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love is patient (but not always subtle)

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one.

“Ready?” Tobin stands in the doorway to the room that Christen splits with Ali and Morgan. She reaches up to wrap her fingers around the top of the doorway, leaning forward and stretching her arms out. It’s hot today, summer still refusing to fade away into fall.

“Just two seconds,” Christen mutters, pacing around the room, rooting through a bag and then pulling back the covers on her bed. “I can’t find my keys again.”

Tobin cocks her head, a smirk barely visible at the corner of her mouth.

“We’re just walking down the street.” Christen shakes her head at this, turning back around and upending several books off her desk.

“Yeah, but I might need it to get back into the house.” Tobin leans forward a little more, relishing the stretch in her shoulders, rotating her right arm slightly to crack her neck.

“I have my key with me, it’ll be fine.” She laughs softly, her smile going a little wider. “It’s not like anyone is going to lock you out.”

“Look—“ Christen tosses several sweatshirts off of a different bed, and Tobin raises her eyebrows slightly as she begins digging through a pile of Ali’s sweats. “I just want to know where they are, okay?”

“Alright.” She watches silently, pulling her weight slightly off of her toes with both arms, holding back a smile at the nervous way that Christen flutters back and forth, refusing to search methodically and instead tossing random objects left and right as if this will somehow reveal the keys.

She’s a focused person, detail-oriented and meticulous, except when it comes to matters of disorder in her own life. These types of crises happen on the regular, and Tobin is absolutely certain that these keys are not in this room, but more likely on the counter downstairs, or on the table in the living room, or somewhere else in completely plain sight. But she doesn’t say anything, because Christen will just complain and continue her search with twice as much vitriol, and besides, Tobin doesn’t mind watching her, holding back her own amusement. She’s got nothing better to do.

“Yo.” Kelley stops in the hall behind Tobin, shower caddy and towel in hand. “What’s going on?”

“Chris can’t find her keys,” Tobin says with a small nod at the girl who is now on her hands and knees and halfway under her bed.

“Shouldn’t you be, like, helping her?” Kelley asks, leaning against the doorframe.

“Nah, it’s more fun to watch.” Tobin’s smile is faint, and Kelley levels a stare at her. “She’s cute when she gets worked up.”

Kelley drags her eyes from Tobin’s smile to the rather compromising position that Christen is currently in, the back half of her body sticking out from under the bed and the rest completely hidden by a variety of organizational compartments.

“Right.” Kelley drags the vowel out, her eyes not leaving Tobin’s face, her mouth quirking up at the edges.

Christen sits up, shooting a glare at both of them.

“I could use some help.” Tobin laughs, just lifting herself a little more on the doorframe.

“It’s more fun watching,” she repeats, and Kelley isn’t imagining the slight flush in her cheeks before Christen stands, cursing, and begins rooting through her dresser drawers.

“Dude.” Kelley pokes Tobin’s side. “Are you flexing?”

Tobin drops her arms from the doorway, shrugging, her cool complacency interrupted for a heartbeat.

“Just stretching,” she mutters, rubbing at her tricep, and Kelley backs out of the room, shaking her head.

“Tell Chris good luck for me,” Kelley says, walking down the hall to the bathroom. Tobin leans against the doorframe, her head cocked to the right, as Christen stops searching her bottom drawer and drops onto her ass.

“I think it’s a lost cause.” She nods, because it most definitely is a lost cause, and they will most definitely find these keys somewhere else within the next hour regardless of how much Christen rips her room apart.

“Dinner?” Christen grins at this, sticking out both hands for help off the floor, and Tobin closes the gap between them easily, grabbing the smaller girl’s hands and tugging her up to her feet. They’re standing only a couple inches apart, and Tobin reaches out to tuck a piece of Christen’s hair back absently before she backs up, leading the way down the hall.

“Popeye’s or Domino’s?” Christen asks, and Tobin shrugs.

