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“Who’s that sitting next to Amy?”

 

Tobin doesn't need to look up from the ball at her feet to know who Kelley’s talking about. She's been fighting with herself to not stare at Christen all through warm ups. She even went as far as to turn her back towards the stands while she and Kelley kicked the ball back and forth so she wouldn't be tempted to look up into the stands.

 

She'd been absolutely giddy when Amy texted her to say Christen and Nata were coming to the game. It had only been a few days since she last saw the girl, but already she couldn't wait to see her again.

 

Tobin doesn't understand.

 

She's lusted after girls before, of course. She loves girls playing hard to get because it just makes her try that much harder. She loves the chase because it makes the reward that much sweeter.

 

But Christen’s different.

 

She doesn't seem like the type to play hard to get or play games at all.

 

Tobin knows it's stupid. She's probably reaching thinking that Christen’s interested in her at all. She's a settled, mature single mother. Tobin’s a mildly immature, aimless wanderer who runs at the idea of commitment.

 

They simply don't match.

 

That doesn't mean Tobin can't try.

 

“Does she have something to do with you sinking every rocket upper 90 shot you took a few minutes ago? You've never been that consistent.” Kelley’s grin gives way to how much she's already figured Tobin out.

 

Tobin and Kelley knew each other growing up through youth national teams, but they were never super close. Then Kelley got traded to LAFC before Tobin’s second season to replace an injured Lauren. Tobin and Kelley have been thick as thieves ever since. Kelley latched onto Tobin right away and didn't really give Tobin a choice of whether they were going to be friends or not. Tobin never minded. Kelley’s hilarious and witty and fiercely loyal.

 

Kelley can read Tobin like the slow speed teleprompters they use when filming promo spots for the team. Tobin can't hide a thing from her, not even a small crush.

 

“She's just a friend of Amy’s.” Tobin dismisses Kelley with a wave of her hand and kicks the ball back towards her.

 

That was a mistake because Kelley traps the ball under her foot and doesn't kick it back. She stands with her hands on her hips and squints at Tobin in the early evening California sunset.

 

Just Amy’s friend?” She asks. “If that's true, then I guess you won't mind if I go introduce myself.”

 

Kelley moves to step around Tobin, but she quickly blocks her path.

 

“Just...just don't, all right?”

 

“Tell me who she is and I won't,” Kelley bargains, kicking the ball up to juggle after their assistant coach sends them a glare for talking more than warming up. She boots the ball high up in the air, but Tobin easily traps it against her chest on the way back down and kicks it back.

 

“She really is a friend of Amy’s. Her son and Ryan go to school together.”

 

“Then how come you're avoiding looking at her and showing off?”

 

“Have you seen her?”

 

“Yeah, she's fine as hell, but since when has a hot girl made you act like a fool?”

 

Tobin’s squirming under Kelley’s line of questioning, so she tries to get the attention off herself. “Does Emily know you look at other girls so much?”

 

Kelley rolls her eyes and knees the ball directly at Tobin’s stomach. “Please, have you seen her?” Kelley repeats Tobin’s earlier question with a smirk. “Emily would be acting like an even bigger fool than you and I wouldn't even blame her. Don't worry about my girlfriend, worry about yours.”

 

“She is not my girlfriend,” Tobin hisses, but Kelley doesn't miss the blush in her cheeks.

 

“Maybe not, but you want her to be.”

 

Thankfully, their coach blows her whistle to call them back to the locker room to suit up for the game and Tobin knows Kelley will drop her teasing and start focusing on winning and continuing to stay high in the table.

 

But not without one last jab, apparently.

 

“Go win this one for your girl, yeah?”

 

Kelley taps Tobin’s ass as she jogs past her towards the locker room, shooting her a grin over her shoulder.

 

“She's not my girl,” Tobin grumbles.

 

She looks up in the stands just before she disappears into the tunnel and sees Christen smiling down at her. She's in a black tanktop and has her hair tied up in a bun. Way too much skin is exposed and shining in the sunlight and Tobin promises herself right then she won’t look in the stands once during the game because she knows seeing Christen would distract her completely.

