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So Baby Pull Me Closer (We Aint Ever Getting Older)

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There’s a month until Tobin graduates when Alex starts to worry. North Carolina is miles away from California, and a year is a long time to be away from her.

 

Tobin’s as untroubled as they come. She always is.

 

“What’s to be worried about, Lex?” She asks her one night when she’s dropping her off, her face lit up by the blue LED lights of the VCR recorder mounted proudly on the dashboard of her 2003 Corolla.

 

Alex sighs, raises a tired brow when Tobin’s eyes settle on hers.

 

“Everything,” She admits quietly under Tobin’s curious stare, “We’re growing up, Tobin. And when people grow up, they grow apart.”

 

“Like hell we are,” Tobin scoffs, her arm stretching around the back of Alex’s seat, “You’re as young as you’ll ever be. And me? They’ll never take me alive.”

 

It’s not especially comforting, but the way Tobin moves her hand from the gearstick to grab Alex’s is. She’s always liked the way her hand has paled between Tobin’s long, tan, polished fingers. They’re painted pink that night, but the car turns them purple inside Alex’s eyes.

 

“I mean it Al. And even if, by some series of unfortunate events, time doesn’t stop for us? I’ll still love you when I’m twenty-five. I promise.”

Alex rolls her eyes as Tobin’s arm switches from the back of her car seat to the backs of her shoulders.

 

“Be serious please.”

 

Tobin’s smile is blinding.

 

“I’m always serious when it comes to you.”

 

- - -

 

“What about at twenty-six?”

 

“Eh, maybe. Depends how much hotter you get—hey! No hitting.”

 

- - -

 

Tobin graduates.

 

She finds her in the chaos of a sea of blue hats and blue gowns and pulls her close, and Alex tries her best to push away the overwhelming feeling that builds up inside her chest that this—all they have ever been and could ever possibly be—is over.

 

“It’s not that far,” Tobin tells the outer shell of her ear, her lips gentle as they press the words against her skin like a secret.

 

But it is, and they both know it.

 

“I know,” Alex says instead, over and over again, “I know. I know.”

 

They stand through an hour of pictures with Tobin’s various friends and family, and then Tobin leads her, half tripping over a gown that is far too big for her, down to the dirt parking lot that no one but them ever uses.

 

She presses her against the trunk of the Corolla and kisses her until Alex forgets she’s leaving.

 

Then she pulls away, and the UNC Tarheels sticker on the right bumper is a painful reminder.

 

- - -

 

Alex’s summer is a fast blur, and it centers around Tobin.

 

She spends most of it half submerged in warm waters, Tobin’s old turquoise board pressed against her stomach, Tobin’s tan frame dancing in and out of the corner of her eye with the ocean waves.

 

They drag half of the beach back into Alex’s room, and their hair is stiff with salt more days than it isn’t.

 

Their nights are spent in various spots inside Tobin’s tiny worn red tent, sleeping bags pushed close enough to touch, and for Alex to see the way Tobin’s brown eyes melt when she turns the flashlight on.

 

“Are you really going away?” Alex whispers whenever she hears a click, and the tent plunges back into red darkness.

 

The click comes again and the tent turns orange with light.

 

“Away from here. Not from you.”

 

Tobin’s voice is rough with sleep, and when she rolls over to pull their lips together, her hands are too.

 

- - -

 

In the last week, Tobin stays close to home. They pack the tent away for good, and the surfboards stay untouched in the trunk of her car.

 

Alex rarely sees her during the day. Just before midnight she crawls in through her window and turns the lights on, dressed in old sweats and a t-shirt Alex bought her for Christmas, her hair up in a loose bun, her glasses skewed across the bridge of her nose.

 

There’s not a lot of talking, just the fulfillment of the physical need to be close when Tobin drapes herself over her and holds tight. Her clothes smell like smoke and her breath like watered down beer when they kiss, but Alex doesn’t care.

 

Alex isn’t sure that Tobin sleeps anymore. She’ll roll off of her at one in the morning and pull out her latest novel, and her glasses will end up pushed onto the top of her head as her gaze lazily scans over her chosen chapter. She’ll rub Alex’s back until her eyes finally close, Tobin’s afterimage burned into the blackness behind her lids, and when Alex wakes up the next morning she’ll still be reading.

 

They don’t usually talk in the early hours. More lazy kisses are exchanged, and then Tobin hops back out her window and goes home for twenty minutes before returning, freshly showered and fully dressed, contacts in place, breath minty and coffee haphazardly placed within semi broken cup holders, the result of a late night kissing session gone wrong.

 

Or right, depending on definition.

 

It’s on the second to last morning that Alex breaks the pattern and holds on when Tobin gets up to go. She almost rethinks when Tobin’s tired doe eyes blink curiously at her, but then she remembers that Tobin’s leaving, and any efforts that have up to that point been made to preserve feelings have been to no avail.

 

“I’m not coming to the airport with you.”

 

Tobin sits up straighter in front of her, eyebrows drawing together.

 

“Why not?” She yawns.

 

“Just can’t.”

 

She doesn’t know if Tobin really understands when she tugs her wrist away and stands with a shrug.

 

Or maybe she understands too well.

 

“Okay,” She says, pressing a quick kiss to the corner of Alex’s lips as she leaves.

 

She doesn’t come back twenty minutes later. Or at all, that day.

 

- - -

 

Alex sits, very unhelpfully, on Tobin’s porch step, watching with downcast eyes and pouting lips as Tobin wheels her suitcases and carries her duffle bags by her to her parent’s car.

 

It’s a sad procession. Tobin takes her sweet time, and her mother disappears at various points behind a red handkerchief in order to dry her eyes.

 

Finally, though, all of her bags—and her new surfboard—are packed into the car, and her family piles in as well, until it’s just Tobin and Alex standing on the doorstep.  

 

“Sure you don’t want to come?” There’s something in Tobin’s voice that Alex doesn’t understand.

 

“No,” Alex can’t swallow, “But if I go I’ll fall apart.”

 

Tobin’s covered in UNC blue by her tarheel hoodie, but the beanie she wears is Alex’s.

 

“And if you stay?”

 

Alex bites her lips and looks down, and Tobin comes closer, hands reaching for Alex’s own, which she immediately gives.

 

“My heart’s beating really fast,” She admits as tears start pooling in her eyes, and she blinks hard to keep them in, but they spill out anyways.

 

“Mine too,” Tobin says quickly, grabbing their hands and pushing them up against her own chest, where Alex can feel the frantic thud, “See? We’re the same.”

 

Alex nods her head fast until Tobin pulls her tight against her where she can safely hide. She relaxes against Tobin’s neck, where nothing ever hurts, and lets the beginnings of a tentative sob slip between unyielding teeth.

 

“What am I going to do without you?”

 

Tobin doesn’t seem to have an answer. She presses kisses to the side of her head instead.

 

“I love you so much. So damn much. It’s all going to be okay, I promise.”

 

“Tobin,” Her voice is the whimper she’s been fighting since November, when Tobin first signed with a school on the wrong coast, “Please don’t leave.”

 

Tobin’s arms are impossibly tight, and then they’re gone.

 

“I love you Alex. I love you .”

 

Her parting kiss is burning, and it stings in the worst way as she watches Tobin disappear behind a closed car door. She rolls the window down and sticks her entire torso out of it to wave as they drive away.

 

“I’ll see you soon!”

 

Alex continues to stand, hand raised, long after she disappears from view.

 

- - -

 

The first week they never really stop facetiming. Tobin sets her old phone up on a shelf, plugs it into a charger and lets it run day and night. More often than not Alex stares at an empty bed, but every once in awhile a tired Tobin rolls into it.

 

Sometimes her roommate is with her, a short freckled girl Tobin never introduces but more often than not fondly refers to and constantly addresses off camera.

 

No matter how many hours deep their conversation may be, she shows up and it all comes to a screeching halt.

 

“It’s just not the same,” Alex sighs in reference to the start of her first ever Tobin-less soccer season, “All the freshmen suck, and no one can hit me a good ball to save their life, and—.”

 

She hears the door open through Tobin’s screen and watches as Tobin’s eyes lift up. A second later, the girl comes flying onto her bed, and Tobin’s lips stretch into a wide smile usually reserved for Alex alone.

 

“Toby,” She sings, her arms stretched forwards to grab at Tobin’s hands, “Let’s get out of here.”

 

Tobin’s quick to roll up out of bed, and she dusts her hoodie off before tugging her sneakers on and offering Alex a small wave.

