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when i taste tequila (baby i still see ya)

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“No, no, no, no, no —”

“Tobin, shut up. I got this.”

“Yeah sure, dude.”

Aaaand there they go, Tobin thinks as four of her boxes go tumbling off her smaller, peppier half’s arms and to the floor, her belongings scattering across the dorm lobby.

Sigh.

Tobin looks up to meet the eyes of several new students and families who are looking over in the direction of this college move-in massacre, some clearly holding back laughs at the scene, and some, well, clearly not.

Double sigh.

Just how she wanted to start over at a new school. But I mean, is she really surprised. This WAS Kelley O’Hara after all — never one for a dull moment… and not usually by choice. They don’t call her ‘half-pint dynamite’ for nothing.

Coming into UNC as a junior transfer, Kelley was the only person Tobin knew. And lucky enough, Kelley also happened to be one of her best friends. When you spend the greater part of four years in a hotel room with the same person, it’s nearly impossible not to get that close.

Growing up, Tobin always considered herself some sort of a minimalist. Not in the sense that she did not need much material items to live—although an argument could be made for that as well—, but it just really took little for her to find contentment. Throwing herself into new activity after new activity, she found energy in the freedom and in the unfamiliar. Sure, she played basketball, competed in gymnastics tournaments, tried fencing, and even joined the diving team until an unfortunate meet when she misjudged her double back-tuck and collided stomach-first with the pool water (and she hasn’t gone near a diving board since). But really, it was clear in the way she lived her day-to-day life - floating from one friends house to the next, spending her off-days taking road trips to the middle of nowhere, existing in the moment instead of on her phone (her friends would complain about how hard it was to get a hold of her), even down to the way she walked. A “free spirit”, as some might call it.

Those who really knew her would know that there's more to Tobin than what meets the eye. While she may seem careless, she is indeed careful, calculated. She cautiously expends her energy, but when she does choose to spend it on something that something becomes her whole world. So it comes as no surprise that when Tobin first kicked a soccer ball at age 7, she never looked back. She was never one for the spotlight — she just wanted to play the game and get better everyday. However, rising level meant rising attention, and Tobin received her first call-up to the youth national level at age 13. It was there that she met the one and only, half-pint dynamite, that is Kelley O’Hara.

They were fast friends. For the entirety of the high school years, where there was Tobin, there was bound to be Kelley not too far behind. Kelley had seen Tobin through the highs and lows of soccer, school, friendships, and family—really everything. At one point or another, Kelley herself became family. Yet while soccer was once her and Kelley’s secluded serenity from life, it soon became nearly every part of their life and future, especially with them both committing to play D1 college soccer at age 14. While they had gone off to different universities — Kelley to UNC Chapel Hill and Tobin to Stanford — their friendship had never wavered, something that Tobin was extremely grateful for.

The only problem with making something your whole world, is that when it gets taken away, you feel completely empty. And when that something is a someone, you grow a void that you just can’t seem to fill.

So here Tobin was, picking up her move-in personal belongings that Kelley had dropped all over the residence hall floor, just months after Kelley had picked Tobin and six bottles of vodka off of the floor of her California apartment after finding Shirley (her someone) naked and guilty in her roommate’s bed the day after their two-year anniversary.

So here Tobin was, with baggage the size of Mount Kilamanjaro, towing behind her a string of pointless one night stands that never quite filled the Shirley-shaped indentation left behind.

So here Tobin was, moving into her dorm at a new school on the opposite side of the country for preseason.

So here Tobin was, trying to start over.

_________________________________________________

 

By the time her and Kelley had gathered everything from the floor and dragged it up six flights of stairs, nearly forty-five minutes had passed.

Tobin collapsed onto the bed closest to the window with a huff. Who the hell designs a nine story building with ONLY stairs.

Turning her head in a quick 180, she took in the room that would be her home for the next eight months.

Bright white walls starkly contrasted the deep gray cement floor. Two twin sized beds were lined up horizontally in succession along the right wall, before a patch of empty space leading up to two adjacent, light-wood desks at the back wall made up of one huge glass window. The previous owners left two dressers sitting within the two sliding-door closets on the left side of the room.

Tobin let out a sigh at the thought of having to move the dressers out of the closet herself. She squinted as the striped light hit her eyes from where it shined through the shades covering the top half of the window wall, before a thud quickly drew her back to reality.

“So where’s your stuff?” asked Tobin, curiously turning her head to the side to look at the empty half of the room near the door, as she lies flat on her back on the twin-sized bed closest to the window.

“I moved in yesterday, so all my stuff is already at the house,” Kelley grunts out as she lugs a particularly heavy box toward the desk. “Dude, what is in here, a stack of bricks? Oh god it’s books isn’t it - tell me you didn’t bring your library to school..”

Her friends call it the portable library. To Tobin, it was just an escape from her busy reality.

“It’s just the essentials, Kel.”

Pfft essentials sure” mumbled Kelley under her breath, just loud enough for her best friend to hear.

“Shut up.” Tobin says back as she reaches to her left to grab a pillow and throw it across the room at her best friend. “Reading’s my happy place.”

“I thought your happy place was three fingers deep into the nameless bimbo from the bar that night,” Kelley rolled her eyes as she opened a bottle of water and took a few glugs.

Tobin smirked. “Can’t a girl have more than one happy place?”

Kelley choked on her last gulp of water. “Touchê.”

It was no secret that Tobin and Kelley were into women, and some might even call them the ultimate wingwoman duo. On more than one occasion on the road, they had beguiled their way into clubs together. And on more than one occasion, they both left the clubs separately (and neither one of them alone).

It was never over the top. They just liked to have fun.

And it was in a club in Southern California after the last night of a National Team Camp during their first year of university that things began to change. Kelley knew it from the first time she saw Tobin look at Shirley. It was in the way her eyes lingered on Shirley’s profile just a second longer than usual. It was in the way Tobin’s hands sat a few inches lower on Shirley’s waist than they did with other girls. And it was no surprise to Kelley when Tobin, for the first time, started coming and leaving the club with the same person — and it wasn’t Kelley.

As quickly as Shirley sauntered into their lives, she was gone in what seemed ten times faster.

The last four months had been different. It felt like Tobin was searching for something that was now lost, leaving behind an easily-traced crumb trail of one night stands. The reputation she had gathered in just a few months somehow made girls flaunt themselves at Tobin even harder than they had before. And with her “natural swagger”, as some called it, the baseline was pretty high to begin with. There was just something about her.

Kelley kept an eye on her, but let Tobin do her thing until that one night. That one night of broken bottles, of crying so hard she spent hours hunched over the toilet. They didn’t speak about it again, but Tobin knew when she was bringing it up, without bringing it up.

“Kell, it’s fine. I’m fine.”

“All I’m saying is you have garnered quite the reputation, my friend. Even all the way over here, the soccer world is a small one,” Kelley replied gently, knowing this was a touchy subject for her best friend, even if she wouldn’t outright admit it. Tobin doesn’t outright admit anything.

Tobin sighed -- she knew this conversation was coming.

“Well they all know what they’re getting into, I’m not hurting anyone,” Tobin replied semi-defensively. Doesn’t everyone say college is the time to experiment and sleep around or whatever. Tobin rolled over to face the window and paused to take a deep breath. Plus she spent the first two years of college in a serious relationship. Didn’t she deserve a break?

“You.”

“Me what?”

“You are hurting yourself dingbat.”

Tobin’s sigh this time was nearly a grunt. “Wait woah woah can we backtrack. You aren’t my roommate??”

Kelley rolled her eyes at the abrupt subject change. “Um, no dude. I live in the soccer house with a few of the other juniors on the team.”

“Kel are you kidding me?” Tobin nearly shouts. “You convinced me to transfer this school specifically and live in the dorms, and now instead of you I’m going to have to room with some random slimy creepy bitch—,” she cuts off her speech and rapidly turns around at the sound of a knock on the door they had propped open with a hanger.

In the door stood a moderately tall, lean girl, arms crossed snug against her abdomen. She wore a tight-fitting, black short-sleeve shirt, and light-wash jean shorts that revealed her toned legs and caramel skin. One of her arms came up to brush some of her dark curls out of her eyes, before moving her large-framed black sunglasses up to her forehead. Tobin's eyes followed her every movement compulsively, as if she moved in slow motion.

“PRESSY!!”, screamed Kelley as she ran full-force into the girl.

Tobin stared blankly at the two in the doorway as they had their reunion. She raised her eyebrow as she saw Kelley’s hand placement on the girl’s lower waist - very lower waist. When she let her eyes travel back up to the girl’s face, she was surprised to find a pair of piercing green eyes already staring back at her. Almost staring into her.

“Oh my god Kell, I’m so excited to see you. Why are you here?” said the green-eyed girl, finally breaking eye contact and loosening her grip and instead intertwining one of her hands with Kelley’s hand.

Tobin let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding in, before coughing to gain their attention. “Uh she’s helping me into my room. Hence why she’s in this room, my room. And we were kinda in the middle of something, if you don’t mind.”

Shit, that sounded rude.

In all honesty, she was just still not in the greatest mood, and the green-eyed girl’s entrance put an unsettling and all-too familiar feeling deep in her core.

To her surprise, the girl just chuckles to herself and makes eye contact with Kelley. “Uh, I do mind actually.”

“Well— wait sorry who are you?” asked Tobin as she furrows her eyebrows. Amidst the distracting moment, she had kinda forgotten to process that this girl and Kelley clearly know each other. Maybe even know each other.

The green-eyed girl drops her bags to the floor near the bed and strolls across the room toward the window bed and holds out her hand toward Tobin. “Christen, your roommate,” she says. “But you can call me ‘slimy creepy bitch.’” she finishes while chucking sarcastically. Facepalm. Making great first impressions today, aren’t we.

Tobin loses herself for a moment as the girl steps forward and the sun coming through the window reflects off of her green eyes.

Tobin pinches herself back to the present. She takes the girls’ hand in hers and flashes her characteristic smile. “I’m so sorry, I’m having one of those days. I’m Tobin, and you’ll have to let me make it up to you,” she says back smoothly, placing her other hand on top of their connected hands in sincerity. Aaand she’s back. Nice one.

They continue to make eye contact as their handshake extends far beyond the acceptable time limit. They eventually break apart as Kelley coughs from the far side of the room. Tobin looked down at her feet dangling off the bed as she felt a rare blush rising up her neck. She raised her right hand to rub the back of her neck — a nervous habit.

The green-eyed girl’s reaction wasn’t too dissimilar. She raised her head from where it pointed toward the ground and allowed her gaze to settle on Tobin again, revealing an identical blush that had made its way up to her bronze cheeks. Her eyes momentarily followed Tobin’s hand as it traced back and forth across her neck, before bringing her eyes back up to Tobin’s and beginning to speak again as they locked gazes.

“No need to introduce yourself, I know who you are Tobin.”

Christen turned around and coughed a few times into her elbow before Tobin could process her words. “Excuse me, haven’t played in months, I’m soooo out of shape,” she says as she flashes a sarcastic smile. “I can’t believe we got stuck in the no-elevator building.”

“You don’t look out of shape to me,” Tobin quips.

Christen turns around at that, smiles, and shakes her head visibly. She sees Kelley shift uncomfortably on the other side of the room.

“I’m sorry again, I really am not usually that rude,” Tobin confesses into the comfortable lull.

“Is that so?”, challenges the green-eyed girl in return.

Tobin raises an eyebrow. She knows an invitation to banter. “Yeah. What, you don’t believe me?”

“Does it matter what I think?”

Tobin playfully scoffs, feigning offense. “I’ll have you know, I’ve never met a parent who didn’t love me.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it, Tobin.”

“Heath.”

“What?”

Tobin leans back, resting her weight on her hands behind her. “My last name. It’s Heath.”

“Like the candy bar?”

“What can I say, I’m sweet,” replies Tobin, flashing an innocent smile.

Christen fully rolls her eyes at that. “Yeah well I’ve yet to see evidence of that, Tobin Heath.”

“Well you could,” hummed Tobin, before making eye contact with the girl again. “If you let me buy you coffee sometime.”

Christen’s mouth hangs open just for a moment, as if she’s surprised by Tobin’s confidence, before erupting into a small grin. “Yeah no need to make it up to me, think I’ll pass,” she states with a smirk, watching as Tobin’s own smirk slightly falters. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Kelley trying to hold in a laugh from the other side of the room.

Christen turned around in the next moment before Tobin could reply, strutting out the door with a satisfied swing in her step.

“KELLEY, let’s go!” Tobin hears from the hallway.

Kelley coughed once again to draw Tobin’s attention from the doorframe, where she had clearly just followed Christen’s ass with her eyes out of the door. “Off limits.”

“What is?” Tobin asks knowingly.

“Chris. She’s off limits from your little happy place parade.”

Tobin studies Kelley’s face curiously, noting the hesitance and nerves that definitely weren’t there before.

It’s then that Tobin puts it together. Christen is Chris, Kelley’s best friend at UNC, fellow forward, and the girl Kelley never shuts up about. The one she brings up in every conversation. The one she settles for casual with, albeit she wants more. The one Tobin would believe was a made-up fantasy, if it weren’t for social media.

And Oh.

“Suuure, we’ll see about that,” Tobin chortles in her typical fashion. But her eyes, which were now intently looking at Kelley’s, say differently.

Kelley visibly deflates and gives her a quick look that says thanks, before her face hardens into a pointed smirk. “Didn’t seem like you were gonna have any luck with that anyway,” she sing-songs as she skips out the door after Christen before Tobin has a chance to reply.

Tobin falls back onto the bed again, and lets herself sink into the first silence she’s had since arriving in North Carolina. She love’s Kelley, but being around her is like being caught outside in a rainstorm — incredibly thrilling, oddly comforting, but also exhausting.

She closes her eyes and, for just a moment, allows her mind to wander back toward the green-eyed girl. To the way her dark curls framed her angled jaw. To the way she challenged Tobin. To the way her toned back muscles tensed and relaxed and Kelley moved her hands down — No.

Her eyes shoot back open as she launches into a standing position. She paces over to the window of her sixth floor dorm room, carefully sidestepping the box of books Kelley had been carrying earlier, and looks out over the large green quad surrounded by two other dormitories and two academic buildings made of bright red brick. Not a person in sight, Tobin thinks to herself. The grass is so green, just a few shades darker than her eyes.

“Nope. You don’t even know her”, she cuts her thoughts off. “You’re a great friend. You’re Tobin.”

“Well hi great friend Tobin, I’m Ashlyn.” Tobin whips around faster than a car racing down the breakdown lane to avoid rush hour traffic, only catching a quick glanceover of the blonde girl standing in the open doorway before falling over the box of books and landing on cement floor with a thud.

Major ouch.

Looking up, she sees a long, tattooed arm held out in front of her face. Tobin quickly takes it and is lifted from the floor back to her feet.

“Thanks man. I’m Tobin,” she breathes out heavily as she stretches her arms out. Bruised up right before preseason, nice going.

“Yeah, I heard Tumble T” Ashlyn chuckles. “Sorry about that I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wanted to introduce myself when I saw you in here. I live in 602!”

“Wow, day one and I already have a new nickname,” laughs out Tobin.

“As long as you stay on your two feet on the soccer field I think you’ll be okay. And from what I’ve seen from you, I don’t think that’ll be much of a challenge.”

Tobin looks up and smiles a toothy grin. “Awesome, so you’re on the team too? Sorry, I haven’t met too many people yet.”

“Yup, I’ll be the one yelling at you from the 18! I’m so glad that someone else from the team is in the dorms. I thought I was going to be the only one from our year not in the soccer house.”

“Guess we’ll just have to have our own hangouts without them. Me, you, Christen, and….”

“Ali.”

“Ah, Ali. Is she on the team too?” inquires Tobin.

“Nah, she's a .. friend.. from the lacrosse team.”

“Oh cool that’s awesome. I can’t wait to meet her,” smiles Tobin.

“Yeah, her and Chris are pretty close, too. Have you met Chris yet? She’s awesome.”

Tobin suddenly chokes on air at the mention of Christen. “Ye-yeah, we met.”

“She has that effect on most people,” Ashlyn laughs out heartily, patting Tobin on the back. “C’mon, let’s go grab some food, I’m starving.”

_________________________________________________

Tobin doesn’t get back to the dorm until late that night. She’d gone out to a local mexican restaurant for tacos and margaritas with Ashlyn, and they’d instantly clicked. It almost reminded her of how fast Kelley and her clicked years ago.

They liked all the same things — full days at the beach, surfing til their fingers pruned, soccer (of course), summer rides in jeep wranglers with the top off, weaving through crowds on campus sidewalks on a skateboard, girls.

For the first time since she set foot outside the Charlotte airport, Tobin forgot about California for a little while.

She doesn’t see Kelley or Christen again until a few days later. Christen’s half of the room remained empty, besides the two bags she had dropped off when they met, and Tobin just assumed that she slept over at the soccer house with the rest of the juniors on the team.

After waking up with a mild hangover from the margaritas, Tobin spent the entirety of the second day unboxing, unpacking, and organzing the dorm room. She didn’t bring much. In fact, all of her clothes fit in the three drawer dresser she lugged out from the closet. On the bright side, that left the closet space open for her larger than average shoe collection.

Tobin sighed as she removed the stack of pictures from the bottom of her book box. She laid them all out on the desk in front of her one-by-one, but not before taking a moment to reminisce on the captured moments. Pictures of her family — whom she loved more than anything —, of her best friend Alex back in California, of her Stanford team winning the quarter-finals the year prior, of her and Kelley playing pranks in the National team hotels, of the last surfing trip she had taken in Manhattan beach.

She stopped and sucked in a sharp breath as a picture of Shirley surfaced. Carefully, she traced her index finger along Shirley’s smiling jaw, losing herself for a moment. She held the picture over the trash can, shaking her head to herself. But she didn’t drop it. She couldn’t drop it. Withdrawing her arm, she folded the picture carefully in quarters, placing it under the blue paperweight in the corner of the desk.

“Someday you’ll let go,” she whispers to herself.

Finally, Tobin scatters all of her training snacks and soccer items across the floor closest to the window. Tobin wasn’t a particularly organized person. She practiced what she called “organized chaos” -- while it looks like a mess to anyone else, she knew exactly where everything was placed. Hope Christen doesn’t mind.

Then again, Christen still wasn’t back.

Tobin took a few steps to Christen’s desk, upon which she had tossed her phone some four or five hours earlier, deciding to shoot a quick text to Kelley to make sure her roommate was at least okay. Flipping over her phone to unlock it, there are a few messages from her parents, one from Alex, and one from Kelley. She decides she’ll answer everyone else later, quickly clicking on Kelley’s thread, expecting the typical inappropriate comment or joke.

She wasn’t too far off. There on her phone screen is a smiling selfie of Kelley in front of her bed, where Christen is lying in a bikini that leaves very little to the imagination. Tobin’s breath catches in her throat as she scans the green-eyed girl’s bronze skin and curves. Taking one more deep breath, she looks down to the text below it.

 

[Image.]

6:16 p.m. Kel: Looking for a third ;) You in?

6:17 p.m. Kel: Lol come over, all the juniors are hanging out

8:57 p.m. Tobs: What would you do if I said yes ;)

8:59 p.m. Kel: gross Toby

9:00 p.m. Tobs: don’t call me that

9:01 p.m. Kel: Whatever, are you coming or what

9:03 p.m. Tobs: haha I think I’m good here. Thanks though

9:03 p.m. Kel: Oh come on, I’m here !!

9:04 p.m. Tobs: are you trying to make me stay away? you’re doing well, bravo

9:06 p.m. Kel: You suck. I bought your favorite beeeeer

9:07 p.m. Tobs: I’m tired, I’m just gonna stay here

9:10 p.m. Kel: Don’t make me launch the cavalry on you

9:16 p.m. Tobs: ….. what does even mean

 

There’s a loud knock on her door before she gets an answer. Followed by another. Then another.

“Alright I’m coming, jeez,” Tobin calls out, reaching for the door handle.

She opens the door to Ashlyn, dressed in black Nike slides, bright red board shorts, and a black muscle tee that shows off her tattoo sleeves. Her dirty blonde hair is down and messy.

“Get in loser, we’re going to the soccer house,” cheers Ashlyn.

“Bro, you did not just make a mean girls joke.”

“You know I did, let’s go.” Ashlyn pauses, seeing a confused look on Tobin’s face. “Kelley sent me.”

Tobin’s face softens as she chuckles at her best friend’s antics. “Oh, of course she did.” She sighs in defeat. “Guess she wins. Let me just change real quick I’ll be out in a minute.”

Letting the door swing shut behind her, she takes a deep breath. Here we go.

Jogging over to her dresser, she takes out a pair of black skinny jeans and a white t-shirt and quickly changes into them. After quickly throwing on a pair of red and black Jordans and grabbing her favorite black snapback, she pauses for a moment.

“It’s going to be okay. Having fun is good. Just smile and —”

“Hey T squared, stop talking to yourself and get your fine ass out here, let’s go!” she hears a muffled voice yell through the door.

“T-squared?” asks Tobin as she opens the door.

“Yeah, for Tumble Tobin, you clutz. Don’t think I forgot about that,” she says as she reaches around Tobin to grab her longboard. “Ready to hit the road?”

With a simple nod and a smile, they’re on their way.

_________________________________________________

Fifteen minutes later, she’s pulling up to the soccer house on her midnight black longboard, Ashlyn right behind her. Tobin quickly kicks it up to her left hand, taking in the scene in front of her.

Red solo cups are scattered across the lawn, interspaced with groups of laughing faces sitting out on the grass in front of a porch even more full of people. She can feel the thumping of the bass from the music in her feet from where they stand on the pavement.

Feeling a hand on her left shoulder, she turns to see Ashlyn now standing next to her. “We can go throw our boards in Morgan’s room, and then I’ll introduce you to some people,” she says as she takes off toward the porch. “Try to keep up T-squared!” she calls, prompting Tobin to jog up behind her.

Entering the house, Tobin smiles to herself as she surveys the room. She doesn’t know what she was expecting when Kelley said the juniors were “hanging out”, but this was not it. But she’s not salty about it.

She follows Ashlyn down a hallway to the right and to a room at the end of the hall.

“Here, I’ll throw it over here next to mine,” Ashlyn says as she takes the longboard from Tobin’s hands and places it in the corner.

Just a moment later, they all are tumbling onto the bed in the corner of the room under the weight of a small human.

“Guys, guys, guys,” they hear from above them. Kelley.

Ashlyn and Tobin shove the girl off of them and move to sit on the bed, while Kelley quickly drags the chair away from the desk and plops down on it backward, such that her chest is up against the back of the chair, her arms resting on top.

Tobin chuckles at the ball of energy that just entered the room. “What’s up Kel?”
“I’m so glad you came Toby. Ash, did you know Toby is the best.”

“Somone’s already drunk,” Ashlyn shoots toward Tobin in a quiet voice. “And to think I thought we were early.”

“Are you really surprised?” Tobin shoots back, and Ashlyn lets out a laugh.

“You know who is also the best,” Kelly continues to ramble. “Chris. She’s also so pretty. And nice. And her tongue — mmm mmh mhmmm,” she finishes in an incomprehensible mumble after Tobin shot off of the bed to cover her mouth with her hand.

Although the look that Ashlyn is giving her - one of both amusement and pity - tells her that this is not surprise news.

She keeps her hand there until her best friend’s mumbling dies out, replaced by a warm, wet sensation. “EW, Kelley.” Tobin releases her hand.

Kelley looks up with a devilish grin. “You like it. Anyway, I just came to tell you, Toby, that I’m taking my shot with Chris soon. Life’s too short.”

“Inspiring,” murmured Ashlyn from the bed.

Kelley shouted goodbye as she took off running out of the room. “I’m back bitches!” they hear shouted from down the hall, prompting both Ashlyn and Tobin to laugh for a moment.

“I mean good for her, I guess,” Tobin shrugs.

Ashlyn lets out a sigh. “It’s a little more complicated than that.”

Before Tobin can ask her what she means, Ashlyn is up and off walking toward the door, prompting Tobin to quickly follow.

“So what’s the scene tonight?” questions Tobin as they make their way back down the hallway.

“Well all the sports teams are here. It was our turn to host the preseason party. It’s kinda an annual thing,” states Ashlyn distractedly as she receives a head gesture from a dark haired girl on the other side of the room. “Wanna get drinks first?”

“Lead the way,” returns Tobin casually.

Ashlyn drags Tobin by the arm into the kitchen in the back of the first floor, telling her to grab whatever she wants, while she grabs some Whiskey. Tobin strides over to the fridge and searches the shelves with her eyes until they land on a case of Old Milwaukee in the rear of the second shelf. Thank youuuuu Kelley.

After grabbing a beer, she turns around to see Ashlyn staning in front of a brunette girl who is leaning against the counter. Ashlyns left hand rests on the cabinet next to the girl’s head, her right hand holding a solo cup. She’s talking animatedly, the girl in front of her laughing and hanging onto Ashlyn’s every word. Cute.

They jump apart as Tobin greets them.

“Hey T-squared, this is Ali, my roommate and um, friend, on the lacrosse team I was telling you about,” Ashlyn states with a glowing smile and a hand on the small of Ali’s back.

Tobin gives her an amused look. “Hey, Ali, friend of Ashlyn. I’m Tobin, your neighbor I guess,” she says, emphasizing the word friend knowingly.

Ashlyn and Ali look at each other quickly and smile. Double Cute. Tobin sets a mental reminder to ask her about this later.

“Nice to meet you Tobin, I’m Ali, as she said,” laughs Ali, before leaning over and whispering something in Ashlyns ear. She gives Tobin a quick wave before skipping out the opposite side of the kitchen.

Tobin clears her throat, drawing Ashlyn’s attention back from Ali’s disappearing figure, and stares at her in amusement.

“Shut up, I’m working on it. Speaking of, I have to go for a minute and, uh, work on it. I’ll be back okay?” she calls out to Tobin, running out of the kitchen in the same direction as Ali before Tobin even had a chance to respond.

Tobin sighs, taking in the empty kitchen around her. She tips her head back and takes a long swig of her beer as she leans against the back counter, relishing the tingling sensation as the beer runs down the back of her throat.

“Enjoying yourself?” she hears from a familiar voice, snapping her back to reality, putting an automatic smile on her face.

“I am now,” she quickly replies.

Christen laughs, and Tobin thinks that she wants to make her laugh again.

“Smooth.”

Tobin takes a moment to take in the girl in front of her, letting her eyes travel up and down her toned figure, down the legs exposed beneath her short jean skirt, up to the collarbones protruding out from her black tube top, and finally settling on the sliver of skin left exposed beneath the bottom of her top.

She eventually moves her gaze back up to Christen’s eyes, looking away for a moment when she realizes she’s been caught.

“Would you dare even say it was, sweet?” She slides a few feet down the counter, closer to where the green-eyed girl stands.

Rolling her eyes, Christen also takes a few steps toward Tobin, until she's standing just in front of her, just a few inches away from leaning her body up against Tobins.

Surprised, Tobin sucks in an audible breath, and the green-eyed girl smirks, leaning further into Tobin’s space, almost in slow motion.

Shit.

Frozen in place, her eyes travel down her tanned face up close now. She’s so close that she can feel the puffs of Christen’s warm breath against her neck, and it makes her erupt in goosebumps.

They stand there for a minute. Neither moving anything, minus their wandering eyes.

For a moment, she thinks she sees Christen’s eyes look down at her lips. But just as quickly, Christen’s body pulls away from hers, dragging with her the bottle of tequila that was sitting behind Tobin on the counter. Tobin lets out a small gasp.

Who the hell is this girl?

She looks up to see Christen sending her a knowing glance, pouring the tequila into two adjacent shotglasses. “What? I wanted the tequila. Here, take one with me.” She hands Tobin a shot glass.

Tobin doesn’t usually go for hard liquor. It reminds her of the long nights she spent crying over what could’ve been. The nights that forced Kelley to drag her off the floor. Kelley. Christen. Oh no. Okay, this is just being friendly, getting to know my roommate.

She’s barely spoken to this girl. She doesn’t know this girl. But one thing she does know, is that she already can’t resist a single thing she says. “Give it,” she returns.

They hold their gaze as they slowly lift the shots of tequila to their mouths, breaking it only to toss the drink back.

Christen makes an adorable pout at the aftertaste that brings a small smile to Tobin’s face.

They stand next to each other against the counter for a few minutes, neither one of them speaking, letting the liquor set in, and listening to the music radiating from the next room over. Just as the silence is starting to get uncomfortable, Christen interrupts. “Wanna go play pong? I made a bet with Kelley” She glances over at Tobin.

“Um, sure. You trust me on a Kelley bet? I’ve been on the receiving end of her losing dares before.”

Christen giggles at her comment. “I’ll keep an eye on you. Besides, I’ve heard you’re pretty decent with your hands.”

Tobin catches the crafty smile Christen shoots her before turning for the door. She takes off after her, holding back a grin of her own.
_________________________________________________

For the rest of the night, Christen and Tobin pretty much stick together. They were a hit at the beer pong table, winning six games, and sending Kelley into a competitive rage. After they watched Kelley carry out her losing dare — she had to give a lap dance to a guy on the rowing team —, they decided to head outside for some fresh air. The party had started to die down around 1 a.m., people slowly making their way past where Christen and Tobin sat on the front porch swing, and out into the street.

There’s something oddly calming about Christen’s presence. Something that finally freed her mind from the Shirley-themed jail cell it had been living in for months. It had been two hours, and the conversation was still flowing easily. It was almost like they skipped the need for small-talk entirely. There was so much more to Christen than what meets the eye. Yet somehow, the more she learned, the more the green-eyed girl became a mystery.

She’s a middle child of three sisters. Her favorite color is the pink-purple color at the top of an early sunset. She grew up in the Los Angeles area, spending time at the same beaches that Tobin traverses in the off-season. Tobin finds herself wondering if they’ve ever unknowingly crossed paths before, wondering what would’ve happened if they’d met years before. Her leg bounces when she’s nervous. She has two dogs—Morena and Khaleesi—that put an extra sparkle in her green eyes. She learned that sometimes Christen feels tremendous pressure to perform on the field, and how Kelley is the only one who has pulled through for her.

Tobin was starting to understand Kelley’s fascination with this woman.

Tobin was already becoming too familiar with that feeling herself.

Tobin really needed to get over this.

When she noticed the trickling people started to become less frequent, Tobin looked down at her watch.

1:43 a.m.

Hmm getting late.

Christen interjected her thoughts. “Press.”

“What?” Tobin said, looking up inquisitively.

“My last name. I never told you what it was.”

“Christen Press,” Tobin whispered to herself, before turning to the girl and speaking louder. “Well Christen Press, you’re very fun to be around, you know that?”

The green-eyed girl smiles and mumbles back at her. “Mhm, and…” she prompts Tobin to continue.

“And are you gonna finally let me buy you a coffee now?” she questions, sending a wry smile in Christen’s direction. Just a friendly coffee. Like friend’s have. With friends. Friends.

Christen stands up slowly from the porch swing. “Nope, I think I learned enough about you tonight, Tobin Heath. You’re alright entertainment though,” she shrugs.

Tobin stands up next to her, a little surprised at the immediate rejection. “Well, that just shows you how little you know me.” She takes a step toward Christen. “You see, I can be far more than ‘alright’ entertainment. Not giving up that easily.”

“That’s a shame.”

Tobin takes another step forward. “I thought most women admire persistence.”

Christen opens her mouth to respond after a moment, but she’s interrupted by the opening of the house door. Tobin’s eyes are still locked on Christen’s, but out of the corner of her eye, she sees a few soccer girls whom she had met earlier exit the house, including Ashlyn and her friend Ali, alongside some tall, athletic-looking guys. She breaks eye contact to follow one of the guy’s arms as they encircle Christen’s abdomen, followed by a “hey babe”, a kiss on her cheek, and a “let’s go back to my place” whispered just loud enough for Tobin to hear.

Christen begins taking slow steps backwards toward the lawn, in the direction of the guy and his friends. She pauses for a moment, looking back up to where Tobin is standing with a very phased look on her face, and begins to speak.

“Well that shows you how little you know me. I’m not most women.”

Tobin can only stare, her eyes following Christen as she runs down the steps and leaps on the back of the guy from the porch. She walks up to the railing of the porch, laughing to herself. Christen Press.

She’s interrupted from her staring by Kelley jumping on her own back.

“So I see you and Pressy get along. I don’t know what to do T. She’s really something,” whines Kelley.

“Yeah, she’s really something,” Tobin replies, eyes still watching the mysterious green-eyed girl’s figure disappear into the darkness down the street.

Chapter Text

Preseason went just how you’d expect it to. Morning fitness and lift, afternoon technical drills or full-team play, and the occasional night time strategy talk. The routine was nice. It was something to keep her mind occupied and stable, especially after she opened instagram one afternoon to see all of her old teammates reuniting, and Shirley’s hand intertwined with the same one it was that morning.

Tobin deleted instagram.

Overall, she actually felt pretty good about preseason. Vlatko, their coach, had tried to recruit her just four years ago, so he knew her strengths and weaknesses, and he knew exactly how to exploit them to their best extent.

As for the team, she fit in seamlessly. To be honest, she was surprised at how fast and easily they welcomed someone from their self-proclaimed rival team. On the field, they quickly built up familiarity with Tobin’s style of play. She’d even found out during the second week of preseason that the whole team had a bet going to see who could meg Tobin before she megged them. Off the field, they brought her everywhere, seemingly fighting for her attention, in a way that made Tobin feel wanted, rather than just tolerated. And that felt good.

As for Christen Press… she'd been living rent-free in Tobin’s mind.

Where was she actually living? Who knows.

She’s seen Christen around since that night, mostly at practice and games, walking through the dining hall, or making out with her boyfriend in the corner of parties.

Parties now characterized by listening to Kelley complain about just that.

But Christen’s half of the dorm remained empty. And the multitude of nights Tobin spent during those first few weeks of school, holding her best friend as she cried herself to sleep, made it pretty clear that the green-eyed girl had not been spending her nights at the soccer house.

Tobin noticed Christen’s absence.

But it was a different type of absence than the one staking her heart for the past six months.

Her memories from California felt like a half-empty glass of hot water, slowly boiling away, leaving behind an emptiness approaching in the slowest, most painful manner.

Christen’s absence felt like the moment at the bar before taking a gulp of a drink you’ve never had before. Desire. Mystery. A glass half-full.

Tobin noticed Christen’s absence. In some ways, she kind of treasured it.

 

______________________________

 

What she didn’t understand was why Christen was always looking at her.

Once, on the last day of preseason, Tobin called her out for it.

 

“If you keep watching, I might even do a trick,” Tobin whispered next to her shoulder as she jogged by Christen during a scrimmage.

She expected Christen to shy away or look, well, caught.

Instead, she saw Christen smile and bite her bottom lip.

“Go ahead then,” she replied.

Tobin was next to the sideline, where she quickly grabbed a ball, flicked it up to land on her shoulder, before dropping it back down to a foot hold. She flicked the ball back to the sideline, before accidentally tripping over her own feet.

And suddenly, there it was again. That laugh she wanted to hear, followed by a “nice going hotshot.”

Tobin lifted herself from the grass and wiped her hands on the front of her shorts. “Impressive though, huh.”

“Hmm,” Christen pouts as she pretends to think. “6/10, maybe I’ll up it to 7 for the comedic finish.”

“Just a 6?”

“Or a 7, for the comedic finish,” she teases, holding eye contact.

Tobin stares back, shaking her head.

They stay like that for just a minute too long, standing, facing each other.

She thinks this is her favorite Christen so far — hair up in a tight bun that reveals her sculpted jaw, droplets of sweat going running her neck, decked out in soccer gear, looking strong as ever. She only has a moment to absorb it before Vlatko’s yell echoes across the pitch.

“YO, PRESS, MORE BALL, LESS TALK, LET’S GO!”

Looking over her shoulder, Tobin sees that the ball was on the other half of the field.

Tobin grits her teeth together. “Oops.”

Christen rolls her eyes quickly, hitting Tobin on the shoulder as she starts jogging in the direction of play. “You’re getting me in trouble.”

“Something tells me you’re always trouble,” she calls out at Christen’s back, jogging away from her.

She watches as Christen turns around, continuing to jog backwards. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Her right arm comes up to rub her forehead as she smiles briefly to herself.

It quickly dropped when she turned back around to see Kelley staring at her with a look she couldn’t quite place -- some combination of disbelief, frustration, fear.

Before she could say anything, she saw Morgan shooting her a back pass out of midfield, and off she went down the sideline.

______________________________

 

It stayed like that — the tone, that is. There was something so compelling about the way Christen outdid her at her own game, leaving her speechless time and time again.

She shrugged off the explanation when Kelley asked her about it later in the locker room, her eyes focused on the curly-haired girl standing just five feet over her best friend’s shoulder. She couldn’t quite explain it, but every interaction with the girl felt like a bolt of electricity. A shock she craved, but one she knew she couldn’t have.

So Tobin kept her distance -- not in an unnatural way, she just didn’t intentionally seek her out. It was the same way she didn’t seek any girl out (not that she needed to). She knew that this felt different than just any other girl. But she wrapped that in a black box with a pretty red bow and tried to shove it in the back corner of her mind. It wasn’t hard since Christen wasn’t around too much anyway.

The semester was going by pretty quickly. It’s mid-october, and there’s a slight chill in the air now. Tobin’s been getting busier with each passing week, working to manage her course-load on top of a very demanding soccer season, and making enough time to hang out with her friends.

Tobin got along with everyone - people just sort of gravitated to her calm demeanor. So she spent weekends going out, meeting different people, and weeknights either with Ashlyn or Kelley. She’d even gotten pretty close with Ashlyn’s friend, Ali.

Some days, she felt like she didn’t miss California at all.

Today was not one of those days.

She’d slept through her 8:00 a.m. alarm, and her back-up alarm, only having woken up at 8:50 a.m. by Ashlyn knocking aggresively on her door.

She’s exhausted, but nearly flew out of bed and out the door when she saw the time on her phone.

You gotta be kidding me.

 

8:53 a.m.

“Dude, are you well?” Ashlyn called out after her as she zoomed past her and down the hallway.

“Late for my 9 am!” she yelled over her shoulder

Ashlyn took a few steps and opened the door to the stairwell. “Ok are we still on for brunch?”

“Yeah, wanna do the Caf at 10?” Tobin screamed up the stairs as she bolted down flight after flight.

“Sure see you then, T-squared.” Ashlyn yelled. “Classic,” she mumbled to herself as she went back to her room.

 

8:54 a.m.

But that was only the start. Tobin lept down the last flight of stairs aggressively, bursting through the stairwell door like a racehorse unleashing from the stable.

She weaved through the people in the dorm lobby like a braid, running full speed at what she thought was a push door. Two moments later, she was laying on the floor with three people leaning over her.

Two months living here, and you can’t get PUSH VS. PULL.

“I’m okay, no worries.”

 

8:55 a.m.

So now, she’s running across campus, about to be late to class, with a bruised ass.

Of course her class is on the very opposite side of campus. It was these moments Tobin scolded herself for signing up for a 9 a.m..

Initially, she thought it would be a great way to get her classes out of the way early-on. But more times than not, she found herself sulking across campus in exhaustion in the mornings.

Plus, she’s had to walk-of-shame to this class several times this semester… and that was just not the move.

 

8:56 a.m.

Tobin reached into the side netting of her UNC backpack to snatch out a Chocolate Chip Clif Bar she’d stolen from Kelley at practice the day before.

She didn’t have time to grab breakfast, of course, so this would unfortunately have to do.

 

8:57 a.m.

Coffee stand. Yes I have three minutes, I have time.

Tobin gets in line.

 

8:58 a.m.

No you don’t Tobin.

Tobin runs out of line.

 

8:59 a.m.

Ugh, I’m so tired. Why does this always happ–

She’s pulled out of her thoughts when she crashes into something in front of her, hearing a high pitched “shit” and feeling a hot liquid seeping down her leg. oh no.

Tobin looks up from her leg to meet the eyes of the girl on the ground in front of her, a pair of green eyes she already memorized. OH NO.

This was not happening. Please, let this not be happening.

“Oh my god Christen. I’m so sorry I didn’t see you coming. I woke up late then smashed into the door, because I thought it was a push, but it was a pull, and then everyone was standing over me and I was like go away. But then I was like this is your fault Tobin, you should go away. Plus I’m late for my 9 a.m. for like the 10th time and the professor called me out for it last time and I wanted coffee but then I was like Tobin you have two fucking minutes til class and —”

She cut herself off when she looked up to see Christen trying to lift herself up, and quickly moved to help. Threading her arms under Christen’s, she lifted her to her feet. As she pulled her arm from Christen’s waist, she felt an ice cold hand grip her own wrist.

She looked up and opened her mouth to continue her rambling, when Christen quickly interjected.

“Woah Tobin, I’m loving this whole breathless effect I’m having on you but please, breathe,” she laughed out quietly. “I’m kidding,” she followed up after Tobin looked up in a slightly pained manner. “You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah I’m fine, sorry I should be the one asking you that,” replied Tobin.

She took a deep breath, which quickly got caught in her throat when she saw Christen begin to stumble after trying to put weight on her ankle.

Tobin recognized the subtle look of panic that quickly took over Christen’s face. She’d felt it herself, when she had tore her ACL during her senior year of high school. It was a look she never wanted to feel again, and she never wanted to see on someone else.

“Um, yeah, yeah, all good here. Go to class dummy,” she said with a light tone, removing her arm and beginning to drum her fingers on her other wrist.

Tobin glanced down at her watch.

 

9:04 a.m.

Well… guess I’m not gonna make it anyway.

When she looked back up, Christen’s expression hadn’t changed.

“Hey, why don’t we make a quick stop at the health center, yeah?”

“It’s okay,” she puts on a small smile. “Aren’t you late for class?”

“Yeah, but by the looks of it, you’re down a coffee” Tobin points at the coffee on her own leg, “and I’m still up one offer. Can’t miss my chance, now can I?”

Christen let out a laugh. There we go.

“Well I don’t think you can buy me one if I can’t actually get to the coffee shop.”

Tobin turned around. “All aboard!”

“Tobin, you’re ridiculous.”

“Just shut up and get on, would you.”

“Tell me to shut up again, and my coffee will land on your head this time.”

“Is Christen Press actually letting me buy her a coffee?” Tobin asked as Christen hopped on.

“Okay, now you shut up. Let’s go.”

______________________________

 

Fifteen minutes later, Tobin trudged up to the health center, Christen hanging on tightly to her back, with a new coffee in her hands.

Tobin felt absolutely horrible. But she would be lying if she said she wasn’t enjoying the feeling of Christen on her back, arms around her neck.

Tobin pushed that thought aside for now.

Christen reached farther over Tobin’s shoulder to pull open the door to the clinic. “You see Tobin,” she points at the four capital letters plastered across the center of the glass door. “This means pull.”

Tobin groans, stepping through the door and walking up to the front desk. She’s about to start speaking to the nurse at the desk, but pauses when she sees the nurse break into a bright smile.

“Christen! So good to see you, honey.” The nurse seems to just then process that Christen was being carried in by another person. “What happened, are you alright?”

“Just a little clumsy, you know me Nancy,” she says sweetly.

Nancy gives Christen a sympathetic smile. “Follow me, I’ll get you in a room right now, dear.”

Tobin takes that as her cue to follow the nurse around the desk and down a long white hallway to the very last room. Nancy promises to send the doctor in as soon as she can, but warns that the wait might be up to 40 minutes.

Turning around, Tobin lowers Christen onto the bed. She spins back around slowly to face Christen, who is sitting, legs spread widely, weight on her hands behind her, head looking out the window to the right. Her breathing quickens slightly when she realizes she’s standing between Christen’s legs, but she quickly regains her composure.

Hesitantly, she places her hands on Christen’s legs, just above her knees, prompting the green-eyed girl to quickly turn her head to look at Tobin, swallowing visibly.

“I’m really sorry,” Tobin said sincerely.

Christen shifts her weight to her left arm behind her. She lifts her right hand and hooks it around Tobin’s left arm, above her hand that is resting on her knee. She runs her hand from the elbow, to the wrist drawing it forward until it is resting on Tobin’s hand.

“I appreciate the apology, but honestly I wasn’t paying attention either,” she softly smiles. “Hopefully it's nothing.”

Christen squeezes Tobin’s hand lightly before shoving her toward the seat just a few feet in front of her, still smiling.

This feels … okay change the subject Tobin.

“So, you know Nancy?” Nice, 10/10, well done.

“Um, yeah I actually volunteer in the building next-door at the Whitakers free clinic on Saturdays. Nancy’s shift overlaps with mine.”

“Ah, so that's where Christen Press spends her weekends.”

“Guess the secrets out,” she laughs.

“Guess so,” Tobin smiles.

“Guess I’m kinda lame that way.”

“Guess you’re more cool than I thought.”

“You think I’m cool?”

“Guess my secrets out too.”

“Guess we’re even.”

Tobin crossed her right leg over her left leg and leaned back in the chair.

“Tell me more about the clinic. I actually used to volunteer at a similar one back in Cali. I was thinking of maybe starting it up here again.”

They spend the next forty-five minutes going back and forth, sharing stories about some of their experiences in the clinic. Tobin relishes in the way Christen’s eyes light up with such passion when she’s talking about the clinic, her mind seemingly having wandered completely from the injury.

Tobin finds herself a little dissapointed when a doctor pops his head in, saying he’ll be in to see Christen in just a few minutes.

She looks down at her watch.

 

10:04 a.m.

I’m late again, shit.

 

Christen seems to pick up on Tobin checking the time.

“Go, it’s okay.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah yeah, you’ve done enough for me today.”

Tobin suddenly feels guilty, looking down at Christen’s now-swollen ankle.

“Again, I’m so sorry Christen.”

“No, I just meant thank you for staying with me,” Christen confesses with a shy smile.

“Anytime,” Tobin says. And somewhere deep within her, she knows she actually means it. She wonders if Christen knows too. Again, she pushes that to the back of her mind.

They stare at each other for just a moment, breaking eye contact when a knock on the door rings through the room. Tobin turns to give the green-eyed girl a last, small smile, before saying hello to the doctor as she walks out.

 

In the hallway, she reaches down to her pocket and pulls out her phone, revealing several messages from Ashlyn and Kelley.

 

9:54 a.m. Ash: I’m at the table in the back.

10:01 a.m. Ash: Why did I know you were going to be late lol

10:04 a.m. Ash: Kelley’s coming too btw

10:05 a.m. Kel: Came to crash your brunch date, and you’re not even here lol

10:08 a.m. Ash: I’m ordering for youuuu, so you better still show

Oops. She quickly shoots a message back to both of them saying she’s coming.

10:09 a.m. Tobs: sorry i got held up

10:09 a.m. Tobs: im omw now

______________________________

Fifteen minutes later, she’s strolling into the Caf, looking for her two friends. It should’ve taken five-or-so minutes to get there, but she still gets lost on campus.

She sighs in relief when she finally spots her friends at a back table.

They seem to be in some sort of very intense discussion, so Tobin takes the opportunity to slink up behind Kelley and pinch the back of her neck.

Kelley leaps up and smashes into the table, letting out a surprise yelp.

Ashlyn burst out laughing, as did Tobin herself.

“What did I miss?” Tobin asks, smiling mischeviously.

“I hate when you do that,” Kelley responds, rubbing her knees where they had smashed into the table.

Ashlyn looks over at Tobin, still laughing, and puts her hand on her shoulder. “You see, Kelley thinks that her whole milk cortado is the best ‘coffee’.”

“But that’s not even coffee,” Tobin and Ashlyn say in unison, before bursting out into laughter again.

Kelley lets out an ugh in frustration. “Black coffee is just glorified lighter fluid.”

Tobin feigns offense. “You just don’t have any taste, right Ashlyn.”

Ashlyn nods seriously. “Mhm.”

“Whatever,” Kelley rolls her eyes. She’s not gonna win this one. “So Tobin, who had you held up?”

“Who? Why is it a who?,” asked Ashlyn.

Kelley gave Ashlyn a confident look. “It’s a who. That’s like, Tobin 101.”

“More like who was Tobin holding up,” she heard someone behind her say while laughing.

A blush quickly rose to her cheeks, as she shot her head around to see Ali approaching the table.

“Hey!” Tobin directed at Ali, while standing up. “I feel like I haven’t seen you in a week.” She gives Ali a quick hug, before moving down a seat, leaving the seat next to Ashlyn empty, and sending a quick wink at Ali.

In the past few weeks, Ashlyn had been particularly busy at night, allowing her and Ali to become much closer. Ali had shared her crush on Ashlyn with Tobin, and unknowingly, Ashlyn had already done so as well. They were both too nervous to actually make a move. She figured they just needed a push in the right direction.

“I know right,” Ali returned. “This exam wave has been killing me. If I never see an Econ demand curve again, it’ll be too soon.”

“Wait can we backtrack,” interrupted Ashlyn. “You have a 9 a.m. before this Tobs, right?”

“Yeah, me and Kel have Bio with Dr. Ellis. I swear, I can’t make it through a single lecture without zoning out for at least half of it. 9 a.m. is too early, man.”

“And yet you’ll still get a bright shiny ‘A’ on your report card. I know you Tobs,” Kelley let out in frustration. “I, on the other hand, go to every single lecture, pay attention, and can’t get above an 85 on the exams.”

Tobin shrugs awkwardly. She wasn’t one to flaunt it, but she was good at school. Really good. She saw it as an enticing challenge, in the same way she saw soccer.

“First, I’m jealous. Second, that’s not what I meant.” A look of realization swept over Ashlyn’s face, and she began whisper-yelling. “You and Kelley got here separately!”

“You would be correct,” Kelley threw into the conversation. “So who was it? The leggy brunette from last Saturday? OOH NO, I know. It was that spicy ginger from volleyball wasn’t it?”

Ali laughed breathily. “Yeah, if the spicy volleyball ginger was a curly haired, brunette striker with a coffee addiction almost as bad as her addiction to jean skirts. Then yeah, that would be the girl draped over our gal Tobin.”

The whole table went quiet.

Fuck me.

Both Kelley and Ashlyn were staring blankly at Tobin with straight faces.

Tobin coughs awkwardly. “Um, okay, no one was draped over anyone. I just ran into Christen on the way to 9 a.m. Bio and she needed some help getting to the Health Center, so I missed class. No big deal.”

Kelley’s straight face melted into one of concern.

“Health Center? Is Chris okay?” Kelley spurts out, clenching her hands nervously on the table.

Tobin quickly reaches across the table to lay her hands over Kelley’s fists.

“She just twisted her ankle,” Tobin says quietly but sincerely. “She’s fine, don’t worry.”

She feels Kelley’s clenched fists relax underneath her own hands, before Kelley pulls them toward her torso. She pushes her chair back.

“Um, do you guys mind if I head out? I just want to see if she’s okay.”

“Yeah of course, Kel.” She can see in her best friend's eyes just how deep Kelley is in this thing with Christen.

“Don’t forget your cup of milk!” Tobin calls out to Kelley, who was only a few steps away from the table. It causes a small smile to break out on her face, and Tobin smiles back.

“Enjoy your lighter fluid,” she says back, as she reaches for her cup and drags it with her away from the table.

With Kelley gone, Tobin decides to swing herself around to the other side of the table. As she’s settling in, Ali gets up to go grab her order from the counter.

Tobin takes a deep breath, playing with her fingers for a minute.

Tobin,” Ashlyn finally breaks the silence.

Ash.”

Ashlyn glances over her shoulder quickly, seeing Ali making her way back to the table.

“I’m not blind. Neither is Kelley,” she says seriously, in a way that makes Tobin gulp. "Especially not when it comes to her."

She expects Ashlyn to say more, but they soon merely re-enter the silence, Ashlyn drumming her fingers on the table, and Tobin looking out the window.

“Who died?” Ali asks, sliding back into her seat.

Ashlyn looks over at Tobin one last time, before laying her arm across the back of Ali’s chair.

“No one, just talking about how tired we are. Practices this week have been rough.”

Ali leans back into Ashlyn’s arm, as she makes a pouting face. “Sorry, that sucks. We just started preseason fitness this week, so I kinda feel you there.”

Tobin watches them intently from across the table. Ali and Ashlyn seem to have entered their own world for a moment, and suddenly Tobin feels both like a third-wheel, and like she’s suffocating from the remnants of the previous conversation. So, she decides to head out.

Pushing back her chair, she flinches at the loud squeak it makes that draws both Ali and Ashlyn’s attention. “Um, I’m gonna head out. I have an orgo quiz later, so I probably should get in some studying.” she says, adding a fake laugh for good measure.

They exchange quick goodbyes, before Tobin is on her way.

Where to go?

She doesn’t really have an orgo quiz, but in all honesty, she really should get some work done before practice.

Library it is.

______________________________

 

The next week was significantly better.

She still felt a little guilty — Christen hadn’t been to practice in a week, which likely meant it was more than just a little tweak. She hadn’t heard from her though. Christen still hadn’t come back to the dorm, and Tobin hadn’t seen her around campus, or at the big mid-season party they had over the weekend.

She knew that Christen was okay, however, through Kelley. Her best friend had even thanked Tobin for letting her know Christen was in the Health Center. Apparently she had been “taking care of” Christen all week… whatever that meant. Tobin didn’t want to know.

Luckily, she had a great distraction — an upcoming organic chemistry exam.

Over the past few years, Tobin came to realize that most people just assumed she was dumb because she was an excellent athlete, and she was “chill.”

She wasn't dumb. In fact, Tobin was good at school. Even more important, she liked school, too. School was a something she put all her energy into. She liked expanding her brainspace, granting her the ability to teleport from her busy life for a moment. It’s part of the reason she likes to read so much.

Kelley called her “sneaky smart” once in high school, and that just sort of caught on with her other friends and family ever since.

Shirley called her “careless.” She repeatedly cited a ~lack of interest and effort~. Tobin didn’t know what in the world she was talking about. Shirley was her whole world, and she was sure she went out of her way to show it. At the time, Shirley’s comments made her work harder, not just to show her that she cared, but in all aspects of her life — in soccer, with her family, in school.

Tobin didn’t realize how toxic that whole mindset was until recently, and how inaccurate it was. But in some ways she was grateful. It was that mindset that catalyzed her commitment to the pre-med track.

The interest had actually started in high school, after Tobin spent months with doctors during her ACL repair. Watching as they cared for every part of her case, seeing the dedication and discipline they put into helping get her back on her feet and on the field as soon as possible, inspired Tobin to someday be able to do the same as a Sports Medicine physician. She knew she was a-ways away from it, but the idea of it just kind of set her soul on fire, almost in the same way soccer did. She’d never really told anyone besides Shirley, but sometimes she thought about medicine instead of going pro. Or maybe after? Who knows, Tobin doesn’t think that far in the future — in fact, she makes a point to not do so. She just inhabits the moments. She just knows it’s looking promising. After all, she was three years in, and she nearly has straight A’s.

It was a nice streak, something she was really proud of, and something of hers that Shirley could never touch (which felt like a rare occurrence right now).

But this streak was in danger now. From what, exactly?

Organic. fucking. Chemistry.

Tobin was ⅔ through the semester, and she was barely pulling a ‘B.’ She couldn’t quite figure out why.

In a typical Tobin fashion, the challenge drew her in even deeper, and lately, she had been spending all of her free time in the library.

So here she was, in the library on a Thursday afternoon, on the tail-end of getting in some practice problems before she headed off to Orgo lecture.

It’s 1:55 p.m., and she starts to pack up her stuff from the 4th floor study cubby — the one she now swears by — to walk over to her 2:10 p.m. lecture.

Making her way into the big lecture hall, she passes the professor’s desk and heads up the left staircase, as usual, to the middle of the lecture hall.

Tobin liked the middle. She wasn’t that “eager” student in the front -- she liked to absorb the lecture’s information quietly, not by asking forty questions per lecture, like some people. But she wasn’t a back-sitter either. She liked to pay attention. She was engaged.

Plopping down in the seat at the end of one of the middle rows with a humph, Tobin reached down to her backpack to pull out her copy of Anna Karenina, hoping to finish the chapter she’s on before class starts.

She’s one of those people who likes to read the same novels over and over again -- this one in particular. Everytime she reads it, she sees something new she didn’t see before.

Tobin’s quickly drawn from her reading escape by a soft voice speaking above her.

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

She’s already smiling at the familiar voice, before she even looks up. Still looking at her book, she responds.

“You read Tolstoy?”

“I’m a Dostoevsky girl myself, but I hit Tolstoy occasionally,” the girl responds.

“It is better to prevent crimes..” Tobin starts.

“...than to punish them,” the voice finishes without hesitation.

“Crime and Punishment,” Tobin starts. “Impressive.”

“Told you, I’m a Dostoevsky girl til the end of time.”

Tobin finally looks up at Christen.

“And what brings a Dostoevsky girl like yourself into Organic Chemistry class today?”

“Same thing as you, I’m guessing.”

You’re in organic chemistry?”

“Yup,” she says with a tight-llipped smile.

So she’s smart, too.

Tobin grimaces. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I just haven’t seen you in this class before.” She looks back down at the book in her lap, closing it carefully, folding down the corner of the page she’s currently on.

Awkward silence. Good job Tobin.

To make matters worse, Tobin then hears a guy’s voice coming from that same direction. “Hey babe, you forgot your phone.”

“Oh my god you found it!” she then heard Christen reply enthusiastically. “Thanks baby.”

This is awkward.

Tobin lets out a sigh as they continue to talk right next to her. Then, immediate silence. Tobin looks up to see why they stopped talking, only to see them both looking at her. Him, skeptically. Her, amused. It is then she realized she sighed out loud.

Nice going genius.

“Uh, sorry,” she coughs out, before looking down and opening her book again. (She’s not actually reading anything this time).

Can class start please? Never thought I’d say that before.

She finally hears them end the short conversation, followed by silence.

Thankkkk youuuuu.

“So are you gonna move over, or am I going to need to hobble somewhere else?”

AH.

She looks up to see Christen standing over her, alone now.

“You’re not gonna go sit with your boyfriend?”

“Do you want me to?”

Tobin pauses for a moment. “Not really.”

Christen smirks. “Move over, then.”

Why can’t she just step over my — Oh.

She’s in a walking boot. Tobin hesitates slightly, cringing at the memory from last week, before smiling and jumping down a seat.

Okay, at first Tobin was smiling internally from ear to ear when Christen slid into the seat next to her. But now the 90 minute lecture was ending, and Tobin had written down three molecules.

She was chilling when the professor started talking about Aldol Condensation reactions, but then 10 minutes in, Christen had moved her right leg to where it was leaning up against Tobin’s left leg. And then five minutes later, she rested her arm on the small divider between them, dropping her pinky and ring finger down to Tobin’s leg. And then Tobin’s brain froze.

The only thing she could focus on for the rest of the lecture was Christen touching her, rather than getting down the notes she needed for the upcoming exam.

When the professor called out “See you for the exam on Tuesday. Best of luck studying,” she was snapped out of her stupor.

Everyone began packing up quickly around her, and Tobin just looked down to her empty notebook. Shit.

Christen noticed too.

“Nice notes,” she laughed.

Tobin looked over to see Christen had taken meticulous notes, color-coded and everything. She looked back down at her own empty notebook, until a male voice startled her.

“Yikes, did you fall asleep?”

He laughed. Tobin cursed in her head.

She put her notebook away quickly, deciding she would deal with this later, and waited for Christen to move out of the row — they were the only two in it.

She watches as the boy grabs her backpack and swings it over his other shoulder, before picking a giggling Christen up bridal style.

She watches as Christen smiles at him.

She watches as he smiles back.

She hopes they don’t see the look of disgust that Tobin isn’t hiding too well.

Maybe I could just climb over the seats in front of us and get out that way. Yeah, good plan.

“Sorry, um. Tobin, Brett. Brett, Tobin.”

Why do I hate this so much.

“Nice to meet you Tobin. I’d shake your hand but…” He gestures to Christen in his arms.

Tobin forces a laugh and nods her head awkardly.

Brett starts walking down the stairs, starting to tell Christen some story about football practice earlier that morning.

She’s surprised when she sees the green-eyed girl once again staring straight at her. She picks up her hand and gives Tobin a small wave.

Tobin waves back.

Watching her get carried away, Tobin flashes back to the feeling of Christen tight against her back the week before.

I need a drink,” Tobin mutters to herself.

_______________________________

 

And a drink Tobin got. And another. And another.

The next two weeks were very long… and she was ready to let go for a night.

So she drank a little too much.

She drank because Alex hadn’t answered her text in a few days, and she was feeling her California friendships start to slip out of her control.

She drank because she felt her grade in orgo plummeting.

She drank because she couldn’t get those green eyes out of her mind.

And she drank because she knew Kelley’s blinders were coming off.

In fact, just earlier that night, she was helping Kelley set up for the party — just the two of them — when Kelley made a single comment. A comment that let Tobin know that Kelley knew.

“Chris asked about you,” she had said, as she wiped the counter with a yellow rag, not even looking up.

“Oh.”

Kelley turned around and stared at Tobin.

“Yeah, oh,” she said, before walking past Tobin and out of the room.

She did see Kelley again later that night.

People had flooded the entire soccer house. The music was loud, and the smell of alcohol was pervasive in the air.

Tobin was four drinks in, sitting on the table next to the white couch in the corner of the living room, thinking.

Her eyes were on a certain dark-haired girl in a jean skirt, who was sitting on a football player's lap on the far side of the room.

She really didn’t mean anything by it. Tobin found that her eyes were often aware of Christen’s presence before her brain knew.

But, her brain found out.

It found out when she looked to her right to grab her beer off of the table, and met the eyes of Kelley, who clearly saw her gawking.

It found out when she saw Kelley whisper something in Ashlyn’s ear.

And it found out when Ashlyn gave her that same dissaproving look from brunch the previous week, before pushing Kelley a little in the other direction.

Tobin had gotten up to approach them.

But Ashlyn had stopped her with a hand on the chest.

“Just give her the night Tobin.”

“But I didn’t mean—”

“I believe you T. Just give her the night.”

So that’s how Tobin found herself wandering across the engineering quad well after midnight. After stopping to grab a slice of pizza, she was a little more sober, just sporting a small buzz.

The engineer quad was a small one, surrounded by three, large, red-brick buildings. Within the grass itself were three huge slabs of rock, one at forty-five degrees, one at ninety degrees, and a flat one at 180 degrees.

The first time she had visited UNC, when helping Kelley move in her freshman year, she and Kelley had been wandering around the campus when they stumbled upon the angled rocks. They quickly found out they could climb up atop the 180 — maybe about 15 feet in the air at its peak. From that day on, it was their unspoken spot. The spot they went to when they were happy, sad, mad, really anything.

Tobin was all of the above.

A few tears escaped her eyes as she made up her way up the backside of 180 rock.

She had considered just going back to her room and sleeping this day off, but she couldn’t deal with the faint possibility that her roommate might be back. She wasn’t ready.

What she hadn’t considered, was that Christen might have known about Kelley’s spot too.

Tobin trips and almost falls off of the rock when she hears a small cry, realizing quickly that she’s not alone up there.

Suddenly, there’s a figure over her.

“We got to stop meeting like this,” it says in a teasing, again all-too-familiar voice.

Are you kidding me.

Tobin wants to be mad. She wants to be frustrated. But then she feels a wet droplet land on her cheek — and she’s sure it’s not her own.

She does let out a loud “UGH,” because how could her night get any worse.

“I’m fine Christen.”

The girl jumped back a little at the tone of Tobin’s voice.

“Sorry, I was just making sure you were okay.” She pauses. “I can go.”

She’d never heard that defeated tone from the girl before, and it caught her attention.

Fuck.

She hears Christen walking away, dragging her feet as she went.

This is how I got here in the first place.

