“Okay everyone, we have time for one more question,” Sky Blue's press officer, Andy, says to the room packed full of reporters.
Everyone has been trying to catch a quote from Tobin today. This is the second press conference they've done because there were so many reporters that showed up they couldn't all fit in the room they'd set up. Turns out people were more excited about Tobin coming to New Jersey than anyone had even realized.
Tobin would usually hate talking so much, especially talking about herself, but every question has just made her more and more excited for the season to start. She can't wait for her first official game in two days.
It's been a whirlwind day and a half since she landed in Jersey.
As soon as she stepped off the plane Wednesday, she was driven right to the stadium for a couple photo opportunities before the game against Colorado kicked off. Despite Sky Blue struggling most of this season, they managed to hold the third ranked team in the western conference to a 1-1 draw, the excitement and attention surrounding the team due to Tobin's arrival spurring them on to play harder anyone expected.
Wednesday night she had dinner at Heather's house with a couple teammates and then she went to her new apartment to unpack the few things she brought to get her through until her dad gets here and crash earlier.
This morning she was slammed with physical evaluations, fitness testing and then her first training with the team, autograph signing for team merch to raffle off at the next game, more photo opportunities, meetings with the coaching staff about their hopes and expectations for the rest of the season, and now two press conferences back to back.
She's exhausted, but she's so blown away by the passion she's seen from all the fans and staff and even her own teammates, that she barely recognizes how tired she is. She just can't wait to get the opportunity to Express her gratitude properly for her new team by lighting up Orlando on Saturday.
“Yes, you in the blue polo,” Andy says as he points to a reporter in the middle on the room.
“Hi, Elise Jacobs, NBC Sports,” she introduces herself. “Thank you for the opportunity. We've all spoken a lot today about your feeling towards New Jersey and your hopes for the future with this team, but we haven't discussed your feelings towards LAWFC. Like all of us, I'm sure you were shocked to hear the news of your trade. Could you explain a little about how you took that news?”
Tobin really thought she was going to get out of this without a question like this, but of course she couldn't be that lucky. Andy shoots her a mildly concerned look that she sees out of the corner of her eye, but she doesn't acknowledge it so that he knows she's okay with the question.
“Thank you for such an easy question to unpack,” she laughs, earning a chuckle from around the room as well. “I think you described it best by saying it was a shock. I wasn't informed in any way about this trade until it had already been complete. It was definitely a surprise and it hurt after all I've given to LA. Not only am I leaving some really wonderful teammates behind, but also I'm having to take a step back from the life I built in LA, which has been incredibly difficult. But what's helped me so much through this is how endlessly welcoming everyone at Sky Blue has been. I have absolutely no doubt I'm now at a club that appreciates and respects me the way I've always wanted to be. I'm grateful for the opportunity Sky Blue has given me and that they're willing to sacrifice just as much for me as I am for them. I'm just gunning to get out on that field and show this organization and all the fans how happy I am to be here.”
As expected, several more reporters shoot their hands up and try to get in just one more question, but Andy dismisses them all and then directs Tobin out of the room.
“You all right?” Andy asks as he drops the hand from between her shoulder blades now that he's steered her out of the madhouse.
“Yeah, I'm good,” Tobin tells him without hesitation.
She knows there's a lot going on, fighting for attention at the back of her mind, but she'll deal with that later. For now, she's not giving it any attention. She meant what she said, she's happy to be here and she's grateful for this club. That's all that matters right now.
“Well, that was the last thing on our agenda for the day, so you're free to go. Just light training tomorrow afternoon, but until then you're good to do whatever with your time. If I were you I'd probably go knock out for a while after all this craziness,” he jokes.
“Yeah, that doesn't sound like a half bad idea,” she laughs. “I'll see you tomorrow, Andy.”
He waves his goodbye and then heads off towards his office and leaves Tobin going in the opposite direction towards the locker room to collect her bag.
The locker room at her new training facility is nice, Sky Blue got a major upgrade when they were purchased by the New York Red Bulls, but it's so different from the one she's used to.
For starters, everything at LAFC was black and deep gold, dark colors that always made the locker room feel more compact than it actually was. This locker room is completely different with its white walls and stripes of red and yellow around the walls, accompanied by newer stripes of blue and orange. The lockers are all red, breaking up the white walls even more, which makes the place look much less clinical than it would otherwise. It's not quite as nice as LAFC's training facilities considering New York isn't quite as wealthy of a club, but there's a totally different atmosphere that makes Tobin feel way more at ease than she ever did in LA.