 

“Later Lex.”

 

Alex is left staring at an empty bed.

 

Before the door shuts, Alex can hear their voices.

 

“Who’s Lex?”

 

“Just a friend.”

 

- - -

 

Tobin stops the persistent facetiming, claiming that her data has tanked from constant use.

 

Alex knows she has an unlimited plan, but she doesn’t protest it.

 

They facetime every other day for a few hours at a time.

 

By the second month, Tobin stops answering her calls.

 

By the third, Alex stops calling.

 

- - -

 

Tobin comes back for two weeks during Christmas. She asks Alex to make the hour drive to the airport to pick her up, because the day she comes is a Sunday at six in the morning, and her parents have church at eight.

 

She’s everything but unchanged as she stumbles out of the arrival gate at a casual stroll, like this isn’t her first time back home in five months.

 

She’s wearing clothes Alex doesn’t recognize, thick boots on her feet, tight black skinny jeans on her legs, a soft and loose grey sweater visible underneath her tarheel jacket.

 

The beanie she wears is the wrong blue, darker than the one Alex had gifted her with.

 

“Hey babe.”

 

Tobin’s arms swallow her, and Alex is quick to nuzzle close. Her perfume is different. It’s not sweet anymore, instead being heavy and floral.

 

“I’m so glad you’re here.”

 

Tobin’s hand is gentle as she tilts Alex’s chin up for a kiss.

 

“Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

 

- - -

 

It’s easy to fall back into what they used to be in the two weeks that Tobin gives them.

 

She wakes her at five am and they’re in the McDonald's drive-thru by five thirty, Alex dead asleep against the fogged over window, heater blasting to keep Tobin’s hands warm inside her fingerless gloves.

 

The smell of coffee and hash browns drags Alex’s eyes up, as does Tobin’s peppermint kisses as she intermittently sucks down her cool green frappe.

 

They’re at the beach by six, Tobin bouncing out of the car and letting the freezing air rush in as Alex complains. She licks the leftover whipped cream out of the bottom of Tobin’s cup as Tobin pulls on her cold water wetsuit and grabs their boards from the trunk.

 

Getting Alex into her own wetsuit takes a little more encouragement and a few more sips of coffee, but eventually they’re both ready.

 

The first splash is always icy. Their body heat rapidly warms them up as they paddle out, and then all discomforts are forgotten as the grey sea swells underneath them and pushes them to far off shores. It’s just her and Tobin in the quiet haze of the morning, just the wind and the waves and Tobin’s laugh in Alex’s ears.

 

Two hours later and the beach starts to fill with other eager surfers, and the two of them float out on their boards for a while, linked hands keeping them together as they watch others try their luck against the water.

 

“I’ve missed this,” Tobin’s cold breath chills Alex’s cheek, “I’ve missed you.”

 

Alex kisses her until her feet start to numb.

 

- - -

 

They sprint back to the car. Tobin throws their boards into the back while Alex unwraps their clothes from around hot water bottles, and they strip in the privacy of a rapidly filling parking lot and tug on sweaters and pants and long socks and winter hats.

 

“We don’t have to get dressed, you know,” Tobin tells her through chattering teeth, goosebumps raised across her skin.

 

Alex kisses her sweetly and throws Tobin’s sweater at her face.

 

“We don’t have to freeze to death either.”

 

- - -

 

They rush back to Tobin’s house, and Alex crawls under the blankets of her bed while Tobin makes them hot chocolate. She carries it in five minutes later, balancing two mugs and a bowl of marshmallows on a wooden tray.

 

“This should warm you up,” Tobin hums, setting the tray down on her bedside table before hopping over Alex to lay on her opposite side, arms quick to reach out and pull her body against her own.

 

Alex is quick to down her portion, the chocolate scalding against her tongue and throat, and then turns and kisses the sweetness onto Tobin’s smiling lips.

 

“Fuck,” Tobin sighs after a moment, when she’s pulled Alex over and up onto her chest, where she can kiss her lazily and without much effort, “I wish I could bring you home with me.”

 

“You are home,” Alex reminds gently, hands stroking over Tobin’s face softly, “This is home, Tobin.”

 

She watches curiously as Tobin bites her lip, and her eyes close to hide whatever secrets Tobin has stumbled upon in her time without Alex.

 

“Right?”

 

Tobin’s fingers tangle into her hair, and her lips find the corner of her jaw.

 

“You’re my home,” She says instead.

 

- - -

 

“Alex?” She says, playing lightly with Alex’s fingers after two hours of drowsy dozing, “Are you still in love with me?”

 

Alex’s hand curls softly as Tobin brings her palm to her mouth.

 

“Of course I am,” She tells her, voice thick with sleep as she stretches out across Tobin’s body with a yawn.

 

She doesn’t miss Tobin’s sigh of relief.

 

“Good. Stay that way for me?”

 

“For you,” Alex agrees sleepily.

 

- - -

 

The drive to the airport isn’t long enough.

 

Tobin’s on the phone with her roommate—Kelley, Alex learns—for the first twenty minutes, which bothers her until it doesn’t.

 

“Just have to say goodbye to the girlfriend, then I’ll be there,” Tobin assures, shooting a smile Alex’s way as she laces their fingers together.

 

A moment later, Tobin’s brow crumples.

 

“What do you mean you’ve never heard of Alex? Al, say hi to Kells.”

 

“Hi Kelley.”

 

“See? Told you she was real.”

 

- - -

 

It’s a quick goodbye. Tobin’s there one moment, and then the next she’s long gone.

 

She kisses her parting words onto Alex’s lips.

 

“You’d like it in North Carolina.”

 

- - -

 

Alex doesn’t go to North Carolina.

 

The days leading up to her college signing are tense. Her high school soccer team wins the D1 state championship for the second year in a row, and this time Alex is the one wearing the band instead of Tobin.

 

She gets offers from everywhere. Wake Forest, Stanford, Duke, UCLA, Berkeley. She’s published twice in two magazines and three times in the newspaper as one of the nation’s top recruits.

 

The offer from UNC comes tentatively, and dead last, with the same benefits as the others: a full scholarship and a starting position. It also has the one thing the others don’t: Tobin.

 

“You’ll love it here, Al,” Tobin tells her the night after the offer comes, her smile huge, “We’ll be unstoppable, and we’ll be together. I can’t wait for you to get here.”

 

She signs with the Cal Bears.

 

They don’t speak for months.

 

- - -

 

“I’m sorry,” Alex says the day Tobin finally answers her call.

 

“I’m dating Kelley.”

 

- - -

 

They don’t speak at all.

 

Tobin doesn’t come home for spring break. She spends it in Georgia with Kelley at a lake house. Alex stays informed of their adventures through Tobin’s instagram, which goes from updating every other month to updating every other hour.

 

The last picture Alex can stomach to look at is the two of them out on the water, floating side by side on surfboards, smiling stupidly at each other.

 

tobinheath: all I need.  

 

- - -

 

Alex likes it at Berkeley. The team is quick to accept her, and she scores a brace in her first start. She’s still riding down the high with a collection of teammates when her phone buzzes in her pocket. She ignores it and silences her phone until she gets home, where it buzzes to life once more in her hands.

 

“Hello?” She whispers, because her roommate’s asleep and—

 

“Alex?” A voice sobs.

 

Alex freezes dead.

 

“Tobin?”

 

There’s more sniffling, a deep inhale, and then quiet sobs.

 

“Tobin, what’s wrong?”

 

For a long while, Alex doesn’t think she’ll get an answer, doesn’t expect one.

 

It comes quietly, a confession given by the light of Alex’s alarm clock.

 

“She isn’t you.”

 

Alex hangs up when her heart starts to pound.

 

- - -

 

A guy is quick to try and pick Alex up.

 

She gives it a chance, because it’s about time for her to try and fall out of love. Five months of pining is more than anyone deserves, or so her friends tell her.

 

He’s sweet, and it’s nice for a while, but three months in and she comes to the same conclusion Tobin has already reached.

 

It’s not the same.

 

He’s not her.

 

- - -

 

Alex doesn’t like it in North Carolina.

 

It’s a rough game. It takes her sixty minutes to break down the Tar Heel defense, during which she’s tackled twice, the second worse than the first. It takes her about five minutes to fully recover in the aftermath, and they sneak a goal on them while she tries to get her legs back under her.

 

In the sixty-second minute she manages a rally, and she comes down hard from the left side to slam one into the back of the net.