Tobin starts to get up, but then sees that Christen has come back, holding an arm over her torso. She decides to take it and is pulled to a sitting position, Christen squatting next to her.

“Can I sit?” Christen asks softly.

“Yeah.”

They sit next to each other with their legs pressed together, hanging off the backside of the 180, blanketed in a comfortable, needed silence, for ten-or-so minutes before either one of them dares to speak.

“I —”

“What —”

Both Christen and Tobin let out a small laugh, as they both tried to speak at the same time after the silence, almost as if they read each other’s minds.

Christen wiped a tear from under her left eye and went first.

“What are you doing up here?”

There was a pregnant pause.

Tobin knows exactly why she’s up here. But she’s not sure what to say. She’s not even sure they qualify as friends.

“I’m just overwhelmed,” she settles on. “You?”

“Um.” Christen hesitates, looking over at Tobin, before audibly mumbling “Fuck it”, and looking straight in front of her.

“Six months ago, my biggest fear was that the other shoe would drop. Everything was so perfect that I literally couldn’t believe it.”

Her eyes water slightly.

“Now, I feel like my life is 100 pieces from different puzzles. They just don’t quite fit together. And I don’t know when it happened, when it got to this point. I just feel so… confused?”

The green-eyed girl looked up to the sky and took a breath.

“Brett is mad at me because I ‘don’t show that I care.’ And I do care about him, I really do. But a part of me deep down felt almost.. I don’t know… relieved,” she shook her head perceptibly, “when he said that knowing I liked girls made me hotter, that they didn’t ‘count’ as cheating for me. I know that’s shitty. I know.”

She looks over at Tobin now. “I didn’t mean for it to become something to her.”

Tobin didn’t need her to speak any more to understand what she was saying.

“And, um,” she continues, her voice starting to waiver. She pauses, almost as if she’s not sure she wants to disclose anything else. “My Mom is sick. I went over to Kelley’s tonight after the party. I know I shouldn’t have, but Brett wouldn’t pick up his phone and I just needed someone,” she ends in a whisper.

Again, Tobin didn’t need her to continue any more to understand what she was saying.

Hesitantly, Tobin reaches over to give Christen’s hand a brief squeeze.

She looks her straight in the eye, with a small, sincere smile. “I’m sorry about your Mom, Christen.”

They descend into an awkward silence once again, and Tobin has to get something off of her chest.

“I know this is none of my business, but how did you and Kelley…” she trails off.

Tobin had heard the story from Kelley — many times. She just wanted to hear Christen’s take. She needed to hear Christen’s take.

Christen nods in understanding, wiping the tear from her eye, laughing a little, and begins to explain how her and Kelley's fling - if you could even call it that - happened.

After she’s finished, Tobin sighs, realizing that, really, they’re both at the rock because of her best friend.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk this much,” Tobin chuckles.

Christen rolls her eyes. “Whatever. I just poured out my soul, are you not gonna tell me what “overwhelmed” really means?”

Tobin sighs again. “I’m scared I’m going to fail Orgo. School’s always been something I’m really good at, and suddenly I just.. I don’t know.. can’t keep up. It’s stupid, I just put a lot of presure on myself.”

She stops for a moment, before looking away from the rock. “And some Kelley stuff too.”

Christen, who is staring straight ahead, slides her hand into Tobin’s. Tobin looks over at her when she doesn’t feel Christen tear her hand away.

Christen shakes her head as if to say please don’t say anything.

They stay like that for a moment, before Christen speaks again.

“Give me your phone.”

“Why?”

“Just give it.”

“Okay.”

She hands her phone over to Christen, looking over her shoulder as she puts her number in, under Chris.

Christen places the phone back in Tobin’s palm. “I have a 94 in Orgo. I’ll help you.”

“You really don’t have to, Chris.”

Christen smiles at the nickname. “It’s okay, I don’t mind.”

“You have a lot going on, and you didn’t even mention how I like murdered your ankle, don’t feel like you have to —”

She’s cut off by Christen’s finger smacked against her lips.

“Tobin, I want to.”

She slowly withdraws her finger.

“You talk a lot,” she teases.

Tobin laughs, wiping a tear from her right cheek, before pushing herself up to her feet.

She grabs Christen’s hand and pulls her up, too.

“Wait,” she says curiously. “How did you even come here?”

Christen shrugs smugly, starting to hobble to the front side of the rock, pulling Tobin closely behind her.

“That’s what she said.”

Tobin rolls her eyes. “Wise-ass”, she mumbles.

Maybe we could be friends.

Making their way to the front of the rock, Tobin makes sure that she doesn’t trip with her walking boot, with one hand in Christen's hand, and the other ghosting over Christen’s left hip.

They’re laughing softly and talking about how they’re going to get Christen down, when Tobin finally sees her.

Tobin goes white in the face.

It takes Christen a moment longer, turning and nudging Tobin to ask what’s wrong, before she follows Tobin’s gaze off the front of the rock.

There stands Kelley, jaw open, tears visibly streaming down her face.

Chapter Text

The universe must hate me .

 

Tobin only has a moment to contemplate her unfortunate existential existence before she’s practically leaping off the fifteen-foot high rock, running after Kelly who is already walking in the opposite direction. 

 

“Kelley wait!” Tobin says, finally catching to her best friend and grabbing her arm.

 

Kelley rips her arm away from Tobin, but stops walking. She faces away from Tobin for a moment before turning around, eyes wet and red.

 

“Kelley —”

 

“Can you believe I came over here to find you, because I felt bad. Because you’d never do that to me, not when you know how I feel about her, not after Shirley.”

 

Low blow. 

 

“Kel, can you stop talking for a moment let me explain?”

 

“Sure Tobs, I’d like to see you dig yourself out of the Grand Canyon of a hole you’re standing in right now,” she practically scoffs.

 

Tobin visibly shrivels at the cruel sarcasm dripping off her friend’s words. 

 

“I didn’t even know she was going to be up there. Guess you showed us both the secret rock.” She puts on a sad smile. “We were just talking.” 

 

She’s expressing a calm exterior, although inside, her nerves are exponentially rising at the lack of change in her best friend’s face. 

 

“Do you think I’m stupid , Tobs?” Kelley whines out. “I’ve seen the way you look at each other, how you’re always touching each other at practice...”

 

“Because we’re friends,” she says plainly, getting mildly frustrated at Kelley’s one-track mindset. “We’re just friends. You know me, Kel.”

 

Kelley looks straight at her for a moment, and Tobin isn’t sure whether to be relieved or terrified.

 

“But you want to be more…” Kelley says carefully, articulating each word, studying Tobin’s face as she says it.

 

Just say no.

 

Tobin hesitates for just a moment too long. 

 

I can’t lie to her

 

“You know Tobin,” Kelley says quietly, voice laced in disbelief, “I think maybe I don’t know you at all.”

 

A single tear escapes Tobin’s wet eyes.

 

“This is stupid, Kel,” she exasperates. “You know that’s not true.”

 

“You know, the funny thing is that I’ve known for awhile. People talk, Tobs.” her voice raises just a bit. She stares straight into Tobin’s eyes as she continues. “I should’ve heard it from you.”

 

“Known what, Kelley?!” Tobin blurts in frustration, not even caring that her voice cracks. “There’s nothing to know!”

 

Kelley just stares at her with a raised eyebrow, so Tobin continues.

 

“I didn’t wish for this, alright, I wished for Shirley.”

 

The deprecating laugh that escapes her best friend’s mouth makes Tobin recoil inside. 

 

“Yeah, you did. And I watched you watch this happen,” Kelley sighs out, raising her head to her forehead and closing her eyes for a moment. “Now I’m watching you repeat history.”

 

“You’re so dramatic. I’ve been staying away, Kel. That doesn’t mean me and her can’t just be friends.”

 

“But you like her,” Kelley flatly returns. “And she likes you.”

 

Tobin doesn’t know what to say. It was said as a statement, much more than a question. 

 

And she knows that Kelley is right. 

 

And she knows that Kelley knows that Kelley is right. 

 

Before she can think of a response, she grass rustles behind them, and then a voice speaks out loudly.

 

“Kel, don’t take this out on her, this is my fault.”

 

Tobin closes her eyes for a moment and takes a deep breath. 

 

Can the universe cut me some slack? How did she even get down?

 

“Chris, just don’t,” she states, not bothering to turn around, but her voice clearly wavering.

 

Kelley looks at Tobin one more time before walking past her toward Christen. 

 

“Look, Kel, I need you to listen to me. Okay?” Christen says quietly, clearly intending for only Kelley to hear. She was a little too loud for that. “I shouldn’t have come over tonight, and I’m sorry for that, but I meant what I said.”

 

“You can’t say that to someone and then say it doesn’t mean anything!” Kelley whisper-screams.

 

Tobin quickly realizes that she’s standing five feet away from a clearly unfinished argument -- one that sounds eerily like the conversation she had with Shirley a little over six months ago, and one that she probably shouldn’t be listening to. 

 

“Okay, fine. But, it wasn’t meant to be some big romantic thing, and you would know that if —”

 

“If what?,” Kelley spits. “If I had said yes and stopped you from walking away the first time? As you so kindly pointed out to me at the party earlier -- the party that I threw, mind you, because YOU wanted me to -- I said no, didn’t I?”

 

“Is it impossible for you to forgive me for finding someone else? I forgave you.” 

 

“For what?”

 

“Sleeping with Brett last year.”

 

Silence.

 

Tobin is still facing the opposite direction, not yet daring to turn around. 

 

“And you know what, Chris. I loved you for that. I still love you. But you were just using me, and now you’re going after her to get back at me. It’s what you do.”

 

Tobin turns around at her mention, to see Kelley pointing at her. 

 

“Don’t drag me into whatever this is.” She motions between Kelley and Christen with her hands. “I was just being a friend to Christen, because she needed someone, and she clearly doesn’t have you.”

 

It was a little harsh. A tad bit overdramatic. Probably overstepping. Very likely untrue. 

 

Then again, so was this entire situation. 

 

Kelley looks up at the sky, wipes her eyes, then starts taking steps backward. “You know what, you two can have each other. I just -- I need some space.”

 

Neither Christen nor Tobin moved for a minute as Kelley walks away. 

 

What just happened.

 

Finally, Christen breaks the silence. “I’m so sorry, this is all my fault, I can go talk to her.”

 

“I think we all did enough talking for the night.” She sighs at the bite behind her words, watching as Christen nods silently, looking in the other direction.

 

She internally curses herself.

 

“Sorry. Uh, we can go back to the room?” she directs her question at Christen.

 

“You don’t mind if I come with you?”

 

“It’s your room too,” Tobin adds calmly.

 

“Oh, yeah, right.”

 

I hate how sad she sounds.

 

Quiet consumes them once again.

 

“Of course it’s your room.” A small, close-lipped smile, falls onto Tobin’s face, as she waslks over to flick the side of Christen’s head. “What, losing brain cells from all that yelling?”

 

Christen smiles sadly at Tobin’s attempt to lighten the mood. “You got a big mouth, Heath.”

 

They set off for the dorm room, leaving a good three feet of space between them the entire way there. 

 

________________________________________



Tobin doesn’t sleep much that night. Kelley’s words run over and over inside her head like a broken record.

 

She hears Christen tossing and turning all night, and she’s not really surprised that the girl wasn’t able to get any sleep either.

 

It’s not until about 6 a.m. when the exhaustion finally wins Tobin over. Much to her displeasure, she only gets about two hours of sleep before waking up to light streaming in from the window where she had forgotten to pull down the shades in the wake of everything that happened the night before.

 

Groaning, she rolls over, away from the window, to bury her face in her pillow. In the process, her eyes scan over the bed closest to the door. The now empty bed, closest to the door. Sigh .

 

That was only the first of my many sleepless nights. 

 

It was also the first of many new sightings of the green-eyed girl. 

 

In fact, Christen seemed to be everywhere now. 

 

She’s on the 180 rock whenever Tobin walks by. She’s in line at the coffee stand when Tobin is on the way to 9 a.m. Bio. She’s walking out of the library every time Tobin is walking in. She’s waving at Tobin whenever she sees her.  She’s even sleeping in the dorm room a few nights a week (even unpacking a few of her belongings).

 

Tobin’s not complaining about it. She is, however, wondering what exactly has changed.

 

She doesn’t ask. They don’t really talk at all after that first night, aside from the occasional “hey” and “how are you.” Guess they both needed a break.

 

That’s the thing, though. She wants to talk to Christen. 

 

So after two weeks of sleepless nights… after two weeks of avoiding her friends outside of soccer practice, of waking up wondering where Christen goes before 7 a.m. every morning, of daily small talk with Christen, of watching her grades slip up a little, of staring at the new contact burning a hole in her phone, she sends a text message (or two).

 

8:01 a.m. [unknown number]: titanic 

 

8:01 a.m. [unknown number]: sorry that was a horrible ice breaker

 

As soon as she hits send on the second one, she throws her phone across the room and onto the bed as if it were a hot potato. 

 

What. was. THAT. 

 

She only has a moment to cringe at herself, before she sees the screen light up. Tobin practically catapults across the room to grab it. She unlocks it as fast as she can, fumbling the wrong passcode a few times in an anxious hurry.

 

8:03 a.m. Chris: I would say “who is this”, but there’s only one person lame enough to send that line

 

Tobin grins at the screen.

 

8:04 a.m. Tobin: you’re texting yourself?

 

She’s surprised to see the three little bubbles appear right away.

 

8:05 a.m. Chris: If only you could see how hard I’m rolling my eyes right now

 

8:05 a.m. Tobin: hmm well if you were ever in the dorm at the same time as me, maybe we could arrange a viewing party

 

8:06 a.m. Chris: Dorm’s a little mundane

 

8:06 a.m. Chris: How about we do tomorrow at The Bean, after orgo? (but bring the orgo problem set)

 

8:07 a.m. Tobin: sounds good, it’s a date

 

8:08 a.m. Chris: Excuse you, I only agreed to a viewing party

 

8:09 a.m. Tobin: now i’m rolling my eyes

 

8:10 a.m. Chris: I think it’s my turn to buy coffee you anyway

 

8:10 a.m. Tobin: :) try not to spill it all over me this time

 

8:11 a.m. Chris: no promises :)

 

8:12 a.m. Tobin: ugh. ok see you then

 

8:13 a.m. Chris: hahah bye Tobin  

 

It was like the roles had all utterly reversed, as if it was opposite day every single day now — or some other tragic cosmic reality. Since that day, Tobin and Christen never really stopped talking, and meanwhile, Kelley had ceased speaking to them both. 

 

And in a way, Kelley’s silence almost hurt more than Shirley ever did. If Tobin had to describe the feeling in words, she’d say it’s like someone took the stake that Shirley stuck in there, and gave it a nice, big twist.

 

The only thing worse than her best friend wanting nothing to do with her right now, was having everyone pick up on the tension between them.

 

Tobin could deal with the glares from her best friend, the awkward bus rides to games sitting next to Kelley, carefully staying away from her at parties. 

 

What she couldn’t deal with was the way in which everyone on the team not-so-subtly went out of their way to keep them away from each other. The way people rapidly volunteered to be their partners during drills at practice, the way someone new decided to tell Kelley their life story during every bus ride to away games. It was torture, like a constant reminder of what she had lost, of how angry she still was at Kelley. 

 

Even Ashlyn had sort of been giving her the cold shoulder.

 

But that only lasted a week or two, until Tobin couldn’t take it anymore. Ashlyn was her next closest friend after Kelley, and probably the only person she actually saw more than Kelley. 

 

So one night, she went over and banged on the door. She banged until Ashlyn finally opened the door. 

 

“Do you need something Tobin?” Ashlyn sighed out.

 

“Yeah. We need to talk,” Tobin replied. 

 

She had rehearsed this in her head repeatedly.

 

“I talked to Kelley.”

 

Tobin looked at her, with a defeated stare.

 

“And you didn’t think to ask me, too?”

 

After that, Ashlyn had let her in the room. And they talked. They talked for hours, laying flat on their backs in the pitch-black darkness of the dorm room.

 

“I thought she would’ve gotten over this by now.”

 

“I think you should give it some time,” Ashlyn had said. “There’s clearly a lot of unresolved emotions on both sides. Your friendship is endgame, trust me, we’ve all seen it.”

 

________________________________________



So that’s what Tobin did. She gave it some time. She gave it a lot of time.

 

Meanwhile, she worked to distract herself with school and soccer. It truthfully wasn’t too difficult to do so, given that it was now late-November, and the final exam wave before final exams themselves was approaching rapidly. The big NCAA tournament was coming up, too. In other words, Tobin was training both her mind and body like a crazy woman.

 

Isn’t college great?

 

The one thing keeping Tobin going right now, other than the hope of resolving things with Kelley at some point in time, was a certain green-eyed girl.

 

Outside of school and soccer, Tobin had been spending nearly every free moment with Christen. It started with that Orgo tutoring session at The Bean, the local coffee shop, which quickly turned into daily Orgo tutoring sessions, which turned into Orgo tutoring sessions followed by a very long hangout. 

 

In that time, Tobin’s grade had actually gone up almost a whole letter grade, from a B- to a A-, and she wasn’t sure if it was the actually tutoring, or her newfound motivation to, well, impress Christen. For the first time this year, she actually let herself ponder that question.

 

Also in that time, they had both learned that hanging out with the soccer team just proved to be an all-around awkward experience….

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

It was the second week of November, and the whole team was going away to stay in a “haunted” Appalachian cabin for a late Hall-o-weekend (they had games the past three weekends since Halloween).

 

The trip was some sort of big annual tradition, planned by the seniors, for the rest of the team. It involved staying in a huge cabin with 10 bedrooms, right in front of a big lake. Everyone always said it was their favorite part of the season — Kelley had even said that to Tobin, two years running now. 

 

Tobin had been kind of dreading the whole thing, if she were being honest.

 

She was knee deep in planning her fake illness escape the morning of the trip, when Christen had literally latched onto her arm and dragged her out to the bus. 

 

“Tobin, you are not leaving me alone on this trip!” she had said. 

 

It would have been impossible to miss the way everyone’s heads turned toward the pair when they approached, eyes focused on Christen’s hand, which was gripping Tobin’s arm.

 

The team was all familiar with the tension between the three of them — Tobin, Christen, and Kelley, that is. 

 

It’s not that people were taking sides, necessarily. Rather, Kelley “half-pint dynamite” O’Hara herself was outspoken, supportive, and knew how to have a good time, all of which easily deemed her one of the most popular girls on the team, and next in-line for captain. Tobin was likeable and easy-going, but she was new, and couldn’t really compete with three years of KO. Not that she was trying. 

 

The bus ride was three hours, and Tobin’s designated bus buddy, Kelley, spent the ride chatting with everyone but Tobin, per usual. So leaning her head against the window, Tobin pulled out her phone.

 

11:37 a.m. Tobs: chrisssss

 

She smiles when she sees the three bubbles appear right away. 

 

11:38 a.m. Chris: what’s up

 

11:38 a.m. Tobs: sos 

 

11:39 a.m. Chris: lol why

 

11:40 a.m. Tobs: I need a doctor

 

11:41 a.m. Chris: ...Are you okay?

 

11:42 a.m. Tobs: no, Kelley has sucked all the sunlight from my row and i now have a severe vitamin D deficiency

 

11:43 a.m. Chris: nerd

 

11:44 a.m. Tobs: chrisss :(

 

11:45 a.m. Chris: you wanna know what I think you have

 

11:46 a.m. Tobs: sure

 

11:47 a.m. Chris: I think you’re suffering from a lack of vitamin me :)

 

Tobin rolls her eyes. 

 

11:48 a.m. Tobs: you know what, I think you’re right

 

11:49 a.m. Chris: Guess you’ll just have to hangout with me all weekend

 

11:50 a.m. Tobs: I mean if its the only cure, I guess I could suffer through it

 

11:51 a.m. Chris: I hate you

 

11:52 a.m. Tobs: :) no you don’t 

 

They texted for the rest of the busride, and by the time they arrived at the big cabin, Tobin had nearly forgotten where she was headed to. 

 

Sigh. Reality.

 

After grabbing all of their luggage off of the bus, the team made their way into the front of the cabin together, until they were all standing in the front living room. 

 

The two senior captains, Heather and Yael, jumped up on the bar, and the whole team cheered.

 

“All right y’all,” yelled Heather. “Welcome to the haunted late Halloweekend cabin!”

 

“There are 10 rooms, and 20 of us. So everyone find a buddy and fan out,” Yael added. “Heather and I are going to get some booze in town, and we’ll campfire it up later tonight. Have fun.”

 

In the two minutes following Yael’s speech, six things happened.

 

1 - At the mention of buddying up, Tobin and Christen both froze where they stood behind everyone else.

 

2 - Kelley’s eyes met Tobin’s eyes from across the crowd. 

 

3 - Ashlyn enthusiastically yanked Kelley down the right hallway.

 

4 - Everyone grabbed their bags, the rest of the team running down the halls to find the best bedrooms.

 

5 - Tobin and Christen stood there, bags in hand, staring at each other. 

 

6 - They walked together upstairs in an uncomfortable silence, locating the last available bedroom.

 

Entering the small room, Tobin takes a nervous gulp when she sees the one, full-size bed in the center, covered in a bright red comforter with orange flowers stitched in.

 

She breathes a sigh of relief when she sees the similarly red pullout couch on the far side of the room.

 

The room itself is not large -- maybe 10 x 12, made of chocolate brown logwood. Besides the bed and couch, there are two luggage stands on the far side of the room, alongside the door to a small bathroom, and that’s it.

 

Tobin huffs loudly, dropping her baby blue UNC duffle bag onto one of the luggage stands, before making her way into the small bathroom to splash some water on her face. 

 

As she’s drying her face, she turns her body in the direction of the bedroom to speak.

 

“I can take the couch.”

 

“Okay I would argue with you, but the bed looks really comfy,” she heard Christen call out. “Are you sure though?”

 

Tobin laughs as she emerges from the bathroom. “Yeah, course. I, for one, am really excited about this couch.”

 

“I bet you 10 dollars that you aren’t even going to pull the bed part out of it.”

 

“Guess I owe you 10 dollars then,” Tobin replies while searching through her duffle for a phone charger.  “It ruins the entire art of couch sleeping.”

 

“How about you just get the next round of coffees when we get back?”

 

“Deal,” she looks up smiling at Christen, who is sprawled out on her stomach across the bed. “But that’ll only cover 5 dollars. So two rounds?”

 

“Hmm,” Christen exaggeratedly thinks out loud. “One round. And I'll cash in my other request at a later time.”

 

“You’re infuriating.”

 

“That’s why you like me.” Christen brings her head to rest on her two hands, smiling sweetly, before changing the subject. “So what do you want to do until later?”

 

Forgoing an answer, Tobin ran and leaped on the bed, nearly landing on top of Christen. They spent the next three hours lounging on the bed, half on top of each other, passing Christen’s phone back and forth while stalking some people from UNC on instagram. Tobin was having a good time until she was 10 months deep in the profile of an apparently very annoying guy in Christen’s Women’s Studies course this semester, when a fleeting message appeared at the top of the screen. 

 

7:27 p.m. Brett <3: haha I’m glad you’re having fun babe 

 

Tobin had almost forgotten about him. 

 

Time to go? Time to go. 

 

She quickly flicks up on the message before abruptly jumping off the bed toward the door, telling Christen they should head down now, and turning toward the door before she can register the girl’s furrowed brow. 

 

She also misses the sad look Christen throws her after realizing just what it was that made Tobin jump up to leave. 

 

She doesn’t, however, miss Kelley’s eye roll when her and Christen exit the house together to join the rest of the team at the big fire pit.

 

For the rest of the night, Tobin feels scrutinized under the eyes of her best friend. Ex-best friend? Who knows these days.

 

Her teammates go around drinking, sharing ghost stories, playing never have I ever, and just chatting amongst themselves. Midway through the night, the temperature had dropped perceptibly, and many teammates had gone inside to grab blankets, including Christen. 

 

Upon their return, Tobin is about to hop under the last blanket with Christen, but she quickly halts her movement when she meets the eyes of Kelley. She slowly but visibly withdraws her hand before not-so-subtly moving her entire body a few inches farther from Christen on the big loveseat they are sitting on.

 

“You cold, Tobs?” Christen whispered, leaning closer to Tobin and glancing over her face.

 

“Uh, nah, kinda hot actually.” Tobin responded, not returning the look.

 

But Christen didn’t miss the sound of Tobin’s teeth chattering mid-sentence. She didn’t miss the way Tobin moved her body away from her own. She didn’t miss the way Tobin refused to meet her eyes. And she definitely didn’t miss the heated stare between Kelley and Tobin at this moment.

 

No one else seemed to notice, though.

 

So yeah, there was a chill in the air, and it was certainly not from just the weather.

 

Damn, it’s cold , Tobin thought to herself as she shivered. 

 

“Um, I’m gonna get some air,” Tobin announces to the group of girls she had been chatting with. The girls nod nicely, before merely resuming their debate about who is the hotter Ryan: Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds

 

Christen grabs her arm before she can get up, looking into Tobin’s eyes.

 

“Tobin, we’re already outside.”

 

Tobin doesn’t respond. She just gets up and starts walking into the woods.

 

Ten minutes later, Tobin is regretting this little ‘walk’ thing. She hadn’t taken her phone outside, so she didn’t even have a flashlight. It was nearly pitch black, the only light around being that of the moonlight shining through the tracks in the trees. 

 

Luckily, it’s not much longer until her wandering leads her to a break in the trees, and she’s now standing at a secluded dock looking out over the lake. It was nearly 11 p.m., but with the way the moonlight reflected off the water and lit up the dock, it may as well have been dawn. 

 

Tobin made her way to the end of the dock, removed her socks and sneakers, and sat down, legs dangling off of the dock. 

 

She only has a few minutes to let the lake absorb her thoughts, to be an ablution for her currently messy reality, before she hears the wood of the dock creak behind her.

 

AH.

 

Whipping her head around, Tobin lets out a small yelp at the dark, approaching figure. It’s only when the figure is five feet away that she un-clenches her fists, recognizing the curvy silhouette standing in front of her before it even speaks. 

 

“Hey Tobs, it’s me,” she hears a soft voice.

 

“Hi.”

 

“Can I sit?”

 

“Yeah,” Tobin replies, the interaction reminding her of that night on the 180 rock. The night when she first got a glimpse inside Christen’s hauntingly beautiful brain, but also the night one of the most important relationships in her life seemingly dissipated. 

 

Christen sits next to her, legs pressed up against Tobin’s as they hang off of the end of the dock.

 

After another minute of silence, Christen nudges Tobin’s side with her own shoulders. 

“I’m sorry, you know,” she speaks into the silence. 

 

Tobin doesn’t ask why. She knows. She doesn’t want to hear her say it out loud. 

 

So they enter into another silence, before Tobin hears a giggle. Looking over, she sees Christen laughing and her mouth settling into her classic, mischievous grin -- the same one Tobin had received as Christen backed away from the porch swing that first night.

 

“What’s so funny?” Tobin asks, smiling in awe at the girl next to her.

 

“Get up! I have an idea.”

 

Christen gets up herself, before taking Tobin’s hands in hers, and yanking her to her feet. They’re now standing, facing each other at the end of the dock. 

 

“I think I’m gonna cash in on that request now.”

 

“Oh yeah?” Tobin responds curiously. “And what may I do for you?”

 

“Take off your clothes.”

 

Tobin swears her heart stops beating for just a moment.

 

She chokes on air, coughing out a “what.”

 

Christen just smiles at the visible effect she has on the girl in front of her. “You heard me.”

 

Tobin just stares.

 

“Fine. I’ll go first,” Christen says as she pulls on the bow of her purple, halter sundress, before letting it slide down her body, and stepping out of it -- maintaining eye contact with Tobin the entire time.

 

She’s not wearing a bra. Oh god. 

 

It takes every ounce of willpower Tobin has to resist letting her eyes wander down Christen’s body, now only covered by a thin, black thong.

 

Instead, she takes a moment to study Christen’s face. She’s memorized these green eyes many times before -- in the dorm during sunset, on a rainy day in the student center, on a sunny day on the 180 rock. But she swears she’s never seen anything as beautiful as Christen’s green eyes in the Appalachian moonlight. 

 

“Don’t leave me hanging,” Christen teases. “I’m cashing in. We’re going skinny dipping.”

 

Tobin looks away, off the end of a dock for a moment, laughing as she responds. “No we’re not.”

 

Christen pouts, and Tobin is finding it harder not to give in. 

 

“It’s on my junior year bucket list.”

 

“It’s 40 degrees, Chris! We’re not going skinny dipping.” 

 

Tobin turns to face off the end of the dock, biting her lip as she feels Christen’s arms wrap around her neck from behind, Christen’s naked chest pressed up against her back, and lips ghosting her ear.

 

“Pussy.”

 

Just as she closes her eyes to savor the moment a little longer, Christen is already gone, and Tobin hears a splash in the water in front of her. She panics for a moment, not seeing any water move. But before she can spiral too far, she sees a head break through the surface of the water. 

 

She stares again. 

 

“Are you just gonna watch or …” she hears from the water.

 

Tobin rolls her eyes, biting her lip again as she watches Christen tread water. 

 

This GIRL.

 

“Fuck it,” she announces, before pulling down her ripped denim jeans, and simultaneously grabbing the collar of her gray Nirvana t-shirt from the back of the neck and yanking it over her head. She slowly drops the t-shirt on the dock, standing in a pair of black boy-shorts that tightly hug her hips, and a black Nike sports bra. 

 

She’s about to jump in, when she hears Christen speak again.

 

“Off.”

 

Tobin swallows, before nodding and slowly sliding out of her sports bra, letting it fall on the dock beside her. She feels her nipples hardening with the cool night breeze. But Tobin feels scalding hot under Christen’s gaze.

 

Christen looks confused as Tobin holds up her pointer finger, backing away from the end of the dock, only to start laughing when Tobin bursts into an epic, full-dock sprint, before cannonballing into the water.

 

“You suck,” Christen giggles, as Tobin emerges, shaking her wet hair out of her eyes, and splashing Christen a few times before beginning to tread water.

 

“You’re the one who made me get in here!”

 

“Because you put up such a big fight, Tobs,” she rolls her eyes.

 

“I did!”

 

“Not when the dress came off,” Christen quipped back, biting and releasing her lower lip slowly.

 

Oh fuck.

 

They stare at each other for a moment, just treading water.

 

“It was cold out there,” Tobin said quietly, needing to fill the silence. 

 

“It’s cold in here,” Christen returns in the same tone.

 

“So come here then.”

 

Tobin can practically see the wheels turning in the green-eyed girl's mind as she stays in her spot, just watching Tobin’s face.  

 

Only a moment later, she sees Christen’s head plunge below the water.

 

Weird .

 

Then she feels soft hands tracing up her torso.

 

And Oh.

 

Just a second after, Christen’s face emerges from the water right in front of her own face, her hands moving up over Tobin’s breasts, linking behind her neck. Her bare legs come up to encircle Tobin’s abdomen. 

 

I might just drown .

 

Tobin keeps treading with her arms to keep them afloat, although she’s finding it increasingly difficult to not touch any part of Christen instead.

 

They stay like that for a few minutes, bare chests pressed together, faces just inches apart, breathing each other in.

 

You’re so beautiful.

 

But then she feels Christen’s body tense up. 

 

Tell me I didn’t say that out loud.

 

Christen’s staring at her with an intensity she’d never seen before. It’s a look she can’t quite read. Not that she has the chance to, because soon Christen’s pulling away, swimming back toward the dock. 

 

Fuck me.

 

Tobin takes off after Christen, pulling herself out of the water alongside the girl, and moving to throw on her clothes. She had felt the tone shift with that one accidental comment, and suddenly she felt a little… bare. 

 

“Ready to go?” she asks, trying to gage Christen’s mood.

 

She’s relieved to see Christen’s face erupt in a small grin.

 

“Yeah, race ya?” Christen calls out, sprinting down the dock.

 

“That’s not fair” Tobin yells out as she follows behind her. “You know you’re way faster than me!”

 

When they get back to the yard, shoving each other and laughing as they near the house — the “finish line” — the entire team is still outside by the fire hanging out. 

 

But this time, when the eyes of several of their teammates look over at the two of them, soaking wet, hands all over each other, Tobin can’t find a reason within herself to care. She thinks Christen can’t either, as they both make quiet eye contact before bursting out laughing all over again and running together past the team and through the sliding glass door into the house, not even bothering to look back at their whispering, staring teammates.

 

They don’t stop running until they make it to their room, where they proceed to take turns showering and getting ready for bed. Enough socializing with the team for the night, they had decided. 

 

After they’re all cleaned up and in dry clothes, they find themselves both laying in the dark cabin room. The sounds of their laughing teammates echoes through the window above the couch that Tobin is sprawled across, strong moonlight also shining into the bedroom.

 

They’ve laid in calm silence before during nights when Christen is in their dorm room. But tonight, the silence is anything but calm. The silence is loud. 

 

And Tobin’s head feels overwhelmed, yearning to feel Christen’s hands on her body again. 

 

But she can’t. Because Christen has a Brett. And Tobin has no one -- no one but Christen. 

 

She’s so wrapped up in her thoughts that she doesn’t process the consistent sound of rustling sheets behind her.

 

It only takes two words to drag her out of her own mind. 

 

“Hey Tobs?”

 

After a moment, Tobin responds in the same gentle tone. “Yeah, Chris?”

 

“It’s cold.”

 

“Yeah, I don’t think there’s heat in here. Do you want my blanket or something?”

 

There’s a pause. 

 

“Can you come up here?”

 

Christen hears her take a large, deep breath. But she doesn’t hear a response.

 

“Please.”

 

It’s not the begging that does her in. She knows better than that. 

 

It’s the sniffle that precedes the word, and the voice crack that follows it. Tobin can’t physically take hearing that, so she raises herself from the couch, before taking a step forward and sinking into the mattress of the bed.

 

She lays on her back and clasps her hands on her stomach, trying to leave as much space as posible between her and Christen. It's not a lot of space, granted it’s a full-sized bed. 

 

No sleep is happening while she’s laying in the same bed as Christen Press, but trying not to touch Christen Press -- she knows that. So Tobin starts to count the number of logs on the ceiling above the bed instead.

 

… nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirtee—

 

Her thoughts are cut off by an ice cold hand pulling Tobin’s hands apart. She feels Christen nudge her body under Tobin’s arm, nuzzling her head under Tobin’s chin and draping an arm across her abdomen. 

 

Tobin is tense, until another vulnerable, whispered “please” causes her to give in and pull the girl closer into her arms. 

 

For the first time in a month, Tobin falls asleep instantly. 

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ 

 

There was a subtle but important shift in their friendship after that trip. 

 

When they had arrived back on campus, Tobin had worked hard to bring an ounce of normalcy back into their routine, starting with regular tutoring sessions.

 

But in reality, what they were doing could only be described as hanging out, with a little bit of organic chemistry on the side. 

 

So here they were, seven weeks after the argument at the 180 rock -- Tobin and Christen inseparable, and Tobin and Kelley noncommunicative. It was almost comical the way things had changed. 

 

Today was November 24th, just six days before Thanksgiving, and officially a week out from the biggest organic chemistry test of the semester (aside from the impending doom of the final, of course). 

 

It’s a Friday.

 

And Tobin’s sitting in her Biology lecture, contemplating what to do with the rest of her day.

 

It’s a Friday.

 

And organic chemistry would be a valid reason to ask Christen what she’s doing tonight, right?

 

It’s a Friday.

 

And Tobin knows there’s a pretty big party going on at the football house later that night, But, it’s not like she had anyone there to see. 

 

Because it’s a Friday.

 

And Tobin didn’t see Christen on Friday’s. That was designated date time with Brett.

 

It’s a Friday. 

 

So why did Tobin just receive a text from Christen asking to meet tonight?

 

She looks down at the phone in her hand, reading over Christen’s text five or six times -- as she had been doing with all of them lately. 

 

8:56 a.m. Chris: Meet me at the 180 at 7:30?

 

She had questions. She always did. But she didn’t ask them. 

 

9:06 a.m. Tobs: yeah sure

 

She tried to put it out of her mind for the time being, a task that was easily becoming her greatest skill.

 

For the past forty minutes, she had been staring at Kelley’s notebook out of the corner of her eye in Bio lecture. After their ~showdown~, as she and Ashlyn had started calling it, Kelley had taken a break from sitting with Tobin in their biology lecture, instead opting to sit with another junior on the team, Morgan, just a few rows ahead of where her and Tobin usually sat. 

 

Tobin didn’t move seats. In fact, she put her backpack up on the seat next to her every class period. It was her weird, twisted way of hoping Kelley would come back. 

 

And just last week, Kelley had shown up to lecture, moved the backpack, and sat down next to Tobin. She hadn’t actually spoken to her yet, but Tobin took it as a gesture of hope. 

 

Meanwhile, she’s been back on a strict routine, kind of like her own personal preseason. 

 

After the Biology lecture, she went to the coffee shop. 

After making small talk with Jackie, the barista, she walked through the art sculpture in the academic quad.

After walking through the art sculpture, she ate a Clif Bar.

After the snack, she went to the 4th floor library individual study cubby.

After the library, she ate lunch with Ashlyn and Ali. 

And after lunch came other lectures, practice, studying, Christen, studying, and sleep.

 

Everyday looked eerily similar, and it provided some much-needed stability for Tobin.

 

She’s eating lunch with Ashlyn and Ali today, Friday, when her phone buzzes, and she instinctively smiles at the name that pops up. 

 

“I used to smile like T-squared over there when you texted me,” Ashlyn said to Ali, sitting next to her at the table.

 

“That’s cute,” she replied.

 

“You’re cute,” Ashlyn said softly, before leaning in to kiss the brunette next to her. 

 

They’d finally gotten their shit together and started dating. Tobin was happy for her friends. It was adorable, but also incredibly sickening.

 

So she takes another bite of her sandwich and mumbles, “You’re gonna make me puke.”

 

Ashlyn draws her eyes away from Ali to reply to Tobin.

 

“Your phone smiling is gonna make me puke. Is it chhriissstennn?” she teases. 

 

Ali smiles knowingly. 

 

Christen may or may not have disclosed the skinny dipping story to her best friend just the night before.

 

“If I tell you, I’d have to kill you,” Tobin says, making a fake frowny face.

 

Ashlyn rolled her eyes. “Well James Bond, me and Ali are gonna have to take off for class before you beat us up.”

 

Tobin laughs. “Aight, see y’all later.”

 

She watches them walk away, clutching tightly onto each other, laughing.

 

Wouldn’t that be nice .

 

Dragging her copy of Anna Karenina out of her bag, since she’s now alone at the lunch table, she lets out a sigh, before looking down to read the text and reply. 

 

(No, she still hadn’t finished the novel. A certain green-eyed beauty had been very distracting lately).

 

1:18 p.m. Chris: We still on for later?

 

1:27 p.m. Toby: yeee of course, still meeting at the 180?

 

She keeps reading between answering texts. Although if one were to assume she looks at her phone impatiently after reading every line, they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. 

 

1:35 p.m. Chris: Actually, I was thinking we could get boba first, if that’s cool?

 

So, what if she were a little bold today? 

 

1:45 p.m. Toby: damn :/ are you friendzoning me?

 

The bubbles appeared and disappeared several times, before a response came through. 

 

1:47 p.m. Chris: Lol what

 

She bit her lip as she sent the next message.

 

1:49 p.m. Toby: everyone knows boba’s the least flirty of drinks 

 

1:51 p.m. Chris: Oh do they now?

 

1:55 p.m. Toby: mhm

 

1:58 p.m. Chris: Hahaha alright. What about that wine restaurant thing in town?

 

2:02 p.m. Toby: damn chris, not looking to get married yet

 

2:06 p.m. Chris: Fine, Einstein. 

 

2:06 p.m. Chris: Since you know everything, what do you want to do

 

Just go for it.

 

2:14 p.m. Toby: beer, sushi, and you

 

Oh shit. 

 

Tobin isn’t even bothering to pretend she’s reading her book at this point, instead tapping her leg nervously under the lunch table.

 

She looks at the time.

 

2:18 p.m.  

 

Why hasn’t she answered? 

 

2:19 p.m. Toby: *your big orgo brain

 

Officially your worst cover-up ever. C+ for effort.

 

2:20 p.m. Chris: Yeah, okay :)

 

Tobin’s positively grinning embarrassingly at her phone right now. She’s surprised when she feels her phone buzz again with another message.

 

2:21 p.m. Chris: My “big orgo brain” is all lonely in lecture right now…

 

Tobin is confused for a second before registering the time. 

 

SHIT I’m late. 

 

She shoots one more text before she starts running out of the dining hall.

 

2:23: p.m. Toby: your fault for distracting me !

 

________________________________________



What Tobin had failed to register in her spontaneous master plan, was the fact that a tropical storm was rolling up the Carolina Coast.

 

So that’s how she found herself and Christen sprinting through a rainstorm from their college town to the dorms, Christen holding a bag of sushi takeout, Tobin holding a case of her favorite beer, Old Milwaukee, and both of them holding onto each other and giggling as they ran through the rain.

 

By the time they got back to the dorms, they were completely soaked.

 

They’re halfway up the six flights of stairs to the sixth floor, when all of a sudden, the stairwell goes dark, and they both come to a halt.

 

Tobin hears a loud squeal coming from right behind her.

 

“Is the Christen Press, afraid of the dark?”

 

“Shut up, Tobs. Where’d you go?”

 

“Why, you scared?”

 

“And you’re one to talk, mrs. cartoons-make-me-cry?”

 

Tobin scoffs playfully. “I told you, they’re like fake reality, but they’re trying to convince you it’s real. It’s so freaky.”

 

Christen’s hand soon finds Tobin’s in the absolute darkness of the stairwell, as if they just knew where each other’s bodies were, despite the lack of visibility.

 

“I will let you eat all the Idaho rolls if you take me upstairs now.”

 

In lieu of responding, she just pulls Christen up the stairs behind her, making her way down the sixth floor hallway, and finally launching her into the room in front of her. 

 

“Home sweet home,” Tobin announces, before flipping the light switch and laughing. “Oops, I kinda forgot the power would be out in here too.”

 

“I have some candles in my closet that I use while meditating sometimes. I’ll grab them.”

 

Tobin swallows at the thought of her and Christen in a dark, candlelit room together. 

 

Hold it together rambo. 

 

While Christen is lighting the candle, Tobin begins peeling layers off. She throws her wet practice shirt and shorts onto the end of her bed, before sitting on the ground in just a sports bra and spandex. 

 

When Christen turns around, Tobin doesn’t miss the way she bites her lip as her eyes run down Tobin’s abs hungrily, as she mimics Tobin’s clothes-removal situation with her own.

 

Even in the dim candlelight, she can make out the blush on Christen’s cheeks when her gaze travel’s back up to Tobin’s face and she realizes she’s been caught. 

 

Then, they’re just looking at each other. 

 

Tobin feels like all the oxygen has been sucked out of the room.

 

She feels like she’s standing on that dock in Appalachia all over again.

 

Luckily (or is it), Christen starts to speak, as she bends down to open her backpack and pull out a textbook.

 

“Uh, we can attack some orgo while we eat?”

 

Did she really just take out a chemistry book?

 

“Tobs?”

 

Stop staring and say something you idiot.

 

“Yeah, yeah good idea. Big test coming up.”

 

The session starts like every other one. They’re eating, drinking (albeit alcoholic this time), joking about the problems as they go through them.

 

“Why does this tert-butoxide look like a man throwing a football?”

 

“Can you do your whole it’s scoring big hoops some other time, so we can finish this, pleaseee,” Christen pouts.

 

She’s so cute.

 

“There are no hoops in football, dummy.”

 

“I know.”

 

“Do you?”

 

“Whatever. My point is that all your jokes are meaningless to Aldol Condensation, because Aldol Condensation doesn't care, and neither do I.”

 

“Well do Halogen SN2 reactions care? Because I’m absolute trash at those too, Chris.”

 

Christen lets out a loud “ughhh” and falls to her back dramatically, Tobin laughing from a few feet away.

 

But then things started to shift.

 

Suddenly, every look was loaded. The space between their bodies ached . She really did her best to subdue it, focusing on the orgo. However, an hour in, it was clear that the chemistry in her room extended beyond the textbook.

 

The drunk also made the problems a little harder to do.

 

Finally, after maybe 25 drunken minutes spent on one simple question, Tobin wrote down a molecule that somehow matched the answer key.

 

“Yesss,” she fist bumps the air.

 

To her surprise, Christen nearly leaps over the sushi to give Tobin a hug.

 

“I knew you could do it. You’re amazing,” she whispered in Tobin’s ear.

 

“It’s just a chemistry problem, Chris,” Tobin laughs out quietly.

 

Christen pulls back, arms still loosely draped over Tobin’s shoulders.

 

“I mean it though, Toby.”

 

Tobin usually hated when people called that bad. Suddenly the forbidden nickname didn’t sound so bad coming from Christen.

 

“You’re amazing, too. So amazing,” she whispers sincerely, staring into Christen’s eyes for a moment, before watching the green beauties travel down to her lips.

 

Christen doesn’t tense, or pull away this time.

 

Instinctively, Tobin’s tongue comes out to run along her bottom lip, and Christen’s eyes follow.

 

Tobin starts to lean in, her eyes now also travelling to the girl’s lips.

 

They’re slowly moving closer for just a few seconds, Tobin placing her hands on Christen’s bare sides.

 

But a loud knock disrupts them. 

 

Christen throws her head back and groans loudly. 

 

(And Tobin would be lying if she said it wasn’t the sexiest thing she’d ever seen).

 

“I got it,” she drunkenly laughs out before lifting herself off of Tobin, carefully stepping over the sushi, drinks, and candles, and making her way to the door.

 

“You can’t have any more Ali, I’m hungry!” she calls out, assuming it is her friend coming back for more sushi. She had already been over twice earlier in the night to try to take more for her and Ashlyn’s movie night. 

 

But she opens the door, and suddenly wishes it was Ali back for more. 

 

“Uh, hey B. What’re you doing here?” she says.

 

B? Who could that be?

 

Tobin subtly shifts her body, such that she could see a little past Christen, who stood in the half-open door.

 

There stood Brett, looking like someone just vomited frat row all over him. 

 

Bleh .

 

He was staring down at Christen, who moved her arms across her torso, almost as if to cover up.

 

They stood staring at each other in the doorway, neither one making a sound. Tobin could practically feel the intensity of the interaction from where she sat, 10 feet away on the floor. She had known something was up with them for awhile, but with her and Christen’s… thing?... she didn’t exactly feel like it was her place to meddle. 

 

What’s their deal? Maybe I should’ve asked.

 

They were already teetering a thin boundary right now, as it was. 

 

After about a minute, she saw Brett glance over and around Christen’s shoulder to see Tobin on the floor, next to an assortment of sushi, beer, and three candles. 

 

Tobin followed his eyes.

 

Yup, I should’ve asked. 

 

A fury lights in his eyes momentarily.

 

“Chris, what is this ?” he says in a pained but angry voice.

 

Christen held him off with two hands on his chest, shoving him toward the hallway.

 

“Not here,” she says back at him seriously, her light tone from just minutes before nowhere to be found. 

 

She sees Christen turn around to give her a small apologetic smile, before grabbing her shirt off of the bed and shutting the door behind her. 

 

What just happened?

 

Tobin let out a deep breath she didn’t realize she was holding in. 

 

Before she can really dig too deep into her guilt for almost kissing someone’s girlfriend (multiple times now), she decides to distract herself. After about 15 minutes, she had thrown away all the empty sushi cartons, vacuumed and swiffer-ed the floor, and put all the beer in the fridge. She then goes to move all of her and Christen’s chemistry books into neat piles on their respective desks.

 

Studying is probably over for the night .

 

After she finished, Tobin sat down on her bed and pulled out her phone, for the first time since they got back that night.

 

Truthfully, Tobin had been the worst texter in the world lately. She rarely opened her phone unless the name “Chris” ot “Alex” appeared on her lockscreen. 

 

Everytime she picked up her phone, she saw Kelley’s thread -- the one with all her unanswered messages -- and it made her shrivel up again inside. So she just opted to not pick up her phone.

 

Tonight, however, she had a message from Ashlyn. Curious, she opened the thread.

 

10:58 p.m. Ash: Ali left. They have an away game tomorrow :( I’m sad.

 

Tobin rolled her eyes at Ashlyn’s dramatics. 

 

She pauses for a moment before responding.

 

It had been almost a half-hour at this point, so maybe Christen wasn’t coming back.

 

Whatever.

 

After shoving her phone in the side of her spandex and grabbing two beers, Tobin makes her way to the door -- destination: Ashlyn’s room, where Christen would not be that night.

 

She’s walking toward Room 602, which is adjacent to the stairwell, when she registers faint yelling coming from the stairwell. As she get’s closer, she hears Christen’s voice.

 

“Oh hell no, Brett.”

 

“At least I wasn’t on a date with her.”

 

“How is sleeping with her better than being on a date , which I wasn’t on, by the way.”

 

“Sure you weren’t. That, up there, definitely didn’t look like us three months ago.”

 

“Yeah because it wasn’t shit.”

 

“Well at least she didn’t choose fucking her teammate over coming to my big homecoming game.”

 

“This has been going on since HOMECOMING?!”

 

“Yeah, Chris. Like you even care.”

 

“You’re a piece of shit.”

 

“No.You know what’s shit? You chose every opportunity to go home over the last two years, instead of spending any time with me.”

 

“My mom has six months to live, Brett.”

 

She hears a lengthy pause, before the start of footsteps

 

“Wait, Chris, I’m sorry!”

 

Once again, I was not supposed to hear that.

 

She bangs on Ashlyn’s door. No answer. 

 

She bangs again. No answer.

 

The footsteps are getting closer. Fuck .

 

Instead, she runs back to her room, shutting the door quickly and gently behind her, before aggressively leaping like an equestrian horse over to the desk, setting down the beers, and pulling out a random book from her portable library

 

She stares at the big “Chapter 8” typed out at the top of the random page she opened to, as she registers footsteps approaching. 

 

The door opens. 

 

Tobin counts to three in her head before looking up. 

 

One, mississippi

Two, mississippi

Three, mississippi

 

Looking up, she expects to see a frustrated, even mad Christen. 

 

Instead, she’s met with huge, red puffy eyes, and buckling knees.

 

Tobin stands up and quickly makes her way over to the girl, pulling her into her arms as she starts to crumble. 

 

Christen cries into her bare shoulder, and she can feel the salty tears dripping down her upper arm and down her back. 

 

A moment later, she feels Christen’s knees give out. 

 

Tobin responds by lowering her arms from where they rest on the small of her back to under her thighs, lifting Christen in the air, feeling the girl quickly tighten her arms around Tobin’s neck and move her legs around Tobin’s waist. 

 

Tobin stands there for another few mintes, swaying and rubbing her back gently as she cries, before taking a few steps backward and maneuvering herself to be sitting on her own bed, back against the wall.

 

She lowers Christen onto her lap, and continues moving her arms rhythmically up and down, unsure what else to do to console the girl as she continues to hold on tightly and cry.

 

Sure, Tobin had seen Christen upset many times over the past month or two. There was a lot going on in her life -- Kelley, Brett, her mom, the pressure of school, getting over her ankle injury. She’d sat with a crying Christen several times, usually in a secluded corner in public, or up at the 180 rock. But never had she seen Christen like this . It broke her to see the green-eyed girl like this.

 

They stayed like that for a while, bodies pressed together in the dim room, where only one candle remained lit out of three.

 

After a half hour, Christen starts to shift a little. She’s practically straddling Tobin at this point. 

 

Tobin stilled her hands, lowering them to the girl’s hips, as Christen pulled back, meeting Tobin’s concerned eyes.

 

Just a moment later, she sees Christen’s puffy eyes intentionally lower to her lips, like they had earlier that night. 

 

Suddenly, the room feels heavy, and the only thing Tobin can see is her green eyes, staring at her lips. 

 

But this time, there’s no knock on the door. There’s no organic chemistry. There’s nothing else. 

 

Tobin freezes, her breath catching, before she opens her mouth to speak.

 

“I —”

 

Her words are immediately swallowed by Christen’s searching lips meeting her own.

 

It’s hesitant at first -- lips barely moving, just pressed together gently.

 

But it’s not long before Christen raises a hand to grip the side of Tobin’s face, slotting her lips between Tobin’s with a grandiose ferocity.

 

They both sink into a kiss, Christen letting out a soft moan as she bites and drags her teeth across Tobin’s lower lip. The action elicits a gasp from Tobin, which allows Christen to push her tongue into Tobin’s mouth and explore. 

 

Tobin’s hands moved down to the bottom of Christen’s waist and tightened their grip.

 

After several minutes, Christen removes her lips from Tobin’s, starting to kiss her way across and down Tobin’s jaw.

 

It’s then that Tobin feels the wetness dripping off of Christen’s cheeks.

 

“Wait, wait,” she whispers, pulling back and moving her right hand up from Christen’s hip to brush the dark curls out of her favorite green eyes.

 

Her favorite green eyes that were streaked red with sadness, with pain. 

 

Tobin let her fingers move slowly across Christen’s cheekbone, just staring silently into her eyes with concern.

 

“Please,” Christen says, repeating her plea from that night in the cabin, voice wavering. She begins to lean back in.

 

But Tobin kept studying her face, her eyes. Something about this wasn’t right. She wanted Christen. She wanted her so bad. 

 

This wasn’t Christen here tonight. This wasn’t right. She had wanted this for far too long, to let it happen this way.

 

So Tobin stops her, holding her away with a flattened hand across her cheek, whispering “not like this.”

 

She pauses, moving her hand gently down to caress the side of her jaw, before asking in a gentle voice, “what happened Chris?”

 

To her surprise, Christen huffs aggressively, new tears streaming down her face, before she shoves herself off of Tobin, feet coming down hard on the cement floor of their dormitory.

 

“Chris,” Tobin calls out after her. 

 

The girl turned around, green eyes meeting hazel once more, before walking out of the room, door slamming shut behind her.

Chapter Text

She heard Christen sneak back in that night around 3 a.m.. 

 

Mattress sinking down next to her, head buried under Tobin’s chin, arm carefully draped across her stomach. She was holding onto Tobin as if she knew she wouldn’t get to do it again.

 

She probably assumed that Tobin was sleeping.

 

That wasn’t the case. 

 

Tobin was wide awake. 

 

Tobin was nowhere near asleep. 

 

In fact, Tobin barely slept at all that night. 

 

Instead, she laid on her back, hypnotized by Christen’s rhythmic breathing next to her, trying to convert this feeling to memory.

 

The sun was already coming up when she was finally lulled to sleep. 

 

But when Tobin woke up just a couple of hours later, she was all alone. 

 

Was it all just a fever dream? 

 

Not a clue. She felt like she didn’t know much of anything these days.

 

Tobin slowly reaches for her phone that was placed underneath her pillow, scrolling through the notifications, looking for one name in particular. But she wasn’t at all surprised by its absence. 

 

Opening the messages app, she types out and deletes a few different texts, before settling on short and simple.

 

8:27 a.m. Tobs: hey

 

Forcing herself out of bed, Tobin slugs down the hall to the bathroom. She grabs her toothbrush and squirts some plain white, colgate mint toothpaste onto the brush, reluctantly raising it to her mouth.

 

She can still taste Christen on her tongue from the night before -- the salty-sweet combination of cinnamon gum and escaped tears. It was only for a few minutes. She didn’t get nearly enough of it. But as she ran her tongue across her top lip, it made her mouth water in reminiscence. 

 

Sighing, she pushes the toothbrush to the side of her mouth and reaches for her phone.

 

No reply.

 

Just as she’s about to place her phone back on the counter, the bathroom door bursts open behind her with a loud bang, causing her to jump up in astonishment.

 

“Do you have to always do that?” she grumpily directs in the direction of the door.

 

“Damn T-squared, who peed in your cheerios this morning?” replies Ashlyn with a small chuckle as she reached to grab her toiletries from a cubby located behind the door.

 

Tobin just places her hand back on the toothbrush resting in the corner of her mouth and silently begins brushing her teeth again, moving her attention from Ashlyn to her own figure in the mirror.

 

“What’s up, T?” Ashlyn asks gently, sensing something is off with her friend. She makes her way to a sink a few places down from Tobin, purposefully leaving some space. 

 

Tobin takes an audible deep breath, before reaching down and cupping water into her mouth, spitting out the remnants of both her toothpaste and her green-eyed girl, watching as they slowly swirl down the drain.

 

Then she looks up and over at her friend.

 

“How long do you have?” she responds cheekily, receiving a raised eyebrow from Ashlyn in return.

 

______________________________



Two hours later, Tobin is pushing open the door to the dining hall, sucking in a much-needed breath of fresh air after a lengthy brunch with Ashlyn.

 

As she sets off on a path to the study loft in the student center, where she was to meet her Sociology group to work on a project, she runs over the past two hours in her head.

 

For the first time she had told Ashlyn everything about Christen.

 

Everything .

 

From the first dorm room meeting, all the way to her absence just this morning.

 

Ashlyn had nodded thoughtfully, offering advice or sounds of acknowledgement here and there, although she seemed to get the memo that what her distressed friend really needed was to get all of this off of her chest. Someone to listen.

 

She was right.

 

Oddly enough, Tobin felt a semblance of better after her two hours of word vomiting to Ashlyn, feeling like she set herself free just a little bit. Or at the very least, she would now have some company within the bars of her Christen-induced cage.

 

But there was one part of the conversation in particular that still nagged at Tobin’s mind.



“Dude, you need a chill pill today.”

 

“I needed five... like yesterday,” Tobin replied, taking a large bite of her pancakes.

 

“So, what’re you gonna do then?” Ashlyn asked curiously.

 

And Tobin paused to think. Because what was she going to do?

 

She’d spent the past 90 minutes reciting every small detail of Christen on her mind, but hadn’t once considered what would happen next.

 

“No fucking idea,” she says, quickly checking her phone again.

 

No reply.

 

“Maybe it’s time to show her what she’s missing. I mean, somebody should, before the whole team isn’t speaking to one another,” Ashlyn laughs out sarcastically. 

 

Tobin just looks down, no laugh escaping her lips. 

 

“Sorry, too soon?” Ashlyn grimaces, seeming to notice she hit a sore spot. She then speaks again.

 

“Sometimes not getting you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”

 

Tobin smiles, looking back up at her friend. “Did you just quote the Dalai Lama at me?”

 

“What can I say, he knows his shit… and I may have just finished my philosophy reading before this.” Ashlyn responds. “She doesn’t own you, you know.”



She doesn’t own you.



She doesn’t own you.



Walking to the student center, that line plays over and over in her head. 

 

So why does she feel so powerless right now? Why does Christen seem to invade every single one of her thoughts lately?

 

More importantly, why is Tobin letting her?

 

The question rings throughout her mind as she swings the side-door of the student center open, before walking inside and beginning to climb the stairs to the loft.

 

But even her ~Christen thoughts~ can’t hold off the overwhelming force of dread creeping up with Tobin, multiplying with each step she ascends.

 

Why? Well, Kelley’s in her Sociology group.

 

Since her spat with her best friend nearly seven weeks ago, these weekly Sociology meetings had become the bane of her existence. They more or less consisted of Kelley either completely ignoring her, or throwing (metaphorical) punches. At least when she mumbled snarky comments at Tobin, she was acknowledging her existence.

 

Lately, it has been the former. Mere silence, identical to the silence she receives from Kelley in her 9 a.m. bio lecture everyday.

 

And truthfully, Tobin wasn’t ready to face it all. Not this morning. 

 

However, much to her surprise, when she approached the table today, Kelley let out a quick “hey” along with the other three members of the group.

 

Tobin looked over her shoulder.

 

Is she talking to me?

 

There was no one else there, so she just sat down and pulled out her laptop to start working on their Fundamentalism project.

 

Well, working would be a bit of a stretch in describing Tobin’s activities for the next hour.

 

When Tobin had suggested an idea for their powerpoint within the first few minutes of the meeting, Kelley had let out a “that’s a great idea” from where she sat on the other side of the table.

 

w.h.a.t.

 

And it continued like that for the rest of the hour : Kelley agreeing with her. Kelley complimenting her ideas. Kelley actually asking her for an opinion on a piece of writing.

 

The hour felt like an alternate reality.

 

So Tobin’s mind was really nothing during that hour-long meeting but utterly distracted, filled with an inner monologue psychoanalyzing Kelley’s every action.

 

When they wrapped up the meeting, Tobin pulled out her phone as she exchanged “bye” and “see you on Monday” with her group members who were already departing from the table.

 

No reply.

 

Tobin sighs, pushing her phone into her back pocket, while raising herself from her seat at the table. Looking up, she’s startled to see the small, spicy brunette also still standing next to the table, looking straight at her.

 

She swallowed loudly in anticipation.

 

“We’re having a thing at the soccer house on Wednesday,” Kelley says calmly. “Midweek Mayhem.”

 

“I heard,” Tobin replies in an even tone.

 

“Are you coming?” 

 

“Probably not.”

 

“You should come,” Kelley speaks one last time before sporting a small smile and walking away. 

 

She doesn’t have time to reply before Kelley has left the cafe.

 

Was this real?

 

Tobin smacks herself in the face.

 

OW. Definitely real. 

 

When she sees just how many people were staring at her as she smacked herself in the face, a blush rises up to her cheeks, and she sheepishly makes her way over to the stairs to leave the loft as well. 

 

Taking a leap down the last few steps, she takes a left, deciding to go grab her usual iced coffee before heading out.

 

She was feeling hopeful for the first time today after that ten-second talk with her former best-friend.

 

That doesn’t last long.

 

Standing in line for coffee, she goes to unlock her phone to tell Ashlyn to meet her in the library, but instead sees that it opened directly to an unanswered blue bubble sitting at the bottom of her screen. Tobin just stares at it for another moment, before deciding to just bite the bullet and be blunt for once.

 

11:14 a.m. Tobs: we need to talk

 

Tobin fumbles and nearly drops her phone in astonishment when she sees the little bubbles appear, indicating that Christen is typing.

 

But just as quickly as they appear, they disappear. She waits, but they don’t come back.

 

Tilting her head up to the ceiling, Tobin lets out a frustrated huff as she shoves the phone in her pocket. She’s startled from her sad daze by a voice in front of her.

 

“And to think it's not even noon yet.”

 

She lets out a small laugh, bringing her attention down to the barista in front of her.

 

“Tell me about it. Hey Jackie, how are you?” she smiles.

 

“Better than you I would guess.”

 

It’s straightforward, but she’s not wrong. 

 

This game she’s been playing with Christen -- she can’t decide for the life of her what to do about it. She can’t decide if she actually wants to win the game, or if maybe she just liked playing it.

 

What she had decided for sure, is that she’s sick of Christen moving around her gamepiece. 

 

“Yeah,” she laughs, looking down at her hands, “long night, longer morning.”

 

“Ah,” Jackie replies, nodding her head in acknowledgement. “Anything I could do to help take the edge off?”

 

Tobin shoots her head up at that comment, seeing Jackie’s watchful smirk.

 

Ashlyn’s words run through her mind once again. She doesn’t own you .

 

Maybe Tobin will just add a new gamepiece to the playing board. Or maybe this is her way of forfeiting. She decides that’s a decision for another time. 

 

Tobin just smirks back, pulling her phone out of her pocket one last time, lowering her eyes to the screen momentarily.

 

No reply.

 

I’m tired .

 

She raises her eyes back to meet Jackies, before slowly leaning her body forward on the counter, weight resting on her forearms. 

 

“Depends. What did you have in mind?”

 

Jackie draws her bottom lip between her teeth. She takes a minute to study Tobin curiously, as if she can’t quite figure out why the casually sexy girl who has been coming into the coffee shop all semester is just now deciding to return her flirting.

