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when i taste tequila (baby i still see ya)

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The yawn heard around the world.

Or, at least that’s how tired Tobin felt when she woke up the next morning.

It’s not that she didn’t get a solid night’s sleep. Because she did.

In fact, Tobin got a whopping 7 hours, which was far more than the five to five-and-a-half she got most nights.

Unfortunately, it was one of those mornings where she just woke up in the wrong part of the sleep cycle, and despite the full night’s sleep, she just can’t seem to keep her eyes open this morning.

And, well, it’s 8 a.m. now, and she has an hour to fix that fact before her final exam becomes not just a metaphorical snooze fest, but a literal snoozefest.

It takes all the willpower in the universe to shove herself out of the sleeping bag on the floor next to Kelley’s twin size bed and drag herself to the bathroom.

Step Zero of Operation wake-the-fuck-up was the obvious precursor to her morning routine every single day:

 

8:06 a.m. Tobs: g’morning pretty girl

 

Once that is done, and she’s brushed her teeth and gathered her belongings, she’s onto the actual Step One -- coffee.

Slinging her backpack over her shoulders, she tiptoes out of Kelley’s room in the back of the house. She slips her iphone out of her pocket, smiling to herself when there’s already a message on her screen.

 

8:07 a.m. Chris: g’morning ugly girl

 

She quickly sends back the *rolling eyes* emoji to the mockery of her text. Because she knows for sure the girl likes the texts first thing every morning. Drunk Christen had admitted as much just a few weeks ago.

She’s making her way down the hallways to the kitchen after shoving her phone in her pocket once again, and straight to the Keurig in the corner. The house is completely silent, the only things audible to Tobin are the sound of the wood creaking beneath her bare feet and her lungs inhaling and exhaling air. It’s mesmerizing, hypnotizing almost, the steady beat of her breathing. Akin to a metronome that is providing a calming aura that contrasts the high levels of stress bubbling up within her this particular Sunday morning.

Until something startles her amidst the silence.

“We’re out of K-cups,” a voice suddenly mumbles loudly from behind her.

Whipping her head around, she sees Jackie sitting at the kitchen table, head resting in her arms that are splayed out flat on the table. A large black trash bin comes into view next to her feet.

Jackie would be hungover as fuck on the last day of Finals, Tobin thinks to herself with a small and slightly patronizing, but nonetheless joking smile.

Tobin just opens the cabinet above the keurig machine, seeing they were indeed out of K-Cups, and instead pulls out two large water glasses and two large bowls, before moving one cabinet down to grab some cereal off of the top shelf, where Kelley keeps her alarmingly large cereal collection.

Jackie groans at the redundant, crinkling sound of cheerios hitting the glass bowl.

Tobin pours some milk in her own disposable bowl, but leaves Jackie’s as plain cheerios, before filling the water glasses up and marching everything carefully over to the table. She places the plain cheerios and water glass in front of Jackie, before placing a hand tentatively on her back.

“Hey buddy, how long you been awake?”

Jackie’s head doesn’t even budge an inch from being buried in her arms as she responds with a painfully hoarse voice that just makes sense after she drunkenly tried to serenade half the team last night with Mamma Mia songs. “A few hours. I don’t think I’ve ever been this hungover. But also I think I’m still drunk. Does that make sense to you?”

Tobin just chuckles in response, moving her hand up and down her ill friend’s back soothingly, using her other hand to chug her own glass of water.

She read somewhere that drinking water helps stimulate the brain, or something along those lines. Now she’s superstitious about chugging water before exams. Whether it’s true or not, at least she’s hydrated.

“Why are you laughing at me?” Jackie whines.

Tobin stills her hand on Jackie’s central back as she places her glass on the table, before moving both the other water and glass bowl of cheerios toward her friend, and coaxing her to an upright sitting position.

The kitchen has sliding doors that extend to the patio, which allows a ton of natural light into the house. On a normal day, it’s great. On a hungover day, not so much.

Reaching her hand out, she’s able to grab Kelley’s sunglasses off of the kitchen counter and slide them slowly onto Jackie’s face, allowing the girl to finally open her eyes. When she sees the girl obviously look around, she gives the convincing another go.

“Okay eat this,” Tobin points at the bowl, “and drink this.”

“I can’t,” Jackie groans.

“You’ll feel better if you do,” she encourages.

“TooooBIN,” she groans again through her teeth in partial annoyance. “Go away.”

Tobin looks down at her watch.

 

8:20 a.m.

 

“I’m trying to but you're a stubborn pain in my—.”

“—fine, fine” Jackie cuts her off. After a long pause, `she starts to drink slowly from the cup, which quickly turns into barbaric gulps. Just a few moments later, the entire glass is empty, and Jackie is sucking in a deep breath.

Tobin quirks an eyebrow at her friend.

“Shut up,” Jackie replies with a smile.

“Okay, seems like my job is done. So I need to go buy coffee before my exam, so I’m gonna head out,” Tobin responds as she points over her shoulder toward the door with her thumb. She grabs Jackie’s head in both of her hands and leans down to give her a friendly kiss on the back of the head. “Have a safe trip home Jax.”

“Bye dude, good luck on orgo,” she replies. “Text me after your date!”

“Will do!” Tobin shouts from the other room, prompting Jackie to groan loudly at Tobin’s sudden increase in volume, which just makes Tobin laugh harder.

She flicks her black longboard up to her hands before exiting the door of the soccer house, locking it behind her and tossing the key back in the lantern light a few feet down from the front door.

When she steps off of the porch, Tobin turns around for a moment. She stops, just looking at the house one last time, thinking about all the crazy shit that went down there this semester.

It’s one of those bittersweet moments.

Because she had transferred from Stanford partially to get away from all the hurt. And now here she is, remembering the different kind of hurt she had walked into at UNC — arguably, worse hurt than before.

But at the same time, she was far happier in this moment than she could ever remember being while back in California.

It’s a rare thing, really — to vibe with someone as fast and as hard as she had with Christen, to actually feel like you belong somewhere. Especially when that somewhere is a someone.

The whole thing just hurt so good. Masochism in the best possible light.

Shaking herself out of her temporary fugue, she tosses her board down on the ground in front of her and pushes off.

A few minutes later, she’s crossing the street onto campus, munching her bowl of cereal as she rolls down the quiet sidewalks, still deep in her thoughts as she begins to pass some people still lingering on campus. Tobin waves and shouts “hey” to a couple of familiar faces on the way to the student center.

Seeing that it’s the last day of finals, campus is eerily quiet, with most students having already left for winter break. She’s just praying she read the hours right and that the coffee shop is indeed open until noon today before shutting down for winter break.

Rolling up to the long brick building, she’s shivering a little bit as the wind whooses by her. The sun was out this morning, but it wasn’t yet that midday type of sun that glows you warm. It felt distant and cold — much like Tobin’s perception of eight in the goddamn morning.

She’s mentally knocking on wood as she walks through the sliding glass doors, praying the shop is open. It’s 8:34 a.m. at this point, and she knows she’d honestly really be pushing it if she had to run to the dining hall to get their brown water they somehow call coffee, and still make it to the exam early.

Plus, at that point, she wouldn’t even get the caffeine kick in time. Instead, she would just need to pee during the test, and that alone is as much of a nuisance as actually rushing to go get the coffee from the dining hall in the first place.

As she turns the corner, she’s thankfully met with a lively coffee shop, open and ready for business. Given that it’s still before 9 a.m. on Finals Week, there’s also virtually no line.

It feels like a win, and Tobin’s just hoping the luck lasts another hour or two so she can get through this exam somewhat put together.

For the fifteen minutes after she grabs her drip coffee, Tobin settles in the corner of the student-center, just flipping through her notes one last time, mirroring all the anxious souls that had accumulated around her doing the same thing.

However, Tobin knows she’s already ready, knows she focused most of her studying this week on this test in particular. As she’s walking over to the lecture hall at 8:50 a.m., she has ‘Remember the Name (feat. Styles of Beyond)’ by Fort Minor blasting in her ears, and she’s just jamming to the fact that this pure devil of a class is about to be over for good.

You studied for this. Just show them what you know, she thinks to herself as she strolls slowly into the lecture hall a few minutes before the start time.

Turning to the left, she sees most of her peers are already seated, and they all have the same, terrified but anxious look on their faces. Everyone is spaced two seats apart, per the freakishly strict final exam rules for big weedout classes like this at UNC. Another one of these rules is that they all have to leave their backpacks at the front of the room during the exam, behind the proctor’s desk, which is kinda a pain in the butt.

So Tobin walks to the other end of the room, chucking her now-empty coffee cup and cereal bowl in the trash on the way, and drops her bag in the corner so it would be easy to find. One would be surprised how many of the 250 kids in this class have a plain black North Face backpack identical to Tobin’s.

Reaching down, she powers down her iphone, subsequently pulling out her calculator, spare calculator, and three pencils. She’s about to stand back up when she realizes she could get thirsty… or need some of that hydration brain power she has decided to put faith in.

When she hooks her finger under the strap of her green nalgene water bottle and lifts up, she smiles as she sees the box of Necco candy hearts from Christen’s candy poster that she had been slowly eating all week out of her backpack, even though they’re kind of stale at this point.

In college, a stale snack is always a godsend over no snack. It’s the availability heuristic at its finest.

As she’s squatting next to her bag, she turns her head over her shoulder quickly, looking for her person amongst the crowd.

There’s 250 people in the room, but it only takes Tobin about four seconds to locate Christen in the audience. The lecture hall is split into three sections of seating, with two aisles running between them. She’s sitting at the end of a middle-section row about halfway back in the auditorium, chewing on a pencil, spacing out with her eyes toward the door on the opposite side of the room from Tobin. And Tobin doesn’t even need to see her bottom half to know Christen’s leg is tapping incessantly on the floor.

The girl is frowning so hard she looks like she’s about to burst into tears.

Turning back around, Tobin fishes in the box of Necco candy hearts until she finds the one she wants -- the pink one with red font reading: Smile.

As she starts pushing up the steps that pass right by Christen’s row, the girl’s gaze does not falter. That is, until Tobin slips the candy heart into Christen’s hand that is resting on the arm of the chair adjacent to the staircase. Tobin doesn’t stop walking, continuing until she finds an empty end seat in the section over from Christen, just a few rows behind her.

Sitting down, she pulls out the little table from underneath the seat and places her belongings down on the desk before she finally looks up, her gaze immediately met by green eyes when she does so.

Only now they’re fully smiling back at her, and Tobin can’t help the smile that emerges on her own face.

The girl mouths ”Good Luck” in her direction as she pops the candy in her mouth. But then Tobin sees her smile fade into the most disgusted facial expression upon chewing the very over-stale candy, which the girl follows up with a cough and a middle finger thrown in Tobin’s direction.

The teaching assistants are just about finished handing out exams at this point, and Tobin doesn’t break eye contact when she picks up her blank exam copy from the box, chuckling a little at Christen’s reaction.

She doesn’t break eye contact until after she gives Christen the ‘hang loose’ hand signal, which elicits another teasing middle finger from her girlfriend.

Not until the professor announces “You may begin” on the loudspeaker in the lecture hall does she look away, push all thoughts unrelated to organic chemistry out of her mind, and flip over the exam’s title page to begin.

Here goes nothing, she thinks to herself.

 

________________________________________________

 

“What living shit was question 3? I swear I’ve never seen that reaction in my life,” Christen says, deep in conversation with her lab partner whilst standing over Tobin, who is on the ground putting stuff in her backpack after the two hour exam had finally come to a close.