 

The final thirty minutes are a mess. Tackles are cleats up, knocks are jarring, and they’re forced to play with ten when a second yellow sends off a key defender.

 

Alex almost gets the brace, but a diving header from Kelley O’Hara saves it.

 

They leave the field with a draw, and Alex with a burning ankle.

 

She’s barely on the bus when Tobin texts her for what seems like the first time in forever.

 

T: Want to meet up?

 

She lets the message go unread for an hour.

 

A: I don’t think that’s a good idea.

 

They fly home the next day, and Alex’s ankle isn’t the only part of her that throbs sorely.

 

She’s glad to leave it all behind.

 

- - -

 

The Cal Bears don’t push through to the finals, and it’s UNC against Duke in a cutthroat match.

 

Alex watches the game with a few other teammates through a shitty livestream.

 

She’s pretty sure Tobin’s never looked better. She scores the first goal and assists the second, and even Alex can’t fight the grin that spreads her lips when the commentators talk about how Tobin’s gotten her first call up to the senior national team, which has a friendly in two months against Norway, and how that, if things persist, Tobin will have as good a shot as any at making the next World Cup Team.

 

In the seventy-fourth minute, the score is 2-2 when Duke brings Tobin down.

 

The camera pans away, but they don’t turn the microphones off, and Tobin’s screams are all Alex hears as she lunges forwards on the couch to stare intently at the screen.

 

Tobin leaves the field on a stretcher.

 

The Tar Heels lose.

 

- - -

 

Alex texts her the following morning after a night without sleep.

 

A: Are you okay?

 

She gets no response.

 

- - -

 

A month later, Tobin gets tagged in a photo on instagram.

 

She’s on a boat in a knee high, Tar Heel blue cast, crutches at her sides, smile wide.

 

Alex doesn’t double check, but she thinks it might be her beanie on Tobin’s head.

 

kelleyohara: @tobinheath on the mend!

 

- - -

 

Another picture comes the following day.

 

This time, Kelley’s wearing her beanie.

 

- - -

 

Tobin’s injury is career ending.

 

Around the fifth month, her scans start coming back with bad news. There’s a risky surgery Alex learns of through her mom who calls after running into Tobin’s mom at the store.

 

“Cindy said it didn’t go as planned,” She tells her sadly, a week before Christmas break, “Her tendons aren’t healing right. They think, when everything’s said and done and she’s rehabbed it properly, she’ll have lost about 20% of original motion.”

 

Alex doesn’t exactly have words to describe the sinking feeling that settles inside the pit of her stomach.

 

“How is she?”

 

“Tobin’s home now,” Her mother says quickly, if not a little nervous, “Maybe you should come home too.”

 

- - -

 

Alex doesn’t go home.

 

She gets called up to the national team in Tobin’s stead.

 

She has an incredible first camp, and second, and third.

 

In the following five months, she does some new things.

 

First she dyes her hair the darkest brown she can find in the CVS hair section.

 

Then she makes the World Cup roster.

 

- - -

 

Tobin loses her scholarship.

 

UNC is too expensive to attend without it.

 

She stays in California.

 

- - -

 

They win the World Cup. Alex comes home to unending fanfare. There’s a ticker tape parade in New York and an honoring at Berkeley, where Alex is named captain for her junior year, as she’ll be at the Olympics for her senior season.

 

There’s a short ceremony when she comes home as well, where all the locals turn up to praise and take pictures with her.

 

It seems like everyone comes except for Tobin.

 

All she gets from her is a brief text that Alex first reads in a Vancouver bar the night they win.

 

T: Proud of my A.

 

- - -

 

“They think Tobin’s depressed,” Her mother tells her in a phone call a month after the World Cup win, when the world still looks conquerable and Alex is still too lost in the clouds to think about the meaningless things taking place down below her, “All she does is surf.”

 

“Surfing makes Tobin happy,” Alex responds, unconcerned, “She’s probably having the time of her life out there. It’s a good surf season this year.”

 

“She only goes during the storms, and she only goes alone,” Her mother adds, the fear in her voice tangible, but Alex just rolls her eyes. Pam Morgan had always been afraid of the recreational activities she and Tobin had enjoyed in their teen years.

 

“Tobin isn’t trying to drown herself, Mom,” She says, her tone almost reprimanding, “She loves her life.”

 

“When’s the last time you spoke to Tobin? Face to face?”

 

There’s an edge to her mother’s voice that Alex doesn’t like.

 

“We’re playing Stanford tomorrow. I should go.”

 

“Alright dear. Sleep tight.”

 

“You too. And Mom? Tobin’s fine. I’m sure of it.”

 

- - -

 

Tobin’s not fine. Alex is sure of it.

 

It’s a lifeguard on duty that pulls Tobin’s lifeless body from the surf.

 

The paramedics think she’s dead the entire way to the hospital until she finally sits ramrod straight and vomits up all the water in her like the Lord had commanded it.

 

They’re tossing around the word psych ward when Alex decides it’s time to go home to Tobin.

 

- - -

 

She goes to see Tobin for the first time in two years with yellow flowers in her hands.

 

Yellow is supposed to be a happy color, and Alex is too pressed for time to find any pretty ones in blue.

 

Cindy opens the door and pulls Alex into a warm hug, ecstatic to see her. She asks her all about the national team and the upcoming Olympics as she walks her upstairs, finds a nice vase for the flowers, and puts them up in Tobin’s room before leaving them alone.

 

Tobin’s different. She looks exactly the same as Alex remembers her, and yet she’s almost unrecognizable.

 

“Hey there you,” Alex says as she walks closer to sit on the bed. She expects Tobin’s eyes to be dull and empty when she looks her way, but they’re filled with nothing but a bright, wild fire.

 

“Alex,” Tobin’s voice is hoarse, “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at camp?”

 

She reaches for Tobin’s hand, and Tobin gives it up immediately.

 

“I wanted to see you,” Alex says, trying to keep her voice gentle.

 

Tobin’s brows contract in confusion.

 

“How did you get the time?”

 

The sadness in Tobin’s voice isn’t jarring or haunting. It’s just a little lonely.

 

Alex tells her the truth.

 

“I’ve always got time for you.”

 

- - -

 

It’s Alex who drives.

 

The car hops around a bit like a kangaroo until she gets the hang of the clutch. It flusters her at first until she sees the way Tobin smiles beside her.

 

Tobin’s hand covers her own on the gearshift, and she walks her through the clutch point on the Corolla until Alex understands where the release is.

 

They head for the beach, and besides the startling absence of surfboards piled in the back of the car, it’s almost like three years haven’t passed.

 

Tobin throws her phone into the now very broken cup holders, where it buzzes angrily the duration of the trip.

 

When Alex sneaks a peak at Tobin’s screen, the notifications are all from her girlfriend.

 

“When’s the last time you talked to Kelley, Tobs?”

 

Tobin’s eyes don’t leave the passenger window.

 

“I don’t want to talk to Kelley.”

 

“Why?”

 

There’s quiet as Alex focuses on driving for a while. Tobin wrings her hands and shuffles her feet, a new habit she’s adopted.

 

“She wants to be here with me.”

 

Alex turns her gaze curiously in Tobin’s direction until she finally looks up at her.

 

“I don’t want her to come,” It’s a simple, blunt statement, one where Tobin hides what she really means and says something entirely different in it’s place.

 

“She’s worried about you. It’s not fair to shut her out like this.”

 

Tobin’s brown eyes are soft as they look Alex over.

 

“Nothing’s fair.”

 

- - -

 

Tobin’s a little hesitant when faced with the water. She tries to hide her fear, but she sticks intentionally close to Alex’s side.

 

Alex doesn’t mention it, just lets Tobin take the comfort she needs.

 

The sky is grey and the water is dark, and the sand feels old and cold as they walk along the shore.

 

A scattering of gulls dot the shallows, their feathers fluffed up against the salt spray and wind. They chatter about nervously as the two of them approach, darting uncertainly between land and sea before taking flight across the water.

 

“I feel like I’m eighteen again,” Tobin laughs, and Alex smiles warmly.

 

“I liked it, being eighteen,” Alex allows, but Tobin’s face falls as she sobers to her presence.

 

“You grew up too fast away from me. I still miss my Alex, sometimes.”

 

“Your Alex?” Alex asks skeptically, and Tobin’s responding smile is small and hesitant.

 

“Seventeen and blonde,” Tobin says with a nod, “Still a little unsure about her future in soccer, totally obsessed with the water, and completely in love with me.”

