Where do you go with your broken heart in tow?
What do you do with the left over you?
And how do you know when to let go?
Where does the good go, where does the good go?
Look me in the eye and tell me you don't find me attractive
Look me in the heart and tell me you won't go
Look me in the eye and promise no love is like our love
Look me in the heart and unbreak broken, it won't happen
It's love that leaves and breaks the seal
Of always thinking you would be real
Happy and healthy, strong and calm
Where does the good go?
Where does the good go?
Where do you go when you're in love and the world knows?
How do you live so happily while I am sad and broken down?
What do you say? "It's up for grabs now that you're on your way down?"
Where does the good go, where does the good go?
("Where Does the Good Go" by Tegan and Sara)
Christen had learned one very important thing about love. She’d learned that love was the most terrible thing ever invented in the history of the world.
Love was painful and masochistic and self-sacrificing. Love was debilitating and infuriating and excruciating.
Love was ignoring the fact that her best friend since elementary school, the one she’d pined after for two decades , was getting married in a few days.
Love was ignoring the fact that the person she loved more than anything, loved somebody else.
Love was realizing nothing she did was going to change things.
Love was the most painful secret she’d ever kept.
Christen grumbled and took another sip of her cider, wishing for the slightly sweet tasting bubbly drink to take away the knot that had been in her chest ever since Lily had waltzed into her apartment and showed off her obscenely huge, Marquise cut emerald engagement ring. But the cider wasn’t strong enough for that. Nothing Christen had tried for the last 358 days was strong enough to dull the ache in her heart.
“Come on, just throw one !” Lily begged, throwing her arm around Christen’s shoulders.
Christen stiffened and forced a small chuckle from her lips. She awkwardly shimmied Lily’s arm off of her shoulders and shook her head.
“Alcohol and sharp weapons shouldn’t mix,” Christen replied, her eyes taking in the rest of the very drunk bridal party who were taking turns throwing axes at a wooden target.
“Lily, you’re up!” Crystal called, handing a free axe to Lily and taking the spot next to Christen.
“You are taking a turn after me, Cece,” Lily grinned and waggled her brows before stumbling over to their lane, aka Target One.
Christen just raised her glass of cider in acknowledgment and took a healthy sip of it, feeling the alcohol burn her throat. The fake smile on her face felt harder to maintain tonight for some reason. The carefully crafted mask she’d painstakingly constructed over the course of years was slipping, and it was slipping right when she needed it most.
Crystal knocked her shoulder into Christen’s gently. She’d known that something was going on for months. She could tell in the way Christen answered phone calls and talked about wedding plans with a more strained voice. Crystal could see it in the dark circles under Christen’s eyes and the picked cuticles on a few of Christen’s fingers. Her best friend was stressed and sad, and she could tell. She just didn’t know why.
“You want to stay at my house tonight? We can do a girls’ night just you and me,” Crystal offered.
Christen watched as Lily set the axe down and pulled her short, auburn hair into a ponytail. She watched as Lily picked the axe back up and then threw it with all of her might at the target, the axe hitting the wood and bouncing off of it. Lily just laughed, the sound loud and boisterous and bubbly. It made Christen’s chest ache.
“We have an Airbnb with plenty of rooms so the bridal party can stay together. Wouldn’t want to miss out on all the fun,” Christen replied, her voice a little tight.
“All I’m saying is if you need a girls' night, I don’t think Lily needs us to sleep under the same roof. We can just join her in the morning for mimosas and makeup,” Crystal said, watching Christen carefully to see if her reaction revealed anything about her recent mood.
“I-” Christen started to say, but then she caught sight of the rest of the bridal party ogling Lily’s ring. She caught sight of the love on Lily’s face and the happiness in her eyes and Christen couldn’t just sit here any longer. “I need to pee,” she announced abruptly.
She didn’t wait for Crystal’s response, getting up from the table and elbowing by other patrons and Portlandians as she rushed toward the bathroom. As tears blurred her vision, Christen suddenly realized that whatever tenuous control she had over her feelings was slipping away.
Tobin had already mixed dozens of fruity drinks for the bachelorette party in the corner at Target One, pulled three stubborn axes out of the wall thanks to some recently graduated frat guys, and repaired a leaky faucet in the bathroom. She loved her bar, she loved her city, and she loved the people she worked with, but nights like these sometimes made her wonder if she should have gone into accounting or picked a normal nine-to-five job.
