“Hey, Tobs, hey. Wake up,” Christen whispered, trying to keep her voice gentle and her touch on Tobin’s furrowed brow even gentler. 

Tobin’s eyes blinked open slowly, the dark hotel room and Tobin’s exhausted eyes making Christen’s face look blurry. “You didn’t leave?” Tobin thought, still stuck in the space between her nightmare and reality. She hadn’t yet grounded herself in this exact moment, in the sheets around her knees or Christen’s hands on her face. 

“You’re here?” Tobin whispered, feeling like she was still in her nightmare, trying to convince Christen that she shouldn’t leave. 

“Of course I’m here, where else would I be?” Christen asked quietly, worried eyes flicking between Tobin’s.

Tobin’s eyebrows wrinkling in confusion, trying to break through the nightmare haze and speak coherently. “You left,” Tobin sighed.

“I wouldn’t,” Christen assured, dropping a leg onto the bed so she was now half-sitting on the edge.

“Please don’t leave me,” Tobin whispered, her voice breaking and her eyes starting to water. If she’d been more awake, she would have held the words in. She wouldn’t have begged Christen to stay. She wouldn’t have said anything, too afraid to scare Christen. 

The words hit Christen right in the heart, stealing her breath from her lungs and bringing the prickle of tears to her eyes. Whatever Tobin had dreamt, it had been about her, and it had been about her leaving. She knew there was something more to unpack there, but for now, she had to assure Tobin that she wasn’t going anywhere, that she was here.

“Never,” Christen whispered back her thumb moving along Tobin’s furrowed brow. “You okay now?”

Tobin could only nod, suddenly feeling more awake and more insecure about what she’d said. 

Christen’s worry hadn’t disappeared, but she was happy to see some of the tension seep out of Tobin. “I’ll be over there if you need me, okay?”

Tobin reached up, tangling her fingers in one of Christen’s hands so that when Christen stood up to walk back to her bed, her arm stretched between them, Tobin refusing to let go. 

Christen turned back, a small question in her eyes. It was a question she couldn’t voice, not with Tobin looking at her so desperately, so vulnerably. 

“Don’t leave,” Tobin whispered, glad that it was dark enough and her eyesight was poor enough that she couldn’t clearly see how Christen was reacting.

Christen sucked in a small breath, surprised at the question. It was as if they continually wanted to see how far they could push things, see how close they could come to crossing lines before it was too much. Ever since Spring Break, it had been this delicate dance of push and pull between them, and Christen could feel them hurtling toward the edge, toward something they couldn’t turn back from. Christen knew this was too much, that sharing a bed with Tobin and holding her would go too far, but she didn’t have it in her to deny Tobin. She never did.

“Okay,” she replied hesitantly, letting Tobin pull her back to the bed. 

Tobin scooted toward the middle of the bed, letting Christen climb in on her side. She was already falling asleep again, having never really reached full consciousness. Tobin waited for Christen to pull the sheets over her legs before she rolled into Christen’s side, resting her head against Christen’s chest, throwing an arm over Christen’s waist, and tucking her legs against Christen’s. She breathed in her lavender shampoo and citrus lotion, feeling her entire body relax. 

Christen froze, feeling Tobin pressed up against her side, her head tucked under her chin. She didn’t dare breathe, worried she’d jostle Tobin and wake her up. She resigned herself to an uncomfortable night's sleep if only to let Tobin get some good sleep on her chest. Her only thought was for Tobin right now.

“You smell good,” Tobin mumbled, drifting slowly toward sleep. She moved one of her legs to rest in between Christen’s, just trying to get comfortable, essentially finding the same position they’d woken up in at Ali and Ashlyn’s apartment.

Christen gulped, feeling Tobin’s leg slot between her own. Tobin Heath was trying to kill her, it was official. With the sleepy voice and the cuddles and the innocent touches that didn’t feel so innocent. She could barely move, let alone think, too caught up in the feeling of Tobin against her and the soft breaths of air ghosting across her chest. 

“Go to sleep, Tobs. I got you,” Christen murmured in reply, running her hand up and down Tobin’s back, her fingertips gliding across the soft material of her shirt. She nestled down into the pillows, finding a small bit of comfort in her current position, and felt her exhaustion creep back in. Maybe she could sleep like this, with Tobin in her arms and her in Tobin’s bed. Maybe when she woke up tomorrow, the fluttering in her heart wouldn’t feel so much like something slightly resembling love. Maybe...