 

“I’m still in love with you,” Alex tries to say.

 

“That was a long time ago,” She says instead.

 

Tobin’s smile fades a little.

 

“Yeah. It was.”

 

- - -

 

“I miss my Tobin sometimes,” She admits on the ride home.

 

“Oh yeah?” Tobin asks casually, and Alex nods her head.

 

“What was she like?”

 

It takes Alex a minute to think over.

 

“Well, for the longest time, she was absolutely everything to me.”

 

“What happened?” Tobin’s eyes are closed, and her head tilts back against her head rest.

 

Alex’s grip on the steering wheel tightens, and the car comes dangerously close to stalling out as she loses her clutch point for a moment.

 

“She got older,” Alex says eventually.

 

When she turns to look at Tobin, she’s turned her way, eyes wide and staring.

 

“I wish she hadn’t.”

 

- - -

 

“So how’s your Kelley?”

 

Alex doesn’t get an answer.

 

- - -

 

They get back late, and Alex waits for Tobin to pick her share of McDonald's wrappers off the floor of the Corolla before parking the car and walking her up to her door.

 

“You can stay here, if you want,” Tobin offers at the doorstep, “You don’t have to go so soon.”

 

“Thanks,” Alex says genuinely, “I would, but I should see my mom for a bit before I fly out.”

 

Tobin’s nodding her head before Alex is done speaking.

 

“Of course. I’ll see you when I see you, yeah?” She asks, and Alex frowns down at her before pulling her into a hug.

 

“You’ll see me soon,” She promises, and she thinks she feels Tobin relax against her as she hugs back.

 

“Cool.”

 

Alex pulls away eventually, and tries not to focus on how cold it suddenly feels.

 

“Hey Tobs?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Call Kelley.”

 

Tobin’s lips press together carefully.

 

“Okay.”

 

Her voice is soft in a way that makes it believable.

 

- - -

 

Alex is down the steps and almost at her car when Tobin’s voice stops her.

 

“Hey Alex?”

 

Alex’s head jerks up. Tobin glows orange on the porch step in front of her, courtesy of the garage light.

 

“I didn’t...the surfing thing. It was an accident. I didn’t mean for that to happen.”

 

They stare at each other for a moment, until Alex’s shoulders lower in quiet relief.

 

“Of course you didn’t.”

 

“I’d never do that.”

 

“I know. God, Tobin, I know.”

 

- - -

 

It’s a hard camp. A veteran returns from having a baby, and Alex finds her spot in jeopardy. She works harder than she ever has before, and still doesn’t know if it’s enough.

 

She stresses during practice, and she stresses during down time.

 

An update to Tobin’s instagram brings her temporary relief.

 

It’s Tobin and Kelley standing on the coast of California, dressed in wetsuits, surfboards at their feet.

 

tobinheath: been here a week and already thinks she’s more cali than me @kelleyohara. #plz #youretalkingtoaprofessional #bornandraised #bustedankleandstillbetterthanyou

 

Kelley’s response comes an hour later. It’s a simple picture of Tobin laying out on the sand, the ocean on display in the dark brown depths of her eyes.

 

kelleyohara: it’s a good thing you’re pretty. #youstooduponce #andimmediatelyfellover

 

Alex does better after that.

 

When the Olympic roster drops, she’s on it.

 

- - -

 

The general manager asks how many tickets he has to get for her family.

 

She orders two extras and sends them to Tobin.

 

She gets a text a week later.

 

T: Really? Rio?

 

Alex can’t help but smile.

 

A: Bring Kelley.

 

T: She’s been screaming for the past hour, so I don’t think I have a choice at this point.

 

A: At least someone appreciates me ;p I’ll see you soon.

 

- - -

 

She sees Tobin and Kelley after the semi-final against Sweden. She almost walks past them until Tobin’s voice stops her dead.

 

“Hey Lex!”

 

She turns and smiles when she finds them, both wearing her name on their backs.

 

Alex pulls Tobin in for a tight hug, and laughs as Kelley gushes over her game winning goal. One of the managers eventually comes to round her up for media, and she finds their conversation cut shorter than to her liking.

 

“Hey, let’s do dinner,” She insists before they can pull her away, and she texts the two of them terrible directions as she’s bombarded with questions in several different languages.

 

A: Center of town, four lefts and a right, Llama on the front door.

 

T: ???

 

- - -

 

She doesn’t get Tobin’s text until she’s already in the restaurant, but before she can respond, she gets a call.

 

“We’re so lost,” Kelley’s voice bleeds through in a wave of static—the cell service in Brazil is less than ideal.

 

“We aren’t lost!” She hears Tobin shout.

 

“Please save me from her,” Kelley finishes as the call ends.

 

With a laugh, Alex goes to find them.

 

- - -

 

They end up in a McDonald’s. It takes Alex longer than planned to find them, and she ends up signing a sea of autographs when someone recognizes her. Tobin and Kelley wait patiently for her to finish up, and then they’re seated at red tables as Tobin enthusiastically unloads a giant order of McNuggets onto her tray.

 

“I can’t believe you guys actually like this place,” Kelley sighs, halfheartedly dabbing a french fry into her ketchup.

 

Tobin catches her eye, and Alex is quick to gasp.

 

“You would dare to blemish the name of the golden arch while you sit under it’s roof?” She asks the freckled girl, tsking her tongue as Kelley rolls her eyes.

 

“There was a time where Alex and I only ate McD’s,” Tobin supplies informatively, flashing a smirk Alex’s way.

 

“I owe my life to Micky D’s. We won the World Cup because of Mickey D’s,” Alex says seriously, and Tobin loses it at that point, her laugh more free than Alex has heard in awhile.

 

It warms her heart, as does the affectionate glance Kelley shoots Tobin’s way as a result.

 

Alex decides she likes Kelley, if for nothing else besides the fact that she’s helped Tobin get better.

 

And then, very quickly, Alex decides she definitely doesn’t like Kelley.

 

“So Alex, you must be seeing someone? Maybe we could double sometime?”

 

Alex doesn’t answer.

 

Instead she springs up and grabs napkins when Tobin chokes on her drink, and a mouthful of fizzy cola ends up on their table.

 

They don’t go near the subject again.

 

- - -

 

They win the Olympics.

 

They’re the first team to pull a World Cup and a gold medal back to back, and Alex can’t help but feel like she’s flying.

 

It’s a dangerous kind of feeling, where she knows she can do and get anything that she wants, and it leads to more impulsive, ill thought decisions than it does good ones.

 

She finds herself outside Tobin’s hotel at four in the morning, long after the celebration has ended and the wine has mixed with her blood and made her uncontainable.

 

A: Come outside.

 

A: Come outside.

 

A: Come outside.

 

A: Don’t bring Kelley.

 

A: Come outside.

 

Tobin slips out sleepily in a grey sweater and Alex’s blue beanie.

 

Alex goes to her as soon as she sees her, and crushes her tight against her, because it’s gotten to the point where things only feel right when Tobin’s with her.

 

“I’m not seeing anyone,” She manages to slur out before Tobin can even manage a greeting, “I’m not seeing anyone.”

 

“What?” Tobin is still blinking sleep from her eyes, and looks dazed and a good deal confused, “Al, it’s so early.”

 

“I’m not seeing anyone,” Alex repeats importantly, her grip on Tobin tightening, “I’m only seeing you. I only see you.”

 

She pushes close and kisses her.

 

It’s perfect.

 

- - -

 

It’s perfect until it’s not.

 

Tobin stands quietly at first, stunned, but eventually pushes her away as gently as she can.

 

When Alex blinks confused blue eyes at her, Tobin can only shrug helplessly.

 

“I can’t. Kelley—I can’t, Alex. I can’t.”

 

The air that enters Alex’s lungs is cold when she breathes.

 

Tobin goes back inside.

 

- - -

 

Alex’s life becomes all about soccer with the formation of a professional league.

 

She’s allocated to Portland along with another senior national teammate. She’s still too young to wear the armband, but they write her an IOU that she’ll be able to cash within the next five years.

 

She gets a new apartment downtown and a promise.

 

Tobin and Kelley get a tiny house by the bay in San Francisco.

 

- - -

 

Kelley invites her down for a weekend surf trip.

 

Alex politely refuses.

 

She has training, after all.

 

- - -

 

T: Saying no once is the result of an obligation.

 

T: Saying no twice is just rude.

 

T: It’s really important to Kelley that you come soon.