 

Tobin takes one last look at Christen, giving her a matching smile, and swallows hard when Christen gives her the most adorable little wave.

 

“She’s not,” she repeats, more for herself this time than Kelley.

xxx

They beat Houston 4-0.

 

Tobin scores one and assists two more.

 

Kelley tells her to stop showing off for her girl.

 

Tobin tries to deny that’s what she’s doing, but she can't.

xxx

“Toby! You won!”

 

Ryan’s jumping up and down, waving his arms wildly in the air as Tobin approaches the stands where they’re waiting. She’d drawn her time out, signing for a bit and talking to coaches longer than she usually does. She wanted to settle her heart rate before she went around Christen because she knew it would just speed up again.

 

She hates being so fragile around her.

 

She’s never like this.

 

“I scored that goal for you, buddy!” She reaches up and he launches himself over the fence like he always does.

 

“Ryan! Be careful!” Amy chastises even though she knows fully well Tobin would never let him get hurt.

 

“I wanna score goals like that one day,” Ryan tells her.

 

“How about you go score goals like that right now?” She sets him down on the ground and he immediately takes off towards one of the goals. Tobin turns back to the stands and looks up at Nata. “You want to come with us Nata?”

 

The little boy looks up at his mom, silently asking permission.

 

“Are you sure it’s all right?” Christen asks warily, fingers running through his thick, black hair.

 

“Totally, Ryan does every game.” Tobin extends her arms up towards Nata and says, “come on, dude. It’s cool, I promise.”

 

He hesitates, but then Ryan calls after him as he runs off after Kelley and Nata’s eyes light up. He climbs over the fence far more gingerly than Ryan did, letting Christen help him over the edge with steady hands and guide him into Tobin’s arms.

 

Christen’s fingertips might brush against Tobin’s forearm.

 

Tobin might start to turn red.

 

Tobin might be grateful she just played a full 90 and so her flushed face is somewhat acceptable.

 

Christen might smirk at her like she knows that’s not all it is.

 

Tobin would deny all of it if ever asked.

 

“Stay with Tobin, okay Natanael? Don’t go running off,” Christen warns.

 

“I won’t Mama!” Just as further proof that he won’t disobey his mother, he reaches up and takes Tobin’s hand in his, pulling her along as he starts walking in Ryan’s direction, eager and excited now that he’s actually on the field.

 

“I’ve got him, I promise, Christen.” She can see the parental worry in her eyes and she wants Christen to know she can trust her even if she doesn’t know her that well yet.

 

Tobin grins up at the girl and she smiles right back.

 

Tobin swears she’ll never get used to that smile.

xxx

“You mean I get to keep this?”

 

Nat’s eyes are as big as the soccer ball he holds in his hands as he looks up at Tobin. She was able to snag two of the game balls, one for each Nata and Ryan (even though Ryan has enough to last him the rest of his life, but she didn’t want him feeling left out.)

 

“Yeah, dude. That’s all for you.”

 

“Is this the one you scored your goal with?”

 

“It might be. Why don’t you and Ryan go score some goals with it? I’m sure those will be better than any goal I could ever score.”

 

“Okay, come on Ry!”

 

The two boys run from the sidelines over to the goal with far more energy than Tobin could ever hope to muster after such a draining game. She’s grinning as she watches them go, remembering when she was that age, just a goofy kid in love with the first soccer ball her dad ever gave her.

 

That’s how Kelley finds her when she walks over.

 

“Not only are you all heart eyes for the mom, but you’re heart eyes for the kid too? You’ve got it bad, man.”

 

“Shut up,” Tobin says with a roll of her eyes. She tries to be unaffected by the teasing, but she knows her friend has a point. “He’s a cool kid, okay?”

 

“I’m sure he is.” Kelley plops down on the ground at Tobin’s feet and stretches a thigh across her body, working out her hamstrings. “So what did your girl say when you told her you scored that bomb of a goal for her? Was she so flattered? Did she kiss you as thanks? Did she beg you to love her forever?”