It had been about five minutes on the floor now -- purposefully so. While her girlfriend was one to hash out over every single piece of the exam with others after the fact, Tobin thought of exams as more of a “one and done” situation — the moment time’s up, she’s done thinking about this exam until whenever she gets it back, since she usually finds people’s opinions worry her more than comfort her.

For Christen, it’s the opposite. But the girl is also a worrier by nature, so she supposes this habit is on-brand.

For that reason, Tobin is taking her sweet time on the ground, trying to figure out more ways to stall until this conversation above her is over, so she doesn’t have to join in on it.

First she reorganizes the items in the front pocket of her backpocket, then repositions her three textbooks she’s carrying around — yes, her back is about to fall off in pain — in alphabetical order.

I’m kinda hungry, Tobin thinks, before grabbing a few candy hearts from the box.

She’s about to put them in her mouth when she feels a hand on her shoulder, prompting her to turn her head around and up to look at Christen.

“You alright, T?”

Tobin sees the guy that Christen was talking to is not even in the room anymore.

Oops.

“Yeah, sorry let’s go,” she replies as she stands up, throws her backpack over her shoulders, and starts walking toward the lecture hall door on the other side of the room.

So maybe she’s acting a little weirder than her normal post-test stall. Three words are sitting on the tip of her tongue, and they get a little closer to coming out with every glance into those green eyes.

And she meant it, of course she meant it. But with the history she and Christen have, it’s hard sometimes for Tobin to change her expectations of current-Christen from how the girl used to act. From how she used to run at the first sign of feelings, from how she’d push Tobin away just when she thought they were starting something.

Things had changed. Christen’s effort in the wake of everything that happened was practically palpable. Nonetheless, being vulnerable in that setting is terrifying.

But she’s getting used to it slowly, and she has a fun few days planned for them, hoping that spending enough time with Christen will start to calm the nerves she only seems to develop around this one, singular girl.

She’s barely made it ten steps out of the lecture hall when she feels a cold hand slide into her own and tug her to stop her walking and force her to spin around.

Christen intertwines her fingers with Tobin’s, looking into her eyes, raising both eyebrows -- asking a question without actually asking a question. Because they read each other that well, and Tobin knew what Christen was saying without actually needing her to say it.

She looks down for a few moments, tearing her eyes away and sighing, but not letting their hands go.

Instead of answering, she fishes in her pocket for those few candy hearts she was about to eat a few minutes ago, pulling out the yellow one, flipping it in her hand a few times until she sees that it says Kiss Me, before finally handing it to Christen.

The girl finally drags her eyes away from Tobin down to the candy heart now in her own hand, rolling her eyes immediately when she reads it.

“Why is it that we can only talk with candy?” she teases Tobin, turning the candy over in her hand a few times, and stepping forward to slide the stale candy back into Tobin’s front pocket and presses their lips together sweetly once.

When she feels Christen pulling away after just a second, Tobin chases her lips, deepening the kiss just a little beyond what was appropriate in public — but it’s post-finals, who really cares. The action causes a small hum to emerge from her girlfriend.

She slowly tucks a piece of hair behind Christen’s ear, framing her face with her hands, feeling Christen’s hands fisting the sides of her t-shirt tightly. She takes the moment to convey everything she had censored while dealing with the stress of the semester that is now something of the past. Takes a moment to convey all the things she hadn’t said just yet.

They finally pull apart, both smiling, and start walking toward town together.

“I think the Heath in my name requires it,” Tobin wits back at her.

“Ah, sweet like candy,” Christen nods, finally looking up at Tobin. “I think that’s up for debate.”

Tobin feigns offense for a moment. “Should I be offended, Christen Press?”
Christen just shrugs, prompting Tobin to punch the girl’s arm with their intertwined hands.

They settle into a silence for a few minutes, just enjoying each other’s company for a little bit, before Christen brakes the pattern, lifting their intertwined hands up to her lips and placing a kiss on the back of Tobin’s hand.

“Me too,” she finally says quietly, staring ahead.

And Tobin can’t stop the corners of her mouth from curling upwards into a smile.

 

________________________________________________

 

“Dude, look at that woman dressed like a pumpkin,” Tobin laughs out before taking a sip of her cold brew.

“I think she’s literally wearing a jack-o-lantern shirt,” Ali responds, leaning forward and squinting her eyes to try to make out the pattern of the shirt the lady walking on the other side of the street was wearing.

“Loving the halloween spirit,” Tobin hums, prompting Kelley to nod her head enthusiastically — it’s her favorite holiday.

The three of them — Kelley, Ali, and Tobin — had been sitting for a few hours at the table of the Bean that was up against the front window that looked out over the entire college-town street, which in it of itself was lined with benches, a small garden/park area, and a myriad of shops.

It was the perfect people-watching spot. And post-finals, all three of them were so braindead that people-watching sounded like a completely thrilling activity for this afternoon.

“Is that Ash, with Chris?” Kelley asks dreamily as if she was thinking out loud while munching into her muffin.

Tobin turns her head from where her fingers were playing with the lid of her coffee cup, to see just that — Ashlyn and Christen walking peacefully down the street together.

A relieved sigh is let out before she can stop it, and she can see Ali smiling out of the corner of her eye. She knew they were planning to talk too.

“Wait, is that why both of you wanted to meet here and not at the house?” Kelley asks, with a purpose this time.

Tobin and Ali look at each other for a moment, having a conversation with their eyes, but neither one of them responds right away.

Instead, Kelley responds to her own question.

“Why am I always the last person to know anything?” she continues in a whiney plea.

“Because Tobin and I were both planning to spy on them. Technically, you just crashed our spy session,” Ali says with a sly smile.

Tobin nods in agreement, sharing the same facial expression as Ali as she redirects her attention back out the window, watching as Christen and Ashlyn disappear into a salad restaurant across the street.

Kelley looks between the two of them expectantly for a few moments before finally getting impatient, clearing her throat to get both of their attention. “Okay then, Bonnie & Clyde, are either one of you gonna fill me in or what?”

Tobin points out the window in the direction of the salad restaurant across the street, looking back at Kelley. “They’re about to speak for like the first time since October.”

“We’re trying to see if it goes well or up in flames. $10 pot if you want in?” Ali responds while looking longingly out the window in the direction of Tobin’s finger. “I think Chris is gonna put Ash in her place in some way, Tob thinks they’re gonna vibe.”

“Oh you know I want in. Put me in $5 for goes well,” Kelley exclaims.

“Optimistic, we love to see it,” Ali smiles. “Anyway, what’re you guys up to after this?”

Tobin puts down the croissant she had treated herself to in celebration of finishing her orgo final, wiping her mouth with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. “Back to the dorms to pack our shit, then finally gonna take Chris out —”

“You guys haven’t gone out yet?” Kelley cuts her off, watching as Tobin shakes her head nervously. She’s still getting used to the fact that Kelley seemed to do a complete 180 and actually want to know about her thing with Christen. “You guys are impossible. Where are you off to for break, you nomad?”

“We’ve just been so busy,” Tobin complains right away. But she takes a second before answering the second half of the question. Because absent from her best friend’s knowledge is the fact that they were probably going to see each other the following week.

Alex had been trying to casually convince Kelley to come to California to visit the week after Christmas, which is exactly where Tobin was already planning to be.

Now, her two best friends weren’t officially a thing or anything. But Tobin had sat in on some group facetimes in which the tension was so freaking thick you could cut it with a knife. Before this, she honestly didn’t even know people could possibly make heated eye contact through a facetime call. So it’s kinda like her fun little side project now -- getting them in the same place again, that is.

Part of the reason Tobin had let Kelley crash this spy lunch was that she and Alex had been trying to figure out if she was leaning toward going to California or not.

“Before I visit you in January?” Tobin adds on. “Ummm, Jersey and maybe to visit another friend or two. Not sure, honestly. I don’t tend to plan far in advance, you know this.”

“Truth,” Ali laughs along in affirmation with wide eyes, having learned this about Tobin over the course of the semester. “Well I’m going to stay with Ash in Florida for break. We’re leaving right after they finish their thing,” she motions toward the other side of the street again.

They both look over to Kelley expectantly.

“Peach country,” Kelley replies with her mouth full, before coughing a little. “Sorry,” she says sheepishly. “Then out to California, I think.”

Bingo.

“You think?” Tobin pushes.

A reluctant smile breaks out on Kelley’s face, as she looks away from the two on the other side of the table to speak in a barely comprehensible mumble. “Yeah, to visit Alex.”

“Ayeeee,” Ali calls out, reaching her hand across the table to fist bump Kelley. “I’m happy for you dude. When did y’all start dating?”

“We’re not dating,” Kelley responds immediately. “We’re like, friend-adjacent.”

“Sure,” Ali replies with an eye roll.

Meanwhile, Tobin is looking down at the phone in her lap.

 

12:17 p.m. T: she’s coming

12:18 p.m. Al: ugh bless you and your spying lol

 

Before she looks back up, she hears Kelley purposefully change the subject, and she doesn’t even need to look at her friend’s face to know she’s blushing.

This is gonna be too much fun.

 

_______________________________________________

 

An hour later, after some sad goodbyes that took a little longer than anticipated, Tobin is frantically rushing around the room. Christen is still out with some people, so she has a little bit of extra time, luckily. She’s almost done packing both her stuff and Christen’s stuff, trying to be prepared in time for the surprise date she had planned.

Just after she finishes zipping Christen’s suitcase with a huff, she hears the key lock turn and the door open.

“The end of the semester is like simultaneously the best and worst feeling. Like the completely empty campus and knowing that we’re going home is such a vibe, but also everyone is leaving, and get this, Ashlyn apologized ….” she trails off mid-sentence as she finally looks up from her phone and sees all of things packed. “Did I get expelled or something?”

“Nope,” Tobin hums. “We’re leaving. I just have to load the last of the stuff into your car.”

Christen’s facial expression is unchanging from utterly confused. “Are we not going out anymore?”

It stays that way for a few more seconds, before Tobin sees the realization take over her face and Christen gasps, looking into Tobin’s eyes with a question.

Tobin nods, a smile creeping onto her face.

“NO…” Christen starts as she starts stepping toward Tobin slowly.

“Mhm,” Tobin lets out excitedly. “We’re driving back to Cali, surprise.”

She quickens her pace, falling into Tobin’s arms with a smile stretching across her entire as her arms wrap around Tobin’s neck. And Tobin thinks all she wants to do is make this girl smile just like that again.

“I can’t believe you remembered this,” Christen laughs.

“Course, you literally almost fell off the roof when you announced it,” Tobin hums as she tightens her grip around the girl’s waist, just breathing her in for a moment.

And Tobin thinks back to the first day she got a glimpse inside Christen’s head.

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

She’d just counted the ceiling tiles for the fourth time, when she’s drawn from her new, sudden interest in the intricacies of library ceilings by her best friend’s voice.

“Dude, you’re so distracted it’s distracting,” Kelley hums as she removes an ear bud.

“Sorry,” Tobin frowns, before raising her hands over her head and leaning back in her chair to stretch, which quickly turns into her flying full-force backwards and thwacking against the flood with a thud.

Sigh.

Her eyes are closed, and she doesn’t need to open them again to know most of the heads on the first floor of the library were looking her way.

“Wow, we meet like this again,” she hears from above her, finally opening her eyes to see a long, tattooed arm held above her head.

She reaches up to take Ashlyn’s extended arm, allowing herself to be pulled to a standing position.

“Deja vu, dude,” Tobin comments as she reaches down to pick up her chair to an upright position.

Ashlyn puts her stuff down on top of the other side of the large table and plops down in the chair. “Tumble T reigns supreme,” she laughs.

“You can say that again,” Kelley says, already having gone back to work studying for her sociology midterm.