She never even realized something felt off about LA until she stepped foot in here.
She's still adjusting, but she knows one day soon this will feel like home.
She changes out of her team gear and packs all her things into her new team issued Nike bag before heading out to the parking lot.
It's a quick drive back to her new apartment, in the opposite direction of the New York City. Some of her teammates live closer, or even in the city itself, but Tobin chose to stay outside at least until she transitions to the east coast again. She wanted a slower pace until she gets used to her new team and new home. Maybe one day she'll move closer to the city, but for now she's perfectly happy where she is.
Her apartment is a little bigger than her one in LA, but it's much less open so it almost feels smaller. She has two bedrooms now, wanting the extra for when Nata comes to visit with Christen. She has a small balcony, which is something she didn't have in LA. There isn't much by way of a view, but it was nice to sit out there this morning and sip her coffee while she read a bit and relaxed before the day.
She's around 40 minutes away from her mom's house, which she thinks is a good distance or else her mom would nearly suffocate her with attention. She loves her mom, but she can be a bit stifling when she's excited. Her sisters are about twenty minutes away in opposite directions and her brother is just 10 minutes down the same road she lives off. Heather is the closest teammate to her, just a couple streets over.
She's still adjusting, but overall she's really happy to be here and she knows she's going to be even happier once she gets settled.
When she pulls up to her complex, she notices the U-Haul parked near the steps that lead up to her apartment and she knows her dad is here. He left Monday night, wanting to get a good bit of distance covered before he needed to stop and get some rest. She can't believe he made the nearly 40 hour drive in less than 65 hours. She would've needed at least an extra day so she could take her time with stopping so as not to get too stir crazy.
She didn't think he would be getting in until later tonight, but she's grateful he made it safely (and she's also really grateful to now have all her stuff with her in Jersey).
When she gets up to her apartment she doesn't see her dad right away. She left a spare key with the front desk and told them her dad would be coming by so she knows he's here, she just isn't sure where.
“Dad?” She calls out as she sets all her things down in the foyer, stepping into her living room.
“Back here!” He responds from the direction of her room.
There are several boxes already stacked in her living room and even her couch, which she has no idea how he's already moved that upstairs. He had to have asked someone for help.
She heads back to her room and is confused when she sees her dad standing in the middle of her bed, going back and forth between staring at something on his phone and at the ceiling.
“What are you doing?” She asks him curiously.
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a bunch of little plastic glow in the dark stars and then shows her the picture of Ursa Major on his phone. “I was hoping to have this finished before you got home. Christen gave me these before I left and asked if I would put them up for you. She pointed them out at your apartment back in LA and said you really liked them.”
Tobin thinks she could cry.
She had no idea Christen did this. She's been leaving all sorts of surprises for. Aside from the more scandalous present she left in Tobin's suitcase, she also snuck in a few of her own shirts to keep Tobin company while she's away.
When she first got to her apartment, she already had mail waiting at the front desk. What she found were two letters, one from Christen and one from Nata. Nata drew pictures and signed his name and there was a short message Christen wrote for him, but she can tell he told her what to write. Christen's was an all out love letter talking about how happy she made her and how much she loved her and how proud of her she was, but how much she would miss her while she's gone. Tobin cried and called Christen immediately afterwards.
When she went to Heather's for dinner last night, there was a large vase of sunflowers sitting on her counter and when Tobin commented about how they were Christen's favorite, Heather told her she already knew because Christen had ordered them for Tobin and asked Heather to pick them up. The flowers are now sitting on Tobin's kitchen counter, along with the letters.
First all of that, and now asking her dad to put stars up on her ceiling. She truly does love Christen more than anything and she has no idea how she possibly got so lucky.
“Dad, that's amazing. Thank you,” she says after swallowing down as many of her emotions as she can manage to prevent herself from crying.
“Of course,” he says with a gentle smile. “Anything to help make this all a little easier for you.” He manages to scratch at his chin with the hand holding his phone and then stares at the plastic stars in his hand. “Ursa Major. You did always love that constellation. You used to stay out on that dock at Martha’s for hours looking through that telescope. Even when it was freezing cold, you’d stay out until your nose was bright red and your hands were totally numb. You just couldn’t get enough. I was always so worried you gave all that up after I…well, after everything I put you through.”