She handed a tray of drinks to A.D. with a quick nod toward the bridal party before spinning around to check the kitchen’s counter for the shareables that the parties at Target Three and Target Seven had ordered.
“Pinoe, do you have Target Three’s order?” Tobin called over the counter to her pink-haired friend, who was currently plating some food and rushing around the industrial-sized kitchen.
“It’s coming, it’s coming!” Megan sing-songed, grabbing two plates of her infamous Pinoe Party Wingz™ and rushing them to the counter. Before handing them over, she pulled a face when she noticed something over Tobin’s shoulder. “Boss, if I ever get married, and that’s a fat if, don’t let me wear that kitschy bullshit,” she muttered, nodding at Target One and the gaudy, matching sashes the bridal party was wearing
“If you keep calling me Boss, I’ll buy you that kitschy bullshit and make you wear it for work. You literally own ten percent of this place, so I refuse to be the boss of anything around here,” Tobin huffed.
“Whatever you say, Boss,” Megan winked.
Tobin shot her the bird before turning around with the plates of food and sending Kling to the parties that had ordered them.
“Excuse me?” one of the women from Target Four interrupted.
“What can I get you?” Tobin asked, ready to whip up whatever drink she wanted.
“You’re out of paper towels in the restroom,” the woman replied. “And- you know what? Never mind, not my business. You’re just out of paper towels,” she added, spinning on her heels and walking back over to Target Four, wiping her hands on her jeans.
Tobin was too busy to even wonder about what the woman had meant, about what wasn’t her business. She was cruising at top speed, just waiting for the next group of patrons to leave, so she could go home and leave the keys with Kling to lock up for the night. She waited for A.D. to come back from the bridal party with a few empty glasses and bottles before she left her spot behind the bar and grabbed a package of paper towels for the bathroom.
Once she’d pushed open the door to the bathroom, ripped open the plastic wrapped around the paper towels, and pulled the top off of the dispenser, she heard what that woman had to have been referencing.
Sobs were coming from one of the stalls, and they weren’t quiet, delicate sobs. They were choked, gut-wrenching, loud, chaotic sobs that made Tobin worry about how the person in the stall was getting a breath in. She was tempted to close the dispenser and leave. She was so tempted to do just what that other patron had done and just say it wasn’t her business because...it really wasn’t her business. But Tobin couldn’t help that her heart ached at each sniffle and hiccup and intake of breath.
So, instead of leaving, Tobin reached into the paper towel dispenser and grabbed a couple of paper towels before putting the top on it. Clutching the two paper towels, she walked a little further into the bathroom awkwardly, staring down at her sneakers and wishing she were already home with some dinner and a mindless HGTV show.
“Get it together,” Christen managed between sobs. “You’re- you’re Christen Press. You can do- do this,” she told herself, her voice cracking and breaking. She was sitting with her knees bent and her back against the wall of the stall, her face buried in her crossed arms. As she rocked back and forth, wave after wave of tears left her tightly shut eyes and broken gasps for air left her lips.
“Excuse me?” Tobin mumbled, blowing a few baby hairs away from her face.
Christen went still, completely freezing at the sound of someone else in this restroom with her. She had thought she was alone. She had thought she had a moment to break down. But now she had an audience right when she was desperate not to have one.
“Um...Christen?” Tobin asked, having heard the woman’s pep talk to herself. The door to the bathroom swung open, revealing two of the frat guys, but Tobin quickly shook her head. “This one’s occupied. There’s another one on the other side of the bar.”
Christen wiped at her eyes and blew out a long breath before getting up from the floor. She sniffled and took a final moment to prepare herself to leave this stall and face the music. And then she remembered that this stranger had called her by name.
“Do I, um- do I know you?” Christen asked, her hand hovering over the lock of the stall door.
“No, I don’t think so. I mean, I haven’t actually seen what you look like, but I don’t think I do. You said your name,” Tobin said lamely, pressing the heel of her hand against her forehead. The woman likely thought she was some kind of stalker who knew her name and had followed her into the bathroom.
Christen pulled open the stall door and kept her eyes down, not wanting the evidence of her breakdown on display for a total stranger.
“Didn’t know anyone heard that horrible excuse for a pep talk,” Christen said, cringing at the hoarse sound of her voice.
“It sounded pretty good to me, but I can pretend I didn’t hear it,” Tobin said, lifting up her hand to give Christen the two paper towels she’d been holding.