Tobin rubs her head for a moment, seeing Ashlyn unpacking her laptop and textbook out of the corner of her eye. Reaching for her phone, she turns it over to see the time.

 

9:02 p.m.

 

Her eyes dropped to the notification right below it, a text from Morgan, another member of the soccer house she had become closer with, after always paired together for midfielder drills during practice.

 

8:45 p.m. Morgan B: wanna go get free boba in student center, they’re giving it out til 10

 

None of her other friends liked boba, so trying out the very limited boba options in Chapel Hill had become their thing. She used to complain to Kelley about her not coming along, but now she’s honestly just happy to have made another friend, even if it was mildly awkward at first.

 

9:04 p.m. Tobin Heath: duh, where are you

9:04 p.m. Morgan B: Halfway there lol where are you

9:04 p.m. Tobin Heath: in the library, I can meet you at bench between library and the northside of student center?

9:05 p.m. Morgan B: yesss see you in 5

 

“T-squared?” she hears from her right.

“Hmm what, sorry?” she looks up at Ashlyn.

“You’re good,” she chuckles. “I asked what do you have this week? I have two papers due tomorrow.”

“Oh,” Tobin pushes her chair back and stands up. “I have a very large Orgo problem set due on Friday that I will not be avoiding to go get boba with Morgan.”

“Ew,” she hears Kelley cough out as she is still furiously writing in her notebook, not even looking up.

Tobin rolls her eyes and grabs her student ID, phone, and wallet off of the table, leaving the rest of her stuff splayed out on the table.

“Aight,” Ashlyn fists bumps Tobin, “Can you possibly get me a Red Bull while you’re in the student center, I’ll venmo you.”

“Yeah, I got you,” she calls out over her shoulder as she begins pacing toward the exit.

Stepping outside, she’s engulfed by the warm hug of a humid September night. Both comforting and disgusting all at once.

She takes the short walk over to the bench and lays down on her back, holding her phone over her head, just scrolling through her texts and answering a few people she had left waiting for way too long, as she now waits for Morgan.

“Yo, boba tiiiime,” Morgan finally calls out from behind her a few minutes later, before running and jumping up to stand on the bench by Tobin’s feet.

“Ughhh,” Tobin groans loudly, shutting her phone off.

“Damn, who peed in your cheerios?” Morgan asks, jumping off the other side of the bench and reading her hand out toward Tobin.

She takes it and pulls herself to a standing position. “I’ve been studying all day, I’m just exhausted and stressed.”

“I feel you,” Morgan agrees as they start walking in the direction of the student center. “I’ve been held up in the science building all day trying to get my chemistry lab to work.”

“Oh my god are you in Dr. Sundhage’s chem lab?”

“Yeah,” she nods despondently.

“I have heard horror stories bro,” Tobin accentuates with a firm hand gesture. “I’m just glad I took a lab back at Stanford.”

“You’re so lucky,” Morgan hums. “Plus the soccer house is so loud I can’t get anything done there.”

“Are people actually ever productive there?” she replies skeptically.

Morgan laughs at her question.“You’d be surprised.”

She raises an eyebrow in response.

“Hey, at least I have my own room,” she pokes Tobin in the arm.

“Oh so do I,” Tobin immediately returns.

Morgan furrows her brows, before turning away to grab the door handle and pull it open. “What do you mean, aren’t you rooming with Christen?”

“Thanks,” Tobin says to Morgan as she walks through the door the girl is holding open. She waits a moment for Morgan to catch up. “Yeah but I’ve literally seen her like four times max.”

“Per week?”

“In total.”

“So she really lives at his place, huh?” Morgan says dreamily, almost as if she’s talking to herself.

“Uh, yeah I guess so. The boyfriend… he’s on the football team right?”

“Yup,” Morgan laughs. “You literally never see one without the other.”

Tobin tries to laugh along, but a familiar pit settles deep in her stomach at her friend’s response.

“I’m starting to see she’s one of those types of people.”

“Okay, no she’s not like that bitch. They’re just best friends.”

“Isn’t that what they all say?”

Morgan rolls her eyes in response. “Have you talked to her much? I actually feel like you guys would vibe.”

“Don’t look at me like that,” she points at Morgan’s face. “I’ve tried, she’s kinda hot and cold though. I can’t get a read on her.”

Morgan laughs deprecatingly. “No one can.”

They stop for a moment, looking around them in a 360, trying to determine where exactly they were trying to go.

“There,” Tobin points toward a line at one end of the hallway behind them. After glancing that way too, Morgan nods, and they start walking in the other direction.

As they walk up, Tobin sees the extreme longevity of this line. She grabs onto Morgan’s shoulder, prompting her friend to turn around.

“Hmm?”

“Are you good if I go buy Ash a Red Bull while you wait in line?”

“Yeah, course! I can facetime the boyfriend, I’ve been meaning to,” Morgan hums happily.

“Ooh, tell him I say hi,” Tobin replies, taking a step back. “I’ll be back.”

She turns around and starts walking, hearing a “I’ll just text you when I get close, take your time!” from her friend. She throws a thumbs up over her shoulder.

As Tobin paces toward the other end of the hallway, toward where their late night food shop is located in the student center, her mind wanders to the conversation she just had about her roommate.

It’s true, she’d only seen the girl a handful of times since they hungout at the soccer house during the preseason party. Since they spent hours together talking. Since she got a first glimpse into the enigma that is Christen Press.

Since then, she couldn’t get the girl out of her mind.

What she didn’t tell Morgan is that only one of those four times was in her dorm room. The other three were actually in the soccer house, when she would run into Christen sneaking out of Kelley’s room in the middle of the night, or in the kitchen.

They’d talk sometimes -- the girl would laugh, and talk about her life, and brush her hand along Tobin’s. Other times Christen would just stare into her eyes for a few moments before continuing right past her as if she wasn’t even there.

It’s true. She could never get a read on her. One thing she did know for sure is that this girl is enticing in a way no one she had ever met before was.

Coming out of her daydream, she whips out her phone to finish sending the text to Alex that she had half-typed out on the bench when Morgan showed up.

She’s reading the kind of lengthy text through one more time, when she walks into an arm in front of her, her head shooting up as she stumbles backward a step.

Speak of the devil, there in front of her is Christen Press, back leaning up against the wall adjacent to the doorway, arm stretched out across it, blocking the door Tobin just almost rammed into.

“Watch where you’re going Heath,” she smiles, looking intently at Tobin and quirking her head to the side a bit.

Tobin looks back at the girl just as intently, curious to her first sighting of the girl outside of anything soccer related — practice or house. “Seems like you got that covered for me,” she smirks in response.

Christen looks away with a smile and half an eye roll. “Whatever. Where you rushing off to?”

“Why?” Tobin questions her, still standing in front of the doorway, genuinely wondering where she’s going with this.

The girl shrugs in response, but she’s still looking at Tobin so intensely that she feels pressured to respond.

“Uh, going to buy a Red Bull,” she says, pointing to the food stand to her left that she almost walked by.

“I have some.”

Tobin nods slowly, “good for you?”

“No,” Christen laughs, and once again Tobin is somehow already addicted to that sound. “I can get you one so you don’t have to buy one, is what I meant.”

“Oh, you don’t have to,” Tobin raises her hand toward Christen.

“I know I don’t,” she smiles. “Come upstairs.”

Upstairs?

She only has a second to stare at the girl questioningly before a guy comes up before her, saying “excuse me” and forcing Tobin to move from the doorway toward Christen, close enough that the girl can grab her forearm and begin pulling her down a hallway on the other side of the student center she had never been down before.

They go through a pale yellow door and down a dimly lit hallway, and Christen finally lets go of her arm when they come up upon a sketchy looking black metal staircase at the other end of the hallway.

Christen starts immediately ascending the stairs, only pausing when she realizes Tobin hasn’t moved from the ground.

“You coming?”

Tobin just stares at her for a moment, wondering how she can feel like she knows someone so well and not at all, all at the same time.

“Jeez Tobin, take a breath. I’m not about to jump you or something. My stuff’s up there,” she points up the stairs behind her.

“Yeah, yeah okay,” Tobin smiles sheepishly and rubs the back of her neck for a moment before beginning to follow the girl up the stairs.
Making it to the stop of the stairs, Christen holds the door open for her to pass through, and Tobin walks out in front of her onto what appears to be the roof of the Student Center.

“Are we allowed up here?” Tobin asks, turning her head as Christen walks up next to her and stops for a second.

She looks over at Tobin. “Does it matter?”

“No,” she chuckles. “Guess I didn’t pin you for the breaking the rules type.”

“Oh yeah?” the girl responds with a smirk, looking straight into Tobin’s eyes as she asks, “What did you pin me as then?”

“Haven’t gotten a good read on you yet,” Tobin hums. “Anyone ever told you you’re kinda mysterious?”

Christen shrugs with a small smile, before turning to walk toward what appears to be her stuff spread out on a blanket on the other corner of the roof. “Ambiguity’s my friend,” she calls over her shoulder, before beckoning Tobin to follow with the middle two fingers of her right hand.

And that’s just what Tobin does.

She can’t help but want to know more about this girl, who pops up and talks to Tobin as if they know each other far better than they do. As if they’re not two near-strangers standing on a roof.

Christen steps up on the cement wall a few feet above the ground on the corner of the roof and sits next to her backpack. Tobin watches as the girl pulls out a Red Bull, still so cold that the condensation has built up upon the outside of the can. She spins it once in her hand before tossing to Tobin, saying “heads up!”

The condensation splashes slightly on her chin, and wipes the water away quickly with her t-shirt, pulling it up to do so, leaving her bare abdomen on display. She didn’t mean to do it on purpose, but if she said she didn’t take her sweet time wiping her chin once she saw the way Christen was hungrily gazing at her abs, she would be lying.

“Uh, thanks Christen,” she says as she drops her shirt. There’s an awkward moment of silence, and Tobin decides that maybe now is the time to take off. She’s about to turn around, when Christen speaks up, as if she was somehow reading Tobin’s mind.

“You’re just gonna take it and leave? You’re that girl?”

And Tobin isn’t quite sure what the girl is getting at, but she’s sure as hell not gonna ask. So she stares at her a few seconds longer, before finally speaking.

“That’s awfully presumptuous don’t you think?”

“Is that not what you were about to do?” the girl shoots in return with a single raised eyebrow, and Tobin is taken aback by how brazen she is at this moment.

Tobin hesitates, knowing the girl knows she is right, before placing the Red Bull can on the gravel of the roof, raising herself to a standing position again, shoving both hands in her pockets.

“Maybe I’m gonna change your life. I’m that girl.”

She’s joking. She knows Christen knows it too.

But as soon as the words leave her mouth, she feels a new weight descend upon the stare they are currently sharing. And it lasts a solid ten seconds, before Christen breaks her gaze away to roll her eyes.

“Corny,” she mumbles, before looking back at Tobin as she leans her weight back on both her hands resting behind her. “My life is already pretty great.”

“Oh really?” she points at the handle of Don Julio sticking out of the corner of her backpack. “Cause I think you wouldn’t be up here drinking Tequila alone if your life was pretty great.”

“Pfft,” Christen responds half-sarcastically. “A free view of the Chapel Hill skyline at night? I’d be an absolute idiot to not hop on that.” She tilts her body weight slightly forward, whispering, “The tequila is just an added bonus.”

Tobin nods, laughing to herself as she sees a similar smile break out on Christen’s face. “Well then, I guess you must have been an idiot for the past few months.”

“A lot of people would say longer than that,” Christen adds jokingly.