Tobin scratches at her chin, laughing to herself when she realizes he just did the exact same thing. “I did for a while,” she admits. “But somewhere along the way I realized the stars always helped me in a way nothing ever could, not even soccer. I think the stars were always my way of having some small part of you in my life after everything. I was angry for a long time, but I didn’t want to give you up completely.”
Her dad blinks hard a couple times and then clears his throat. He flips one of the stars around between his fingers and smiles. “When you were a kid your mom always said you kept your head in the clouds, but I never thought that was quite high enough. Your head’s always been in the stars. I’m glad to know it hasn’t left.”
Tobin feels herself getting choked up, but she won’t let it happen. She swallows it down and then changes the subject. She can see the mild relief on her dad’s face when she does. “So do you need help unpacking or what?”
“Yeah, but I was thinking maybe we could grab an early dinner or something first. I haven’t eaten since this morning, I was just so ready to get here I didn’t stop for lunch.”
“For sure, let’s go. You’ll have to show me some of the newer restaurants around here you suggest. This place has grown up so much since I last lived here.”
“Yeah, the past few years have been really good here. I’ll make sure to get you a list of the best places. Want to help me finish these last few stars and then we’ll go?” He asks, reaching out his hand to give Tobin some of the stars.
“Definitely,” she grins, taking the stars and stepping up on the bed.
“Good, because I’m pretty sure I’ve strained several muscles in my neck doing this. I need some help,” he laughs.
Christen grins widely and bites her bottom lip. “I’m glad you liked it, though I can’t take complete credit for that. Nata gave me the idea when he pointed them out when we were packing up your room.”
“That kid’s a genius. I’ll have to thank him tomorrow when I call. I hate I didn’t get to talk to him tonight.”
“It’s okay, you’ve got a lot going on right now,” Christen tells her. “Plus you talked to him twice already today, so he was happy. He was so exhausted from his day at the lake with Nima he crashed so hard as soon as we finished dinner.”
“Only Nata would manage to wear himself out despite only having one operational leg right now,” Tobin laughs. “Even if it was his idea, still thank you for asking my dad to put up the stars. It really does help this place feel more like a second home.”
“You’re welcome, babe. I was hoping they would. I just thought if you could be more comfortable, you would be able to focus on the soccer side of this move more. I want you to do so well there.”
“I feel really good so far,” Tobin says. “Granted it’s only been one and a half practice sessions for me so far, but it feels really good to be out there. Christie is a great coach and I can tell she really has faith in me as a player. I didn’t realize I had been missing that in LA.”
“I’m really happy you’re settling in well there. All I want if for you to be happy there.” Christen gives her an encouraging smile.
“I’d be even happier if you two moved here with me,” Tobin teases. Enjoying the way Christen rolls her eyes playfully. “There’s plenty of room here for you guys, so feel free to visit whenever you want. I want this place to be your second home too.”
“It already is. Wherever you are is our home,” Christen tells her sincerely.
Even from 2,800 miles away, Christen still manages to make Tobin’s heart race. The love she feels for her and Nata is a kind of love she’s never known. She knows they’re going to be her family forever, even if they do need to be apart for a little while.
They’re her happy ending.
She’s never been so sure of anything.
“But maybe one day we’ll move there,” Christen says. “It’s not completely outside the realm of possibilities.”
“Maybe one day,” Tobin smiles.
“Can I ask you something? Your answer won’t change anything, it’s just something I’m curious about.” Christen’s tone is shy, like she’s nervous to ask whatever she’s wanting to.
“Of course you can,” Tobin says. “You can always ask me anything.” Christen’s obvious nerves are making her a little nervous too, but she powers through.
Christen chews on the inside of her cheek for a moment and then sits up a little straighter against her pillows. “How many more years do you think you’re going to play? There’s no wrong answer here, I swear. And I’m not going to be upset whatever the answer is; I will support you if you play until you’re 60 and I have to drag you away because you’re too stubborn to walk away yourself.” She grins as she sites Tobin’s words from their talk in Tobin’s Jeep during their trip to Jersey. “I know we kind of talked about it before, but I was just thinking about it the other day and was curious.”