“Whatever you want,” she says, tossing a grin over one shoulder, and Christen rolls her eyes because Tobin never makes decisions and Christen isn’t entirely capable of making short-term choices in a quick manner. Just for both of their amusement, she begins to launch into an in-depth analysis of both options.

She only gets a sentence and a half out before Tobin has one arm around her shoulders, dragging her into something that halfway resembles a hug and mostly feels like a headlock, and Christen pushes her away, laughing. The result is a stumble that almost becomes a fall before Tobin grabs her by the hips and steadies her. Their eyes meet, and then they both burst out laughing, Christen with her back against the wall and Tobin with her hands on their knees.

They almost have their breaths back when Kelley pokes her head out of the bathroom, hair wet and plastered to her head, sticking up slightly in the front, with a towel around her body and a set of keys in one hand.

“Chris, are these yours?” It’s all Christen can do to nod before she bursts out laughing again, warm from the feeling of Tobin’s hand on her arm and the relief of finding what was lost.

two.

“There’s honestly only one way that could happen,” Ali says, holding up one finger as Sydney trails behind her, nodding. “If we don’t get enough girls to max out our quota next year, we can start cutting a little less, but I just don’t see that happening. Panhellenic numbers are going up like crazy.”

“But they might add another house, right?” The pair round the corner and Ali jerks her head towards their room, where she needs to grab her phone before they head out. “That would hit all of the house's numbers a lot, maybe give us some more breathing room?”

“Look I’m not saying I don’t want that to happen, but—“ Ali tugs at her door, which still sticks in the fading late-September heat. “The fact that we’re so competitive during rush gives us a lot of options.”

“It also means we’re not getting all the girls we want.” Ali nods, finally pushing the door open.

“Right, but if you think about it—“ her voice cuts off in her throat as she sees that the room isn’t empty.

Christen is sprawled across her bed in the corner in a pair of baggy sweats and a sports bra, her shoulder pressed almost entirely into the wall. Next to her, Tobin is curled up asleep, one hand pressed almost hesitantly to the bare skin of Christen’s stomach, her shoulders rising and falling with even breaths. There’s music playing softly, something low and moody that sounds vaguely like The 1975, and Christen flashes them an easy smile, putting her book down in her lap to wave with her left hand. Her right arm is trapped under Tobin, although she doesn’t seem to mind, fingers idly messing with her hair.

“Is she good?” Sydney asks, nodding at Tobin, who remains completely asleep, and Christen grins down at her for a second, the smile a little too wide and a little to sweet. Both Ali and Sydney can’t help but feel like they are interrupting something.

“Oh yeah.” Christen’s fingers gently twist a few strands of hair. “She had that big o-chem test this morning. I don’t think she’s slept in, like, two days. We were gonna go to the beach but she asked to take a quick nap and she’s crashed for almost two hours now. Just couldn’t bring myself to wake her up.”

“Right.” Ali’s voice is bordering on skeptical, and she crosses the room quickly to grab her phone. “Well, we’re going to head down the street to Pi Kapp, they’re doing a mixer if you want to come.”

Christen casts another glance down at Tobin, and everyone in the room knows that she’s not going to move.

“I think we’re good.”

Ali and Sydney nod one more time before closing the door. They share a glance, but nothing more, leaving the questions for another time.

three.

The main thing that Tobin has learned about day parties is that they require a certain level of patience. Even if a party kicks off at 11, it will still be expected to last into the early hours of the next morning, therefore making hard alcohol the enemy rather than a welcomed friend.

Not everyone agrees with her, of course.

“Your whole theory is shit.” Kelley is holding a beer can in one hand and a pen in the other. Tobin doesn't even ask where the pen came from, assuming that one of her many fraternity friends acquired it from inside the house. She pulls out her phone and opens the timer app. “What these days require is stamina. Pure, raw stamina.”