Tobin just tilts her head to the side and continues to watch her, as the girl finally gives her a wrinkled eyebrow as if to ask her what she meant by the comment in the first place.

“I’ve seen you drinking Tequila on the 180 more than a few times.”

Christen nods.

“And half-naked outside Kelley’s room at three in the morning.”

“And why are you watching me when I’m half-naked?” the girl smirks with a quirked eyebrow.

“So not the point,” Tobin rolls her eyes, before taking a moment to contemplate how she wants to phrase her next words. “I notice you,” Tobin decides on with a small shrug of the shoulders, her hands still remaining in her pockets.

Christen watches her carefully, her mouth hanging a little open in response to those three words that just left the girl’s mouth, clearly caught a little off guard. But Tobin’s not done quite yet.

She leans in a little to whisper, “Half-naked is just a bonus,” mocking Christen’s earlier comment in regard to the tequila, winking at Christen before leaning back again.

And then Christen turns her head away from Tobin for a moment and lets out the most authentic laugh yet.

It’s only a moment later that she turns back to Tobin, releasing her bottom lip from between her teeth before she speaks again. “So I like to drink Tequila and chat in the middle of the night? Sue me.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard the chats happening at 3 a.m. in Kelley’s room. Sounds like some super riveting conversation.”

Christen’s jaw goes slack again for a moment before clenching a little. And Tobin can tell the girl is both impressed by her ability to keep up with her wit, and also struck at what seems to be a slightly sensitive topic.

Change the subject, doofus.

“How's the boyfriend?” Tobin asks out of the blue, which prompts a greater jaw clench.

Out of anything, you go with that? Nice going.

“I — uh —,” Tobin continues, getting slightly flustered. “I just mean, you live together right?”

She nods. “You know about him?”

And once again, Tobin is confused.

“I mean...I’m not blind.”

Christen just nods a few times. “You know about her?”

Now Tobin is the one nodding. “I won’t like, say anything.”

“No, it’s fine, he knows,” she says in a straight, emotionless tone, before letting out a breathy sigh.

“Is he like, making you do it?” Tobin asks cautiously, not exactly sure why the question left her mouth at all. Did she even want to know the answer? Did she even want to talk about this at all?

Christen just rolls her eyes. “Why do people think all men are the shittiest, most manipultive creatures on the planet to women?” she breathes out.

Tobin moves closer to the cement step-up, settling just a few feet down from Christen, looking out over the lit up campus at night. “Romantic Comedies, all of history, personal situations —”

Christen cuts her off. “Personal situations?”

Tobin looks over at her curiously.

“Do you — uh — …” Christen trails off.

And now Tobin understands what she’s trying to ask, licking her lips for a moment and smiling devisilishly, not letting her off that easy.

“Do I what?”

“Do you — like, you know…” she trails off again with a suggestive head nod.

Tobin’s smile grows, and she turns her body to face Christen, all her weight leaning on her right elbow, her hand resting on her fist under her chin.

“Do I what?”

Christen huffs. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No.”

“Have you ever?”

“Nope.”

“Do you want one?”

“No thank youuu,” she drags out the last word. “Why?”

“No reason,” she hums.

“You trying to set me up or something?” she laughs, but she knows that’s not why. And she knows Christen also knows.

“No, just wondering.”

Tobin nods slowly, before taking a few steps closer, such that she’s standing with her right arm resting on the other side of Christen’s legs.

“Are you? Just wondering?”

Christen opens her mouth for a moment as if she was going to respond, before closing it and hesitating for a few moments. And Tobin’s smiling at the visible effect she has on this girl.

“No,” she finally says quietly.

Tobin nods again. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Mhm, okay,” Tobin repeats, before backing away slightly from Christen’s body. She swears she sees a slightly frown appear on the girl’s face.

And it is okay. Becuase sure, there was something different about Christen. She pinpointed that the very first time she laid eyes on the girl in person in the dorm room before preseason even began. And it had been a few months now, and that feeling hadn’t changed.

And neither had some of the feelings she actually wanted to change. The ones about Shirley. The one’s that the other girls -- the ones who slept more nights in Tobin’s room than Christen ever has -- help fix.

Plus, it’s not like the girl was any ounce of available. Boyfriend or not, she’d never do that to Kelley. Not while they were best friends.

Honestly, she’s just so incredibly curious about this enigma. The girl is like this puzzle she can’t help but yearn to solve. And each rare time she appears, Tobin gets another clue, another piece of the puzzle.

“Sometimes I wonder what it is that I want,” she heard Christen mumble, looking up to see the girl now sitting facing the direction that looks out over campus.

And Tobin is pretty sure the girl was thinking out loud, that the statement was rhetorical, not menat to be answered.

“You know what I want?” she asks after a few moments of silence. “To drive to the ocean at 2 am and just run into it.”

Christen looks over at her with a grateful smile, recognizing her attempt to change the subject and the mood all in one.

“The sounds… concerning,” she comments.

“Oh no, not in a bad way!” she’s quick to correct herself.

“I’m just teasing,” she shoves Tobin’s arm. “You like the beach?”

“It’s my happy place.”

“Me too. I grew up right by the beach in Cali.”

“I remember,” Tobin says, recounting the lengthy but enthusiastic description Christen had given her at the preseason party, the only other time they had talked at least this long, just the two of them.

Christen smiles at that.

“I love expansive landscapes. Doing something against society’s standards. Just you and the world around you. It makes me feel alive.”

“Hence, 2 a.m. ocean,” Tobin hums out, understanding exactly what Christen was saying. She’d articulated a feeling that was at the core of Tobin’s being, something she’s never really been quite able to put into words herself.

“Hence this roof at night,” Christen returns, before she looks over at Tobin and bites her lip with a gleam in her wide eyes. It’s a look that Tobin had only seen three times now, but one she was quickly learning that it meant something spontaneous and either vaguely sexual or vaguely mischevious was about to occur.

What the girl did next was a combination of both.

Slowly and carefully, she pushes herself up to a standing position on the corner of the roof, and Tobin finds herself immediately moving to a position just behind Christen, below her on the ground, scared out of her mind the girl is gonna fall.

“What are you doing, dude?” she directs up at Christen, who wobbles a little before suddenly reaching down to the bottom of her sweatshirt.

“It’s like all of my life everyone has always told me, ‘this is how you’re supposed to be.’ You know? You’re a cat. All you do is sleep and chase mice. And then one day this year I woke up and said, “what if I want to be a cat who swims? You know? Or a flying cat?”

Tobin chuckles at how adorable this girl is, both completely understanding and having no idea what she’s saying. She watches as the girl yanks her sweatshirt off, leaving her completely topless, facing off the corner of the student center.

“Okay yes, but you know you can’t fly, right?”

“Let loose, Tobin, I’m not gonna jump. Come up here!”

And Tobin is taken aback for a moment, because no one in her life had ever, not once, told her to “let loose”. Because she was the epitome of loose. Even as a student on the premed track, she was the freest of spirits.

Something about this one particular girl continuously keeps Tobin on her toes in the best possible way, which is an alarming statement to make when you’ve only really spoken to someone twice.

“Fine,” she agrees, peeling off her own sweatshirt and slowly climbing up on the ledge, feeling less nervous when she sees how far they actually are from the edge.

Phew.

“You know what I really want?” Christen says into the silence.

“A shirt?” Tobin laughs out, after hearing a couple of cat calls from down below, which just prompt the green-eyed girl next to her to raise her arms in peace signs and giggle a little.

“To drive across the country back home to California.”

“Like a road trip?” Tobin asks.

“Yup. Just driving and stopping a bunch of places on the way. I was going to do it, but my parents still pay my car insurance and no one will go with me. It’s like my dream trip right now. Life’s getting crazy, you know? Just to take a step away from it all and open myself up to nature or whatever, I think it would be such a vibe.”

“I think you’re doing that right now,” she gestures at Christen with a teasing chuckle.

“Whatever,” Christen rolls her eyes. “I want to do it across America.”

“I’m sure America will love this show,” she continues to tease.

“Would you?”

Tobin trains her eyes straight in front of her, suddenly oh-so-very fascinated by the big green tree on the quad adjacent to the student center.

She hears the question Christen has tried to ask about ten times now.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” she finally says back with a smile, and she can feel Christen’s eyes on her after that, which should make her feel exposed, considering she’s half-naked on the side of a roof. But oddly, it doesn’t.

Because Tobin was having a horribly exhausting day, and she realizes in this moment how much she needed this. Whatever this is.

So when Christen doesn’t respond to that question with more than a frustrated huff, Tobin says as much.

“I really needed this tonight.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Long day.”

They’re not really close enough for her to go into more detail than that. Tobin wouldn’t even categorize them as ‘friends.’

“Me too. Sometimes you just need to stand naked on a rooftop.”

And Tobin can’t help but laugh a little at how serious the girl sounds saying that sentence.

Things you never think you’ll hear, she thinks to herself.

“Who would’ve known?”

They settle into a silence again after that, until Tobin feels her phone buzz in her pocket and she takes it out, looking down at the lock screen to see a notification.

 

Morgan B: Getting close, I’d say you have about 3 min to return in time, otherwise I’ll just order for you lol

 

She quickly replies that she’s coming, before looking back up and straight ahead.

“I gotta go,” she announces quietly.

“Yeah,” Christen replies. “I should probably go do some work, too.”

They both hop down, carefully since it’s so dark out, and throw sweatshirts back on.

Tobin reaches down to grab the still-cold can of Red Bell before looking back up, not exactly sure how to depart this weird fever dream of a situation she got herself into.

“I’ll see you around, Tobin,” Christen says as she pulls out her laptop, clearly intending to stay on the roof and do work.

“I hope so,” she says back, looking into Christen’s eyes for a prolonged moment before turning around and heading back off the roof, and she realizes she really does mean it. She hopes Christen knows too.

She jogs down the black stairs, down the hallway, and through the yellow door, before settling back into a fast-paced walk, weaving through her peers in the crowded late-night student center like a braid, until she finally makes it back to Morgan, who is just about to step up to order.

“Talk about good timing,” Morgan says as they walk up to the counter to order, slapping Tobin on the back once, before looking her up and down once skeptically. “Did you change?”

Tobin looks down, seeing that in lieu of the navy blue hoodie she was wearing earlier, now on her upper half was a pale green crewneck sweatshirt.

Oops.

“Nope.”

“Uh, okay,” Morgan comments, clearly not convinced, before stepping up to order.

And her friends in the library were also not convinced.

But Tobin was too mesmerized by her ten minutes on the roof to care.

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

Christen finally pulls back from their hug, leaving her arms loosely draped around Tobin’s neck, before her smile turns into another confused expression. “But wait, I have a flight in four days.”

Christen tried, but amidst all the chaos of the holidays, she couldn’t get an earlier flight by the time she booked one.

“Um,” Tobin blushes, “I called the airline and they refunded you completely. If you really want to fly I’m sure we could get you back on it. We’re actually gonna get to Cali on the 19th probably, though, the day before your flight.”

“God no, I’m so fucking excited. I—” she cuts herself off with wide eyes, but Tobin knows what she almost let slip out. And she’s positive that Christen can see in her eyes that the feeling’s mutual. Instead, Christen just leans forward to kiss her on the cheek before smiling and running out of the room.

“Yup, sure! “I’ll carry all your stuff,” Tobin calls out behind her, huffing to herself as she grabs the remaining bags and starts pushing them toward the door.

When she finally gets all of their bags down the stairs, which feels like a victory in itself, it’s been nearly 20 minutes. She sees Christen walking back into the lobby, a grimace taking over her face when she sees Tobin crouched over her knees, out of breath.