 

Before they have a chance to continue their conversation, a manly cough erupts from a few feet behind them, followed by a “some of us have places to be!” grunted out. 

 

Tobin just grins and pushes herself back to a standing position, letting her arms drag slowly back across the counter. 

 

“I’ll let you know,” Jackie finally says, still holding eye contact as she slides a black iced coffee across the counter, nine digits written across the lid. “Coffee’s on me.”

 

Tobin allows their fingers to touch for a few seconds as she grabs the coffee and moves to walk away from the counter, turning her head around once more to send a smile to the blonde barista as she exits the coffee shop.

 

So maybe she flirted back with Jackie this time. 

 

Maybe she sends her a text. 

 

Maybe the girl actually responds to her text. 

 

Maybe Tobin continues to answer her. 

 

Maybe it feels nice to have someone who seems to want to talk to her.

 

Maybe Tobin is getting tired of waiting. 

 

But maybe she also knows that this new girl could never compare to what she’s been waiting for.

 

____________________________



Later that night, Tobin finds herself sitting at the desk in her dorm room, listening to music as she finishes up one last assignment for the day. Earlier, she had told Ashlyn about Kelley’s olive branch, and her friend had insisted that they have a Bro Night “to drink beer and tear apart the deeper meaning of this momentous occasion” …. whatever that meant.

 

Tobin of course agreed, letting Ashlyn know that she just needed to finish up a discussion board post for one of her classes before they bro’d out together.

 

Her pencil is just finishing up the last sentence of her response, when she hears the sound of a door opening and shutting over the music playing in her ears.

 

Assuming it’s Ashlyn barging in early, she doesn’t immediately look up from her laptop. Tobin knows that Ashlyn respects how much she cares about her schoolwork, and that she would just collapse on the bed until Tobin was finished anyway.

 

It’s not until she hears a large thud a few minutes later that she’s prompted to remove one of her earbuds and give her attention to the scene in front of her.

 

She’s about to ask Ashlyn what the hell that sound was, when she instead meets a pair of green eyes. A pair of green eyes she hasn’t seen or heard from since she stormed out of the room the night before.

 

Christen only stays facing her for a moment longer, before breaking eye contact to continue rapidly gathering a series of belongings into a small, purple duffle bag. 

 

Honestly, Tobin didn’t know what to say. 

 

“Chris,” she tries calmly.

 

Silence.

 

“Chris,” she repeats.

 

Silence.

 

“Chris!”, she says significantly louder, standing up and walking slowly toward the girl, as if she’s nervous that if she approaches too quickly, she’ll scare the girl off.

 

Christen looks up at Tobin, green eyes meeting hazel in the dim evening light.

 

And for the first time in a month, Tobin does not have even an ounce of recognition of what’s going on behind those eyes.

 

They just look … panicked.

 

“I have to go.”

 

When Ashlyn enters the room less than a minute later, she finds Tobin standing alone in the center of the room, slack-jawed. Because what was that.

 

She carefully watches Tobin turn around and quickly walk over to the window.

 

Following her friend, Ashlyn settles by the window too, seeing that they are looking out at the quad below. She’s not sure exactly what they’re looking for, but she stays still, recognizing a serious change in Tobin’s demeanor from just a few hours ago.

 

But then she sees it. 

 

An unmistakable mop of dark, curly hair, nestled under the arm of one very tall, athletic football player, strolling away from the building, smiling at each other and laughing.

 

Ashlyn raises her left hand to grab Tobin’s shoulder, a gesture of support, as Tobin lowers her own head into her hands on the window sill.

 

The rest of the night was spent laying side by side in Tobin’s bed, beers in hand.

 

There were groans.

 

There were this sucks .

 

There were you deserve betters.

 

There were what do I even do nows .

 

And there was a text sent to a certain blonde barista, inviting her to a party at the soccer house on Wednesday night.

 

____________________________



There was a problem.

 

Christen was still everywhere .

 

But even more than that, Tobin didn’t realize just how much Christen had been embedded into her life, until these few days when she wasn’t in it. 

 

When she walked up to the coffee cart on the way to 9 a.m. Bio on Wednesday morning, the student working at the cart placed two coffees in front of her -- one black coffee, and one vanilla and hazelnut iced latte.

 

Tobin just stared at them for a moment, until the student cleared her throat and kindly asked her if she needed anything else.

 

Great. 

 

“I’m all set, thank you though,” she said politely before picking them both up, one in each hand.

 

As she walked away, she held her right arm straight out, perpendicular to her body, and released the latte into the trash, not even slowing her stride.

 

While actually sitting in her 9 a.m. Bio class just twenty minutes later, she’s subtly scrolling through facebook for the first time in months, when a tan face with light green eyes pops up on her recommended friends list.

 

Seriously.

 

She shuts her phone off for the rest of class. At least it forces her to pay attention, for once. 

 

When the lecture has finished, she parts ways with Kelley after a prolonged period of exhausting small talk (which seems to be all they know how to do at the moment -- but at least Kelley is speaking to her again), and makes her way over to the Whitaker Clinic for her three-hour volunteer shift.

 

And what do you know -- she finds those same green eyes staring at the computer at the front desk.

 

Is she even surprised at this point?

 

Tobin doesn’t stop walking, just hoping to get down the hallway before Christen recognizes her. 

 

“What, not even gonna say hi?” she hears from over her shoulder.

 

Tobin stops walking, but stays facing the hallway.

 

Me? I’m not gonna say hi?

 

Tobin keeps walking. 

 

She’s in the volunteer locker room, throwing her stuff in a locker, when she hears a throat cleared behind her.

 

Please no.

 

“What?” Tobin nearly snaps, continuing to stuff her belongings into the locker. 

 

She’s not mad. That wouldn't be the correct word. She’s just… chilling on an abandoned railroad somewhere halfway in-between the lands of frustration and confusion. 

 

“Who pissed you off today?” the girl laughs quietly in response.

 

Tobin turns around at that, to look her in dead the eyes.

 

“Yeah, wonder who,” she replies in utter sarcasm, before turning slightly to shut her locker. 

 

“Look, I’m sorry for… avoiding you.”

 

“Apology accepted,” Tobin says, marching straight past her back into the hallway, hoping to avoid any further confrontation with the girl right now. 

 

Tobin lets out a breath of relief when she doesn’t hear hurried footsteps following her, and shakes out her shoulders for a moment. 

 

She was just not in the mood to deal with this right now.

 

Her volunteer shifts here had sort of become her escape from reality over the past month, and she was hoping to keep it that way.

 

Tobin’s job there was two-fold. She’d spend two hours at the Patient Information desk, helping underserved patients to navigate the healthcare system, as well as sitting down and helping them address some of their barriers to care. Having worked here for well over a month now, she had even gotten to see some repeat patients and started building trusting relationships with them. 

 

She smiled as her favorite patient, Gus, an elderly man with a whiddling passion, approached the desk.

 

“What can I do for you today, Gus?”

 

“Tobin! Oh I’m so glad it’s you here now. I came by an hour early on accident, and the curly haired girl, hmm, what was her name? Chris, yes Chris! She was a little … frowny.”

 

Hah. 

 

“Well I’m sorry about her.” If only you knew how much . “Let’s get you checked in, yeah?”

 

“Sounds good. I brought my latest piece with me today!”

 

“No way. Get it on up here, let’s see it!”

 

She spent the next few minutes talking with Gus about the set of birds he had carved in wood, before accompanying him back to a clinical room for his appointment.

 

Tobin loved this first part of the job -- it gave her a nice preview of what she hoped to continue as a physician someday.

 

However, it was the last hour that was her absolute favorite.

 

It was when she got to shadow the physicians, ask way too many questions, and even sometimes help out with physical examinations, if the patient consented, of course. 

 

Tobin had always been a very hands-on person — in all contexts. So actually getting to work alongside doctors was like an absolute dream, especially while still being a college student.

 

That hour was her weekly affirmation that she was suffering through organic fucking chemistry for a reason.

 

It also was a much-needed distraction from the Christen goggles she felt like someone kept super glueing onto her face lately. 

 

Even more important, she actually felt herself smiling authentically for the first time that week as she was leaving the building at the end of her shift, on her way to meet Jackie for lunch. 

 

She’s not really sure about Jackie yet. 

 

The girl is very kind, passionate, and not at all horrible on the eyes. But Tobin is still 10 miles deep in Christen, and she knows that. And she let Jackie know that, because that was the right thing to do. 

 

And between her and Christen, at least one of them had to do the right thing for once. 

 

Jackie appreciated the honesty. Imagine that. She’d even said she was getting over someone too, and that perhaps they could just stay casual, have fun, and see where it goes. 

 

Tobin was more than fine with that. Jacke was exactly what she needed right now. 

 

So off she went, walking through the clinic doors, on course to meet her. She’d made it through the door and was maybe twenty feet from the quad they said they would meet at, when she felt a small tug on the left sleeve of her black T-shirt.

 

Come. On.

 

She turned her head, and sure enough, there was Christen, standing behind her, arms tight against her torso.

 

She stopped walking.

 

Guess I’ll have to talk to her sometime. May as well do it now.

 

“Hi, Chris.”

 

“Hi,” is all the girl says in return.

 

Tobin rolled her eyes at whatever this was.

 

I change my mind. Not doing this now.

 

“Bye, Chris.”

 

She started walking.

 

“Tobin, wait.”

 

She stopped again.

 

Tobin didn’t speak this time, she just looked at Christen, deciding she’d let her go first.

 

“I made a mistake.”

 

Tobin nearly laughed at that. 

 

“And what was that exactly?” she asks Christen, wanting to hear her say it. 

 

But also, Tobin wanted clarification. The confusion about where they stood, and Christen’s apparent refusal to talk about it, was slowly eating her up inside.

 

Was kissing Tobin the mistake? Or was it the leaving for him again? 

 

And truthfully, she hasn’t a clue which one it is, and she has somewhere to be so it’s not like she can stick around for the aftermath of whatever bomb the green-eyed girl is about to drop on her anyway.

 

Christen opens her mouth, but doesn’t speak.

 

10 seconds pass. 

 

20 seconds.

 

30 seconds.

 

40 seconds.

 

Finally, Tobin decides to start this conversation for them. Once again, she picks the blunt, but very roundabout path to her point.

 

“How’s Brett?”

 

Okay, so maybe they both suck at this whole direct communication thing.

 

Another pause.

 

They continue to stand facing each other for a moment, before a bright voice interrupts them.

 

“Hey Tobin!” she hears, looking over to see Jackie approaching them from the direction of the quad. Jackie even sends a small, polite smile toward Christen, which surprised Tobin, given that she knew who Christen was to Tobin. 

 

“Hey!” Tobin quickly replies.

 

“You need another minute?”

 

Tobin looks at Christen as she says, “No, I think we’re good here, right Chris?”

 

Say no, I dare you , says the look on Tobin’s face.

 

“Uh, uh yeah we’re good.”

 

Shame.

 

Tobin just nods at her before slinging her arm around Jackie’s shoulder and pulling her in the other direction, promptly starting up a conversation about their week.

 

She doesn’t even look back at where she left Christen standing.

 

It took some willpower. 

 

She wanted to.

 

But, she’s going to work on that.

 

______________________________



The afternoon was spent out at the soccer fields. 

 

First, with the whole team, as they got ready for their big end of season NCAA tournament that was happening the following weekend down in Florida.

 

Christen had been there too, but Coach Doug had the whole team separated into drills by position, meaning Christen was off with the forwards, while Tobin stuck with the midfielders.

 

Tobin wasn’t all too upset about it. She was relishing the space away from the girl. At the moment, it felt like coming up for air after a long bout of swimming underwater.

 

But Tobin also wasn’t going to lie — she felt good when she felt Christen’s eyes on her every few minutes during the practice.

 

Sometimes, Tobin would look over, too.

 

She expected Christen to look away, as if she was caught. 

 

She didn’t. 

 

The green-eyed girl wasn’t even trying to hide it.

 

Then again, why is Tobin even surprised?

 

Everything about Christen was intentional.

 

Everything about Christen denied expectations.

 

To Tobin, Christen was just uniquely divine. 

 

Sigh.

 

After practice ended, Tobin had stayed behind with Ashlyn and a few other juniors on the team to get some work done while sitting together out on the field.

 

In reality, it was a lot more joking around then actually doing work, but Tobin didn’t mind. She’d been so wrapped up in the Kelley and Christen bonanza for the past two months, that she really hadn’t done anything simple like this in a while.

 

And Tobin’s a pretty social person. So again, this felt like finally coming up for air. 

 

She ended up walking back to the dorms together with Ashlyn when the sun had started to set, deciding that they would get ready together for the Midweek Mayhem party that was occurring later that night.

 

______________________________



After a few hours of tossing clothes across the room at each other, trying to pick out outfits, and then taking shots of Vodka with Ali to pregame, the three of them finally rolled up to the soccer house together.

 

On the way there, a douchey looking frat guy — who had clearly already drinken too much that night — had fallen off the sidewalk into a bush. The three of them were still laughing about it as they strolled up the house’s driveway.

 

Stepping onto the front porch of the house, Ashlyn steps between her two favorite people, swinging an arm around both of their shoulders, but directing her words toward Tobin.

 

“If you need to leave, just say the word, T.”

 

“And what’s the word?” Tobin chuckles. 

 

“Brazil is the only country named after a tree,” Ali suddenly says.

 

“What?” both Ashlyn and Tobin say in unison, slinging their necks toward Ali as they approach the door.

 

“That’s our exit phrase!”

 

They all laugh for a moment. 

 

“You’re so weird, Al,” Tobin says.

 

My weirdo” Ashlyn repeats, before leaning in to kiss Ali on the cheek.

 

Tobin slaps Ashlyn in the back of the head, causing her to jump away from Ali. 

 

“Um, OW.”

 

“Save it for the bedroom kiddos,” Tobin smiles mischeviously.

 

Ashlyn punches Tobin in the arm in return. 

 

“Jeez Ash! What was that for?”

 

“You hit me first!”

 

Ali just laughs at the two of them, happy to see the crazy pair back in full-form together after weeks of awkwardness, before reaching up to knock on the door.

 

“Wait,” Tobin says as she calms down from laughing. “Is that tree thing actually true?”

 

Before Ali can answer her question, the door swings open in front of them, revealing an enthusiastic Kelley, head turned in the other direction, calling out to someone farther into the house.

 

Her huge smile fades into a sort of smaller, more neutral expression when she sees who’s at the door. 

 

“Hey guys,” Kelley says, before looking right at Tobin as she adds, “I’m glad you could make it.”

 

Tobin smiles back at her friend standing in the doorway.

 

“Um, drinks are in the kitchen, makeshift dance floor to the left, fire pits running out back next to the hot tub, lounge room to the right,” she says, pointing in all different directions. “Have at it!”

 

Tobin follows Ashlyn and Ali into the very crowded house, shutting the door softly behind her.

 

Making her way toward the kitchen to grab a drink takes longer than expected. Every few minutes she’s being pulled aside into a new conversation, catching up with friends. Her smile hadn’t even faltered a bit since she entered the house.

 

God, she missed this.

 

When she finally steps over the barrier into the kitchen, it has been almost forty-five minutes. 

 

She closes her eyes for just a moment, taking a breather until a small, sweet laugh brings her out of her daze.

 

“Falling asleep on me already?”

 

“Hey, you made it,” Tobin says with a smile on her face as she steps forward to hug Jackie briefly.

 

“Thanks for inviting me,” she says sweetly. “This place is packed .”

 

Tobin shrugs, leaning her right hand against the kitchen counter to their right. “Soccer knows how to have a good time.”

 

“You’ll have to show me,” Jackie says, reaching her left hand out to touch Tobin’s arm briefly.

 

Tobin just smiles at her for a moment.

 

“Want a drink?”

 

“Sure,” Jackie replies. 

 

“Name your poison.”

 

“Got any tequila?”

 

Tobin has a visceral reaction to the mention of the drink, and Jackie looks at her expectantly.

 

“Me and that drink have a little bit of history.” Me and Christen

 

“Ah,” Jackie nods her head. “That’s me and Blue Raspberry Svedka. Drank way too much of it my first night out freshman year, and now I can’t even look at the bottle. I’ll take a beer?”

 

Tobin laughs. “My kinda girl.”

 

And that wasn’t completely false.

 

Tobin had learned a lot about the girl in their week of hanging out every single day. Jackie was sweet, funny, a little sassy, with long blonde hair and beautiful brown eyes. She liked soccer and the beach, and a glowing smile erupted on her face every time she mentioned her family. 

 

She was everything that Tobin usually likes in a girl. 

 

But Tobin knew that it wasn’t enough. She knew that, right now, Jackie couldn’t even compare to the girl. 

 

But she was there. And she was smiling brightly at Tobin. And she was listening to Tobin.

 

And she was hot. And she was fun.

 

So Tobin just let herself go for the night.

 

She introduced Jackie to her friends. She held onto Jackie’s wait from behind her as she played darts. They even made out by the fire. And they drank several more beers. 

 

All in all, she was having a great time with Jackie. It felt alright.

 

They were back inside the house, Tobin pressed up against Jackie’s body by the living room wall, leaving purple marks down the side of the girl’s throat, when she had felt a punch to her shoulder. 

 

Ten seconds later, she was being dragged -- by Kelley of all people -- into the adjacent lounge room for a game of truth or dare that some of the soccer girls had decided to start up.

 

Walking into the crowded room, hand in hand with Jackie, she finds an open seat on the couch and pulls the giggling blonde down onto her lap. 

 

Jackie took one more sip of beer, before carefully removing Tobin’s snapback, and placing it backward on her own head, smiling mischeviously. 

 

Tobin smiled back.

 

Just a moment later, she sees Ashlyn and Ali enter the room, and Tobin quickly motions them to come sit next to her and Jackie on the last open spot on the couch. 

 

Her two neighbors sit down in a similar position, joining in on her and Jackie’s animated conversation about the best old movies. 

 

Ali is making her pitch for why Grease should rank number one, when Tobin’s attention is suddenly drawn away by the sound of two new voices entering the room.

 

She watches as Christen drags Brett by the hand aggressively, pushing him down onto a seat, before settling on the floor in front of him. She’s leaning back between his legs, but they’re not speaking. She hasn’t even so much as looked at him. 

 

Interesting.

 

“Earth to Tobin?”

 

“Oh, uh, sorry,” Tobin says smiling, drawing her attention back to Jackie.

 

“Thought I lost you there for a moment,” the blonde girl laughs out.

 

It was clear that Ashlyn had been staring at the same exact thing as Tobin, as she’s now sending Tobin a knowing look. 

 

“It’s easy to get lost in you,” she lets out, looking into Jackie’s eyes.

 

Ashlyn and Ali make vomiting noises, and Tobin is making those same noises internally at herself after that horrible line.

 

But Jackie just smiles back at her. 

 

Christen would’ve practically strangled me if I said that to her.

 

A few minutes later, their movie conversation is once again interrupted by Kelley yelling that she’s going first.

 

“Alright, Kelley, truth or dare,” Morgan asked.

 

“Dare.”

 

“Go jump in the hot tub.”

 

“Seriously, Morgan?”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“Let’s go, Kel!” people start cheering from around the circle.

 

“FINE,” she huffs out, taking off her shirt and shorts and throwing them back into the center of the circle as she sprints out of the room. 

 

Two minutes later, a soaking wet, near-naked Kelley, comes bolting back into the room, prompting the whole room to start cheering.

 

As she throws her clothes on, she takes an exaggerated bow, and Tobin laughs at the very typical dramatics of her best friend.

 

The game continues, with the next few people choosing truth. After about four more people, Ali’s friend from the lacrosse team, whom Tobin had hung out with on several occasions, calls out her name.

 

“Truth or Dare, Tobin,” Becky calls out. 

 

Green eyes snap up to meet Hazel, and Tobin sees the recognition as it flashes through Christen’s green eyes.

 

She chooses not to keep looking.

 

“Dare,” she says, as she smiles at Jackie again.

 

“Seven minutes in heaven, your pick who,” Becky yells out. 

 

A chorus of “oooo” echoes throughout the room.

 

She can feel Christen’s eyes on her. 

 

Again, she chooses not to look.

 

She doesn’t own you

 

Tobin wraps her arms around Jackie’s waist, before standing up and laughing, stumbling in her drunken state as she drags Jackie into the closet, leaving behind a room full of “ oooooohs” and “ get it, Tobs” behind them.

 

When Tobin turns to shut the door behind them, she feels arms come around her waist, and lips press gently against the back of her neck.

 

She closes her eyes for a moment, before turning around, knowing after the past five minutes sitting in the same room as Christen that this really can’t happen if the girl is expecting more from her right now than she is able to give.

 

Oh, how very far Tobin has come in six months. 

 

“We don’t have to do anything,” she says sincerely to the girl in front of her.

 

The girl halts her hands where they are moving across the front of Tobin’s shirt. “And what if I want something to happen?” she smirks.

 

She’s pondering for a moment about how to again tell Jackie that she is still hung on the girl sitting just on the other side of the door, when Jackie cuts off her thoughts as she leans in closer, lips just centimeters from Tobin’s, before pulling back another inch or two.

 

“I know she’s here,” Jackie whispers in front of Tobin’s lips. “Your move.”

 

Enough thinking. 

 

When they come out seven minutes later, they’re both smiling and panting heavy, and it’s not hard to tell what just happened.

 

They settle back into their spot on the couch, and out of the corner of her eye, Tobin can see Christen glaring at the two of them. It makes Tobin swallow deeply from where she sits.

 

Why do I feel so guilty?

 

But she puts on a smile, deciding to kiss Jackie’s neck one more time instead.

 

Christen’s turn doesn’t come for a few more people, but she picks dare.

 

“Hmm,” says Ali thoughtfully as she tries to come up with an unconventional dare. “Do something right now that scares you.”

 

For the first ten seconds, Christen doesn’t move a muscle. 

 

Tobin watches her carefully, curious about what she might choose to do.

 

Then Tobin watches her stand up, watches green eyes lock onto her own gaze, and watches her start to walk. 

 

Why is she walking toward me?

 

Tobin looks over her shoulder to see what else could possibly be in this direction. 

 

Her head is still facing the wall behind her, her arms still wrapped around Jackie’s waist, when she feels two icy hands grab the sides of her face and turn it back toward the center of the circle. 

 

Before she has time to process what’s happening, she feels warm lips press hard against her own.

 

It’s hot and messy, and nothing at all like the kiss they’d shared the night before. 

 

It feels like Christen is trying to prove a point, with the way she roughly captures Tobin’s bottom lip between her own, showing no mercy, before pulling away, dragging her teeth across Tobin’s bottom lip as she does so. She opens her eyes, and stares straight into Tobin’s.

 

She releases Tobin’s face from her hands and stands back up. Her eyes are still locked on Tobin’s as she tips the snapback off of Jackie’s head and places it backwards on her own head, before turning and walking straight out of the room. 

 

Brett immediately followed behind her.

 

And oh shit

 

The entire circle has gone quiet, everyone staring at Tobin now.

 

It’s only a moment later that Ashlyn breaks the awkward silence by announcing that she’ll be going next, and Tobin sends her a grateful look.

 

“Well she’s kinda loco,” Jackie whisper-laughs in her ear, seeming not to care about the theatrics of it all.

 

“Yeah,” is all Tobin can say in return. Her brain had short-circuited as soon as Christen's lips had hit her own.

 

The next two turns feel like ten years to Tobin, and she can’t take it anymore. So during the quiet before the next turn, she blurts out, “Did you guys know that Brazil is the only country named after a tree?”

 

Teammates and friends around the circle are chucking, saying “no” and “that’s cool”, as if it was just a typical drunk comment. Everyone except Kelley. Kelley was silent, staring at Tobin intensely

 

Before she can make too much of that either, Ali gives her arm a sympathetic squeeze and quickly makes up an excuse for the four of them to leave the game. 

 

“Let’s go get some more drinks together!”

 

It wasn’t a good one. But it served its purpose. 

 

Jackie offers to go grab Tobin’s beer for her, unaware of the “exit phrase” meaning, and Tobin quickly agrees.

 

As soon as Jackie has left the hallway outside the room, Tobin backs up against it, leaning her head back and closing her eyes.

 

She’s about to push herself off the wall and enter the party again, when she’s stopped by a familiar hand on her arm. 

 

“Hey, you okay?”

 

Oh god I can’t take any more of this right now.

 

“Yeah, weird day I guess,” she responds quietly to Kelley.

 

“I’m sorry about her.”

 

She wants to be annoyed. She wants to say so now you care? But she can’t. 

 

Because in this moment, she’s feeling nothing but nostalgia for the times it was just her and Kelley against the world, free of all the other shit currently consuming her life. 

 

“Not your fault.”

“Not yours either.”

 

It’s only three words. But these three words mean everything. And Tobin feels a wave of relief flowing through her, recognizing Kelley’s roundabout way of saying she’s sorry.

 

Tobin just looks at her for a moment. 

 

Kelley coughs awkwardly. 

 

(They’ve never been good at confrontation).

 

“Um, Jackie seems nice.”

 

“Yeah, yeah she is,” Tobin smiles out.

 

“It’s good to see you.”

 

“You see me like everyday,” Tobin replies sarcastically.

 

“You know what I mean.”

 

And yes, she does know.

 

Before they can continue, Tobin sees Jackie re-entering the hallway in her peripheral vision.

 

Kelley gives her arm a last squeeze before turning around to head back into the lounge room.

 

Jackie hands Tobin a beer, oblivious to whatever tension was filling the hallway just moments before, and speaks up.

 

“Want to get out of here?”

 

Tobin lets out a big huff. “Yeah, I really do.”

 

“Cool. Wait for me on the porch? I just realized I left my phone out back.”

 

“You got it.”

 

Tobin proceeds to weave through the crowd of people still standing and dancing around the living room, eventually opening the front door and stepping out onto the porch.

 

She’s taking a long swig of beer and turning around from shutting the door, when she sees her, leaning up against the porch railing.

 

Tobin pauses for just a moment, lowering her beer from her lips, before slowly approaching Christen, standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the front of the porch.

 

“I believe this is mine.”

 

She reaches a hand up and grabs her snapback off of Christen’s head, placing it snugly back on her own head.

 

Christen doesn’t answer right away.

 

“Did you ditch that blonde?” she finally says.

 

It’s almost funny. 

 

That blonde has a name,” Tobin responds calmly. “It’s Jackie. And no, she’s just grabbing her phone.”

 

“So what?” Christen breathes out. “You’re dating someone now?”

 

Tobin lets an austere silence develop between them for a few seconds. No, her and Jackie aren't dating. But she didn't feel like that was Christen's information to know anyway. 

 

“What do you care?” she finally lets out, before taking another sip from her beer bottle.

 

“I just think you can do better.”

 

“I think it’s none of your business who I date.”

 

“It is, we’re best friends Tobin.”

 

Tobin laughs at that.

 

“Are we?” she asks as she turns her head to look at Christen.

 

There’s a pause.

 

Tobin continues. “You want to know what I think?”

 

Christen nods her head almost imperceptibly.

 

“Enlighten me.”

 

Tobin turns to her left to face Christen entirely, her right arm still leaning on the railing. “I think I met a nice girl who doesn’t hit me with a metaphorical freight train every two seconds. And I think that scares you, that I found someone who actually makes me feel good. Someone that's not you.”

 

It comes out a little harsher than she intended it to. After all, over the last two months of hell, Christen had almost exclusively been the source of her happiness. 

 

Tobin’s just feeling a little fired up tonight, and who could blame her?

 

Christen takes two steps toward Tobin, until she’s practically pressed up against her front. 

 

“She couldn’t make you feel half as good as I could,” Christen states in a low voice, almost growling as she looks back and forth between Tobin’s eyes, which are just inches from her own.

 

Tobin doesn’t move away. 

 

She's jealous.

 

“Where’s your boyfriend?”

 

“Stop asking me about him,” Christen says in frustration.

 

“Stop being with him,” she challenges.

 

“Tobin…” she breathes out.

 

They quickly jump apart when the door opens just a moment later. Tobin turns her head to see Jackie walking out of the house, alongside Ashlyn and Ali, but she can see Christen still staring at her out of the corner of her eye.

 

It’s déjà vu at its finest.

 

Jackie is down the porch steps already, laughing about something with Ashlyn and Ali as they walk across the front lawn. 

 

Tobin turns her head back toward Christen.

 

She begins to take slow steps backward, eyes still locked on one another.

 

Stop me if you dare.

 

Green eyes, begging her to stay.

 

Say something, then.

 

She doesn't say anything. 

 

And then it’s like the first night all over again.

 

Except now Christen is the one left standing all alone on the front porch.

 

And for a single, ephemeral moment, Tobin can’t find it in herself to care.

Chapter Text

In the three weeks following the Midweek Mayhem party, three things happened.

 

____________________________

First, Tobin and Kelley had started hanging out again.

____________________________

 

The night of the party itself, Tobin had ended up sleeping over at Jackie’s off-campus apartment. Although, to be honest, there wasn’t much sleeping.

 

When they woke up Thursday morning to a 7:30 a.m. alarm, Jackie reluctantly peeled herself from Tobin’s warm body and pushed herself out of bed.

 

“Hey, Tobin,” she whispered, leaning over the bed

 

“Mmm,” Tobin grunted out, eyes still closed.

 

“I have to take off soon for work, but you can sleep in, I don’t mind,” Jackie continued to whisper, before leaning down to kiss Tobin on the cheek.

 

But Tobin grabbed her arm as she pulled away.

 

“Wait, I’m coming with you,” she mumbled, before dragging herself out of bed, too.

 

She walked Jackie to the student-center that morning, so that she could pick up some caffeine for herself as well. She was going to need it to get through today.

 

When they walked in, Jackie was midway through telling her a story about an unfortunate run-in with a snowman that last time she went skiing, so Tobin ended up ordering a vanilla latte just to buy some extra time talking to her.

 

Five minutes later, Jackie is sliding her coffee across the counter and Tobin is saying a reluctant goodbye as she leaves for her 9 a.m. Bio lecture. 

 

They had a good time together.

 

She’s holding the latte in one hand, her phone in the other, power-walking toward the door of the student-center, when she sees a notification pop up on the top of her screen saying:

 

“Dr. Ellis has opened the quiz for Thursday morning, 11/27

 

And oh no.

 

Tobin’s only had a moment to open and start reading through the syllabus for the class, trying to find out just how much of her grade bombing this quiz was going to sacrifice, when she felt a pinch on the back of her neck that almost caused her to drop her coffee.

 

She knows exactly who that was.

 

She hadn’t felt that pinch in a while.

 

Is it weird to say she’s kinda happy about it?

 

It gave her hope that their iconically indirect apology fest in the hallway at the soccer house the night before had potentially opened the door to starting over. 

 

“Kelley, you literally suck,” she says as she brings her unoccupied hand up to rub over the back of her neck.

 

Kelley holds the door to the student-center open in front of her, Tobin mumbling a quick thanks as they step outside into the early winter chill. 

 

“Hey be careful, I only just started liking you again.”

 

Tobin rolled her eyes, and the pair started walking on the path that transected the academic quad. “Whatever. You ready for the quiz this morning?”

 

Kelley looks at her with the most panicked of faces. “Quiz?

 

“If it makes you feel any better, I had just discovered said quiz existed within five seconds of you pinching me.”

 

“Well, guess we’re both gonna take an L then,” Kelley notes, before looking over at her friend and nervously beginning to speak again. “Which also means we’re gonna need some comfort food after. Brunch together after class?”

 

And just like that, she watched Kelley open the door to a new beginning.

 

“I would really like that.” 

 

But Tobin’s smile quickly turns into a scrunched face of confusion, mirroring her friend’s sudden face change. Kelley rips her coffee from her hand, holding it up to her eyes to inspect it.

 

“Uh, whatcha doing?”

 

“Is this a latte ? Is Tobin-I-only-drink-lighter-fluid-Heath drinking a latte this morning?” she says, still boring her eyes into the plastic cup.

 

“Lattes take three times the amount of time to make as a blacked iced coffee,” is all Tobin gives in response. 

 

“And…”

 

“And I was at the student-center coffee shop this morning…” she trails off. 

 

A look of realization moves over Kelley’s face, before she punches her friend in the shoulder lightly. 

 

“Such a fucking simp. Who have you become without me?”

 

Tobin shoves her friend back, smiling. “Hope I don’t have to find out again.” 

 

She says it in a joking tone, but her earnest face gives her away.

 

A quiet settles among them as they make their way up the stairs to their seats at the end of one of the middle rows.

 

But as soon as they sit down, Tobin feels Kelley’s hand grab her own gently, and she looks up at her best friend. “Me too.”

 

For the first time in a while, Tobin didn’t leave that biology lecture with a strong and imminent urge to punch something.

 

And it was exceptionally awkward at first. 

 

But she supposes that was to be expected after two months chock-full of ignorance and hostility. 

 

There was so much decidedly unsaid that neither one of them knew where to begin, really.

 

“So, my dearest simp, what’s the deal with your girl Jackie?” Kelley had asked her when they sat at the table together, in the company of two notably huge stacks of pancakes. 

 

“She’s not my girl ,” Tobin quickly counters while staring straight at the pancake she was cutting. 

 

Kelley’s a little offset by the swift response.

 

“But you were all smiley this morning,” Kelley frowns.

 

Tobin peered up at that, stopping her knife movement for a nanosecond

 

“Oh, she’s great. We just talked about… stuff, too, that’s all.”

 

Truthfully, Tobin was hoping to avoid this conversation. Mostly because she didn’t want to have to discuss with Kelley why it was that her and Jackie had that talk. 

 

Not that it would be some subtantial, newborn revelation. Kelley did witness the whole Christen kiss thing too. 

 

But they’d literally just started talking again. 

 

It didn’t exactly feel like the time to conduct a verbal analysis of a certain curly-haired, green-eyed girl, and everything that had happened since that night at the 180.

 

No thank you. 

 

Her friend just nodded dubiously and asked her upfront why she was being so vague.

 

So, Tobin explained it to Kelley the best she could.

 

Jackie wasn’t dumb.

 

She hadn’t made a huge deal at the party about Christen’s kiss during the game of Truth or Dare. In fact, her inattentive reaction had made Tobin think that maybe she didn’t care at all.

 

That wasn’t completely true. But Jackie had told her later that night, as they walked back to her apartment, that she was semi-relieved that it happened. 

 

“You looked legitimately mortified enough as it was, and I wasn’t about to make that any worse for you,” she had expounded. “But I saw the look on your face after, Tobin. We both know I’m not even in the competition, here .”

 

And for a moment, Tobin had felt atrocious. She knew exactly how it felt to be on Jackie’s side of that comment. And she never, ever wanted to be the one to make someone feel that that. 

 

At the same time, she owed Jackie some honesty.

 

Because Jackie was entirely correct.

 

Just as she was about to start profusely apologizing, Jackie surprised her.

 

“I never wanted to be in the competition though, Tobin, so dont get all frowns and apologies on me,” she had said with a small smile across her cheeks.  “I meant what I said about not wanting anything more than casual fun. I was a little nervous to bring it up, but it seems after tonight like we might be on the same page…”

 

“Okay, but you clearly stayed over,” Kelley says slowly. “Does that mean you guys were on the same page?”

 

“Yup,” she answers, finishing the with a popping ‘p’ sound. “I realized we were.”

 

She and Jackie hadn’t exactly defined it, but they been leaning toward something in the realm of friends with benefits before they got… distracted.  It gave both of them what they needed. A diversion, some fun, someone to listen, someone who cares

 

And Tobin really liked Jackie. They had already become such good friends in the short time they had known each other. The blond girl was the first close friend she had made who was completely outside of the student-athlete realm. It was refreshing. 

 

Their ‘friends’ status made it feel like much less of a big, scary deal when Tobin asked her the following week if the girl wanted to come hangout in Florida over the long weekend for the NCAA tournament. Her teammates had invited lots of people to come down and cheer on UNC, and Tobin was thrilled to get to hangout more with Jackie down there.

 

In fact, she’s not sure if she is more excited about it, or if the team is. Jackie had seemed to be an instant hit with the girls, even getting invited to one or two of their team dinners in the few weeks preceding Florida.

 

Plus, it was a big, nerve-wracking tournament. 

 

It didn’t hurt to have a supporter that was there just for her. And it didn’t hurt that Jackie was sort of built-in stress relief at the moment. They both were for each other, really. 

 

If one thought Jackie got along oddly well with the soccer team, well then she got along exceedingly well with Kelley. They both had this sort of ‘sweet, but spitfire’ vibe that seemed to be unique to the two of them. On more than one occasion, Tobin had returned to her dorm to find Jackie and Kelley hanging out without her, or just about to play some big prank on her.

 

Just last week, she’d walked through the door into a contraption that soaked her in silly string. Yup, that was a time .

 

Tobin had thoroughly filled Jackie in on all the Kelley and Christen drama over dinner one night shortly after Midweek Mayhem, and she was amazed at the way Jackie seemed to start going out of her way to be the perfect buffer she and Kelley needed to ease back into their relationship. 

 

Jackie was becoming a great friend to the both of them. 

 

And by hanging out with Jackie’s friends too, Kelley and Tobin began making new friends all over campus together.

 

Eventually, they began hanging out just the two of them. The duo juggled before practice, studied in the library together, held up the coffee line time and time again to bother Jackie, and rewrote their story at the 180 rock, with a superior ending.

 

Their resurrected friendship also made team gatherings, like practice, lunch, and dinners, much more enjoyable for everyone .  

 

They talked a lot during those three weeks, catching up on life. It’s somewhat alarming how much can happen in a few months. 

 

Everything was covered, except a certain curly-haired, green-eyed girl.

 

But that did not by any means indicate that the girl was not still somewhere in Tobin’s mind during every single conversation.

 

____________________________

Second, Christen had backed off a little.

____________________________



The first few days after the party had been tense , to say the least.

 

It was strange.

 

Christen would keep trying to talk to her. Then an hour later, Tobin would see the girl walking hand-in-hand with Brett. 

 

Tobin had absolutely no idea what was going on with her.

 

And she had even less of an idea of what to do about it.

 

The attempts at starting conversations were incredibly tempting, making Tobin want to give in to her time and time again. The problem was that Christen never actually said anything in these conversations.

 

Nothing of substance, at least.  

 

Nothing that made her believe anything had changed. 

 

Nothing that made Tobin foresee anything for herself but more getting hurt.

 

Just the other day, she had walked up to Tobin, gotten her attention, and then taken this big, deep breath, as if she was about to say something meaningful. Tobin waited with a sense of eager anticipation.

 

But then she said, “You ready for the big test on Thursday?”, and Tobin’s face fell. 

 

Mental eye roll

 

Tobin wanted to initiate a conversation with her so badly. She wanted to talk about the other night, what Christen had indirectly admitted when she kissed Tobin for her dare.

 

When she had silently confessed that something about Tobin scared her. 

 

At this point, she had learned that Christen has to be the one to break down that barrier, or they’ll never surmount it. Tobin had an inkling that there was something a little deeper going on with her, too. Something she didn’t know about yet. 

 

Unfortunately for Tobin, Christen’s rollercoaster of presence and absence did not come without some semblance of a price. She'd spent a lot of time in her feels in those few weeks.

 

She cried.

 

In the dorm room, on the stairs up to the study loft, while longboarding across campus, wet eyes while sitting next to Christen in organic chemistry, and pretty often on the 180 rock at night, a bottle of that tequila in hand.

 

What she didn’t know was that Christen had watched her fall apart. Christen was always watching her. 

 

But Tobin was busy.

 

And Tobin had her best friend back. 

 

And Tobin had a Jackie. 

 

And Tobin was happy again.

 

And Tobin was finding little reason to sit around waiting for the green-eyed girl to get her shit together.

 

And Tobin started to shut that door in her mind.

 

But she knew that her mind propped the door open. It wasn’t even subconscious.

 

She’s not sure she could ever close it completely. 

 

She is, however, sure that she’d staged a successful coup. 

 

Tobin was in control of the game now. 

 

And, as a result, Tobin had felt tangibly felt Christen remove her hands from Tobin’s throat.

 

It didn’t bring much relief at all. 

 

Because Christen’s “hands” may be gone, but Tobin isn’t sure if this new feeling is suffocation, or just learning to breathe again.

 

She had decided to just give it some time. Again, the problem was that Christen was always looking at her, and trying to talk to her, and then, as if she flipped a switch, was attached to Brett’s side.

 

Now, Tobin was an incredibly perceptive person. She read people as well as the books in her portable library .

 

Tobin couldn’t read Christen right now. Not even a little. 

 

And it was an all-consuming phenomenon.

 

Everytime she felt like Christen had made her choice, she did something that once again ripped the solid ground from underneath Tobin’s feet.

 

The green-eyed girl was like an unfinished puzzle that taunted her to come back for more. 

 

And so she took her feelings out on the 180. 

 

It was half past 10 p.m., a week after Midweek Mayhem, and it had just started drizzling. 

 

Tobin reached her arm out and looked up to the sky. 

 

As soon as she felt the drops, she sighed, knowing she’d have to leave soon before the rock got too slippery and she couldn’t climb down. She also sighed because she didn’t want to climb down. Tobin was taking a much needed breather from her life on the ground 15 feet below.

 

She had nearly convinced herself to start heading down, when the sound of dragging footsteps echoed through her ears.

 

There was only one person that could be.

 

“Haven’t seen you in a while,” Tobin said, still facing the front side of the rock.

 

“I know.”

 

“I can go.” 

 

Funny how it only took the sound of Christen’s voice to make Tobin want to catapult herself off of this rock. 

 

She’s starting to push herself up from where she sits, when she feels a hand on her shoulder, and a voice rings down from above her.

 

“You’re fine, just stay.”

 

Tobin reaches her hand up and across her body and carefully removes the girl’s hand from her shoulder. She hold’s on for just a moment too long, before releasing the girl’s hand..

 

“Nope. I’m going to go.” she says, pushing herself to her feet and wiping her hands on the front of her sweatpants. 

 

She can feel green eyes are staring at her, as if the girl in front of her isn’t quite sure what to do with a Tobin who doesn’t listen to her.

 

And then Tobin’s staring back, just not sure what to do with Christen in general.

 

They’re both just standing there, until Tobin feels the rain starting to pick up pace.

 

“It’s raining, we should get down.” She saunters toward the back of the rock, where they typically climb up and down the plentiful grooves in the stone.

 

No dragging footsteps were heard in the subsequent seconds, so Tobin turns her head around toward Christen, finding she hasn’t moved an inch. “You coming?”

 

“I think I’m gonna stay up here.”

 

“Just come on.”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

Tobin sighs in frustration -- a feeling that has become all too familiar to her as of late. Soon, her eyes are starting to get wet from more than just the rain pounding down around them. 

 

“Chris, if you stay up here, then I’m going to have to stay. I’m tired.”

 

“You can go, Tobin.”

 

Seriously? It’s almost astonishing how fast they had gone from nonstop talking to whatever the hell this is.

 

“No, I can’t,” she raises her voice, bringing a hand to her forehead to rub her temple gently.

 

“Don’t worry about me.”

 

She knows Christen isn’t stupid, can see in her eyes that she knows she needs to get down before the rock gets even more slippery. It’s almost like she just enjoys pushing Tobin’s buttons. 

 

Tobin’s had enough.

 

“But I do!” she practically yells, tears starting to slide down her cheeks as she moves her hands to gesture at the girl in front of her. “All I fucking do is worry about you.”

 

The following pause is overwhelming. 

 

A sad look overcomes Christen’s face at the unexpected outburst. But it’s only there for a moment, before she seemingly forces it back into a neutral expression.

 

“Well you shouldn’t,” she asserts.

 

“Well I do,” Tobin responds quietly.

 

There’s an even longer pause.

 

“Tobs, you deserve more than this,” the green-eyed girl says, before breaking eye contact and looking at the ground.

 

It’s the closest Christen has ever come to talking directly about whatever the hell was going on between them. And Tobin isn’t sure whether to be overjoyed at the fact that she made that comment, or pissed at the actual content of the comment.

 

She settles on taking a few careful steps across the now-wet rock toward Christen, arms outstretched for balance, and carefully hooking her pointer finger under the girl’s chin and pulling up until she sees those green eyes again.

Tobin just watches her for a moment, trying to understand all the swirling emotions in the girl’s eyes. There’s sadness. There’s regret. There’s fear. And there’s an ounce of desire.

 

Then, she drops her hand and breaks eye contact, looking down at the ground for a second as she thinks to herself, ‘sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe without this.’

 

And then she hears Christen’s feet dragging backwards. It’s like the lake all over again.

 

Did I say that out loud again? 

 

Fuck.

 

It was a lot. Maybe a little too much, given the circumstance. 

 

But now it’s out there.

 

And they’re standing on a rock fifteen-feet off of the ground. One-story away from reality.

 

And there’s no dock for Christen to swim too, nowhere for her to run.

 

Tobin doesn’t even need to look back up to know Christen was about to shut her out once again.

 

So, she decides to make just one more comment, while she’s still aboard this embarrassing confession train.

 

“I think you deserve to be happy,” she carefully enunciates.

 

Tobin was right -- she looked up to see the hardened expression Christen’s face had sunken into, successfully hiding any emotion whatsoever.

 

But, those green eyes.

 

They could hide nothing .

 

Tobin stared into them again. And she sees something new -- conflict.

 

And then she sees them gloss over as Christen speaks again, quietly.

 

“Does your girlfriend know you’re suffocating without other girls?”

 

“Other girl. Singular.”

 

And once again, it’s a little too much. But that train had already left the station, anyway.

 

Christen looks legitimately pained. She takes a deep breath while turning away, and Tobin could swear that one of the droplets running down her face was not from the rain.

 

And Tobin knows nothing but disappointment is coming. She needs to get back on the ground below them, back to reality.

 

She lets out a huff. “Can we get off the freaking rock now?” There’s no emotion in her voice at all anymore. 

 

“You can just —”

 

“Chris,” she cuts her off.

 

“Fine.”

 

They make their way over to the edge of the rock, Tobin sliding herself down and carefully descending, almost losing her grip a few times before finally landing two feet on the ground.

 

Phew .

 

Unlike her, Christen loses her grip about halfway down, letting out a small yelp as she falls toward Tobin, who catches her with open arms. She places Christen carefully on the ground, letting her fingers linger one last time before she returns to reality.

 

“I swear to god if you say I told you so…” she says.

 

Tobin rolls her eyes. 

 

“I told you so.”

 

“You’re the worst,” Christen replied, poking just under Tobin’s sternum.

 

Then they’re both laughing a little. And then it fades into a serious quiet. 

 

A few minutes later, she’s walking away from the 180 rock, in the opposite direction of Christen. 

 

She knows where the girl is going.

 

She doesn’t want to think about it.

 

Halfway to the dorms, she feels her phone buzz in her pocket.

 

10:57 p.m. Chris: I think I do, too.

 

Tobin knows she’s responding to the comment Tobin had made on the rock. It’s vague, but at the same time, it tells her everything she needs to know. 



It’s two weeks later, now, and they haven’t explicitly spoken since that night. 

 

Tobin had been spending her time with Ashlyn, Kelley, or Jackie. Often, all three of them at once. 

 

She was content, but still curious. 

 

Christen was still around, her unrelenting presence not wavering even a smidge. The difference was that, after that night, Christen was no longer translucent.

 

Every look now was loaded. 

 

Intangible, yet rife with emotion.

 

Green eyes were still watching her, but it was more than that. Tobin could feel every glace.

 

She still saw the girl walking around with Brett. And she knew Christen saw her walking around with Jackie. But their eyes met on the daily, and it was like they knew that something was coming -- knew that the tone had shifted after that night on the 180.

 

She could practically see Christen fighting to break down whatever walls were keeping her locked inside herself.

 

The question -- the challenge -- was in who would act first. And when. 

 

She hated that she loved to see the green-eyed girl.

 

But she loved that she hated it.

 

Because it meant that she wasn’t done yet.

 

There’s delectable pleasure in the formidable pain.

 

____________________________

Third, UNC is seeded #3 in the End of the Season NCAA tournament in Florida. 

____________________________

 

That meant one thing and one thing only -- away weekend with the girls.

 

And that’s how Tobin finds herself stepping onto a huge bus alongside 22 other girls at five o’clock one morning, about to embark on a 10 hour drive to Northern Florida. 

 

She’s making her way down the aisle, when she feels her phone buzz in her pocket. She reaches down and pulls it out. 

 

5:22 a.m. Chris: That shirt looks good on you.

 

Oh.

 

She looks up as she continues walking, searching for those green eyes in the low light of the bus at dawn.

 

Of course, she has no trouble finding them, a small smile making its way onto her face as she does so.

 

And the girl is just looking at Tobin -- which obviously is not an unusual occurrence. But this time, what Tobin sees looking back at her is different .

 

It’s fiery.

 

It’s bold.

 

It’s unrelenting.

 

She doesn’t answer the text. It’s not enough. But she does hold her thumb down and like-react to it, all while she’s still staring into Christen’s eyes and walking down the bus aisle.

 

Tobin’s removed from her not-too-subtle staring match when she trips over a leg, causing her to stumble and nearly plummet to the floor. 

 

Turning her head, she is presented with none other than a misceviously-smiling Kelley O’Hara, with an outstretched leg.

 

An unconvincing angry look surfaces on Tobin’s face.

 

“What? You were about to walk right by me. Sit, sit, sit! I brought Monopoly Deal.”

 

How does anyone have this much energy at 5 a.m..

 

Monopoly Deal was Kelley and Tobin’s very favorite game. They’d been facing off since they were fourteen, and now they hadn’t played in almost three months.

 

“You’re a little excited for someone who is about to get their half-pint ass schooled” Tobin jests.

 

Mock offense passes over Kelley’s face. “Bring it on, Tob.”

 

They played for a few hours, until unfortunately Kelley had whooped her ass so many times that Tobin’s competitive edge was starting to throw her into a rage. She admitted defeat, and Kelley fell asleep shortly after, head resting on her shoulder.

 

It prompted a genuine smile from Tobin. An inkling of how things used to be.

 

Tobin, on the other hand, doesn’t do naps. Not that she can’t fall asleep anywhere — she is the notorious couch surfer, after all —, rather she doesn’t like to miss any of the day. Even a seemingly boring bus ride. 

 

So she pulls out her phone to text Ashlyn.



12:01 p.m. Tobs: pls tell me you’re awake

 

12:03 p.m. Ash: I’m a caffeine addict, T-squared. 

 

12:05 p.m. Tobs: lol valid point

 

12:06 p.m. Ash: so what’s shakin bacon ?

 

12:07 p.m. Tobs: just lost 4 games of monop deal to Kel, now she’s asleep

 

12:09 p.m. Ash: oof, rough morning for you T

 

12:10 p.m. Tobs: shut up, i'm rusty. plus, ill get her on the way back

 

12:12 p.m. Ash: you know you say that every time right?

 

12:14 p.m. Tobs: ughhh stop

 

12:14 p.m. Ash: :-)

 

12:14 p.m. Tobs: i need entertainment

 

12:15 p.m. Ash: you are the entertainment

 

12:17 p.m. Tobs:  ?

 

12:19 p.m. Ash: She hasn’t taken her eyes off of you in like an hour dude

 

Tobin’s fingers freeze when she sees Ashlyn’s message. She looks up right away and scans over the rows on the opposite side of the bus.

 

Sure enough, she meets Christen’s gaze.

 

And once again, Christen is caught.

 

But she doesn’t look away. 

 

Instead, she lets the corners of her mouth pull up into a subtle, close-lipped smile.

 

This time, Tobin is the one to break away, returning her head back down into her lap where her phone is resting. 

 

She returns to Ashlyn’s text to send the rolling eyes emoji, before she clicks on the text chain with Christen, looking for the message from earlier to make sure she wasn’t going crazy.

 

That message is there, followed by a new one she hadn’t seen before.

 

5:22 a.m. Chris: That shirt looks good on you.

 

12:22 p.m. Chris: kinda rude not to compliment a girl back :///

 

This is new

 

12:25 p.m. Tobs: well, compliments make you run. And I kinda need you rested so we can beat Stanford tomorrow sooo…

 

The three bubbles appear right away, and Tobin glances over to see the girl looking down at her phone, a definite smile on her face.

 

12:26 p.m. Chris: How thoughtful of you 

 

12:27 p.m. Tobs: i do my best

 

12:26 p.m. Chris: Unfortunately, I’m stuck on a bus right now, so you won’t have to worry about that

 

12:28 p.m. Tobs: nope, I’m not gonna be responsible for our best striker jumping out the window of this bus

 

Her head slowly turns to look at Christen, seeing her roll her eyes before placing her phone down on her lap and turning her head to look out the window.

 

What is this?

 

Tobin sends a screenshot of the text chain to Ashlyn, one of the two people (the other being Jackie) who know the full extent of the Christen Crisis (as they called it). 

 

Well, Ali probably knows too, since her and Ashlyn have literally zero secrets. They’ve become even more infuriatingly adorable in the past few weeks, if that was even possible.

 

She and Jackie were still hooking up, but they had really embraced the definition of ‘casual fun.’ And the blonde girl would never say it to Tobin's face, but she was secretly rooting for those two to get their shit together. 

 

A few minutes later, she sees her screenshot appear in a message in her group chat with Jackie and Ashlyn. 

 

12:35 p.m. Ash: [Image.]

 

12:47 p.m. Jax: omg 

 

12:48 p.m. Ash: yoooo this is some tea

 

12:49 p.m. Jax: piping hot

 

12:50 p.m. Jax: Someone fill me in on the bus situation

 

12:52 p.m. Tobs: seriously ash??? 

 

12:53 p.m. Jax: c’monnn 

 

12:54 p.m. Tobs: literally nothing has happened

 

12:58 p.m. Jax: Ashlyn!!!

 

12:59 p.m. Tobs: watch me not let you in my room tonight

 

12:56 p.m. Jax: i’m wearing that red thing you like

 

1:07 p.m. Ash: GUYS. TMI. Almost as gross as the hungry staring contest between these two :-)

 

1:08 p.m. Jax: AH

 

1:10 p.m. Tobs: you guys suck

 

Tobin knew that her friends were just trying to help out, but she was hesitant to let them get involved. Especially when she wasn’t even one percent sure there was something to help out with yet. So she locked her phone and looked out the window for the rest of the ride. 

 

____________________________

 

An hour later, Tobin exits the hotel room bathroom and chuckles at the sight of Kelley fully sprawled out across the bed closest to the window, limbs outstretched like a starfish.

 

When Couch Doug had called out “Heath and O’Hara” as a rooming pair in the hotel lobby, she had been simultaneously overjoyed, disappointed, and relieved. 

 

She swore she saw the same three emotions run through Christen’s face. 

 

The team was given a few hours to get settled in at the hotel before they were planning on going out for dinner that night at a local mexican restaurant. 

 

“You look dead,” Tobin comments, making her way over to the other bed and sitting down. 

 

“Well that’s just rude,” Kelley returns in a mock angry tone. 

 

Tobin laughs for a moment, not sure what else to say. 

 

For the most part, the duo had been moving rapidly toward normalcy. However, there was just something off . As if they were both afraid of being completely themselves, of sharing everything, of mentioning the green-eyed girl… afraid that they would fall apart again. 

 

They were treating resurrected friendship akin to a house of cards. One wrong touch, a breeze slightly too strong, and bam — cards on the floor.

 

It’s then that Tobin decides to bite the bullet and ask the question sitting on the tip of her tongue. She lays downs and takes a deep breath, looking up at the ceiling.

 

“Do you think we’ll ever be the same as before?”

 

Kelley turns her head from the top of her outstretched body to look at Tobin.

 

“I think so.”

 

They just lay in silence for a few moments, until Kelley speaks again.

 

“So you and Christen seemed to have gotten pretty close,” she speaks into the silence, presumably asking the question that had been sitting on the tip of her tongue.

 

Tobin lets out a whispered chuckle, but she doesn’t say anything right away. She’s scared, to be honest.

 

“We should talk about it,” Kelley adds. 

 

“Close isn’t the right word for what we are at the moment.”

 

“What do you mean?” Kelley sits up and swings her legs into criss-cross applesauce, hands together in her lap.

 

Tobin takes a deep breath.

 

Okay, so we’re doing this. 

 

“I don’t mean this in a bad way, Kel, but sometimes I think I’m just another you , you know? Another notch on the gay belt,” she says sadly, still staring at the ceiling.

 

Kelley laughs. “What a metaphor.”

 

“Whatever,” Tobin rolls her eyes slightly. “You know what I mean.”

 

“No, I dont,” Kelley says slowly, prompting Tobin to look over curiously. “Tobs, she didn’t look at me like… like she does at you.”

 

“Kel…” she breathes out, not wanting to start anything again, recognizing the conversation was reaching touchy area.

 

“It’s okay, Tobs. I think I knew it was over long before that night,” she says neutrally.

 

“We have problematic taste in women, never ends well” is all Tobin decides to say in response, huffing a small laugh out for a moment.

 

“Don’t think yours is over yet.”

 

Tobin is quiet, not responding verbally, just nodding her head.

 

Kelley is carefully watching her, realizing in this moment how painful this whole thing has been for her best friend.

 

Of course, Kelley had an inkling of what it felt like to be under Christen’s spell — for lack of better words. But she could see how she has easily misjudged her best friend’s whole thing with the same girl. 

 

She was just so overtaken with emotion and heartache in the moment. When you’re desperately hanging on to something -- or someone -- by a thread for long enough, it almost hurts more to have that string be cut than it does to stay barely hanging on. And it all hurts more than if you would have just let go when you knew it was a lost cause in the first place.

 

Of course, it’s never as simple as that.

 

Someone has to teach you that in life either way, she supposes.

 

“I’m sorry,” Kelley confesses into the air. “I don’t think I’ve said it yet.”

 

“I’m sorry too.”

 

They entered into a comfortable silence after that, and Tobin feels like maybe that was what they needed to turn their house of cards to stone. 

 

____________________________

 

Many wow ’s escaped the mouths of the UNC teammates when they arrived at the Mexican restaurant later that night. In front of them was a huge patio lit with Tiki torches, extending directly onto the Florida beach.

 

“Well this is just awesome,” Ashlyn had said.

 

Everyone around her nodded in agreement, before sitting down and starting to comb through the menu.

 

It was a game-day eve, so Heather and Yael had been very particular and very clear about the “early night, healthy food, no alcohol” rules.

 

No one was frustrated about the rules, though. This game was important to everyone. And since it was against her previous alma mater, Stanford, it was very important to Tobin.

 

Tobin, Kelley, and Ashlyn had ordered non-alcoholic beers and three large taco salads. They were making their way through them very fast, with the goal of having time to chill by the water before the team had to head back to the hotel.

 

The three of them are at their own table, in the middle of a conversation about what junk foods they are planning to splurge on after the season is over, when Tobin cuts off in the middle of her sentence, eyes glued to something on the other side of the restaurant patio.

 

Looking down at her salad, Kelley obliviously picks up the conversation, ranting about these hot fries that she can’t wait to engulf.

 

Curious, Ashlyn follows Tobin’s eyes, seeing them focused on two girls, one sitting on top of the other, holding hands out on the table and laughing.

 

Tobin has gone pale in the face. 

 

And Ashlyn is just confused, still not comprehending why her friend looks like she has seen a ghost. She kicks Kelley’s leg under the table, which draws the girl’s attention away from the salad she’s been staring at while on her rant.

 

“What the hell was that for?” she whisper-yells toward Ashlyn, who just subtly points at Tobin with her thumb.

 

Kelley then repeats Ashlyn’s action from a few moments earlier, following Tobin’s eyesight across the room. But unlike Ashlyn, she sucks in a sharp breath upon doing so. 

 

She then proceeds to try to divert Tobin’s attention. However, it’s almost like her best friend can’t even hear her voice. 

 

Of course this bitch is here , Kelley thinks.

 

Tobin’s just ... frozen ... staring at the two girls.

 

Ashlyn is just repeating Tobin’s name over and over again, trying to get her attention, and not really understanding how junk food put Tobin into some sort of dissociative state. 

 

“We should go down to the beach,” Kelley says suddenly, putting down her fork. 

 

“You’re only halfway done, though,” Ashlyn questions, still not understanding what’s going on. “And you’ve been talking about this taco salad since, like, the moment you laid eyes on the menu.”

 

Kelley is quiet for a second, and Ashlyn watches her scans the other side of the room with her eyes.

 

“What’re you looking for?”

 

“Alex,” Kelley responds pensively. “Ooh. There she is. Come with me,” she says as she drags Ashlyn away by the arm, leaving Tobin sitting alone at their small table. 

 

“Who the hell is Alex?” Ashlyn murmurs, as she’s dragged away.

 

With the three of them at their own table, it seems that no one else on the team even noticed the small commotion, or noticed Tobin staring, eyes wide open, across the room.

 

She watches as her ex-girlfriend picks up her hand, which is tightly entwined with the hand of her ex-roommate, and presses a kiss to the back.

 

Tobin is not sure what about the interaction made her react like this. She was over Shirley. Hell, she was so far over Shirley that she was under someone else every night. And at the same time, she was actively craving to be under the green-eyed girl. It was a feeling of deep desire that never even compared to what she felt for Shirley. It was so much more.

 

But here she is, zoned out of the world around her, eyes on Shirley. Tunnel-vision.

 

And she feels her breathing-rate pick up.

 

And she’s taken back in time.

 

And just for a fleeting moment, she feels what she felt that morning Shirley had ruined everything.

 

And she recognizes how similar it is to what she feels whenever she sees the green-eyed girl choose Brett.

 

And it’s all too much. 

 

The panic only lasts another minute, though, before she starts to register the feeling of fingertips tracing circles on the inside of her wrists, and her breathing starts to slow down. Blinking rapidly a few times and shaking her head, she’s brought out of her fugue state.

 

She’s both surprised and not surprised at all when she turns her head to the right and sees that Christen is the one who grounded her. 

 

“Hey there.”

 

“Hey,” Tobin returns. 

 

Christen’s fingers were still tracing over Tobin’s wrists. But then she felt them drag down the palms of her hands, long fingers intertwining with her own.

 

They stared at each other for a few seconds. Tobin’s wrists still burned where Christen’s fingers had been touching her. 

 

Her entire body ached for the girl. It was getting nearly impossible to deny it. 

 

To convince herself she was moving on. 

 

To convince herself she didn’t care.

 

To convince herself this girl wasn’t going to rip her apart just like Shirley did.

 

A tear starts to fall from her right eye, but it only makes it halfway down her cheek before an ice cold thumb is wiping it away, lingering on her cheek bone for a split second longer than necessary, before pulling away again.

 

It feels intimate. The two of them had not been this close since the night Christen ran out of the room.

 

And she’s sucked into Christen’s alternate reality again. Forgetting that they were literally in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Forgetting the near panic attack she just had seen Shirley again for the first time. Forgetting how salty she is at the girl in front of her. Just lost in those green eyes. 

 

This was different .

 

Tobin palpibly felt the oxygen leaving her lungs in this moment, in how Christen stood her ground instead of shying away, in how her green eyes didn’t gloss over, in the realization that this aching was truly not one-sided, in the realization that she is not just a notch on the gay belt. 

 

Just her luck, it’s at that moment that Kelley and Ashlyn return.

 

Neither of them particularly like Christen at this moment in time. They just sort of stare at her until she feels Christen’s hands leave her own. 

 

The lost touch is really all she can focus on at the moment, until she’s nearly knocked over backwards as a pair of long arms wrap around her neck, and she’s confronted with a sweet and all-too-familiar smell.

 

Alex .

 

Tobin buries her head into her friend’s neck and smiles brightly.

 

But she’s still thinking about Christen. She’s thinking about everything left unsaid in that minute. And she’s thinking about everything her green eyes confessed.

 

It's uncertain. 

 

Risky. Dangerous. Unsafe. Unstable. 

 

To let herself fall again.