Tobin smiles for a moment as she recalls that conversation in her Jeep. She hadn’t even told Christen she loved her yet at that point, but she still knew she wanted to be with her until she’s 60 and all the years after that. She can’t think of a better way she could possibly spend the rest of her life than by Christen’s side.
“I don’t really know, honestly. I mean I’m 30, so obviously my playing years are limited at this point, but I feel physically better than I ever have. I think I still have so much left to give to this game before I walk away. I think my body will tell me when it’s time to stop. Maybe it’ll be two years, maybe it’ll be ten. I know that’s not really the answer you’re looking for,” Tobin says.
“No, no, I told you there wasn’t a wrong answer. That one is perfect. Do you want to play in Jersey the rest of your career?”
“I didn’t know I was going to have three press conferences today,” she teases. She rolls over in her bed so she’s lying on her back and stares up at the stars on her ceiling. The lights are still on so they aren’t glowing, but she draws comfort from just knowing they’re there and the reason why they are.
“Sorry, I’m not trying to grill you,” Christen laughs. “This trade has just made me think a lot about our future and where we’re going to end up. Obviously we’re going to be together, I think at this point it’s just a matter of where.”
Tobin sees her own face light up in the top corner of her phone screen. “So you are going to move here.” She tries to keep her excitement in check, but she’s pretty sure she’s failing spectacularly.
“I didn’t say that,” Christen says with a coy smile. “I’m just thinking about all sorts of things right now. I think there’s a lot we have to discuss, but it can all wait until the off season. I’m just asking some preliminary questions right now.”
“Preliminary questions? I feel like this is going to be a job interview for being in a relationship with you. Makes sense considering dating you is like a full time job,” Tobin jokes, cracking up at the way Christen’s eyes go wide.
“That is so not funny!” She complains, though she’s laughing so clearly it is a little funny.
“Oh honey, it’s okay. I’m just teasing you. Besides, it’s the best job I’ve ever had.” She’s pushing her luck, but Christen is just so cute when she rolls her eyes, she can’t help it.
“Oh whatever. You’re just lucky you’re so far away or I’d be smacking you right now.”
“Don’t tease me, I can think of a few situations where I may actually enjoy that.”
Christen blushes slightly, but she doesn’t take the bait. She just shakes her head and says, “you’re ridiculous, babe.”
“Says the woman who put a vibrator in my suitcase,” Tobin counters.
Christen recovers quickly from Tobin’s previous comment and follows it up with, “you weren’t complaining about that last night. In fact, I recall you enjoying it very much.”
Tobin blushes hard and throws an arm over her face. The heat in her cheeks isn’t so much from embarrassment as it is from the fact Christen is 100% correct and she’s being called out for it.
“I deserved that,” Tobin concedes.
“You’re just so easy to get worked up,” Christen laughs. She stands up from her bed and heads into her bathroom to start her nightly facial cleansing routine before bed. It’s still early in LA, but she told Tobin without her there to keep her company, she’s gone to bed earlier the past few nights.
“Yeah because you’re insanely hot and have a ridiculously filthy mouth. That’s enough to get anyone worked up. It’s a wonder I’m still alive, honestly.”
Christen smiles and Tobin watches as she ties her hair back and gets her washcloth damp. It’s just a simple nighttime routine--well it’s not really that simple, there are like seven steps, but still. It’s just a simple routine that doesn’t really hold any significance, and yet Tobin finds her heart aching she’s only able to watch it through a screen.
When she was home, Tobin would always brush her teeth, much more simply wash her face and brush her hair while Christen did all this. They operated as two separate units, but this was always their nighttime routine together.
It’s such a simple thing and she never thought she would miss it so much.
“To answer your question, though, yeah I would like the rest of my playing career to happen here with Sky Blue. I don’t want to be traded again. I like being able to really build something on a team. I was able to do that for years in LA. My one season with PSG was necessary for me, but I always just felt like I was visiting. I wasn’t there long enough to really settle in and make progress with the team. I want that kind of progress here. I think I have a lot to offer them and as long as they’ll have me, I want to stay.”
“Yeah, that makes sense,” Christen says as she scrubs her face. She’s only in the corner of the frame, but it’s enough to make Tobin smile. “I get what you mean about wanting to build something. Sky Blue is lucky to have you. I’m sure they’ll want you for years to come.”