Chapter Text

I came here with a load

And it feels so much lighter

Now that I've met you

And, honey, you should know

That I could never go on without you

Green eyes

Honey, you are the sea upon which I float

And I came here to talk

I think you should know

That green eyes

You're the one that I wanted to find

(Tobin - “Green Eyes” by Coldplay)



Stop the clocks, it's amazing

You should see the way the light dances off your head

A million colours of hazel, golden and red

Saturday morning is fading

The sun's reflected by the coffee in your hand

My eyes are caught in your gaze all over again

(Christen - “Afterglow” by Ed Sheeran)



CAMP DAY TWO

Christen always loved waking up early. There was something so peaceful and promising about the wee hours of the morning. She loved getting to wake up with the sky, to watch the sunrise, to feel the hope that came with a new day. 

But this morning, there was no peace or hope. There was only panic when she rolled to her right and found an empty bed. She immediately sat up, groggy from not sleeping well, blinking the sleep from her eyes to try and figure out where Tobin was.

“Tobs?” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes and looking around the room. 

“Morning,” came Tobin’s gruff reply.

Christen found Tobin sitting at the foot of the bed, already dressed, two cups of coffee in her hands. Christen relaxed just a bit, thankful that Tobin was here, that she hadn’t left. 

“Morning to you too. Sleep okay? Any more bad dreams?” Christen asked, stretching her arms over her head and letting a small groan leave her lips at the kinks she could feel already forming across her shoulders and in her neck.

Tobin stiffened even more than she already was, cringing at how she’d practically begged Christen to join her in bed last night. She’d woken up, wrapped in Christen’s arms, and it had taken her a minute to remember what had led to them sharing a bed. She immediately felt guilty for putting Christen in that situation, for pleading with her to hold her while she slept. 

“No bad dreams,” Tobin mumbled softly, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. She had no idea how much Christen actually knew about her bad dream, and she was internally kicking herself for asking Christen to stay with her, for asking her not to leave her. Christen didn’t need that kind of pressure, especially not while she was at her first camp. 

“That’s good, that’s good,” Christen replied. She eyed Tobin curiously, wondering why the brunette was sitting so far away, why she felt so far away right now. “When did you get up? I didn’t even notice. I kinda sleep like a rock.”

“I know. And a couple hours ago,” Tobin sighed, her eyes stinging from exhaustion. She hadn’t been able to go back to sleep, opting instead to shower and berate herself for likely making Christen uncomfortable. 

“Hours?” Christen clarified. “Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I showered. You deserved more sleep after what I put you through last night,” Tobin sighed. 

It was Tobin’s sigh that finally made it all click for Christen. That sad, mournful sigh was full of guilt and worry and apology. Tobin was so far away right now because, for whatever reason, she was embarrassed about what had happened last night.

“I’m really sorry, Chris. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable or freak you out,” Tobin whispered, reaching her hand out to give Christen one of the coffees, her eyes glued to the hotel carpet. 

Christen took the coffee gently and placed it on the bedside table. She pushed the covers off of her lap and got to her feet, crossing the few feet of space between them. She crouched in front of Tobin, catching her eye and placing a gentle hand on her knee.

“You didn’t. You were having a rough go of things and you needed someone to be there for you. I’m glad I was here. You don’t need to keep apologizing for things, especially when you have no reason to,” Christen said quietly, hopefully conveying to Tobin that everything that had happened last night was fine. 

It was more than fine, it was wonderful. Sure, it crossed so many lines, made things a million times more complicated between them. But falling asleep together, holding Tobin in her arms, that had felt right. Christen wasn’t in the mood to deny herself a comfort like that, especially right now at camp.

“I just-” Tobin started, blinking softly and moving her free hand along her knee cap nervously. “I never want to do anything that you don’t like, and I feel like I didn’t give you much of a choice last night. I kind of begged you to sleep in my bed, and I didn’t mean to put you in an awkward situation,” Tobin choked out, having worried about this the entire morning. She’d practiced an apology in the shower, knowing that her words wouldn’t come out as clearly when she actually spoke to Christen. 

“I didn’t feel that way, I could have said no. But I didn’t. Don’t be afraid to ask me for something you need. I can hold your hand and talk your ear off on plane rides, I can hold you until your nightmares go away. I can do those things for you if you ask me to,” Christen replied, sliding her hand over Tobin’s. She ran her thumb gently across the back of Tobin’s hand as her eyes tried and failed, again, to meet Tobin’s.

“I’m falling in love with you,” Tobin’s heart screamed in her chest. “Christen would do all of that for you. She wants to be there for you.” 

“Thanks,” Tobin said lamely, finally holding Christen’s gaze and offering a half-smile. 