Tobin shakes her head, watching as Kelley cracks open the tab and then stabs a hole at the base of the can with the pen. For Kelley, the general practice of a day party is to shotgun a beer at the top of each hour, following this with at least two more drinks or shots before the next hour rolls around. It’s enough to keep her solidly drunk for the entirety of the day, but not so much that she passes out. Or at least, that’s the idea. Currently, Kelley is flushed with a slight sunburn and wobbly with a slight buzz.

The clock on Tobin’s phone reads 1:01 p.m. It’s going to be a long day.

Kelley nods at Tobin before lifting the can to her mouth. The second it touches her lips, Tobin presses “start” on her phone. Seconds later, Kelley crushes the can under her foot, looking up triumphantly.

“Time?” Tobin holds up the screen, which reads 4.8 seconds, and Kelley lets out a wild yell.

“How’d she do?” Christen has appeared out of nowhere, her hands already finding a way to brush over Tobin’s bare arms, and Tobin smiles slightly.

“Four-point-eight.” She nudges Christen with one elbow. “Are you proud of our little delinquent?”

“Mmhm.” Christen’s eyes are glassy, and she blatantly looks Tobin over once. “You look good. I’m glad you came.”

Christen, of course, is prescribing to the third method of day parties — drink while the drinking is good. She has a half-downed Solo cup of champagne in one hand and a beer in the other. Her hair is pulled to one side in a braid, her tank top falling half off her left shoulder, and Tobin can only smile back as Christen catches her wrist in one hand and drags her towards the back of the house.

They dance, which basically means Tobin holds Christen’s hands as the smaller — and undeniably more drunk — girl dances, laughing and helping to twirl her. She does what Christen asks, getting her more drinks and matching her cup for cup, but somehow Tobin stays on her feet better than she does most days. It isn’t until the air begins to cool, sun hanging lower in the sky, that she notices that Christen has lost some of her edge.

Her hair is coming out of its braid and she’s dancing much closer to Tobin, one hand resting on her waist and the other occasionally brushing against Tobin’s throat. At times, Christen turns and loops her whole arm around Tobin’s neck, leaning so much of her weight that it’s a little hard to do much more than just stand, acting as an anchor. She smells like vanilla and sweat and booze and it’s an oddly attractive combination.

Then Christen trips over something — or nothing, considering just how much champagne she sucked down — and she has both arms around Tobin’s neck and her face pressed into her shoulder and she realizes suddenly that it’s time to get them both back to the house.

Tobin is holding her up, her arms around Christen’s lower back, and several of their sisters are watching with slightly raised eyebrows. Julie mouths a question — “she good?” — across the party, and Tobin sticks her thumb up, turning to lean down and whisper a question into Christen’s ear.

“Hey Chris, you ready to go home.” Christen nods, glancing up at her, then smirks.

“I’ll go home with you any day.” Tobin laughs at that, keeping a hand on Christen’s back as they walk around to the front of the house. As their feet hit the concrete of the sidewalk, there’s a small movement and then Christen is slipping her hand into Tobin’s, their fingers intertwined. She doesn’t look up, but Tobin smiles slightly.

“You’re actually nice to me when you’re drunk.” Tobin knocks their shoulder together, and Christen squeezes her palm in response, saying nothing more.

Later, Kelley stumbles into the house with several freshmen in tow, groaning about how hungry she is. She stops when she sees Tobin reclined on the couch and Christen half wrapped around her, head on her shoulder, one arm around her waist, legs intertwined. Tobin is calmly talking to Alex over Christen’s sleeping body. They look up when Kelley walks in, her feet somehow still making a straight path across the foyer. Her eyes are lighting up with various possibilities of teasing, but Alex meets her gaze for a moment and mouths a single word.

“Don’t.”

The jokes die in Kelley’s mouth, and she wanders into the kitchen for something to eat.

four.