Christen looked from the paper towels to the slender fingers holding them, to the tanned, muscular arm that flexed slightly as the awkward silence stretched on, to the red, checkered flannel this person wore. Christen then let her eyes lift to this stranger’s face and she almost wished she hadn’t.
This woman was...well, she was really fucking hot. This absolutely gorgeous stranger, with warm brown eyes and tousled wavy hair, was seeing her with mascara under her eyes and snot dripping from her nose, and if at all possible, Christen’s embarrassment grew.
“Thanks,” Christen choked out, taking the paper towels. She let herself linger for a mere moment, too caught up in those brown eyes and the way they were looking at her before she quickly walked over to the row of sinks along the wall.
“No problem,” Tobin hummed, following behind her and busying herself by washing her own hands. She didn’t really need to. She could have left then and washed her hands in the kitchen or at the bar, but there was something about the watery green eyes and the dark, curly hair that had clearly been pushed away from her face as Christen had cried that made Tobin want to stay in the bathroom and make sure this woman would be okay. It was the first time in her life that Tobin had seen sadness and hurt on someone so beautiful, and as much as she wanted to deny it, Tobin felt this strange urge to make her smile, to make the tears disappear.
“Whoever he is...he’s probably an asshole,” Tobin said, turning off the tap and reaching for a paper towel.
Christen felt a bitter laugh leave her lips as she wiped away the last of the runny makeup from underneath her eyes.
“She’s not. That’s...that’s the whole fucking problem,” Christen managed, the admission leaving her easily. Too easily. She shouldn't be saying anything, not to a stranger. A complete and total stranger who, while really hot in that I don’t know your name but I’d really like to be screaming it later kind of way, was still a stranger. She had no business opening up and telling this woman anything.
Tobin froze with the paper towel crumpled in her hand. She liked to imagine that she was open-minded, that she held few prejudices, but she had to admit that she’d completely pegged this woman as straight. She was wearing a tight, dark green dress and black heels, which didn’t really seem conducive to throwing axes. And just as Megan had said, she was wearing one of those kitschy ‘Maid of Honor’ sashes that sat somewhat twisted on her shoulder, likely due to the bathroom breakdown she’d just had and was still in the middle of.
She looked like the girls Tobin had crushed on in college, the ones who hadn’t given her the time of day or had slept with her experimentally a couple of times. Christen definitely didn’t look like a woman who went down on other women or broke down over women in bar bathrooms, but who was she to even wonder about that. This was a complete stranger. A beautiful, slightly teary, not straight, out of her league stranger, and Tobin just needed to get out of the bathroom.
“It’s probably her loss,” Tobin finally said, searching for words to comfort the woman in front of her.
“How can it be a loss if she doesn’t even know?” Christen sighed, her voice still tinged with bitterness and regret. She balled up the paper towel and turned to toss it across the bathroom, the ball sinking easily into the trash can.
“In my experience, they usually know, but I don’t know this person. Maybe you just need to tell her. Some people are dense and need it spelled out,” Tobin suggested.
Christen felt her body physically reject that suggestion. She had thought about it, of course. She’d spent twenty years of her life thinking about it. She’d almost done it too, more than once. But every time she tried, every time she opened her mouth to declare her undying love for Lily, the words died on her tongue. She’d been ruled by fear and doubt...and then Lily had met Simon. And then Simon had proposed. And Lily had said yes. And there was no way she could say anything now.
“I, uh, appreciate the advice,” Christen replied a little evasively. She looked around the bathroom, totally unsure of what to do. She didn’t want to go back out there, but she also didn’t really want to stay in here either. She didn’t want this kind stranger to keep telling her things she’d already told herself a million times, but never actually listened to.
“Yeah. Uh...anytime,” Tobin nodded, tossing her paper towel into the trash can. “Plus throwing sharp objects tends to help,” she added with her signature goofy smile.
Christen wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Yeah...I don’t think so. It wasn’t my choice to come here, so.”
“Have you tried it?” Tobin asked, lifting an eyebrow challengingly.
“No, and I don’t plan to.”
“I’ll make you a deal,” Tobin grinned. “If you throw one axe tonight and hit the target, literally anywhere on the target, any drink you choose from the menu is on me. You don’t even have to enjoy throwing it.”
Christen narrowed her eyes a little bit at the offer, at the kindness in this stranger that was simultaneously putting her off and putting her completely at ease.
“Maybe another time,” Christen replied. She made a move to skirt by this stranger and leave the bathroom, an awkward grimace making its way onto her face.