The green-eyed girl quickly jogs over, putting a hand on Tobin’s shoulder and removing the bag handle from her un-casted hand. “Sorry, I got a little excited.”

Tobin just chuckles as she stands back up, “It’s alright.”

Christen grabs several of the bags, leaving much less for Tobin, before the two of them start to walk out to the car together.

“So where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise,” Tobin replies as they approach the dormitory door -- the same one she has a not-so-hot relationship with.

“You can’t even give me a hint?” the girl pleads with a pouty face that Tobin finds incredibly hard to resist.

“Nope,” she says with a popping ‘p’ sound and a smirk.

Christen, who is backing through the doorway at this time, stops pushing backward at her girlfriend’s response and exaggerates her current pout. “Not letting you out ‘til you give me a hint!”

Tobin rolls her eyes at how stubborn she is, but instead chooses to step forward and kiss the pout of her face, before suddenly pushing her backward through the doorway until she can squeeze through with her luggage, taking off running toward the car.

“Heath, I swear to fucking god!” she hears in a shout from behind her, alongside pounding footsteps.

Tobin just picks up the pace until she reaches Christen’s white, four-door jeep wrangler.

Thankfully, she had already loaded up half of the car earlier, before Christen had gotten back. It sounds simple, but the simple act of getting her keys to do this was a whole operation in it of itself.

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

“She never lets her keychain out of her sight. Losing her keys makes her so anxious,” Kelley comments.

“Yeah,” Ali laughs as she shoves another cracker in her mouth. “A bunch of us went to Myrtle Beach for Spring Break last year. We were leaving out shit on the towels to go swimming in the ocean for a little and Chris literally tied her keychain into her bun on top of her head and risked getting them all soaked cause she was too scared to leave them in her bag.”

“OH MY GOD,” Kelley throws her head back laughing from where she lies on Ashlyn’s bed, pointing over at Ali in recognition. “She looked so funny, they all poked out so weird.”

“Remember when that dude Milo tried to hit on her and when she tried to get up to go with her and the keys smacked into his face and gave him a black eye.”

“She was fucking mortified,” Kelley comments back before taking another swig of beer.

And then the two of them are laughing at each other and at the memory, before they finally look over and see Tobin’s pinched face.

“Sorry,” they both recite in unison.

“Do we have to talk about guys hitting on her?” Tobin asks with a huff.

“Bro, have you met Christen?” Ali asks with a single raised eyebrow. “Literally everyone hits on her.”

“Yeah, I’m honestly surprised you broke out of that ‘just hitting on her’ category,” Kelley laughs, accepting Ali’s fist-bump as Tobin throws a pillow at her from across the room, where she’s laying on Ali’s bed on the Monday night of finals week, hours after Kelley and Tobin had finished their Bio final.

“At the same time,” Ali adds on, “I’m not at all surprised it was you.”

“Ditto,” Kelley mumbles out as cracker crumbs fall out of her mouth.

“Dude stop getting crumbs everywhere, what’re you five years old?” Ali asks.

I’m surprised it took you that long to figure that out,” Tobin chuckles back at Ali with a grin.

“Shut up,” Kelley rolls her eyes. “Anyway, why do you need her car keys anyway? I thought she put it in the long-term storage parking garage last week?”

Now, Tobin at this point in time didn’t want to disclose just why yet. Partially because neither person there knew what her and Christen were yet. They were just figuring out things for themselves first.

“Uh, I’m gonna go get it for her,” Tobin settles on. It’s part of the truth.

“Wow, world’s greatest roomie-with-feelings,” Kelley smiles.

Tobin gulps.

“Yup, roommates,” Ali wiggles her eyebrows suggestively.

And Tobin gulps again, giving her wide eyes pleading her to stop, which thankfully Ali picks up on quickly and decides to change the subject.

“What about when she’s in the shower?” Ali asks.

“The curtains here and in the locker room are SO loud though, she would no doubt hear me sneaking to grab them in either place,” Tobin says back, grabbing the lacrosse ball off of Ali’s bedside table and starting to throw it up and catching it.

“True,” Ali affirms.

“Ooh, I have an idea,” Kelley jumps in. “You know how the team is going on that Finals Week de-stress 5k run on Wednesday?”

“No but sounds fun,” Ali hums, as Tobin nods in acknowledgement that she does indeed know.

“What if that’s when I ask her to come over and chat?” She pauses, looking over at Ali, about to start explaining how they had talked at the coffee shop and their whole current situation, when Ali cuts her off first with a hand waving in the air.

“Jackie told me everything,” Ali smiles. “Go on.”

“But we’ll do it right after, so then I can be like ’why don’t we shower first’ or something?” she continues, looking between Tobin and Ali.

Tobin’s brow remains furrowed until she realizes what Kelley is saying. “Ohhh, so that it’ll be in your bathroom —”

“Which has a shower door, not a curtain,” Ali finishes, prompting both girls to look over at her with a confused look on their faces.

“Ash invites me over sometimes when she’s chilling there alone….”

“Oh god, enough,” Kelley laughs. “I swear at least half the team has got it on in my shower. Don’t ask me why.”

“At this point, I feel like that’s a reflection on you, not them,” Tobin says as she looks down at her phone momentarily, seeing a text from Christen asking to meet at the 180. She swings her legs off the side of the bed and hops down.

“Awe, you leaving us already?” Kelley exaggerates a frown.

“Yeah, gotta head to bed,” she lies, still not quite ready to tell her best friend they’ve actually become something more than “roomies-with-feelings.” She has an inkling Kelley thought they never really would be. “I’ll see you Wednesday.”

“Byeeee,” they both yell out, before they start in on another conversation and Tobin slips out the door.

When the 5k rolls around on Wednesday, most of the team is so mentally exhausted from finals they are barely able to make it the whole way running. It’s weird how mental exhaustion can translate into physical exhaustion.

Tobin was walking up the front porch steps to the soccer house behind Kelley and Christen, ready to run operation ‘get car keys.’ She had told Christen she would stay there as a buffer for at least the first twenty minutes or so, but in reality, she was also going to run Kelley’s plan.

Kelley kicks open the front door and the three of them pace into the living room, sitting down kind of awkwardly together before Kelley finally suggests they take showers before lunch.

“Why don’t y’all take showers and I’ll go pick up a pizza or something? I showered in the locker room but you sweaty hoes clearly didn’t,” she smiles.

“Sounds good,” Christen hums after a moment, moving some hair behind her ear nervously.

Kelley gets up to walk toward the kitchen, and Tobin just suggests “you wanna go first?”

“Sure,” Christen says, before popping up the couch and walking upstairs.

After she hears the shower turn on down the hall, she finally gets up, just as Kelley is passing the living room with her keys on the way out.

“Text me when you get ‘em Tob,” Kelley comments, patting her on the back.

“Operation shower keys is a-go,” Tobin gives a thumbs up over her shoulder as she walks down the hallway, headed for the bathroom.

As she gets to the outside of the door, she presses her ear up to the door to try to hear what’s going on inside.

When she thinks she hears the hollow thud of Christen’s feet inside the shower, she opens the door as quietly as humanly possible, smugly smiling to herself when she sees the keychain on the revealed portion of the counter just adjacent to the door.

As she opens the door just a smidge further, she hears a, “You’re not sneaky, Tobs,” and looks to the right to reveal her very completely naked girlfriend.

For a moment, she forgets entirely why she’s there in the first place.

And then when she processes Christen’s words, she goes red in the face.

How did she know why I’m here?

“If you wanted to hop in too, you just could’ve asked,” she says as she drops the arm from her abdomen and reaches forward to grab Tobin’s arm and pull her into the bathroom, Tobin kicking the door shut behind her.

Hah, so she doesn’t know why I’m here.

“S-s-sorry,” Tobin stutters as she thinks, realizing she certainly can’t steal her keys now, which is sort of pivotal to her whole surprise.

Christen smirks at her, pulling her closer by the waist.

“It’s cute that you still get nervous seeing me naked,” Christen whispers on her lips.

Tobin’s face hardens in protest. “What? No I —”

Christen’s lips cut off her sentence, and she can feel Christen smirking into the kiss. After a few minutes, she feels Christen’s tongue tracing her bottom lips, and she opens up entirely to let the girl lick into her mouth. Her arms start to untuck Tobin’s T-shirt from her shirt and slide her hands under it to feel Tobin’s abs, moaning softly as they flex under her touch.

Tobin finally gives in, letting her fingers come up to trace the swells of Christen’s breasts teasingly for another minute or two, before lowering one to roll a nipple between her fingers, which causes Christen’s hips to buck involuntarily.

She continues to knead her breast, but uses her other hand to grab Christen’s hip and move her backward swiftly to press her forcefully against the bathroom counter, slotting her thigh inbetween Christen’s legs confidently.

“You don’t make me nervous,” Tobin husks in her ear, smiling in succes when she hears Christen’s breath hitch in her throat. Tobin bites down on the skin of her jaw, before soothing it lightly with her tongue afterward.

Christen pulls her back by the hair to look into her eyes, locking onto her gaze as the girl lowers her center onto Tobin’s bare thigh between her legs, her wetness spreading across Tobin’s skin. She bites her lips and groans, looking into Tobin’s eyes the entire time, and Tobin can’t help the whimper that escapes her own lips at how unbelievably sexy this girl is. Placing her hands on Christen’s hips, she starts to lean in, needing to devour her in some way.

Just as their lips are about to touch, Christen uses her hand still tangles in Tobin’s hair to pull Tobin’s head to the side and slide her center against the toned muscle of Tobin’s thigh, causing an even filthier sound to fall out of Tobin’s throat involuntarily.

Christen smirks as she keeps a strong grip on Tobin’s hair, whispering in her ear, “Sure I don’t baby.”

And Tobin knows she won this one, can’t find it within herself to fight, instead using her grip on Christen’s hips to begin helping to guide the girl’s movements up and down her thigh, feeling Christen’s arms come up and over her shoulders to hold on as her legs start to go weak.

“You feel so good,” Tobin mumbles against her lips, nipping at Christen’s bottom lip before taking it between her own two lips.

She feels Christen’s breathing quicken as the girl starts to press her lips harder against Tobin’s almost as if she was trying to eat them right off her face, conveying the totality of the passion of this moment.

The wet sound of Christen’s core gliding up and down her thigh was audible even over the sound of the running shower water. It’s not long before Christen’s movements start to get a little sloppier, her hips starting to buck a little wilder, and Tobin has to strengthen her grip on her hips to keep the girl’s center pressed against her leg and to control her movements back and forth.

“Oh my god yes,” Christen lets out as she pulls back from Tobin’s lips and looks straight into her eyes. Her eyes then slam shut and her head falls back for a minute, her hands coming to rest on the counter behind her as Tobin moves the girl’s hips, licking her own lips, thinking she could come from the sight of this alone.

The girl’s head comes back up to attach her lips to Tobin’s for a moment. And as if the girl can no longer focus enough to move multiple parts of her body at once, her lips stop moving against Tobin, instead her mouth is just pressed against Tobin’s as her jaw falls and she pants into Tobin’s mouth, “I’m so close.”

Tobin shoves her thigh slightly higher, swallowing deeply when another moan comes out of Christen’s throat.

“Come for me, pretty girl,” she whispers in Christen’s mouth, opening her own eyes as Christen’s slam shut, wanting nothing more than to watch the girl fall apart at her hand.

It’s only when she feels the girl’s entire body stop moving from riding out her orgasm that she leans forward to attach their lips in a sweet kiss.

“You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Tobin says sincerely, attaching their lips one more time, before Christen kisses her nose, and pulls back to bury her head in Tobin’s neck, arms coming snug around her shoulders, leaving a kiss on the skin there too.