 

“You’re a dick.”

 

“Look me in the eye and tell me you aren’t into her and I’ll drop it,” Kelley challenges. She knows Tobin well enough to know she can’t.

 

“I don’t even know her, okay? Is she cute? Yeah. Would I like to get to know her more? Yeah. Do I think that’s actually going to happen? Probably not.”

 

Tobin looks back over at the boys playing, laughing and taking turns shooting at goal. One of the rookies, a nineteen-year-old prodigy named Mallory, has joined them. She’s pretending to stand them up when they challenge her and letting them steal the ball away from her with ease and they’re eating it right up.

 

Tobin makes a mental note to thank her for that later.

 

“Why don’t you think it’ll happen?” Kelley’s voice brings her focus away from the boys and back to her currently annoying friend.

 

“She’s a single mom and an editor for World Now, she doesn’t have time for me, I’m sure.” She sits down across from Kelley and unlaces her cleats, wondering why she hasn’t taken them off long ago. That’s usually the first this she does after games, but she’s admittedly been a little distracted tonight.

 

“Wait, the travel magazine World Now? For real?”

 

“Yeah, she used to be a writer, but she got promoted to editor shortly after she adopted Nata.”

 

“That’s fucking awesome. Do you think she can introduce me to Brianna Cope? They just did that article on her last issue. Maybe she can take us with her on her next surf trip.” Kelley’s eager smile turns downright conniving as she looks behind Tobin’s shoulder and sits up like she was electrocuted. “Or I can just ask her myself.”

 

Tobin turns to see Amy and Christen walking over from the sidelines. She hadn’t prepared for this. She’s more nervous than she’s ever been on this pitch in her entire life. For the past seven seasons, this field has been her safe place. It doesn’t matter what she has going on in her personal life, it doesn’t matter what team is across the pitch from her. This is her field and this is where she’s most comfortable out of anywhere in the world.

 

Christen brings butterflies with her, though.

 

“What’s up, A-Rod?” Kelley stands and wraps her arms around Amy tightly. “I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever, how are you?”

 

“You just saw me at the game two weeks ago,” Amy points out with a laugh.

 

“Two weeks is way too long for me to go without seeing your pretty face,” Kelley coos as she pinches Amy’s cheeks. “Speaking of pretty faces, who’s your friend?”

 

Tobin’s going to kill Kelley.

 

“Kell, this is Christen. Her son goes to school with Ryan.”

 

“Nice to meet you Christen, I’m Kelley. I’m Tobin’s far more attractive and far more talented teammate. I let her show off tonight, but trust me, I’m better.”

 

Tobin can’t tell for sure, but she’s pretty sure Kelley winks.

 

Yeah, she’s definitely going to kill her.

 

“Well I know absolutely nothing about soccer, so you both seem pretty amazing to me,” Christen laughs.

 

“Aww, did you hear that, Tobs? She thinks we’re amazing.” Kelley spins around with the most obnoxious grin on her face and it takes every ounce of strength Tobin has not to pull a face and tell her to fuck off.

 

Luckily, Amy’s quick to rescue her as she so often is.

 

“Kell, come help me take on the boys. Maybe I’ll actually be able to win with you on my side.” Amy tugs on Kelley’s arm and leads her off in the direction of Ryan and Nata.

 

“I’m sure she’s good enough to win on her own. Wasn’t she like first round draft pick or whatever that means?” Christen asks once they’re out of earshot.

 

“Yup. One pick above me and she’ll never let me live it down.”

 

Tobin runs a nervous hand over the back of her neck. She’s appreciative Amy got Kelley far away from Christen and even more appreciative that she gets to spend more time with Christen, but her nerves are ramping up with each passing second and she’s praying she doesn’t embarrass herself too badly.

 

“Thanks for inviting us tonight, Nata really had a lot of fun,” Christen says. “I put him in soccer because that just seems to be the thing parents do, but it seems like he really enjoys it, especially after tonight.”