Tobin stepped back to let Christen leave but not without one last word. “Are you afraid you’ll miss?” she asked cockily, hoping that the challenge would get Christen to actually try and throw the axe. And maybe she’d actually enjoy it and feel better, sending Tobin home feeling like she did something worthwhile today.
Christen’s jaw clicked as she ground her teeth together. She turned back around to face the stranger, feeling a flash of competitiveness race through her.
“No,” Christen all but growled.
“I don’t know. You sound pretty scared,” Tobin smirked, crossing her arms over her chest. “I hear the margaritas here are pretty spectacular.”
“I’m not- I’m not scared,” Christen replied quickly, her eyes flashing with an unspeakable pain, with the years of torture and torment she’d put herself through.
Tobin shouldn’t have done what she did next. She should have let Christen walk out, but there was something about those magnetic green eyes and the tiny flash of competitiveness in them that set Tobin’s heart beating a little faster. She leaned forward, surprised that Christen didn’t step away, and whispered softly, “Then prove it,” before moving past Christen, opening the bathroom door, and slipping back into the loud axe-throwing bar.
Christen felt those three words hit her right in the heart, and in places far lower than her heart. She gulped and forced air back into her lungs, affected not just by the proximity of the stranger and the spicy notes of her perfume, but by the challenge in the woman’s words. It felt like more than a challenge to throw a stupid axe at a stupider target. It felt like a challenge to prove she wasn’t scared of her feelings, that she wasn’t going to let them keep her holed up in the bathroom and hiding for the rest of the night.
With one final deep breath, Christen set her shoulders and opened the bathroom door, intent on not being scared.
Tobin couldn’t keep her eyes off of the bridal party now. She was overflowing beer glasses and ignoring Kling’s jokes. She was glued to the sad woman with the green eyes sitting at the table at the end of the lane at Target One, and Tobin was willing her to stand up and take a freaking turn.
“Head in the clouds, eyes on the broken-hearted beauty at Target One? Is that how the saying goes?” A.D. chuckled as she grabbed two beer bottles and uncapped them.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Tobin sighed, rolling her eyes and finally pulling her gaze away from Christen.
“Mhm, sure, Tobs,” A.D. replied, nodding like she believed Tobin, even if she was only pretending to.
“They ordered shots,” Tobin said, lifting up a tray of shots, lime wedges, and salt and handing it to A.D.
“Fucking bridal parties, man,” Kling sighed, sagging against the bar. “Bottomless pits of lace and sunshine and happiness. And that blonde with them has asked for my number four times! She won’t take no for an answer!”
“She showed me a picture of her husband and kid before asking me for mine,” A.D. said with a laugh.
“I’d be downing shots and asking hot women for their numbers too if I were about to sign my life away to a man,” Tobin said with a wink.
“Um...Kling, wanna go do that thing?” A.D. said, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
“What thing? You guys are closing up tonight,” Tobin asked, suddenly feeling very protective of the alone time she’d scheduled for herself and HGTV that night.
“Won’t take us more than a minute. But...we won’t be able to take the shots over to Target One,” A.D. replied with a smile.
“Oh, yeah. The thing. The super important thing. Sorry, Tobs!” Kling chuckled.
“You guys are being dumb,” Tobin mumbled, taking the tray back from A.D. and making her way out from behind the bar. She rolled her eyes at her two friends’ antics, trying to push down any awkwardness that she felt about going up to the bridal party and seeing Christen again. On the way to Target One, Tobin pushed her shoulders back and took a few steadying breaths, not wanting to seem flustered when she got there.
“I didn’t realize you worked here,” Christen said under her breath, immediately reaching for a tequila shot and taking it, without the salt or the lime. She swallowed the burn and welcomed it, and then finally looked over at the still very hot stranger from the bathroom.
“Oh, yeah. I told you that the margaritas are spectacular,” Tobin smirked.
“Tooting your own horn a bit there,” Christen observed, taking another shot from the tray and shooting it, cringing a bit as the tequila slid down her throat.
“It’s important to know your own strengths,” Tobin said quietly.
Christen blew out a short breath and looked over at Lily and Crystal and the rest of the bridal party still crowding their lane, having way too much fun finding creative ways to throw the axes at the target.
“I’m going to throw one,” Christen mumbled, suddenly feeling the need to defend herself.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Tobin challenged.
That flash of competitiveness ran through Christen again, mixing with the tequila and creating a deadly combination.
“Why don’t we up the ante then, stranger whose name I still don’t know,” Christen replied, arching her brow and leaning slightly into this woman’s space.