 

But this time, it was Tobin’s choice how this played out right now.


This could wait. Because she was back in one of Alex’s embraces. She felt safe and secure, and all she wanted was to go catch up with her best friend from Stanford.

 

So that’s what she did. She stood up, throwing her arm around Alex’s shoulders, walking straight past Christen, intentionally not looking down at her, following Kelley and Ashlyn, making her way to the beach.

 

The pull was too strong. 

 

Hazel eyes meet green eyes once more.

 

Until they’re out of sight. But not out of mind.

 

____________________________



Two hours later, Alex, Kelley, and Tobin are laying together on Kelley’s bed, Tobin sandwiched between the other two girls. 

 

They’d talked for a while on the beach, Kelley throwing her arm around Tobin’s shoulders as Alex updated them both on Shirley’s activities since Tobin had left. 

 

Tobin had dozed off very shortly after they had returned to the hotel room, leaving Alex and Kelley to talk while she slept. She wakes up an hour later, rubbing her eyes as she comes back to life. 

 

Alex and Kelley pause their conversation about how much they hate their linguistics classes for a moment to look down at her.

 

“You okay champ?” Alex asks. 

 

“Yeah,” Tobin smiles, before looking around the room. “I think I’m gonna go take a shower.”

 

So that’s what she does, making her way over to the closet to grab a towel before disappearing into the bathroom near the front door of the hotel room.

 

The room is silent for a moment, Alex and Kelley both looking down at their hands.

 

“Uh, um, you want to chill and watch Neflix or something?” Kelley asks, finally breaking the silence. 

 

The corners of Alex’s mouth curl upwards as she looks at Kelley curiously. “Are you asking me to netflix and chill ?”

 

Kelley chokes on air briefly, before coughing awkwardly and rushing to clarify. “No, no, just chilling. And watching netflix. Separately, but together. But not together. We can even watch Hulu instead!”

 

She seems to notice she’s rambling, cutting herself off when Alex’s smile shapeshifts into a smirk.

 

“That’s too bad.”

 

“Wh— what?”

 

Alex just laughs at how flustered she just made the cute girl sitting next to her. She’d met Kelley before -- several times, actually -- but she’s never gotten to be alone with her long enough to see what she’s all about. 

 

And tonight, she had decided that she kinda liked what Kelley was all about.

 

“Here, you pick,” she hands the remote to Kelley.

 

After a few minutes of scrolling, Kelley decides on Jurassic Park. The two of them settle back on the bed, trying to be subtle in moving closer to each other. 

 

It wasn’t subtle. 

 

Only ten minutes into the movie, a knock rings throughout the room.

 

Tobin’s still in the shower, so Alex and Kelley look at each other for a moment, Kelley pouting until Alex finally rolls her eyes and says “I got it.”

 

“No! You don’t have to!” Kelley fake protests.

 

“I got it,” Alex repeats pensively as she walks away. “But it means I get to pick out the next movie,” she calls out over her shoulder as she approaches the door.

 

“Hey, I never agreed to that!” she hears Kelley yell back.

 

Alex is laughing as she swings open the door, revealing a girl about her height. At first, she doesn’t recognize the girl in the door, whose head is hanging down. Then the girl tilts her head up and Alex sees bright green eyes.

 

And Oh

 

Tobin had described those eyes in so many words that Alex could practically write a novel about them. 

 

Alex’s laugh faded out a little. 

 

She knows who this is. She also knows the torment this girl can cause. And she’s not quite sure what to make of her.

 

The girl just stands there for a moment, staring right into Alex.

 

Kelley seems to have noticed the change in tone, as she calls out “who is it, Alex?” and skips up behind Alex. She places her hands on Alex’s shoulders, popping herself up a little to look over them.

 

Then she sees Christen.

 

Now, Kelley may have worked things out with Tobin, but she’s not at all there yet with Christen. Her face molds into one of frustration. 

 

“Um, hi.”

 

Kelley just sighs. She’s not sure if Alex knows who this is, but she does seem to pick up on some weird tension in the doorway, so Kelley decides to just let her handle it.

 

Before either of them respond, the bathroom door opens and out comes an oblivious Tobin wrapped in just a towel.

 

They both see Christen follow her figure with her eyes and subconsciously lick her lips.

 

Kelley legitimately rolls her eyes and turns around to follow Tobin back into the room.

 

Alex shuts the door slightly, so that only she herself is visible in the doorway.

 

“Christen, right?” she says.

 

Her eyes go a little wide in surprise. “Uh, yeah.. Have we met?”

 

“No,” Alex laughs quietly. “Sorry, I’m Alex, I —”

 

“Played with Toby in California,” she finished quietly.

 

“Yeah.” Alex’s stoic face softens at the nickname that Tobin typically only lets people super close to her use. “I’ve heard about you too.”

 

“Oh.” Christen looks down and bites her lip. “I’d say ‘only good things I hope’, but …” she trails off.

 

Alex gives her a sympathetic smile. 

 

“Um…” she turns around to see Tobin and Kelley laughing at the screen where Jurassic Park is still playing. “Now’s not really a good time.”

 

Christen clearly sees through Alex’s facade and just nods. “My bad.”

 

She turns to walk away, but stops when she feels a hand on her shoulder.

 

“Tobs told me you’re a sucker for green tea. Unlike her, I have taste. Why don’t we go grab a cup of tea downstairs, yeah?”

 

Christen sucks in a deep breath. “Sure.”

 

____________________________

 

Alex walks back into the room forty-five minutes later, seeing Tobin and Kelley still sprawled out on the bed, now moved onto the second Jurassic Park movie.

 

“Hey guys,” she says as she walks over to the bed. “Scoot over, Kelley.”

 

Alex hops on the bed next to Kelley, letting the side of her body press up against Kelley’s side, in the same way they were laying before.

 

“Where’d you go, Lex?” Tobin asks curiously.

 

Kelley and Alex make brief eye contact, but it’s subtle enough that Tobin doesn’t notice.

 

“Just to get some fresh air,” she says quickly. “Long night, huh?”

 

“I honestly thought I wouldn’t care when I saw her again,” Tobin huffs out.

 

Kelley tentatively places her hand on Tobin’s leg. “The whole thing was a big bucket of suck.”

 

“So eloquent,” Alex quips.

 

Kelley elbows her in the side. “You’re ruining my supportive friend moment.”

 

“I think you did that to yourself, with your big bucket of suck.”

 

Kelley rolled her eyes, unable to suppress the smile taking over the lower half of her face.

 

Tobin raised an eyebrow at whatever was happening right now. 

 

This is FUN.

 

She makes a mental note to harrass them both later. 

 

“I’m glad you’re both here,” is all she says instead, unleashing smiles from everyone. They settle into a nice silence, the only sound in the hotel room being that of roaring dinosaurs originating from the flat screen television.

 

About a half-hour later, Tobin had fallen asleep again in Kelley’s bed, and it was getting late — almost midnight, to be exact.

 

Kelley goes to tuck Tobin into her bed, Alex smiling sweetly at the action. She then shuts off the lamp, before walking Alex quietly to the door.

 

Alex is already through the door when she hears a “Wait” from the doorway behind her.

 

“Yeah?”

 

Kelley reaches to take the sharpie out of the cross-body bag slung over Alex’s shoulders, before taking Alex’s left hand in her own and scribbling 10 digits across the palm.

 

“To let me know whatever you said in your hour with Christen,” she pauses. “Or, you know, for whatever else you want.” 

 

They’re both smiling brilliantly as Alex strolls away.

 

___________________________



The game started out poorly. SO poorly.

 

Tobin felt like everyone was picking out the wrong pass, herself included. And honestly, the energy out on the pitch was just not top notch.

 

She wasn’t sure if that was just her recovering from the night before, or whether everyone felt that way.

 

With that in mind, it was a goddamn miracle that the game was still scoreless at the half. 

 

Sitting in the locker room at half time, Coach Doug just stood there silently.

 

And that is when you know it’s bad. 

 

“I don’t even know what to say,” he had eventually said. “Do you want to be here? Do you want to win? Because I truly can’t tell.”

 

After a very aggressive pep talk from the two captains, the team fanned out of the locker room to get ready for the second half. 

 

Thinking she’s the last one in the locker room, Tobin lays on her back across the bench and shuts her eyes, trying to psych herself up for a better second half performance. She’s utterly frustrated. 

 

Tobin’s startled by the sudden sound of cleats hitting the cement floor, indicating she’s not alone.

 

“Oh. Hey Tobin,” the green-eyed girl says as she finishes tying off the dutch braid she had clearly just redone.

 

Tobin opens her eyes to see Christen’s upside down face hanging over her. 

 

Ah, she thinks to herself. Then, she’s so pretty .

 

“Hey,” she says casually, pushing herself up into a sitting position, legs on either side of the bench.

 

“You good?”

 

“We’re sucking out there right now,” Tobin says in a disappointed voice.

 

“Yeah, we are,” she hesitates as she looks at Tobin. 

 

Tobin stays quiet, with the feeling that Christen is about to say something more. “I didn’t get to talk to you again after last night.”

 

There it is.

 

Christen cautiously takes a seat next to Tobin on the bench. She twists the end of her right braid as she nervously continues. “I was kinda worried about you.”

 

A skeptical look rushes across Tobin’s face, before it melts into a smirk.

 

“You were worried about me?”

 

“Don’t let it go to your head, Heath,” she says as she rolls her eyes at Tobin’s smirk.

 

Then Christen stands up and holds her hand out.

 

Tobin looks up for a moment and pauses. 

 

It’s just a hand. But it feels like an olive branch of sorts. 

 

ok.

 

She holds out her hand, allowing herself to be pulled to her feet.

 

ok.

 

When she tries to let go, Christen only tighten’s her grip, and she starts walking toward the door. 

 

ok.

 

Green eyes glance hopefully at her as she turns around to back through the locker room door, tugging Tobin with her.

 

ok.

 

Tobin’s surprised when Christen suddenly stops moving just a step through the door, and she hears the girl take a deep breath from where she stands, still facing the other way.

 

ok .

 

When Christen turns around, hopeful is gone. And in its place, there’s just pure want.

 

ok .

 

And then Christen’s taking steps forward.

 

ok.

 

And Tobin’s taking steps backward.

 

ok.

 

Then Tobin hits the wall. 

 

ok.

 

But Christen’s still moving, until she’s fully pushed up against Tobin’s front.

 

ok.

 

When Tobin goes to push her away, she feels strong hands pinning her wrists against the wall next to her body.

 

ok.

 

And she lets them.

 

ok .

 

And then green eyes are looking at her lips, and the girl in front of her is speaking in a low voice. 

 

“You go straight to my head, Heath.”

 

ok.

 

And the air has been sucked out of Tobin’s lungs. 

 

ok.

 

And she licks her lips instinctively, watching as Christen’s eyes follow her tongue’s movement. 

 

ok.

 

She feels frozen in place as Christen leans in slowly.

 

ok.

 

She’s tuning out the voice that is approaching from the field-side of the tunnel, only focused on the way Christen looks like she wants to devour her. The space that yearns to be closed.

ok.

 

“Chris?”

 

ok.

 

And then she recognizes whose voice that is.

 

not ok.

 

And then she sees him. 

 

not ok.

 

And then she sees Christen recognize it too and pull back just a little.

 

not ok.

 

She can see the wheels turning in Christen’s head, as if this decision is finally tangible, right here in this moment.

 

not ok.

 

Then Christen drops her wrists and takes a step back from Tobin, head dropping to stare at the floor. 

 

not ok.

 

Decision made. 

 

not ok.

 

Tobin watches her for one more moment, before taking off down the tunnel, not even so much as looking at the tall, muscular football player standing in its wake.

 

The half starts out not ok, too.

 

The play itself is leagues above where they were in the last half. Unfortunately, they just couldn’t seem to convert in the final third. 

 

Christen and Tobin were both on the field, and the tension between them was palpable to everyone.

 

It was still 0-0 in the 88th minute, when Tobin was dribbling up center field. The obvious pass was to her right, where Morgan was streaking into open space in front of her. But for some reason, Tobin still knew where Christen was without even looking. 

 

It was like a secret talent… or maybe a curse. 

 

She could still feel her. 

 

Enacting a quick stepover, Tobin was facing back toward her own half, but only for a moment before she hit the ball blindly with her heel through the two players behind her, and behind the back line to the left side, where Christen was streaking up from her defensive positioning.

 

Christen was maybe 5 yards out of the eighteen when she came into contact with the ball, touching it once with the outside of her right foot, not even needing to look up as she suddently struck the ball with a complete follow through.

 

Tobin knew it was going in as soon as she heard the sound Christen’s cleat made when it hit the sweet spot on the ball. 

 

Christen was a ruthless finisher. And just like all aspects of her persona, her secret weapon was how unexpected her game always was.

 

She smiles at the ground for a minute as the ball hits the back of the net -- it was a beautiful one -- before looking back up to see the green-eyed girl running at her full-speed.

 

A moment later, she’s crashing into Tobin with almighty force, wrapping her arms tightly around her neck, as Tobin’s arms close securely around her waist.

 

And Tobin is breathing her in. But she’s not smiling anymore. 

 

Her entire body tenses up when she sees Brett jumping up and down on the sideline, arms raised in the air. And she knows Christen felt it too.

 

They’re swarmed by teammates just a moment later, but the two of them stay slot tightly together in the middle of the huge group hug.

 

Then Tobin feels lips press gently against her neck, as Christen whispers so that only she can hear. “I didn’t know he was here.”

 

And Tobin’s internally rolling her eyes at the words left unspoken, and then she lets go of Christen entirely.

 

She truthfully doesn’t know what to believe anymore. Once again, Christen gets close just to drop a bomb and pull away, back to him. “Sure you didn’t.”

The energy from the goal carried UNC through the rest of the game, defeating the #1 seeded team 1-0 and putting themselves in first place.

 

When the game was over, Tobin was happily walking around the field, hugging old friends and teammates that she hadn’t seen in nearly half-a-year. She somehow manages to not run into Shirley, thankfully. Eventually, she spots her blonde friend smiling at her from across the field, hands on her hips.

 

She’s quickly jogging over to her just a moment later, engulfing her in a big hug and swaying them back and forth.

 

“Tobin!” Jackie squealed. “You guys killed that!”

 

Tobin just laughed. 

 

“The goal was beautiful,” Jackie added.

 

Tobin thought back over the Christen’s goal, the way her eyes lit up and the smile made it all the way up to her eyes too.

 

“Yeah, she’s beautiful.” Tobin backtracks quickly. “I meant yeah, it was a good one.”

 

Shit.

 

Jackie’s just looking at her knowingly.

 

“Tobs, cut the crap, she is beautiful. Would you relax,” she slaps Tobin in the shoulder as they start walking toward the sideline. 

 

“He’s here,” she just returns, a frown on her face.

 

She slaps Tobin’s shoulder again, harder this time. “Woah, woah, woah. NO frowns allowed when you just schooled the number one team.”

 

“Fine,” she replies, the girl’s enthusiasm starting to make her smile.

 

“There we go! I’ll totally help you with her tonight, by the way. You’ll just owe me some help back,” she smiled mischeviously.

 

“Jax, I help you like every day,” Tobin says, joking back with a smirk.

 

“Ew, not like that!”

 

“Ew?” Tobin asks in surprise offense at her word choice. 

 

Jackie throws her head back laughing. “Shut up and maybe I’ll help you back at the hotel before we go out.”

 

Tobin rolls her eyes as she throws her arm around her sassy friend and starts to walk her off the field. “You’re a piece of work, you know that?”

____________________________

 

Since UNC won the game that morning, they were granted a bye for the following day, alongside Stanford, since they were seeded #1. So the whole UNC team decided to go out and hit up a local club together that night.

 

Tobin had gone over to Jackie’s hotel to ~hang out~ for an hour or two, before returning to the team’s hotel.

 

They’d started getting ready pretty early — Tobin settling on her classic black ripped jeans, high top sneakers, and white t-shirt look —, before Alex and a few of Tobin’s friends from Stanford had come over to her and Kelley’s hotel room to pregame before going out.

 

Everyone is just hanging around, drinking and talking, when Tobin’s phone buzzes with a message. 

 

9:01 p.m. Jax: come get me hottie lamottie, I’m in the lobby

 

“Guysss! Jackie’s here, I’ll be back in five,” she announces, before heading toward the door.

 

Their room is up on the 11th floor, so she heads for the elevator, impatiently tapping her foot as she waits. 

 

When the elevator doors open, Tobin throws her head back laughing at the sight before her. Because there, standing in front of her, is Christen in just a bikini, clearly coming from swimming somewhere.

 

Just when I thought we were getting along again, Universe.

 

Tobin slides her hands into the pockets of her skinny jeans and bites her lip, before slowly pacing into the elevator, not stopping until she’s leaning against the back wall, a few feet behind Christen. 

 

She doesn’t say anything, but she’s still smiling to herself quietly.

 

“What are you doing in here?” Christen asks suddenly. 

 

She sees Christen watching her body shift positions through the reflection in the elevator door. 

 

“Don’t come any closer,” Christen weakly threatens, raising a hair clip defensively.

 

Tobin’s laughing at this entire situation. “I don’t think that’s gonna injure anyone.”

 

“Depends where I put it,” Christen quips back. “You won’t see it coming.”

 

Tobin’s eyes not-so-subtly slowly scan up and down Christen’s bare, sculpted body, only covered by a thin, black strappy bikini.

 

“Don’t think you have too many places to hide it there, Chris,” she jokes, drawing her bottom lip between her teeth. 

 

Christen turns around to face her at that comment, an adorably frustrated pinch on her face.

 

“Someone took my towel,” she mumbled angrily. “And my room key.”

 

“You went swimming before we’re going out?” She raises an eyebrow, teasing the girl.

 

“Well done, Sherlock. Were you following me?”

 

“Actually, I’m just going downstairs to grab something,” Tobin shakes her head. “Don’t flatter yourself. Some of us respect boundaries.”

 

“Am I supposed to congratulate you?” Christen jabs sarcastically, before turning back around to face the elevator door and bringing her arms crossed against her abdomen.

 

She’s not sure what makes her do it -- whether she’s drunk from the three shots of vodka she’d taken in the hotel room, or whether she’s just drunk on Christen’s body. But Tobin takes two steps forward in that moment, situating herself against Christen’s mostly bare back, leaning into her ear to whisper. 

 

“If you want to.”

 

She smirks as she hears Christen’s breath hitch in her throat. 

 

Christen doesn’t respond, and Tobin lets her lips brush over the back of the girl’s ear.

 

She carefully moves her hands to Christen’s hips from behind, sliding her fingers under the sides of her strappy bikini, then moving her mouth to bite Christen’s earlobe gently. 

 

“What do you want, Chris?” she continues to whisper, her state of drunkenness making her a little bold. 

 

At the same time, it’s the only question she’s wanted to ask the girl for, like, two months now.

 

The green-eyed girl closes her eyes and lets out a soft whine at Tobin’s question, and Tobin feels it shoot straight to her core.

 

Ding - Ding!

 

Tobin drags her fingers out from under Christen’s bikini bottom, letting them trace up her sides for a few seconds, tracing her curves, before she leans in just one more time.

 

“Tell your boyfriend I say hi.”

 

And with that, she shoves her hands back in her pockets and walks out of the elevator smiling widely, leaving a very flustered Christen behind. 

 

____________________________

 

A half-hour later, they’re walking down the street from the hotel to the club, when the group hears a high pitched scream, bringing them all to a halt.

 

Tobin is arm-in-arm with Jackie, who flinches very noticeably at the sound. 

 

“What the hell was that?” Jackie asked. 

 

“You’re jumpy,” Tobin laughs back at her reaction, earning her an eye roll.

 

Suddenly, they see a brunette figure sprinting toward the group from the opposite direction, and soon enough Ashlyn is running away from them. 

 

She hasn’t seen Ali in two days.

 

“Get a room!” Kelley yells as the two appear to be nearly mauling each other.

 

Jackie just laughs lightly and drags Tobin by the hand inside the club. 

 

The club is popping , very dark, with red-colored lights giving the entire room a dark, red cue. There’s a circular bar in the center of the room, booths and pool tables to the left of the bar, and a huge dance floor to the right of the bar. There’s a huge crowd of people, and Jackie holds onto her hand tightly as they make their way to the bar. 

 

“Alright Tobs, what am I getting you?” she shouts over the music. 

 

Tobin opens her mouth to answer, but Jackie cuts her off.

 

“And don’t say beer. We’re celebrating, go next-level.”

 

Tobin groans. “Fine. Can I get a whiskey sour, two cherries.”

 

“Oh damn, she fancy .”

 

“Oh shut up Jax, I’ll be over there,” Tobin yells, pointing toward the booth in the back where some of their friends had sat down.

 

Jackie gives her a thumbs up, turning back toward the bar, raising her arm to signal the bartender over.

 

Tobin weaves through the crowd until she arrives at the circular booth, sliding in the side next to Kelley and Alex, who, might she add, seem to think their hand-holding under the table is subtle

 

She’s deep in conversation about winter-break plans with Kelley when Jackie returns, deciding to sit horizontally with her legs over Tobin’s lap.

 

“What on earth is that?” Tobin asks about Jackie’s pink-colored drink as she takes the other glass, with what she assumes is Whiskey inside from Jackie’s hand.

 

“A cosmo, dummy,” she replies as if it's obvious.

 

Tobin just keeps looking at her.

 

“Hey, you made me drink that licorice-flavored seltzer thing last week. Do NOT come hating on my cosmo.”

 

Tobin holds her hands up and smiles, admitting defeat, before picking her drink off the table again.

 

She was glad Jackie came out with them tonight. Much like Kelley, the girl just knew how to have a good time. And Tobin was also terrified to see Christen alone after their elevator interaction, so Jackie was the loveliest of buffers (once again).

 

They’re just talking about Florida, as Jackie just grabs one cherry from Tobin’s glass and sucks it off the stem with a pop, before smiling mischeviously down at Tobin.

 

Tobin’s smiling back as she speaks, but that quickly turns into a grimace when she feels a foot hit her shin under the table. She’s about to stop and ask who did that, when she sees Alex staring at her with wide eyes, motioning to the right of the table with her head. 

 

Surely enough, when she turns her head she sees Christen approaching the table, Brett following closely behind. 

 

Fuck me.

 

The girl smiles as everyone mumbles “hey Christen!” to her. But Christen seems to only be paying attention to one person, her eyes settling on Tobin and the blonde girl in her lap. 

 

Tobin just leans back, letting her arms rest along the top of the booth on both sides of her, as she holds eye contact with Christen for a moment. 

 

Jackie leans into her ear, laughing. “Dude, she’s so jealous.”

 

Christen’s face hardens at the interaction.

 

And Tobin’s still feeling a little bold. And she’s vibing off of this jealous energy.

 

So she removes one of her arms from the top of the booth behind her to pick up the other cherry from her Whiskey glass. 

 

Staring straight into Christen’s eyes, she laps her tongue around the cherry once, before popping the entire thing -- stem included -- into her mouth. 

 

She takes that same arm, and uses it to tilt Jackies chin toward her, and then breaks eye contact to kiss her deeply.

 

Groans erupt from around the table.

 

The two of them break away just a moment later when Jackie pulls back, smiling at her. 

 

And Tobin sees out of the corner of her eye that Christen hasn’t even moved an inch, green eyes still boring into her. 

 

She watches knowingly as Jackie’s smile soon turns into an expression of confusion, before turning back to meet Christen’s eyes again, a small smirk playing on her lips.

 

Bringing her fingers up to her mouth, Jackie pulls out a cherry stem tied perfectly in a knot, and her jaw opens wide as she places it on the table in front of her. 

 

And her friends around the table let out a chorus of “Ahhh” and “Damn Tobs.”

 

And Jackie’s leaning into her ear to whisper “okay, that was hot.”

 

And Christen is taking a big gulp as she looks down at the knot, before raising her eyes to meet Tobin’s again.

 

And Tobin is slouched and leaning back in the booth, her tongue coming out to lick her lips once as she stares back at Christen confidently. 

 

Underneath her strong exterior, Tobin was feeling very weak in the face of Christen’s beauty. She was breathtaking in an oversized pastel pink t-shirt that hung like a very short dress with no pants underneath, showing off her long, toned legs -- the whole sorority t-shirt look was doing something to Tobin. Her hair is down in wild curls, and she’s wearing just a touch of makeup that accentuates her already beautiful features.

 

But Tobin now knows the effect she has on the green-eyed girl. And then she takes control of the moment, looking away from Christen’s eyes.

 

Mhm.

 

“You’re the devil,” Jackie says quietly to Tobin, just loud enough for her to hear over the blaring music, before they both return their attention to the conversation at the table.

 

Tobin can still feel Christen’s eyes on her after that, as usual.

 

In fact, she can feel Christen watching her all night

 

And the club is hot and crowded and sweaty, but the way Christen’s eyes traced over her body repeatedly and not at all subtly made her feel hot and sweaty for a whole different reason.

 

But Tobin keeps her distance.

 

It’s not until later that night, when Jackie and Tobin are up at the bar waiting on refills, that she sees Christen’s arms laced around his neck on the other side of the bar.

 

She rolls her eyes and looks down at the bar table. It seems that Jackie noticed Christen’s whereabouts as well, as she nudged Tobin’s shoulder and gave her a sympathetic smile.

 

Yet once again, when she picks her head up, Christen is straight at her from across the bar.

 

I can’t take this. 

 

So she leans in close, letting her lips ghost Jackie’s ear as she maintains eye contact with Christen, whispering, “let’s dance.”

 

Walking out onto the dance floor, they find a free pocket of space in between the many groups of people.

 

Tobin twirls Jackie around once before pulling her closer and settling her hands on the girl’s waist.

 

They’re swaying closely together and chatting intermittently, when Tobin sees Christen also make her way out onto the dance floor out of the corner of her eye. 

 

Challenge accepted .

 

And the next 15 minutes were like a fever dream underneath the flashing red light that flooded the dance floor.

 

Tobin pulls Jackie closer.

 

Christen pulls Brett’s hands around her waist from behind her. 

 

Tobin rests her forehead against Jackie’s.

 

Christen starts moving her hips in rhythm with Brett’s.

 

Tobin moves her hands down to grab Jackie’s ass. 

 

Christen loops her arms around Brett’s neck behind her, swaying her hips in time with his.

 

Tobin lets her eyes roll back into her head as Jackie sucks at her neck.

 

Christen shimmies seductively down to the floor and back up again.

 

Tobin scratches at Jackie’s upper thighs.

 

Christen uses her hands to push herself back into Brett’s pelvis.

 

Tobin looks at Christen.

 

Christen looks at Tobin.



And they stay like that.

 

And they stay like that .

 

They’re watching each other, talking to each other through their stare, as the music pounds loudly around them.

 

Until Christen breaks eye contact to look over her shoulder and whisper something into Brett’s ear. Tobin sees him nod back at her, before releasing his hands from her lower waist and walking toward the bar.

 

Then Green eyes are staring at her again.

 

Taunting her.

 

Challenging her.

 

Daring her.

 

Green eyes backing away slowly.

 

Desperation.

 

Desire.

 

Want .

 

And then Christen is turning around, walking quickly toward the bathroom.

 

And Tobin soon finds herself following in that same direction with the same excuse.

 

Hazel eyes hurrying toward the back of a club with a purpose.

 

Hazel eyes bursting through the door.

 

Hazel eyes locking on Green eyes one more time.

 

A wish.

 

A confession.

 

A promise.

 

“Tobin, we need to talk. I —”

 

But she’s cut off before she can continue by Tobin’s lips pressing hard against hers, forcing her back against the back wall of a women’s bathroom with a slam, before Tobin pulls back just enough to whisper against Christen’s lips.

 

“I don’t fucking want to talk anymore.”

 

____________________________

 

In the three weeks following the Midweek Mayhem party, three things happened. 

 

But the best was yet to come.

Chapter Text

Christen Press considered herself a pretty decent person.

She said hello to the cashier at the grocery store. She held the door open for strangers behind her. She volunteered twice a week at the local free clinic. She treated people with respect. She listened to others.

But a total angel? Far from it.

And if anything were to make an argument for the existence of karma, it would be the past 365 days.

If you had asked her a year ago what she thought her life would be like this November, whatever sort of strange concoction of reality she is currently living in would not have made the realm of possibilities.

This doubt in her relationship with Brett.

This sense of regret for not spending more time with her mother.

This severance of her friendship with Kelley.

This pure want of the tan-skinned girl who slept in what was supposed to be her dorm.

This … pervasive sense of uncertainty.

Every decision she makes seems to exacerbate some existing problem. And it’s hard to complain when, somehow, she’s become the villain. Christen’s not trying to make excuses, but honestly she’s not sure how any of it happened.

So here she is on a cool Saturday morning in late November, in the back of a silver 2009 Toyota Corolla, midway through an uber ride to a Starbucks on the other side of their college town.

Because she’s a coffee addict.

Because she can’t just grab coffee on campus anymore.

Because then she’d run into Jackie.

And she’s all blonde, and smiling, and touching Tobin’s arms, and it puts an indescribable feeling deep in the pit of Christen’s stomach. One she doesn’t want to consciously overanalyze, probably because her subsconscious brain has already torn it to shreds.

In fact, Tobin’s entire existence has been kind of like a surprise sucker punch to the gut.

It’s as if Christen is constantly freezing in her world, and the hazel-eyed girl is a warm fire.

Too far away -- freeze to death. Too close to her -- suffocates from smoke inhalation.

Neither option allows her to breathe, and she just can’t for the life of her seem to find the line lying in between the two.

So she chose the (ill-advised) third option: doing her very best to avoid all things Tobin. All things involving feeling, really.

And at first that was going okay. She started sleeping over at Kelley’s most nights of the week, and Brett filled in the rest of those. She started studying organic chemistry so much that she actually had an ‘A’ in the class—who would’ve thought. She called her family every single day. She started picking up the Friday morning shift at the clinic too, since she knew Tobin had class at that time. She almost exclusively hung out with Ali and the lacrosse team when she wasn’t with Kelley or Brett. She read all of Crime and Punishment (twice).

But then her Mom got told that she had six months to live.

And Brett told her that she had “become an emotional gravestone.”

And Kelley said she was in love with her.

And Christen couldn’t seem to take her eyes off of Tobin long enough to even think about any of it.

And she was terrified.

Terrified to move in any direction, to make a decision, to breathe.

So, yes, she’s chosen the path of avoidance. Hence why she is currently stepping out of a ten-dollar uber ride to buy an overpriced latte that won’t taste nearly as good as the free one she could have gotten from a five minute walk from her dorm room.

And also yes, she had actually been in her dorm room last night. Sort of, anyway.

And oh lord, did Christen need coffee right now.

Making her way through the door of Starbucks, she was mentally justifying her overpriced latte to herself. Brett had been cheating on her for months, and her Mom was barely leaving the hospital anymore, and Kelley was no longer speaking to her, and because she had kissed Tobin last night.

She had kissed Tobin last night.

Tobin who had become her best friend.

Tobin who was like being wrapped in a blanket of security.

Tobin who made her feel so special.

Tobin who lights her body on fire.

But then, she ran.

Broken down, red eyes, tears falling, knees giving out, emotions scattered throughout the air as if her brain had just shot them out in a confetti cannon. She hadn’t planned on going back to the room after that fight with Brett, in the first place. The fight where he told her he had been fucking someone else since homecoming. And she knows she’s sort of being a hypocrite, given that she let him give her the go to hook up with girls. And she knows that he had a point about the candelit sushi situation he walked into (not that she would admit it).

Again, she couldn’t explain it.

Couldn’t explain why it made her so angry that he did that, couldn’t explain why she went back. Couldn’t explain literally anything in her life right now. It was as if she was an imposter, looking in from the outside, unable to actually control the things that happened to her corporeal form. Unable to explain Tobin.

It had started out as this sort of infatuation. But then everyone else seemed to shun both her and Tobin, and they just fell into each other in a way that she couldn’t quite explain and in a way that she couldn’t prevent. Kinda like their friends just threw them in their trash can. It sounds bad, in theory. But the company in there itself wasn’t bad at all.

Her and Tobin found each other in the trash can.

Is Christen going crazy? Maybe.

Then all of a sudden there was this weight to the trash can air that she’d never felt before. Especially not with a girl.

Hell, she’d been curious. That’s what Kelley was for. It started out as a drunk threesome with Brett. It’s not like her and Brett were struggling in that department or anything. Christen had been told numerous times that she was bold in bed, fearlessly herself, and she knew that she exuded a type of false confidence on the daily, one that let her tackle new things, melt into her curiosities, in a way that usually lacked consequences or at least escaped obvious judgement from her peers.

So she fucked Kelley. Because she was curious. Because Kelley looked at her like she was a dessert. And because it was new, and intriguing, and uncomfortable, really.

Brett and Christen had always connected on a whole other level, and she’d never felt less than comfortable with him. To most people, that consistent comfort is probably the dream. To Christen, it felt like the yellow brick road to boredom and complacency.

And as Benjamin E. Mays once said, “The tragedy of life is not found in failure, but in complacency.”

It’s not like Christen liked failure, but at least she always gained something from the discomfort. It made her feel lived.

Right now, however, Christen was beginning to feel this overwhelming sense of complacency with him. Freshman year, Brett had quickly become her closest friend and supporter, and she’d loved him uninterrupted since then. That wasn’t the issue.

At some point in those near-three years, love had turned to in love for him, and she just kept telling herself that if she gave it time, she’d catch up with his feelings. After all, he’s theoretically the perfect guy — fits right in with her family, comes to all her sports games, whispers sweet nothings in her ear constantly, shows her off to his friends, respects how much time she wants to put toward school. Yet, Christen felt like she was always stalling with him, waiting for her mind and heart to get on the same wavelength.

They just never seemed to get there. And Christen’s not exactly a patient person.

Then again, what if she was waiting for something that just isn’t going to happen?

The anticipation, the longing, the effervescent waiting game — it’s the foundation of settling, something so incredibly against the fundamentals of Christen’s being. Something so complacent.

Kelley herself wasn’t supposed to turn into anything more than working out her kinks and compulsive curiosities so that she could get rid of this feeling that something was ‘off’ in her relationship with Brett. But when Kelley had touched her, she felt it shoot through her entire body. It was absolutely electric. And she needed to feel that again. She actively craved it. It was something she had never, not once, felt with him. Sure, they had sex all the time. And he was good in bed, he always made her come. But it was almost as if she was sleeping with him because they were dating and felt like she had to. She didn’t have to keep sleeping with Kelley. The difference was that she wanted to.

So Christen asked him one night, if she could keep hooking up with Kelley, on her own. He was confused, but his lack of concern or care confused Christen even more.

”C, you’re not gay,” he had laughed out.

”Yeah I know. It’s just for fun.”

And, well, Christen couldn’t have agreed to that statement quicker. She wasn’t gay. Of course not. She was just “doing college.” Surprisingly, her boyfriend seemed to buy that without further question. Because her hooking up with Kelley was hot, or some other bullshit she wasn’t going to argue with.

Because she wanted to feel Kelley’s skin on hers again.

If her friends had to describe Christen in one sentence, they’d probably say she’s bold, a little insane, but never uninteresting.

When she felt something — when she wanted something — she made it happen. She was spontaneous and a little bit of a flirt, but that’s just what added spice to her life. And she tended to seek out people who were similar to herself in that regard. Like Kelley (like Tobin).

It had been months of hooking up with Kelley — nearly a year, in actuality — when the girl had confronted her unexpectedly.

“I don’t know, I feel different with you, I guess. He’s just… there,” Christen breathed into the air one night on the 180, taking a glug from the almost-empty handle of Bacardi they were sharing.

“Then why are you even with him?”

She dreaded this question, but she can’t admit that it hadn’t been crossing her mind lately.

“Because he loves me.”

“Well I love you.”

Line crossed.

“Kelley...I’m straight.”

And she knew that had to hurt. And at this point, she also knew deep down that it wasn’t true.

Christen understood why Kelley cut her out. They’d been walking this pathway to crash-and-burns-ville for way too long, and they were going to have to get there eventually. She herself had started pulling away from the girl when she realized that people maybe knew. When teammates came up to her and told her that they would be cute together. When Ashlyn winked at her knowingly everytime she was leaving the soccer house at night. When it started to seem like more than consistent, casual hook-ups with her best friend.

But she also knew that she didn’t love Kelley like that. She couldn’t. She wasn’t willing to deal with it all at the time. And Kelley didn’t really give her the time to, or enough of a reason to, if she were being honest.

Then Tobin Heath entered the game. And it may sound the same as Kelley, in the grand scheme of things.

It wasn’t.

When she had first found out she was rooming with Tobin, she had rolled her eyes so hard. The girl had a reputation — not necessarily a flattering one — and she wasn’t looking forward to dealing with being sexiled from her room every other day. Christen herself knew better than to listen to stories told down the grapevine in that sense. But she had a more reliable source at the time: Kelley.

She was wrong, though. Tobin was unprecedented, unexpected. She didn’t expect to get addicted to those hazel eyes. She didn’t expect to feel her stomach twist when Tobin paid her a compliment. She didn’t expect for her body to burn in the absence of her touch. She didn’t expect to connect so fast with the girl, and to become nearly best friends in two weeks. She didn’t expect there to be so much more to Tobin Heath.

Unlike Kelley, being in Tobin’s arms, holding on tight, breathing her in, it made her feel calmer, rather than terrified. So when she had that huge fight with Brett, it’s no wonder that her mind brought her body back to Tobin.

Maybe her mind and heart were still not connected at all.

All she wanted in that moment was to feel better. For Tobin to be touching her everywhere, providing the burning sensation that she knew would overpower the pain coming from other people and other places.

No one had ever controlled Christen’s emotions before, made her feel like that.

So she had kissed Tobin last night.

Because just for one night, she wanted to forget about everything and have all of Tobin, and nothing else.

For the first time in 365 days, she wanted to feel safe.

And she didn’t want to talk about it. Not even a little bit, because that would ruin it.

She thought her best friend would give her that simple relief. Would let her cross that line, just for one night.

And suddenly, lips in front of Tobin’s, body pressed into hers, she recognized the gravity of the situation. This wasn’t something she had vetted with Brett, like Kelley. This wasn’t one of the girls she would never see again after that night. This was the person she talked to all day, every day. This was someone she would have to face again.

She watched as Tobin’s hands slowly traced the angle of her jaw, and the intensity and emotion behind those hazel eyes. She saw the raw want. And she knew.

This couldn’t just be crossing the line for one night.

Tobin wanted more than Christen could give right now.

And Tobin clearly wasn’t going to just give her physical relief.

And it was no longer simple.

And it was embarrassing.

And Christen didn’t fucking want this right now.

She couldn’t take it.

So she ran out. She ran all the way to Brett’s apartment. And he may have just given her the physical relief she needed, but Christen couldn’t get the hazel-eyed girl out of her mind the entire time.

And it was while laying underneath her boyfriend that she realized there was always something missing with him. That the something “off” could not be fixed. And maybe, just maybe, that something missing was in her own ability to love him back.

And well, my golly. That was too much for tonight.

So once again, she ran.

She ran back to their dorm room, and she crawled into bed next to a sleeping Tobin. A sleeping Tobin that couldn’t ask for more than she was able to give. And she finally felt safe.

Until she woke up at 6:15 a.m. and realized that she could not deal with a confrontation with Tobin right now. She realized she had fucked it all up.

So for the third time in a twelve-hour span, she ran.

And now she’s pulling her laptop out in the downtown Starbucks, hoping to distract herself, and also hoping to somehow become invisible. Hoping to disappear into thin air. Sitting there, she’s really just trying to figure out how to go on, because she’s eventually going to have to go back to campus and face the wrath she left behind.

Yeah, she’s going a little insane right now. Adding coffee into the equation was, in retrospect, probably not the best idea.

She checks her phone for the first time that morning.

14 unread messages

Kelley’s house — her previous safe haven — is out of the picture, as it had been since that night on the 180 nearly 3 months ago. She could go to her dorm room, but Tobin’s there. So no, she couldn’t go to her dorm room. And with the amount of lowkey angry texts from Brett, that isn’t someplace she can go either right now. At least, not for peace and quiet.

The feeling engulfing her right now is fear. And that’s not exactly unfamiliar to her. It used to be because everything was so perfect and she didn’t want to mess it up. But now it’s not that at all.

Everything is messed up.

And Christen’s scared she can’t fix it. And she’s scared because she can’t bear losing any more. And she’s suddenly so scared of those hazel eyes that are the one thing that makes her feel safe. Does that make any sense? Not at all. But that’s how everything feels.

She’s deep in her thoughts, when a coffee slamming down on the table in front of her snaps her out of her head.

“Fancy seeing you here Chris, what’s up?”

“Oh, hey Ali, just … um … getting some work done.”

Ali just stares back at her as if to say really.

“What’re you doing here?” Christen adds on, ignoring her friend’s stare.

“I saw Tobin this morning.”

Christen doesn’t say anything in response, adjusting looking down at her laptop pretending to be typing, before Ali shuts her screen from behind and sits down at the table across from her friend. Christen just keeps staring at the top of her laptop.

“You always come here when you run.”

She takes a breath and looks up at her friend.

“Well you win, you caught me. Do you need something else?”

Ali rolls her eyes at her friend’s short tone.

“It’s not a game, dude. I just wanted to make sure you’re good.”

“I don’t really want to talk about it.”

“Yeah, I didn’t come here to talk to you.”

Christen’s eyebrows furrow.

“I know you a little, Chris,” she lets on a small smile.

“So….”

“So what?”

“Why did you come then?”

“OH! We’re going shopping for the big party that’s in like three weeks. I’m fueling your anxious avoidance.”

Christen immediately shoves her laptop in her bag and looks up to the sky.

“Oh thank god. I need some retail fucking therapy,” she groans out as she stands up.

She grabs her coffee in one hand, using the other to push the chair into the table before slinging her backpack over her shoulder and beginning to walk away with Ali. They had just exited the shop, when she realizes she has not a clue what party Ali was referring to.

“Wait what party?”

“Midweek Mayhem?” Ali states like it's obvious.

“Oh not gonna lie, I forgot about that,” Christen laughs as her eyes go wide in recognition.

“You’ve been busy my friend,” Ali replies knowingly, slinging her arm around Christen’s shoulders as they walk down the college-town sidewalk.

Christen just throws her head back, yelling out, “UGH I need a DRINK,” attracting the attention of the other people walking down the sidewalk.

But that’s just how Christen is, and Ali is laughing with her shortly after. “Don’t we ALL.”

 

________________________________________________________

 

By the time that Wednesday rolled around, Christen had one too many make-up conversations with Brett. They’d said “sorry” and “I love you” and all the necessary items. But for the first time, she wasn’t sure she meant any of it at all, not even a little bit.

But at this point, she sure as hell was not showing up to that party alone. And Ali was going with Ashlyn and Tobin. And she had no one else. And he was comfortable.

She knows that’s a bad reason to tell someone that she loves them. She knows.

They were late.

“B, can you carry me?” she pouts.

“Do you want my drunk self to drop you?” he returns, raising an eyebrow.

“Hey, don’t answer my question with a question. I’m tired.”

“We’re not even inside yet,” Brett says while rolling his eyes and gesturing to the front door of the soccer house, just a few feet in front of where they are standing while having this conversation.

Christen just purses her lips and opens her eyes wide.

“Fine, you’re such a pain in the ass Chrissy. Lucky you’re cute.”

“Suck my tit, B,” she returns snarkily as she smiles widely and jumps on his back.

“I will later,” he smirks as he opens the doors and walks inside.

She slaps him hard in the arm at that comment, before looking up to scope out the party scene.

There was a makeshift dance floor to the left, not a single person in sight without a red solo cup in hand, and the house was lit up with only dark blue LED lights. The music was blaring so loud that she couldn’t hear whatever Brett had just turned his head slightly to say to her.

“WHAT?” she yells back, before tightening her grip around his neck from behind and leaning her head closer.

“Wanna just go chill outside? Dylan says there’s a fire pit out back.”

“Yeah sure. Can we stop in the kitchen to get some lemonade for these nips?” she yells back, pulling out the four nips of tequila from her side pocket and shaking them in front of his face for a moment.

“Your wish is my command.”

They make their way through the crowd, Christen holding tight to his shoulders, the both of them bouncing to the music and stopping for short conversations as they make their way toward the kitchen.

The two of them together had always been a pair to remember. Star linebacker meets above average soccer forward. It’s not exactly the “quarterback and face of the soccer team” dream couple, but it’s close enough, and a lot of people were jealous of them. At the same time, everyone wanted to know them. It had been this way since they had started dating freshman year, everyone looking at them from the outside as if they were perfect, and everyone wanting to be friends with them.

Walking through this party, engaging with people and laughing on Brett’s back, it all felt so familiar. Yet, something in her felt almost unsettled today by the stark normalcy of it all. It reminded her of a life before her thing with Kelley, a life before Tobin in her entirety, something so utterly unfamiliar to her now.

It’s only a moment later, when Christen turns her head to look through the archway into the kitchen, where hazel eyes are standing just centimeters away from brown eyes, lips curled into smiles as the two girls in the kitchen are staring at each other, that the smile drops off her face and she yanks Brett by the collar of his shirt.

“Yo what was that for?”

She whips out one nip, takes off the cap, throws it to the side, and flips her head toward the sky as she chugs the nip. Christen wipes her mouth on her wrist and throws the bottle off in the similar direction.

Brett just laughs and licks his lips. “You’re hot.”

“I know.”

She settles her arms around his neck and leans down to his ear. “Don’t need lemonade, let’s just go outside the other back door.”

“Uh you sure? We can stop?”

“Yeah, let’s go,” she shouts. But as he starts walking, she makes the mistake of letting her eyes wander back into the kitchen, where the two girls are entangled with each other, nearly sucking each other’s faces off. She feels a new feeling develop deep within her, something eerily close to jealousy.

Her and Brett spend another hour or two cuddled up by the fire, Christen having easily gone through her four nips of tequila early on. She’s caught up in her thoughts, unable to get the image of Tobin and Jackie out of her brain. And she’s drunk as day. So when she sees people through the window start siphoning into a side hallway, and sees Ali giving her a beckoning wave, she happily yanks Brett up by the arm and drags him to the nextdoor lounge room, not even bothering to look at him or say a single word as she shoves him down into the loveseat and sits in front of him, leaning back on his legs.

Truth or Dare had always been one of her favorite party games. The risqué energy that radiated from the game charged her up, essentially lying parallel to her bold yet spontaneous nature. The team had picked up on this throughout the past three years, and as such, they always tried to come up with new and original dares, since Christen always seemed to enjoy the ones that were supposed to be “torturous.” Christen just liked a challenge.

She’s just sitting in place, looking down, anxiously awaiting her turn, for a chance to let go for the night, drumming her fingernails on the back of her green phone case, when she hears her name called out.

“Truth or Dare, Tobin,” she heard Ali’s friend Becky call out.

Her head shoots up at the mention of Tobin, not realizing the girl was even in the room. It’s not that she was avoiding her —…. okay, maybe she was avoiding her. At the same time, Christen had been so wrapped up in her thoughts about the girl and about herself lately that she’s become pretty much oblivious to everything around her.

Hazel eyes locked on hers for a moment, and the weight of their stare was suffocating. She saw the smugness in her gaze, before Tobin looked away back to the blonde girl in her lap. And moments later, she’s dragging Jackie into the nearby closet.

They hear the thuds and the whimpers even over the loud music coming from the next room over. And when the two of them emerged seven minutes later, there wasn’t a single uncertain thing about what had just happened in there.

It was what Christen had wanted from her the other day.

“Damn, Jackie totally got some,” she heard the girl next to her whisper to her friend.

“They’re kinda cute together, right?” her friend replied.

It’s in this moment that Christen realized just how much she wanted that.

And she wants to knock Jackie out for taking that away. But she can’t. Because the blonde girl is nice. Because Tobin looks so… happy right now. Because she ran from Tobin. Because then everyone would know.

Do I care if they know?

She knows it’s her drunk brain thinking. She also knows her face isn’t hiding anything at all.

And Tobin’s doing her best not to look over, but Christen can tell that it’s taking her active effort not to do so. And that’s all the confirmation she needs in the moment.

“Chrissy babe, truth or dare?” Ali calls out across the circle a few minutes later.

“Dare,” she yells back, smiling mischeviously and leaning fully back into Brett’s legs. “Bring it Krieger.”

Christen knew that Ali was dying to finally psych her into picking drinking over a dare. She could practically see the wheels turning in her friend’s brain.

“Do something right now that scares you.”

That’s new.

“Ooh interesting one, Al” Becky throws over at her friend, alongside a fist bump from Ashlyn and a couple of compliments from other teammates around the circle. It left so much choice to Christen, unlike the usual dares she received.

Christen pauses for a moment as if she were thinking, only the sound of Don’t Let Me Down by Daya to be heard, pounding in the background. But she finds herself not thinking at all, her mind blank as she carefully watches Tobin’s hands tracing the skin between Jackie’s top’s end and where her jeans begin.

Fuck it.

Oh, the dangers of a drunk body and a thoughtless mind.

She stands up and starts walking toward Tobin, whose eyebrows furrow as she slowly paces over. Chatter is still erupting from around the room, and hazel eyes leave her own to look over her shoulder, as if there was maybe something else Christen was walking toward. And Christen is hesitant at first, slowing her walk, almost as if her body was trying to give her mind the time to back out of this impulsive decision.

Before her mind can come to join the party, Christen’s hands have reached out to pull Tobin’s face back toward her own, and then she’s moving her head forward until her own lips and pressed up against Tobin’s once again.

When she doesn’t feel Tobin move away, she leans her body forward, resting her knee on the side of Tobin’s lap that is not occupied by Jackie’s body, and moves her hands down to grip the back of her neck a little roughly.

She’ll blame it on the alcohol, but the whole thing is a little rough, a little possessive. And just when she feels Tobin start to kiss back just a little, she’s pulling away, teeth dragging against Tobin’s bottom lip before she releases it. And then she’s slowly pushing herself back up to stand in front of Tobin. Eyes locked with Tobin’s the entire time as she grabs her favorite of Tobin’s snapbacks off of Jackie’s head, and licks her lips once as she places it backward on her own head.

It felt like she left the entire universe for the last 30 seconds, so when she came back to reality, realizing the room had gone silent, realizing her boyfriend was sitting five feet away, realizing what she had just done in front of everyone, she started to flip out.

oh my god oh my god oh my god

And what do you know, she runs, this time dragging Brett behind her, not looking back to the girl she left behind.

Once she’s out of the room, pacing toward the front door, she tries to loosen her grip on Brett’s hand, but fails as she feels him tighten his own hand and pull her back around to his front, pressing her harshly against the wall.

Suddenly, his face is right in front of hers. “That was so hot.”

He leans in for a chaste kiss. “Let’s get out of here.”

Christen can’t breathe.

“Can I just meet you at home? I have to get some things from upstairs,” she lies convincably.

He leans in again. “Sure, babe. I’ll be waiting.”

Watching him walk out of the hallway, she sighs in relief at his lack of questioning and resistance. And Christen herself takes off toward the front of the house, to stand on the porch that had gotten her through nearly everything these past three years. It feels like her only constant right now — and yes, it is a piece of wood. If that doesn’t explain how Christen’s life is going right now, nothing does.

She hadn’t realized just how long she had been standing out there leaning her front against the railing and watching drunk students fumble down the street in front of the house, until she felt a body leaning up right next to her, and she feels Tobin’s snapback peeled off of the top of her own head.

“I believe this is mine.”

Christen pauses, unsure where she wants to go with this, but sure that she has to respond. She’s frustrated. She’s angry. She’s upset with herself. She’s embarrassed, to be honest.

“Did you ditch that blonde?” she snarkily replies. Nice one, Christen. Real smooth.

That blonde has a name. It’s Jackie. And no, she’s just grabbing her phone.”

At that comment, Christen lets her eyes wander over the girl next to her subtly, as she takes a sip of the beer in her hand. She sees the defined jawline, clenched as if she’s upset too. And that just makes her angrier. Even though she knows that she has no right to actually be mad. But she is. Because Tobin kissed back, and now she’s leaving with Jackie. And maybe even more than that, Christen is mad at herself. And drunk, angry Christen has no filter.

“So what? You’re dating someone now?”

And now it’s Tobin’s turn to sit in silence, as if she’s deciding what to say. And that makes something churn in Christen’s stomach.

“What do you care?” she hears deflected back at her.

“I just think you can do better.” We fit like puzzles pieces

“I think it’s none of your business who I date.”

“It is, were best friends Tobin.” You know we’re more than that

And then Tobin laughs cruelly, and it sends a shiver down her spine.

“Are we?”

Christen’s words get caught in her throat when she feels Tobin’s body turning toward her.

“You want to know what I think?” Tobin continues.

“Enlighten me,” Christen swallows thickly. I’m sorry

“I think I met a nice girl who doesn’t hit me with a metaphorical freight train every two seconds. And I think that scares you, that I found someone who actually makes me feel good. Someone that's not you.”

She nearly shrivels at the harsh truth behind those words. It’s the first time one of them has been this direct. And every inch of it is flooded in truth, and she can tell that Tobin is trying to gage her reaction.

To be honest, Christen is not doing a good job of hiding anything, if she was even trying to. So she’s feeling a little fired up, deciding to step up, full-flush against Tobin’s front.

“She couldn’t make you feel half as good as I could.” I think I want you too

And then they’re just standing there, staring into each other’s eyes, Tobin looking at her with such an intensity that it makes Christen instinctively want to pull back. But at the same time, she knows it’s a challenge. So she doesn’t move either. Christen likes a challenge.

And then she asks the one question that Christen just doesn’t want to hear. “Where’s your boyfriend?”

“Stop asking me about him.” I don’t know what to do

“Stop being with him,” Tobin says quickly.

The words pierce right through her.

“Tobin…” she breathes back at the girl, words left unsaid. I’m confused

Tobin gives her time to do something, to make any move or say anything letting her know that she wanted the girl too. But Christen feels stuck, and before she knows it, she’s alone on the porch, wanting to go anywhere but home to her boyfriend.

 

________________________________________________________

 

The next few weeks fly by. Christen finds herself throwing herself into her work to avoid this looming triangle that just sits over her head like a big freaking dark rain cloud, as she had been doing before. The difference is, she’s avoiding Brett too now, unable to face him, to lie to him, any longer. She just wants everything to be simple, to go back to how it was when she felt nothing but comfort in her half-hearted relationship with the football guy. Well… does she really? At least then, it didn’t hurt like it does now.

She had tried to finish her conversation with Tobin — several times, actually. But she just couldn’t get herself to actually do it. And after an emotional run-in at the 180 one night, when she realized just how much she had hurt Tobin, too, she took a step back.

She let go.

Because the only thing she couldn’t stand right now is to see that look of pain in those hazel eyes again, seeing the way she was slowly falling apart, watching Tobin try to hide tears, knowing they were likely her own fault — too much.

She let go.

However, there was one line she didn’t let go off at all.

“You deserve to be happy”, Tobin had told her that night.

And so Christen has spent the last few weeks asking herself the same, one question every. single. day.

How in the hell did she get so unhappy?

Life went on in that time. She watched Tobin. She was always watching Tobin. However, Christen took three steps back for a while. It was only in the past week that she had noticed Tobin watching back again.

And now she’s sitting in the back of a dark bus at 5 in the morning, headed to an NCAA tournament, watching the girl walk down the aisle, somehow making sweatpants, a t-shirt, and bedhead look mouth-wateringly sexy. At that moment, she realized the answer to her question certainly involves Tobin’s absence in some capacity.

So she decides to text her. Because why the hell not.

And she smiles to herself when Tobin looks at her curiously with a small smile of her own.

And Christen smiles even bigger when it only takes a little more prodding to get a conversation going with the girl. A conversation that persists intermittently throughout the day. For the bus ride there. For the walk into the hotel lobby. For the few hours before dinner. Only ending once they actually walk into Mexican restaurant with the team, both shutting their phones off and sitting at different tables across the restaurant.

She’s happy, relieved even. It’s the first clear feeling she’s had in ages. But that is soon replaced with another feeling.

Christen had been only half engaged in conversation all night at the restaurant, sneaking glances toward Tobin, wondering if they’ll ever actually get to speak again in person. Wondering if she’ll be forgiven. Wondering how much of Tobin she can even get back at this point.

The team table had filled up quickly, so Ashlyn, Kelley, and Tobin had been at their own table together. The rest of the team was too invested in conversation to notice a slight commotion happening at their table.

But not Christen, who was looking over curiously as Tobin is still staring endlessly across the restaurant, barely blinking, all muscles frozen.

No one notices Christen staring at her, as she watched both Kelley and Ashlyn get up and jog quickly toward the direction that Tobin is looking, leaving the girl pale and alone at the table.

With the other two gone, Christen makes a split second decision to get up and walk over to her, sliding into the seat next to her.

“Tobs?” she asks.

No response.

“Tobin, you in there?”

No response.

Instead of continuing to yell her name, Christen turns and picks up Tobin’s hands, starting to rub small circles on the insides of her wrists with her index fingers.

It was something that Brett had always done to help her come back to reality when her anxiety made her zone out.

After about a minute, she sees Tobin blink several times and shake her head, color returning to her face.

“Hey there,” she smiles in relief as Tobin comes back to reality.

“Hey,” she hears back.

Having had many similar panic moments herself, she empathetically intertwined their fingers for a few moments. Christen sees a tear escape from Tobin’s eye, and she hesitantly reaches her hand up to thumb it away with a small smile.

Again, she feels the tension in their stare and it scares her a little. But this time she stays put, just providing some familiarity and comfort to the girl, until she’s distracted by a tap on her right shoulder.

Looking back, she sees the other two musketeers standing over her.

Neither of them particularly like Christen at this moment in time. They just sort of stare at her until she releases Tobin’s hands, looking back at her once more before sheepishly standing up.

She pauses when she sees another girl standing behind Kelley and Ashlyn — a beautiful brunette with crystal blue eyes. Christen doesn’t recognize her, but she doesn’t have time to ask questions, as the girl practically launches herself at Tobin, engulfing her in a large hug.

Tobin buries her head into the new girl’s neck.

A small scowl falls onto Christen’s face, and that same feeling from the kitchen of the Midweek Mayham party settles into her again.

The green-eyed girl doesn’t know it, but both Ashlyn and Kelley witnessed the reaction on her face, giving each other a look.

She watches the brunette pull Tobin up by the hand, following Kelley and Ashlyn as they start to make their way off the patio and onto the beach, leaving Christen behind without a word, initially without a second look. She’s kinda bummed about it.

But then it happens.

Green eyes meet hazel for a split second.

She looked back.

She looked back.

And Christen felt it.

It coursed through her body like electricity.

She had let her eyes linger on Tobin even after hazel eyes were no longer looking in her direction. When they were finally out of sight, she brought her mind back to the restaurant, realizing that she’d been so wrapped up in Tobin that she hadn’t even tried to figure out what it was that unrelentlessly knocked Tobin on her metaphorical ass just a few minutes before.

Still sitting at the empty table, Christen looks back over to the other side of the room, trying to determine what exactly the girl had been staring at.

All she sees are two girls sitting on top of each other, and then she gulps in recognition of one of them.

Christen hadn’t told Tobin, but a few days after Midweek Mayhem, she had snuck out of Brett’s apartment at 2 a.m. and gone all the way into her and Tobin’s dorm room to sit while Tobin slept.

She knows that’s creepy.

She doesn’t need someone to tell her that.

But it was really the only way to get close to her, without getting too close.

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

She’d been sitting at Tobin’s desk for almost an hour, when she decided that it was time for her to get going.

Carefully sliding the copy of Pride and Prejudice she had stolen from Tobin the month prior into her portable library shelf, she abruptly slowed her movement when she noticed a folded piece of paper resting under a blue paperweight in the corner of the desk.

I shouldn’t.

She did.

Quietly and carefully, she unfolds the paper to see a photograph of a smiling, tan girl’s face.

A shock of jealousy shoots through her veins, before she is able to shut herself down.

Her brain feels like it is scattered in one hundred different pieces, but in reality there’s only two.

Christen didn’t go back to Brett’s apartment that night. She couldn’t. It wasn’t fair.

But she didn’t stay in Tobin’s dorm room either. She couldn’t. It wasn’t fair.

“This isn’t for you. You have a boyfriend. You can be straight,” she finally whispered, before returning the picture and rushing out of the room, finding herself at the 180 rock — her safe place as of late — to sleep on top of for the night.

Perhaps the fact that she went to the 180 was the answer to that question. But she wasn’t ready to deal with that yet.

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

Now, sitting in the restaurant one month later, staring at the real-life, tan-faced, girl from Tobin’s hidden photograph, and it’s like suddenly everything is hitting her all at once.

A tsunami of thoughts previously obliterated. Of feelings neglected. Of dreams unremembered.

A tsunami that stood fearlessly in front of the walls of fear that had encapsulated her mind.

And Christen sat there, powerless to her own mind, as the tsunami fiercely engulfed every inch of those walls, leaving the water, and everything within its bounds, to billow out all around her, inundating her entire mind.

Fuck. I like girls.

Christen stood up and walked calmly out of the front door of the restaurant.

There was no running away anymore. The tsunami had already torn everything down.

And now, it was in Christen’s power to decide how she wanted to rebuild.

It’s also no surprise when she finds her feet have landed outside of Tobin’s hotel room.

Just say hi.

After knocking, she hears a loud commotion behind the door, before it swings open to reveal the beautiful, blue-eyed brunette from earlier that night.

She isn’t sure what to make of this moment, so she stares until she sees the face of her former best friend appear there as well with a big groan.

Christen isn’t going to lie. She’s a little intimidated. But she puts on a brave face and finally speaks up.

“Um, hi.”

Kelley audibly sighs at the sight of her, but Christen’s momentary reaction to that petty action is forgotten as she sees Tobin’s muscular form exit the bathroom in just a towel. She traces the girl with her eyes.

Before she knows it, Alex is shutting the door slightly, so that she is the only thing in the path of Christen’s vision. “Christen, right?”

Wait, what?

“Uh yeah… have we met?”

Her face relaxes as Alex laughs a little.

“No. Sorry, I’m Alex, I —”

“played with Toby in California,” Christen finishes her sentence, relief washing over her face as she sees Alex’s face visibly soften.

“Yeah. I’ve heard about you too.”

Wonderful.

“Oh,” Christen’s shoulders tense up toward her ears. “I’d say ‘only good things I hope,’ but …”

Alex just smiles back at her blankly, and Christen is just plain confused at this interaction. She sees Alex turn around pensively and then turn back to say “Now’s not really a good time.”

And she understands what Alex is actually saying — the subtext behind her words — so she quietly apologizes and turns to walk away from that awkward disaster.

“Tobs told me you’re a sucker for green tea. Unlike her, I have taste. Why don’t we go grab a cup downstairs, yeah?”

This was a horrible idea.

“Sure.”

 

________________________________________________________

 

Christen and Alex got along remarkably well.

The conversation just kept flowing, mostly about soccer and their mutual home-state of California, as they walked down to the lobby to grab some tea. They continued to speak as they moved to sit outside on a bench at the top of the beach that spread out behind the hotel.

Eventually, though, they settled in a silence -- comfortable for Alex, not so much for Christen.

Christen just kept sipping her tea.

“I’ve heard so much about you from Tobs,” Alex repeats her line from earlier.

“You mentioned,” Christen hums back at her.

“You’re pretty, kinda snarky too” Alex says.

Christen looks up at Alex, an unreadable expression on her face. “Uh, thanks… I think.” She runs over the words in her mind again for a moment. “Or maybe not?”

Alex just lets out a chuckle before taking another sip of tea.

“Just an observation.”

“Okay.”

Quiet ensues again.

“I saw you at the restaurant,” Alex then throws into the air.