“Of course,” Christen said in reply, smiling up at Tobin. “I’m here for you, Tobs, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Tobin swallowed the urge to ask Christen if she really meant that. She didn’t want to seem needy. Instead, she flipped her hand over on her knee and caught Christen’s thumb with her hand, intertwining their hands softly. She didn’t need to ask Christen for verification when she could hold onto her hand, feeling the warmth from Christen’s skin, an unspoken promise to be there.

Christen’s eyes fell to their intertwined hands, her skin tingling where it was in contact with Tobin’s. Things that should feel awkward or too much between them had a bad habit of turning into routines, things like holding hands. Initially, it had been impossible for Christen to even consider doing it. She’d been desperate to avoid it, desperate to avoid knowing what it felt like to have Tobin’s hand in her own. She’d known that once she did, there was no going back. But then she’d crossed that line, holding Tobin’s hand at the beach during her birthday party, and now five months later, they held hands like it was the most natural thing in the world. It wasn’t just their hands, it was everything. They seemed to orbit one another, always in each other’s space, always finding small ways to touch one another - a hand on the back, a brush of the shoulders, a caress of the pinky fingers. Gradually, every bit of space she’d tried to keep between her and Tobin came crumbling down. Tobin was invading every part of her, growing like ivy on her stone walls, and Christen couldn’t find it in her to care. Not when Tobin’s hand felt so right in hers.

“I did sleep really well,” Tobin admitted, a smile growing on her lips. “I hope I didn’t ruin your sleep routine, though. I was kind of clingy last night.” She could feel the blush on her cheeks immediately, remembering how she’d woken up with a leg slotted between Christen’s and her cheek pressed between Christen’s collarbone and neck. 

Christen grinned at Tobin, cocking her head to the side slightly. “Not at all. Cling anytime, especially if you bring me coffee the next morning,” Christen said with a wink, getting to her feet and grabbing the coffee from the bedside table.

Tobin’s heart fluttered in her chest at Christen’s words. “Cling anytime? Don’t tempt me,” Tobin thought, running a hand through her hair. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to act on all of her urges to cling, to touch Christen throughout the day. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have the freedom to cuddle with Christen, to hug her, to hold her, to kiss her whenever she wanted. 

“You ready for the beep test today?” Christen asked, dropping onto the edge of her bed and facing Tobin as she took a sip of coffee. She hoped a change of topic would chase away the last of the worries she could see swimming around in Tobin’s brown eyes.

“Don’t remind me,” Tobin groaned, falling back onto her bed. “I’m ready. I’m just not happy about it.”

“You know, there’s a secret to doing super well on it,” Christen murmured, hiding her smirk behind her coffee cup.

Tobin lifted her head off of the bed, squinting skeptically at Christen. “Oh? And would you like to share?” 

“You gotta dance out all your nerves first,” Christen said, hopping to her feet. She discarded the coffee cup, grabbed her phone, and put on the first song she found. It was an upbeat, bubble-gum pop song Tobin definitely wouldn’t like, but they were only going to dance to it.

“Come on, on your feet,” Christen said, gesturing with her hands as she started to jump around bobbing her head to the beat.

“No, no, I’m good. I’m not really a good dancer,” Tobin laughed, blushing when she remembered the last time she’d said that to Christen, right before they’d nearly kissed at the club in L.A.

Christen wasn’t going to take no for an answer, and she knew Tobin could dance. So, she reached out and grabbed Tobin’s hands with her own, tugging Tobin to her feet. 

“Fiiiine,” Tobin sighed, setting her coffee next to Christen’s and jumping up and down on the floor, feeling a little silly but loving the way her participation was making Christen smile. There was something so beautiful and perfect about a joyous Christen, and Tobin knew she was staring at her with serious “heart eyes” as Allie liked to call them. She couldn’t help herself. Christen looked so free and so happy. All Tobin wanted was to keep Christen feeling this amazing forever.  

Christen let go of Tobin’s hands as she began to hop around again, throwing her head from side to side, her curls flying through the air. She knew it wasn’t the most coordinated of dances, she was a little off the beat and her arms couldn’t decide what to do. But she was giggling and having fun and Tobin seemed to be getting into it as well. The moment was so happy and carefree, Christen felt like nothing bad could ever touch them, not when they’d found this small pocket of happiness and peace.


CAMP DAY FIVE

Tobin woke up in the same position she’d been waking up in since her first morning in Portland, dark curls against her face, her leg between Christen’s, and her arm against Christen’s stomach. After the first night and Tobin’s nightmare, Tobin figured that they would occupy their own beds and sleep separately for the rest of the camp until Christen had spoken up on their second night together. 