Tobin’s come to enjoy these moments they now have — the sweet, gentle, loving moments following some random crazy sex they inevitably have wherever they are at the time. The moments that tell her it all means something now.

And then she remembers why she’s actually there, in Kelley’s bathroom, at noon on a Wednesday. Fuck.

While Christen’s naked body is still silently gripping onto her with the strength of the hulk, she subtly grabs her phone and looks over the girl’s shoulder, pulling up the conversation with Kelley.

 

11:10 a.m. Tob: code red, I need you to come get the keys

11:12 a.m. Kel: why??

11:12 a.m. Tob: she heard me come in

11:12 a.m. Kel: Did you not just go back out and come back after?

11:12 a.m. Tob: no I got distracted

11:13 a.m. Kel: lol what how

11:13 a.m. Tob: ……

11:14 a.m. Kel: OMG seriously you horny teenage boy

11:14 a.m. Tob: shut up can you just come get them

11:14 a.m. Kel: I’m still in the car

11:14 a.m. Tob: fuckk me

11:15 a.m. Kel: Wait yes, exactly

 

She feels Christen start to move, kissing her neck again.

 

11:15 a.m. Tob: what

11:15 a.m. Kel: distract her, I’ll pull the car key off the key chain when I get back in 10 before she gets out of the shower and grabs them

11:15 a.m. Tob: you’re a genius

 

Then Christen is working her way up to her lips again, and she feels hands sliding beneath her shirt, and Tobin is scrambling to send one message.

 

11:16 a.m. Tob: i owe u

11:17 a.m. Kel: oh yeah you do, I will be cashing in

 

Tossing her phone on the counter, she pulls Christen backward as she reattaches their lips, breaking apart only to raise her hands over her head and allow Christen to pull her t-shirt off, her black Nike sports bra following not too long afterwards. The hungry look resettling in Christen’s eyes has Tobin quickly scrambling to push her own bottoms off and step out of them.

Tobin reaches behind her to open the shower door, and Christen is quickly pushing her backward, a devilish smile popping onto her face, saying “my turn.”

And honestly Tobin doesn’t remember Kelley ever having come in the bathroom when her best friend hands her the keys later on that day.

Pretty sure she blacked out the minute Christen touched her.

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

Sitting in the car, one hand on the steering wheel, one hand solidly placed on Christen’s thigh, hair blowing in the wind — since Christen cannot drive without the windows down — Tobin can’t remember the last time she was this content.

For the first two hours they had talked nonstop. But it had been quiet for the past half-hour of the drive, minus the radio playing country music (loudly) in the background.

It was a comfortable silence.

And it fit the drive completely.

The thing about western North Carolina, and the several surrounding states, was that it was practically an extension of Appalachia — tall green trees interspersed by hills. It was almost entrancing the way nature all looked so identical as they drove along. But identical in the best possible way.

Eventually, Tobin’s attention is drawn away from the road when she feels Christen intertwine her fingers with Tobin’s hand on ther thigh and raise their entangled hand to her mouth to lay a soft kiss on the back of her hand.

“Sup?” Tobin asks, tearing her eyes away from the road for a moment.

“Can we stop for coffee?”

“Took the words right out of my mouth,” Tobin smiles. “Coffee is the one for me.”

“Oh really?”

“Yup my one and only,” Tobin continues.

Christen just shakes her head as she raises her hand not connected to Tobin’s to feel the air passing by outside the window.

“Wow, just can’t believe you’re cheating on me already,” she shrugs with a smile.

“Must suck to be you,” Tobin sing-songs out as she turns the car off the next highway exit, which goes god-knows-where. She’s just kind of winging it out here in bumfuck nowhere -- that’s how she rolls anyway. She’s always thought it was more fun to leave the plan as a rough outline and just go with the flow instead of being overly stringent about everything.

“Tobin!” she chastises as she punches her in the arm. “Well I hope you and coffee have fun getting it on later. I’ll just have to get off myself,” she retorts with a smirk, before placing Tobin’s hand higher on her thigh and letting out a guttereal moan that was all-too-convincing.

Tobin chokes on her breath for a moment. “Well that’s just unfair,” she coughs out.

Christen just shrugs with a smirk before intentionally moving Tobin’s hand away from her inner thigh. “When have I ever played fair?”

“Holy mystery, Christen Press,” Tobin rolls her eyes.

She feels Christen lean into her ear, lips ghosting there as she whispers, “Nothing holy about me, Tobs.”

Tobin licks her lips and brings her hand up to rub at her chin as Christen moves back into her seat and stares straight ahead. “Wow, I’m dancing with the devil here,” she laughs jokingly.

“You know it baby,” Christen teases back, still staring straight ahead.

“If it’s any consolation,” Tobin continues once she catches her breath, and is stopped at a red light. She looks over at Christen. “Pretty sure coffee is the only one I’d ever pick over you.”

Christen smiles at her, before letting their hands go in favor of pulling Tobin’s head in by the back of the neck to connect their lips in a searing kiss. Her hand rests at the nape of Tobin’s neck, grabbing tightly over the wispy hairs, as Tobin’s now-free hand moves back to her thigh.

They only break apart once the car behind them hits the horn more than a few times -- the light had turned green more than a few seconds ago -- and eventually a man opened the car door and got out angrily.

Sticking her middle finger out the window to the cars behind them, Christen’s face breaks into a smile again as Tobin slams on the gas and turns them down a farm road that would inevitably (hopefully) lead to the center of the closest town.

They’re both laughing as the wind flows through their hair from the open windows.

“I’ve never been so happy to be someone’s second choice,” Christen announces loudly over the sound of the wind, before reaching forward to twist the volume knob all the way up.

Blackbear’s “Do Re Mi” overflows the speakers, and the energy of each other screaming the words and looking at each other overflow their hearts.

When they finally pull into a diner about twenty minutes later after zooming 70 mph down an empty farm road, they both look like they’ve been electrocuted with what the wind has done to their hair.

After shifting the car into park and turning the key to ‘Off’, Tobin hopped down from the jeep before quickly jogging around to the other side of the car, shaking her hair back into place as she did so, and opening the door for Christen.

She reaches out a hand that Christen quickly grabs onto as she hops down too. “Thanks, T.”

“Course,” Tobin replies as Christen uses her grasp on Tobin’s hand to pull Tobin’s entire arm around her shoulders as she kicks the door shut behind her and they start to walk toward the diner together.

“I want an iced latte,” Christen states neutrally.

Tobin looks over at her with a furrowed eyebrow. “Is that supposed to be news to me?”

“Well,” she sighs out, “unless you’re taking me to do something in which I’d be cold…”

“Nah, get the iced coffee,” Tobin replies, seeing Christen’s face light up for a second as if she’d just solved a puzzle. “I’ll get a hot chocolate.”

And her face scrunches again.

“FUCK, I thought I had you!” Christen exclaims.

“In your dreams, Press,” Tobin replies as she ruffles Christen’s already wilding curls, prompting the girl to roll her eyes and detach herself from Tobin to reach for the door.

 

____________________________________________________

 

They’ve gone word-for-word through three albums of Taylor Swift by the time they pull into a dirt parking lot. It’s 7:45 p.m., the sun is starting to set, and they have maybe thirty minutes until they’re submerged into total darkness.

Tobin pulls into an open spot — not hard to find in the mostly empty parking lot — and shifts the car into park. Taking advantage of Christen’s wandering gaze and curiosity that lasts a few seconds, Tobin closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, taking in the full weight of the moment and the girl next to her. It’s the first time she’s truly had zero distractions, and it’s just the two of them.

“You ready?” she finally says, looking over at Christen as she pops the driver’s side door open.

The girl looks back with an utterly furrowed forehead. “This is it?”

Tobin shrugs, shutting the door behind her and shoving her wallet into the back pocket of her jeans as she paces around the front of Christen’s car and leans back against the hood.

She understands what Christen is wondering about.

They’re currently parked in an isolated, dirt parking lot, in what appears to be the middle of nowhere Tennessee. In actuality, they’re in Nashville, but she knows that’s not obvious to the eye until they actually get where Tobin is planning on taking her.

She waits against the hood until Christen has gotten out and comes around to the front, and she holds her hand out for Christen to grab — which she does— and they begin walking toward a break in the trees that surround the parking lot.

When they finally break through the other side of the patch of trees at the top of a hill that somehow winds them both, there appears a bold skyline amidst the cotton-candy skies that fuses into a long lake.

“Oh my god,” Christen whispers as she stops walking, teeming with awe at the circumambient environment. Looking to her right, she sees the dirt path becomes a wooden boardwalk that eventually reaches what looks like a cabin in the distance. “STOP!” she yells suddenly, skipping a few steps ahead of Tobin, who stops in her tracks.

“What?” Tobin’s eyes open wide, sudddenly tracing over every possible worry in her mind.

Does she not like it? Is this too much? Is she afraid of lakes? Allergic to trees?

“Sorry, we can go…” she continues quietly, trailing off.

“Yeah you’ll have to kill me first,” she laughs out breathily. “This is freakin’ beautiful,” she exclaims, looking out at the lake for a few seconds before turning around to face Tobin. Her face melts when she sees the worried look on Tobin’s face. Instead of verbally comforting her, she skips up, swinging around her to jump on the girl’s back, arms wrapping tight around Tobin’s neck and lowering her head to press her lips against the side of Tobin’s neck, smiling when she sees goosebumps erupt under her touch.

“What?” Tobin repeats, but Christen can hear the smile in her voice.

“Can we take a picture for the ‘gram?”

“Uh, sure,” Tobin confirms as she points in the direction of the lake edge. “Go over there and give me your phone.”

“No, I want you in it dummy,” Christen smiles as she hops down momentarily to place her phone down in front of a rock and set up the timer, before turning around and running back to jump on Tobin’s back, causing them both to stumble forward, laughing the entire time.

They’re still laughing at the way they almost wiped out when they hear the iphone make the camera noise.

“Oh shit, sorry,” Tobin laughs out with a frowny face so adorably genuine that Christen can’t help but turn her head around from where she sits on Tobin’s back and kiss the frown away. It’s a short kiss, but it’s gentle and full of emotion in a way that their kisses had been becoming increasingly so as of late -- as if their mouths are trying to say something that their words just can’t quite yet.

“We can take another not messed up one?” Tobin suggests.

“Nah,” Christen replies, leaving a last kiss on Tobin’s temple before pointing to her phone. “Let’s keep going.”

“You sure?” Tobin asks as she bends over to pick up Christen’s phone with her uncasted hand, somehow still maintaining her balance as well as Christen on her back, then handing it to the girl over her shoulder.

“Yeah. Wouldn’t be an us picture if it wasn’t some form of fucked up,” Christen laughs as they’re pacing by the side of the lake.

Tobin nods, before taking a moment to look back over her shoulder at the girl smiling back at her.

Bisecting her green eyes, she sees the reflection of the large lake’s mellow waves breaking into a gentle caress upon the shore, and the birds lightly humming as they pass over intricate webs of lily pads. The eyes are still a mystery -- there’s still so much she doesn’t know yet -- but looking back at her right now, they give guidance, adrenaline, bravery, insight, and a somewhat divine connection not just to the sunset, but to Tobin.

She just knows in this moment that no one has ever gotten her like this girl does. And she knows she’s never felt like this. It all hits her in this moment, and she’s so sure the other girl can see those three words she keeps swallowing down that it scares her.

“We do mess everything up,” Tobin finally responds with a light chuckle.

Christen just shrugs, looking away from Tobin’s eyes for a moment. “It’s real. You’re real. It’s what I like about you,” she says quietly.