 

Christen’s eyes are more gray than they are green under the harsh stadium lights. There are little flicks of gold around her pupils that Tobin hadn’t noticed before. She’s honestly so beautiful that Tobin still isn’t able to wrap her brain around it.

 

“And did you?” Tobin asks.

 

Christen’s eyebrows knit together in confusion. “Did I what?”

 

“You said Nata had fun,” Tobin explains, “but did you have fun too?”

 

She doesn’t know what she’s hoping to accomplish with that question, doesn’t know where she’ll takes things after Christen answers, but she just needs to know. If she hated it, then Tobin pretty much has her answer about any potential there might be between them. Tobin is too obsessed with soccer to likely ever be with someone who has zero interest in it, as petty as that may seem. But if she liked it, then maybe Tobin will be able to make something work out between them.

 

“I really did!” Christen says with an excited grin. “I felt so bad annoying Amy with questions every other minute, but it was really a lot of fun. You were kind of ridiculous out here.”

 

“Good ridiculous?”

 

“Definitely good,” Christen confirms with a smirk.

 

‘She’s flirting, right? Maybe it’s subtle, but it’s happening isn’t it?’

 

Tobin swallows her nerves and puts herself out on the line. “Would you want to go to dinner?”

 

“What?” Christen isn’t good at hiding her surprise.

 

“With Amy, Ryan and me,” Tobin rushes to recover. “We go out for dinner after most games. Would you and Nata want to come with us?”

 

Tobin knows Amy wouldn’t mind if they tagged along and Ryan certainly wouldn’t mind getting to spend more time with his friend. Tobin doesn’t know what she expects to come out of this thing with Christen--can she even call it a ‘thing?’ There’s not really anything at all happening--but she does know she wants to keep spending time with her.

 

“Oh, I’d love to, but we’re actually heading to my parents’ home in Palos Verde tonight. My cousin is getting married on Sunday, so we’re spending the weekend there.”

 

She sounds disappointed as she says this and Tobin finds confidence in that. It means she’s not just saying she’d ‘love to’ as a way of making Tobin feel better for being turned down. It means she really does mean what she’s saying and that’s good enough for Tobin. It gives her hope that maybe this isn’t a lost cause afterwards.

 

“Some other time, though?” Christen asks with a hopeful smile.

 

“I’m going to hold you to that.”

 

“I plan on it.”

xxx

At dinner, Tobin’s surprised Amy takes as long as she does to ask about Christen. It isn’t until they’ve ordered their pizza (Ryan got to choose the restaurant) and Kelley’s dragged Ryan away from the table to play arcade games (Kelley may have had some input in the location choice) that Amy brings her up.

 

“Christen really had fun tonight,” Amy tells Tobin like she doesn’t already know. “She was kinda lost a lot of the time, but she was really getting into it.”

 

“Yeah, that’s what she said,” Tobin responds casually, taking as long of a sip of ice water as she can before she starts to feel a brain freeze coming on. She considers to just keep on drinking and let the numbing get worse so that the pain will distract her from Amy’s inevitable line of questioning. It would probably be more enjoyable.

 

“She’s pretty great, right? I’m glad Ryan and Nata are such good friends because it means I get to hang out with her more. It’s so much fun to listen to her talk about all her travels.” She’s trying to be subtle, but it’s not working. She’s slowly working herself up to asking what she really wants to, prying a little at a time in hopes that Tobin will just tell her what she wants to know without having to actually ask.

 

Tobin’s well aware of Amy’s methods, though. She’s dealt with them enough over the years to not be caught off guard. She isn’t going to make this easy on her friend.

 

“I haven’t really talked to her much,” Tobin dismisses. She picks up her phone and starts scrolling through the ESPN app, checking MLS scores, but not really remembering any of them. She’s just trying to act like this isn’t bothering her as much as it is.

 

“Well you should,” Amy tells her, carrying right on like she doesn’t know damn well how uncomfortable Tobin is. “I think you guys would get along really well.” She lets the observation hang there for a few moments, waiting for Tobin to bite. When she doesn’t, she continues. “She seems to think you’re pretty great.”

 

That gets Tobin’s attention.