“All I’m saying is that we need to get hot dates.” Kelley stabs her fork into a section of her pancake, tugging until it comes free and then shoving it unceremoniously into her mouth. “Because Ali’s soccer player is going to out dress all of our boys anyways.”

“Kell, I love you, but if you’re going to try to get a hotter date than me, you’re going to fail,” Ali says with a smirk and a glance at the girl in question, who is sitting next to her and smirking over a cup of coffee. Kelley rolls her eyes and lets out a low growl.

“Honestly, most of us already have our invite dates.” Alex points a fork across the table at Lauren. “You’ve got your basketball boy, Ali and I have our soccer players. Amy’s got her soon-to-be husband—”

There’s a small chorus of cheers and grins.

“Shut up, we haven’t even gotten pinned yet,” Amy mutters to cover up her smile.

“Basically, Kelley, you need to decide which of your frat friends to bring,” Alex says, and Kelley nods, her eyes already becoming reflective. “Just pick the cutest one.”

“I haven’t asked anyone.” Christen’s voice is gentle. Friday brunches are one of her favorite days of the week, but she spent most of the night before finishing a book in Tobin’s room while they watched soccer and she’s still nursing a headache from the lack of sleep.

The table looks at her quickly, then glances away, but not before Christen catches the shared confusion in their eyes.

“Aren’t you taking Tobin?” Leave it to Ashlyn, the only girl at the table who isn’t in the house, who isn’t in a house at all, to prod the elephant in the room. Christen flushes, her brows furrowing in an overly-confused expression.

“Wha— Tobin?” Press glances around at the table. “It’s invite! You don’t take anyone from your house, it’s— why would I take Tobin?”

Ashlyn leans back, her eyes widening as she realizes her mistake, and she glances at Ali for reassurance.

“Look, Chris, it’s not like—“ Lauren glances around for back up.

“You don’t really ever take anyone to invites,” Kelley cuts in. “And neither does Tobin, so you two always end up just hanging out together and doing outfits together. That’s all she meant.”

Christen nods, and if her head didn’t hurt so much she’d ask more, but she just drops her eyes back to the book next to her plate and pretends not to hear the joint sigh of relief as the conversation moves on.

After brunch, she sits on the couch with her phone in hand, scrolling back through her Instagram. They’re right — all of her pictures from invites are with Tobin. Matching Lakers jerseys for one date dash and matching onesies for another. One picture catches her eye — both of them in black dresses for a semi formal, drinks in hand, sitting side-by-side in a club. Tobin’s arm is around Christen’s waist and their hands are slightly overlapped and Christen is looking at Tobin instead of the camera.

She scrolls back through her pictures again. Nearly half of her photos are “normal” as far as she can tell — overly basic pictures of sprawling brunches and dinners in the city, happy birthday posts for her siblings, shots of her and Kelley in front of various frat houses.

The other half is Tobin. Selfies at the beach, coffee dates at the pier, pictures of them together at philanthropies and concerts and football games. And sure, it would seem “normal,” like normal best friends, if it weren’t for the theme of almost every single one of these pictures.

Their arms are tight around each others waist, their bodies melding into each other. And they’re almost always looking away from the camera. They’re almost always looking at each other, as if they can’t drag their eyes away.

Christen swallows and closes the app. That’s enough thinking for today.

five.

They went over to have a few drinks with Tobin’s big at her house several blocks away, and those drinks somehow turned into a three-person party. Christen isn’t sure when she fell asleep, only remembers Tobin shaking her awake, the clock on the wall reading 6:30 a.m.

“Chris, we’ve gotta go.” They’re both still partially drunk, and the morning is chill and fuzzy as they walk home, shoulders brushing. They’re both quiet, too, relishing in the sunrise and the calm of the morning.

They reach the front door of the sorority house and Christen laughs as Tobin unlocks the door.

“I hope no one’s up yet,” she murmurs, and they pretend to tip-toe towards the stairs, Tobin holding up her hands to make a finger gun, waving Christen up the stairs as she presses her back to the wall. They burst into laughter as they reach the top, Christen stumbling slightly and Tobin grabbing her by her hips to keep her steady, tugging her back so that they’re pressed forward.