Christen just looks at her curiously, not sure where she’s going with this.

“You’re not very subtle with the heart eyes.”

A blush rises up Christen’s cheeks. She’s quiet for a moment, letting out a long, deep breath, before she looks away from Alex and breathes out her reply.

In normal circumstances, she would have likely refuted that statement. Or laughed it off.

But, not tonight.

“I know.”

Alex looks surprised at her admission.

Christen knows what she wants to say. But saying it reveals a lot more than even those two words she had confessed a moment earlier.

Then again, the brunette next to her clearly knows more than she’s letting on, anyway.

She takes a deep breath and speaks her mind.

“She has a girlfriend.”

To her surprise, Alex abruptly lets out a laugh. “No, she doesn’t.”

Christen recoils at her laugh, but looks on in confusion. “Yeah she does…”

“No, she doesn’t,” Alex repeats. “You have a boyfriend, though, don’t you? So what does it matter?”

Christen feels sick for a moment at Alex’s response, as she remembers the guy she hadn’t thought about all day. And for other reasons.

“How’s the lucky guy doing?” Alex continues.

Christen’s silent for a moment, before responding firmly. “Can we talk about something else?”

Alex sends her a knowing glance, before standing up from the bench.

“Look, I don’t know you. But I know Tobin. She’s got one foot out the door. Maybe you should think about why you don’t want to answer that question, before she walks out on you.”

Alex walks away back into the hotel after that, leaving Christen alone on the bench, with nothing but her thoughts and an empty beach, utterly startled at that turn in conversation. Then again, she was having tea with Tobin’s best friend who she didn’t know at all. She probably should have expected it.

She closes her eyes to think for a moment.

Why is it that she avoids answering questions about her two and a half year relationship?

Because I’ve never dated a girl.

Because what is my life without Brett at this point?

Because my Mom is dying.

Because my Mom loves Brett.

Because I’m scared.

But now, she knows the only reason that matters.

“He’s not Tobin,” she whispers to herself.

 

________________________________________________________

 

The game the next day was just a cyclical whirlwind of emotions.

First half was quite possibly the worst start of her college career. Passes seemed to always be a foot or two off target, shots hitting the post, the other team always guessing which way she was lunging in 1v1s. It was bad, and Coach Doug’s halftime disappointment talk made that very clear.

Christen had decided to redo her two dutch braids before the second half — a fresh start. She’s skipping out of the bathroom area of their away locker room, when she sees Tobin laying across one of the benches, and it startles a high-pitched noise out of her.

“Oh. Hey Tobin,” she says once she retained her sanity post-scare, hanging her face over Tobin’s upper half to see if she’s okay.

“Hey,” the girl returns.

Christen backs up as she watches Tobin push herself to a sitting position, straddling the locker room bench.

“You good?”

She’s hoping that Tobin will answer this in a way that let’s her actually know how she is after last night, even though she knows that she has no right to know.

“We’re sucking out there right now.”

Of course.

“Yeah, we are,” she shortly replies, just biting her lip, deciding whether or not to touch that line again. She decides to this time.

“I didn’t get to talk to you again after last night,” she says hesitantly and slowly, continuing nervously once she realizes Tobin is not answering her. “I was kinda worried about you.”

“You were worried about me?”

It was an honest response, but said in their typical teasing manner. Yet, Christen could see the hidden question that Tobin was really asking.

Don’t let it go to your head, Heath,” she jokes back.

Before the moment can progress, she stands up to head out of the locker room, pausing for a moment before turning around and extending her hand, hoping that Tobin will take her peace offering.

Her breath quickens noticeably when she feels Tobin’s warm hand envelop her own, and she pulls the girl to a standing position.

She tightens her grip when she feels Tobin trying to let go, not wanting to release the sense of familiar comfort shooting up her left arm, before pulling the girl to the door.

It’s only when they are actively passing through that door that their eyes meet, and Christen’s hopeful brain leaves the galaxy for a moment, replaced with pure want. They hadn’t been this close to each other, while alone together, since that night.

So she stops moving suddenly, feeling Tobin’s body crash into her back.

God

And then, as if once again her mind is disconnected from the rest of her corporeal existence, she feels her feet moving forward, backing Tobin into the wall as she stares into her hazel eyes, pinning her arms next to her body, just staring into the girl, taking her in.

She didn’t mean to do it.

But she finds herself pressing against her, leaning in, almost as if she’s magnetized by the Tobin.

Her eyes leave hazel ones, drifting down to her lips, following Tobin’s tongue as it traces them.

And then she speaks her thoughts out loud.

“You go straight to my head, Heath.”

Tobin is gulping.

And she’s leaning in too.

And Christen forgets they’re outside the locker room at half time

And she forgets they’re in Florida.

She forgets everything.

Until she hears his voice.

“Chris?”

crap

Christen feels herself instinctively pull back, but not before seeing the look in Tobin’s eyes. The same one she had that night they had first kissed. The one that said don’t do this.

But Brett’s her boyfriend. And she has no reason to be mauling Tobin in the tunnel at half time, no excuse. And he can’t know. People can’t know about this, right?

So she releases Tobin’s wrists and looks down at her feet, not being able to bear the weight of Tobin’s hurting gaze any longer. But she doesn’t expect the sound of Tobin’s footsteps walking away to hurt just as much.

She almost forgets about him until he speaks again.

“Chris?”

“What are you doing here, Brett?” she replies sharply, taking a few steps away from where he is approaching.

“It’s your big tournament. What did I just walk into?”

“Yeah, but I told you not to come,” she exasperates, ignoring the second part of his statement.

He pauses in confusion. “I don’t understand why you suddenly told me not to come.”

“I really can’t do this right now,” she starts walking past him, but he reaches out and grabs her arm.

“Is it because of her? Just tell me what the hell has been going on lately, Chris?”

“Not right now!” she replied with more force.

“It is because of her, isn’t it.”

“She’s just a friend.”

“Yeah and so was Kelley, and the other girl from this summer, and the black-haired girl from the bar.”

She gulps. “You would be correct. Wow, a true genius.”

The look she’s receiving tells her he knows better.

“What’s your point, B?” she continues.

“A year ago you would have been happy to see me here. Right now, it seems like you don’t even want to talk to me.”

“Brett, I’m standing in a tunnel arguing with you, rather than getting ready for the second half of a very stressful, tied game. So no, I don’t want to be talking to you right now.”

It comes out a little aggressive, and she’s quick to backtrack. “I just — can we talk later?”

He takes a step back in defeat, and she jumps on the momentary lapse in conversation to walk away.

When she enters the game just five-or-so minutes later, it’s with a renewed vengeance. A desire to be nowhere but the game, mentally and physically. She’s tired and overwhelmed, and honestly angry at the way things seem to be working out.

Some would call it skill, but she credits her inner fury for the ball from Tobin that she slams into the upper 90. Or perhaps it was the realization that she had made a big freaking mistake, once again.

The hazel-eyed girl was practically fuming out there after seeing Brett in the tunnel, yet she somehow continuously got the ball to Christen without ever actually looking in her direction.

So when the ball hit the net, and cheers erupted from the sideline and teammates were running toward her, she found herself sprinting from them full-speed at Tobin instead, crashing into her and holding on tight, as if she was begging the girl not to let her go — in more than one way.

“I didn’t know he was here,” Christen whispers, hoping Tobin can hear her over the sound of her perceptibly quickening heartbeat.

And she did hear her. But Christen shrivels into herself when she feels the girl’s entire body tense and her mouth emit the words, “Sure you didn’t.”

The words echo throughout her mind after Tobin releases her. And they’re still racing through their mind when the team is shaking hands with Stanford after clenching their 1-0 win.

Christen is also shaking hands, but she’s much more focused on the happiness radiating off of Tobin at that moment, so far from what she herself is feeling.

It brings a smile to her face to see the girl that way again. So when she sees a certain tan girl from a familiar photograph slowly approaching Tobin, she can’t help but run up and step in front of her. “Don’t,” she says to the girl who clearly has no clue who she is.

But Shirley clearly knows what Christen was doing here. She sees Shirley swallow deeply and take a last look at Tobin, who is facing the other way, now walking toward the sideline. Sighing, Shirley nods and turns to walk back toward the bench.

And then Christen is turning around to look toward the sideline. She sees Brett, of course, but her eyes have instead settled on Tobin hugging a familiar blonde girl.

She watches them talk, before she sees Jackie point over in her direction.

Is she pointing at me? Wait, why do I care?

She lets out a sigh, which turns into a hiccup when she’s startled by a pretty, blue-eyed brunette whom she didn’t even see approaching her, but whose face clearly gave away that she had been watching Christen for the past few minutes.

“Nice goal. Tobs certainly thought so,” Alex said knowingly, shaking Christen’s hand before making one last comment and walking away. “Nice save, too”

And Christen knew that she was talking about Shirley. How awkward.

She’s left standing there for a minute, watching Tobin throw an arm around Jackie, wishing it was herself, before forcing herself to walk over to her smiling boyfriend farther down the sideline.

Fuck me.

 

________________________________________________________

 

Brett drove her back to the hotel.

And it was a whole lot of quiet, the only sounds in his black jeep being that of the classic rock radio station and the nervous thumping of Christen’s leg against the passenger side floor.

It’s not until they are through her hotel room door and they recognize Morgan isn’t back yet, that Brett actually speaks.

“Congrats on the game.”

She turns to him and puts on a smile. It’s not entirely fake. This guy has been with her through literally everything, knows how much this season meant to her, knows how much that goal meant to her.

“Thanks, B. I can’t believe that went in. I’m so happy.”

But that sense of comfort, that sense of passion that she used to feel everytime he looked at her — it’s just plain gone. And after talking to Alex, Christen thinks that she’s finally realized that she doesn’t want it back. At least, not with him.

“Were you? That’s great. Couldn’t see your face from where it was buried in Tobin’s neck,” he responds in a snarky manner.

Christen may be ready to admit it to herself. But she’s most definitely not ready to talk about it with others.

“What’s your problem? She’s my best friend.”

“You haven’t spoken to her in weeks.”

“People have disagreements, Brett.”

“Yeah and after all of your ‘disagreements’, your ‘best friend’ seemingly vanishes into thin air.”

“What are you even talking about?”

 

“Kelley, and now Tobin. Were you even going to tell me you were fucking her too?”

“God, Brett, we’re not —”

He cuts her off as he starts pacing on the far side of the room.

“I’ve been trying to figure out all this time why you’ve been pulling away. I thought it was because of my mistake, but I realized it’s been going on longer than that,” he starts. Then his eyes open wide as if he has just pieced it all together. “It started with Kelley.”

“I don’t know what you’re trying to insinuate here. I’ve just been really busy lately, I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Being busy is fine. You know I’ve always supported you and how much time you put into what you care about. That’s not the issue, Chris. Every single free moment, you spent it with them.”

“I’m allowed to have close friends that aren’t you, Brett!”

“Close friends? Do you think I’m blind, Christen? You were practically fucking her in that tunnel earlier.”

“We’re NOT fucking! I’m not like that!” she practically screams, before lowering her head into her hands and sitting down on the bed.

She hears Brett mutter something indecipherable to himself before the mattress next to her sinks down and a large hand makes contact with her back for a brief moment, before she feels two hands drag her own from where they cover the tears now running down her cheeks.

“I love you,” she quietly says to him.

It tastes wrong as it rolls off her tongue.

“I know.”

The eye contact that ensues is not charged. It’s sad, it’s fearful. It feels like … the beginning of an end. And it lasts another minute, before Christen finally speaks up.

“I’m confused.”

“Sounds like it,” he breathes out, pausing before his entire face shifts. “Let’s just forget about it for the night, yeah? Maybe some time away from them will help get you out of their spell and back to normal.”

She doesn’t even have the energy to convey how off that statement made her feel. Instead, she opts to go swimming by herself at the pool on the roof of the hotel.

Avoidance at its finest.

They had a few hours before the team planned to head out to a local bar together to celebrate. Christen spent it alternating between laying on a pool chair and floating in the water, just trying to get her mind off of everything.

Maybe he’s right. I just need to get away from her and everything will be fine, she thinks to herself as she’s walking to her chair to grab her things and head back inside. But all she sees is empty white plastic.

She could have sworn this is where she was sitting, and sure enough there were her shoes under that chair, confirming her thoughts. Looking around in a panic, she realizes that her bag, complete with her towel, phone, and room key are no longer there.

are you SERIOUS

And that’s how she finds herself wet and practically naked in the hotel elevator, cursing herself for getting herself into this situation. Once again, it just feels like plain karma.

Just to make matters worse, the elevator stops on the eleventh floor, doors opening to reveal a dressed up Tobin Heath, who throws her head back laughing when she sees Christen in the elevator, before shoving her hands in her pockets and slowly pacing into the elevator as well.

could today get any worse?

Self-consciously, Christen crosses her arms over her abdomen (as if that actually covered anything).

why isn’t she speaking

“What are you doing in here?”

She sees Tobin shift against the back wall through the reflection in the elevator door. “Don’t come any closer.” She raises a hair clip defensively. She can’t handle being any closer to the girl when she’s all dressed up like this and… well … oozing sex appeal.

this is unfair

“I don’t think that’s going to injure anyone,” she sees the brunette respond with a grin.

“Depends where I put it. You won’t see it coming.”

what does that even mean Christen??

Tobin seems to roll with it, and she watches the girl obviously check out her mostly-naked body. “Don’t think you have too many places to hide it there, Chris.”

If she’s being honest, Christen doesn’t really remember the rest of the conversation. She can’t remember anything beyond the way Tobin’s toned body feels against her bare back, the feeling of Tobin’s fingers slipping below her bathing suit bottom and tracing lines on her skin, teasing her. The whimpers that escape her lips unwillingly at each touch.

It unleashed a fire deep within, edged her cravings without giving her the reward, made her feel ethereal for a brief moment.

Tobin-induced amnesia, if she were to label it.

But she does remember how it ended.

“Tell your boyfriend I say hi.”

And Christen’s having trouble standing on two feet when the elevator door closes and she’s once again going up, having missed her floor in sheer astonishment of the bold challenge of the hazel-eyed girl. Christen felt like the air around her was once again raging with electricity.

God.

 

________________________________________________________

 

By the time she’s walking into the club with Brett, Christen feels like she’s going to explode into a thousand pieces. She was so in her head trying to convince herself she would be okay with seeing Tobin again that night, that Brett quite literally had to shake her into reality as the bouncer asked for their ID’s.

Making their way over to the table, her stomach twists six times over when she sees Jackie there too, draped halfway over Tobin’s lap. She instinctively reaches for Brett’s hand, ignoring his confused smile, just needing to feel grounded in a way she hadn’t felt at all since she ran out of Tobin’s room weeks before.

“Chris!”

She turns her head when she hears her name called ten feet from the table.

“Ali, thank god,” she breathes out.

“Look more excited to be here, why don’t you?” she jokes, before looking over Christen’s shoulder. “Hey Brett, what’s up.”

“Hey Al,” he responds. “You here with Ash tonight?”

“Yup! Just supporting bae, you know how it is.”

Brett lets out a sarcastic laugh. “Yeah.”

Ali seems to pick up on the weird tension between them, opting to grab her friend’s hand and lead them both straight to the table, where Christen is met with several enthusiastic greetings.

Yet, her attention is drawn entirely by the one person who didn’t say hi. It’s drawn by the smugness covering Tobin’s entire face. As if she just knows.

Hazel eyes are holding her own stare, taunting her.

And it’s Christen who breaks, when her eyes duck to follow Tobin’s tongue lap a red cherry. A sharp, tangy feeling shoots straight to her core at the sight.

seriously

For the next minute, she completely zones out of the world around her, watching as Jackie giggles in her seat and Tobin goes to move her lips against Jackie’s.

Christen feels sick, looking down at her hands.

Her attention is brought back up when she hears a series of “What’s up Jackie?” and “Why the face?” Everyone is looking straight at Jackie, except for the one girl Christen cares about. She sees the hazel-eyed girl just lean back, smirk on her face, and Christen meets Tobin’s eyes, seeing in her peripherals Jackie pulling a perfectly tied cherry stem out of her mouth and placing it on the table.

A split second — Christen looks down at it and then back up at Tobin.

And then Tobin’s tongue comes out to trace her lips.

And then Tobin winks.

And Christen’s mouth goes dry.

“Let’s get drinks,” she turns to Brett, dragging him away before he can respond, intentionally not looking back at the table behind her. She’s losing this game, for sure.

Again, avoidance is the answer she chooses.

For the next two hours, she doesn’t leave the bar. Christen figures it’s easier that way — still having fun, but far enough away that she can steal glances harmlessly from a distance. That is, until Tobin and Jackie suddenly appear across the bar, less than ten feet away.

“—and coach was like play it cool, but I knew we could get that first-down if I took the risk,” Brett is finishing a story.

Christen just launches her arms around her neck, hugging him closely.

“Uh, thanks babe,” he says in confusion.

“Yeah, so awesome!” Honestly she wasn’t listening, eyes trained on a certain someone else.

“Well, hoping maybe I can score tonight too,” he comments suggestively.

Christen’s distracted, watching Tobin pull Jackie toward the dance floor, before looking back at her boyfriend.

“Oh yeah?” she baits him.

A minute later, she’s pulling him through the crowds on a dark dance floor, only stopping when she can make out a slim figure that she’d know anywhere.

And then they’re moving.

Arms resting on his shoulders, his hands find their way to her hips, starting to make them sway back and forth to the beat of the music.

His forehead comes to meet her own, before soft lips meet her cheek and she hears a whispered “you’re so sexy,” that should make her quiver.

But it doesn’t.

Because he is not the person on her mind right now.

So she takes his arms off of her and spins herself around to press her back flush against his front, starting to press back into his pelvis as she moves back and forth. She felt Brett’s hands roaming her body.

The music is so loud her eardrums are practically bursting.

But the moment hazel eyes meet her own, Christen swears the room went silent.

Then she’s watching Jackie’s hands on Tobin’s torso. And that’s all she wants. All she needs.

Too far under Tobin’s spell to escape it.

She pulls her bottom lip between her teeth, still looking into those hazel eyes, and the way they light up everytime the red light flashes through the club’s dance floor.

And her body is aching, and Tobin is looking at her like she wants to eat her for dinner.

And Christen doesn’t think anyone has ever looked at her like that before.

“I’m going to run to the bathroom real quick,” she whisper-shouts into Brett’s ear, waiting until he nods and releases her before turning quickly on her heel and practically sprinting to the bathroom.

Someplace she could breathe for a moment.

But that moment didn’t last long.

Hanging over the sink, she hears the door swing open, and she doesn’t even need to look up to know it’s her.

Letting out a huff, she straightens up and looks over at Tobin.

fuck it

“Tobin,” she starts, startled as Tobin starts to take steps toward her, and she starts backing up herself. “We need to talk. I—”

Before another word is said, she finds herself pushed up against the wall, the rest of her sentence swallowed by Tobin’s searching lips.

Christen feels her entire body light up.

“I don’t fucking want to talk anymore.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t want to fucking talk anymore.”

A pause.

A pause so long that someone could have flown to London, visited Big Ben, and travelled out to a small B&B run by a sweet elderly woman in the English countryside to sip tea and go on hour-long walks through the farmlands, and travel back before either of the two girls moved.

Tobin’s hand drops from Christen’s cheek to the curve of her neck. She can see a slight red tint making its way onto Christen’s cheek, as the girl moves her head to look at the ground. They’re close enough that Tobin’s white t-shirt is touching the front of Christen’s oversized shirt.

But she steps closer, eliminating the space between them entirely, and Tobin feels under her fingertips on her neck, Christen’s heartbeat starting to pulse rapidly. So she softly asks the same question she had asked earlier that night in the elevator.

“What do you want, Chris?”

“I —”

Tobin moves her fingers down Christen’s neck and traces her collarbone, which is visible above the top of her shirt.

“I want —”

Her other hand finds the skin on Christen’s thigh underneath where her long t-shirt ends, scraping her short finger nails up the girl's leg lightly, and Christen lets out a hasty breath, interrupting her own response again.

“I want —”

Tobin easily smirks at the visible effect she’s having on the girl, before removing her fingers from the girl's collarbone and using them under her chin to tilt Christen’s head back up toward her, before placing it firmly on the wall beside her head. When she makes contact with the girl’s eyes again, the green of her irises has nearly vanished, her pupils completely blown into a dark black color. It makes her swallow deeply. Christen’s tongue comes out to wet her lips, and Tobin compulsively traces her tongue with her eyes.

“What do you want, Chris?” she breathes out again onto the girl’s lips, just a few inches from her own.

Christen’s whimpered response pangs someplace deep in her core.

Tobin leans slightly forward, close enough that their lips are nearly touching, ghosting each other. She feels Christen start to lean forward to, lips just barely coming into contact before Tobin quickly averts her mouth to drag her teeth across the girl’s jaw, tongue soothing along the way, all the way up to her ear, where she whisper’s one last time, because she needs to hear the girl answer the question.

“Tell me what you want.”

And then Tobin is surprised as the girl yanks her head back by the hair and pulls Tobin’s face back in front of her own, eyes moving up from Christen’s lips to meet her penetrating stare.

“I want you.”

The blunt words cause a blazing fire to settle straight between Tobin’s legs, and she surges forward to connect their lips once again. The kiss itself is far more passionate and cautious than their previous kisses, but it burns her up inside just the same.

Tobin drags her fingertips farther up Christen’s thigh, lifting her leg to wrap around her own waist, hands travelling under the long shirt to the crease of her hip, where she feels only a singular strap. It’s then that she processes that the girl is not wearing any pants.

The thought makes a low moan emerge from the back of Tobin’s throat, and she feels Christen apply more pressure on her lips, hands tangled in her hair.

Tobin’s hand keeps travelling along Christen’s bare legs before decidedly moving higher to feel the soft skin of her stomach, fingertips finally tracing down to hook just in the top of the girl’s lacy thong.

Christen gasps at the sudden action, and Tobin doesn’t hesitate to take the chance to slip her tongue inside Christen’s mouth, working her tongue fiercely as her fingers drag horizontally along the waistline of her thong.

Just as she thinks she’s done the girl in, Christen’s using her leg around Tobins waist to propel them around, slamming Tobin against the wall she had just been pressed up against. It’s everything she likes about the girl — the unexpected force that is Christen Press. And truthfully in all the girls she’s hooked up with, she’s never had a girl try to challenge her like this before. The growing pool of wetness between her legs is proof enough that she likes it.

Christen is slotting her leg between Tobin’s, eliciting another groan from the hazel-eyed girl, who moves both her hands up higher under Christen’s shirt in response, before detaching her lips to kiss along Christen’s neck. She’s whispering “you’re so fucking beautiful” as she bites repeatedly at the soft skin underneath her mouth, soothing it after with her tongue, before slowing down entirely, kissing up her jaw, to the corner of her mouth, and then giving her one longer, kiss.

“You’re so beautiful,” Tobin repeats in a low voice onto Christen’s lips as they stare into each other for a weighted moment.

And Christen leans forward for a much more delicate, tender kiss that lasts only a few seconds, but fills Tobin in a way she’s never, ever felt before.

“Need you now”, Christen says into Tobin’s open mouth, before pressing her lips onto Tobin’s with a kind of bold desperation that has Tobin gripping harder at the girl’s skin to keep herself from buckling to the floor in the heat of it all.

She’s pushing Christen back from where the girl has her pinned against the wall. Pushing her across the entire room until the girl’s back is pressed up against the bathroom door, lips locked the entire time. They continue to explore each other’s mouths desperately for another minute before Tobin gives her one lingering, chaste kiss, teeth dragging across Christen’s lip as she pulls back, and then her entire body takes a step back.

A heated stare erupts between them once again, leaving Tobin feeling utterly dizzy as she looks at Christen, lips swollen and pink, eyes filled with something that could only equate to desire.

And Christen stares back at her just as intensely.

And the music is so loud Tobin can barely hear the sound of her own racing heart in her ears.

And with that step between them, Christen by the door, she was giving Christen a choice again. Because this time, Christen had to choose her. She needed one more confirmation that she wasn’t fucking up all over again.

Christen is biting her bottom lip over her smirk and looking into Tobin’s eyes as she reaches behind herself and flips the lock to the bathroom door.

The next four moments, as she walks up toward Tobin with a small smile on her face, feel like a literal eternity. She stops in front of Tobin, moving her hands up over Tobin’s chest, linking them around her shoulders, whispering, “I think you need me now, too.”

And with that, Tobin surges toward her, not even bothering to protest, arms encircling her waist and tightening rapidly, lips meeting in an urgent fury.

Christen tilts her head, reorienting their positions as she works her tongue against Tobin’s, who tangles her finger in the girl’s curly black hair.

It feels like a barely strained muscle — that pain that kind of feels good, that you want to feel again, as the green-eyed girl pushes her against the sink counter and rolls her body up against Tobin’s, who lets out something closed to a high-pitched whine.

Then she’s reaching down to the bottom of Tobin’s white t-shirt and detaching her own lips from the girl to pull the shirt over her head quickly, tossing it on the counter adjacent to their connected bodies. Pulling back to see what she revealed, Christen bites her lip before bending down and licking her way up Tobins abs, while looking into her eyes.

“Oh my god” Tobin breathes out under her breath, head looking up to the ceiling for a moment to collect herself before licking her lips and looking back down at Christen.

And Christen is looking up at her all smug before kissing up her neck and returning to her lips, having to break the kiss for a moment when she’s smiling too big.

Tobin pulls back to see her laughing lightly, and Christen just brings her thumb up to trace Tobin’s against the bottom lip.

“What?” Tobin chuckles quietly.

“Didn’t think you’d be this easy.”

And Tobin’s just not having it, tangling her fingers in the girl’s hair again and tugging lightly before flipping them so Christen’s lower back is up against the sink counter. The girl now beneath her lets out a whimper at the action that Tobin feels shoot through her.

“Didn’t think you’d be this desperate,” she whispers back, smirk engulfing the bottom of her face

Christen’s jaw slacks open a little as she smiles and rolls her eyes. It’s this banter that lit a fire in both of them, that continuously drew them both in. It was the challenge they both craved, the fight they never backed down from.

And Tobin takes the time in Christen’s silence to run her hands down and under Christen’s shirt, starting to pull it up, only pulling it over her head when she sees Christen nod, giving her consent.

The sight before her makes her mouth go completely dry, and the space between her legs go completely wet. Tobin nearly moans as Christen is wearing a matching, thin black lace lingerie set, smiling knowingly.

Tobin just starts to kiss down her neck again as she lifts Christen up onto the counter. She continues kissing down her neck, chest, stomach, and ghosting her lips over Christen’s right hip and biting down, soothing with her tongue.

Spreading the girls legs apart as she gets on her knees, Tobin looks up biting her lip, with question in her eyes, lazily threading her pointer fingers under the sides of the black lace on her hips.

Christen nods impatiently again, leaning back to put her weight on her hands behind her and bucking her hips up.

Tobin kisses down her legs as she drags the piece of lace down them slowly, Christen whining in anxious anticipation, before crawling back up, running her tongue up the inside of her left thigh, ghosting over where the girl really wants her. She’s lightly biting the fabric over Christen’s already hard nipples, and then kissing back up her jaw to her lips.

Her hands trace their way up Christen’s inner thighs.

“Please,” Christen says breathily straight into her mouth.

“Need something, Chris?”

“Tobin I swear to god.”

“Yes?”

“You’re such a tease.”

Tobin takes that moment to run a finger through Christen’s folds slowly. “I think you like it,” she says back in a low voice.

Christen’s breath catches in her throat as she lets out a strangled groan.

“You suck,” she breathes out broken and panting.

“That’s not very nice” Tobin teases in return, dragging her fingers up and down Christen’s inner thigh.

“Tobin, just touch me.”

Tobin brings her other hand to lightly wrap around the side of Christen’s throat, begging the girl to look deep into her eyes. “Or what?”

Christen drags her tongue along her bottom lip and nods, lowering her own fingers to circle her clit a few times, moaning filthily, and closing her eyes, before opening them and settling back on Tobin. “Just fuck me or I’ll do it myself.”

Knocked off guard, Tobin immediately leans in again, sucking on Christen’s bottom lip and unable to believe that she finally has this girl writhing beneath her. She’s had tons of girls in this position before, but she thinks none of them have even come close to how sexy the green-eyed girl is. Not even in the same ballpark. And Tobin wants to keep teasing her, make her wiggle and whine, build her up slowly, but it’s as if the past four months have served as foreplay in themselves.

She releases Christen’s throat and drags her hand down the girl’s body, rolling the girl’s nipples through the lacy fabric, as she drags her tongue through Christen’s center once, removing it after to look up at Christen’s dark, wanting eyes.

Hips buck up at the loss of contact, and Tobin smiles, kissing her clit chastly once before deciding to just give in. She just wanted to make this girl feel good right now.

She sees Christen’s eyes roll into the back of her head as her tongue begins to make slow, big circles. “Oh my god yes.”

And Christen keeps speaking, and moaning, and directing Tobin, and telling her exactly what she wants. Honestly, Tobin’s not surprised at how vocal Christen is. The girl’s confident energy seems to permeate and radiate through every plane of her existence.

She firmly loops her arms around Christen’s hips to keep them in place, feeling her breathing rate steadily increase.

This has been a long time coming.

And soon she feels Christen’s hands grip the back of her head roughly as she’s all breathy whimpers and moans.

Tobin speeds her tongue up, closing the radius of her circles.

Their eyes lock one more time, and then there’s a loud, strangled moan, and she feels it — feels her stomach muscles clench beneath her hands, feels the thud as Christen’s head slams back against the glass mirror, feels her breath hitch and her hips shoot upward, feels a gush of warm liquid on her tongue.

After helping her ride it out, she pulls back and makes eye contact again with Christen’s dazed but still ever-so-fiery eyes. Christen just yanks her up with a tug on her sports bra before attaching their lips together with renewed and passionate ferocity, panting into Tobin’s mouth and moaning as she surely tastes herself.

A moment later, she’s wrapping her legs securely around Tobin’s waist, pulling her closer with arms around her shoulders, and Tobin is running her hands up Christen’s thighs and around her waist, also pulling the girl closer to the edge of the counter, kissing her once more.

“You’re unreal,” she hears Christen say.

And Tobin just smirks in response.

The moment quickly becomes heavy again, as they’re looking into each other's eyes and holding onto each other. Christen’s hand comes up to run across Tobin’s cheekbone and it feels almost intimate.

But they’re interrupted by a loud bang on the door and the sound of people yelling over the music.

And then they’re both just laughing.

Tobin reaches down and holds her black lace underwear out on a finger.

“I was just getting started,” Tobin pouts.

Christen rolls her eyes, hopping off the counter and throwing on her long shirt, before grabbing her underwear, stepping flush to Tobin’s front just like she had a few minutes before, and reaching around quickly to shove the black lace in the girl’s back pocket.

“You ruined them anyway,” she says with a wink, before grabbing Tobin’s hand and pulling her toward the door, letting go to actually unlock and open the door. She’s apologizing to the eagerly waiting strangers as she steps through the doorway.

Christen stops walking when she doesn't see Tobin next to her, turning around to see the girl just standing there, leaning back against the wall next to the bathroom door. When Christen finally meets her eyes, she turns her head for a prolonged moment to her right, to the back exit down the hall, then silently turns back and stares at Christen.

Green eyes hesitate, taking a moment to look over her shoulder to the bar, where Tobin can see Brett talking to Ali and Ashlyn.

And then Christen is turning and confidently walking down the hallway.

A smug smirk rise to Tobin’s lips, as she pushed herself up and followed the green-eyed girl down the hallway.

Christen’s hand had found its way into Tobin’s on the walk back to the hotel, and Christen was practically yanking through the first floor lobby. As soon as the elevator doors were shut, she was all over Tobin, kissing her neck, telling her how hot she was, saying she was sorry.

They jump apart as the doors open 3 floors before theirs and an old woman walks in. They don’t move, just staring at each other from opposite sides of the elevator. The woman got off the next floor, but neither Tobin nor Christen moved then.

 

It was like their eyes were having a whole conversation about how bad they both wanted this. Only stopping to run one after another down the hallway of the 11th floor to the outside of Room 1102. They have to go to Tobin’s room, as Brett was supposed to stay with Christen that night. She didn’t tell him she was leaving. In this moment, she didn’t care.

It all feels like a drunken dream — Christen coming up behind her, arms wrapping around her waist, kissing her neck as Tobin fumbles with the key card, distracted by Christen’s touch blazing everywhere through her.

As soon as they’re through the door, Tobin’s twisting around and pushing Christen up against it.

And then time passed by in slow motion.

Laying together, legs intertwined, multiple hours later, multiple orgasms later, Christen runs her finger up and down Tobin's bare abdomen, feeling her abs contracting with each touch.

They lay there in silence for quite some time, enjoying this moment away from reality. This moment that is so scary, but so comforting. So safe, but so uncertain.

And Tobin just has to know.

“What about —”

Christen shushes Tobin at lightning speed. “Not tonight.”

“Chris,” she whispers in a pained voice, as her body tenses up.

“Tomorrow. I promise,” Christen says, before burying her head under Tobin’s cheek and kissing her exposed chest, letting her eyes flutter shut.

_______________________________________________________________

 

She wakes up the next morning to the sound of feet dragging across the hotel room floor. Tobin groans and brings her hands up to her head as she registers the pounding of her hangover, before opening her eyes slowly.

There, tiptoeing across the room is a barefoot Kelley O’Hara, holding in her arms a pile of clothes, as well as her shoes from the night before, looking like a deer in the headlights.

“Hey, sorry,” Kelley grimaces, “I was trying to be quiet.”

“Oh my god can you take it down like six notches my head is going to fall off.”

Kelley chuckles as she closes the shades on the window to remove the bright light from the hungover atmosphere of Room 1102. “Me too dude, me too.”

“Wait where are you coming from?”

“Nowhere.”

“Kel…” she trails off.

“The bathroom?”

Tobin gasps in recognition.

“You were in Alex’s room, weren’t you?” she practically screams, before groaning at her own volume. “I knew I was sensing some vibes.”

“There were no vibes Tobin.”

“Were too.”

“Were not.”

“Were too.”

“Were NOT!”

“Whatever, I’m totally on board whenever you decide to let me on the Alex train.”

“I admit nothing.”

Tobin just raises up to her elbows and raises an eyebrow skeptically, prompting Kelley to roll her eyes.

“Tobs, can I have one of those Advils on the nightstand.”

“What Advil…” she trails off as she sees a glass of water and three pills sitting on top of a folded piece of paper on the nightstand. Her eyes go wide as last night’s events come flooding back into her mind, and she registers that she’s alone in bed. She quickly tucks the note under the side of her torso.

Kelley’s just walking over with her palm face-up, and Tobin dumps one pill in her friend’s hand before gulping down the other two and chugging the entire glass of water.

“At least this girl was nice enough to leave you Advil and water,” Kelley laughs out.

Tobin panics for a moment. For multiple reasons. “What girl? There’s no girl. I’m alone.”

“Just you and the twin sisters,” Kelley smirks, pointing at Tobin’s exposed upper half. “Would you put on a shirt dear god.”

Tobin pulls the sheet over her upper half before catching the t-shirt that Kelley throws her, mumbling “thanks’ in response.

“Why do you look so grumpy? Was she not good or something?”

And it’s at that moment that Tobin realized that Kelley had no idea who was here the night before. And Tobin’s a little confused on everything, on where they stand, so she opts to keep it that way.

“Uh, no she was fine,” she says distractedly.

“Fine?” Kelley just laughs as she launches herself onto the bed, shoulder-to-shoulder to her friend. “Well that explains it.”

Tobin’s suddenly feeling defensive of the night before. “No, what? Sorry, she was better than fine dude,” she says in a bright tone that contradicted her alcohol-induced painful state, thinking back to the way Christen’s fingers caressed her body. “The things this girl did, like oh my god, she did this one thing where she put —”

“Woah woah! I have already seen and heard too much for it to be only nine in the morning,” Kelley hits her friend’s arm lightly. “Is it cause she left, then?”

“Something like that,” Tobin sighs.

Before Kelley can inquire further, there’s a knock at the door.

“Must be Jackie!” Kelley says.

oh my god. Jackie.

“We’re getting brunch, remember?” Kelley slowly clarifies when Tobin’s face stays clenched together in a blank expression, before registering that wasn’t the reason it was that way. “She’s fine, Tobs. I wingwomaned her to this football guy who came down to watch the games. Saw them leaving together, and I’m so ready to hear about it. You, on the other hand,” Kelley looks up and down her friend’s undressed existence and messy hair, “are not ready. Yeah, y’all were casual, but I’m not letting you be a jackass about it. Go put on some clothes and I’ll tell her you’re meeting us in the lobby in 10 minutes? Sound good?”

“Yeah,” Tobin breathes out as she runs a hand through her hair. “Thanks Kel.”

“Anytime Tobitio. The bros are back,” she grins at Tobin, before practically launching off the bed and through the door.

As she hears voices diminishing away from the door and down the hallway, Tobin quickly rolls over and pulls out the sheet of thin white paper.

Hey T, I only had three left, but I figured you would need them over me, you big baby. Last night was fun. --C

Fun? What does that mean? Tobin doesn’t understand this girl. She never does, and the note gave literally no ounce of indication how Christen felt about the events that transpired the night before, or what they meant for the two of them.

Tobin pushes herself up to a sitting position, legs off the side of the bed, and takes a big breath, beginning to scan the room with her eyes. Christen’s clothes are gone, along with the navy USA hoodie that she had left on the desk chair the day before. She assumes that Christen took that with her. She strips off her t-shirt again, tossing it on the floor as she makes her way into the bathroom.

Stopping at the counter, she pauses to look up at her body, gasping at what she sees — a trail of red and purple spots down her neck, check, and stomach.

Thank god Kelley didn’t comment on those, she thinks to herself.

Grabbing her phone off the charger in the corner of the counter, she decides to send Christen a quick text to test the waters.

9:01 a.m. Tobs: definitely not the baby here, but thanks for the advil

She clicks her phone off before stepping into the hot shower water, the burning sensation reminding her of the way she had felt the night before when Christen had touched her. She lets the water wash over her, washing away the slight inclination that this really was just a fun night for the girl, nothing more, attributing it to contemporary paranoia.

By the time she makes it to the lobby, it’s nearly half-past nine. Tobin walks up to the pair sitting at a set of two chairs in the corner of the first floor common area.

“Ugh finally, I could eat a horse right now.” Kelley groans, starting to skip toward the door immediately, calling out behind her, “Hurry up we only have an hour til the bus leaves!”

Jackie hangs behind for a moment. “What’s up tiger?” she smiles and punches Tobin’s shoulder in anticipation.

Tobin just looks back at her with a smile.

“I knew it!” Jackie yelled, before Tobin grabbed her and wrapped her arm around to cover her mouth.

“Ok one, too loud you’re murdering my hungover head,” she says at normal volume, before continuing in a lower voice, almost at a whisper. “Two, I didn’t tell anyone else.”

Jackie just wiggles her way out of Tobin’s grasp and turns around, her brows furrowing. “Wait, where is she then? Is she not coming? I thought that’s why Kel was being so weird when she practically pushed me down the hallway.”

“Uh, no. I was just very naked. She wasn’t there this morning,” she says quietly as they start walking, before fishing the note out of her pocket and handing it to Jackie.

Jackie’s face melts into one of sympathy. “This is weirdly vague. Is this it?” she flips it over to the back and back around the front.

“Yeah I texted her but she hasn’t responded,” she takes the piece of paper back from Jackie.

“Confusing.” Then Jackie starts laughing.

“What?”

“Nothing, I can see why you’re so into her.”

“Was that sarcasm?”

“Not at all, Tobs. You’re like the most competitive person I know, and she’s like a big fat game.”

Tobin smirks. “Thin, busty, likes a little choking action, game.”

“Ew, TMI Tobin!” Jackie shoves her hard, so that she stumbles a few feet sideways.

“Whatever, and are you not gonna tell me about the football guy?”

Jackie just makes a widening gesture with her hands, leaving them about 10 inches apart, before smirking at Tobin.

“Oh my god, Jax, ew. But also, score?”

“You know it. I think we’re gonna hang out for real when we get back,” she's smiling widely.

Tobin smiles back. “That makes me so happy dude. Come by the soccer house next Friday -- we’re having a thing before winter break starts. Football will be there.”

“Ugh you’re the best,” she says, throwing her head back.

They hear Kelley yelling from down the block, and Jackie just throws an arm around Tobin’s waist as they speed up the walk toward their destination.

_______________________________________________________________

 

An hour later, they’re back on the bus, getting ready to head back to UNC. Tobin’s one of the last ones to get on the bus, so she’s surprised to see Christen’s usual seat is still empty.

Shrugging internally, she makes her way to her seat next to Kelley and plops down with an oomph.

“I’m so tired.”

“How can you be tired? I just watched you drink like seven cups of coffee,” her spiffy friend replies.

“Exactly,” Tobin laughs, stopping her speech when she sees Coach get on the bus and shut the door.

She looks down at her phone, confused, to see if Christen had answered.

No response yet.

And then Coach is reading through their roster.

“Morgan?”

“Here!”

“KO?”

“Ready to rumble, Coach.”

They pass Tobin’s name, too, eventually reading the letter “P.”

“Press?”

No reply.

“Press?”

Tobin looks over at her empty seat. weird

“Has anyone seen Press?”

But it’s the next thing she hears that sends her entire body into emotional overload.

“She’s in safe hands, Coach” one of the sophomores says, prompting a bunch of giggles.

Coach Doug just nods slowly. “Is she coming on the bus?”

The girl just shakes her head.

“Let’s hit the road then!”

“Don’t think that’s where she’s coming if you know what I mean,” Tobin then hears the sophomore girl whisper to another girl across the aisle.

Then the other is whispering back, “Yeah did you see them cozying up on the beach this morning, so cute!”

Tobin wants to punch something again.

As if she could sense Tobin’s anxiety at the moment, Kelley tentatively places a hand on her friend’s leg, a gesture of comfort.

And when Tobin looks up at her, she knows that Kelley heard it too.

She just smiles sympathetically before starting to speak. “Hey, um, a couple of us have been planning to stop in Georgia and stay on my family’s ranch until like, Tuesday night. We have one more seat in the car if you want to come…”

Tobin pauses for a moment.

On the one hand, she wasn’t sure if she and Kelley were ready that much consistent time together. And it was clearly a last minute, pity invite. On the other hand, there was nothing in the world she wanted less in this moment than to go back to school and see Christen and Brett together again.

She could tolerate it before. But now that she knows what it’s like to have Christen. To taste her, to feel her skin on her own. Now that she knows what it’s like to have her, she can’t imagine being around Christen and not being able to have her.

Sounds like torture.

what the hell

“Count me in.”

“Awesome! My parents are away for the weekend, so it should be fun.”

“Just like old times.”

Kelley laughs. “Yeah, something like that.”

And that’s how Tobin finds herself saying goodbye to teammates, and stepping off of a bus on the side of a road in Peachtree City, Georgia.

“I thought you said a couple of us,” she says to Kelley as she drops her duffle on the patch of grass on the side of the road, watching the bus drive away from just the two of them.

“Everyone else drove up in Ashlyn’s truck. You and me,” she pats Tobin on the shoulder before pointing down the rural road in front of them. “Are a five mile walk from the ranch.”

“You’re joking….”

“It’s private property, Tobs. The bus couldn’t go past this gate,” Kelley recounts as she slings her duffle over her shoulder and starts walking about ten feet before calling over her shoulder, “You coming?”

Tobin huffs and jogs to catch up with her friend. “I hate you.”

The duo spends the next two hours walking down the southern farm road, joking, laughing, catching up. Before this, the two never really had the time to recount everything they had missed in their two months apart, and while Tobin was originally a little nervous about this, she was more than happy and relieved by the time they were trudging up the steps of Kelley’s rural farm home. To be truthful, a month ago she wasn’t sure she would ever speak to Kelley again, let alone be walking into her house. So yeah, she’s sweating profusely under the hot southern sun, and she just walked five miles the morning after three consecutive days of playing full 90’s, but she’s certainly not complaining.

She’d been checking her phone periodically, waiting for Christen to respond, but not expecting her to. She knew better at this point.

Letting down her bags with a loud huff, she stands still for a moment on the front porch of the house, facing the door, her legs begging to collapse.

And they almost did when a body jumped onto her back, sending her tumbling forward until she hit the front door. Standing up, she feels warm hands cover her eyes. “Guess who!”

“Jackie! The hell are you doing here?”, she asks over her shoulder as the girl uncovers her eyes and holds onto her shoulders instead.

“Same thing as you Heath.”

“Were you just not gonna tell me?”

“I was hoping Kel would get her shit together and invite you.”

“Wow you’re just always right,” Tobin drops, voice dripping in sarcasm as she kicks open the door and walks into the familiar house that smells of pine wood and citrus -- a uniquely O’Hara smell.

“Hey, you said it, not me,” Jackie replies, before Tobin turns around and drops her on the couch. “I snaked an invite at the club yesterday, which you would know if you hadn’t ditched me for the green-eyed goddess,” she sing-songs the end of her sentence.

“Dude shut up!”

“Tobin, you’re gonna have to tell Kelley eventually. Isn’t she over it anyway?”

“I don’t know, Jax.”

“She’s literally schmoozing all over Alex in the driveway. Pretty sure if you look close enough, you can actually see the drool.”

“What? Alex is here?” she says as she shuffles over to the window, using her fingers to spread the blinds and look out. Sure enough, there’s her California best friend in the driveway, touching Kelley’s arm and laughing.

“Did everyone decide to just not tell me anything?” she mumbles loudly, registering Jackie’s laugh in the background as she runs out of the house and nearly catapults onto Alex again.

“Hiya Toby,” she laughs. “Ready to bool?”

Tobin pulls back. “Hell yeah, please get my mind off last night.”

Both Kelley and Alex stare at her with arched eyebrows.

“You’re gonna have to get more drinks in me first.”

“To the truck!” Kelley yells, which leads to the piling of six girls into the bed of a two-door Ford F-150, cruising down the rural roads to the closest liquor store, and leaving with enough beer to satiate a large family — which, more or less, they were.

For the next few days, they spent time together at Kelley’s house. They caught up on schoolwork, went swimming, drank on the back porch, and really just celebrated the end of a successful season. The girls all got to know Alex better, and she seemed to fit right in.

On Tuesday night, they made another alcohol run, before stopping back at the house to grab chairs, as well as matches and kindling for a fire. They were headed out to a lake, arriving just at the tail-end of sunset.

Tobin sat with her legs dangling off of the back of the truck bed, on one side of the circle of chairs encapsulating a raging fire in the center of them all.

“Can you believe we only have one season left?” Ashlyn says breathlessly, having just jogged over from the truck and plopping herself down nearly on top of Ali on a lawn chair.

“Can you believe Tobs has only been here for five months?” Ali says next, and they all laugh at that, feeling like they’d known her for so much longer.

“Can you believe I didn’t talk to Tobin for over two of those months?”

Tobin just throws her near-empty water bottle across the fire at her friend, yelling “Yeah, not cool dude.”

“It’s not like I didn’t keep tabs on you during that time!”

“Oh did you now?”

“Yes,” Kelley states, “You stole my favorite spot on campus, it was hard to not know where you were.”

“Well technically we found the 180 together the summer before freshman year, making it both of ours, sooo…” she trails off.

“What’s the 180?” Alex butts into the conversation.

“You remember that big flat rock in the air that I told you about, Al?” Tobin states.

“Oh! The one you jumped off naked?”

A unison of “WHAT?!” escape the mouth of her friends as they sit up around the circle.

Tobin just looks incredulously at Alex, who rolls her eyes and looks over at Jackie, prompting a whole new wave of chorused questions.

Tobin just groans.

The blonde girl threw her head back laughing for a moment before centering again and letting out with a chuckle, “A few weeks ago, Tob came to hangout with some of my friends in our off-campus apartment. It was right after practice, and I wasn’t back from campus yet, so she let herself in with the spare key we hid outside to take a shower. The doorbell rang because we ordered pizza, so she hopped out of the shower, couldn’t find a towel, so she just tiptoed to the door since no one else was home. But when she reached out to grab the pizza,” and now Jackie is barely able to speak she’s laughing so hard, and Tobin is hiding her head in her hands, shaking it at herself. “She tripped and fell into the hallway naked. The door shut behind her and the key was inside, so she couldn’t get back in.”

Then Alex cuts in. “Luckily she had her phone, so she called me freaking out, right? And then she heard people — the look on her face was priceless — and she starts running out of the building down the back stairs and she’s flipping out outside in the dark. So I was like ‘Do you still keep your room key in the back of your phone case,’ and she was like ‘omg yeah’ and hung up on me to start heading back toward campus.”

“Why didn’t you just call Jackie?” Morgan laughs out.

“It was embarrassing!” Tobin jousts back.

Jackie continues the story, chucking. “The engineering quad is on the way back to the dorms, but as she’s walking through she sees a crowd of people in front of her, and then there are people behind her coming out of the Mechanical Engineering Building. So of course, her only option is to climb up on the 180 in the middle of the quad, and lay flat up there so no one could see her as they passed.”

“Hey I, for one, thought it was fucking genius idea,” Tobin interjects with a smile.

Alex rolls her eyes. “Whatever, so she calls me back to fill me in on said ‘genius idea’ but then a few minutes later I see her face practically go white.”

“What happened?” Ali asks.

Jackie gestures across the circle at Kelley. “Little miss ‘this-is-my-rock’ was coming to chill at the rock.”

“So Tobs is freaking out because her and Kelley aren’t in kahoots,” Alex continues, “And all I heard was a series of ‘I can do it’ before I see naked Tobin flying through the air off of the 15 foot rock on facetime.”

“Wait, how in the hell did I not see you?” Kelley asks.

Tobin turns to her friends and huffs in embarrassment. “That’s why I jumped, dude. I couldn’t climb down the back because that’s where you were approaching.”

“Anyway, that was my intro to the 180,” Alex laughs.

“Oh my god I can’t believe I missed this,” Kelley starts laughing too.

And then they’re all laughing, as Tobin finishes the rest of the story, recounting how she had to dive into a bush in the dark to avoid half of the men’s cross-country team as they were walking back from practice, and how she finally made it.

Ashlyn jumps in about the last time she got caught naked outside of the soccer house, and soon they settle into lively conversation.

Eventually, though, Tobin had started to zone out. To her, this felt like a breath of fresh air. One she realized she hadn’t gotten at all since any of this started with Christen, or with Kelley this fall. Her friends were laughing and talking around the fire, and it all felt so normal…

As if the past few months hadn’t happened.

As if her mind weren’t plastered to her phone, waiting for that single notification that hadn’t come through all day.

As if she wasn’t actively avoiding the whole Christen thing entirely.

It seemed like an eternity had passed in what had only been a few minutes of Tobin staring at the sun setting over the horizon on the lake. Watching the unwavering, fiery orb of light descend, the blue water reflected a vibrant green, and those eyes flashed back into her mind. Their allure was enticing, almost mesmerizing. And sitting here, in the face of abiding and imperishable beauty, she lost connection between the skyline and those green eyes, and she felt herself slipping, her mind wandering, a single tear falling.

She was happy with what happened with the girl four nights ago, but God she wanted more.

The sunset was akin to Christen — it’s value unfathomable and its power inestimable. A series of fleeting moments of golden sunset; a prolonging chance to reevaluate what she wanted to do about this. The loud silence is so comfortable, so familiar. Tobin had been living in the loud silence with Christen.

She didn’t stop watching until the fiery orb had vanished, and all that was left was Tobin herself and what seemed like a dark abyss in the middle of a Georgia winter.

Registering an arm coming around her shoulder and another body hopping up on the truck bed, she snaps out of it and quickly wipes her tear away, before seeing that her other friends had gone down to the water.

“Whatcha thinkin about?” she hears Kelley ask.

Tobin just takes another sip of beer, before taking her phone out and powering it down.

“I lied this morning.”

“About what?”

“I left the club with someone last night.”

“Yeah,” Kelley laughs. “We went over that.”

“I left with her.”

“Who— oh.”

Tobin let’s out a breath. “I’ll leave if you want.”

Kelley just grabs her arm. “No, no it’s, um… it’s okay.”

“It’s not, though, Kel.”

“Oh, she left with him,” Kelley says more to explain it to herself than actually to Tobin.

“Yeah, she did.”

They sit in silence for a moment.

“Well I have a confession too.”

Tobin looks up curiously.

“I left with Alex.”

Tobin’s jaw drops happily and she slaps her arm. “I knew it!”

“You’re not mad?”

“Hell no,” she says as she scoots back and lays flat on her back on the truck bed. She moves the bottle up toward her mouth and tilts it up to the sky to take a big swig.

Kelley lays down next to her, just staring at the stars in the sky for a few minutes as the sound of their friends laughing plays in the background.

“What’s the plan?”

“I don’t know dude. I’m just so done.”

“Tobin have you even talked to her?”

“I don’t usually talk to girls after one-night things. Why start now?”

“Oh sure, because Christen is just another girl,” Kelley quips sarcastically.

“She might as well be at this point, Kel.”

Her friend just stares at her incredulously, so Tobin keeps talking.

“How many times does she need to reject me before I accept it? I feel like I’m just wasting my time.”

“Since when is fucking someone rejecting them?”

“Are you, of all people, asking me that about Christen Press?”

“Okay, okay...fine. Maybe I’m not one to talk, but how are you supposed to know that it didn’t mean more if you don’t ask?”

Tobin just laughs in response. “Yeah because that worked out so well for you.”

Kelley rolls her eyes and drinks her beer. “Touchê.”

“That’s the difference, though, Tobin. I did actually ask.” Kelley continues.

“I think I’ll be happier without the hard rejection.”

“Because ignoring her is gonna be so much better for you?” Kelley continues.

“I texted her. It’s not like she’s texted me back in the past four days.”

“You’re in fucking Georgia.”

“So?”

“This is like max avoidance.”

“She was gone when I woke up, and she left Florida with him, Kelley. No word.”

“Are you gonna let it stay that way?”

“I need another drink,” Tobin says in lieu of a response, as she brings one arm up behind her head.

Kelley concedes, whipping out a handle of vodka from behind the tarp on the truck bed. “Say less.”

And the two of them stay up there on the truck bed, drinking and talking for another hour or so. No more about the green-eyed girl. Tobin has had enough of that for the night and for the weekend, honestly. So they chat about soccer, about coming to UNC, about memories long forgotten, until the handle is completely empty.

At this point, Tobin’s well past tipsy, and it’s well past the hour of good decisions.

“I’m gonna head back,” Tobin slurs.

“I’ll come with.”

She stops Kelley with a hand on the chest. “Stay and hang with Alex. I was gonna grab Jax anyway.”

Tobin.

“Don’t.”

“Are you sure that’s —”

“You, of all people, know exactly how I feel. Let me deal.”

“Okay fine,” Kelley relents. She knew how Tobin dealt with heartbreak.

“Jackie!” Tobin yells, cupping her hands around her mouth as she does so. As soon as she sees the girl’s head turn, walking away from the others and coming up the dock, she hops off the trunk and turns to her friend. “See you back at the house?”

“Yeah, see you,” Kelley returns quietly.

And then Tobin is setting off toward the house half-draping her weight over Jackie’s just-tipsy body.

And when they get back, Jackie is trying to dump the drunk girl in bed.

And Tobin sees the surprise in her eyes when she pulls the blonde girl on top of her.

And Jackie’s hesitant, because she knows why Tobin is being like this.

And she eventually gives in, because she can see the hurt in Tobin’s eyes.

And Tobin’s too heartbroken and drunk to care about anything else anyway.

And when she wakes up in the morning, there’s relief, but there’s something else too. A twang of regret, maybe. Some guilt, too.

Then again, it’s not like she should feel guilty. Her and Christen aren’t actually a thing. She knows she shouldn’t be avoiding her, but at this point, she’d rather love her from a distance than get metaphorically punched in the gut again, for like the fifth time.

_______________________________________________________________

 

The road trip back was a time and a half. One would think that with the amount of energy that had expended over the past four days in Georgia, they would have been rightfully worn out for the ride home.

That wasn’t the case.

7 hours of pure, unbridled fun.

6 people stuffed into a small sudan.

5 empty bags of Skinny Pop on the floor.

4 aggressively loud renditions of Hello by Adele.

3 stops for gas.

2 best friends, renewed.

1 very calm Tobin.

They had left pretty late in the day, and at about 9 p.m., Ashlyn had been whining so loud about getting food that Kelley finally gave in and pulled into the parking lot of her favorite pizza place just an hour outside of Chapel Hill, the one that her friends had heard about non-stop, but none of them had ever been to.

“This is so far out of the way.” Ashlyn whines, peering out the window.

“Yeah, Kel,” Tobin turns to her friend, “how did you even find this place?”

“Uh, a friend showed me it,” Kelley replies vaguely, before shifting the gear into park and opening the door. Turning around she faces all her friends and lifts her hand to point at each of them as she says, “Tobin and Ash - pepperoni, Ali and Morgan - margherita, Jax, you and I are the only ones with a sense of taste - hawaiian. Correct?”

“Never gonna be correct about hawaiian bro, gross,” Tobin states bluntly, her face scrunching up in feigned disgust.

Kelley throws her keys hard at Tobin, who is sitting shotgun. “I will forget your pizza, don’t test me.”

“Whatever” she mumble-laughs, realizing she won’t win this one. She wants pizza, and Kelley doesn’t actually joke about food.

The remaining five girls are just sitting in the car talking, when they’re startled by Kelley running -- practically sprinting -- out of the pizza establishment, launching herself into the car and throwing pizza boxes at everyone, who start digging in immediately, oblivious to Kelley’s strange, rushed behavior.

“Gimme the keys, Tobs,” she sticks her hand out.

“Did you like, steal these pizzas or something?” Tobin asks, laughing at Kelley’s chaotic energy.

“No, what? Of course not. Give the keys,” she shakes her already outstretched hand.

Tobin is about to give them over, when she hears a familiar laugh ring through the car window, and her hand freezes.

And she sees Kelley close her eyes, as if she’s cursing at herself.

Swivelling her head around, they reveal themselves — Christen and Brett, that is — leaning up against the side of his black SUV, laughing and eating pizza.

She turns back toward Kelley, holding her hand up so that her thumb points out the window and toward the pair. “Let me guess, that’s the friend?”

“Yeah,” her face melts into one of sympathy. “I’m sorry, the pizza is just so good.”

“It’s fine, pull up.”

“What?”

“You’re the one that said I should talk to her. So pull up.”

“To the both of them?”

“Are you not curious what she’s gonna say?”

“Good point, your wish is my command.”

The other girls are still walking amongst themselves across the backseat of the truck as Kelley starts the car and drives up next to the Black SUV.

Tobin rolls down the window.

“Hey Chris.”

She sees the girl stop laughing and make some sort of strange eye contact with Brett that she just can’t place, before he walks away and she’s turning toward the car.

Christen takes a deep breath before stepping forward and leaning her arms down on the windowsill, smiling and staring into Tobin’s eyes. “Hi Tobs.”

“Funny seeing you here,” Tobin says calmly. “Haven’t seen you since Saturday morning. Oh, wait, no, Friday night. My bad.”

Christen’s brow furrows as she registers the sharpness of Tobin’s tone.

“Uh, yeah.” She pauses. “I’m so glad I ran into you, I needed to tell you —”

And then she watches as Christen registers all of the other eyes on her, including Kelley’s, and she watches as the girl visibly tenses up, pushing herself into a standing position.

“Tell me what?” she prompts her to continue.

Tobin just holds eye contact with her once again as she takes a bite of her pizza.

Christen doesn’t respond right away.

So Tobin turns to hand Kelley her slice of pizza, before clicking her seatbelt unbuckled and stepping out of the truck, landing on both feet with a loud thump against the worn pavement. She takes a step toward Christen, and asks her again, quietly, out of earshot of her friends in the car.

“You needed to tell me what, Chris?”

Christen just looks toward the truck window, where several sets of eyes are watching them.

“Um, it can wait,” Christen says as she looks down at her feet.

Tobin takes a step closer to her, and Christen takes a quick step back.

“Chris, come on.

They enter another long, loaded stare, and it reminds her of the one they shared that night in the club bathroom. The moment before Christen said she wanted her. Before she felt the touch that ignited a fire deep within Tobin. But Tobin could feel at this particular moment that the ending would be different.

And she could tell Christen wasn’t going to say anything else right now. How surprising.

“Are you gonna be in the dorm tonight?” Tobin asks instead.

“Probably not,” Christen whispers.

And Tobin wholly laughs under breath.

“Ok, whatever. I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”

I can at least be her friend now or something.

“Sounds good.”

Tobin turns toward the Truck and steps forward to open the passenger-side door. “Hope you guys have a good night,” she says in a firm but despondent tone.

And then she’s shutting the door, and when Kelley sees her face, she is immediately hitting the gas pedal and starting a conversation about something else. To say Tobin appreciates Kelley right now would be an understatement.

What she misses is the way Christen stands there for a minute after the truck pulls out of the parking lot.

Or the way Brett comes up to her and asks her why she didn’t tell her.

Or the way Christen sheds an angry, frustrated tear.

Or the way Christen asks him to drop her off at the dorm tonight instead.

She’ll see it soon, though.

_______________________________________________________________

 

“Let’s go shorty, I’m tired,” Tobin calls out at Jackie as she’s stepping through the soccer house door.

“You better not be,” Jackie smirks as she comes up behind her and jumps on her back. “Need you awake tonight.”

“Oh really?”

“Mhm,” Jackie kisses her neck once.

“I’m gonna introduce you to my sisters later on facetime, remember?”

“And that’s the only reason why? May as well just take a nap now.”

Jackie just saps the back of her head lightly and laughs.

“I have other plans for you, Heath.”

The farther they get across campus, the more frequent the neck kisses get, and the more bite there is to them.

Tobin had filled Jackie in on the parking lot chat at the soccer house that evening. Filled her in on the way that Christen had basically said she was going home with him. Filled her in on the way seemingly nothing had changed at all. And Jackie just suggested they go get her mind off of everything. That they go have fun in her dorm room anyway, since they at least know Christen isn’t going to be there anyway. Kind of like a last hurrah before they have to return to reality for the last few days of school that were to resume the following morning.

The other girls had all decided to sleep over the soccer house, so it was just Jackie and Tobin leaving. And she had to admit, the girl was definitely helping get her mind off of things.

They’re finally making their way down the dorm hallway, lips attached. And Tobin is removing her hands from Jackie’s body just long enough to grab her key and unlock the dorm door.

The blonde girl is giggling as Tobin’s arms encircle her waist and swing her through the door.

It takes Tobin a few more moments to register the lights are on in the room already, and a few more moments after that before she opens her own eyes and removes her lips from Jackie’s to look up.

There, sitting on Tobin’s bed, is Christen, eyes wide, looking as if she’s about to spontaneously combust.

“Why’d you stop?” Jackie’s laughing and turning around, breathing out a “Shit” as she sees the girl on Tobin’s bed, her smile immediately dropping off her face.

Then Tobin is lowering her hands from Jackie’s body.

She clears her throat. “Uh, thought you weren’t coming back tonight?” she directs at Christen.

Christen herself was just staring at her softly, with eyes that were just puffy enough that Tobin could tell she had been crying. There’s pain on her face, and Tobin is wondering why.

And then Tobin watches, able to see the way Christen drains the emotion from her face and puts up her stone wall, right there in front of her. The way she can put up such a facade to hide how she really feels.

“Well clearly I did,” she snaps, before closing her eyes for a long moment, and openint them again to continue in a calmer voice. “Sorry I shouldn’t have just stopped by. I’ll go.”

“This is literally your room, Chris, it’s fine. Did you want to actually talk now?”

She feels Jackie squeeze her arm at the hopeful sentiment that fills her voice. Or maybe it’s for support. Either is well-appreciated at this moment.