 

“Good night, Chris,” Tobin had whispered, both girls freshly showered after their late practice, the room around them dark and quiet. 

“Um, Tobs?” Christen replied softly, nerves evident in her voice. 

“What’s up?” Tobin hummed, her eyes heavy with sleep. 

“Are you nervous about the scrimmage tomorrow?”

“Not really…” Tobin trailed off. “I have a really great teammate to play alongside,” she whispered, having heard the worry in Christen’s voice. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous for a game, not even in the NCAAs. This is a whole different level. If I mess up here, it’ll hurt my chances of ever playing for the full team,” Christen replied, turning on her side to look over at Tobin. She could only make out bits and pieces of her in the almost total darkness, but it was comforting to know she was there all the same.

“You’ve already impressed everyone here so much,” Tobin assured her, propping herself up with her arm and squinting across the room to make out Christen’s face. “I know the scrimmage is important, but you’re doing an amazing job and you’re definitely going to prove that tomorrow against Portland.”

Christen knew Tobin was right. She knew she’d been playing well. But for some reason, thoughts and words were doing nothing to quiet the raging storm of nerves within her right now. She felt like she was ready to burst, and she knew the one thing that could help her was something she dared not ask for. But as she looked over at Tobin, the darkness hiding her blush, she dared. She dared to ask for it. 

“Can you- I mean, can I- ” Christen started, wondering how to best phrase this question, knowing she’d be doing the same thing Tobin had done the night before, the same crossing of lines. “Can you just hold me? I know that sounds weird and crazy but I’m kind of freaking out right now and talking isn’t going to fix it,” Christen rushed out, feeling her cheeks burn at the request. She held her breath, waiting for Tobin to respond.

“It doesn’t sound weird, Chris. Sometimes I just need to be close to you, too. It calms me down,” Tobin whispered, the darkness allowing her to speak more honestly than she would have during the day. 

“I think being close to you right now is the only thing that will help,” Christen admitted.  

“My bed or yours?” Tobin asked, her voice calm despite the explosion of butterflies in her chest. She needed to be calm for Christen. If she acted jittery or flustered, it would only make Christen’s nerves worse. 

“Yours is more comfortable than mine,” Christen said, already pushing the sheets away to get to her feet.

“Come on,” Tobin hummed, lifting the sheets and scooting into the middle of her bed. 

It shouldn’t have felt as easy as it did, to slide in next to Tobin and burrow close to her. To wrap her arm around Tobin’s back and feel Tobin’s head rest against her chest. But it did feel easy, and even more terrifying, it felt normal. 

Christen’s nerves immediately calmed just being close to Tobin, the soothing scents of pine and mint alleviating her fears. Tobin’s touch, her presence, her everything had this magical ability to banish Christen’s storm of worries, leaving behind a deep sense of peace. It was addicting, that feeling, and Christen knew she’d never be able to go back to a time without it. Just like with holding hands and hugging, this was going to become their new normal.

Tobin ran her fingers along Christen’s ribs, absentmindedly doodling and writing words against Christen’s t-shirt. She loved the way her body fit perfectly against Christen’s like they’d been sleeping like this all along, like touching each other just came naturally. Christen was warm and soft, and Tobin fell asleep faster when she was pressed up against her. 

“Is this okay?” Tobin asked, wanting to make sure that Christen was comfortable too. 

Christen could only hum in agreement, too blissed out and nearing sleep to form words. 

“I’m glad you’re my roommate,” Tobin whispered, her fingers twisting against Christen’s shirt. 

Christen knew a hum wouldn’t suffice this time, so she worked up as much energy as she could to give Tobin a reply.

“Me too, Tobs. I’m really happy.”

“I’ll let you sleep. Sweet dreams,” Tobin said softly, sinking deeper into Christen’s arms and letting her exhaustion overtake her. 

“Sweeter dreams,” Christen mumbled, her words heavy with sleep.

 

This morning, two days and two nights later, was only different from the other mornings because Tobin woke up with her hand under Christen’s shirt, pressed against her stomach. Christen was radiating warmth and making Tobin’s skin tingle. She quickly pulled her hand away, knowing that Christen would feel uncomfortable if she woke up with Tobin’s hand there. 

Instead, Tobin pulled her leg out from in between Christen’s, rolled onto her back, and crossed her arms across her chest. She couldn’t help but turn her head to the side and look at Christen’s profile. Her eyelids were softly closed, fluttering slightly with dreams. Her dark curls were wild across her pillow, a few strands laying across her forehead. Her lips were parted, letting out small puffs of breath. Tobin had a sudden urge to roll into Christen, to wrap her arm back around her, to kiss the smooth skin on her neck and her soft lips. 