 

Alex chews her lip for fifteen minutes before replying.

 

A: What’s important to you?

 

It takes four hours for Alex to get an answer.

 

T: We’ll see you Friday night, Al.

 

- - -

 

Alex shows up with both wetsuit and surfboard safely packed inside her new Volvo, courtesy of the Portland Thorns.

 

Tobin greets the silver car with curious, eager eyes.

 

“Damn,” She whistles appreciatively as she helps Alex pull her bags out of the trunk, “I knew you made money, but I didn’t know you made this much, Lex.”

 

Alex gives her a half smile and a shrug of her shoulders.

 

“It’s not really mine. It belongs to the Thorns. They just let me drive it,” Alex says with a laugh.

 

Tobin doesn’t seem bothered by the news as she shoulders Alex’s two duffel bags.

 

“You’ll let me drive it though, right? Al—right?”

 

- - -

 

“I said paws off , Heath!”

 

- - -

 

The house is beautiful. Tall, square, and white with a tiny balcony that overlooks the bay and just barely fits the smallest table Alex has ever seen, and two equally small chairs.

 

There’s two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen/living room, and a basement mostly used to store all of Tobin’s old junk.

 

Alex can’t help but get the tiniest bit nostalgic when Tobin pulls out her very first board, the one both she and Alex learned on.

 

“It’s Kelley’s now,” Tobin says with a laugh, patting the worn down and peeling board, “It’s all I trust her to handle until she gets a little better.”

 

Alex tries her best to smile. Tobin must see that it’s forced, because her lips frown.

 

“I don’t let her bang it up anymore than I did you, I promise.”

 

It’s oddly the most comforting thing Alex has heard in awhile.

 

- - -

 

“So you like Portland?” Kelley asks over dinner.

 

She’s somehow managed to cook the most delicious chicken Alex has ever tasted.

 

“It’s a nice city. I don’t know if I’d call it home though,” Alex mumbles around a bite of asparagus.

 

“Oh?” Kelley asks curiously, head tilting, “Where’s home, then?”

 

She doesn’t mean for her eyes to flash to Tobin, nor does she expect Tobin to be looking so intently at her.

 

They both drop their heads closer to their plates, and Alex tries to keep her cheeks from burning.

 

“Still trying to figure that out.”

 

- - -

 

Alex lets Tobin drive the Volvo to the beach. Kelley calls shotgun, and Alex sits in the back with the surfboards.

 

It’s fine until Kelley’s hand finds Tobin’s on the gearshift.

 

Alex stares until Tobin catches her in the rearview mirror.

 

- - -

 

The water is, for once, warm and inviting.

 

They surf for a few hours, Alex delighted to see how fast Kelley has been on the uptake.

 

“You’ve got talent for teaching,” Alex tells Tobin as they float out past the swell, watching Kelley ride her wave in.

 

Tobin’s resulting smile is brilliant.

 

“She’s a fast learner,” She says before they both dive down under a wave that builds behind them, suddenly and without warning.

 

Tobin pops up seconds after her, inhaling deeply as Alex watches the salt water trickle down her forehead.

 

“Next wave is yours.”

 

- - -

 

Kelley heads in for the beach around the hour mark.

 

“I’m new to this, okay?” She defends when Alex laughs at her lack of endurance.

 

She paddles over and kisses Tobin and the laughter dies slowly in Alex’s throat.

 

Tobin’s face is pink as Kelley catches a wave to shore, and she looks so genuinely cute and caught off guard that it prompts a smile.

 

“Shut up,” Tobin huffs, splashing water Alex’s way, “Let’s go hit some real waves.”

 

- - -

 

Alex knows she’s in over her head when the water swallows her and she can’t find her way back up.

 

A strong, familiar hand snatches her by the arm and hauls her back to the surface, and chocolate eyes are all that stand visible to Alex’s watery vision as she tries to make sense of the blue world around her.

 

“We don’t need another incident,” Tobin says while Alex coughs up the water that made it into her mouth, the salt stinging.

 

“Shut up,” She manages to rasp out, throat still raw, and Tobin puts a hand on her back and lets her rest against her board for a moment.

 

Fingers on her cheek pull Alex’s eyes back open.

 

“Want me to swim us in?”

 

Alex has had her fair share of near drowning to know when to call it a day. She nods her head, and Tobin kicks off towards the shore.

 

- - -

 

They leave behind their wetsuits for bikinis, and Alex lounges in the sand on Tobin’s spare towel while Kelley and Tobin splash around in the shallows.

 

Tobin has a lot of fun chasing Kelley with the jellyfish she finds floating, and Kelley seems to have a slightly less enjoyable time as she backs away from Tobin, screaming and swearing until Tobin relents and drops the offending animal, arms outstretched and asking for forgiveness, which Kelley gives after a few extra moments of pouting.

 

Tobin looks happy, and in that moment, it’s enough to make Alex feel lighter.

 

They run back to Alex when the sun starts to set and the wind gives the water a chill. Tobin flops down beside her, dripping wet, with little regard to Alex’s perfectly dry body as she shakes her hair out like a wet dog.

 

She shoots Alex a teasing grin when she notices her glare.

 

“My bad—no hitting, Alex! Kelley, help!”

 

- - -

 

They tug on sweatshirts and pants when the sun sets, and Tobin drags driftwood together to make a fire.

 

It burns a bright blue when she lights it, a result of the chemistry of the wood and salt.

 

Kelley falls asleep quickly, offering little resistance when Tobin cuddles around her, and she passes out rather peacefully against Tobin’s shoulder.

 

Alex puts some distance between herself and Tobin and Kelley, and tries to keep her eyes on the fire until Kelley falls asleep and she feels Tobin’s eyes on her.

 

“Hey,” Tobin starts, “Do you remember—”

 

“Yes,” Alex says immediately, and she blinks furiously, like pushing away the wetness that gathers at the corners of her eyes will likewise push away the pain that swells up in her chest at the very mention of their past affection, “Yes I do.”

 

Tobin hums, presses her lips down into the side of Kelley’s face, “I liked that night.”

 

Alex curls into herself, crossing her arms, because even though it was almost five years ago now, she can still feel the remnants of Tobin’s caress.

 

She’d been scared, and Tobin had held her gently until she wasn’t.

 

“There wasn’t anything not to like,” Alex tells her honestly, ignoring the smirk that crosses Tobin’s lips.

 

“That good, huh?”

 

“Fuck you.”

 

Alex can already see the building glee in Tobin’s eyes at her words.

 

“Don’t even say it.”

 

Tobin’s laugh prompts one fourth in Alex.

 

“You need some better insults, Lex.”

 

Kelley shifts in Tobin’s arms, and the moment ends.

 

- - -

 

It’s nearly midnight when they pile back into the car. Tobin puts Kelley in the back, because she’s as good as dead to the world, and eagerly hops back into the driver seat.

 

“A girl could get used to this,” She says happily as she throws the car into gear and backs it up, and Alex grins as she settles down in the passenger next to her, fiddling with the volume on the radio to keep it from waking Kelley.

 

“It’s no Corolla, but it’s pretty nice.”

 

Tobin’s eyes sparkle at her words.

 

“You’re right. It’s no Corolla.”

 

- - -

 

They have three miles to go when Alex looks Tobin’s way.

 

“Do you remember a different night?” She asks softly. She watches Tobin purse her lips, eyes flitting from the road to Alex.

 

“Maybe,” She allows, her voice a little cautious, “Probably,” She admits, waiting for Alex to elaborate.

 

“You said…” Alex hesitates, unsure if she should even continue. Her eyes can’t help but flash in Kelley’s direction.

 

It’s all so wrong.

 

“I said?” Tobin questions, and it shouldn’t be enough to solidify Alex’s resolve, but it is.

 

“You said you’d love me until you were twenty-five.”

 

Silence fills the car except for Kelley’s soft snores.

 

“You aren’t twenty-five yet.”

 

Tobin turns the radio up.

 

- - -

 

Tobin carries Kelley into their bedroom and leaves Alex with the surfboards, which she safely deposits in the garage before climbing back up the stairs and heading to the guest room.

 

She finds Tobin waiting for her, eyes on fire.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

Tobin stands from where she’s sitting on the bed.

 

“You’re right,” Tobin says simply.

 

“About what?” Alex asks, eyebrows pulling together in confusion.

 

Tobin takes her sweet time, eyes wandering, breathing deep.

 

“I’m not twenty-five.”