“It’s fine. I’m just gonna go.”

There she goes, deflecting again, closing herself off, slipping away in front of Tobin’s very eyes.

“Wait, let’s talk,” Tobin lets out, not even bothering to hide the desperation in her voice. She steps forward away from Jackie, who steps back toward the door at the same time to give them as much space as possible, but not wanting to leave Tobin entirely on her own.

Christen hops off of the bed and starts to walk around it, before Tobin steps in front of her, effectively blocking her path. “Talk to me.”

“Are you just gonna leave your guest hanging?” she gestures at Jackie before poking Tobin hard in the chest — hard enough to make her stumble a step backwards — and saying in a sarcastic yet joking manner, “How fucking rude of you. Then again, guess you can’t be polite to all of them, it’d run you dry,” Christen throws her hands into the air in frustration, exaggerating her statements with her action.

“Okay one, don’t be rude to my friend. Two, all of who? What are you talking about?”

“I should’ve known better,” she mutters under her breath, but it’s loud enough for Tobin to hear. “I broke up with him for you,” she says louder, with pain in her voice, a tear falling from her eye again. “Oh god,” she lets out, a hand slapping over her own mouth.

“You what?” Tobin says in a mild state of shock, not sure if she heard the girl correctly.

“I — nothing. Nothing. I’m leaving.”

 

Tobin’s had enough. “Will you just fucking talk to me for once?” she yells a little louder than necessary. She’s just frustrated and all of her emotions seem to be hitting the goddamn wall at once.

She’s sick of the silence.

Sick of the give and take.

Sick of the unanswered questions.

Christen takes a shaky breath, and then she’s pushing past Tobin and Jackie, shaking her head, running out into the hallway. And Tobin is left standing behind, confused at even what just happened. So, she says as much.

“What just happened?” she turned around, asking Jackie.

Jackie’s looking at her like she just said the dumbest thing on the planet.

“Are you gonna go after her?”

“Why should I always have to?”

“Because you want her,” Jackie says sincerely, with a small smile.

Tobin pauses for a moment before responding. “I’ve always wanted her. She’s the one who runs.”

The blonde girl just rolls her eyes at Tobin’s idiocy in this particular moment.

“Tobin, she broke up with her boyfriend for you, and you walked in with your tongue down my throat,” she states plainly.

Jackie opens her mouth and nods as she sees realization flash through Tobin’s hazel eyes. And then Tobin’s cursing “shit” under her breath and running toward the door.

She pauses with her hand on the door, looking back. “Wait, I was supposed to meet your sisters on facetime, I can stay.”

Jackie just scoffs in disbelief. “Yeah, over my dead body you’re staying. I’m gonna go back to Kelley’s. Go find her you nutcase.”

Tobin nods quickly in a gesture of thanks before taking off down the hallway toward the stairs.

“For the first time ever, I’m hoping to god I get friendzoned by you tomorrow,” she hears Jackie yell from behind her. “Don’t think this means you get out of meeting my sisters though!”

Tobin’s laughing for a moment, feeling incredibly grateful for Jackie’s support in … well, everything lately. “Deal!”, she calls out as she enters the stairwell.

She’s jumping down stairs two-to-three at a time, just trying to get out of the building as quick as possible.

And for a moment her mind wanders from the task at hand. Because it’s almost like that first night -- the one where Christen ran out of their room with a huff and tears rolling down her cheeks.

Almost.

This time, Tobin’s going after her.

Chapter Text

“Chris, would you fucking slow down!?”

The girl in front of her doesn’t answer, just keeps sprinting down the six flights of stairs down from their dorm room to the ground level at full speed.

And Tobin knows she won’t catch up to her unless she does something radical. So she does.

Leaping over the middle divider, Tobin suddenly falls maybe seven feet right in front of Christen’s path at the bottom of the adjacent staircase, and the girl proceeds to barrel straight into her. Christen’s momentum pushes them both back until Tobin’s back slams into the side-wall of the dimly-lit stairwell, and the green-eyed girl is pushed up against Tobin.

Fast as a reflex, Christen tries to pull back and keep running, but it was too late. Tobin has already reached her arms out to hold Christen in place in front of her own body.

A few tears continued to make their way down Christen’s cheeks, as she looked momentarily into Tobin’s hazel eyes, before looking away once again.

Tobin wanted to reach a hand up and wipe away the tears, but she was too scared that if she loosened her grip, the girl would run away. She’d been more than skippy in the past, and Tobin really needed to know what in the world was going on between them.

So she did the next best thing.

“Hey, look at me.”

But Christen’s eyes didn’t falter from staring at the staircase descending to the right of their bodies.

“Chris, look at me,” she repeats, in a much firmer tone, relief filling her tangibly when their eyes lock once again.

“Let me go, please,” the girl says quietly, trying to wiggle out of Tobin’s arms.

“No.”

“Seriously, Tobin?”

She tries to leave again, but Tobin only tightens her grip.

“Not until you say something.”

“I want to get away from you right now,” she says, using Tobin’s momentary shock from her harsh comment to push herself out of her arms. “There, happy?”

She turns to continue running down the stairs, but Tobin leaps quickly to block her path of movement, one arm resting on the railing on each side of the staircase.

“Why?”

Christen pauses for a moment.

“Why what?”

“Why do you want to get away from me right now?”

“You know why.”

“No, Christen, I really don’t.”

Christen practically scoffs at that, and it makes Tobin herself roll her eyes.

“For god’s sake Christen, you have a mouth for more than just making out with everything that breaths,” she practically snarls.

“Oh yeah? And how would you know that, mrs. womanizer?” she gestures at Tobin with her right hand.

Realizing this was going nowhere productive, Tobin takes a breath, deciding to try a different approach entirely. “Would you talk to me for once? I can only figure out so much of what goes on in your brain, that’s all I was trying to say.”

“You ever thought that maybe that’s the point?” Christen replies, her fiery tone unwavering.

“You ever thought that maybe I’m tired of whatever game you’re playing?”

“It takes two to tango Tobin.”

“I don’t want to play with you anymore.”

“Yeah, you made that real clear,” Christen huffs out, and Tobin’s brows furrow as she sees a few more tears slide down the girl’s cheeks.

“Ok, so —”

“Why did you come after me then? To rub it in? To make me feel horrible for taking a little longer than you wanted to come to terms with how I feel? To revel in my misery after ending my three year relationship? To come out and twist the fucking knife in my chest or something? To hear me say that I want you? Well, I want you Tobin, I want you so badly I can’t breath, and you’re everywhere, and I’m suffocating. And here you are,” she shoves Tobin’s left shoulder, causing her arm to drop from its position on the railing. “Trying on girls like you try on clothes. I was just another girl. I’m so stupid.”

It’s odd.

The words that came out of Christen’s mouth were near-exactly how Tobin herself felt, with the exception of a few details. And suddenly, Tobin’s beginning to understand just how deep their miscommunication had dove. She could see that Christen really didn’t get that Jackie was just a friend, a rebound. A rebound from Christen. She could see that the girl did not have an ounce of understanding of just how deep Tobin was in this, how much she’d been hurting, how much this street was so not one-way.

Tobin had so much to say.

However, before she even has a chance to respond, Christen is jumping past the new opening on Tobin’s left side, continuing to make her way down the last flight of stairs and through the stairwell door.

This woman is going to be the death of me.

Pounding down the last set of steps, Tobin opens the door herself, pouncing through the lobby with a renewed vengeance.

“Wait!” she’s screaming as she runs through the door, only to trail off as she noticed how oddly crowded the dorm lobby is for a Tuesday night, a blush of embarrassment rising to her cheeks as nearly every head had turned to face Tobin where she stood just beyond the doorway. Putting on a sheepish smile, she starts slowly walking through the lobby, which quickly turns into a jog, and then a run. She’s jumping around the last group of girls, arms outstretched to push the door open when she remembers.

Not soon enough (!)

It’s just a moment too late, and next thing she knows, she’s laying on her back in the ground once again, the group of girls now hovering over her.

Deja vu

“Woah are you alright?” one of them asks from above her.

“Yeah, yeah sorry,” Tobin mumbles as she rubs her probably-bruised temple.

“Oh, no worries!” Then they’re walking away, not even offering to help her up. Not that she notices. Tobin is merely momentarily blank with pain before she remembers where she’s going and what she’s doing. Nothing else in her brain at this moment in time.

gotta go gotta go

She goes to push herself up off the floor, when she feels a shooting pain run up her left wrist, causing her to wince sharply and reach her right arm to grab her left wrist. shit.

Closing her eyes and shaking her head for a moment, she takes a deep breath, before reaching forward to pull the door open and walk through it. A few steps out the other side, she stops moving, scanning the dorm surroundings with her eyes, not seeing Christen anywhere.

Man, she’s fast.

And at this point, she could have gone anywhere on campus.

But the whole principle of ‘she could be anywhere’ is not as bad as it seems. Because at this point, Tobin knows the girl really doesn’t have many places she can go. It’s kind of sad, but at the same time, kind of a blessing at this moment.

Of course, the first thought that crosses her mind is that she could have gone to his place, but with the look on her face before the girl ran away again, Tobin finds that pretty hard to believe. She knows that Ali is still at the soccer house, so Christen couldn’t possibly be still in the dorms — she didn’t know anyone else there. She knew that for sure. The green-eyed girl had mentioned it one night when they were watching The Gods Must be Crazy in the 6th floor lounge area they called the ‘Beer Lobby’ for … obvious reasons.

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

It was late October, about two weeks after the Kelley incident at the 180. Neither of them had spoken to her. In fact, it had become overly apparent that Kelley was going out of her way to avoid the likes of both of them. And at some point during the second week, their teammates had started to catch on to Kelley’s wavelength.

So really, it had just been the two of them. And it didn’t have to become anything more than two strangers who had a moment on a rock at midnight. It didn’t have to be more than that one moment, hands held together.

But they both felt it when their hands touched that night.

When they smiled at each other from across the dorm room.

When they locked eyes in between volunteer shifts at the clinic.

And it almost felt like gravity was pulling them together, like they needed to know each other.

So Christen started dropping by the dorm room more. And Tobin sent a text asking to start tutoring.

And they began meeting up to talk about organic chemistry. First it was at the coffee shop. Then the library the next day. Then on the quad after class. Then the dorm room late one night, laughing and sipping Smirnoff Ices while they talked through the problems.

That night was the gamechanger. They both felt it. But neither of them wanted to do anything about it.

After all, Christen had a boyfriend, and Tobin didn’t do real relationships. At least, not anymore. And neither of them knew exactly what the magnetizing feeling was. The whole world felt right when they were together — easy, simple, comfort in the discomfort of college life and social drama. When they were apart, all they wanted was to be back in each other’s presence. It was like this loop, this cycle of pure attraction.

Inescapable.

And it was hard for Tobin in some sense, to know that all those nights she wasn’t in the room, she was with Brett. More than that, she was with him.

But in other ways, it made every single touch, every compliment, every teasing jab, that much sweeter.

A mystery. A rollercoaster. A game.

A game.

Tobin and Christen were fundamentally different people, but if they had one thing in common, it was that they both loved to play a game.

The difference is that this game, for the first time, actually was starting to take up mental headspace for the both of them. While they could usually package their feelings with a nice pretty bow on top and shove it to the back of their brain, something about this particular pairing was incomprehensible, intriguing, and inescapable. Instead, they were moving into each other’s brains, unpacking boxes, and begging to stay. Threatening to stay.

This night in late October, the threats were getting to Tobin, as she was already mentally destroyed from a biology problem set that she had forgotten was due the following morning. As a result, she was at the tail-wind of a fourteen hour day, eleven of which were spent on the problem set. (The other three were soccer practice). Needless to say, Tobin was wiped -- mentally and physically.

So, as she’s finally finishing up the last problem, she gets up to grab her phone from its face-down position on the floor in the opposite corner of the room, where she had thrown it when she had gotten home from practice several hours ago and needed to get straight to work.

10:57 p.m.

And plenty of unread messages. But none from the one name she wanted to see one from.

So she tossed her phone down and left her room to go see what Ali was up to across the hall. She knew that Ali was the one person who was on Christen’s side, and didn’t want to tear Tobin apart at this moment, unlike Ashlyn.

After a few unsuccessful knocks, she was about to head back to her room. But her head turned to the right when she heard her name called by a familiar voice.

“Tobin!”

“Hey guys,” she smiles as Ali and Christen walk around the corner together laughing.

“Hey Tobin,” Ali adds into the conversation.

“I was about to come see what you were doing,” Christen says sweetly.

“Where are you guys coming from?” Tobin asks as the two girls come to a stop in front of her in the hallway.

She leans back against the wall, arms crossed against her chest, as Ali answers her questions.

“Oh, we were just at the student center trying to get in on the free pizza.”

“But we were a little too late because the line was soooo long when we got there,” Christen adds on with a frown.

“Damn, I was gonna ask if you brought me some,” Tobin jokes back.

“What’re you up to?” Christen nervously responds too quickly to be natural. And Tobin doesn’t miss the arched eyebrow Ali gives her, and Christen pinches the girl in the arm in response.

“Just finished a bio problem set I’ve been cramming for all day. I was just coming to see if you were doing anything tonight actually,” she directed at Ali.

What Tobin does miss is Christen kicking the girl in the back of the leg subtly, but hard.

“Uh, just going back to the room to bother Ash. You know, the usual.”

Tobin just frowns and sighs in response.

“You knocked already, didn’t you?” Ali says quietly.

“Yeah, it’s fine I guess,” Tobin breathes out as she looks up at the ceiling for a moment.

“She’ll come around.” Ali places a hand on Tobin's shoulder and gives her a small, reassuring squeeze. “Well, I’m gonna get out of here and stop third-wheeling this sexual tension fest,” she laughs.

But her laugh quickly fades when she sees the glare Christen is throwing at her, and she begins quickly walking in the other direction.

Tobin just smiles as she realizes Christen must have been talking about her to Ali. “Night, Ali.”

“Night Tobin! Text me later, C!” she hears Ali call out before her dorm door shuts behind her.

Turning her head back toward Christen, she gives the girl a knowing smirk and arches her eyebrow in question.

“You going to bed too, or you wanna do something?” Christen says, pointedly avoiding the stare she’s receiving.

Tobin just laughs knowingly and licks her lips once. “Uh you said you’ve never seen The Gods Must be Crazy, right?”

“...Right…” Christen says slowly.

“They’re watching it in Beer Lobby right now,” she says as she registers the movie diaglogue in the background. “It’s my favorite movie, wanna go watch?”

“Sure,” she shrugs her shoulders. “Unless it's boring.”

Tobin opens her mouth in offense. “It’s literally the funniest movie ever made.”

“I doubt that.”

“Wanna bet?”

“You know it,” Christen says, looking straight into Tobin’s eyes.

Tobin takes a step closer, turning so just her shoulder is leaning on the wall, and she’s standing so close to Christen that their fronts are almost touching.

“And what do I get if I win?” Tobin says in a smooth, low tone, leaning her head down toward Christen just slightly.

“What do you want from me?” Christen replies slyly.

Tobin unsubtly looks the girl up and down, before putting on a small smirk. “There’s a lot of things I want to do with you.”

Christen gulps at the sincerity in Tobin’s tone, before biting her lip and grabbing Tobin’s hand in lieu of an immediate response, proceeding to pull her from her position against the wall toward Beer Lobby at the opposite end of the hallway.

Just as they’re turning the corner, she leans in to whisper in Tobin’s ear, “Kinda hoping I lose.” And it makes goosebumps erupt on Tobin’s arms as the whispered words and their implications tickle down her spine.

And then Christen is pulling her to an open cushion at the far end of one of the couches, carefully stepping over and around the many other members of 6th floor and their guests who had gathered in front of a large projector screen to lounge and watch the movie.

It seemed that this was the popular location to be that night, so the couch was completely stuffed, meaning they were situated with Christen almost sitting on Tobin’s lap, as Tobin’s arm rested on the edge of the couch behind the girl.

When they had walked in, they were luckily only thirty minutes into the movie. Even so, it was just far enough that Christen was looking at the man on the screen, who was profusely examining a Coca Cola bottle in the middle of a dessert, with a furious curiosity. Her eyebrows were scrunched, and her bottom lip was in between her teeth, and Tobin was watching her intensely, unable to draw her eyes away from how absolutely adorable she was when she was trying so hard to figure something out.

“You know,” Christen whispered, leaning slightly into Tobin but not removing her eyes from the screen. “Maybe if you watched the movie instead of me, you could explain what’s going on and help yourself to win the bet, because I’m confused.”

“Maybe I like this view better,” Tobin whispers in response as she examines Christen’s profile. It may be dark in the room, but she’s confident that she saw the corners of Christen’s mouth curl up slightly. “Plus, my movie speaks for itself. And I’ve seen it so many times I could recite it verbatim with my eyes closed.”

“What a skill,” Christen laughs. “Crazy mouth you have.”

“That’s what they tell me,” Tobin husks in response, directly into Christen’s ear.

And then she sees Christen’s breathing quicken, and it draws a smirk to her face as she finally turns her head back to the screen.

Bringing her arm off of the back of the couch to point at the projector screen over Christen’s shoulder, she continues watching the screen as she explains what had occurred leading up to the Coca Cola bottle.

“You see, a pilot flew over the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, and dropped a Coke bottle out of the window. It lands unbrokem and is found by this guy,” she whispers as she points at the man on the screen, “Xi, and his tribe. They’ve never seen a Coke bottle before, so they initially think it’s a gift from the gods.”

Leaning back into Tobin’s arm around her shoulder, she angles her head slightly to the left to whisper back at Tobin.

“A gift from the gods? Why are they so confused and angry then?”

Tobin momentarily glances at the girl and smiles slightly at how endearing her focus is. It makes her heart beat a little faster, so she takes a deep breath to slow it back down before she answers.

“Because they found so many uses for it, like other gifts from gods they received, like plants and animals. But with this one bottle, it caused all this crazy conflict and problems for the tribespeople, so—”

Christen interrupts with, “—now Xi is going to make the trip to throw it off the edge of the world to get rid of it, because they—”

“—think the world is flat,” they both finish at the same time, now facing toward each other, looking into each other’s eyes, both smiling as they finished each other’s sentences.

They stay looking at each other for a moment. And Tobin can practically see the conflict in Christen’s eyes at the realness of this moment, so she drops the hand that was pointing at the TV down onto Christen’s far shoulder, starting to draw small patterns on her skin, since she was wearing a tank top that left her shoulder exposed.

Christen began to shiver under her touch, and after a few seconds abruptly leaned a little away from Tobin and faced back toward the screen. She didn’t, however, shrug away from Tobin’s touch on her shoulder, and Tobin smiled a little to herself at that.

For the next hour, Tobin honestly couldn’t tell anyone what was happening in the movie. Sure, she glued her eyes to the projector screen for the most part, when she wasn’t looking at the way Christen’s collar bones protrude above the collar of her tank top, or the swell of her breasts just an inch or two below that. But her brain short-circuited at the feeling of Christen’s cool skin under her fingertips, and the only thing flowing through her mind was the sound of her own heart beating in her ears as she’s persistently trying to slow it down before the girl next to her notices how squirmish she had gotten.

Truthfully, it alarmed her how she felt at this moment. All she had wanted was to get closer to Christen, and now that she’s right up here, she simultaneously never wants to let go and wants to run for the hills. Because the touch aches. And it’s almost masochism how good this pain is.

She pushes that thought aside when she hears Christen awkwardly cough to get Tobin’s attention, which is currently resting on her boobs.

“Hmm?”

“Why did the guy throw the brush at the fire?” Christen asks quietly into her shoulder.

“Uh, to get rid of it,” Tobin mumbles thoughtlessly.

And Christen just laughs a little, and it actually gets Tobin’s attention this time.

“Why did you think he did?” Tobin says again.

“No one did that,” Christen murmurs, the corner of her mouth tilting up as she reaches up to pull the center of her tank top slightly farther up her chest knowingly. “I was just confirming that you weren’t paying attention.”

Tobin removes her arm from Christen’s shoulder to run at her temple, slightly embarrassed.

“Uh, sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Christen laughs confidently, before she obviously checks Tobin out, subconsciously biting her lip for a moment. “It’s not like I wasn’t looking too.”

And Tobin looks up to see a new twinkle in Christen’s green eyes, which are looking straight into her own. She’s about to respond when she feels a hand tapping on her leg.

“God Tobin, could you flirt any louder?” the girl sitting on the front of her on the floor says, prompting a couple laughs from other members of the sixth floor, who all knew Tobin from many of the floor bonding events or parties they had in Beer Lobby. While Tobin most often hung out at the soccer house, she always tried to make time to stop by the floor’s events and meet people. She loved meeting new people, and she was one of those people that others loved to meet.

“Shut up Lindsay,” she gently kicks the girl in front of her with a smile, before turning back to Christen. “Want to get out of here?”

Christen just looks at her blankly, and it’s only after another three or so seconds that Tobin realizes how that sounded, and she closes her eyes, cursing herself internally.

“To the 180? I dont even know your favorite movie, Chris,” she says, continuing only after she sees Christen smile a little. “Plus, pretty sure I have a handle of Titos with your name on it.”

She winks at Christen, and smiles wider as she sees the girl swallow and nod.

Taking her hand, she pulls Christen up from the couch, ignoring the “smooth” from Lindsay and the “hey Tobin, move!” from the other guys on the couch as they leaped over people and out of Beer Lobby.

They’re laughing as they make their way down the hall, stopping as Tobin pulls her room key out of her pocket and twists the door lock open.

Tobin jogs into the room to grab the bottle of tequila, as Christen stands in the open doorway, looking amused as Tobin rustles under her bed for the alcohol stash.

“Hey, who’s Lindsay?” she hears Christen ask.

“Oh, she lives in 612, just a few doors down from us,” Tobin answers as she rustles under the bed. “Aha, found it.”

“How did you meet her?” Christen hesitantly asks as Tobin is walking back over toward her, toward the door, and they make their way into the halfway.

Tobin locks the door behind them and turns back to Christen, oblivious to the tone of the girl’s question. “Just some floor events and stuff. Most of the people at the movie live on the floor actually.”

“Really?”

“Mhm,” Tobin hums as they walk into the stairwell.

A quiet envelopes them as they finish descending the stairs side by side. Tobin looks over at Christen as they’re walking through the lobby, seeing the girl nervously chewing on her lips. She holds the door open for Christen, who mumbles a quick “thanks,” before following swiftly after her.

“I, uh, haven’t met any of them before,” Christen says, looking thoughtfully over at Tobin.

“Well maybe if you were ever actually here, you’d know some of them,” she says neutrally, not meaning it in an accusatory manner. But then she sees the guilty look on the girl’s face, so she quickly adds on “You know what I mean.”

“They seem nice,” is all she says in response.

Tobin smiles smally. “Yeah, they’re all super cool! You should come hangout some night. Didn’t you live next to Matt and Carlos last year? They always bring the best beer dude. Me and Ash always stole a bunch.”

“Yeah, maybe,” she smiles, looking over at Tobin for a moment, before continuing in a smaller voice. “I actually don’t know anyone outside of Ali and Ash in the dorm building. I never get to spend much time here, he always wants me at his place.”

Tobin puts on a slight sympathetic grimace. “Well, just let me know if you want to come hangout some night? I’d be happy to introduce you around.”

“Sure,” she says, starting to shiver a little in the cold. “I’m good just hanging with you though, honestly.”

Tobin just looks at her after that comment, studying her face for a few seconds before noticing her shiver in the cool night air.

“Here, take my sweatshirt,” Tobin says as she reaches both hands behind her neck, grabbing at the hood and pulling the red hockey sweatshirt she had thrifted a few months ago over her head. Buried deep in her sweatshirt, she couldn’t see the way Christen’s eyes hungrily traced Tobin’s abs where her shirt had ridden up for a few moments.

“No, no you really don’t have to—”

“Chris, take it.”

“Tobin, it’s okay really.”

“You’re literally shaking,” she says, stopping to face the girl and holding it out on her two middle fingers, eyebrows raised, not taking no for an answer.

“Won’t you be cold?”

“Nah, I have Jersey blood.”

“Um, thanks I guess,” she smiles up at Tobin as she takes the sweatshirt and throws it over her head.

“Just looking out for you, Cali princess.”

Christen rolls her eyes as her head pops up through the head hole, the smell of Tobin overwhelming her and washing over her in a comforting way.

“At least someone is,” she mumbles, unknowingly just loud enough to Tobin to make out what she said.

Deciding not to comment, she just smiles and holds her arm out for Christen to link hers through,

“So, what’s your favorite movie Chris?”

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

Tobin starts running.

She checks the student center, the library, and all of the secluded study nooks she and Christen used to go. It’s about a half-hour later — half past ten, to be precise — when her feet take her to the last possible place she could think of that Christen might have gone to— the 180. Yes, she could have checked there earlier, but she assumed this was too obvious for her to go to in order to avoid Tobin

So here she is once again, running across campus like a maniac, toward the engineering quad and toward the tall rock, shivering in the cool nighttime breeze. She quickly ascends up the backside, saying a little prayer mentally, before popping her head hopefully up over the edge, only to be met with a perfectly empty slab of grey rock.

Sigh

Letting out a frustrated huff, she climbs up to a standing position and whips out her phone.

10:33 p.m. Tobs: are you at home?

10:35 p.m. Kel: You betcha, we’re all meeting Jackie’s sisters. What’s up?

10:35 p.m. Tobs: Who’s there?

Tobin’s hoping that maybe she went to the house? While Kelley’s still not her biggest fan, she’s still on okay terms with some other people on the team living in the house, at least Tobin thinks so. She shouldn’t be surprised when she looks down at her phone and sees Kelley knew what she was really asking.

10:36 p.m. Kel: She’s not here

Sigh, again

She doesn’t even bother answering. Instead, she settles in the middle of the rock, lying flat on her back, looking up to the sky, its vast calmness directly contrasting how Tobin feels in this moment.

The whole thing with Christen has felt like a huge war, a huge game of give and take. It feels like Christen has been pushing her, just to see how much she could. And with Tobin, she could push far. Because Christen could shove Tobin off a goddamn cliff, and the girl would claw her way back up every single time.

And, well, true soldiers know that battles don’t end. They simply change. Really, there can never be peace as long as guns are blazing and ammunition is at one’s disposal. Tobin is trying to think where the girl would go, because she’s had enough. She’s ready to hand up her weapons — tonight.

She’s ready to toss in all the red flags for a white ones.

And for the first time, she thinks Christen is too.

Because she’s feeling it all tonight.

Because she knows what to say.

Because she needs Christen to actually listen to her for once.

Because she has to do this before she gets too scared to say what she means.

Because that’s how they ended up in this situation in the first place.

Tobin uses her right arm to push herself into a sitting position, since her left is still throbbing in pain from the unfortunate door incident. Again, a problem for later.

Where could she have gone?

Her mind is wandering, tracing over past memories and places, when she returns to a one particular early-morning conversation they had, just a few days after they had returned from the late Halloweekend trip to the cabins.

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

“FUCK,” Christen yelled as she sat on the floor in the locker room early one morning, unwrapping her hurt ankle.

She had accidentally pulled on the tape too hard, twisting it slightly in one direction. And it hurt, badly. In all honesty, she shouldn’t be walking on it at all yet, let alone running. It had only been a few weeks since she crashed into Tobin Heath near the coffee cart, and the doctor had told her 6 weeks of no running.

But god, had Christen had a week.

And the only thing that could possibly make her feel better was the feeling of her cleat perfectly striking a ball.

Since the beginning of freshman year, Christen had been buddy-buddy with the cleaning staff at the building. She was extremely grateful for the way they worked to keep the facilities clean and ready to go for the sports teams, work that always went so underappreciated.

So she had started bringing Frank coffee during her morning runs by the training center, and after a few months, he offered to unlock the door and let her in at five o’clock each morning.

There was something so peaceful about an empty locker room first thing in the morning. It gave her the time and space to escape her life for a moment.

This morning in particular, she had arrived slightly late to grab her cleats from her locker — closer to 6 a.m., meaning she arrived back at the locker room to shower just after 7 a.m.. Luckily, the building doesn’t actually open until 8:30 a.m., so she still has some time to relax and get ready for her 9 a.m. Women’s Studies class that she had decided to take as a distribution requirement. It was a fun class, but a small one, which meant far too much class participation for nine in the morning. So Christen liked to start Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with an early head-clearing soccer session, in an effort to actually be awake by the time she got to class.

After twitching her ankle uncomfortable while unwrapping it, she laid back for a moment on the floor, eyes closed, hands covering her eyes, sitting in the throbbing pain for a moment.

Just a moment later, she feels something cold and wet touch her ankle and she screams, kicking her leg instinctively and feeling it hit something hard before she has a chance to open her eyes.

And then she’s screaming again, but in pain this time.

Opening her eyes completely and sitting up, she sees a sheepish looking Tobin holding an ice pack in one hand and covering her eye, which had clearly just been kicked hard by Christen, with the other hand.

“God Tobs, you can’t sneak up on people like that!”

“Yeah, trust me, won’t be doing that again,” she removes her hand for a moment and tries to blink her eye open, before wincing in pain. “You got a killer foot. Anyone ever told you that you should play soccer?”

Christen pushes aside her own pain for a moment, holding her ankle in the air as she scoots closer to Tobin, sheepishly smiling at Tobin’s joke, before reaching her hands up toward Tobin’s face. She uses one to pull Tobin’s hand away, dropping it at her side before reaching back up to pull Tobin’ chin up from the ground. Carefully, Christen raises her other hand to caress the area around her eye.

Tobin winces in pain, shrinking abruptly from Christen’s touch before eventually learning into the soothing feeling of her cold her hand. But the icyness of her hands only lasts so long, because as soon as she opens her eyes and looks into Christen’s, the touch begins to feel hot and fiery against her face. The feeling makes her swallow heavily.

“You got a killer shiner here,” Christen says back with a grimace. “Anyone ever told you that fighting’s dangerous?”

And Tobin nearly melts at how adorable and innocent Christen’s comment was.

“Nah, you should see the other guy,” she jokes back.

“Yeah both our futures are looking pretty purple, huh?” she says, looking down with her eyes as if to gesture to her ankle.

Tobin’s resolve immediately melts when she sees the swollen bruise engulfing the girl’s ankle, immediately forgetting about the throbbing going on in her own face.

“Jesus, Chris. This looks pretty bad,” she remarks as she carefully traces the bruises engulfing the girl’s entire ankle.

“I’ll be alright,” she shrugs. “It looks a lot worse than it is.”

“Well,” Tobin laughs, “We really gotta stop meeting like this.”

“I’m not complaining,” Christen replies, the corners of her mouth tilting up slightly. And when she looks up to see Tobin standing above her, both arms outstretched, her smirk turns into a full-on grin, and she reaches out, allowing Tobin to pull her to her feet.

Tobin doesn’t let go of her hands when she’s officially stood up, and Christen doesn’t make any motion to move her hands away.

It’s only then that Christen processes the state of Tobin — just-showered, hair still wet, water dripping down her body, only covered by a sports bra and shorts. Her eyes stop when they meet Tobin’s sculpted abs, unable to drag her eyes away from Tobin’s fit form.

“Yeah, I can see that,” Tobin smirks.

Christen rolls her eyes. “Nothing I haven’t seen before.”

“Well let me just go grab a shirt then,” Tobin chuckles, dropping Christen’s hands and turning toward the other side of the locker room.

She only gets one step away before an arm on her elbow stops her movement.

“No need for that,” Christen says softly.

And then Tobin’s smirk doubles.

“What was that?”

“You’re fine like this.”

“Hmm?” Tobin fakes the question again.

“You really need me to tell you that you’re hot?”

“No,” Tobin says with a mischievous smile. “Doesn’t hurt to hear though.”

Christen punches her shoulder. “You suck.”

“Ow, geez how many times are you going to hit me?”

“Sorry, Tobs,” she says, eyes wide.

The whole thing breaks Tobin’s hard exterior.

“I’m kidding,” she says, before starting to walk past Christen toward her own locker, slowing her pace to whisper in the girl’s ear, “I think you’re hot too.”

And she’s smirking for the third time that day as she feels the girl shiver at her words, before she keeps walking over to pick up her stuff from the locker room bench. Turning around, fully dressed, after a silent few minutes, she sees Christen almost ready to go — one shoe on, and one foot with a sock half up, face scrunched up, as she’s clearly struggling with the pain.

Tobin walks over to the girl, setting her stuff down on the bench beside her, before popping a squat right in front of her, head turning up to look Christen in the eye.

“So, what’re you doing here this early anyway?”

“You know I get up early,” Christen replies immediately.

“I know, I’ve just never run into you in the gym before? I come every morning…” Tobin curiously questions in response.

“Well this is a little later than usual for me,” Christen says, pausing before proceeding. “I had a kinda rough morning. Rough week, really.”

“Later than usual? What time do you usually come,” Tobin says, surprised. It’s not even half past seven. “And why rough?”

“Five ish. Frank lets me in.”

“Me too, actually. Man I love Frank, he’s the sweetest,” Tobin replies with a smile.

“Yeah he’s the best,” she states neutrally, smile drooping a little from a few minutes ago.

Tobin places her right hand on Christen’s left knee for a moment.

“You didn’t answer my other question,” Tobin breathes out. “But you don’t have to, you know, it’s cool.”

“Um, no it’s fine. My Mom got a pretty sketchy scan back and got sent in for a bunch of tests. And then Brett was pissed because I was so caught up in that, that I… um forgot about something important,” she trails off.

Tobin looks on sympathetically, giving her knee a quick squeeze before letting go.

“Tell me about your mom,” Tobin quietly asks, smiling in response to the smile making its way onto Christen’s face.

The one that appears when she’s about to word vomit about something she loves.

The one that gives Tobin butterflies.

The one that has Tobin falling, tumbling toward love.

“Her name’s Stacy. People say I kind of look exactly like her when she was younger. I’ll have to show you a picture sometime…”

And for the next fifteen or so minutes, as Christen looked down at Tobin, passion and love so clearly filling her eyes, telling all sorts of stories about her Mom, Tobin gently wrapped the girl’s ankle with tape (having done it to herself so many times over the years she didn’t even have to look), pulled her sock back on, and slid on her Air Force 1 sneaker, tying a double knot in the laces. Christen was so engrossed in her stories, distracted by the one topic she loved to talk most about right now, that she didn’t even feel any of it.

“... And that’s how I got into it seriously. She brought me to that wall I mentioned -- the concrete one in the middle of the grass field. And she would take me there after school everyday for an hour. And then when I got my license, I would stay for hours every night, just lining up and hitting the ball against the wall. She’s really the reason I am where I am today, with soccer, but also with everything. That’s what I was doing this morning, and all other rough mornings. There’s a wall in the middle of the field just south of campus behind this sus-looking wooden fence. No one ever goes there. It’s kind of my safe space. Just reminds me of her, and keeps me grounded and stuff, you know?” she says, the large smile still not having left her face, even fifteen minutes later.

She hesitates for a minute, and Tobin sees realization flush over her face before Christen continues speaking. “Wow, sorry I just talked your ear off. He — uh people, are always telling me I talk too much,” she laughs awkwardly.

The thing is, Tobin can see the insecurity lying behind that statement, and it wrenches her heart a little to know that someone ever made the sweet but spicy girl in front of her feel like that.

“Please don’t ever stop talking about what you’re passionate about,” Tobin says sincerely.

For a moment that just looked at each other, the same weighted eye contact falling upon their shoulders, as it had so many times at this point. The moment may have been silent, but so much was said, so much conveyed, in those stares.

And Tobin was just starting to get lost in the gold flecks in those green eyes for what feels like the millionth time that month, when Christen cleared her throat.

“We better get going if we’re gonna make the usual coffee stop. I think I might have to go barefoot…” she trails off again as she sees the fully clothed ankle, ready to go. “Oh, thanks,” she smiles.

Tobin lets her fingers trace over the girl’s calf for a few seconds before standing up and pulling Christen to her feet too.

“Anytime.”

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

It’s just a few seconds later that Tobin is practically leaping off of a fifteen foot rock for the second time that semester. At least this time she’s not naked.

As she’s walking swiftly toward the south end of campus, she’s running over what she wants to say in her head — hoping that Christen is actually at the so-called wall.

On the one hand, she’s fucking pissed. She’s pissed that Christen could never just use her words. She’s pissed the girl always runs away. She’s pissed about the whole pull me closer to push my further trope the green-eyed girl seems to be so fond of. She’s pissed that she didn’t say something to her sooner. She’s pissed Christen always assumes things without hearing Tobin speak at all. On the other hand, what does staying pissed at the girl really accomplish? She’ll just end up bitter and heartbroken this way, as well.

Making her way up to the wooden fence, she somehow manages to roll herself over the top like a log, avoiding using her left arm, and landing on the long grass below with a big thump.

She’s looking around, for a few seconds, when she finally spots a dark silhouette in the distance. Tobin watches the girl line up the ball, strike it perfectly against the wall, trap it with a perfect first touch, and repeat. It’s a sequence of events Christen only really does when she’s majorly stressed — the night before a huge exam, the morning of a big game, that afternoon she found out about her mom, and she supposes the night after telling Tobin she wanted her. She’s heard about it, but never seen it in action before.

Tobin shoves her hands into her UNC sweatpant pockets, her shoulders raising up a little as she slowly walks up behind Christen at the wall-court, still maybe five feet away from her as she clears her throat.

The girl visibly flinches and turns around wide-eyed.

“Jesus you scared me.”

“Uh, sorry,” Tobin replies quietly, not moving from her position at all.

“How did you find me?”

“I know you.”

Christen just sighs and turns her back to Tobin again, placing the ball down on the spray-painted red ‘X’ and backing up. Before she has a chance to run up, Tobin quietly sneaks up instead and flicks the ball up to her hands.

“Give it back, Tobin,” the green-eyed girl says as she lunges for the ball.

Tobin holds it just out of reach with a devilish smile.

“What’re you doing out here?” she asks instead, looking down at the ball in her hand for a few moments, only looking up when she realizes they’d been standing in silence since her question. Standing a few feet away from her, Christen was shedding tears once again.

“Woah, I’ll give back your ball I swear,” she tries to joke, but her smile begins to shrink when Christen doesn’t laugh out of humour. The sound she hears is more of a cackle.

“I’m not crying because you took my ball. God, tonight has gotta be my worst nightmare. This,” she motions between the two of them, “is my worst nightmare.”

Tobin looks at her questioningly.

“Talking to me is? You should’ve ubered away or something if you didn’t want to see me that bad,” she tried to joke again, attempting to keep the anger at bay so as to not scare her off again.

“My phone got stolen at the hotel pool last weekend.”

OH.

“Ah, so that’s why you haven’t answered any of my texts,” she says to herself as much as she says it to Christen.

Thinking back to the elevator that night after their big NCAA tournament win, Tobin vaguely remembers Christen mentioning that. In her defense, she was pretty distracted by a near-naked Christen in that moment, as well as being a little under the influence.

“Yeah, genius. And you would’ve known that already if you hadn’t disappeared for like five freaking days right after you fucked me, without a single word” she yells as she shoves Tobin in the chest in frustration.

“Me? I disappeared? Christen you’re the one who left a freaking note saying we ‘had fun’ and then couldn’t get back to your boyfriend fast enough.”

“Ex-boyfriend,” she corrects Tobin. “And yeah, I did go see him that morning when I woke up.”

Tobin’s silent for a moment, a little surprised at the admission, but Christen goes ahead before she can come up with something to say.

“Because regardless of what you think, I’m not a heartless asshole. I dated him for three years Tobin. Three years. And then I cheated on him, I had to talk to him.”

“And you couldn’t have waited until I woke up to tell me that?”

“I would’ve missed the bus.”

“You did miss the bus.”

“Because I wasn’t going to rush through that conversation? God Tobin, I’m not soulless,” Christen exasperates.

In response, Tobin just laughs coldly.

“Oh yeah, that’s why you were all cuddled up on the beach, for sure. Do I need to remind you that you’ve been cheating on him for a year with my best friend?”

“Ah, so now you guys are friends again huh?”

“What does it matter to you?”

“You know, I lost my best friend too when I lost her.”

“Yeah like you ever cared about her at all.”

Christen coils back a little at Tobin’s harsh insinuation.

“Don’t be an asshole just because you’re pissed at me. You know I cared about her more than almost anyone. You know how much that tore me to shreds,” she says, shedding another tear, before lowering her voice and continuing. “She was my very best friend too.”

“It was more than that.”

“No, Tobin, it wasn’t. That’s the point. We, me and you, were more than that.”

Are more than that,” Tobin hears her mouth say before her brain can stop her, looking into glassy green eyes.

Christen nervously nods at Tobin’s words, and Tobin can practically see the wheels turning in the girls head, can see her making a decision about what she wants to happen here, and then she sees her eyes open again, emotion having overcome them. “That’s why I had to go talk to him. I don’t love him the way he loves me, not anymore, not since I met you,” she finishes quietly.

It’s sweet. But Tobin is finding herself just getting frustrated at these admissions. She heard the unspoken words that Christen said in that last part. And that in itself is the problem. Everything between them is unspoken.

Christen takes a deep breath and takes a step toward her.

“I made a mistake.”

“Which time; when you kissed me or when you ran back to him?”

“Both.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Tobin scoffs, stepping back.

“I— I didn’t handle things well,” Christen admits. “I was confused.”

“I gathered.”

There’s a pause in the conversation, as they just look at each other for a moment.

“Is that really all you’re going to say?” Tobin inquires, voice lowering an octave.

“How am I supposed to think with you looking at me like..like this!” Christen yells.

“Like what?”

“Like, I don’t know,” Christen exasperates, looking away from Tobin.

“You don’t know anything do you? Maybe I should just go back and find someone that does know.” She cringes as she hears the words escape her mouth. Definitely didn’t need to say that.

The girl rolls her eyes and looks back at Tobin.

“You know, you’re the one in-deep with that blonde girl while chasing after me!”

“SO not the point, Chris.”

“I just saw your tongue down her throat tonight, Tobin. And now you’re here. I think that is the point.”

“No. No. You don’t get to come at me for finding someone else to repair what you broke."

“Then what do I get to come at you for, huh?" She takes another frustrated step toward Tobin. “You don’t get to pin this all on me.”

Tobin let out a frustrated huff. Because that wasn’t the point of this at all. She just wanted Christen to talk to her. But also, she knew Christen was right. Talking goes two ways.

“Why don’t you tell me? Maybe actually let me into your fucking head for once,” Tobin pleads for the second time that night, her eyes getting wet in frustration.

Christen just looks at her, motionless, seemingly trying to figure out what to say, before suddenly surging forward to connect their lips in a heated kiss.

Tobin lets herself sink back into the feeling of Christen’s lips for a moment, tasting once again like cinnamon gum and salty tears. Her arms came to encircle Christen’s waist, as the other girl’s grabbed roughly at the hair at the top of her neck. Lips moved fiercely, teeth clashing with Tobin’s, as if the girl was trying to convey all the hurt, the pain, the conflict that she’d felt in the past months. Tobin let out a soft moan as Christen’s teeth dragged against her bottom lip, before realizing this was their entire issue, shoving the girl off of her entirely.

“Words, I meant words,” Tobin states loudly, blinking rapidly while bringing herself down from the high.

“We’ve never been good at words.”

“That’s the fucking problem, Christen!”

More tears make their way down Christen’s cheeks, and this time Tobin reaches out to wipe them away. The girl startled a little at the touch, before sinking into it. And Tobin could see in her eyes that they felt the same way.

“And why do I have to be the one to do all the talking?” Christen asks pointedly.

“You don’t.”

“Hypocrite,” she mumbles, not so quietly.

Tobin rolls her eyes. “Oh my god Christen, I’ve been trying to talk to you all night. I —”

“—but I can’t read your mind either, you know,” Christen huffs out, interrupting Tobin. “And I’m SO tired. I’m freaking exhausted, and everyone’s gone now.”

“Look, I know you feel all vulnerable right because you broke up with him—”

“That is NOT what is happening right now. This has nothing to do with him,” Christen interjects again suddenly. “And FYI, I am not your recycling bin.”

And then Christen is snatching the ball from Tobin and speed walking in the other direction.

“Recyling bin?” Tobin murmurs in question to herself before turning toward the girl, getting more and more frustrated at how bad they are at actually talking about anything non-platonic. “No, you’re freaking crazy!” she yells, swinging her right arm forcefully through the air.

Christen huffs a “fuck you” just loud enough for Tobin to hear as she’s storming away.

She waits a beat before jogging after her, catching up in a few seconds and placing her hand on Christen’s shoulder, turning her around before Christen shrugs it off and looks down at her feet.

“Chris, I’m sorry I said that. You’re not crazy. I mean, a little looney tunes, maybe…” and then Tobin chuckles to herself.

“You think all of this is funny?” Christen asks in a mixture of annoyance and disbelief.

“You don’t know what I think, because you never let me actually tell you,” she smiles. “You talk a lot.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize. It’s what makes you, you,” her grin settles into a soft, close-lipped smile, as she raises a hand to touch Christen’s jaw, and it seems to calm the both of them in that moment.

“Look, Tobs, I’m so sorry. I care about you so much, I didn’t mean for this to happen. But I lost Kelley and then I knew I couldn’t have him, but then I couldn’t have you because I had him, and it all just got so complic….”

“Shh, can I talk now?” She watches as Christen trails off mid sentence and nods shyly. “I want you.”

She sees Christen’s eyes light up and her head starts to lean forward, but Tobin just shakes her head and uses her right hand on Christen’s jaw to hold her in place.

“But I can’t do this anymore. You can’t have me and run back to him. You can’t have me and then run away from me again and again. You have to talk to me. Because this has all been killing me, Chris. Jackie, that blonde is just a friend. A friend who knows about you. A friend who knows how in— uh, in deep I am with you.” She knows they’re not really in a place to say that yet.

“God, I’m so horrible,” she frowns and turns away, her fingers playing nervously with the end of her curly hair. “Most women aren’t this difficult, you can do so much better than me.”

Tobin just smirks, “Yeah, but you’re not most women, remember?” she repeats Christen’s line from the first night at the party, a small smile rising to her face as she sees Christen let out a small giggle and nod.

“Why do you even like me anyway?”

Tobin heard the joking tone, but she also heard the ounce of sincerity enlaced in that question. So she takes a step toward the girl, smiling.

“Because you get this crinkle inbetween your eyebrows whenever you’re concentrating really hard on something. Because you never shut up when you’re passionate about something. Because you talk about your dogs like they’re people — I literally think Morgan thinks they are people. Because you can’t drive unless the windows are down, and then your curls fly in the wind, and they’re so beautiful, and you’re so beautiful. You’re so selfless that you sometimes forget to take care of yourself. And you’re so unpredictable. And because tequila is my favorite drink in the world, and now I can’t even look at it without thinking of you.” And then pulls Christen’s face toward her own. “And everytime I see those green eyes, all I can think about is kissing that sexy smirk right off of your face.”

And then they’re looking deeply into each other’s eyes once again.

“Then do it.”

And Tobin moves a little closer, but she stills holds the girl’s face so that her lips are just a few inches from her own, unable to move closer.

“Go out with me?” she says softly.

She sees the nerves in Christen’s eyes as she whispers, “What about Jackie?”

Tobin shakes her head, knowing she already explained this and Christen is just nervous, and she moves in just an inch closer, using her hand on Christen’s jaw to keep the girl’s head from moving closer.

“Go out with me?” she repeats quietly.

“I’m sorry,” Christen says breathily as another tear rolls out of her eyes.

Tobin strokes along her jaw in silent acknowledgement of her apology.

“Go out with me?” she says a third time.

“Are you sure?” Christen says firmly, eyes looking back and forth between Tobin’s.

And then Tobin’s eyes are leaving Christen’s and settling instead on her lips. She moves another inch closer, so that her lips are just ghosting over Christen’s.

“Go out with me?” she whispers against the girl’s lips.

And then Christen is smiling, and nodding, and leaning in to press her lips firmly against Tobin’s.

It’s different from any of the other times they’ve kissed. It’s not furious, angry, and rushed. Instead, their lips move together softly. Full of hopeful promise, slow passion, and requited feelings.

And it tastes like forgiveness.

And it’s so much better than any kiss they’ve shared before.

The kiss itself doesn’t last long, maybe only ten seconds or so before they’re smiling so much that they are forced to break apart. There was so much that still needed to be said between them. But both of them knew there would be time for that later.

As their eyes flutter open, they’re both smiling widely, and Tobin places a small kiss on the tip of Christen’s nose, and then one to her forehead, before looking into her favorite green eyes once again.

Christen’s just smiling so wide it’s adorable, and she leans forward, wrapping her arms tightly around Tobin’s neck, and letting out a sigh of relief and shutting her eyes as she feels Tobin’s right arm snake tightly around her waist in return.

“I’m so sorry, Tobs,” she whispers into her neck, leaving a small kiss there before burying her face in the crook.

“I know, me too. We can talk about it later, okay?”

She feels Christen nod into her neck.

“I missed you.”

Tobin smiles. “I missed you too.”

They stay like that, just standing together in each other’s embrace quietly for a few minutes, Tobin running her right hand up and down Christen’s back soothingly, the other girl quietly crying into Tobin’s neck.

As Christen takes a final huff and begins to pull away, she reaches her right arm down to intertwine her fingers with Tobin’s left hand, but Tobin quickly flinches and pulls back. It’s then that Christen sees the swollen, purple color that is surrounding Tobin’s left wrist.

Squatting to the ground, she extremely gently lifts Tobin’s arm.

“Oh my god, what happened to you?”

Tobin winces in pain again as Christen carefully touches her wrist.

“Sorry,” Christen grimaces.

“I ran into the ‘pull’ door again trying to chase after you,” she mumbles, an embarrassing blush raising to her cheeks.

She watches as Christen stands up and puts a hand over her mouth to try to contain her laugh, as she looks at Tobin.

“It’s not funny!”

Christen removes her hand and crosses her arms against her chest.

“It’s kinda funny.”

“Shut up,” she shoves Christen playfully in the shoulder, causing her to move backward a step, before Tobin’s face settles into an adorable pout.

Christen is biting her lip momentarily to contain her growing grin at how cute Tobin’s pout is before she nervously steps forward and places a soft, chaste kiss against Tobin lips.

Stepping back, her eyes open wide again, and she looks down at her shoes, tucking a hair behind her ear as she mumbles, “Sorry.”

But Tobin is just using her right hand to pull Christen’s chin up. “Don’t apologize,” she says, before she places a longer, but gentler kiss against Christen’s lips, and then one more on her cheek quickly.

She pulls back and drops her hand from under the girl’s chin, they’re both smiling at each other again for a few moments before they break eye contact to look up at the sky after feeling a couple of raindrops. And then Tobin is slinging her right arm around Christen’s shoulder, and Christen is hugging her arms around Tobin’s midsection.

Tobin looks down at the girl cuddled into her side. “Wanna head back to the room before we get rained on again?”

“Totally, but I think we should maybe stop in the ED first, though?”

Tobin rolls her eyes, clearly seeing the girl trying to hold in a laugh.

“Yeah that’s probably a good idea.”

“Mhm,” Christen lets a giggle through as they start walking toward the University Hospital, which luckily is just off campus to the south side, in the direction they had both travelled to get to the wall. “Maybe we can grab some snacks on the way back too?”

“Yessss. Wait! I didn’t bring my wallet.”

Christen just slips her hand down into Tobin’s back pocket to grab her phone, before quickly removing the $20 bill she keeps in the back of her case with a raised eyebrow.

Tobin feigns shock with a deep breath. “Not my emergency twenty!”

“You told me that thing’s been in there for 6 years.”

“It’s for emergencies, fourteen year old me was very strict about it,” Tobin half-teases.

“Does a trip to the emergency room not count?”

“It’s like my good luck charm at this point.”

“Don’t make me tell fourteen year old you how much of an idiot you are now.”

“I’ve always been an idiot..”

“But I want ice cream,” she frowns, before continuing her joking at Tobin. “I could always tell Ali and Ash how exactly you got this purple hand.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” Tobin jokes back.

“Try me.”

“Whatever,” she rolls her eyes. “As long as we get sour gummy worms, I’m game.”

“Deal! Thank you,” Christen smiles, before stopping their walk for a moment. “We can still talk about stuff later though, right?”

“Yeah, course,” she says back nervously.

“I just have some stuff I have to tell you,” she says to Tobin, quickly seeing the girl’s eyes go a little scared and jaw clench a little tighter. Reaching up to grab Tobin’s arm, she quickly continues. “Stop worrying, I still want to make up,” she smiles.

And then Tobin lunges forward and attacks her lips again, and it’s a little more aggressive this time, and Tobin takes Christen’s surprised gasp as a chance to stick her tongue into her mouth for a good thirty seconds before she pulls away, giving a very dazed Christen one final short kiss and pulling back completely.

“What was that for?” Christen asks, licking her own lips for a moment.

“You wanted to make out?”

Christen laughs. “No, I said make up.”

“Oh, well I heard make out,” she teases.

“I literally said ‘up’ dumbass.”

Tobin just shrugs. “Guess the brain hears what it wants to.”

And Christen’s happily rolling her eyes, before intertwining her hands and starting to pull them both in the direction of the hospital.

Chapter Text

“Oh my god, finally.”

It’s not until about 1 o’clock in the morning that the two of them arrive back at the dorm room.

Shutting the door with her un-casted arm, and letting out a big huff, Tobin tosses her keys and Christen’s soccer ball on the far side of the room before hopping up on the bed. A few moments behind her is Christen, carrying an arm-full of snacks and two tubs of ice cream, which she proceeds to drop in a scattered pile next to Tobin’s legs.

“This is way too heavy to have cost twenty bucks.”

“It may have cost twenty bucks, but I’m gonna eat it in like twenty seconds, I’m starving,” Tobin replies, before she lifts her head up and begins making grabby hand motions toward the gummy worms.

Christen rolls her eyes, not entirely un-hyponotized by the cuteness of it all, before she grabs a handful of gummy worms from the bag and shoves it at Tobin’s mouth with a grin.

Tobin tilts her head back laughing as gummy worms fall over her face.

“Whyy,” she chokes out as gummy worms envelop her mouth.

Christen’s failing miserably at holding back her giggle, and then Tobin’s lunging forward rapidly to grab the girl with her uninjured arm, throwing it around her waist. She pulls her in, and then on top of herself on the bed.

“I’m gonna get you back,” she says slightly clearer as she peppers her face with small kisses full of sour sugar.

“Ew, stop!” she’s laughing and swatting Tobin’s head away from her own. Christen’s reveling in how easy it is for the girl to turn the whole night around, despite the running, and the yelling, and the broken arms. She still can’t help but smile as she wipes some of the sour sugar from her face and lays her head down onto Tobin’s chest, settling into a silence.

There had been a lot of silences already that night, but none as comfortable as this.

The others had come amidst some notably uncomfortable conversations. All one’s they needed to have, but nonetheless, no more comfortable than expected.

Neither Tobin nor Christen were really the chatty, let’s talk about our feelings types — probably the reason it took so long for them to get here in the first place — so it was oddly helpful that for two hours, they were stuck alone in a 7x7 hospital room together, just waiting for the on-call orthopedist to arrive and take a look at Tobin’s wrist.

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

Settling into her chair across from the hospital bed as the nurse leaves the room, Tobin had watched as Christen taps her foot, echoing in the eerie quiet that surrounded them. The girl’s eyes were on the cabinet in the corner of the room, the one that was lined with pictures drawn by thankful children after they had left the emergency room.

For some reason, the darkness outside had made everything feel easier.

Easier to yell at each other. Easier to say how they really felt. Easier to throw punches.

Now that they finally came into the light, and they could really see each other, it all became so real. And real is hard.

“I’m sorry,” Christen said after a few minutes, breaking the silence of the room.

“It’s okay, hopefully I didn’t break it too bad,” Tobin replied pensively, examining her wrist with her eyes.

“No, um, not about your wrist,” she said quietly. “I mean, that just seems like karma for you crushing my ankle a few months ago” she adds on with a wink.

Tobin just sighs sassily and looks to the right, shaking her head at the girl’s unvarnished wit.

But inside, her stomach is turning into six hundred knots, unable to coalesce with the fact that she’s finally alone in a room with Christen.

And she’s not running away, not coming up with excuses to leave. She’s just sitting there because that’s where she actually wants to be, not just becaust it’s where Tobin wants her to be.

“I’m sorry that I kept running,” Christen breathes out semi-quietly, but firmly.

It’s not like the apology is some grand revelation by any means. It’s just that Tobin had learned better in those few months than to ever assume she knows what’s going on behind the closed-door mystery that is Christen Press’ brain.

So, no -- it’s not a surprise to actually hear the words coming out of her mouth. What is a surprise, is to learn that she actually means them. Because for Tobin, this had exceeded the standards of a game long ago. Part of what ate at her so much was that she honestly never knew if this was ever more than a chase on Christen’s end too, if it was requited.

A part of her was still afraid that if she pushed too much for this, the other girl would pull away.

“It’s okay,” Tobin breathes out, letting her eyes wander away from Christen’s chair and along the plain white walls of the brightly lit, small hospital room they were set in.

”No, it’s not.”

As Tobin turns her head back toward Christen, she sees that the girl is now looking down at her lap, twiddling her fingers in nervous anticipation.

”Why did you then?” Tobin asks after a moment.

It’s the age-old question this semester. The one she really had wanted to know.

”I don’t—,” she immediately starts. But then Tobin sees the girl lift up her head, eyes pinched shut, toward the ceiling, as if stopping herself from saying whatever defense mechanism words were just about to come out of her mouth, and willing herself to be different this time.

Tobin studied her face as she patiently waited.

”Remember what I told you at the 180 that night? About how I used to be scared of how good things were, and now I feel like I mess up every time I breathe?”

She nods silently, encouraging her to go on.

“At some point, I realized that the worry and the fear -- it all went away when I was with you,” she opens her eyes, but still doesn’t make eye contact with Tobin, still pointedly staring in the direction of the gray ceiling. “And that was fine until my Mom called one morning and excitedly asked when she would finally get to see Brett again.”

She finally looks down after a moment, and Tobin’s hazel eyes meet wet, green ones.

“And the gravity of the whole thing sort of fell on me. Brett’s been my rock for years. It’s hard to let a good thing go, even when it’s not good anymore, you know? And I didn't want to disappoint her when I’m already losing her. But I was already losing myself in you. And then I just lost myself.”

She pauses for a moment to sniffle and wipe her nose lightly on her arm, and Tobin stays silent, getting the sense that she had more to say.

“And I didn’t mean to hurt Kelley. I wasn’t trying to be malicious. She pushed, I wasn’t ready. I panicked, because I was trying to keep everything the same, how it was before, but I swear every decision I made would cost me someone important. I couldn’t pick and then I just lost everyone instead. It’s my own fault,” she laughs self-deprecatingly. “God, I was selfish. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I messed everything up. I’m sorry.”

Tears are falling gently from Christen’s eyes for what feels like the millionth time that night.

“Thanks for telling me all that,” Tobin says quietly with a sincere smile. “I know I can’t know exactly how you feel, but I do know what it feels like to feel like you’ve lost everyone important to you, like you’ve lost control of the reins to your own life.”

She quickly pushed herself up off of the hospital bed, walking to sit on the second chair next to Christen, and using her un-injured hand to brush some of the tears from under the girl’s eyes.

”You didn’t mess this up,” she says with a small smile.

Christen just looks at her with two eyebrows raised.

“Ok so what if you did a little? You and I both fuck up all the time.”

“I guess,” Christen sighs out.

And now Tobin is the one looking at Christen with a question unspoken.

“Maybe you a little more though recently,” Tobin teases with a wink.

“Fuck you,” Christen huffs out, but Tobin sees the corners of her mouth turn up a little into a subtle smile.

“Anytime, really” Tobin quips in a low tone, with a devilish grin and a hand sliding onto Christen’s upper thigh, trying to lighten the mood just a little when she sees the girl retreating into herself.

The words send a shiver down Christen’s spine, and the hand resting high on her thigh sends a shiver right back up. She swallows deeply and turns her face away from Tobin to face the hospital bed straight ahead.

“Hmm, I’ll think about it,” Christen responds in a breathy voice, still looking straight ahead with a smirk.

“I bet you will.”

And Christen’s just rolling her eyes with a smile, humming, “mhm” daringly.

And Tobin’s smiling too as she sees some of the tension drop from Christen’s shoulders.

Just like Tobin had a reputation when she arrived at UNC, Christen had one too — mysterious, forthcoming force of nature, practically married to the stable football guy. How could he ever keep her in check when her punchline was unpredictable chaos?

She wasn’t a what you see is what you get type of girl. And maybe that made her a little too much for some people, but to Tobin, it’s what made her enough.

Tobin would describe her like a layered onion. The more you got to know her, the more layers you could see peeled back, ones you could just never have seen before.

And Tobin may not know it for sure, but she has a strong inkling that she has seen more layers than most other people.

And it’s alarming to Christen how well Tobin reads her, considering that people continuously tell her how unpredictable and unreadable she is. How she knew just now when to change the subject, what to change it to.

It’s scary, but also lights every nerve ending in her body on fire.

It’s all part of it — the push and pull, the spice, the endless taunting. Their dynamic is something they both have only found in each other, the way they are fundamentally different, yet think so alike they know exactly how to push each other’s buttons. It’s magnetic, and electric, and chemical, and all the other forces in the physical plane.

Tangible.

Requited.

Burns them both to the core.

So she’s honestly not sure how Christen could ever possibly not know she wanted her; however, Tobin also wasn’t entirely unaware of the effect she had on girls, the way Jackie was partially a jealousy stunt, and, well, what was said about her down the grapevine.

“I had fun that night,” she remarked, carefully watching Christen’s profile as the words came out of her mouth.

“Yeah, me too,” the girl responded somewhat shyly, as if she was treading the waters of this particular conversation.

Tobin moves the hand resting on Christen’s thigh slightly inward as she leans into whisper, “You’re very sexy.”

Christen’s chest rises and falls a little quicker than before and it brings a familiar twinge deep into Tobin’s stomach. The one she just can’t seem to escape whenever she’s around this girl.

“Oh I know” she speaks confidently, glancing over at Tobin for a moment, before settling back into her gaze across the room.

Tobin just chuckles for a moment, before psyching herself up to say what she needed to.

“But you know that you’re more than that for me, right? I like everything about you. We don’t have to jump into something if it’s too much, we can just be friends for now. But you’re not just another girl, Chris, you never have been. It’s different with you.”

Prolonged silence.

Christen’s facial expression is unchanging, body unmoving, and Tobin is terrified for a moment that she said too much. That maybe she had read this wrong.

She’s about to start cursing herself, when she feels Christen’s hand slide on top of her own, which was still resting on top of her thigh.

Still, neither of them speak for a few minutes. They just sit, hands smushed together, bathing in the uncomfortable silence — a completely empty moment, but the air was charged into a combustible fury.

Finally, she looks down as she feels Christen squeeze the hand on her leg, before flipping it over, sliding her fingers down Tobin’s wrist and into her hand, until their fingers intertwine.

The girl’s attention hasn’t faltered from it’s blank stare at the opposite wall, as she speaks in a breathy tone.

“I don’t want to be just friends, Tobin.”

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

Eventually, the doctor came in to take a look at Tobin’s wrist, and the two of them parted ways as she went down to get X-rays and get casted up.

Now, laying together on the bed just a few hours later, Tobin had a bright orange cast on her left arm, with one signature on it from the girl now laying in her arms.

“I’m hungry,” Tobin whined from under Christen’s body.

But Christen was content in laying there with her head on Tobin’s chest, and she told her as much. “I gave you gummy worms.”

“Chrisss,” she pouts.

“Can you just hold me a little longer?” Christen asks quietly.