But instead, Tobin pulled the sheets off of her legs, gently lifting herself out of bed and heading to the bathroom for a cold shower. She checked her phone on the way, the typical barrage of birthday text messages already awaiting her. 

The first, of course, was from Allie. 

 

[Harry 😜 7:16AM]

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HAAARRRYY!!!! 🎉🎉🎉 You’re finally legal and can drink without that shitty fake ID that no one actually believes is yours!

[Harry 😜 7:16AM]

Was I the first happy birthday of the day?

[Harry 😜 7:16AM]

Please tell me Pressy didn’t beat me. It isn’t fair if she did. She has a home-court advantage!

[Tobin 8:34AM]

Thanks, Harry 😊 Nope, you win. 

There were a few in her family group chat. 

 

[Mom 8:20AM]

Happy birthday, sweetie ❤️

[Dad 8:22AM]

WE LOVE YOU! Can’t wait to see you play next week!

[Perry 8:22 AM]

Happy birthday, Tobs! 🎂  

 

[Tobin 8:36AM]

Thanks, you guys! I love you! ❤️

[Jeffy 8:37 AM]

Happy birthday, Tobin!

🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈 (21 balloons for you!)  

[Katie 8:39AM]

We say happy birthday too!

[Katie 8:39AM]

ATTACHMENT

Tobin grinned at the picture of her baby nephew, wishing for a second that she could spend her birthday with her family. The best birthday she could imagine would be spent with her family and with Christen. 

 

[Tobin 8:40AM]

Baby Cole ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

[Tobin 8:40AM]

I’ll Facetime you guys later today after practice! 

 

Tobin left her phone on the bathroom counter, stepping into the shower, hoping that she could wash away the thoughts she’d had about Christen, the urges she’d woken up with, the tingling that still traveled along every inch of her skin. It wasn’t until she was completely soapy, her hair stringy and dripping down her back that she realized she’d forgotten a clean change of clothes. “Shit,” Tobin thought, rinsing off the rest of her body, trying to decide if it was worth the risk to tiptoe out of the bathroom and grab clothes or if she should just put on her pajamas from the night before. 

Once she’d turned the shower off and towel-dried, Tobin listened carefully for movement on the other side of the wall. There was nothing. Tobin unlocked the door and quietly peeked out, her heart melting again at the sight of Christen, curled up against the pillow that Tobin’s head had just been on. She held her towel tighter against her chest and stepped onto the carpeted hotel room floor, making her way toward her bag on the other side of the room. 

When she heard a quiet yawn from the bed, Tobin’s entire body froze.

“Dang it, you’re up,” Christen huffed groggily, sitting up in bed and rubbing at her eyes. Next came the overhead stretch and a long sigh, just like every other morning. “I wanted to bring you a special birthday breakfast, aka whatever sugary thing I could get from the vending machine.”

Christen finally forced her tired eyes open and nearly choked at what she saw. Tobin Heath, holding a very, very small towel around herself, with acres of toned and tanned skin visible. 

“Holy shit,”   Christen thought to herself, knowing she needed to look away, knowing she should get up and go to the bathroom to give Tobin some privacy. But she was completely transfixed by the droplets of water that dripped from Tobin’s hair carelessly flung over one shoulder, by the way the droplets fell and left wet trails in their wakes across her shoulders and her back and-

“I- uh-” Christen stuttered, her cheeks flushing. She finally had the self-awareness to realize that she needed to stop staring, so she dropped her eyes to her hands in her lap.

Tobin cleared her throat softly, unable to move, her eyes glued to the floor and her cheeks burning. “Run. Run back to the bathroom,” Tobin thought, her legs ignoring all of her instincts. 

“That’s okay. I don’t really do birthday celebrations. We can get coffee when we’re both dressed,” Tobin whispered, her voice cracking and making her blush an even darker shade of red. 

“Yeah- dressed. Clothes. We should get in those,” Christen stammered. She unsteadily got to her feet and shuffled toward the bathroom, shielding her eyes with her hand.

“Sorry,” Tobin choked out, finally bending forward to grab a random t-shirt and pair of shorts. 

“Can’t say that on your birthday,” Christen replied, keeping her eyes averted, hoping Tobin couldn’t see how beet red her face was turning. 

“Isn’t the rule that I can do whatever I want, since it’s my birthday though?” Tobin challenged, completely caught off guard by her sudden ability to talk, as though the knowledge that she was making Christen flustered was giving her courage. 