 

She switches her phone off and pushes it to the side so she isn’t tempted. Her eyes scan over Amy’s face, trying to tell if she’s just baiting her or if Christen really did seem interested in her.

 

“What makes you say that?” Tobin asks eventually, not able to get a clear read.

 

Amy shrugs, now trying to play the whole thing off like it’s much more casual than she was making it out to be just moments ago. “Just a feeling. She kept saying how great it was of you to get them tickets and she liked how good you were with Nat.”

 

“She said that?” Tobin grins, knowing she’s falling right into Amy’s trap, but too eager to be able to help herself.

 

“Maybe,” Amy shrugs again, “what do you care?”

 

“I--I don’t, you just said she did, so I was wondering if it actually happened.” She’s trying to play it cool, be nonchalant about the whole thing, but the damage has already been done by her overeagerness at her last question.

 

“Do you have a thing for Christen?” Amy asks her outright, bored with trying to get Tobin to admit it on her own.

 

Tobin nearly chokes on her water at the sudden question. “Why would you ask me that?” She sputters out.

 

“Why are you avoiding the question?” Amy challenges.

 

“No, I don’t have a thing for her. I barely know her.” She said the same words to Kelley earlier, but they feel like they have less power behind them when she says them to Amy.

 

“Since when has the length of time you’ve known a girl ever affected you being able to like them or not? In college I used to watch you pick girls up in bars after knowing them for a few minutes.”

 

“Christen isn’t just some tipsy college girl in a skeevy bar,” Tobin explains, feeling the need to defend this girl she claims to barely know. She knows it wasn’t Amy’s intention, but she doesn’t like her comparing Christen to the girls she fooled around with in college.

 

Christen’s so much better than all those girls.

 

“I know she’s not,” Amy says softly, understanding that she upset Tobin with her poor reference. “I just meant that you’ve never let something like how long you’ve known someone stop you from pursuing them before, that’s all.”

 

“Christen’s different.”

 

It’s only two simple words, but they seem to convey Tobin’s meaning perfectly. Christen isn’t just some other girl like all the ones Tobin’s been with before and Amy seems to understand this by the way she leans back in the booth and lets Tobin off the hook.

 

Or at least Tobin thought she let her off the hook.

 

“Just be careful, all right, Tobs?”

 

Tobin cocks her head curiously and leans forward on the table. “Are you saying that in Christen’s defense, or in mine?”

 

There’s something about the weight in Amy’s words, the tone she uses, that makes Tobin think she’s looking out more for Christen--someone she’s only known for a year or so--than she is Tobin--someone she’s known for over a decade.

 

Amy lets out an exasperated sigh and crosses her arms across her chest, steeling herself for Tobin’s annoyance. “Both. You’re my best friend, Tobin. You’re practically like my sister, but Christen is my friend too. I don’t want to see either of you end up hurt.”

 

“You think I’m going to hurt her,” Tobin accuses.

 

“I didn’t say that.”

 

“You didn’t have to,” Tobin scoffs. “It’s great to know you think so little of me.”

 

“Don’t you dare put words in my mouth,” Amy snaps. She leans forward on the table so she can speak low, but her words are coming through clenched teeth. “I think so highly of you, Tobin, how dare you accuse me otherwise. I have more faith in you than I have in most people. I trust you with my life, with my sons’ lives. You’re one of the best people I’ve ever met and I love you so much, but I also know your track record when it comes to dating. I’m not saying you aren’t capable of having a mature relationship, because I think deep down you are, but I am saying I want you to really think about this before you pursue anything with Christen. You’ve never dated someone like her before and I just want you to consider that carefully before you do anything. It isn’t just the two of you, there’s a kid involved and that makes everything more complicated.”

 

Tobin lets Amy’s words sink in, knowing as much as she’s annoyed for being called out, her friend is right. Not only is Christen herself different from anyone Tobin’s ever been with before, but she’s also part of a package deal. If Tobin wants Christen, she also gets Nata and that’s something Tobin needs to figure out if she’s prepared for or not before she pursues anything.