And Tobin nearly melts at the words and the way the girl grips her shirt a little tighter, as if she’s afraid she’ll leave. And at this point, it’s not an invalid concern.

They both know they have a lot to work through. Right now, they both utterly suck at this. But the only thing that matters in this moment is that they know they both want this. The rest would just take some time, and probably a few more fuck-ups, if they were being honest about it.

In lieu of a verbal response, Tobin slides her hands under Christen’s shirt, letting her fingers brush across the warm skin of Christen's lower back, idly drawing patterns as she goes.

She smiles as she feels Christen nuzzle her chin further into the space under Tobin’s chin and humming softly as finger-tips dance across her spine.

And it’s not long until they’ve both fallen fast asleep.

And for the first time in months, they both sleep soundly through the night.

And when Tobin wakes up in the morning, she sees an open bag of gummy worms, two pints of definitely-melted ice cream, and a curly haired brunette softly snoring in her arms.

 

_______________________________________________________

 

With soccer season over, Tobin thought she would have all the time in the world to fall further into her green-eyed girl while still finishing up her school and volunteer responsibilities.

Oh lord, was she wrong.

The next three weeks, the final ones before finals week, were busy as living hell.

Time was tight with the end of the semester rapidly approaching. And unfortunately, that meant barely having time to see any of her friends, let alone Christen.

Of course they still saw each other in some respect, given that they were roommates. Every morning, Tobin woke up in bed next to Christen, and every night she would sneak into the room at 2:30 a.m. from the library, and Christen, as if she had a sixth sense, would roll over and open her arms for Tobin to hop in next to her.

Plus, Christen was now actually sleeping in the room every night, for the first time since Tobin had met the girl a little over five months ago.

During the day, though, Tobin barely saw other humans at all. She found herself almost always working through lunch, and having to complete assignments whilst she ate dinner.

She supposes this is what she gets for taking six classes instead of the recommended four. But as a transfer student, Tobin was just doing her due diligence to make sure she graduated on-time with all the differing requirements in the biochemistry major at UNC, as compared to Stanford.

Seeing as Christen was pre-med as well, it’s not like she had all the time in the world either. In fact, Christen was practically living in the library at this point. So much so that Tobin received this text everyday like clockwork:

3:17 p.m. Chris: I miss you

And this one:

6:46 p.m. Chris: I need a hug

And this one:

10:43 p.m. Chris: what do I have to do to get a red bull? I promise I’ll make it worth your time;)

And she delivered on all of them, using them as reasons to finally take study breaks from her own work and see her favorite person.

And Christen did make it worth her time. In all possible connotations of that sentence.

But it went both ways. Christen would appear to surprise Tobin with an iced coffee at her favorite fourth-floor study nook. Some days, she would even stay and study at the opposite end of the table.

Tobin would steal glances at her, infatuated with the adorable way her forehead crinkled and her tongue poked out from between her lips when she was intensely focusing on her work. Occasionally, Christen’s mouth would curl up into a smile, knowing that Tobin was staring at her. And Tobin would swear that the girl’s smile was infectious, contagious, and could turn any day upside down. It made a smile rise on her own face as she looked back to her own work once she realized she had been caught.

Or, of course, some days they would not study in the back of the library between classes or study sessions.

Today was one of those days.

It should be a chill and laid back morning, given that it is both a Friday and the last day of classes. Instead, Tobin and Christen found themselves sleepily drudging across campus at 6 a.m. to the library, both needing to prepare for their last Biology and Chemistry quizzes, respectively, they had later that morning at 9 a.m..

What kind of a teacher gives a quiz on the very last day of classes?

Of course, neither of them should have been up at 6 a.m. studying for a quiz on the last day of classes. The truth is that the two of them had barely even gone to sleep that night. And it wasn’t the studying that kept them up all night…

They were more than engrossed in that new relationship phase — the constant sparks that inflame into a combustible force with every touch. And with the limited time they have to see each other, on top of the months of yearning and touch-starved pining, well… let’s just say that they both are having a lot of trouble with restraint when they’re in the same vicinity.

So, yes, they dragged themselves to the library, a public space, to force themselves to study. They probably should’ve known better.

And that’s how Tobin finds herself thirty minutes into leaving hickeys down Christen’s collarbone in the back of the fifth floor of the library in the J through L stacks, so early in the morning that they hadn’t even gotten coffee yet.

Christen’s hands slide up the back of Tobin’s neck as she bites her lips and lightly moans at the feeling of Tobin’s teeth on her skin. Her hands move up to tangle a little roughly in Tobin’s hair as the girl moans a little bit louder.

And Tobin nearly comes on the spot.

Now, the library is probably not the best place for this whole heated situation, and Tobin knows this, but her mind had gone utterly blank the moment Christen’s lips touched her own.

They’d been doing this all night, but Tobin swears she cannot get enough of her.

Christen’s hands pull a little harder on Tobin’s hair until her head pops up from the girl’s neck, and Christen crashes their lips together again.

She hooks her leg behind Christen and uses the leverage to spin her around and slam her against the shelves of books at the end of the row.
The force causes a few books to fall to the ground, and it makes the both of them laugh into the kiss.

Nonetheless, Christen is kissing her in a way that makes her feel more than wanted. It’s as if the girl is searching for something within Tobin, as if their lips touching is not enough to quench her thirst for Tobin.

Tobin’s lips attack Christen’s with just as much purpose, their bodies fitting together with a sensation as sweet as putting the final puzzle piece into a 5,000 piece puzzle.

So caught up in the girl, she didn’t even realize that nearly an hour and a half had passed, and she was twenty minutes late to meet Kelley for a final review before class.

Her tongue is brought out of Christen’s mouth by a vibration in her sweatpant pocket. She pulls back slightly, admiring the discheveled mess she had turned Christen into as the girl pants into her mouth.

Green eyes flutter open, locking straight onto her own hazel eyes, with a new gleam that she had only seen surface in the last few weeks since they started this.

“I think you’re vibrating,” Christen giggles out.

“I think I am,” she hums back.

And then a devilish smile makes its way onto Christen’s face as she presses her body up further against Tobin’s, closing her eyes and moaning as the vibrations from Tobin’s pocket overwhelm her own body.

Tobin’s mouth goes completely dry.

It is not humanly possible for another person to be this sexy.

She slides her arms out from where they are snug around Christen’s waist such that her hands can grab at the girl’s hips, pulling them tighter against her own hips and smirking. She hesitates there for a moment before leaning forward, kissing up Christen’s jaw toward her ear, biting her earlobe for a fleeting moment before whispering, “That’s just unfair.”

Christen pulls back, biting her lip and maintaining eye contact as she slides her hand into Tobin’s pocket and pulls out the phone, sliding the call button to answer before handing it to Tobin and walking out of the aisle with a swing to her step.

Tobin watches her leave for a moment, absolutely and completely captivated, before bringing the phone up to her ear.

“Hello?”

“Yo, Heath, you blowing me off?”

Tobin straightens up suddenly before bringing the phone away from her ear for a moment to check the time.

7:33 a.m.

Right away, she’s jogging out of the aisle, guiltily apologizing, “Shit, sorry Kel.”

“It’s cool, I was gonna drag you to The Bean anyway. Last day of classes caffeine rush needed pronto. I’ll find us a table.”

“Kay, sorry again, see you in five, bye!” she says into the phone, before hanging it up, grabbing her stuff, kissing Christen sloppily on the forehead, and running full-speed out of the library.

 

_______________________________________________________

 

The quiz itself that morning wasn’t too bad.

Luckily, their professor had gone easy on them with ten multiple choice questions, rather than the usual short-answer questions. There is only so much you can bullshit in cell biology, but at least with multiple choice questions, you know the correct answer is there to begin with.

Kelley and Tobin parted ways after class, agreeing to meet up for lunch with the rest of the soccer house at the cafe to do some last-minute planning for their big end of the semester jamboree that night. Kelley headed back to The Bean for another round of coffee, while Tobin was off to the library — what a surprise.

Tobin had a paper due that night for her English class. Since she was planning on going to the party later that night, she had decided to get it done and turned in midday. After all, she’d be too drunk later to speak words, let alone write coherent sentences.

There are very few feelings more satisfying than hitting the ‘Submit’ button on an assignment that has been looming over your head forever.

And when it’s finally in at just before 1 p.m., after a few hours of intense bullshitting, Tobin sets an alarm for 1:30 p.m. and puts her head down to take a power nap. It was much needed.

The only thing stopping her from snoozing her alarm and going back to sleep is knowing that Christen is waiting for her outside the library to head to the café together.

Somehow, she had convinced the girl to come to this luncheon.

Tobin knows that she doesn’t actually want to be there, just was asked at an ~opportune moment~ when it was hard to say ‘no’ to anything.

She wasn’t by any means forcing the girl to go. However, even if Christen wouldn’t admit it, Tobin could tell how much she was hurting from all of the drama that had spread throughout the team, and the huge amount of cold shoulders turned her way throughout the semester.

Baby steps, Tobin thought.

A few minutes later, she steps out of the library door, overtaken by the cool winter breeze of early-december Carolina. She immediately spots the girl leaning up against the wall of the building, looking down at her phone.

“Hi,” she walked up slowly behind the girl, hands shoved in the pockets of her black track pants.

“Hi, long time no see,” the green-eyed girl returns, as she turns around, smiling wide at the sound of Tobin’s voice, before she even looks up.

Taking a few steps toward Tobin, she pulls both hands out of her pockets and around her own waist, before launching her arms around Tobin’s shoulders.

“Too long,” Tobin pouts, sliding her arms down to the girl’s lower waist, holding on tight, as she buries her nose into Christen’s neck for a moment, just breathing her in. She smells of vanilla and cinnamon, and brings a calming aura to Tobin, making her feel safe. About twenty seconds later, they both pull back.

“Ready?” Christen asks sweetly.

Tobin hums and nods, before throwing an arm around Christen’s shoulders and pulling her in the direction of the café, about a 30 minute walk from the library.

“It’s gonna be fine, Chris, I promise,” Tobin says after thirty seconds of Christen nervously playing with the hand Tobin has slung over her shoulders.

“You can’t know that,” she sighs out. “Do they even know I’m coming?”

“I told a few of them yesterday.”

Christen turns her head to look at Tobin’s face.

“Dude…”

“Look, it took me a hot minute to get back on their good sides, too. If it’s any consolation, you’re my favorite social-pariah,” Tobin teases.

“You literally suck,” Christen pauses. “And what did you even tell them?”

It’s in that moment that Tobin realizes that while her and Christen were living in their little blissful bubble, they hadn’t exactly talked about what they were doing, or what they were telling people. In retrospect, they hadn’t really talked about anything of substance since the night she broke her arm.

“Uh, just that we’re friends again and stuff.”

It’s a half-truth -- she really hadn’t explicitly told anyone what was going on between the two of them. She wouldn’t know what to say at this moment if she tried. Plus, she didn’t know how comfortable Christen was with their relationship being out right away.

“Oh, okay. Cool.”

“Is it?” Tobin says thoughtfully, looking over at Christen, willing her to look back.

And she does look back.

“Course, you’re my best friend.”

Tobin just smiles, not sure now is the right time for this conversation, but not entirely comforted by that answer.

“You might have to do a little canoodling of your own to get back in their good graces, but I’ll be there if it goes haywire just let me know and we can leave, okay?”

“Did you just use canoodling in a sentence?” Christen blurts out, holding back a laugh.

“Uh huh, you could never.”

“I would never,” Christen says, fully laughing now.

“You’re one to talk, ms. ‘coffee is the most jentacular beverage’.”

“At least my vocab makes me sound smart. What’s ‘canoodling’ doing for you?”

“You are smart,” Tobin rolls her eyes. “Also a huge wise-ass. And a pain in my ass.”

Christen hits her playfully in the arm. “You like it though.”

“I do,” Tobin admits, looking over at her adoringly.

“Thank you though,” Christen says quietly, and Tobin can see the sincerity in her eyes. “I think it’s gonna take time for them to forgive me for all my stupid decisions… or rather, for Kelley to. I can’t believe you convinced me to come to this.”

“Honestly me too, you’re crazy stubborn.”

“Ok anyways,” Christen rolls her eyes. “How was your bio quiz?”

“Lucky Prof Ellis went easy on us, because someone was very distracting last night… and this morning”

“Well guess you’re even more lucky that classes are over because I think that someone is planning on doing more distracting.”

“I mean, we still have finals, but I’m not complaining,” Tobin says as she lowers the hand around Christen’s shoulder to squeeze her boob real fast.

Christen swats at her hand quickly, looking around them frantically to see if anyone was looking at them. “Tobin!” she chastises.

“My hand slipped.”

Christen bites back a witty response in favor of punching Tobin slightly hard in the side.

“OW!”

“My hand slipped,” Christen shrugs.

“Touchê,” Tobin smiles.

She was so incredibly into the way Christen always kept her on her toes, and she was fighting the urge in this moment to kiss that smug smile off of the girl’s face.

“So you excited for the party later?”

“Yeah I feel like I haven’t been to one in forever,” Tobin replies, re-settling her arm comfortably around Christen’s shoulder.

“Plus the season’s over, so we can really go ham on the tequila,” Christen returns.

“Yeah,” Tobin laughs, “as if you haven’t been doing that all semester.”

“I admit nothing.”

“Should I pull up that snap video of you chugging a handle of Titos and dancing topless on the pong table,” Tobin says as she takes out her phone and taps the snapchat app.

Christen grabs the phone out of Tobin's hand before she can find the video.

“If you ever wanna see me topless again, you will not find that video right now.”

She slowly hands the phone back to Tobin, and a smile emerges on her face as she watches Tobin concede, shoving it in her back pocket.

_______________________________________________________

 

Kelley looks up and smiles as Tobin and Christen arrive at the circular table at the back of the café twenty minutes later — separated by good five feet, as Christen had shoved Tobin off of her when they entered the café (she made a note to ask about it later). It had been a long while since they had all been together like this. And the last time was … not so pleasant.

“Hey Tobin,” she says casually, before taking a long sip of her iced cortado. “Fucking anyone new lately?”

Tobin stops and makes prolonged eye contact with her smirking friend, realizing she somehow figured out about the two of them within the four hours since they had left Biology class together. Meanwhile, Christen is blushing intensely and looking away, her face settling into a subtle panic.

“Yeah, your mom. Tell her I say hey,” Tobin replies smoothly as she pulls out a chair, prompting a few laughs from those around the table.

Christen visibly relaxes, and they sit down together.

“Hey Christen,” Kelley, as well as a few others, threw out unenthusiastically, minus Ali, who was seated on the other side of Christen.

She awkwardly mumbles back a “Hi” toward everyone at the table.

After a few more seconds of Tobin’s unsubtle eye contact conversation with Kelley, Christen suddenly gets up, aggressive in her offer to leave the table and get toast and coffee for the both of them.

She gives Christen a smile as she’s leaving, before directing her glance exactly back to Kelley’s eyes across the table. The rest of the table is talking about the furniture set-up for the party later, engrossed in conversation.

Tobin removes her green Nalgene water bottle from her bag and unscrews the cap.

“How’d you know?” she says into her water, making sure to keep her voice down.

In all honesty, Tobin had been nervous about her finding out, and having to figure out how to balance both Christen and Kelley in her life -- both super important, but also both not speaking to one another. It was one thing for Kelley to know Tobin liked the same girl, but it was another to have it thrown in her face all the time.

But she’s more-so curious about how she knew in the first place. Because Tobin did not explicitly tell anyone, and she had barely spoken to another soul besides Christen since Georgia.

Although now that she thinks about it, she had received a weird text from Alex earlier that morning…

11:27 a.m. Al: FINALLYYY

Suddenly it makes much more sense.

Before Kelley can respond to the question, Tobin feels arms come loosely around her shoulders and a very loud squeal rings in her ear.

Tobin’s still looking at Kelley, who simply gestures at the person standing above her as the answer to ‘how she knew.’

“Tobin, Tobin, TOBIN, I did it!”

Tobin brings her hand up to hold onto Jackie’s arm, turning her head slightly to face Jackie’s head over her left shoulder.

“Did what, Jax?” she’s laughing out at the girl’s enthusiasm.

“Nick’s coming to the party with me later!”

Ever since the club in Florida, Jackie had talked her ear off about this guy. It was clear that her blonde friend had developed a fast infatuation -- a concept she was all too familiar with -- and she had been helping her figure out how to ask him out.

However, winter break was approaching fast, and Jackie didn’t want to start something completely new that would fizzle. So they had decided that this party was the perfect setting for Nick and Jackie to become good enough friends to stay in touch over break.

Sure, it had ridiculous overthinking written all over it, but then again, so was Jackie’s whole plan to help get Christen, and that had seemed to pan out, so Tobin just went along with it.

Nothing like a little end of semester spice.

“See, I told you he’d agree,” Tobin responds with a smile. “You’re a total catch, dynamo.”

They’re broken apart from their half-hug and laughing by the sound of a throat being cleared over their heads.

There stands Christen, mouth contorted into a close-lipped smile, handing Tobin a black iced coffee.

“Thank youuuu,” she returns as she grabs it and quickly takes a few gulps.

Jackie is still laughing as she slowly stands up from her back-hug of Tobin, smiling brightly at Christen.

“Hey, Christen, right? I don’t think we’ve ever actually been introduced. I’m Jackie,” she says calmly, reaching her right hand out.

It’s alarming the way Christen is able to enthusiastically shake her hand and smile widely back at her, when Tobin can see the jealousy and discomfort radiating off of her.

Top notch compartmentalization.

“Funny, I don’t think we have. Yeah, I’m Christen. What sports team are you on?” Christen asks, while taking a sip of her own coffee and sitting down in the empty seat next to Tobin.

Tobin chuckles softly at Christen’s acting job, because she and Tobin had the whole ‘Jackie talk’ the night she broke her arm, and the girl knows almost as much about Jackie now as Tobin does herself.

Jackie knows this too, but she plays along, knowing how nervous Tobin was about how finicky Christen had been in the past. Instead, she removes a sharpie from her back pocket, pulls the cap off and places it between her teeth, and then picks up Tobin’s orange cast to sign it.

“Oh, Jax isn’t on a sports team,” Kelley cuts in before Jackie responds, secretly amused and tuned into their conversation. “But sometimes we think she’s cool enough to hangout with us.”

“Nah, I just give them free coffee,” Jackie chuckles as she closes the sharpie and looks up at Christen, before starting to make her way around the table to the last empty seat on the other side of Kelley.

They all jump into conversation after that, Tobin joining in on the party-planning, while Christen immediately twists her body to face Ali, sitting on her other side, avoiding any further interaction with the rest of the table.

Tobin sees the girl’s leg nervously tapping up and down, and she rests her hand subtly under the table onto Christen’s knee as a gesture of reassurance, rubbing soothing circles over the fabric.

And after a few minutes, while Christen was still deep in conversation with Ali, Tobin felt her leg still and a cold pinky link with her own.

“If you paint it purple, I will hurt you,” Morgan sternly says toward Ashlyn.

“Oh come on, we’ll let you aux if you let me paint the pong tables,” Ashlyn replies with a needy pout.

“What?”

We will let who do what?”

“Woah we did not say that!”

They all know Morgan has questionable music taste.

“Does it even matter what color the tables are if the room is going to be dark?” Tobin innocently asks, taken aback by the gasps and insults she receives in response.

“So, what is everyone doing over winter break?” Jackie interjects, hoping to change the subject from this oddly heated argument about paint colors.

_______________________________________________________

 

After they’re all finished and Tobin says an awkward goodbye to Christen, who didn’t make eye contact with her again after meeting Jackie, she follows Kelley and Jackie out the side door of the cafe, planning to grab some coffee and accompany Jackie to her last shift of the semester.

Per usual, it only takes a minute or two before she is tuning completely out of her friends’ conversation and into the phone she was sliding out of her back pocket, still unsettled with Christen’s change in tone.

1:13 p.m. Tobs: hi

She sighs thankfully when she feels her phone buzz in her hand less than a minute later.

1:14 p.m. Chris: Hi

1:14 p.m. Tobs: wanna get ready for the pregame together later?

She figures that would be a good time to breach the subject of the awkwardness at lunch.

1:15 p.m. Chris: Are you bringing the blonde?

Tobin rolls her eyes. So she was jealous.

1:15 p.m. Tobs: aw you’re jealous

1:16 p.m. Chris: Nope

1:17 p.m. Tobs: I’m glad you guys met today, I actually think you’ll really like her

And she means it, but she’s also 600% aware Christen is not there yet.

1:18 p.m. Chris: … okay haha

1:19 p.m. Tobs: have I told you today that you’re really pretty?

1:20 p.m. Chris: hmm, don’t think so

1:20 p.m. Tobs: well, you’re the prettiest

1:21 p.m. Chris: <3 wish I could say the same about you :’/

1:22 p.m. Tobs: :0

1:23 p.m. Chris: you kinda hot tho

1:24 p.m. Tobs: I know, you told me like 7 times last night ;)

1:25 p.m. Chris: would’ve told you more times, but it was hard to get any words in between you screaming my name repeatedly

And Tobin chokes on air for a moment.

1:26 p.m. Tobs: you kill me

1:23 p.m. Chris: :) lol does 6 work?

1:26 p.m. Tobs: yeah see you then beautiful

1:27 p.m. Chris: :*

“Aw, she’s jealous of me. That’s cute. Ew god TMI,” she hears over her shoulder, before she feels a hand on the back of her shirt collar jerking her backward a few steps.

“Dude, what the hell?” Tobin lets out as she raises her arm to rub where the front of her shirt just dug into her throat.

“You were about to walk into the door genius.”

“No, we—”

Tobin stops talking when she sees that they are, in fact, at the student-center already.

“Oh.”

She looks to her left to see both Kelley and Jackie decked over laughing.

“I’ve literally never seen you look at your phone that long,” Kelley huffs out breathlessly.

And Jackie is putting her hand on Kelley’s hunched over shoulder, eyes brightening as she adds on, “oh my god that’s so true!”

Tobin groans.

“Shut up,” she says as she pulls the door open and shoves her favorite, laughing dorks through the door.

“So when did that happen?” Jackie asks after the two of them calm down, as they are walking down the hallway shoulder to shoulder.

And Tobin knows she’s not getting out of this one. Even beyond that, she needs someone to talk to about this, and it seems like maybe Kelley is okay with it all.

“I found her later that night.”

“UGH,” Kelley yells out loudly before fishing a ten dollar bill out of her pocket and handing it to Jackie with a frown.

Tobin looks on with a raised eyebrow.

“I bet that you actually tracked her down that night,” Jackie gestures at herself. “She thought it was sometime this week,” she points at Kelley.

“Wait, how did you guys even figure it out in the first place? I haven’t seen either of you since Georgia.”

“My favorite study room is in the back of the 5th floor of the library, and you have to walk by the J through L stacks to get there…” Jackie trails off.

“Oh my god,” Tobin mumbles incoherently into her hand in embarrassment, as they turn into the coffee shop.

“I feel left out,” Kelley comments.

“I don’t think they would have even noticed you if you had stood there singing opera at the top of your lungs,” Jackie laughs, patting Kelley on the back a few times and throwing Tobin a wink as she starts walking to the student employee door. “Anyway, see you dipshits tonight!”

“Bye,” Tobin and Kelley sing out in unison, before getting in line for coffee.

 

_______________________________________________________

 

Forty minutes later, and they are finally leaving each other, Kelley headed for the back exit of the student-center to go to her Philosophy professors office hours, which she attends on the weekly. She tells everyone how the professor just knows abstract thought, but everyone knows she just has a crush on her.

Tobin, on the other hand, heads out the front of the student-center toward the athletic facilities. She’s hoping to get a run in before they need to get ready later. She had to take a full week off with her wrist injury before she was allowed to do anything more strenuous than a fast walk, so she was more than overly excited to get back to it today.

Even more than that, saying she was overwhelmed would be a huge understatement, which is ironic considering she hasn’t been in this good of a mood in awhile. That’s precisely why she feels so wired wrong at the moment.

Running has always been the thing that could make her feel better and take just about any weight off her shoulders.

And today, it did just that.

An hour later, she’s back in the locker room, throwing a towel over her shoulders and heading off to the showers.

After hanging it up on the hook, she strips down and hits play on her ‘TBT’ playlist.

Letting the hot water wash over her, she’s humming along to the Script’s Breakeven when the music stops, replaced by the echoing sound of the Kim Possible theme song on full volume.

”Call Me, Beep Me, If You Wanna Reach Me…”

And it makes Tobin groan audibly.

Not again.

This was Kelley’s favorite hobby since they were younger -- picking a random embarrassing ringtone and then calling Tobin at the most inopportune of times.

Just a few days ago, Kelley had called her as she was walking into their Bio lecture twenty minutes late, causing her phone to play “Crazy Frog” at full volume. Everyone was laughing for a minute or two -- even their professor. Tobin had just wanted to melt into the ground and disappear.

At least she wasn’t anywhere embarrassing this time.

Tobin twists the shower handle off and rings her hair out, before swinging her body around the curtain to grab her phone as quick as she could, sliding it to answer without even looking who was facetime-ing her.

“AH!” she hears a scratchy voice yell through the phone.

“Oh, hey Al,” she says, looking down at her friend on the screen, who had clearly just finished working out herself.

“Were you expecting someone else?” she hears the manifestation of a smirk in the girl’s voice.

“I thought you were Kelley.”

And the phone goes silent for a moment.

Hah.

“I swear you’re naked everytime I call you,” Alex finally speaks out.

“You call at bad times, what can I say,” she answers before propping her phone up on the shelf and starting to throw some clothes on.

“Well you could just not pick up, you know.”

“But then,” she says before she pulls on a hoodie, the last article of clothing, only continuing once her head pops through the hole, “I would never get to talk to you.”

“Because you’re naked all the time?”

Tobin just shrugs with a smile.

Alex huffs and rolls her eyes at Tobin. “Ok whatever. You never answered my text, you bitch!”

“Sorry, I forgot,” she grimaces, soon replacing it with a smile as she adds, “But yeah, finally is right.”

Tobin pops her air pods in her ears and continues to quietly but enthsuiastically tell her friend everything as she walks across campus and in the direction of the dorms.

It’s almost 6 p.m. now, and campus is looking stunning. The sun is setting over the trees lining the west side of campus, causing the entire sky to light up in shades of orange and peach pink. The temperature is surprisingly warm for early December, lying right in that sweet spot where you can’t tell whether you’re cold or content.

When she pops into the room at 6 on the dot (a first), she’s alone. She falls onto the bed with a huff, somehow having reached the topic of arguing about what is better: Peanut Butter & Jelly or Peanut Butter & Fluff.

Tobin is mid-justification of the Fluff option when she hears a key turning in the lock and the door handle turning open.

She knows Alex heard it too, as her eyes go with and her mouth turns up into a knowing smile.

And suddenly Tobin knows she needs to hang up the phone immediately.

“I gotta go Al,” she says as Christen comes into the room, looking down at her own phone with an adorable wrinkle on her forehead as she’s focused on typing something out.

“Have fun later, ‘kay? Tell Kelley I say hi,” she says to Tobin, but she says it so quietly that Tobin is forced to turn up the volume and have her repeat what she said.

“Will do,” she laughs in return.

“HI CHRISTEN,” Alex suddenly yells with a smirk, knowing she was now on full volume.

Sly bitch.

The green-eyed girl looks up as she drops her backpack on the floor near the bed closest to the door, and Tobin gives her a sheepish, embarrassed smile.

“Uh, hi … Alex?” she says loudly in return.

“GLAD YOU TOOK MY ADVICE,” Alex yells back, before she lowers her voice to quickly squeal “bye Tobs” and hangs up.

And then Tobin is looking up confused at Christen, who is still standing in the same position.

“Advice?”

Christen crouches down to grab her phone and water bottle from the side pockets of the backpack on the ground in front of her.

“Yeah, we talked at the hotel,” she says as she tosses them on her bed, the one she hadn’t slept in for two weeks now.

“In Florida?”

Christen nods.

“When?” Tobin follows-up, as she pushes herself to a sitting position, legs dangling off the side of bed facing Christen.

“Well,” she starts pacing slowly toward Tobin. “I actually came up to try to find you after the restaurant, I had psyched myself up to telling you just how sexy I thought you were.”

As she arrives, Tobin reaches her arms out to grab onto Christen’s hips and pull her in-between her legs. She slides her hands down over her ass until they rest on the back of her upper thighs, and she grabs down into the skin. “Oh really?”

“Mhm,” Christen hums as she traces her fingers up Tobin’s arms, before resting her own arms over Tobin’s shoulders, and Tobin trembles under her soft touch. “But then Alex answered the door.”

“Ah, so that’s where she went that night,” Tobin chuckles.

“Yeah, she bought me green tea and we sat by the beach,” she smiles, before just pulling Tobin into a hug and sighing deeply.

Now or never.

“And you’re okay with her knowing?”

Christen pulls back with a furrowed brow.

“Yeah…” she trails off. “Why, are you not okay with it or something?”

“No, no, of course not,” Tobin responds quickly, before biting the inside of her mouth nervously. “You just kinda shoved me off you earlier when we got to the café.”

“Oh,” Christen says, trying to take a step out of Tobin’s space, but Tobin doesn’t let her.

“It’s okay if you don’t want people to know about this right now,” she says while gesturing between the two of them. “We just never really talked about anything so I don’t really know what this is.”

Christen nods nervously and points to the bed next to her. Tobin lets her go with a nod, and watches as Christen hops up on the bed so that she’s sitting next to Tobin, thighs pressed up against each other.

“I’m nervous to put a label on this, I guess,” she finally says while looking down at the ground.

“I mean, so am I, Chris.”

That catches her attention, prompting her to look up.

“You are?”

“Yeah, of course. You know my last relationship ended great,” she responds sarcastically.

“But that’s what you want with me?”

Tobin lets out a laugh. “I mean yeah, I’ve asked you out like eighteen time in the past two weeks. But I’m hoping for a better ending.”

“You think we’re gonna end?”

“I hope not. But also we can’t end what we don’t start so…”

Christen is fidgeting her fingers, clearly nervous, and so Tobin holds out her hand for comfort, smiling as Christen grabs on, and starts playing with the silver ring on her pointer finger, hands resting together on top of Christen's thigh.

“Chris,” Tobin continues. “I told you I’m fine with just being friends for awhile if that’s what you need. If you need some time.”

“And I told you I don’t want to be just friends,” Christen says, looking up with a smile.

“Okay, tell me what you want then,” Tobin says as she starts to rub her thumb along the back of Christen’s hand that is placed gently in her own.

“Can we just exist?”

“Very descriptive,” Tobin teases.

“Shut up,” Christen taunts. “Look, you know I’m not out yet.”

“You know everyone knew about you and Kelley, right?”

“Okay yeah, but there’s a difference between them secretly knowing and me actually being ready to publicly acknowledge it.”

Tobin nods empathetically. “I get that, more than you know.”

“Plus,” Christen laughs, “everyone still kinda hates me right now.”

“Oh c’mon, that’s not true.”

Christen just gives her a look of disbelief, forgoing a verbal response.

“Okay,” Tobin winces, “it’ll probs just take some time. Plus, I’m in your corner now, too.”

“Lucky me,” Christen breathes out, before kissing Tobin on the cheek and jumping off the bed, headed toward Tobin’s closet.

“Wait, you totally skirted the question!” Tobin calls out after her.

“Fine,” she says, as she turns around and throws a muscle tee and board shorts at Tobin. “Can we just exist casually and see where this goes?”

Something about the way she phrased that question made Tobin’s stomach churn -- and not in a good way. So she doesn’t respond for a moment, not sure what exactly the girl is saying.

“Wear this, hot stuff,” she continues with a smirk, before pacing over to Tobin, her smirk melting into more of a shy smile as she places a red snapback backwards on her head and gives her a chaste kiss. “I want to be yours, Tobs. I just really don’t want to mess this up again.”

Tobin hops up off the bed, taking Christen’s hand and twirling the giggling girl around in a circle before dropping her hand and pointing over to her closet.

“I’ll wear this if you wear that tight little black dress I know is in there.” And then she steps forward and lightly kisses her on the forehead before looking into her eyes. “How about I just let you set the pace… You just have to keep me in the loop with what goes on in that pretty head of yours, ok? ”

She can’t help but smile herself when she sees Christen unable to suppress a grin as she nods.

“Get dressed, I’m ready to drink organic chemistry out of my brain,” Christen suddenly says, before grabbing her makeup bag, pulling the black dress off of its hanger at the end of the bar, and skipping out the door toward the bathroom.

“Ditto,” Tobin yells after her, sequentially licking her lips in anticipation of seeing Christen in that dress and sighing in relief fom this conversation.

 

___________________________________________

 

They’d ended up pregaming in Beer Lobby with Ashlyn, Ali, and a bunch of other people from the sixth floor.

Not all of them were headed to the sports party that night, but everyone there was pregaming to go out in some capacity. And being that it was the last day of the semester, there were a myriad of options.

After Tobin had taken a few shots of Fireball and Christen had lost the game of stack-cup, having had to chug a full solo cup of beer — the ‘bitch cup’, as they called it —, she had spent the better part of the night dragging Christen around, introducing her to everyone.

Tobin couldn’t stop smiling as she watched how easily Christen fit right in with all her friends on the floor.

There was just one snaffoo in the night so far, and it was Ashlyn’s hostility. It’s not that the girl was being a total bitch to Christen, but she was still visibly giving her the cold shoulder, and although Christen assured her it was alright, it irked Tobin nonetheless.

However, the worry immediately flew out of her head when they were stepping through the front door into the “frat-basement themed” house (whatever that meant), and she felt a cold hand slide into her own.

It was darker than usual inside the house, with all the windows covered by black tarps, painted pong tables along the left side of the room, a very crowded dance floor to the right, neon flashing lights engulfing the room, and “Saturdays are For the Boys” tapestries on every wall.

They had truly outdone themselves. But, she figured it was the end of the year, so they had to full-send it. Go big or go home, right?

Already both drunk as hell when they walked through the door, they parted ways with Ali, Christen dragging Tobin by the hand toward the pong tables.

Just like that very first party, they schooled everyone they went up against, even winning over forty dollars in bet money over the course of the next two hours.

Tobin had run into several people she knew along the way, having to turn away from Christen to say hi and bump her bright orange cast with a few people’s fists (she was not all that willing to let go of Christen’s hand to do it the easy way).

Even Kelley had said “Hey” to her at one point and asked her how she was doing. Christen had been surprised as hell, but Tobin saw the visible positive shift in her affect.

By 3 a.m., Tobin and Christen were just one of many overly suggestive couples under the flashing lights of the hot, sweaty dance floor. Throughout the night, as the green-eyed girl drank more alcohol, she had become increasingly touchier. And honestly maybe Tobin should’ve stopped it, considering their talk earlier in the day, but she was double drunk -- once on alcohol, and once on the way that little black dress hugged Christen’s curves.

So no, she was in no position to put a halt to this.

They stayed out on the dance floor for what felt like forever. In actuality it was more like 90 minutes, but in fratty dance floor terms, that’s a long, long time.

The music had been run of the mill frat house vibes, alternating between base-overloaded rap like “Mo Bamba” and classic hits like “Mr. Brightside”. They had even had a slow-song moment, when High School Musical’s “Start of Something New” came on, and everyone in the room slowed to a sway and drunkenly screamed the whole entire song. Tobin and Christen were screaming loudly, Tobin holding Christen flush against her body, with arms wrapped tightly around her shoulders as Christen’s arms wrapped snugly around her waist.

Vibes were immaculate.

Tobin was about to explode at how sexy this girl is. It was as if the culmination of months of cumulative attraction was hitting her like a freight train.

Spinning around, backside against Tobin’s front, she pushes her ass against Tobin’s pelvis, which in turn made Tobin drop her head onto Christen’s shoulder from behind and moan just loudly enough that Christen could hear it.

It made the drunk girl smile devilishly as she turned her head slightly to look into those hazel eyes. Tobin’s hands slid over her hips and flattened on her lower stomach, before they both started to sway their bodies together to the beat.

Christen closed her eyes and bit her lip as she felt Tobin bite onto the skin between her neck and shoulder, following it up by soothing it with her tongue and leaving slow but sloppy kisses up the side of her neck.

She let her arm come up above and behind her to loop around Tobin’s neck as she grinded back into Tobin’s body.

It felt like there was no one else in the room. Or maybe both of them were just so drunk and turned on that neither of them could care at the moment.

Sure, they didn’t know exactly where the hell this was going yet.

Sure, they were still working through all the feelings.

But both felt like their body was made for the other, and neither was afraid to show it -- at least, not six shots in.

Christen’s chest began heaving up and down as Tobin moved her hands down lower on her stomach, closer to the place on Christen that was aching for her touch.

Noticing how much the girl was struggling, Tobin’s tongue came out smugly and teasingly to lick up the side of her neck.

Unable to take it anymore, Christen uses her other hand to grab Tobin’s chin over her shoulder and crash their lips together.

It’s hot and heavy and drunk, exactly how it should be at a frat party.

“You’re beautiful,” she says into the girl’s mouth.

Christen turns in her arms, responding with a longer, gentler, kiss, that conveyed all the words that neither girl was ready to say, before pulling back until their foreheads are resting together.

“I’m gonna go grab us some drinks,” she shouts over the music, watching as Tobin frowns at the thought of her leaving. Smiling, lets her finger trace down the center of Tobin’s chest, “Unless you want me to fuck you right here on the dance floor, because you’re so sexy and I’m kind of losing my self-control.”

Tobin’s just laughing and mouthing “me too.”

Christen once again drags the girl by the hand through the mob of people, in the direction of the kitchen, halting her with a hand on her upper arm at the edge of the dance floor.

“I’ll be back!” the girl yells, before dropping her hand and walking away.

Shutting her eyes and trying to cool down, Tobin takes a large deep breath. But her moment of peace only lasts maybe ten seconds, before she feels a body jump on her back, and once again, she knows exactly who it is. It was Jackie’s MO.

“JACKY!” she drunkenly yells over her shoulder.

The girl then hops off her back and starts dancing, making sure to leave a couple of feet between her and Tobin.

“I was hoping that was you,” Jackie yells over the music. “Where’s your girl? Y’all were practically boning out there.”

Tobin just smiles and shrugs for a moment, before wincing a little inside. “It wasn’t that obvious, right?”

Jackie places a brief, reassuring hand on Tobin’s shoulder, “No, no, I was just with the football guys, and we happened to be kinda near you.”

“Okay … Does that mean Nick showed up?”

Tobin can’t help but mirror the enormous grin that surfaces on Jackie’s face at the mention of Nick.

“DUDE he’s so hot, I can’t. But also look at your girl.” She takes Tobin’s hands for a moment and spins them around as an upbeat song comes on, but still keeping them far enough for it to be a clearly platonic dance.

Tobin gives her a pointed look.

“What?!” the blonde girl calls back at her. “I know a good ass when I see one. Plus, I helped you get that ass.”

“Very funny,” Tobin rolls her eyes at the comment. “You’re not wrong though.”

They talk for almost ten more minutes, Jackie filling her in on her night with Nick, before Tobin is starting to wonder where exactly Christen went.

She pulls out her phone to check her texts, but sees no new messages.

“I’m gonna go find Chris, I’ll see you later,” she yells at Jackie before disappearing into the kitchen.

As she pushes her way around a few bodies in the kitchen, Tobin’s relieved to see familiar faces.

“Hey guys.”

“Hey, take a shot with us,” Ashlyn yells as she gestures at her and Kelley and shoves a shot glass into Tobin’s hand.

“What the hell,” Tobin mumbles, before she starts laughing as Kelley bites onto two shot glasses and turns her head toward the ceiling to swallow both shots, screaming “yeehaw!” in the process. Shaking her head, she throws back a shot too where they stand in the far end of the kitchen.

Soon she’s lost in conversation with the two of them. They’re talking about the finals they’re dreading, about Kelley and Alex’s ‘thing’, about winter break plans, and about how awesome the party had been tonight.

Tobin is just about to throw back her third shot when she feels a hand latch onto her wrist and yank her in the opposite direction with no explanation. She reaches to shove the shot glass onto a random counter before they leave the kitchen, bumping into a few people as she leaves and apologizing in her wake.

Suddenly, the blonde girl in front of her is stopping so fast that Tobin slams into her back, and Jackie has no further reaction but to stumble forward a step, as she’s too focused on scanning the room with her eyes frantically.

“Woah, Jax, I just saw you like a half hour ago, what happened?”

“I—, I—, where did they go?” the blonde girl thinks out loud.

“Where did who go? Are you ok?” she tentatively places a hand on Jackie’s shoulder as she looks on in concern.

Jackie spins around a few seconds later and quickly tells her what happened.

“I was looking for Kel and Ashlyn, when I ran into Christen and that football guy, the ex we hate. He was being kind of freaky, dude, pissed about you guys. And he was yelling at her, I tried to ask if she was okay but I think she shrugged it off because it was me. So I came to find you.”

“I’m working on the you thing, I swear.”

“Don’t sweat it, I would be kinda iffy if I were her too,” Jackie smiles smally.

“I’m confused though, I don’t see them,” Tobin shouts over the music.

“They were over there,” Jackie returns as she points toward the now empty corner.

And Tobin’s starting to get concerned at the worried look on Jackie’s face.

“Um, I’ll go find her,” she says with a close-lipped smile. “Kel and Ash were planning to go hangout by the bonfire out back so I would check out there if they’re not in the kitchen.”

“Okay,” Jackie says, still nervously biting her lip. Tobin starts moving away, but Jackie stops her one more time with a hand on the arm. “Text me to let me know you guys are good?”

“You got it. Thanks Jax.”

Jackie nods at her once more before taking off jogging toward the kitchen.

Tobin takes a deep breath before starting to move her way through the crowds of people talking and swaying to the music, in the direction that Jackie pointed.

It’s dark in the house, but Tobin’s confident that she doesn’t see either of them nearby.

“Hmm,” she mumbles to herself, before she sees one of her friends on the football team a few feet away, and quickly just a few feet down the wall.

“Yo Thomas,”

The guy turns around, mid-laughing from whatever conversation he was just in.

“Heath, what’s up?” he yells.

“Have you seen Brett?” Tobin proceeds to yell back.

“I’m not sure you wanna go near that guy right now.”

Tobin just blankly stares at the guy, who is chuckling again.

“He kinda hates you,” Thomas continues. “He’s an idiot though, we all know you’re cool.”

Tobin laughs cooly for a moment. “Is he around, though?”

“Yeah, I think he and his girl just went down that hallway over there,” the guy points in the direction of the hallway that leads to the first floor bedrooms, before patting Tobin on the back and turning back around to his friends to rejoin the conversation.

Tobin quickly paces to the hallway, which curves around the entire back of the house.

Making her way down the first stretch, she passes a few people waiting in line for the bathroom, but sees no sign of either Brett or Christen.

Weird.

She checks a couple of rooms along the way, trying not to let the worry get to her, but it’s not until she rounds the last corner that she sees two figures pushed up against the wall, lips attached.

Still, she doesn’t think too much of it until she is five feet away from them, and she recognizes the girl’s curly hair.

Tobin freezes immediately.

This can’t be happening again.

And for maybe thirty seconds, she just stands there, unmoving, her eyes starting to get a little wet.

In frustration?

In sadness?

In anger?

Who knows. Probably all of the above.

Then she sees them break apart, and when the guy’s face turns toward her, she recognizes him too.

“Oh, hey Tobin,” Brett says with a smirk that makes a fire rise within Tobin’s throat. “I think we’re good here.”

And the comment, mixed with the alcohol rushing through her veins, mixed with the lack of response from Christen, causes her to be so overwhelmed with frustration that the words get caught in her throat, and she just begins slowly backing away.

She feels like she’s suffocating, as if all the air had left the room, replaced by freaking molasses or something.

The music is pounding down in her ears, and it feels like a sensory overload.

The spaghetti straps of Christen’s dress are pushed down off of her shoulders, his leg inbetween hers.

And she needs to get out of there immediately.

She’s picking up pace toward the corner, when she finally sees Christen turn her head toward her and meet her eyes.

Tobin immediately stops moving once again.

Because the look in her eyes is not guilt, or pride, or smugness, or hate, or anything she had seen when this happened before.

When they lock eyes, Tobin only sees one emotion.

Fear.

Without hesitation, she switches direction, walking back toward the two of them.

“I said we’re good, Tobin!,” Brett shouts in her direction, almost sounding like a threat.

But Tobin isn’t looking at him anymore, not even giving him as much as a quick glance.

“Chris?”

And out of the corner of her eye, she sees his hand squeeze her wrist so tight it was definitely going to bruise.

Tobin looks her up and down, looks at the way he has her pinned against the wall, and it twists a knot in her stomach.

“Tobin,” the girl finally speaks out, her voice cracking at the last syllable.

“Three years, Christen! Three years, and you try to leave me for THIS chick?” he yells angrily, clearly drunk out of his mind, before he puts his fist through the wall just a foot over from Christen’s head, causing the both of them to flinch.

Christen immediately pushes herself from the wall and bolts behind Tobin, her arms coming around the girl’s waist from behind, holding on tight, nails digging into her abs.

Tobin takes the chance to whisper “Are you okay?” behind her.

She feels Christen nod into her shoulder, and an ounce of relief washes over her.

“He’s really drunk, Tobs,” Christen whispers back into her ear.

And then Brett is pulling back from the wall and shaking his hand. “I’m trying to talk to my girlfriend, can you go?” he asks in a harsh tone, before he shoves Tobin on the shoulder, causing her to swallow deeply and stumble backward.

“Brett, we’re done. We talked about this,” she heard Christen say firmly.

“What, so now I just have to watch you practically grope other people all the time?” he spits harshly. “Fucking slut.”

That comment is all it takes for the alcohol in Tobin’s system to allow her anger to take over, as she swings her first to punch him as hard as she can with her un-casted hand. It’s something she had honestly wanted to do for months.

What do they call it? Alcohol courage.

Granted, the arm injury to her dominant hand puts her at a little bit of a disadvantage. But she has enough arm muscle to make him falter back a few feet, rubbing the side of his face.

But when his eyes settle back upon hers, she knows immediately that she had made a huge mistake.

“This is all your fault!” Brett screams again, and that’s the last thing Tobin remembers before knuckles hit her jaw and the world goes black.

Chapter Text

“I read somewhere that if you pour water down an unconscious person’s nose they’ll wake up.”

“Really?” a voice above her says skeptically.

“I don’t know, here try it.”

“No, you try it!”

“I don’t want to.”

“It was your idea in the first place!”

“Ashlyn—” both voices yell out in unison.

“Fine, fine, give it to me,” Tobin hears Ashlyn breathe out with an annoyed huff.

Jesus my head hurts.

“Is she okay?” a wavering voice rings out as footsteps quickly approach her body.

And then, as if someone shoved that person away, she hears a more distant voice call out harshly. “Jesus christ, Chris, just stay away from her, haven’t you caused enough problems?”

She doesn’t hear that wavering voice again.

She does hear Ashlyn’s voice whisper-shouting, “Did you get her out of here?”

And her best friend’s voice responding, “Yeah if this wasn’t a wake up call to stay away from Christen, I don’t know what possibly could be.”

Starting to stir, Tobin mentally winces as a shooting pain runs up the side of her jaw. Slowly coming back to reality, she registers that she’s laying on a floor. Beyond that, she can barely hear herself think over the throbbing in her jaw and the loud music echoing down the back hallway where she lays.

It’s not until she feels the mouth of a water bottle touch her nostril that she shoots her uncasted hand up to grab at the wrist holding the bottle over her head.

“Dude what the fuck, get that thing away from me,” Tobin rasps out, finally opening her eyes.

She tries to lift her head up off the ground before she feels a rush to her head, her field of vision momentarily erupting into a dizzy array of blue stars, and her head falls back down as she makes a grunt in pain.

“She’s alive!” Tobin hears yelled out before both Jackie and Kelley’s faces appear in her visual field, hovering a foot above her own face.

“Of course I’m alive,” she chuckles out, trying to ignore her pounding head.

All three of her friends are leaning over her body, using their hands to help slowly pull her up to a sitting position and maneuver her over to lean against the side wall of the hallway. Ashlyn and Jackie are squatting next to her on the ground, while Kelley is in a standing position, towering over Tobin protectively, just a foot in front of where she sits.

“Are you alright? What hurts?” Kelley asks from above her.

“I think it’s just my jaw,” she says, before feeling the pulsing directly under her left eye, adding “And maybe a black eye. I think I’m okay though, really.”

“You sure?” Jackie asks skeptically with a gentle hand on her knee.

“Yeah,” Tobin nods. Her tongue comes out to run along the left side of her lips and she makes a pinched up face when she tastes the blood.

Great.

But it’s also when she tastes blood that Tobin registers exactly where she was and why she was bleeding.

“Wait, where’s Christen?” she calls out to her friends frantically, looking around the hallway but seeing no sign of the girl or Brett.

“Jesus T-squared, the girl’s boyfriend socks you and you still want to know where she is?” Ashlyn asks in disbelief.

“It’s not like that,” Tobin lets out dejectedly.

“Is that not what happened?” Kelley asks in a serious tone that Tobin has honestly heard only a few times from her friend before, only in some very dire situations.

“Well I did punch him first,” she smiles lightly, trying to navigate away from Kelley’s serious question, before her face turns into a grimace and she brings her hand up to hold her left jaw.

OW, I need to stop doing that.

“Oh my god, Tobs. Did you really?” the blonde girl is laughing, making Tobin feel a little better.

However, she just nods in response, still a little dazed by the drama of it all. Besides this little incident, she had actually been having a pretty amazing night.

She misses the hostile look exchanged between Kelley and Ashlyn. And so does Jackie.

“Tob, you know I love you, but she’s bad news, and this was definitely the breaking point,” Kelley says gently but overbearingly as she squats down. “Let’s get you back to my room and get some ice on that eye, okay?”

Something about Kelley’s comment irks the living hell out of Tobin. As far as she knows, her friends have very limited knowledge of what happened tonight or what her situation is with Christen at the moment. Honestly, right now they have limited knowledge of Christen in general, seeing as they have been frigid to her for months now.

So Tobin’s about to protest, but then she sees the same stern look on Ashlyn’s face as her best friend’s face, and she’s just in too much pain to argue. She needs a moment to cool off before sorting this all out, so she sheepishly nods and allows the three of them to help lift her to her feet, keeping her balanced as the dizziness from the punch really takes over her head.

Twenty seconds later, she’s sighing in relief as the door to Kelley’s room shuts behind them and the music volume diminishes ten-fold. Kelley and Ashlyn let go, allowing Jackie to prop up some pillows and help scoop Tobin up into Kelley’s slightly-lofted, twin-size bed.

“Hey Tobs, we’re gonna go grab you some ice, okay?” Ashlyn calls out, before the two girls slip out of the room, leaving Jackie and Tobin alone.

Once they’re gone, Jackie sighs extra loud, and puts her head into her hands. Both of them bathe in the silence for a moment before the blonde girl finally looks up and meets Tobin’s guilty eyes.

“What the hell happened, T?” she says, sounding mildly agitated.

Registering the girl’s tone, Tobin does her best to explain what happened, without going into excessive detail, or any details Christen might not want her to share. She recounts walking down the hallway, seeing them kissing, his hand bruising Christen’s wrist, the hole he punched in the wall, the way Christen looked so completely terrified, and the way she felt that same terror when he turned toward her. Everything down to the punches at the end.

“Okay, well I’m glad the wall wasn’t you. You already have one broken arm, don’t need another,” she says, nodding along and chuckling slightly, before her face molds into an expression of pure concern. “I had a bad feeling when you never texted me.”

“How did you guys find me?”

“I was with the football guys again inside, trying to get Nick to come hangout outside with me, when I saw Christen come running out of the hallway crying. I grabbed her arm and she just told us you were unconscious. I had Nick drag that dickhead of an ex out of there, and I texted Kel and Ash when I saw you lying there like a dead fish.”

“Guess I owe Nick one,” Tobin chuckles.

“Brett was really fighting back, so yeah,” Jackie laughs back with a smile. “Don’t we all.”

They enter another uncomfortable silence for a few seconds, just staring at each other, nothing more to be heard than the muffled sound of rap music in the background, and Tobin’s heavy breathing.

After another minute, Jackie finally speaks again in a small voice. “It was really freaky seeing you like that.”

“I’m really sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Jackie quirks an eyebrow. “It’s not like it was your fault.”

“Well, I did throw the first punch,” Tobin replies smugly.

“God,” the blonde girl rolls her eyes with a smile, “How many times are you going to say that?”

“Oh, I’ve only just begun,” Tobin jokes back as she playfully flexes her bicep, before dropping her arm in her lap and biting her lip thoughtfully. “So where is Christen? In another bedroom?”

There is a sudden painful change in Jackie’s facial expression, which is slightly alarming to Tobin. She can practically see the girl’s wheels turning, trying to decide on what to say.

“Um, she was really shaken up. The two of them wouldn’t let her anywhere near you, they practically shoved her out of the hallway,” she says quietly.

“What? She’s alone?” Tobin can’t believe her friends did that to someone who was so clearly in distress that it was practically radiated off of her. “I have to go find her.”

And then Tobin is trying to push herself up from the bed, but Jackie is easily holding her down.

“Woah there cowgirl, hold your horses. You’re not going anywhere, you just got knocked the fuck out.”

“Jax, I needed a minute in here, and now I need to make sure she’s okay.”

Jackie pauses for a moment, just staring at Tobin before saying in an un-pitiful voice, “Shouldn’t she be the one making sure you’re okay?”

“I’m sure she would have if you guys hadn’t run her off,” Tobin sneers back, her voice raising in line with her annoyance. “Are you of all people really going to give me a hard time about this?”

“Tobin, you were freaking unconscious because of her!” the girl yells back.

“You don’t understand!” Tobin exclaims.

“I tried to,” Jackie says sincerely. “But dear god, how many times can I watch her hurt you before I say something about it?”

“You don’t understand,” she repeats in a more neutral tone.

“What don’t I understand?”

“Wh— What he was doing to her! I wasn’t the one getting hurt, Jackie.” she whisper-shouts.

And Jackie is looking at her with scrunched eyebrows, as if she doesn’t quite understand Tobin’s statement. Her mouth is open, about to ask a follow-up question when they hear the door open behind them, and both Jackie and Tobin’s attention drifts to the two girls entering the room with two giant bags of frozen peas and a bottle of water.

“We’re back!” Ashlyn yells.

“And we got all the goods, Tobito!” Kelley sing-songs.

Her two friends are clearly trying to brighten the mood, but Tobin’s not exactly feeling any ounce of excitement at the moment.

It’s only when Jackie turns back around to make eye contact with her again, that Tobin registers the realization in her face about the implications of her previous statement.

“Oh, god,” Jackie curses under her breath.

Tobin reaches to grab the frozen peas and bottle of water from Ashlyn’s hands, but her eyes stay on Jackie. “Please.

The blonde girl nods discretly, and Tobin breathes out in relief that her friend will go check up on her.

“Please what?” Kelley asks, completely oblivious to the pleading tone of Tobin’s voice, as she hops up on the bed near Tobin’s feet.

“Uh, she asked if we could please leave her alone to sleep!” Jackie butts in, before using her arms to grab one of both Kelley and Ashlyn’s arms, dragging them off the bed.

“Oh, okay,” Ash sighs out. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, go have a little more fun for me, please? I just need to chill, I’m fine, honestly,” Tobin says, putting on her most convincing smile.

Before too much more protesting can occur, Jackie is shoving them out the door, leaving Tobin alone in Kelley’s bed with two big bags of peas.

She does fall asleep for a little.

It’s maybe thirty minutes later when she’s awoken by the sound of the doorknob turning. The sound makes her groan internally, really hoping to avoid any more conversation with her over-concerned friends tonight. She knows that they aren’t entirely wrong to be protective when she was quite literally punched, lights-out, by a huge linebacker, who happens to be associated with the girl that has somehow been the center of many recent ~situations~.

But at the same time, they were down one explanation, and truthfully, Tobin was too.

I’ll just pretend I’m asleep, she thinks from below her bag of peas, now somewhat melted, but still laid out over her eyes.

“Tobs?”

The voice she hears has her immediately forfeiting her fake-sleep plan, as she shoots up to a sitting position, frozen peas falling to her lap.

There in front of her is Christen, eyes bloodshot as hell, shoulders shaking, tears filling her green eyes as soon as the two of them make eye contact. Tobin eyes trace down her arm to the purple bruise developing across her entire forearm.

The girl is frozen, standing in the center of the room, seemingly unsure whether or not she should move toward or away from Tobin.

Tobin just cracks a small, sympathetic smile, and opens her arms, allowing the girl to run forward and collapse onto Tobin on the bed, arms wrapping around her neck and burying her face under Tobin’s chin.

It’s then, looking over Christen’s body, that Tobin sees Jackie standing in the half-open doorway, looking on with a sad smile on her face.

“Thank you,” Tobin mouths toward her blonde friend, who just nods in return and shuts the door quietly.

They just stay there for a few seconds, as the girl clings onto her for dear life. Tobin is rubbing in a line up and down her back as she feels the sobs tearing through Christen’s body.

“Shh, it’s okay,” Tobin whispers over and over.

Honestly, she has no idea what exactly happened tonight, but for the first time ever, she was going to try to give Christen the benefit of the doubt, or at least the chance to explain. Partially because they needed to start trusting each other sometime if this was going to work between them. And partially because there was only one other time she had seen Christen this broken and scared, and that time involved an angry Brett, too.

“I’m sorry,” Christen finally says as she pulls back, sniffles loudly, and brings a hand up to trace along the outside of the bruise forming on the left side of Tobin’s face. “I’m so sorry for him. I was so scared. I’m so glad you’re okay.”

Tobin flinches a little as Christen’s fingertips touch her bruised skin.

“You don’t need to apologize for him anymore,” Tobin says quietly, before carefully adding on, “...unless you do.”

Christen’s looking intently into her own eyes, and she sees the girl’s forehead scrunch up as she processes Tobin’s statement.

“No, no… what?”

And then Tobin’s taking a deep breath, her eyes leaving Christen’s and tracing down her neck, shoulder, and arm, stopping at the girl’s bruised wrist, her un-casted hand following the path and picking the wrist up to inspect it.

“He hurt you,” she mumbles.

She doesn’t respond.

“And I don’t get it at all. But if you’re gonna go back to him, I’d appreciate a heads up. I think you owe me that much now,” she finishes in a whisper.

Her response is immediate. “That’s not what was happening Tobin.”

It wasn’t malicious. It wasn’t sassy. It wasn’t anger.

It was sincerity.

“Can you tell me what was happening, then?” Tobin asks, still unsure about the whole thing, but willing to listen. She’s willing Christen to choose to actually speak this time. To show her that she cares about whatever this relationship is that they've stumbled into.

Christen nods, before she starts speaking quietly.

“Um, I went to go get drinks, but he pulled me aside before I got to the kitchen. I guess he saw us dancing,” she says as her right thumb rubs soothing circles onto the bruised left side of Tobin’s face. “He was very drunk, and very angry, and he kept insisting that I’d held up my end of the fluke long enough, that it was time to come back to him. No one could hear me over the music in the back hallway, and the more I disagreed with him, the angrier he got, and—”

Christen stops talking as a sob wracks through her body. “Sorry,” she says as she wipes at her eyes and tries to control her breathing.

“Hey,” Tobin cuts in, both her hands coming up to pull Christen’s face toward her own until their foreheads are almost touching. “Did he touch you?” she whispers.

Ten ounces of relief course through Tobin’s veins as the girl shakes her head.

Hesitantly, she leans in to place a soft kiss on the girl’s lips, ignoring the pain shooting through her own lip at the action.

“It’s okay,” she follows-up gently.

“No it’s not! He punched you so hard, and I had to run and leave you there, and then they wouldn’t let me near you, and I didn’t know where he was, and I—”

“It’s okay,” Tobin cuts her off again, hands tangling in the girl’s curly hair, heads still close together.

Bloodshot green eyes are looking into her own, looking so dispirited, looking so guilty, and it breaks Tobin’s heart just a little how disparate they looked as compared to just a few hours ago.

Her brain traces back over the conversation earlier where Christen asked to stay “casual”, over the weeks of pining and desperation, over the passion with which Christen’s eyes sent right through her at this moment in time.

Sure, Tobin’s scared.

Scared that she’s naïvely falling down a hole just months after finally escaping the pit Shirley had left her in.

Scared that if she stops just going with whatever Christen says, and speaks her own mind for once, that she’ll get squashed by this girl for what feels like the tenth time this semester.

A lot of unkind and unsettling words were spoken between them. But that was before this. Before she realized she would take a punch for this girl. Before she realized she herself would punch for this girl.

She wants to leave it behind, and finally ask that question she’d been avoiding.

Because although she came out of nowhere, and they became close out of the strangest of circumstances, Christen makes her feel alive.

“I need to ask you something, and I need you to be straight with me.”

“Yeah, okay,” Christen responds nervously after a short pause.

“Can we stop with all this will-we, won’t-we bullshit?” I understand what happened tonight, and I hope you know I would punch him for you anytime,” she says with a small smile. “But God, Chris, I don’t know how much longer I can take being jerked around by you. Do you just want to fuck? Do you actually want casual, to see other people? Do you want more?” She sighs in exhaustion. “What do you want from me?”

“Can you get up?” she responds almost immediately.

“What?”

“Can you get up and walk?” Christen just asks again.

“Uh, yes I think so,” Tobin responds hesitantly, confused but kind of frustrated at her lack of answer, per usual.

Christen hops down from where she’s seated on the lofted bed, before turning around and holding out a hand toward Tobin.

“Chris, I—”

“Shut up, I have something to show you,” and then she’s shaking her outstretched hand for emphasis, a smile spreading wide when Tobin finally takes it and allows herself to be pulled off the bed.

“Show me what?”

“Do you trust me?” the girl asks.

A grimace emerges on her face when Tobin doesn’t respond.

“Okay, I deserve that. Just come with, please?” she pleads.

Tobin nods and tries to walk forward, but she only makes it three or four steps before another dizzy-spell hits her. Christen is watching in concern, before she paces a stride past a stopped Tobin, turns around and bends down.

“This time, I’m your ride.”

“Can you carry me that far?” Tobin teases.

“Okay, one, you don’t even know where we’re going. Two, I'll have you know I lift as much as you,” she states matter-of-factly.

“Alright, prove it rambo,” Tobin chuckles as she climbs onto Christen’s back and wraps her arms tight around her shoulders as Christen hooks her arms underneath Tobin’s thighs.

After another minute or two, the two of them have successfully maneuvered their way out of the room and down the adjacent hallways.

Now that it is almost five in the morning, the party has severely dwindled down, albeit there were still some crazies out on the dance floor, since it was the last party of the semester.

Tobin’s just holding on tight, her face buried in the back of Christen’s neck, eyes closed, ignoring all the sensory stimulus and its effect on her head as they make their way through the remaining crowd of people and toward the front door.

“TOBIN?!”

Her head whips up and around as Ashlyn's voice rings out from across the room. She sees the realization take over her friend’s face when she see whose back she’s riding on.

Christen just looks back at her, and Tobin’s saying “this is your moment to shine, macho woman, giddy-up” and slapping her on the ass.

They’re both laughing as Christen breathes heavily and starts running out the door with Tobin on her back.

 

_______________________________________________________

 

“Okay, we’re here!”

“We’re going to the 180…” Tobin trails off skeptically.

“Wow, sound less excited, I dare you,” Christen responds sarcastically.

“Chris, it’s 5 a.m. and I am drunk, have a broken arm, and with a black eye. Believe me, I could sound less excited with ease,” she returns with a quick-witted smile.

Christen stops walking, quickly bouncing up and down to fix Tobin’s position higher on her back again from where she had shifted down along their journey. She winces quickly, and looks over her shoulder. “Sorry again.”