 

- - -

 

They lay in the bed together like they did when they did when they were fifteen and unaware of love, side by side, untouching except for Tobin’s fingertips against the inside of Alex’s wrist.

 

“You’ll come to Portland with me,” Alex tells her, and Tobin nods her head, “And you’ll bring the Corolla, because Tobin, I hate that car and I miss ours.”

 

Tobin laughs next to her, the sound rich and warm.

 

“Okay. I’ll bring the Corolla. Are their beaches?”

 

“Tons,” Alex promises her, rolling over to face her. She misjudges and they end up a little too close, but Tobin doesn’t seem bothered when Alex’s nose just about touches hers.

 

“You’ll love it there,” Alex says quickly, scared to let the silences between them stretch, “There’s so much to do, so you won’t be bored when I’m away. You’ll love the apartment. It has so many windows. You can see from the city to the water.”

 

“I’ve never lived in a huge city before,” Tobin tells her, fingers tightening around her wrist.

 

“It’s just your style, Tobs. I promise. And we’ll be together again.”

 

“Together,” Tobin repeats, and the words have her relaxed, eyes fluttering closed.

 

Just as soon as the stress leaves her, she shoots upwards in a panicked motion.

 

“I have a life,” She says suddenly, her eyes huge as Alex scrambles to sit next to her, “I have a house,” She continues, gesturing her arms to the walls around them. She stops after a moment, like she can’t quite catch her breath, and there’s almost fear in her eyes when she turns back to Alex.

 

“I have Kelley.”

 

Alex can’t help the nervous tumbling her stomach starts up.

 

“I know,” She admits, somewhat helplessly, “You’ll have a new home. You’ll have me.”

 

“I’ll have to break up with Kelley,” Tobin says, the fact dawning over her, “ I have to break up with Kelley. This isn’t fair to her. Oh my god. Oh my god . Alex, I’m still in love with you.”

 

“I know,” Alex tells her quietly.

 

“I’m still in love with you,” Tobin repeats, like she simply can’t believe it, “Five years and I’m still in love with you .”

 

Alex holds her when she finally starts to cry.

 

- - -

 

Tobin falls asleep next to her eventually.

 

The instant that light breaks in through the window Alex gets up, packs her duffel bag, grabs her surfboard from the basement, and goes to head to her car.

 

Kelley’s eating breakfast in the kitchen when she reaches the top of the stairs.

 

“Hey,” She says brightly, smiling wide, “What are you doing up so early?”

 

Alex feels a little sick as she watches Kelley.

 

“Just wanted to head out early. It’s a decent drive back, and I have training today.”

 

“Oh course,” Kelley says with a smile, and she abandons her cereal and gets up quickly, “Thanks so much for coming. It made Tobin really happy, and that makes me happy.”

 

“She’s lucky to have you,” Alex tries, attempting to rid herself of the immense guilt she feels.

 

“More like the other way around,” Kelley allows, her smile widening, “I’m just happy we’re all finally friends. You’re so important to Tobin, and I’m really serious about her. She’s the one, you know?”

 

Alex’s mouth goes dry.

 

“Yeah, I get that.”

 

Kelley’s smile softens, “Where is she, by the way?”

 

“Oh!” Alex scrambles, biting her lip, “She fell asleep in my room last night when we were talking,” She says, and then hesitates before adding, “I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be! Tobin misses you. I’m happy you’re all caught up now,” Kelley says, her smile and words genuine in a way that makes Alex hurt.

 

“I’ll see you around Kell,” Alex finally manages, eager to get out the door.

 

Kelley hugs her tightly.

 

“Drive safe. And don’t be a stranger!”

 

- - -

 

She makes it halfway to Portland before her tears make it impossible to see.

 

She texts Tobin when her eyes are sore and red.

 

A: Let’s just forget last night, okay? I was tired and lonely, and you were there. I shouldn’t have done that to you. Don’t ruin a good thing over something stupid like this. You’re still my best friend. Tell Kelley thanks, and that I had a really good time.

 

She’s half sure she’s going to shatter her phone, she grips it so tightly.

 

A: I’m really sorry.

 

- - -

 

It takes Alex two days to get a response. It comes at three am, and she reads it with blurry eyes.

 

T: Okay.

 

- - -

 

The Thorns win the NWSL championship off Alex’s hat trick.

 

Two months later, Tobin and Kelley get engaged.

 

She finds out second hand through an instagram post.

 

kelleyohara: #Instabling. So excited for what’s next.

 

They look happy, and Alex knows she’s done the right thing.

 

- - -

 

They’re not happy, Alex’s mom tells her.

 

“We had dinner with the Heaths again today. Cindy doesn’t think they’re getting married. Tobin’s sleeping on a friends couch, apparently. You should invite her up to stay with you. She could probably use a friend right now.”

 

- - -

 

T: I need to talk to you.

 

- - -

 

There’s rumors of an expansion team far away, and it’s enough for Alex to hitch her name to it without a second thought.

 

“I need to go to Orlando.”

 

Portland gives her a hard time leaving. Eventually, they let her go for three of her national teammates and two round one draft picks.

 

Orlando gives her the captain's band the day she lands.

 

- - -

 

Tobin and Kelley break up.

 

Tobin calls her four times a day for a week after that, begging her to pick up her phone.

 

Alex can’t bring herself to do it.

 

She listens to Tobin’s messages on repeat at night when she can’t sleep.

 

She stops sleeping.

 

- - -

 

The Orlando Pride have a rough season, and World Cup prep takes a bad turn when Alex twists her knee. She loses her first touch, and spends two months battling to get it back, only to turn her ankle and end up in a boot for six weeks.

 

Tobin moves to Portland and starts coaching soccer there. Her D3 team wins their division championship, and it’s all over her instagram for a week straight.

 

Tobin’s proud of her kids, and Alex can’t help but be proud of Tobin.

 

She tells her as much in a short text message.

 

T: Haha thanks Al. Would be cool if you could make it out and maybe kick the ball around with them for a bit? They don’t believe me when I say I taught you everything you know.

 

A: I’ll see what I can do.

 

Alex doesn’t go.

 

- - -

 

They lose the World Cup to Germany on penalties.

 

Alex shoots for the deciding point.

 

She misses.

 

- - -

 

Tobin texts her the following night.

 

T: Still proud of my A.

 

- - -

 

The day of Tobin’s twenty-fifth birthday, Alex is an ocean apart from her in France.

 

She’s not the player she once was, and she’s trying desperately to get back her special touch. She’s starting to see less and less time with the national team, and at this point it’s all she has, so she’s been doing every and anything possible to keep her spot.

 

The time difference is a killer. Alex stays up late to text Tobin at the exact time she was born.

 

A: Here’s to twenty-five more. Love you.

 

T: Love you too.

 

T: For the next five hours.

 

T: After that, who knows?

 

T: ;)

 

She knows Tobin means nothing by it. It’s supposed to be funny.

 

It sits heavy with Alex all night.

 

- - -

 

Alex goes back to Orlando when her contract with PSG runs out.

 

They don’t renew her for another season. She hasn’t made enough of an impact.

 

Her first game back with Orlando, she breaks her ankle.

 

- - -

 

T: Heading my way soon?

 

T: Or should I come and see you?

 

T: I know I’m the one who kind of started this whole “let’s run in fear to the ends of the Earth to get away from each other” thing but it’s getting kind of old.

 

T: I’m getting kind of old.

 

- - -

 

It takes Tobin going on a date for Alex to finally get it together, to realize that if she doesn’t want to go through a Kelley 2.0 with Tobin—or lose Tobin completely—she better figure herself out.

 

It starts with her going to an open house. It’s a nice little place on a lake, two stories with a pool in the back and a dock in the front. It’s not the ocean, but it’s acceptable when the coast is a fifteen minute drive from where they’ll be.

 

From where we might be , Alex mentally corrects.

 

She sends Tobin a picture of the house from the garden.

 

A: Needs some roots.

 

T: Oh, and I’m going to put them there?

 

A: Well, you know how I feel about dirt.

 

T: Yes I do :p

 

A: Never send that emoji again.

 

T: :(

 

A: Better.

 

- - -

 

There’s a surf school in need of teachers at one of the local beaches that’s a twenty minute drive from the house.

 

Alex grabs an application.

 

Just in case.

 

- - -

 

She buys the house.

 

Again, just in case.

 

- - -

 

Her leg starts to feel better, and she gets back into training slowly but surely. She’s happy to have lost nearly none of her stamina, and her first touch comes back in a matter of weeks instead of months.