“I don’t know…” Christen chuckled, momentarily forgetting that Tobin was basically naked in her haste to respond. She lifted her head and looked over to Tobin’s corner of the room, immediately regretting it once she did. Tobin was bent at the waist, digging around in her suitcase. Without permission, Christen’s eyes jumped to the place where the towel was wrapped around Tobin’s chest. A bit of the towel had fallen away, leaving more visible than before. Christen caught sight of the swell of Tobin’s breasts, just a small amount of cleavage in the grand scheme of things, but enough to send heat shooting down her abdomen and send her spiraling. 

“Oh my actual god,” Christen thought, going into panic mode. Christen squeaked, slapped her hand over her eyes, and spun on her heel. She took half a step forward and walked right into the wall. 

“Oof,” Christen grumbled, her hand falling away from her eyes, her back turned on Tobin.

“Chris! You okay?” Tobin asked, her voice laced with concern. She took a few steps forward, forgetting that she really couldn’t do much to help while also holding a ridiculously small towel against her body. 

Christen held up a thumbs up over her shoulder and made her way to the bathroom, making sure not to turn around or look anywhere but the floor.

“I’m good,” Christen mumbled, finally getting into the bathroom. She closed the door and leaned against it, her head falling back. 

“Nice job. Great start to her birthday,” Christen whispered to herself, trying to get the image of a very wet, very attractive Tobin Heath out of her brain.

“You want coffee? I can run and get some,” Tobin called through the bathroom door, slipping on her shorts and a sports bra.

“Nope, I’m buying today!” Christen called through the door, hurrying to brush her teeth and wash her face. “You only turn 21 once!”

“It’s just a Friday, Chris,” Tobin mumbled, running her fingers through her wet hair. 

“To the rest of the world, maybe. But to us, it’s a day to celebrate you and I’m not letting your dislike of birthdays discourage me from doing so!” Christen replied.

Tobin might not like birthdays, but Christen loved them. She was ready to celebrate the shit out of Tobin today, even if it looked a little different than what she’d wanted to do. She’d had so many plans and ideas for Tobin’s birthday when she thought they were going to celebrate Tobin’s 21st birthday in L.A. She’d wanted to do a party at the beach with all of their friends, and finish the night with a double feature on a huge, inflatable screen near the water: The Mighty Ducks and She’s the Man . She’d been about to send out the invites when she and Tobin had gotten invites of their own for U-23 camp, dashing all of her plans. But she’d quickly put aside any feelings of disappointment. She’d only had two weeks to plan something new, but thankfully she had a great relationship with their coach for camp and thus could casually ask if one of their off days could be scheduled for May 29th. 

Christen’s hand hovered over the door handle once she’d finished her morning routine. “Are you- I mean, do you- can I come out?” she asked, not wanting to walk out and catch Tobin even more unclothed than she already had.

“I’m pretty sure you already came out. Didn’t you date a girl in like seventh grade?” Tobin teased, pulling the door open for Christen. 

“Regina doesn’t count! And I know it’s your birthday, but I won’t laugh at such a terrible joke,” Christen said, stepping past Tobin after sticking her tongue out playfully at her.

“Regina,” Tobin said, pronouncing the name as if it caused her physical pain. 

“She was so cool. First girl I knew who dyed her hair,” Christen said, heading for her suitcase and looking around for the one non-soccer outfit she’d packed, knowing she’d be putting it to good use today. She grabbed it, as well as some comfortable clothes to wear downstairs.

“What a keeper,” Tobin replied, her sarcasm evident. Tobin bent down to tie her sneakers, not loving that even Christen’s seventh-grade “sort of girlfriend” could make her jealous. 

“Her girlfriend of four years thinks so too,” Christen teased. She gently placed the clothes on the bed and turned to look at Tobin. 

Tobin brightened somewhat, her cheeks flushing. She sent a soft smile toward Christen, loving that Christen could read her enough to know exactly what she needed to hear. 

“It’s cute when you get jealous, your voice gets all deep,” Christen winked, hands falling to the hem of her shirt.

“I’m not jealous,” Tobin blurted out, her eyes nearly doubling in size. 

“Mhm, turn around. I gotta change,” Christen replied with a knowing smirk.

“I mean, you got to see me…” Tobin started to mumble, turning around anyway. “Why are you being so unfiltered,” Tobin thought, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. 

Christen’s brows rose high on her forehead. What a brazen comment, one she wasn’t at all expecting. She’d just assumed they would sweep that moment earlier under the rug, adding it to their long list of secret moments they never spoke about. But apparently not. 