 

“Sorry I pissed you off,” Tobin mumbles eventually, feeling the same way she did when she was a child and her mom yelled at her for not letting Jeff play with her toys. She maybe feels worse even because Tobin knows how hard it is to upset Amy to the point she has to actively control the volume of her voice.

 

“You didn’t piss me off.” Amy’s voice is back to its usual softness as she reaches across the table and takes Tobin’s hand in hers. “I’ve never been lacking in faith for you, I just need you to have faith in yourself once in awhile, yeah?”

 

“I’ll do my best,” Tobin scoffs, smiling wryly. “I don’t think anyone can ever be as optimistic as you, though, so don’t expect too much out of me.”

 

Amy squeezes Tobin’s hand once and then lets it go. “Back to my original point of bringing this all up in the first place, I think you and Christen would be really good for each other, it’s just something I want you to take seriously if you pursue anything, okay?”

 

“Who says I want to pursue anything with her?”

 

Amy rolls her eyes at Tobin becoming defensive again, but she doesn’t let herself get pulled back into an unnecessary argument. She reaches for Tobin’s phone and snatches it away before Tobin’s able to react quickly enough to stop her.

 

“You don’t even know my pass--”

 

Amy cuts Tobin off by entering the four digit code correctly on the first try. “1717? Not very original. You better hope this never falls into the wrong hands or else you’re screwed.”

 

“I’m pretty sure it did just fall into the wrong hands,” Tobin grumbles, but she doesn’t try to fight with Amy, knowing she was always quicker than she was.

 

“Relax, I’m not doing anything bad, I’m just giving you Christen’s number.” She pulls up Christen’s contact in her own phone and types in the number before she switches the phone off and slides it back across the table to Tobin. “Use the number or don’t, but please just be sure to think about it before you decide, okay? All I want is for you to be happy.”

 

“Okay, mom,” Tobin says with an eye roll, but she knows Amy knows how much she truly appreciates how much she looks out for her.

 

“Ew,” Amy wrinkles her nose, “don’t call me mom. Lauren’s mom. I’m the cool aunt who always spoils you on your birthday and lets you do all the things your mom won’t.”

 

“So basically you’re me with Ryan?”

 

Amy’s quiet for a moment, realizing she backed herself into this corner. “I’m you, but cooler,” Amy finally says lamely, not able to come up with a better comeback.

 

Kelley and Ryan get back then, both breathless as Kelley accuses Ryan of cheating and Ryan swears to Amy that he did no such thing. Their food shows up a couple minutes after that and they all go quiet as they eat until Tobin starts to steal some of the pepperonis off Ryan’s pizza until he starts laughing.

 

Amy doesn’t mention Christen again the rest of the night. Aside from a knowing look after they hug goodbye, reminding Tobin to think about what she said, Amy lets her off the hook for now, silently agreeing to let her figure it out on her own.

 

Once Tobin’s back home and in bed, she opens a new message and types in Christen’s name until the contact Amy put in her phone pops up. She taps out at least twenty messages, but they all end up deleted. They’re all just some similar variation of each other, thanking her for coming to the game and saying how she hopes to see her again sometime.

 

All the messages sound wrong, though, and she can’t bring herself to hit send on any of them.

 

Eventually, she just erases the message all together and turns her phone off, setting it on the nightstand to charge.

 

She doesn’t know why she’s stressing about this so much, but she suspects it has something to do with what Amy said to her. Sure, she got defensive about Amy calling out her dating history, but she knows she isn’t wrong. She doesn’t have the best track record. She’s known for sleeping with a girl once, maybe a couple times more if they’re really good, and then she moves on. Nothing has ever stuck for her and she’s never really made much effort to make anything work.

 

She knows Amy is just looking out for her, and Christen too, so she decides to take her advice to heart and do what she says.

 

She’ll think about it.

 

She’ll take it all seriously and think about whether she’s actually interested in Christen or if she’s just a pretty face that distracted her for a while. Once she figures that out, then she’ll decide to text her or not.

 

Tobin has a feeling she’ll be texting her sometime soon.