 

They start winning games again, and when the national team has a friendly against Brazil, Alex goes a full 90 and nets three goals and an assist.

 

Tokyo 2020 starts looking more and more promising.

 

- - -

 

She tells Tobin she’s bought the house in a quick phone call.

 

Tobin’s silent for all of five seconds.

 

“Does it have a garage?”

 

“What?”

 

“For our Corolla.”

 

Alex smiles so hard it hurts.

 

“Yeah. It does.”

 

- - -

 

T: Does it have a fenced yard?

 

A: Uh, around the garden I think? But that’s it. Why?

 

T: We’re gonna need a fenced yard.

 

A: For?

 

T: The puppy you’re getting me.

 

A: Excuse me?

 

T: I’m going to call it Nutmeg.

 

- - -

 

Alex is waiting outside when the Corolla miraculously drives up after going cross country, an exhausted Tobin inside.

 

“That was the worst,” She says as Alex pulls her into her arms, “Never do that. One out of ten stars. Very lonesome. Also, the cup holders are completely gon—.”

 

This time, when they kiss, it is perfect.

 

- - -

 

Tobin gets the job at the surf school, and it brings her a lot of joy almost immediately. She spends most of her time at their kitchen table drawing up newer and cooler lesson plans, letting Alex watch over her shoulder sometimes when she’s stuck on something, or just really proud of what she’s come up with.

 

Tobin’s really good with kids, Alex realizes.

 

It starts all sorts of thoughts flying around her brain. She forces herself to slow down. She still has the Olympics to focus on, and she and Tobin are still learning how to live with one another.

 

Alex had thought it would be a bit like when they were young, and she’s wrong.

 

It’s so much better.

 

There’s no parents, no curfew, no separate houses. They share the same space, the same room, the same bed.

 

Everyday Alex wakes up, Tobin is the first thing she reaches for.

 

Tobin always reaches back.

 

It’s a good start, Alex decides. One day, they’ll be ready for more, but for now it’s enough to just have Tobin’s constant presence.

 

They start small, and Alex wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

- - -

 

Tobin buys a tiny boat with her surfing money and uses it to surprise Alex for her birthday.

 

They fly around the lake for hours until the motor runs out of gas.

 

“That’s okay,” Tobin says quickly, hopping around, “I brought oars.”

 

She opens what she has professionally deemed “the oar holder box” and they both stare down into it and find it empty.

 

“I forgot the oars.”

 

- - -

 

They have to swim back to the house. Tobin’s quiet for the first half mile.

 

“It’s a pretty lake, isn’t it Alex?”

 

“Yup.”

 

“Not as pretty as you though.”

 

“Your ankle hurts, doesn’t it?”

 

Tobin falls silent again. Alex can barely keep the smile off her face when she hears Tobin’s laboured breathing beside her.

 

“Just to the next dock?” Tobin asks quietly, and Alex rolls her eyes but smiles when she turns and grabs ahold of Tobin, prepared to tow her the rest of the way.

 

- - -

 

Alex can’t keep the grin off her face the entire way back.

 

“I can feel you smiling,” Tobin huffs, irritation clear, “I’m sorry I’m not an Olympian, and that my ankles aren’t made out of steel. Happy?”

 

“Extremely.”

 

- - -

 

Their neighbor drives them out to the boat with a cannister of gas that will get them back. Tobin thanks the man profusely, promising it will never happen again.

 

“It most definitely will,” Alex says instead, and they both laugh as Tobin turns red.

 

- - -

 

“It was a good birthday, right?” Tobin asks her softly, after they’ve settled into bed.

 

“It was. But I have an idea on how you can make it better.”

 

Tobin presses the smile that forms into the skin of Alex’s thigh.

 

- - -

 

Tobin’s just about at her wits end with her ankle when modern medicine comes knocking.

 

She’s frustrated because her surfing school has started running competitions every Friday that there’s a good swell, and the stiffness of her joint keeps her from safely competing.

 

She goes to see a new Doctor in Orlando and he tells her he can take her 20% loss and turn it into a 10. Not enough mobility to play contact sports, but more than enough to swim and surf.

 

“I don’t know if I should do it,” Tobin tells her over Sunday breakfast through a mouthful of eggs, the day’s newspaper occupying almost the entirety of their tiny kitchen table.

 

It’s an arrangement Alex has learned to live with. Tobin lets her put her plate on the advertisements and the business sections, but nowhere else.

 

“Why shouldn’t you?” Alex asks, trying to read the upside down sports column that Tobin so eagerly hogs.

 

“Well, you’ve got your thing.”

 

Alex raises an amused eyebrow.

 

“The Olympics?”

 

“Yeah, that. We’re gone for a month and a half, and if I have it done when we come back I’ll have to take at least another two months away from work, and that means Joe will take over my classes, and Joe sucks.”

 

Alex rolls her eyes and stretches out her legs underneath the table to tangle with Tobin’s calves.

 

“I’m sure the kids will put up with Joe if it means they’ll be getting their favorite teacher back better than ever,” Alex supplies, and Tobin hums before eventually shrugging her shoulders.

 

“Yeah, but there’s still the Olympics. It’s just not a good time. I’ll tell him no.”

 

Alex purses her lips but otherwise accepts Tobin’s decision.

 

- - -

 

She rolls over in bed at one in the morning to prod Tobin awake.

 

“Hey you.”

 

Tobin lets out a cross between a groan and a growl as she snakes an arm around Alex’s waist and grabs the sharp edge of her hip before pulling her close.

 

“I better be awake for a good reason,” Tobin mumbles as she presses her face into the fabric that covers Alex’s stomach, her fingers pushing her shirt up she that she can have unhindered access to Alex’s skin.

 

Alex’s hands gently cover Tobin’s.

 

“I don’t think you should come with me to Tokyo.”

 

Alex watches through careful eyes as Tobin squints up at her, clearly confused.

 

It takes her a minute to collect her thoughts.

 

“Is this because my Japanese is so bad? Because I swear Alex, I’ve been reading that book you got me everyday, but you know how much I hate reading, and it’s just really hard when the letters make absolutely no sense—.”

 

Alex cuts her off with a kiss, and Tobin is complacent with the change.

 

“No, it’s not because of your Japanese.”

 

Tobin stops her pouting.

 

“I want you to have your leg back. I want you to be able to surf like you used to. It’ll make you happy. And that’s more important than you coming to watch me try and win a medal. It’s more important than anything.”

 

“What’s important now is that we stay together,” Tobin says instead, firmly, “I don’t like it when we’re apart. I’ve been away from you more than my fair share.”

 

“It’s different now. I’m coming back, Tobin. And you won’t even be going anywhere.”

 

Tobin bites her lip, and Alex kisses her until she frees it.

 

“Alright.”

 

“Really?”

 

“On one condition.”

 

Tobin’s hand is firm when it tilts Alex’s chin so that their eyes can meet.

 

“We’re getting married.”

 

- - -

 

Alex laughs, which is apparently not an appropriate response.

 

“Wait, really?”

 

Tobin’s lips don’t budge into even the tiniest of smiles.

 

“Seriously?”

 

“Deadly.”

 

Alex sits up in the bed.

 

“Well alright. We can go right now. Go get your coat.”

 

“Nope.”

 

Alex turns with a huff, arms crossed.

 

“No?”

 

Tobin rolls over onto her stomach and smiles pleasantly her way.

 

“I want a real proposal. And a real wedding. In California, with all our family and friends. On our beach.”

 

“We just left California,” Alex groans, flopping back down on the bed.

 

Tobin isn’t shy in sidling up to her. She curls her fingers into her shirt and tucks her chin against the dip of her stomach muscles.

 

“I get a wedding, or I get Tokyo. Your choice.”

 

Alex pulls Tobin up to her face by her chin, which she balances on her knuckles.

 

“You really want to get married now ?”

 

Tobin smiles into the kiss she gives her.

 

“I wanted to marry you when I was eighteen. If anything, this is long overdue.”

 

Alex sighs, takes a deep breath, and closes her eyes.

 

“Alright Mrs. Morgan. If that’s what you want.”

 

Tobin blinks sweetly up at her.

 

“Oh, and you’ll be taking my last name.”

 

Alex can’t but laugh.

 

“Mrs. Heath, then.”

 

- - -

 

The following week, Tobin comes home from an appointment with her doctor to find all the lights turned off in the house.

 

“Alex?”