“Wow, she turns 21 and now she’s too confident for her own good,” Christen quipped, changing quickly now that Tobin had her back to her. She threw on a t-shirt and shorts, knowing they were just going down to grab something from Cherry before coming back up to change. 

Tobin had no response. She was being too confident, and it would get her into trouble. “Coffee?” Tobin asked, listening for Christen to finish getting dressed. 

“Something like that. Come on, the day awaits!” Christen replied, looping her arm through Tobin’s and tugging her to the door.

“What do you mean, ‘something like that’?” Tobin asked, wary of any surprises Christen might have planned. 

Christen paused, turning to look back at Tobin as they reached the hotel room door.

“Okay, once we step out of here, I have like a bunch of places to go and things to do, but if you don’t want me to go crazy for your birthday, now is your chance to say something. I can have Coach Foudy rescind her ‘off-day’ decision…” Christen trailed off, a flicker of anxiety in her stomach for the first time since she made these plans.

“You asked for this off-day?” Tobin asked, her forehead scrunching in thought. 

“I know soccer is your favorite thing to do, but we can do that tomorrow. I thought an off-day would give us a chance to celebrate in style,” Christen shrugged, still waiting for Tobin to give her the green light for the day.

“How crazy are we talking about going for my birthday?” Tobin cringed, willing herself to let Christen have her fun. She wouldn’t be the one to take the smile off of Christen’s face. 

“We’re not bar hopping and getting matching tattoos if that’s what you’re asking,” Christen teased. “It’s a good crazy.”

“No singing?” Tobin checked. She’d always hated when people sang “Happy Birthday” to her and stared at her. She never knew what to do in those situations. 

Christen raised a brow in Tobin’s direction. “It’s like you think I don’t know you at all. No singing today, I promise.”

“Fine. Lead the way, Press,” Tobin sighed, knowing there was no way she could tell Christen no. 

Christen beamed, opening the hotel room door and pulling Tobin through it, their surprise-filled birthday celebration awaiting them. 

Even if it was an off-day, they still had team breakfast to make an appearance at. Christen had made everyone promise not to sing, but she couldn’t keep them from celebrating. 

“TOBINHO! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” Kristie cheered, jumping onto Tobin once they’d entered the breakfast area.  

“Thanks,” Tobin smiled, her cheeks blushing for what seemed like the hundredth time that morning. 

“Happy birthday, Tobin!” Morgan said, a little more subdued than Kristie but still wrapping her arms around both Kristie and Tobin. 

Christen slyly left Tobin's side, knowing Kristie and Morgan would keep Tobin distracted while she got the final piece of her plan set up. She approached Cherry with a smile.

“Goooood morning,” Christen said, sitting down opposite Cherry and hoping with everything inside of her that Cherry had worked a miracle.

Cherry reached into her pocket and pulled out a set of van keys. “Morning to you too. You didn’t get these from me, Pressy. Anyone asks? You found them. Now go have some fun today, you two deserve it.”

Christen blushed and took the keys, sliding them into the pocket of her shorts. “Thanks, Cherry. I owe you one.”

Christen returned to Tobin’s side right as Tobin was set to follow Kristie and Morgan to the buffet line. 

“Nope, no gross hotel food for you today,” Christen hummed, steering Tobin out of the breakfast area.

“But, bagels,” Tobin pointed at the day-old, plain bagels on the end of the buffet table, a small pout on her lips. 

“This will be better than those bagels,” Christen assured. “Go put on something you don’t mind falling down in. And bring a sweatshirt. No shorts, either.”

“Nothing’s better than bagels,” Tobin mumbled, walking out of the breakfast room. It wasn’t until she was halfway to the elevator that she really thought about what Christen had said. “Something I don’t mind falling down in?” she thought, her eyes squinting in thought. 

“Why am I falling?” Tobin asked, turning around to look at Christen, who was two steps behind her. 

“Falling is just a possibility where we’re going,” Christen replied. “Go change, I'll be up in a second.”

“I don’t like pain,” Tobin said, stepping onto the elevator and staring at Christen as the doors closed between them. 

“It doesn’t always hurt to fall,” Christen thought, deciding not to voice those very cheesy words. They’d been talking about a different kind of falling, but Christen couldn’t help it if her mind went in a different direction. She simply smiled at Tobin as the doors closed, waiting until the elevator started to climb before she ran to the front desk.

“Where can I get a good bagel in Portland?” she asked the concierge, her panicked voice and ridiculous question causing the young man to laugh.