They look up to see Alex, tugging on a pair of running shoes, and they burst into laughter again.

“Where are you guys coming from?” she asks, but all they can do is laugh, Tobin shaking her head. They make it to Christen’s door, and as she turns she tries to decide if she should say good night or good morning.

She doesn’t end up saying anything in that moment, because Christen is grabbing her wrists and they are suddenly desperately close and all Tobin can think is that she wants to kiss her, she wants to kiss her so goddamn bad, and she’s too drunk and tired and delirious to even question where the hell that came from, and it doesn’t even matter because at this point the only other thing that her brain can process is the fact that Christen is just as close to leaning in.

Tobin does the only thing she can do. She wraps Christen in a hug, tugging her close to her chest, hearing the small, heartbroken “oh” that leaves her lips and taking it in stride. She presses a quick kiss to the top of her head, because now that she knows that she wants to kiss Christen, she also knows that she doesn’t want to kiss her here, in the hallway, in yesterday’s clothes.

“Good night, Chris,” she mumbles, squeezing her arm. Christen nods, and that smile is back, and Tobin begins to feel on solid ground again.

six.

Christen’s cab is late and it’s driving Kelley insane. The three of them — Tobin, Kelley and her invite date, a tall, dark frat boy named Mark — are waiting outside a sushi restaurant that doesn’t card and charges extremely cheaply for sake bombs. Another cab pulls up, and Alex and Ali step out with their dates. Another pulls up, and it’s Lauren and Sydney with Jrue and Dom in tow.

“God damn it, where is she?” Kelley mutters, glancing at her wrist despite lacking a watch, and her date just laughs at her impatience.

Tobin shifts from one foot to another, trying to mask her nerves. She’d gotten ready at the house, but she’d left early, hoping to avoid the rush of makeup and hairstyling that always happened before one of their events. The last time she’d seen Christen, they’d been eating leftover mac n’ cheese on the couch, and although Christen had looked as gorgeous as ever and as kissable as possible — okay, the kissing part had only entered her brain in the last week, but still — she knew that the real test would be seeing Christen in a full dress, her hair done and her makeup perfect and—

“There she is!” Ali looks up from her phone and points at the next car pulling up before glancing at Tobin. “Um, you might want to brace yourself.”

It really wouldn’t have mattered if Tobin had braced herself. The image of Christen stepping out of the cab nearly knocks Tobin off her feet. Her red dress is hugging ever curve of her body, dipping down oh-so-low in front and in back, and there’s so much tanned skin, her hair falling to one side in perfect curls, and—

And she’s looking right at Tobin. She doesn’t even have to look around. Her eyes meet Tobin’s the second she stands up, as if she knew exactly where she would be. Her smile is shy and her eyes are pleading and Tobin is clenching her fists to hold back the bravery swelling in her chest.

“Hi,” she says, but she’s just saying it to Tobin, not everyone else, and finally everything clicks.

It takes four steps for her to walk over to Christen. She doesn’t even hesitate, slipping her hands to her waist, running her thumbs across her rib cage, grinning as Christen loops her arms around her neck.

Their first kiss is on a busy sidewalk in front of a cheap sushi restaurant with their closest friends catcalling loudly from behind them. And Tobin can’t think of anything more perfect. She kisses Christen hard, melting into the moment, finally pulling apart only because she’s dying to look at Christen’s eyes, to see if she feels it too.

“Hi,” she murmurs, and Christen is grinning, already tipping her head back in for another kiss, and another, until Kelley is shouting that they’re going to miss their reservation.

“Why didn’t we do this earlier?” Tobin murmurs, and Christen shakes her head.

As they walk into the restaurant, she reaches down and intertwines their hands. Tobin doesn’t let go for the rest of the night.