“Never a dull day with you, Christen Press,” Tobin sighs out. “What’re we doing here?”

“You’ll see… hold on tight,” Christen says as she latches herself onto the rock and begins ascending.

“Oh God, you’re insane,” Tobin mumbles, slamming her eyes shut.

Christen ignores her comment in favor of continuing to explain what they’re doing there in between the heavy breathing resulting from climbing a fifteen foot rock with Tobin on her back.

“I have been planning on doing this tonight, for a few days now. Because I’ve been so fucking shitty, and I know you don’t trust me, and I clearly haven’t given you any reason to,” she’s huffing out as she’s taking the final step up onto the rock, Tobin’s arms squeezing tight around her neck and her legs around Christen’s waist. “I’m trying… for you. And I think it answers your question from earlier, at least, I hope it does.”

Christen pauses for a moment, hunched over and catching her breath, and Tobin finally opens her eyes, having been too terrified to actually watch the ascent, but too curious to stop it.

“Why was that so hot?” Tobin comments.

The green-eyed girl just doubles over smiling for a moment, before carefully detaching Tobin’s body from her own. “Told you I lift,” she says, walking Tobin over to their typical front side of the walk, and carefully helping her to sit just a few feet away from the edge to be safe.

Tobin’s smiling back and shaking her head, before she actually takes a second to process her surroundings.

It’s still mostly dark, the sky just barely beginning to light up for the sunrise that morning. It is light enough, however, for her to see what appears to be a large poster, underneath a single blue tulip.

A grin quickly engulfs her face, reaching over to grab the tulip and bring it underneath her nose to sniff it, before turning to Christen.

“You remembered?”

“Of course,” Christen smiles.

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

The point in fall where afternoons were becoming chilly enough to warrant going out in a large hoodie was Tobin’s favorite part of the year.

It was the day after their fifth tutoring session in the third week of October, and when Tobin stepped outside that morning, she knew immediately that that part of Fall was here.

A smile immediately emerged on her face.

And she pulled out her phone to send a text about how excited she was for hoodie season.

Her fingers move rapidly across the keyboard as she’s pacing across campus after leaving her 9 a.m. Biology class. She’s about to hit the send arrow on the right side of her screen, when she notices the name next to the “To:” listed on her screen.

Christen Press

Her eyes open a little wider as she registers that her brain quite literally subconsciously wanted to message Christen, over any other possible person. And she tries to push that thought out of her mind, as she’d been doing for the past few weeks, ever since the argument with Kelley at the 180.

But a few days ago, Christen Press had sent her a particular message:

9:27 p.m. Christen Press: Hey Tobin! Are you busy right now?

And it was the first message she received from Christen since the girl had started tutoring her that had zero mention of organic chemistry in it. It wasn’t a picture of a textbook problem. It wasn’t a question about lecture notes. And it wasn’t about organizing a time to meet for tutoring.

In fact, it was kind of the complete opposite of that. Christen’s boyfriend had last-minute dropped out of going to a haunted house, and no one else was available to go with her.

And Tobin wanted to say no, for the sake of her friendship with Kelley, the one she was desperately hoping to repair, even though her best friend seemed to want literally nothing to do with her existence.

But Kelley’s hostility had seemingly wafted throughout the team, and now Kelley wasn’t the only one Tobin was receiving the cold shoulder from.

Not. Even. Close.

So she had agreed.

And Tobin had gone out alone with Christen, the mysterious girl she barely knew, to the haunted house.

And Christen had held onto her arm tightly, buried her face in Tobin’s shoulder, making adorable squeals into her neck, before suddenly dropping some random line in Tobin’s ear that made her tremble.

Yet, there was no direct indication that this was more than harmless, friendly flirting.

It was a side of Christen she had gotten to see only a few times. And Tobin was hooked.

She had texted Christen the following morning, honestly not expecting a reply, but was hoping for one. And she got one.

The two had been texting nonstop ever since.

And when she saw Christen Press’ name opened subconsciously on the screen this morning, she knew she was utterly fucked.

Something about the girl just drew her in.

So she sighed and sent the message.

10:44 a.m. Tobin Heath: finally hoodie weather thank god

And she was nothing short of surprised when her phone buzzed right away.

10:46 a.m. Christen Press: I was actually about to text you, want to go to the farmer’s market with me?

10:46 a.m. Christen Press: Brett’s busy, but I heard it’s dope today

She knows she should say no.

10:47 a.m. Tobin Heath: sounds fun, where should I meet you?

And that’s how Tobin Heath finds herself standing in the middle of a busy pop-up farmer’s market just off campus grounds in their college town, for the first time ever, waiting for a girl she was lowkey crushing on, a girl who had a long-term boyfriend, instead of studying for her test the following morning.

“Tobin!” she hears from behind her.

She spins around, revealing Christen in a UNC Football hoodie and skinny jeans, curls flowing freely in the wind. The sweatshirt makes her gulp deeply, but she can’t get over how natural beauty just radiates off of this human.

“Hey Chris,” she responds with a calm smile.

“Thanks for meeting me, these things are always more fun with other people.”

“I bet,” she hums. “To be honest, I’ve never been here before.”

“What?” the girl yells, wincing when she realizes how loud her exclamation was, lowering her voice as she continues talking. “They’ve been here every week since mid-Freshman year.”

Tobin looks at her with a raised eyebrow, waiting until Christen processes the look.

“Oh my god,” Christen laughs. “I always forget you’re new this year, I feel like I’ve known you so much longer than four months, like forever-long.”

The words twist Tobin’s stomach, and she swallows deeply. “Yeah, me too,” she responds, looking straight into Christen’s eyes.

They stay staring at each other, into each other, neither one of them speaking a word, until they’re moment is broken by the sound of a woman clearing her throat.

Looking to the left, Tobin sees that she’s standing in front of a flower stand, blocking the line to pay for flowers at the register.

“Oops, so sorry,” Christen says sweetly, before grabbing Tobin’s arm and starting to pull her away from the stand.

“Woah, can’t believe they have blue tulips there, they’re my favorite,” Tobin thinks out loud accidentally, head still turned over her shoulder.

Christen doesn’t respond, just keeps pulling her past stands until they reach the honey stand, which has probably about fifty different honeys on display, all with tasting spoons.

“This stand is new this week, everyone has been raving about it!” Christen says excitedly as she starts reading honey labels. She turns her head to Tobin, who is also examining labels. “Sorry, I should’ve asked. Do you like honey?”

“Who doesn’t like honey?” Tobin asks, revelling in how adorable Christen’s enthusiasm is.

“My boyfriend,” Christen laughs out coldly. “But he doesn’t like anything I like, and apparently it’s a big burden to even come with me, even though I go to all of his stupid shit.”

Awkward.

“Oh, uh, that sucks,” Tobin responds neutrally, intentionally not tearing her eyes away from the honey on the right side of the tent as she does so.

“Tell me about it,” Christen sighs out, before they descend into somewhat of a strange silence.

Unsure what to do with herself, Tobin just keeps reading the same honey labels over and over.

“OOH!” she hears Christen shout suddenly.

Turning around quickly, Tobin opens her mouth to speak, but instead is met with Christen shoving a spoonful of honey in her mouth.

“Mmph,” Tobin lets out a muffled noise amidst the surprise.

Christen is smiling back at her, question in her eyes, as she lets go of the spoon. Tobin raises her own hand to the spoon and uses her teeth to pull the rest of the honey off of it.

“This is SO good,” she says, eyes getting wider, looking down at the spoon then back up to Christen excitedly.

Christen giggles at the sudden burst of enthusiasm. “It’s ‘Prickly Pear’ honey. Ugh I have been looking for this type of honey for soo long. I only brought five dollars, though, and it costs seventeen.”

And then Tobin is grabbing a bottle of the honey off the shelf, without hesitation, and walking up to the makeshift cashier’s counter at the side of the tent.

“What are you doing?” Christen calls out, following after her.

“Hello, dear,” the woman at the register says warmly to Tobin as she arrives.

“Good morning,” Tobin smiles in response as she hands her the jar of honey. “How are you?”

“I’m great, thank you. Ah, this one has been selling really fast,” the woman adds on. “Nice catch.”

Tobin nods in response, not exactly sure how one type of honey sells so much more than others. This isn’t her sort of thing. To Tobin, honey is honey.

Then she feels a hand slap the back of her shoulder.

“Tobin, you can’t buy this for me!”

“Too late,” Tobin lets out as she hands the cashier a $20 bill from her back pocket.

“That’s like $20, and you barely know me!” she continues.

“Thought it seemed like we’ve known each other forever?” Tobin teases, mocking Christen’s comment from earlier.

Christen sends her a vicious but clearly joking glare, which prompts Tobin to roll her eyes.

It’s somewhat true — that they don’t know each other that well yet. But Tobin has a feeling that’s going to change. And she does know already that this girl is stubborn as hell.

“You two are so cute,” the woman comments with a chuckle.

It raises an immediate blush to Tobin’s cheeks, in addition to stirring a slight panic within her. She opens her mouth to correct the woman, but is cut off by Christen.

“Thanks,” Christen says, taking her by surprise, before grabbing the honey, Tobin’s $3 change, and her arm, dragging them away with a polite, “Have a good one!”

Tobin is walking next to her silently, staring at the ground, not seeing the way Christen is intently studying her profile at this moment with a smile she couldn’t resist.

Her attention is brought back up when she hears Christen suddenly shout, “Oops!” as Tobin’s three dollar bills fall to the ground.

“I got it,” Tobin immediately supplies, taking a few steps away from Christen and bending down to grab the bills. When she picks herself back up, she is confused to see Christen nowhere around her.

“Christen?” she says, a furrow in her brow, as she turns around in a circle a few times.

On her fifth spin, Christen appears next to her again, holding out a blue tulip toward her.

Tobin doesn’t say anything right away, just looks up at Christen with a question in her eyes.

“Your favorite,” she says with a smile. “For the honey jar you got me.”

Tobin reaches her hand out to grab it from Christen, a shock shooting up her arm when their fingers brush for a few seconds, before she pulls it away and brings it under her nose.

“How did you know these are my favorite?” Tobin questions, as they start walking again toward the fruit stand.

“Uh, you told me a few minutes ago when we walked by the stand…” she trails off.

“Oh,” Tobin says, flustered in embarrassment.

What is happening, you don’t get like this over a girl.

Her hand not holding the flower comes up to rub the back of her neck. “Didn’t realize I said that out loud.”

Christen just laughs in response.

“Thanks,” Tobin comments, before she stops in her stride a moment later. “Wait,” she whispers, “did you steal this?”

“No, god Tobin I told you I had three dollars,” she says, unable to hold back her smile at how serious and adorable Tobin’s face had gotten in her moment of concern.

“Oh right. I’m such an idiot,” she says, sighing at herself.

Christen just shoves her forcefully forward toward the fruit stand, still laughing. “Let’s go stare at some fruit then, idiot.”

 

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

 

“What’s this?” Tobin points to the upside down poster.

She’s leaning forward, reaching out to grab it, when she feels Christen’s hand grab onto and run down her arm.

“Hey, I got it. Don’t want you to pass out on me,” she smiles.

The girl pops herself up and paces over to the poster, just a few feet to the right of Tobin on top of the rock. She squats down and grabs the corner, before looking over and speaking first.

“I felt bad about the twenty dollars worth of candy you bought me the other night with your ‘emergency twenty’, that we never ate. And I also felt bad — feel bad — about how horrible I've been. I saw the look on your face after I said casual yesterday afternoon,” she says with a small, guilty close-lipped smile, before looking away from her, taking a deep breath, and focusing back on Tobin. “I want to be someone you can trust, so I bought you some candy too.”

“You bought me candy… to make me trust you,” Tobin says as a statement, but it’s meant as a question.

“Mhm,” Christen’s nodding.

“I’m confused,” Tobin’s laughing quietly.

“Here,” Christen states as she picks up the poster and hands it to Tobin, still face down, and takes the tulip from her other hand. “Trade ya.”

Then she’s sitting back down next to Tobin, looking intently and nervously down at the flower in her hand as she spins it between her fingers.

Tobin has no idea what the hell is going on, or what this big white thing is that Christen gave to her. It’s very large, and she’s turning it over carefully, revealing several candy bars taped onto a large poster, interspersed by words.

She glances over with an eyebrow raised at Christen, who is still nervously staring down at the flower, before looking back and starting to read the poster to herself:

T,

I wanted to give you 100 GRAND of sour gummy worms today, but the $$ slipped right through my BUTTERFINGERs.

I’ve ORBITed the MILKY WAY in search of someone like you.

We’re a couple of MILK DUDS, but now my life would be pretty SOUR PATCH KIDS if you hadn’t transferred here and I hadn’t met you, SWEETARTS.

Everyday I’m EXTRA grateful that you gave me another chance. When everything went to shit for me, you have been my LIFESAVERS GUMMIES.

People may SNICKERS at us, but no matter what, it’s cool because I promise I’ll always be there too when you’re in a CRUNCH.

And while I’m on a ROLO, let me just say that I know we’re a couple of science NERDS, but I think you’re one HOT TAMALES and you make my heart STARBURST with ALMOND JOY.

There’s nobody like you. You bring me MOUNDS of happiness, and I like you to REESE’S PIECES.

I know I’ve been a huge AIR HEADS, but I hope you can forgive me. I like everything about you, too. I feel like we’ve been dancing around this forever now, and I want you to know that I’m in this too.

Be my girlfriend?

<3 C

By the time she reaches the end of the poster, Tobin’s face is about 75% smile, her grin completely reaching her eyes. She reads the last few lines again, making sure she read it right, that this wasn’t some hallucination induced by the fist to the face she’d taken earlier that night.

Finally, she places the poster carefully on the ground to her right, before looking to her left, where Christen sits, still playing with the flower, but now her leg is nervously tapping as well.

Tobin slides her casted left hand over Christen’s tapping thigh, willing it to be still. She watches as Christen’s eyes close for a moment in response to Tobin’s touch, before they open again, but still not willing to meet her gaze.

So she reaches her casted arm up higher, placing her fingers under the girl’s chin and pulling until Christen’s face is facing her own. And then she’s leaning in to place a long, gentle kiss onto Christen lips.

When she pulls back, dropping her hand from the girl’s chin and opening her eyes, Christen’s eyes remain closed and the girl huffs out a breath with a slow-forming smile.

“I understand if you don’t want to after tonight. But you asked what I wanted. I just thought you should know,” she says quietly, before finally fluttering her eyes open.

Chris,” she sighs, “you kill me, you know that?”

“I— uh I get it. I can stay away.”

Tobin rolls her eyes. “There are a lot of things I want you to put in my mouth, Chris. Words aren't one of them,” she teases.

“What?”

She sighs and takes Christen’s hand in her own.

“You cause more chaos than anyone I’ve ever known. I never know where your head is at. You make a mess of everything you touch.”

“Way to let me down easy, Tobin,” she grumbles.

“But I just can’t ever seem to get you out of my head,” Tobin continues, ignoring Christen entirely. “And I don’t want to. And I would never change a thing about you.”

“What are you saying…” she trails off.

“I’m saying, next time I punch that dick, I want to be able to say it’s my girlfriend’s douchey ex.”

The minute the words leave her mouth, Christen’s eyes light up and she looks over at Tobin, looking back and forth between Tobin’s eyes as if she’s trying to judge if she’s serious.

“Really?”

“Yeah, really,” she says as she tangles a hand in Christen’s curly hair and pulls her forehead forward such that she can press her lips against it.

She leaves a kiss on her forehead, both eyelids, and her nose, before finally taking Christen’s bottom lip between her own.

She hears Christen hum happily into the kiss, before she begins to press her lips harder into Tobin’s, alternating between her top and bottom lips.

A few minutes later, Tobin feels two cold hands slide gently onto either side of her face. She’s dragging her teeth along Christen’s lower lip as she brings her uninjured hand up to cover Christen’s hand on her face, before sliding it down to hold onto her wrist.

But the girl’s hands squeeze tighter in response, causing Tobin to pull back suddenly with a flinch. “Ouch.”

“Oh my god, I’m sorry,” Christen frowns as she brings the back of her fingers up together to stroke along the bruise that is now pretty well formed under Tobin’s eye. She only lasts a few more seconds before she is unable to hold in her laugh at the whole situation.

“You suck,” Tobin pouts in response.

“I think it’s sexy that you punched him for me,” Christen beams out.

And it only takes one more comment for the mood to shift to something different entirely.

“Well you would’ve too if you had seen what he was doing to you from my standpoint.”

“I mean, I had a pretty good view myself, Tobs,” she whispers out shakily.

Out of the corner of her eye, Tobin sees her leg start tapping up and down again on the rock.

“I’m sorry,” Tobin huffs.

“Not your fault,” Christen replies as she leans her head onto Tobin’s shoulder. “I’m just glad you came when you did.”

“It’s not your fault either. And I’m here if you want to talk about it,” she says, holding her cast out face-up on top of her own thigh and lowering her head to rest on top of Christen’s after leaving a kiss in her hair.

Just a moment later, Christen’s fingers intertwine with her own.

“I— it’s been a long night. I just want to watch the sunrise with you and go to bed. Is that okay?” she says sweetly.

Tobin squeezes Christen’s hand in her own.

“Yeah, yeah it is.”

 

_______________________________________________________

 

The following week goes by quicker than a torpedo.

They spent the weekend to themselves, held up in their dorm room. Christen explaining more about what happened that night, Tobin dealing with her black eye, both of them ignoring their friends’ texts, the knocks on their door, and any and all other responsibilities.

It wasn’t the stereotypical ‘romantic’ weekend one would expect after taking the next step in a relationship, but it was exactly what the two of them needed.

Forthcoming.

Secluded.

Honest.

The week itself was that of “Dead Days” — the seven days of no classes preceding finals. Theoretically, it would be nice to have a full week without classes. But this wasn’t one of those break weeks. Instead, it was full of stress-eating, stress-sleeping, stress-studying, and, well… stress-relief.

Wednesday night, Christen and Tobin are sitting in bed eating ice cream, a laptop propped up in front of them playing ‘50 First Dates.’ They hadn't started studying at all yet, but neither of one of them was complaining. That was tomorrow's problem.

Christen scoops another bite into her mouth, licking the back of the spoon, before she registers Tobin looking at her.

“Yes, I will still be hungry for the pizza even after dessert!” she exclaims, still watching the TV.

“No, it’s not that,” Tobin laughs as she eats another spoonful of Christen’s ice cream, before putting her spoon down on the plastic CVS bag on the bed. “I was just remembering.”

“Remembering what?” she hears Christen ask, before she tears her eyes away from the screen to meet Tobin’s, her mouth immediately turning up into a small smile when their eyes meet.

“Your hair,” she points to Christen’s half-up half-down hairstyle that accentuated her natural curls.

Christen’s smile doesn’t waver, and neither does the confused furrow in her brow.

“You wore it this way the first day that I met you here in this room,” Tobin comments thoughtfully.

“You remember how I wore my hair the first day that we met?”

“Yeah, course,” Tobin smiles, her hand reaching over to rest on the top of Christen’s leg.

Christen’s silent for a moment, taking another bite of ice cream before closing the container entirely and leaning forward to place the carton behind the computer they had resting by their feet.

She then turns to Tobin with a thoughtful smile.

“What else do you remember?”

“Hmm,” Tobin says as her fingers start to draw patterns over her bare thigh. “I remember that hot, tiny skirt you were wearing.” She smirks as she remembers the way it showed off Christen’s long, toned legs.

“Oh my god, yes, you’ve made your feelings for that particular piece of clothing very clear, Tobs,” Christen laughs and smacks her lightly on the arm. “Come on, tell me really.”

Tobin looks hesitant for a moment, and Christen takes the chance to sling her leg over Tobin’s, before flicking her hair back behind her shoulders and lowering herself onto Tobin’s lap.

Unable to control herself, Tobin gives the girl the elevator eyes, her tongue coming out to wet her lips instinctively.

“Well, um… let’s see,” Tobin says, looking up to make eye contact with Christen as she runs her hands up the girl’s legs. “These shorts—”

“Mhm,” Christen encourages her, closing her eyes momentarily when Tobin’s fingers begin to kneed her ass.

“You wore them the day we fell asleep in the library overnight together by accident. And uh, this shirt, you had it on the day I sprained your ankle by accident.”

Tobin grins, continuing to look into Christen’s eyes as she tucks her fingers in the waistband of her shorts. She drags her fingers around to the front, before hooking them under her thong and pulling it up above her waistband.

“And this,” she smirks, looking down hungrily at the black lace on her fingers for a few seconds before looking back up again, you were wearing the day we went skinny dipping. It was the only thing you were wearing.”

“I wore it for you,” Christen husks as she removes Tobin’s hands from her waistband and intertwines their fingers.

“And these shoes, you wore when I made you come out to that basketball game with me, and now you steal them too much.”

“Hey!”

Tobin just continues. “They say my name across the back,” she says as she traces her finger over her own name, before raising it to the top of Christen’s shirt, pulling it down her shoulder and placing a soft kiss on the newly exposed skin. “And this,” she whispers as she tugs on the black strap she revealed, “you wore when I made you scream it for the first time.”

“Tobin…” she trails off before connecting their lips together in a sweet but chaste kiss.

Then she scrunches her eyebrows. “Funny, I don’t remember screaming ‘idiot’.”

Tobin laughs for a moment, before raising a hand to tuck an escaped curl behind the girl’s ear.

“Oh okay then princess, like you could do any better.”

She sees Christen’s classic smug smirk arise on her face, and Tobin immediately knows she’s done for.

“Well, you’re always barefoot.”

“Nice one,” Tobin quips.

“Shut up,” she hits Tobins shoulder again, before she lowers her hands to unbutton and unzip Tobin’s jeans, looking into her eyes the entire time. “You wore these the night of the Midweek Mayhem party, when I kissed you on that dare.”

She uses her right hand to push Tobin until she’s lying flat on her back, Christen still sitting up and straddling the girl’s hips.

Leaning down, Christen pushes up Tobin’s red t-shirt, kissing the exposed skin on her stomach as she goes, smiling as she feels Tobin’s breathing pick up and her abs contracting under each touch.

“This shirt,” she whispers as she crawls up her body until she’s holding herself over Tobin with a hand placed next to her head. “You were wearing that friday in October when I made you come see that IMAX documentary about Turtles with me.”

She brushes some light brown hair out of Tobin’s hazel eyes, before running her fingers down Tobin’s arm until she feels her fingers. Christen spins the ring on her pointer finger a few times before placing Tobin’s hand on her lower back. “This ring you let me wear that one night when we sat out on the 180, and you were playing that song on your guitar — the Beatles one.”

Tobin pauses. “Blackbird,” she smiles. “That was the song I played.”

Christen smiles and shrugs, moving her face just above Tobin’s.

“I’m surprised how much you remember,” Tobin notes honestly.

“I was always thinking about you, even when I didn’t want to be,” Christen replies with a smile, before she leans down to connect their lips together.

A few hours later they’re both naked and out of breath. Christen has her eyes slammed shut, releasing the pillow from over her face where she had held it to muffle her screams, while Tobin’s head pops out from between her legs and out from under the sheets, crawling back up Christen’s body until her face is right above Christens.

“God you’re good at that,” Christen lets out.

She brushes the curl’s out of Christen’s eyes before leaving a gentle kiss on top of each closed eyelid, whispering “open up.”

Tobin smiles as she sees green orbs appear in front of her own eyes. “There’s my green-eyed girl.”

Christen is smiling back, leaning up to kiss Tobin deeply, moaning at the taste of herself on Tobin’s lips.

“I want more,” Christen says once she finally pulls away.

“You’re insatiable,” Tobin husks in return as she leans down to kiss the girl’s neck.

Giggling, Christen pushes her off to the side. “Pizza — don’t we have more pizza left over from last night?”

“I think we ate it all.”

Christen frowns.

Tobin just laughs and kisses her cheek before rolling over and popping out of bed, letting the sheet fall from her exposed body.

“Yum,” Christen comments.

“Mhm,” Tobin hums as she pulls on a shirt, before throwing a sweatshirt and shorts at her girlfriend.

“C’mon, we have to leave here at some point. Plus, we gotta start studying tomorrow, let’s go have fun for a night, yeah?”

“Ugh fine,” she says, finally dragging herself up behind Tobin and out the door.

 

_______________________________________________________

 

And for the first time in awhile, they actually studied like they planned to. It wasn’t until the following Sunday that they finally decided to venture outside of their normal library hideout.

Of course, at this point, Tobin had texted everyone back at least a few times. But all of that drama had been made easier by the simple fact that Tobin and Christen had not actually seen any of them.

At least, not until today.

They had been sitting at two different individual study tables in the back of the fourth floor of the library, mostly to avoid people. The problem was the length of time they had been there and the lack of caffeine.

Honestly, Tobin had reached a point where she probably couldn’t tell you what subject was laid out on the table in front of her. She had completely zoned out, a grin emerging on her face as she is thinking about the past week.

Somehow, everything had been seeming to come together. Christen kept surprising her, and she was all for it.

Her attention is only drawn again by the buzz of her cell phone on the desk.

1:46 p.m. Chris: You’re killing me with that smile

She looks up to see Christen smiling at her from across the room, before looking back down at her keyboard.

1:49 p.m. Tobs: uh oh, I can’t do jail time dude

Looking back up, she sees Christen full-on roll her eyes at her phone.

1:50 p.m. Chris: You could just do time with me instead … ?

Christen laughs and winks at Tobin from across the room, and it makes Tobin herself chuckle a little.

1:51 p.m. Tobs: Mmm this could be arranged

1:52 p.m. Chris: Could this arrangement include coffee right now because I’m DYING

1:53 p.m. Tobs: oh thank god, I haven’t done a problem in like an hour, let’s go

They both pack up as fast as humanly possible, and make their way over to the elevator. While they’re waiting, Christen holds out her hand — one of many new things that surprised Tobin this week —, which Tobin gladly takes.

And fifteen minutes later, they’re walking into The Bean hand in hand.

“There’s no way your Dad said that,” Tobin’s choking out in laughter.

“No, for real, I thought he was going to kill the guy,” Christen’s laughing back as they make their way through the door of the coffee shop and into line.

They continue chatting until they both suddenly feel a forceful set of arms around their necks, the momentum knocking them back a few feet. Luckily they didn’t run into any other people in the process.

“Thank god,” they hear a familiar voice say, before the girl pulls back from their three-way hug.

“Jackie, what’s up,” Tobin replies whilst chortling at Jackie's classic surprise jump appearance. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Christen’s face transform into what Tobin figured out long ago is her anxious face, so she gives Christen’s hand a squeeze — a squeeze which is quickly returned.

The blonde girl drops her arm from Christen’s neck to reach up to touch the area around Tobin’s eye once before dropping both arms completely to her sides.

“I haven’t seen you since you got clocked, jerk,” she says before turning entirely to Christen and lowering her voice, too low for Tobin to hear.

She does hear them both giggle a little. So Tobin clears her throat, and in response, both Christen and Jackie turn their heads at the same time toward Tobin with the same arched eyebrow.

“When did this happen?” she asks, gesturing between the two of them.

They looked at each other, before turning back to Tobin and saying in unison, “you were unconscious.”

Tobin smiles and rolls her eyes at the two of them, but inside she’s wreathing with joy that they seem to actually be getting along… albeit for some unknown reason.

“Uh huh,” she nods, releasing Christen’s hand, “Can you get mine? I’m gonna go sit, I feel unwelcome in whatever this is.”

“My table is in the back left corner over there,” Jackie says with a smile as she points somewhere unclear over her shoulder.

Tobin just nods and pats them both on the back as she walks away, shaking her head and smiling. She sees Jackie’s bright red backpack from across the room, and starts making her way over there.

But the smile immediately falters when she sees who else is at the table.

Crap.

“Kel,” she says as she pulls out the girl’s ear bud, prompting her to look up.

It’s not that she’s mad at Kelley, or avoiding her or anything of that nature. She’s just still not sure how to deal with all the hostility, especially while trying to navigate this new relationship with Christen. Especially while she hasn’t explicitly told her friend that they’re dating yet.

“Oh, hey Tob,” she says as she opens her arms and pulls Tobin into a quick but tight hug. “How’s your week been?”

“Less crazy than last Friday,” she breathes out as she pulls away.

“Surprisingly, I would say the opposite for myself,” Kelley laughs as she moves her stuff off of the chair next to her, motioning for Tobin to sit down. “Your eye looks better than the pictures you sent the other day, though.”

“Yeah the swelling’s gone down a ton,” she says, receiving a confused look when she doesn’t take a seat next to Kelley right away. She looks over her shoulder, seeing Jackie and Christen picking drinks off the counter, before turning back to her friend. “She’s here with me, is it cool if we sit here? I can go to another table if you want.”

“It’s fine,” the girl sighs. “Jackie explained some stuff to me.. I should talk to Chris before we leave for break,” she continues quietly, as if she’s thinking out loud. “But we should probably talk too. Maybe we can get lunch after the Bio final on Monday?”

“Sounds good, you’re buying though,” she says as she punches her friend in the shoulder.

“What? Why me?”

“Well, I remember a certain drive through experience from a few weeks ago in which I paid for someone to try every single sandwich on the menu.. Hmm, who was that? I wonder…” Tobin says pensively.

“That person sounds loco, let me know when you find out,” Kelley says before looking up, her face changing immediately before she quickly pops her ear bud in, and gets back to work.

Tobin rolls her eyes, but understands her friend’s shift in affect when she sees an iced coffee appear in her peripheral vision and Christen plopping down in the seat next to her. She gives Tobin a cautious glance and relaxes a little when Tobin nods in response.

They all stay there studying for the next two hours.

Tobin and Kelley are both compiling their notes into one huge Biology study guide, while Christen is working on a final paper for her Women’s Studies class, and Jackie is going through flashcards for her Spanish final.

Ever since she started school, Tobin has never been one to enjoy quiet studying. She finds her bursts of motivation come not when by herself, but rather when she’s surrounded by others. Sort of like she is absorbing other’s motivation.

Hence, she loves coffee-shop studying, especially during finals. It’s somewhat ironic, because most people she knows study there during the semester and then move to the library for finals.

But Tobin’s always thought a little differently than others, so she rolls with it.

It’s the collective suffering in the coffee shop, transforming it into collective effervescence, that can totally turn her day upside down.

And their study session was by all means going great. Her and Kelley were almost through their class notes and textbook notes from the final unit, and that actually put her ahead of schedule in terms of where she hoped to be in advance of finals week.

After finishing one particular category that took her way too long, she grabbed an already distracted Jackie and dragged her to come fill up their water bottles together at the bubbler near the restrooms in the back.

When they are returning to the table a few minutes later, a couple of things make them both pick up the pace.

The first was Christen on the ground behind Tobin’s chair.

The second Kelley with a fistful of Brett’s shirt in her hand, looking up at him from her short stature.

The third was Kelley shouting “don’t you dare put your hands on her again” in the middle of a very public venue.

Tobin’s about to start full-on running, when she feels Jackie’s hand on her arm, stopping her.

When Tobin focuses her attention back on the table, she sees Brett walking away with what looks like Tobin’s iced coffee dripping down his face and shirt. She sees Kelley move quickly around the chairs until she’s standing over Christen. She watches Kelley extend a hand out to her. She sees Christen pause, as if she’s really contemplating the action, before taking Kelley’s hand and allowing herself to be pulled up. She watches as Kelley doesn’t drop her hand at first, instead choosing to cover their interlocked hands with her other hand as she speaks. She sees Christen nodding along hesitantly, before the girl is responding back, emotion clear in her face.

It’s too far for Tobin and Jackie to hear what exactly they are talking about, but it must be heartfelt enough that she sees Christen wipe a tear from her own eye after a few minutes. And then they’re hugging, and Tobin is not sure what emotions are running through her veins at this moment, but she does know one of them is relief.

She feels Jackie’s arm come around her shoulder.

“Should we go back yet?” Jackie asks, still watching the scene unfolding in front of her.

“I don’t know,” she replies spacily.

“Well,” Jackie teases as she points at the empty cup on the ground with the arm not around Tobin. “Seems like you need another coffee anyway.”

“Ugh,” Tobin groans as she raises her head up toward the ceiling for a moment. “This is my third coffee purchase of the day.”

Jackie just pats her chest twice with her left hand, before using her right arm still slung around Tobin’s shoulders to pull her toward the front counter. “What hurts more, your wallet, your broken arm, or your black eye?”

“I fucking hate you,” Tobin laughs out, making Jackie laugh harder in return.

“You wish,” Jackie comments before she grabs Tobin’s wallet and starts animatedly ordering them both drinks and food.

 

_______________________________________________________

 

It’s strange.

Finals week is probably busier than all of “Dead Days” week combined. Yet, Tobin feels like she saw more of her friends this week than she had in the past three weeks combined.

Perhaps it has something to do with the way the last week of the semester was always that time in which you have ‘catch-up’ hangouts with everyone before they all head off the winter break. Tobin had several of these with her friends, too many to count.

Perhaps it is in how Christen went out of her way to do things for Tobin when she noticed how high her stress levels were. The girl seemed to be at every corner with a momentary hug between review sessions or a coffee in passing. One night, she’d even given her a massage… but that quickly turned into other stress-relieving activities.

Or perhaps it is her terrible addiction to procrastination. That one is self-explanatory.

Who knows?

But it’s finally Friday, and finals period ends on Sunday, so the week is almost over.

Unfortunately for Tobin and Christen, their organic chemistry final is on Sunday morning, bright and early at 9 a.m.. So they had to study until the very last day.

Tobin gets back to the room late this Friday night from nearly 48 hours in the library. She had slept, of course, but most of the time had been spent working her way through practice problems, trying her best to avoid having to cram the night before. Because Organic Chemistry is not one of those subjects that you can easily cram.

She breathes in a deep sigh of relief upon finally making it back into the room, having looked at enough molecules this day to last her a lifetime. Twisting her key in the lock, she quietly opens the door, unsure if Christen will be sleeping or not, given that it is nearly two in the morning.

At first it appears this way, as the beds are both completely dark, as well as Christen’s desk, but when she opens the door wider, she sees Christen’s figure under the soft yellow glow of the singular lamp at Tobin’s desk, bouncing her head up and down to whatever music is playing through her earbuds, and rolling a pencil through her fingertips.

Tobin puts her stuff down on the floor and smiles as she notices that Christen is fully decked out in Tobin’s sweatshirt and sweatpants.

Upon hearing the backpack hit the floor, Christen removes an earbud and turns her face toward the door, nearby where Tobin stands.

“You look good in my clothes,” Tobin hums.

“I miss you,” the girl pouts sadly from her seat.

Smiling wider at how adorable Christen’s pout is, Tobin walks up to the desk and hugs the girl from behind, arms coming snug around her shoulders, and her head coming around to leave a quick kiss on Christen’s cheek before her chin digs into the girl’s shoulder.

Christen smiles, bringing her hands up to hold onto Tobin’s arms encircling her and leaning back into the contact.

“I’m right here though,” Tobin hums into her shoulder.

They break apart as Christen turns sideways in the chair, reaches out to take both of Tobin’s hands into her own, and looks up at her with big eyes. “I haven’t seen you in like days.

“You saw me at brunch yesterday.”

“With like ten other people!” she exasperates.

“You saw me earlier at the coffee stand,” Tobin jokes back, amused at how upset she seems about this.

Christen’s face remains frustrated. “Yeah for like two minutes.”

Tobin pauses for a moment before squatting down in front of Christen and letting her hands rest on the sides of Christen’s thighs. “Let me take you out on Sunday then, just you and me, after our last final?”

“Like on a date?” the girl responds, her eyes immediately lighting up far too much for two in the morning..

“Yeah, like on a date,” Tobin returns slowly.

“I would like that,” Christen smiles, before leaning down to kiss Tobin’s lips once, shutting the lamp of, and pulling them both to their feet and toward Tobin's bed.

"Woah, let me change first," Tobin comments, letting go of Christen's hand.

Christen just shakes her head, immediately pulling Tobin's shirt over head and pushing down her sweatpants.

Tobin laughs. "Or I guess that works too."

But Christen doesn't laugh in response, or even smile, and it brings a concerned look to Tobin's face. Instead, as she steps out of her sweatpants the girl just pulls off her own clothes and drags her urgently into the twin-size bed. Once she's settled in the bed, Tobin raises her arm, creating space for Christen to wriggle underneath it, head buried in the side of Tobin's neck, arm draped across her abdomen, and legs tangled together.

"How was your day?" Tobin asks into the silence, bringing one arm to intertwine her fingers with Christen's hand on her abdomen, as the other hand draws patterns on Christen's bare back.

"Super long, I had two papers due today," the girl says quietly.

"...And..." Tobin trails off.

The girl sighs at how well Tobin knows her. "And what're you doing for winter break?"

Tobin knew this conversation was coming. She was definitely not looking forward to six weeks away from this girl, considering right now she can barely survive a few days.

"I'm not sure yet," Tobin hums.

"You're not sure?"

It's a question she gets all too often. "You know I just kind of float around."

"You're not going to see your family?" she asks curiously.

Tobin sighs. "No, I will go to Jersey at some point. All my siblings are all over the place, so no reason to stay there alone, you know."

"Yeah," Christen replies. "I guess that makes sense."

"I was thinking about heading to Cali for your birthday, though," she reveals cautiously.

"Really?!" Christen exclaims excitedly.

"Really."

The girl pauses for a moment.

"I'm just really gonna miss you," Christen whispers into her shoulder, sounding almost nervous to be making the admission. And she knows how hard it's been for Christen to deal with her feelings. How hard it's been for her to lose Brett, and to lose her friends, and really to be dealing with everything that's happened this semester. And it's these small, heartfelt moments that make Tobin just fall a little deeper.

Sometimes she still finds herself surprised that Christen wants to be with her — just can't seem to understand how things fell into place, when they were such a mess a few weeks before. The transition from friends to this had been a complicated road, but she wasn't complaining. They were both absolute disasters, but they figuring it out together.

Tobin smiles, removing her hand from Christen's on her stomach and using it to tilt Christen's chin up so that she can place a kiss against the girl's forehead, before whispering, "Me too baby."

And then Christen's lifting her head farther so that she can look into Tobin's eyes, which are dimly lit by the full moon shining through their dorm room window.

"You've never called me that before."

Her smile falters a little as she processes what she just said. It had been a while since she had called anyone that. Not since Shirley. "Oh, sorry," she says through gritted teeth.

Finally, a smile rises to Christen's face, as she pushes herself a little farther up Tobin's body.

"Say it again," she whispers against Tobin's lips.

Tobin looks between the girl's eyes, searching for any sign of hesitation, fear, regret. But all she sees is nerves and care.

She brings her hand up from Christen's chin to slide along the girl's cheek.

"I'm gonna miss you baby," she whispers once more, before pressing their lips together for just a second.

She feels Christen's lips along her jaw, before the girl's head settles back in the space between her head and shoulder.

"Night Chris," she says into the darkness.

"Goodnight, baby," Christen whispers back.

And Tobin is smiling herself to sleep that night.

 

_______________________________________________________

 

The following night -- Saturday night --she's on her way to sleep over at the soccer house that night, with a bunch of girls who had already finished all of their finals. On the contrary, Tobin's organic chemistry final was the following morning.

Was this the brightest decision she had ever made? Not even close.

But it was her best friend’s last night on campus. And she had worked hard all day, making sure she was as studied as possible before heading over to Kelley’s house. She felt like she had covered every possible topic that could be on the test, and truthfully she was super burnt out.

After all, everyone reaches that point before finals where you just realize that you know what you know, and studying more isn’t going to change that.

At least, everyone except her extremely Type A girlfriend.

Here Tobin is, longboarding across campus to hangout with her friends, while Christen was camped out in the library.

This was one of those places that they differed. Christen was Type A through and through — she liked to be in control, had a natural tendency to shove feelings into a tiny box in the back of her brain so as to not be distracted from her goals, and when she did have a goal, she stopped at nothing until she acquired it. It’s part of what made Christen so terrifying to most — the mysterious nature mixed with her overbearing ambition. A frightening combination, but one that Tobin found miraculously sexy.

And it’s not like Tobin wasn’t incredibly Type A on the inside. She got her assignments done, she organized her time well, she was unrelenting in pursuit of her goals. She understood that part of Christen more than people realized. But on the outside, Tobin Heath was nearly the opposite.

When Tobin finished the work she planned, she considered herself prepared and off the clock. In contrast, Christen considered every moment of time precious, and she was held up in the library, studying things she had looked at 100 times before, because that’s what calmed her anxiety -- knowing she had used every possible minute before the test to study.

And she had been spending nearly every free moment lately with Christen, so it was nice to be able to come catch up with everyone else tonight before they all headed off for break in the morning.

Arriving at the house, she flicks her board up to her hands and throws it under her arm before retrieving the spare key from where they keep it inside of the lamp on the porch and unlocking the door.

Before entering, she whips out her phone to check on Christen.

10:42 p.m. Tobs: hey hot stuff, how’s it hanging

10:42 p.m. Chris: hi :) still in the library, wbu?

10:43 p.m. Tobs: just got to the house… still??

10:43 p.m. Chris: I’m going over chapter 8 again lol

10:43 p.m. Tobs: I literally watched you do all those practice problems right already

When Christen doesn’t answer in the next minute, she pockets her phone, assuming she proceeded studying, and turns the door handle.

“Yo!” she calls out as she shuts the door behind her with her foot.

She flinches back when all she gets in response is a series of aggressive “SHHH!” shouted from the kitchen.

Dropping her bag on the floor, Tobin makes her way into the kitchen. Upon entering, her curious expression is immediately replaced with a grin. Because there on the kitchen table is Kelley O’Hara, arms outstretched, surrounded by all of her friends carefully balancing empty beer cans on her limbs.

“That’s fourteen!” Ashlyn whisper-shouts.

“One more and I win,” Morgan taunts back at her with a poke in the shoulder.

“Guys, I’m gonna pass out if I have to chug another one,” Jackie slurs from her seat at the other end of the table.

“Give it,” Tobin announces as she walks further in the kitchen, all heads turning toward her. Reaching an arm out, she catches the can that Morgan tosses in her direction.

She spins it until she finds the part she wants, before she fishes the spare key out of the pocket of her sweatpants with her uncasted hand and stabs a whole in the side of the white beer. After making the hole a little wider with the key, Tobin laughs to herself as she places her mouth over the hole. Lifting her head to the sky, and popping open the lid of the can with her pointer finger, she shotguns the entire beer in four seconds. Smiling at the cheers of her friends, she takes the empty can from her mouth and tosses it back to Morgan, before wiping her mouth on her sweatshirt sleeve.

She knows her shotgun time is fast — it’s one of her favorite party tricks. Always puts the boys to shame.

Leaning back against the counter, she watches Morgan step up onto a chair and carefully balance the now-empty can on the empty spot on Kelley’s shoulders, backing away cautiously.

“YAS! I WON!” she yells out, sticking her tongue out at Ashlyn.

Tobin smiles at the eccentric scene in front of her, before feeling a buzz in her pocket and pulling her phone out.

10:43 p.m. Chris: Ik, guess I’m just nervous

She knows better than most how debilitating Christen’s nerves can be sometimes.

10:46 p.m. Tobs: hey, if you taught me how to do all this and I’m doing it right, you’re gonna literally kill this

10:47 p.m. Chris: Don’t jinx me!!

10:47 p.m. Tobs: It’s not a jinx if I actually just believe in you

10:48 p.m. Chris: swoon

10:48 p.m. Chris: I wish it was tomorrow night already :(

Tobin smiles down at her phone, also very excited for the following night. Both of them knew that while this was technically their first date, they had been ‘dating’ in spirit for a few months now, even if they couldn’t have actually called it that at the time.

10:49 p.m. Tobs: me tooooo

10:49 p.m. Chris: Can’t you just tell me where you’re taking me?

10:50 p.m. Tobs: nOpE :)

10:50 p.m. Chris: you suck

10:51 p.m. Tobs: you love me

10:52 p.m. Chris: I do

Tobin’s eyes go wide as she reads the last message from Christen, having meant her own message as a joke. A loud crashing noise causes her to look up.

The commotion from Morgan and Ashlyn prompted Kelley to flinch just a little, causing all fifteen cans to tumble off of her.

“Oh thank god, my arms are exhausted,” Kelley announces as she hops down from the kitchen table and walks over to lean against the counter next to Tobin. “Sup dude?”

“I’m exhausted, just left the library like a half-hour ago,” Tobin comments, turning her head toward her friend, but her mind still on Christen’s words, before pointing over at the scene still unfolding near the kitchen table. “What were they betting on?”

“Plans for the night,” Kelley laughs out. “Ashlyn wanted to flip cup, Morgan wanted to play Never Have I Ever.”

“Gotcha,” Tobin nods. “I think I want to order Jackie some pizza…” she trails off as they both turn their heads to see Jackie twirling drunkenly in a circle by herself.

Kelley winces before pushing herself up from the counter. “Yeah only me, her, and Ashlyn… and you I guess, like beer, so she drank like eight of them.” She pulls her phone out from her back pocket and starts walking over toward Jackie, turning her head around to say one more thing. “I got it, you can go throw your stuff in my room and shower, then meet us out back?”

“Sounds good, thanks Kel.”

After grabbing her bag from beside the front door, she walks quickly down the back hallways, opening Kelley’s bedroom door. She pauses in the open doorway, memories of the week prior flooding back into her brain like a dam break.

A few minutes later, she’s brought out of her trance by a hand on her back.

“Hey, you ok?” Kelley asks from behind her.

“Yeah, yeah sorry just tired,” Tobin smiles.

She follows Kelley into the room, before grabbing a change of clothes and heading to the bathroom.

“See you outside!” she hears Kelley yell from the hallway.

As soon as Kelley’s out the door, she pulls out her phone once more, seeing Christen had texted her again.

10:54 p.m. Chris: oh god sorry, I don’t even know what you’re supposed to say to that

10:57 p.m. Chris: You can just ignore it

11:06 p.m. Tobs: no, don’t apologize. I do too

11:07 p.m. Tobs: But the first time I tell you is not going to be via text, the night before an organic chemistry final, when I’m covered in beer and you’re across campus alone in the library, ok?

She nervously bites her lip as she waits for Christen’s response. She decides to distract herself by turning the shower on and washing her face, which was partially covered in beer from the shotgun in the kitchen.

Tobin knows they’re both there, had been for awhile, probably before they even started talking again. Because they had both gone a little crazy, and that’s what love does -- drives you a little insane.

The beginning of their friendship consisted of long nights on the 180, Christen recounting how she knew she had fallen out of love with Brett, Tobin recounting how she was ripped out of love with Shirley, and both of them not knowing they were finding love again in each other.

11:10 p.m. Chris: ok

A breath is released from her that she didn’t even realize she was holding. In these past few weeks, she had seen how Christen had started to gradually let Tobin into her walls a little more, but she still didn’t want to scare her off just yet.

Love seemed like just the thing to scare her off. Honestly, it was scary to Tobin, too.

Then her phone buzzes again.

11:12 p.m. Chris: Wait why the hell are you covered in beer the night before our final??

Tobin chuckles at her screen, both at the A+ subject chane and also knowing the girl was going to give her shit for this.

11:13 p.m. Tobs: shotgun

11:14 p.m. Chris: Really?

11:15 p.m. Tobs: I swear I’m fully studied

11:15 p.m. Chris: You better be, I spent a lot of time on you lol

11:16 p.m. Tobs: I’m a good investment, I’m super ready for tomorrow

11:17 p.m. Chris: Super duper?

11:18 p.m. Tobs: yes ma’am

11:19 p.m. Chris: Don’t call me ma’am if you want me to cash in my interest in my *investment* tomorrow

11:20 p.m. Tobs: yes sir ;)

11:21 p.m. Chris: I’m gonna go study again, my textbook is 10x less annoying than you

11:22 p.m. Tobs: :0 rude

11:23 p.m. Chris: Whatever, just don’t go too crazy

11:24 p.m. Tobs: I won’t if you promise to actually get some sleep

11:25 p.m. Chris: promise, night T <3

11:26 p.m. Tobs: night ma’am

She shuts off her phone with a smile, plugging it in with Kelley’s bathroom charger and getting in the shower.

Thirty minutes later, Tobin is walking down the same hallway, leaving her phone in Kelley’s bathroom and headed outside.

“T-squared!” she hears Ashlyn yell out as she’s shutting the sliding door to the back porch,

“Wow, you guys went all out,” Tobin comments as she eyeballs the large fire pit they’re sitting around, accompanied by several drinks and three boxes of pizza.

“Well, we aren’t gonna see each other for like six weeks,” Morgan throws into conversation.

“True,” Tobin hums in response as she plops down in the folding chair in between Ali and Kelley.

“I’m just glad you could come when you have a big test tomorrow, nerd,” Kelley jokes as she punches Tobin playfully in the arm.

“You know me, work hard, then hard chill. If I don’t hard chill we all know it won’t go well,” Tobin laughs back.

“Does your hard chill want a beer or a seltzer?” Ashlyn lets out as she holds up both options out of the cooler.

Tobin points to her left hand, which is holding the beer bottle, and stands up for a moment to reach around the fire pit and grab it.

“Okay, only one more because I do have to be up at 8 tomorrow for the orgo test. Ughh I can’t freaking WAIT for this class to be over,” she whines.

“Yeah I could never,” Ali laughs. “I don’t know how you balance it all, what’s the secret?”

“I’ll let you know when I figure it out,” Tobin quips back at her with a wink.

“So Tobs, where’s your other half?” Ashlyn asks casually, prompting several heads to turn toward Tobin suddenly.

“She’s right there,” Morgan says slowly, pointing at a still very drunk Jackie, happily focused on her pizza in the loveseat at the edge of the circle.

“What about me?” Jackie asks, once she sees everyone staring at her, before registering the question. “Oh, we’re just friends dude.”

“Let’s start the game,” Tobin interjects after seeing a couple of confused faces that were definitely about to question her further. She just didn’t want to breach that topic right now. “I’ll go first. Never have I ever won a NCAA championship.”

A sea of groans erupts from around the fire as everyone but her, and one freshman sitting a chair over from Tobin, takes a drink. Tobin just smiles and fist bumps the freshman.

While her Stanford team had made it to the finals two years running, they had never actually won the NCAA championship. And this year, their UNC team had lost in the finals after beating her home team in the Semis. UNC, however, had won the year before, so she figured that was a good one to start with.

“We’re gonna change that next year, Tobito, right guys?” Kelley announces. Several cheers are let out from around the circle. “Nice one though.”

“Okay… hard to follow-up that start...” Ali hums out, before her face produces a devilish smile. “Never have I ever played a college sport that’s not lacrosse.”

This time, everyone has to take a drink, even Jackie, who had run track her freshman year. Other than her, Ali was the only member of a sports team that was not soccer.

“Suck it,” she jeers at Tobin, who just rolls her eyes in response.

“These are boring,” drunk Jackie announces, next in the circle of turns. “Never have I ever hooked up in a hot tub.”

Morgan’s face turns so red as she takes a sip that it is visible even in just the dull fire luminescence. Everyone begins laughing, remembering a memory from earlier this semester when they had walked out to see Morgan and her boyfriend very naked in their hot tub.

“I swear you guys said you wouldn’t be home!” Morgan cries out.

“I truly thought my gay ass would never have to see a dick,” Ashlyn comments, prompting more laughs from around the circle.

“Speaking of,” Ashlyn goes next, “Never have I ever kissed a guy.”

Several members of the circle take a sip, including Tobin herself.

“Really, Tobs?” Jackie asks, having heard Tobin recount to her several times that she has always known she did not like guys in that way.

Kelley cuts in for her. “I made Tob fly to Georgia to come to junior prom with me to distract the date of the girl I was trying to swoon. But our gal here did a little too good of a job.”

“Why does that make total sense with you two?” Ali laughs out.

“What can I say, we get the job done,” Tobin responds with a smile and a shrug, before taking the final swig of her beer and placing it down on the ground next to her chair.

“Never have I ever…” Morgan trails off, “had a threesome.”

Tobin and Kelley are the only ones to drink to this one, but Tobin’s looking on at her best friend with a furrowed brow, having no recollection of this knowledge.

“Why does that also make total sense with you two?” Ali repeats with another chuckle.

“Um, Never have I —” she sees Kelley try to immediately continue, before Ashlyn cuts her off.

“Wait, whoa, whoa, I know about your escapades,” Ashlyn points at Tobin, before moving her finger to the direction of Kelley. “But I know you did not drink to this one last year.”

“TEA,” Jackie squeals. “When was this?”

Tobin would normally step in to save Kelley the awkward confrontation, but she is also curious right now when she sees Kelley’s eyes go wide.

Then Kelley is looking over at her with a whole answer in her eyes.

And Tobin is swallowing deeply at the confession unspoken.

And then she’s getting frustrated that Kelley had never told her this.

“How long was that happening?” she asks, praying for under a few times, maybe one time at most.

“Uh, six months ish…” she responds quietly.

“Are you kidding me?” she grates through her teeth, still locking eyes with Kelley.

“What is happening?” Morgan is whispering to Ashlyn and Jackie, who are sitting on either side of her.

“Oh, Kelley used to fuck Christen and her boyfriend,” Jackie comments quietly in return.

“Everyone knew about Kelley and Christen though, even Tobin…” Ashlyn returns slowly.

“I’m assuming Tobin didn’t know about the boyfriend part.”

“Okay so what? We all knew she was dating Brett. Why does she care so much?” Morgan asks again.

“Have you seen them lately?” Jackie emphasizes with a laugh, receiving two very wide-eyed looks from the other two girls, before all three of them tune back into the choice words these two were exchanging across the fire pit.

Drunk Jackie has no filter.

“Tobin, I —” Kelley continues.

“You what?” Tobin cuts her off. “Conveniently left that out?”

“I didn’t think it was a huge deal what I was doing with them. It's over now anyway.”

“Why the hell did you not tell me?”

“Why are you getting so mad about this random shit from the past? Is there something you’re not telling me?”

And Tobin pauses. Because Kelley knows enough to know her and Christen have some feelings going on, but she hasn’t told Kelley that they’re actually dating. They hadn't told anyone but Jackie, actually, just wanting to keep it to themselves for a little and figure this out before having to deal with the whole Q&A they would get from other people. But perhaps she had waited a little too long now that weeks had passed.

“Okay,” Kelley snarks out. “Never have I ever started secretly dating my teammate who is also my best friend’s ex, and then decided she wasn’t worth telling about it, even though everyone else knows. Even though this is what tore us apart the last time.”

Then Kelley’s pushing herself up from the chair, grabbing a beer, and throwing it roughly at Tobin.

“Better drink up,” she jeers, cruel sarcasm dripping off of her words, before she storms off the porch and into the house.

And Tobin does just that, cracking open the can and chugging a good half of it. She places the drink down next to her empty can, and closes her eyes for a moment before pushing herself up from her own chair.

“Uh, I’m gonna go,” she points her thumb over her shoulder toward the door. “Me and Christen are dating...surprise.”

Tobin is making eye contact with Jackie. She’s honesetly surprised that the girl hadn’t let it spill, considering she was the only one that knew everything and was very close with all the people who are currently sporting very surprised expressions.

“Since when? Why didn’t you tell us?” Ashlyn asks.

“Yeah,” Tobin rolls her eyes. “So you could bitch at me about how she’s so horrible? I heard you guys in the hallway that night. You don’t even know what happened, you guys just pinned her as the bad guy in everything.”

And then she’s taking off the door, ignoring the whispers she hears behind her. This is why she didn’t necessarily want to shout this from the rooftops before Christen had a chance to fully mend some of the relationships that had been tarnished between her and their other teammates.

Tobin only makes it to the other side of the kitchen before she hears footsteps behind her. “Wait,” Ashlyn’s voice begs behind her.

She sighs, before turning around in her wake. “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you yet. This hasn’t been going on that long and honestly it’s been really confusing.”

“No, no it’s okay. I wasn’t coming after you to chastise you, T-squared,” she says with a sincere smile. “Those of us who saw the post-punch situation kind of figured there was something brewing between you guys.”

“Oh, okay. I just know you don’t like her so it’s been kinda tough to figure shit out,” Tobin says quietly, unwilling to make eye contact, but having reached that sweetspot of alcohol buzz that prompts her to be overly truthful.

“That’s it, Tobs. I wanted to apologize. I’ve been kind of a bitch to her lately.”

“You should apologize to her, then, not me,” she nods.

“Yeah, right, uh, I’ll stop by tomorrow after y’all’s final,” Ashlyn smiles smally.

Tobin’s about to turn and leave, not feeling like discussing this much further at the moment, when she sees Ashlyn take a deep breath and open her mouth to speak again.

“It’s just — I’m sorry I gave you such a hard time, you’ve become one of my best friends. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t talk to me about stuff, you know?”

“Yeah, I know, Ash,” before taking her hand and pulling her into a bro hug, patting her on the back before pulling away. “This whole thing has been kinda complicated. Speaking of,” Tobin says as she looks down at her watch. “It’s getting late, I need to hit the hay before my final in the morning, and I need to go prevent a second war with our little half-pint dynamite back there first.”

Ashlyn just nods before leaving Tobin to walk further into the house and down that back hallway. Taking a deep breath, she paces once again through the halls that haunted her from the two weeks.

It’s funny the way time loops around, and she finds herself chasing after Kelley in the same way she had just two months before, despite the fact they had worked through everything. Oh, the irony.

The door at the end of the hall is closed, so she proceeds to knock a few times.

“Kel?” she yells.

She pauses for a moment.

“Kelley?”

She knocks one more time, before pressing her ear up to the door, hearing nothing. She brings her hand to the door handle, seeing it’s unlocked.

“I’m coming in,” she announces, waiting a few seconds more before bursting through the door, only to be met with an empty room.

Hmm.

She calls out twice but hears nothing in return.

Feeling defeated, she’s about to just leave and head back outside, when she remembers the kind of spacious closet she had run into earlier that sits in the back of Kelley’s bathroom.

It was something they always did when they were younger. When they bounced from hotel room to hotel room for youth national camps, everything changed, but the darkness of a small closet never did.

Whenever they were anxious, stressed, or upset, they would sit in that dark closet, drinking orange juice, and leaning on each other and the encompassing darkness to wash the worries away.

Tobin grabbed two bottles of orange juice from Kelley’s mini fridge before making her way into the bathroom and opening the closet door, revealing her best friend sitting on the floor, looking up at her with glassy eyes.

“I brought a peace offering?” Tobin says as she holds out one bottle of Minute Maid Orange Juice.

Kelley pauses for a moment before she sighs, nods, and grabs the bottle from Tobin’s hand.

Using her now free hand, Tobin shuts the door behind her and sits down next to Kelley, knees hugged up to her chest, both of them surrounded by a comforting darkness.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” Tobin hums quietly. “If you’re not over her or don’t want me to see her, um, then we should talk about it. Because I can’t lose you again.”

She feels Kelley’s hand settle on her knee cap.

“It’s not that, Tob,” she breathes out. “Me and her talked last week actually, and I think I’m ready to try to forgive her.” And this is Kelley’s first mention of the conversation with Christen in the café, and Tobin’s glad she read it right at the time.

She stays quiet.

“And I’m over her, I think you know I’m kind of into someone else,” Kelley continues, and Tobin can practically see the smile on Kelley’s face, even in the pitch black darkness.

“What is it then?” she finally asks curiously.

Kelley’s hand slides off of Tobin’s knee, and she hears the lid of the orange juice bottle unscrew a moment after.

“I don’t know, I guess I just had some deja vú to some feelings I had back when everything went down,” Kelley says, before going silent for a moment, but Tobin knows she’s not done yet, so she waits. “Did you know I was friends with Brett before they started dating?”

“Uh, no, no I didn’t know that,” Tobin replies honestly.

“I met him the summer before freshman year, we had a thing.”

“Oh,” Tobin lets out. Her friend has never told her about a guy at that time. “Was it serious?”

Kelley just laughs. “No, it was like, as casual as humanly possible, but we became pretty close friends. I introduced the two of them, actually, right after preseason our freshman year. He started dating her a few months later without telling me… just started being evasive with hanging out, until he ghosted me completely -- as a friend, too, later in the year. People started seeing them together, and I understood what had happened. But Christen, she didn’t know about me and Brett at the time – no one did — so I forgave her. They were good together.”

Now it’s Tobin that’s chuckling at that last statement.

“At first, Tobin, they were good together at first,” Kelley supplies.

“Mhm,” Tobin hums neutrally, before realizing just how much of the story Kelley had been leaving out in the past. “So, um, what happened?”

“Well, me and Chris grew closer. She pretty much spent all her time with me when she wasn’t with him. And she started saying things, things that teetered over the line of platonic. She insisted she was straight, you know, just curious,” Kelley says with a sarcastic cackle. “But I saw the way she looked at me. And I was pissed at Brett still, and I wasn’t as drunk as I let on the night we all hooked up. Or maybe I was, just not on alcohol -- on the girl.”

Tobin’s silent, just trying to nonchalantly take sips from her orange juice bottle as she listens.

“Don’t think I was ever sober for the next two years in that respect. She kept coming back, at first with him, but then without him,” she says, before taking a deep breath. “And I just about forgot about him completely. Until one day last year he told me he realized he made a mistake, and well, we slept together again. Because, I don’t know, I guess a part of me was still salty about the original situation. Turns out he was just pissed about his girlfriend and wanted to hurt me again. Which is what he did. And then he told Chris it was my fault.”

“Oh my god, Kel,” Tobin whispers out, having a moment of clarity.

“She somehow believed him,” Kelley continues. “Although she eventually forgave me.”

“Did you never tell her what actually happened?” Tobin asks cautiously.

“No. I lost him to her, then I lost her to him. The thing with you and her, it just felt like it was happening all over again. I know it sounds stupid and selfish, but I kind of freaked out again tonight, because I don’t know if I could handle losing you to her, too.”

“Kelley,” Tobin says sincerely as she puts her juice down and opens the door just a sliver, enough that she could see Kelley’s face, and vice versa. “Those few months without you were a nightmare.”

“Yeah, sure you looked totally miserable,” Kelley rolls her eyes sarcastically.

“Actually, nothing happened between us in that timeframe. Look, it would hurt me a lot to lose her now, but it would break me to lose you. You’re my family, and I would never do something to intentionally hurt you.”

A tear escapes Kelley’s eyes before she lunges her body forward to hug Tobin, who tightly hugs back.

“I know, I overreacted. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Tobin says before pulling back and looking at her friend’s face intently. “Are you sure you’re okay with me dating her?”

Kelley closes her eyes and takes a breath. “Yes, I promise. I would never do something to hurt you either.”

“Bros before hoes,” Tobin smiles as she repeats their old mantra from their wingwomaning days, holding her fist out.

“Bros before hoes,” Kelley repeats, bumping Tobin’s fist with a smile.

The two of them are still smiling at each other on the near-pitch black closet floor, when suddenly the door swings open and the room is flooded with light, causing both of them to groan and cover their eyes.

“I didn’t know we were playing seven minutes in heaven again,” drunk Jackie says from above them, alcohol dripping off of her jumbled words.

“Yeah, are we interrupting something?” Ashlyn asks with a quirked eyebrow, also appearing in the doorway.

“You totally caught us, we’re having an affair,” Kelley says convincingly with a sheepish smile.

“WHAT?!” several voices yell before also appearing in the closet doorway.

“God you guys are so gullible,” Tobin quips as the two of them stand up.

And then the entire group is headed back outside to hangout for another few houses, with Tobin dipping an hour in to get some sleep before the test.

As she closes her eyes, she can’t help the smile that overcomes her face, thinking about finishing her hardest class of her college career, finally feeling her friends coming back together, and tomorrow, she would finally get to take Christen out.

It had been a turbulent semester, but you know what they say, the storm always comes before the rainbow.

Chapter Text

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.