“It’s not New Jersey, but damn,” Tobin groaned, halfway through her bagel. 

Christen sent up a silent prayer for the miracle worker that was the kind concierge at their hotel. He had sent her in the right direction. 

“So it’s good?” Christen wondered, smiling over the rim of her coffee cup at Tobin. They were in this hole-in-the-wall coffee and pastry shop in downtown Portland. It was pretty quiet and empty, allowing them some semblance of privacy at a table in the back corner. The coffee was to die for, and her yogurt parfait had been good too, but she had really driven them here for the bagels.

“Oh my god, Chris,” Tobin mumbled, her mouth semi-full of bagel again. “Here, take a bite.” 

Christen wrinkled her nose and leaned back in her chair. “Uh, I’m good, thanks though.”

“But, it’s my birthday,” Tobin pouted, the rest of her bagel still in her outstretched hand. 

Christen narrowed her eyes at Tobin, unable not to smile a bit. She just looked so darn cute in her ripped blue jeans and black and white striped shirt, with a bit of cream cheese in the corner of her mouth and happiness in her eyes. She was powerless to resist  Tobin’s request, especially today.

“Fine, but I’m not a big bagel person,” Christen warned, leaning forward to nibble off a small bite.

“You just haven’t had the right bagel,” Tobin hummed, taking a bite from where Christen had just tasted the bagel and trying not to think about Christen’s lips when she did. 

Christen couldn’t deny that it was good. It was a damn good bagel. But it wasn’t nearly as good as watching Tobin go out of her way to take her next bite of bagel from the same spot she had taken her bite from moments ago. 

“You love it, right?” Tobin asked, her eyes wide and expectant. 

Christen feigned hesitance for a moment, before shooting a beaming grin at Tobin. “It was pretty yummy,” Christen replied.

“You can have another bite if you want,” Tobin offered, a huge smile on her face. 

Christen had a feeling she wouldn’t be able to deny anything Tobin asked of her today, maybe ever. She rose from her chair and leaned across the table, taking a bigger bite of the bagel, feeling a bit of cream cheese catch on her bottom lip. 

Without thought, Tobin reached forward and moved her thumb across Christen’s bottom lip, slipping her thumb in her mouth immediately after. It had been an impulse, a knee-jerk reaction, and Tobin was mortified. Her cheeks burned a dark shade of red, and a lump formed in her throat. “I’m sorry,” was at the tip of Tobin’s tongue, but her throat was too dry to even speak. Instead, she just watched for Christen’s reaction, waiting to gauge how big of a mistake she’d made. 

Christen’s eyes widened, her breath caught somewhere in her throat. Even when they weren’t trying to, even when they were in the most normal of circumstances, they always found a way back to the edge. Here they were again, about to plunge headfirst into the growing desire and attraction between them, in the middle of a coffee shop. It took all of Christen’s self-control not to lean forward and capture Tobin’s lips with her own. 

“I, uh-,” Christen cleared her throat. “We should get going, there are a few more surprises to get to.” 

“What’s next?” Tobin whispered, her voice still lost somewhere in her chest. 

Christen simply stood up and held out her hand. “Let’s go find out,” she hummed with a smile. 

Christen dropped Tobin’s hand the moment they got back to the van. She hopped into the driver’s side and forced herself to take a few deep breaths. She couldn’t let herself get distracted, today was Tobin’s day, not the day to give in to her deepest desires.

They sat in tense silence for a few minutes while Christen drove, neither one knowing what to say. The only sound in the team van Christen had borrowed from Cherry for the day was the static-y radio playing some old rock station.

Tobin sucked in a deep breath, wanting to reach across the console and hold Christen’s hand, wanting to make her comfortable. 

“Hey, Chris?” Tobin started, turning in her seat to look at Christen’s profile. 

“Hey, Tobs,” Christen replied, her eyes on the road.

“Fun fact, this is the best start to a birthday I’ve ever had,” Tobin said, hoping to make Christen smile. 

“Even better than the NASA one?” Christen wondered, shooting a small half-smile at Tobin.

“I already told you that the NASA one was cool, but you weren’t there so it’ll never add up,” Tobin reminded her. 

Christen hummed, focusing back on the road. “I hope I can keep it up then, this next surprise is a bit of a gamble.”

“How so?” Tobin asked, quirking her head to the side. 

Christen parked the car at their destination and gestured out the windshield. “See for yourself.”

Tobin looked out the windshield, leaning forward slightly to read the sign on the huge building: All-Stars Hockey Rink. 

“What are we doing here?” Tobin