“What did you have in mind Christen Press?” Tobin grinned, deciding that Christen could learn her name after throwing the axe.
Christen blanched and immediately retreated out of the other woman’s space, feeling the competitiveness and the brazenness from the tequila leave her. She ducked her head and looked down at the table, away from those warm, honeyed brown eyes and that challenging yet sweet smile.
“Shots?” Tobin asked, realizing that Christen wasn’t about to respond to this woman. She had an odd, completely inappropriate urge to protect the woman in front of her, and for some reason, the very drunk bride seemed like a threat.
“Looks like Cece got started on them without us,” Lily pouted, throwing her arms around Christen and rocking them back and forth.
Tobin narrowed her eyes at the body language of both of the women in front of her. The bride was touchy and overly friendly, but Christen seemed to be sinking into herself. As soon as the bride had appeared, Christen had shut down. Tobin wasn’t a gambler by any means, but if she were to make a bet, it would be that the bride was the reason Christen had been crying.
“There’s definitely more tequila where that came from, so don’t worry,” Tobin said, wishing that the women would take the shots off her tray now and let her retreat back behind her bar.
“Is there more you where that came from?” the flirty blonde asked, batting her eyelashes as she took a shot glass from Tobin’s tray.
Tobin used every ounce of her willpower to keep from rolling her eyes.
“Sorry, she’s very drunk,” one of the women in the bridal party offered with an apologetic smile.
“She’s not the first person to get drunk here,” Tobin said.
“But I bet my bestest friend in the whole world is the only person to come here and not throw an axe,” Lily giggled, pressing a sloppy kiss to Christen’s burning cheek.
“She does seem to be one of a kind in that regard,” Tobin replied, weighing her options about possibly leaving the tray and the remaining shot glasses and just going back to the bar without it.
Christen’s eyes immediately shot up. She eyed the stranger curiously, wondering why she was saying things like this, especially when she barely knew her. She also wondered why it felt good to hear those things.
“Take your shots, guys. I’m going to go throw,” Christen said in a slightly shaking voice, awkwardly maneuvering out of Lily’s embrace and pushing Lily away, toward the tray of shots.
“It’s all in the elbows and wrists,” Tobin offered, her smile growing as she watched Christen pick up an axe. She wanted her to hit the target. She wanted Christen to win their challenge because she wanted to make Christen a drink and talk to her and take the sadness out of those green eyes. Even though she was a stranger and Tobin didn’t have a chance in hell with her, she wanted her to hit the stupid target.
“Yas, Christen!” Crystal yelled, gassing Christen up after taking her shot of tequila.
Christen blew out a long breath and thought of everything she could. Every missed chance, every squandered opportunity. Every moment where it felt like her heart was being ripped out of her chest because Lily gushed about her date with Simon or how he was the one. Every moment where it felt like her heart was being Frankenstein'ed back together because Lily held her hand or cuddled with her while they watched a scary movie. She remembered it all, two decades worth of love, of the worst thing she’d ever experienced.
Drawing her arm back, Christen put all of that pain and heartbreak and stupid fucking hope that she still clung to into her throw and released the axe, sending it shooting toward the target.
It hit the bullseye. Dead center. It was the perfect throw and it gave Christen a momentary rush of adrenaline, a high that felt so good she forgot what had made her throw it in the first place. But then she remembered and the rush was gone.
“Well, shit,” Tobin thought, dropping the now empty tray to her side. She’d seen a lot of people throw axes before. She’d seen people come for parties, graduations, bachelorette or bachelor celebrations, breakups, and birthdays. Tobin had seen hundreds of people throw axes, but no one had thrown with as much heated rage as Christen Press. No one had made Tobin worry about being able to actually get the axe out of the wooden target. No one had hit the target with such deadly precision and made Tobin pause to watch in awe. If anything, watching Christen throw the axe had made her both more devastatingly attractive and more intimidating.
Christen looked at the axe embedded in the target and felt like she couldn’t breathe. She’d released everything into that throw and it had left her feeling empty. It left her so empty she felt like she couldn’t stand any longer. So, she turned, grabbed her purse from the table and walked away, ignoring Crystal’s and Lily’s voices echoing behind her. She also chose to ignore the prickling across her skin, the one that told her the gorgeous stranger who’d challenged her, who had seen her with puffy eyes and mascara running down her cheeks, who worked in this stupid place where you threw sharp things whilst drunk, was watching her go.