 

She walks up the steps to their bedroom and finds a tiny black lab puppy sitting on the covers of their bed, a blue velvet box wrapped around a matching collar.

 

Nutmeg likes to cuddle. She’ll warm you up while I’m gone.

 

Tobin drags Alex from out of her hiding place—the closet—and peppers her with kisses while Nutmeg struggles reach their faces.

 

Eventually Alex grabs the box from her collar.

 

“Wanna get hitched?”

 

Tobin rolls her eyes and pecks her quickly before turning her attention back to the puppy.

 

“When you put it so eloquently, how can I say no?”

 

She holds perfectly still while Alex slides the ring onto her finger.

 

- - -

 

They get married on their beach.

 

It’s a small, intimate affair, which contains only their family, friends, and Alex’s senior national teammates.

 

Kelley comes too, with her new girlfriend. She talks to Tobin for a long time, but eventually ends up in front of Alex.

 

“I guess you finally found your home, huh?” Kelley asks her, and at first Alex shrinks into herself a little, but there’s no ill will in Kelley’s gaze when she meets her eye.

 

“Yeah,” She agrees softly, her gaze drifting to Tobin, “I did.”

 

Kelley squeezes her hand tightly.

 

“Congratulations.”

 

- - -

 

They finally make it down the aisle to each other.

 

Alex can’t help the way she trembles. She’s nervous, but in a good way.

 

Tobin’s smile is blinding.

 

“You look beautiful.”

 

Alex tries to smile back, but she looks at Tobin and only feels hot, wet tears start to swell up along the waterline of her eyes.

 

“My heart’s beating really fast,” She tells her quietly.

 

Tobin’s gentle when she takes her hand and hugs it to her chest.

 

“Mine too.”

 

- - -

 

The engravings on the rings are simple.

 

A, Tobin’s reads along the inside of the gold band.

 

T, Alex’s corresponds.

 

- - -

 

It’s a quick honeymoon.

 

They eat a lot of McDonald’s, wrappers littering the floor of the Nissan they had rented for the drive back west, because Tobin wasn’t flying her puppy there, and in no way, shape or form was the Corolla going to make it back in one piece.

 

They spend almost all of their time surfing, because once Alex reveals her wedding gift to be a brand new board for Tobin, there’s no keeping her out of the water.

 

Nutmeg watches from the shallows, eagerly bounding to their sides when the waves carry them in, tail wagging a mile a minute.

 

“Do you miss it here?” Alex asks her as they wait for a good wave, her gaze concentrated on the small gold band Tobin wears proudly alongside her engagement ring.

 

She’s quick to shake her head.

 

“I’ve never missed it here,” Tobin says lightly, her eyes fixing on the horizon as she searches for the perfect wave.

 

“I’ve only ever missed you.”

 

- - -

 

Tobin’s surgery goes really well. The doctor calls it some of his best work, and promises her that she’ll be surfing like a pro in no time.

 

Tobin just grumbles a lot, because they gave her the wrong shade of blue for her cast.

 

- - -

 

When Alex finally goes to the Olympics, she’s wearing a new name on her back.

 

Tobin strokes her fingers over the sample jersey that Alex brings home with her once she finds out, paying special attention to the five letters that now make up her last name.

 

“Heath, thirteen,” Tobin says slowly, trying out the words on her tongue.

 

She smiles wide at Alex when she comes closer for a kiss.

 

“And don’t you dare forget it.”

 

- - -

 

It’s a surprisingly painful morning the day Alex wakes up and has to leave for Tokyo.

 

She’s not quick to get out of bed. She lays for longer than she should, taking careful note of Tobin’s lounging form.

 

She’s completely spread out on her side of the bed, blanket tangled around her legs, as far away from Alex as she can physically get without falling off the mattress, because their air conditioner is less than reliable and the heat of the Orlando summer is no myth.

 

She’s got Nutmeg sleeping by her bad ankle, tucked away just underneath the start of her cast, little tail wagging as she dreams, tiny whiskers twitching.

 

She grabs her phone off the bedside table and snaps a picture before posting it to instagram.

 

It’s as good a way to announce her love—and marriage—as any.

 

alexmorgan: @tobinheath I play for you <3.

 

- - -

 

The final game comes down to penalties.

 

It’s Alex, once again, who takes the deciding shot.

 

She makes it effortlessly.

 

They win.

 

Alex kisses the white tape she wears around her left ring finger for all to see.

 

- - -

 

Tobin sends her a picture of Nutmeg in front of the TV screen, Alex’s face on display, gold medal around her neck.

 

She’s somehow managed to squeeze Nutmeg into one of Alex’s old jerseys from her first World Cup.

 

T: N can’t wait to have that medal around her neck.

 

T: Was gonna go get her a new chew toy today, but I guess I won’t have to now.

 

Alex rolls her eyes even as her lips part in a wide smile.

 

A: Ha. Ha.

 

A: You dressed her like she’s our baby or something.

 

Even oceans apart, Alex can picture Tobin’s offended face.

 

T: She is!!!!!!

 

Alex is about to set her phone down when another text comes in.

 

T: At least until you give me a real one.

 

- - -

 

Tobin’s ankle is almost good as new when they finish rehabbing it.

 

Alex never sees happier days than those first few when Tobin gets to go back to work.

 

She likes to tag along sometimes and watch Tobin teach the kids while she walks Nutmeg up and down the beach.

 

Just to get some ideas, of course.

 

- - -

 

Tobin starts surfing competitively.

 

She’s better than Alex has ever seen her.

 

They bounce around the east coast until Tobin wins her first regional championship.

 

Tobin jokingly drapes the gold she wins around her neck in a McDonald’s parking lot while she holds a wrapper out for Nutmeg to lick.

 

The feeling Alex gets from wearing that tiny medal is a thousand times better than any other.

 

- - -

 

“We really have to stop eating McDonald’s.”

 

“It’s too late now. Just accept it. And pass me another nugget.”

 

“With or without sauce?”

 

“With. Duh.”

 

- - -

 

Alex gets an endorsement from McDonald’s.

 

Tobin laughs her ass off until the free coupons start showing up in the mailbox.

 

“Maybe if we name our firstborn Donald they’ll up all these half off quarter pounders to Big Macs,” Tobin suggests over breakfast.

 

“Hey, no hitting Al—Nutmeg, help!”

 

- - -

 

Tobin’s twenty-sixth birthday is a quiet affair.

 

They’ve just come back from a day in the water, and Tobin’s hair is still drying when Alex sits next to her at the edge of their dock, the heels of their feet just barely brushing the top of the water.

 

Nutmeg pads out to sit on Alex’s side, pressing her wet nose into Alex’s leg before laying quietly next to her.

 

The setting sun turns the lake orange.

 

“Happy birthday babe,” Alex tells her, pressing a kiss to her lips and a glass of red wine into her hand.

 

“Mmm. It is,” Tobin agrees somewhat tiredly as she sips the wine and turns to rest her head on Alex’s shoulder.

 

Alex is quick to wrap her arm around her and pull her closer.

 

“So I have your present,” She starts, watching as Tobin sits up a little and blinks sleepy, curious eyes at her, and then into the empty space around them.

 

“Where is it?” Tobin asks through a yawn, setting her wine glass down, and Alex smiles and reaches carefully for her hand before pressing it up against her flat stomach.

 

She laces their fingers together as she watches Tobin’s eyes widen, and she straightens, suddenly very awake.

 

“You’ll have to be patient,” Alex says softly, her fingers tightening over Tobin’s, “Because they’ll take nine months to get here.”

 

Alex swears she’ll remember the tiny gasp that escapes Tobin’s lips until the day she dies, and maybe even after.

 

- - -

 

“Tobin?” She whispers into brown hair later when they’re in their bed, Tobin lying on top of her, eyes closed and lashes brushing Alex’s collarbone, clearly spent.

 

“Mm?” Tobin mumbles lazily, pressing a slow kiss to the hollow of Alex’s throat.

 

“Will you still love me when you’re twenty-seven?”

 

Tobin stills against her, and then raises herself up onto her elbows.

 

Her brown eyes burn when Alex looks at her.

 

“Until I’m 127,” Tobin nods.

 

“And then?”

 

“For 127 more.”

 

“And after that?”

 

Tobin’s quiet when she kisses her.

 

“For as long as I can.”

 

- - -

 

They have a boy.

 

They don’t name him Donald.

 

(The coupons, much to Tobin’s great relief, still keep coming)

 

- End -