“Oh yeah?” Tobin pushes as she keeps walking. “That’s what you like about me? That I screw things up?”

“Yup,” she replies, popping the ‘p’ sound, before turning her head back so that her eyes meet Tobin’s once again, proceeding to roll her own eyes at Tobin’s pout. “I like a lot of things about you,” she finally gives in.

“Like what?” Tobin pushes again.

“You know,” Christen replies after a moment of blank staring, blush rising up her cheeks as she looks away nervously.

“Well I can’t read your mind, C,” she jokes, but Christen’s nerves seem to still be at top-notch quality, so Tobin speaks again. “I’ll go first,” she offers as she releases Christen to the ground, turning around to grab one of her hands to play with her fingers as they keep walking.

“Hmm I like that you didn’t hate me after I destroyed your ankle and like half your season,” Tobin starts.

“Nice start,” Christen replies with a snort as she looks down at the bright orange cast on Tobin’s arm. “Ditto though.”

“You work hard but still play harder than most people I know. “You believe that even the cruelest people have a little love in them. When you finish a book, you tell me about it as if you’re telling stories to a long-lost friend or something. You’re totally crazy but in the same way I am, and I love your sunset eyes.”

It’s the first time either one of them have said that they loved something about the other. And it follows after their text slip up the night before, but it’s so different when it comes out of someone’s mouth.

“My sunset eyes?” Christen inquires with a pure smile.

“Mhm,” Tobin hums in almost a whisper. “They’re so pretty. So are you.”

Christen just stares into her eyes adoringly, but frozen, for a few more moments, before she brings her other hand that is not intertwined with Tobin’s up to rest on her cheek as she leans in slowly to connect their lips again.

Twenty seconds later, Tobin’s arms are flush around the girl’s waist, and the kiss has gotten a little steamy. At one point in time, a time in which Tobin can’t pinpoint, feelings went from Christen-repellant to Christen-bait, and she wasn’t complaining about it.

“Do we have fifteen minutes to spare?” Christen asks against Tobin’s lips as she brings her arms around the girl’s shoulders.

“Mm?” Tobin mumbles.

“Fifteen minutes?” she mumbles again on Tobin’s lips.

Tobin just nods in response as she shifts her head to change the angle of the kiss.

And then Christen is pushing her backward, keeping their lips attached, whispering into Tobin’s mouth inbetween kisses.

“I like how passionate you are about school and soccer and the people you care about”...”I like that you believe in second chances”... “I like that you actually respect me”...

“Mmm,” Tobin mumbles against her lips, “shut up,” before she flips them around and walks Christen off of the path and into the woods next to the path, continuing until her back presses up against a tree.

She takes advantage of the small gasp that leaves Christen’s mouth when her back hits the tree to push her tongue into her mouth and deepen the kiss. Her casted hand immediately moves to the tree next to Christen’s head, as her other arm moves up from her waist to the skin on her back -- up over her ribs until she feels she feels lacy fabric and a metal clasp, which she undoes with a flick of her wrist. Her favorite trick.

Christen smiles into the kiss. “Nice.”

“I try,” Tobin smiles back, breaking the kiss to trail her lips up the girl’s jaw and down her throat, sucking harder with each whimper that involuntarily escapes her girlfriend’s lips.

And when her hand pushes down the girl’s pants, and Christen’s head falls back against the tree, eyes closed, the shell of a whispered “fuck” escaping her lips, Tobin swears she sees white.

 

______________________________________________

 

Twenty minutes later, she’s finally catching her breath and pulling her green, long-sleeve quarterzip back over her head with a dazed smile, as the two of them stumble out of the woods.

“Did we really just do that at the beginning of our first date?” Tobin asks breathily.

“What, you regretting it? Because, I, for one, thought that was hot,” Christen huffs out, slinging an arm around Tobin’s waist as they make it back to the trail.

“No dude, I was just gonna say it’s on-brand,” she grins, returning Christen’s action by pulling her in for a side-hug with an arm around the shoulder.

“Hah,” Christen chortles back. “You’re not wrong.”

The two of them keep walking down the trail. There’s some conversation, but mostly they’re enjoying each other’s company in silence, occasionally pointing out something in the lake or sunset that is now faded into a barely illuminated rich navy sky.

When they finally approach the building, Christen sees it’s a moderately small building make of logs, somewhat like your stereotypical cabin. She’s carefully studying the establishment, curious about where in the hell Tobin had taken her.

“Are you about to murder me in a cabin in the woods or something?” Christen asks.

“Maybe,” Tobin shrugs, before grabbing her hand and pulling her away from the door and around the side of the cabin before she can answer.

When they emerge around the other side, Christen’s surprised to see a huge, open patio. There’s a bar to the left, tables to the right, and a big open space in the middle just in front of a stage with a live band. Light bulbs hang along strings in a striped pattern from the trees around them, and turning around, there’s a dock that goes out onto the lake.

It’s dark now, so the lights are the only thing lighting everything up, and it’s rustic as hell, but also dreamy.

Christen takes a second to intertwine their fingers between their already attached hands as she looks around.

“This is awesome,” she breathes out instinctively, before turning to Tobin and tugging her hand as if to signal her to follow. “How’d you find this place?”

“I know you like live music, and I stumbled on it last year when I had to drive Kelley’s car from UNC to Georgia when she went on that international service trip at the end of the year.”

“Is Nashville on the way to Georgia…” Christen trails off skeptically as they approach the bar, letting go of her hand to bring both hands onto the counter.

“Not exactly,” Tobin smiles sheepishly. “I took a little ten hour detour.”

“Of course you did,” Christen rolls her eyes, before finally getting the bartender’s attention. She throws her and Tobin’s ID’s onto the counter. “Could we get an old fashioned and a gin & tonic please?”

After looking over both of their ID’s, the bartender nods and turns away to grab alcohol from the other side of the bar. “Sure thing, coming right up.”

“Tell me why I’m almost 22 and I still get nervous about showing my ID,” Christen laughs as she turns toward Tobin.

“Bad experience with your fakes?” Tobin responds.

“Well I tried to save money and went halfsies with Kel on some Alaska fakes last year, but —”

“—no one believes Alaska,” Tobin finishes her sentence.

“Exactly,” she nods, just as the bartender returns with their drinks. “Thanks!” she says with a sweet smile, grabbing both and handing the old fashioned to Tobin as they move toward a table.

“Speaking of, what’re you doing for your 22nd birthday?” Tobin asks, taking a seat on the bench on the opposite side of the table from Christen.

“Probably going hiking with my family,” Christen thinks out loud. “It’s sort of an annual tradition. Minus my 21st for… obvious reasons.”

“Yeah I gotta be honest,” Tobin smiles. “I remember about one hour of my actual 21st, and the next morning I woke up in the bottom of a tube slide on a playground across town.”

“Oh my god what?!” Christen laughs in response. “I think that tops the inadequate pole dancing show I accidentally gave everyone drunk on my 21st.”

“I would pay good money to see that,” Tobin responds immediately with a smirk, sipping her drink.

Christen smiles mischevously as she leans across the table slightly to whisper, “I think you get that for free now.”

“Say less,” she licks her lips, and there’s a momentary lapse in conversation as both of them take a few more gulps of their drink.

Tobin relishes in how easy it is to talk to her. Something about falling for your best friend is just a unique experience. It’s nervewracking, but at the same time, it’s just them hanging out, so it’s not nervewracking at all.

“Anyway, hiking sounds sick,” Tobin speaks into her glass, before looking back up at Christen across from her. “I used to go backpacking up in the Three Sister’s Wilderness in Oregon every year, you know, before soccer and school took over my life.”

“Ooh, dude, the trails there are immaculate,” Christen responds, before tilting her glass up to glug the last of her drink.

“Wow, SAT ready with that vocab!” Tobin teases sarcastically.

“Shut up,” Christen rolls her eyes.”I went cliff jumping on the Deschutes river with my sister last year after we played University of Portland.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve actually done that too,” Tobin smiles. “Funny.”

“You know what we haven’t done?” Christen asks in suspense as she stands up from the bench, prompting Tobin to look up at her with a furrowed eyebrow.

“What haven’t we done?”

“Tried to swing dance. Let’s go Heath!”

And then Christen is grabbing her hand and yanking her up from the table and to the open area of the patio where many other people are dancing to the live country music.

“Dear god,” Tobin mumbles to herself as she lets Christen pull her to a free area in the crowd, stopping abruptly when she does so.

She turns around with a bright smile that pierces through Tobin on the spot, and Tobin is completely at her mercy.

The band is playing some form of peppy country music, and other couples and groups are chatting and swinging each other around the dance floor.

Christen pulls Tobin into her, keeping their hands intertwined and wrapping an arm around Tobin’s neck.

Tobin has no idea what she’s doing, but she manages to slide her other arm around Christen’s waist and begin swaying, feeling Christen’s head lean on her shoulder.

They’re stepping back and forth, swinging around the dance floor, pulling apart every once and awhile -- whether it is to twirl Christen around, for them both to dance on their own, or having to lean back laughing. They’d stopped a few times to get more drinks, too. But their one hand never leaves each other’s grasp for the next hour and a half they spend twirling around under the lights to the music, laughing and talking about everything from their favorite trips they’ve ever tajen, to their biggest regrets in life.

It felt like one of those moments when everything just clicked into place, when you just fall into someone helplessly.

It was the first time she looked into Christen’s eyes and saw zero nerves, hesitation, no holding back. And she knows that part of it is that they’re in the middle of nowhere, near no one they know. She’s hoping that will resolve with time. After all, the girl just figured out she wasn’t straight.

Regardless, it feels different. The two of them together like this.

She’s spinning a giggling Christen one last time, feeling the girl collapse into her chest once more afterwards, when the band starts playing quieter.

At this point, Tobin and Christen are the closest pair to the small stage, and they both look up to see the guitarist standing above them, holding out a mic with a quirked eyebrow.

Christen looks to Tobin with the same quirked eyebrow.

“Oh what the hell,” Tobin says, reaching up to take the microphone and allowing herself to be pulled on the stage before she helps Christen up too.

They’re both more than a little drunk at this point, and when the band starts playing the beginning of Love Story by Taylor Swift, they both turn to each other in immediate recognition.

WE WERE BOTH YOUNG WHEN I FIRST SAW YOU…” Christen begins screaming not-so-gracefully into the microphone she grabs from Tobin, causing cheers from the other people at the patio bar.

She’s singing… or well, that’s a stretch. She’s yelling music to the audience for a minute or two, and Tobin’s just standing there swaying along to the beat, totally encapsulated by the way this girl can be so tightly-wound but also let so incredibly loose. The girl could have been praising Satan right now and she would still be utterly infatuated in this moment.

I got tired of waitingggg,” she finally sings as she starts circling Tobin.

And Tobin can’t stop the smile that breaks out on her face and the twisting feeling deep in her stomach that has become all too familiar recently.

Wondering if you were ever comin’ around, my faith in you was faaading, until I met you on the outskirts of town,” she’s singing as she comes back directly in front of Tobin, looking up at her face from a few inches away, which earns an “Ayeee” from the band and a couple of whistle calls from a few of the many people dancing on the ground below the stage.

The way Christen is looking into her eyes in this moment takes away all the air in the room. She feels like she can’t breathe with her looking at her this way.

So she does the only thing that she can do: slaps her hand on top of Christen’s on top of the microphone and leans in to scream the rest of the verse too, smiling and looking into her eyes as she does so.

When the end of the song comes and thye finish off screaming into the microphone, “...when I first sawww you”, everyone around them is clapping and cheering as Tobin pauses for a moment before grabbing the microphone and turning her head to hand it back to the band members. She feels Christen’s hands sliding onto her waist and lips pressing against her cheek for a moment, a melodious laugh ringing in her ear.

Turning back, she places her hand over Christen’s on her waist, sporting a small, close-lipped smile at the girl, before hopping down from the stage and gripping Christen’s waist to help her down too.

When she drops Christen on the ground, she doesn’t release her waist, and as the band keeps playing the next song, and everyone keeps moving, the two of them just stand there for a moment.

Tobin tucks a curl behind the girl’s ear, before leaning in slightly, eyes locked on Christen, drawn in by the green orbs staring intently back at her.

“I love you,” she finally whispers, feeling the suffocating weight lift off of her chest as she finally lets the words off of the where they have been sitting at the tip of her tongue.

The girl pauses for a moment, and just when Tobin’s about to start to worry, Christen cuts her thinking off with a quick kiss on the lips and an “I love you too, T,” whispered against them.

They stand there for a moment, foreheads pressed together as a smile pops onto both of their faces. Albeit they're both a little drunk, the moment didn't lose value.

“I know,” Tobin finally whispers teasingly.

“You lied though,” Christen says as she pokes her in the chest gently.

“When?” Tobin asks in confusion.

“You’re still covered in beer and you told me,” she says as she pokes the beer stain once again, referring to their texting conversation from the night before.

“When am I not, though,” Tobin points out with a raised eyebrow. “Let’s be real.”

“Yeah you raise a good point,” Christen laughs, and Tobin can’t stop herself from leaning forward to press her lips against her forehead.

She feels Christen’s arms wrap around her waist and her head bury into Tobin’s chest as Tobin’s arms wrap around the girl’s shoulders, pulling her into a bear hug. She sighs audibly at how good this feels, at how right this feels, at how much it took for these two emotionally unavailable jackasses to get their shit together enough to be here.

“We should get going soon,” Tobin speaks softly into her hair.

“Can we just stay like this for another song or two?”

“Course,” she kisses Christen’s hair.

 

____________________________________________________

 

They finally make it back to the car an hour and a half later.

When Tobin goes to let go of Christen’s hand to run around to the driver’s side of the car, she feels Christen’s grip tighten for a second and tug to get her attention.

She turns back toward Christen, and the girl just steps into her space, pushing her up against the side of the jeep, and slotting their lips together for a long, gentle kiss, before pressing a little harder and finally pulling away.

It’s nowhere near the first time they’ve kissed that night, but Tobin can’t help but smile like it was.

With a hand on Tobin’s cheek, she pulls back to look in her eyes. “Thank you for tonight. This was so much fun.”

“Mhm, anytime,” Tobin hums, before leaning in to kiss her one more time, before pushing them off the side of the car, starting to walk around to the other side. “Never heard a voice as angelic as yours,” she calls out over the car. “Like if a croaking frog was trying to sing opera. Truly one of a kind.”

“Oh my god,” Christen laughs as she slips in the passenger side and shuts the door. “Like you could do better.”

Tobin presses down on the gas pedal and turns the key, hearing the engine roar to life, before she places her arm on the back of Christen’s passenger seat and raises up to look out the back window as she backs up out of their spot. “I could but your croaking was hogging up the microphone.”

“You’re an ass,” Christen replies with an eye roll, “so I call aux.”

“Guess it’s only fair,” Tobin laughs as she turns around and pulls the car out of the parking lot and onto the street just outside of Nashville.

The streets are dark now that it is nighttime, and there are barely any lights on the road, and it just feels like it’s only them against the world at the moment. Only them in the world at the moment.

“So where to?” Christen finally asks.

“I was thinking we could just drive until we feel like crashing, and then find a place to sleep for a little,” Tobin replies.

“Wow, am I finally witnessing Nomad Heath in the flesh?” Christen asks excitedly as she rests her feet up on the dash in front of her seat.

“Mmm, I guess so,” Tobin hums. “And what do you think of her so far?”

“I mean, she’s alright,” Christen shrugs, trying to suppress a small smile on her face to act convincing but failing miserably to do so, which makes Tobin wince in cuteness as she sneaks a glance over.

“Don’t make me leave you in Tennessee,” Tobin emptily threatens her.

Christen doesn’t answer right away. Just stay silent. And Tobin knows her well enough to know that she’s contemplating whether or not to say something in this moment. So she waits, letting her cast take in the cool, nighttime breeze outside the window, paying close attention to the black asphalt that is barely lit up by the car's headlights. They're both riding on some sort of high, and it feels like one of those moments in which Christen is going to say something real.

It doesn't happen right away.

Or after 5 minutes.

Or 10.

Or 20.

Or 30.

Or even 40.

It's 50 minutes of softly singing along quietly to the music as they drive through western Tennessee, when Christen finally speaks up.

“Honestly?” she finally asks.

Nonetheless, Tobin’s still a little surprised by the sudden sincerity in her voice. “Sure,” she nods.

“I know a lot of shit happened this fall, but, um… I think this semester was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.”

Tobin takes a pause to think after that. It's indirect but direct all the same -- and completely requited. She's still thinking when she hears a sniffle from the passenger side, seeing that a few tears have escaped Christen’s eyes.

Keeping her left hand gripped loosely on the bottom of the steering wheel, she reaches her right hand over to use her thumb to brush them away, letting her hand linger on her cheek for a few moments, smiling when Christen leans into the touch. “Baby, don’t cry,” she whispers. “Me too.”

Reaching up, Christen removes Tobin’s hand from her cheek and brings it down to her lap, keeping a grip on it as she turns toward the open window, reaching her arm out in the crisp December air flying by the car.

“Sometimes I’m scared of how little control I have over how I feel for you,” Christen breaths out.

Tobin squeezes her hand, letting silence ring throughout the air for a few minutes before finally speaking.

“Yeah, I know the feeling,” Tobin replies quietly.

Christen smiles, looking over at Tobin, whose profile is lit up by the moonlight shining down over the highway in obscure Tennessee.

“Late night confessions are becoming our thing,” Christen breathily chuckles out as she leans her head back on the seat’s headrest.

“Guess so,” Tobin replies.

She hears Christen take a deep breath.

"I kinda have another one," she says as she looks out the window, clearly nervous about this one.

"...Okay..." Tobin trails off, giving her hand another squeeze.

“I— I— She,” Christen pauses, as if pondering how to say what she wanted to. “Kelley used to talk about you a lot.”

“Did she?” Tobin laughed with a grimace quality to it. “Yikes.”

“No, no. I just… last year she would talk about how your — your ex was like your soulmate or whatever. And I know you keep a picture of her with you. I’ve seen it on your desk... I kinda opened it once when you were sleeping..." Tobin laughs quietly to herself at the thought of Christen sneaking around her desk in the middle of the night. "...and in your pocket when the team travels for games and stuff. And it's just been on my mind lately, I don’t know…” she trails off, looking at Tobin’s wallet on the dashboard where a piece of folded paper is poking out.

It’s not a surprise necessarily. The insecurity, the uncertainty, but it’s something that Christen only sometimes reveals to Tobin, and something that she almost never lets anyone else see — the girl behind the mask of confidence.

What Christen doesn’t seem to realize is that Shirley was a big deal because she was the first love and the first heartbreak. And college was hard — she felt like she needed Shirley to get through it. And sure she needs Christen in some capacity, but she’s never, ever wanted someone’s life to intertwine with her own more than she has with this girl right here. She’s never clicked with someone this hard and fast. She’s never wanted someone this badly.

Tobin doesn’t respond right away. She reaches forward while driving to grab the picture of Shirley she had honestly forgotten was in her wallet — oops — and, without hesitation, lets it fly out the window, behind the car.

Christen doesn’t say anything immediately either, just sort of stares at Tobin as she pulls off the highway and into the parking lot of an IHOP.

Putting the car in park in a parking spot slightly isolated from the cluster of other cars there late at night, she finally looks over to Christen, looking at her in a way that locks their eyes together with necessity.

And then she’s turning her entire body in that direction, folding her legs underneath her on the seat in the process.

“Chris, we both had important relationships before this. I’ve told you that she’s part of the reason I transferred. And thank god she happened,” Tobin breathes out in a laugh, before her face turns slightly more serious, “because I never would’ve gotten to know you if she didn’t. I know words aren’t really our thing or whatever, but I’ve never felt like this before. Not with anyone.”

And it’s not direct by any means, but she knows Christen will know what she means, because somehow she always does. It’s inexplicable the way they know each other.

Christen brings her thumb to swipe across the underneath of Tobin’s lips as they remain just a few inches apart from each other in the quiet of the dimly lit parking lot.

“I’m scared. What if we ruin it all?”

“What do you mean?” Tobin’s brow furrows.

“The feeling that I get when I see you after a few days away. The way everything about me feels on fire when you come near me,” she whispers, the darkness giving her the shield of confidence she needs to say this. “I don’t want it to go away.”

“It won’t, C. We won’t let it.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

They stay close for a few minutes, just finding some comfort in each other's presence, the only thing cutting through the silence of the turned-off car was the sound of their heavy breathing. Before one of them breaks it again just as the silence was becoming uncomfortable.

“Sorry for bringing it up,” Christen says after a few moments in a small voice that sounds fairly close to nervous. “We were vibing.”

“Don’t apologize, I want you to talk to me about things,” she says quietly with a smile, before bringing her arms up to pull Christen into a hug, leaving a kiss on her temple before breathing in her hair, the smell of vanilla and lavender making her feel so safe, as it always does. She hopes in this moment that Christen feels the same way. “We can have real convos and still have a good time. Plus, we still have two more days to fuck around.”

She feels Christen laugh into her shoulder, before saying. “Me too, by the way.”

“You what?”

“Never felt this way before either. It’s what I wished for.”

Tobin smiles, also feeling high on any sort of confirmation she gets from Christen’s end of things, cherishing these moments when her firecracker of a girlfriend lulls into this gooey, soft creature she just wants to hold forever.

She hangs onto the girl for a few more minutes, enough to show she really meant it, and enough to close out the moment even without more words.

“Wanna know what I wished for?” Tobin asks as she pulls away and hops out of the car.

“Yeah,” Christen smiles.

Tobin brings her hands up to cup her mouth as she whisper-shouts, “Pancakes at 2 a.m. with the girl I love."

She hops out of the car quickly and shuts the door behind her.

“And who might that be?” Christen calls out as she opens her own door.

Tobin paces around the car toward Christen with her hands in her pockets. “Hmm, well she has wild, brown curls… hypnotizing green eyes… a killer ass…” she thinks out loud, as she sees Christen roll her eyes. “A total nutcase... but secretly super sentimental—”

“She is not!” Christen hits her in the shoulder as she arrives.

“Oh so you do know her?” Tobin plays forward.

“I might… what’s it to you?” Christen smirks.

Smirking back, Tobin leans forward to kiss the girl’s cheek, letting her momentum take her forward until her lips are just ghosting the shell of Christen’s ear. She’d be happy to tease back any day, but she also knows they’re on the tail end of something important Christen brought up to her. “It’s everything to me,” she whispers.

And she feels Christen’s jaw clench and her head nod at the words. And she pulls back and sees the look in the girl’s eyes that tells her everything she needs to know. They'd done enough words tonight, for sure. She doesn’t move for a moment as they just look at each other, before she finally starts backing up toward the IHOP building and turning around to pick up the pace.

“You coming or not?” she calls over her shoulder.

And then she hears footsteps pounding on the pavement behind her.

“That’s what she said!” Christen jokes as she sprints by her toward the restaurant.

And Tobin’s smiling inside and out as she follows closely behind.