“Hopefully,” Tobin muses. “But at the same time, if there comes a point where being in Jersey isn’t what’s best for you and Nata and our family, then I’m happy to go somewhere else.”
Christen is quiet for a moment and then she puts her washcloth down and reaches for her phone, adjusting so her face is fully in frame now and she can look at Tobin. “You would really do that? Request a trade for us?”
“If I thought that’s what would be best for us. I’ve done a lot of really great things in my soccer career and while I of course still want to play, the whole ‘where’ aspect of playing isn’t as much a concern for me anymore,” Tobin says. “Except for San Jose. They’re trash and I will never play there. I’d really take your advice and retire if they tried to trade me there.”
Christen offers an amused smile, but she doesn’t laugh the way she usually does whenever Tobin hates on San Jose. “I love you so much for being so committed to us.”
“This may sound super cliche, but I don’t really know any other way to be. I don’t have to try and be committed, I just am.”
Christen lets out a long sigh. “God, I really wish I could kiss you right now.”
“Me too, sweetheart. Me too.” She smiles and then gives Christen a curious look. “You’re totally thinking about moving to Jersey, aren’t you? That’s why you’re asking all these questions.”
Christen laughs for real now. “I told you I’m just asking because I’m curious. There’s no secret reasoning behind this.”
“You’re totally up to something,” Tobin says. She studies Christen’s facial expressions intently, but she doesn’t give anything away.
“I’m not up to anything!” She exclaims, putting the phone back down so she can continue washing her face.
Tobin’s pretty sure she does that so her face is no longer in frame, but she doesn’t push it any further. If Christen is truly up to something, she’ll tell Tobin when it’s time. For now, though, she just enjoys a few more quiet moments with Christen before she heads to bed.
When she turns her lights out, the stars on her ceiling glow fiercely and for a few moments, she can almost convince herself she’s back in her bed in LA and Christen is lying right next to her.
It’s only for a few moments, but it’s enough to help lull her to sleep.
And it's not like she's nervous because she's afraid. She's just nervous because she wants to do well. It's a new team, a new environment, a new fan base and she wants to make them all proud.
She also kind of wants to light it up the rest of the season and make LA regret giving her up, but contributing to the success of Sky Blue is her main priority. Anything else will just be a bonus.
Christen and Nata facetime her right before she has to leave for the game. Nata is sporting her new jersey with the Sam Kerr one she bought her a few weeks ago on underneath. Christen has on a Sky Blue jersey of her own that she asked Heather to send her, surprising Tobin yet again with how prepared she's been for all of this.
Nata is bummed when Tobin tells him she won't be starting the game, but she explains her lack of training time with the team and he understands. She tells him she was promised she would come off the bench with decent time left and that helps cheer him up.
By the time she hangs up so she can head to the stadium, Nata is absolutely buzzing, bouncing up and down where he's seated on the couch. Tobin knows the second he loses that cast in a few weeks he's going to go crazy with all the energy he has pent up from being out of commission for so long. She can't wait to see it.
They each wish her luck and blow her a kiss. She tells them she loves them and that she'll call them after the game. The more Nata learns about soccer, the more he wants to discuss soccer. He'll be itching to debrief about the game with Tobin
The closer she gets to Red Bull Arena, the more she's buzzing, just like Nata was. She's so excited for this game and the opportunity to prove herself, no matter how many minutes she actually gets.
The environment in the locker room is overall the same as any locker room she's ever been in, but at the heart of it, it's so much more free. There's significantly less pressure than she felt in LA and there's a sense of ease she already feels and it's only her first game.
Heather convinces her to dance around with her and a couple of the rookies to the loud music pumping through the speakers. Everyone is laughing and having a good time, yet Tobin can tell how seriously they all take this. They want to have fun, but they also want to do everything in their power to succeed. They want to be as successful of a club as they possibly can because they all so clearly love this team more than anything.
When the starting players line up to head towards the field, it feels strange to not be among them. She can't remember the last time she started a game with a substitute pinny over her jersey, but she promises herself she's going to work her ass off to ensure she isn't a substitute for long.
She's amazed by how many posters and banners she already sees for herself around the stadium. Cloud 9 has a giant banner welcoming her to the team hanging right behind the home goal. When she waves in their direction they all lose their minds for a little bit before falling in line and chanting her name until the starting players begin to walk out.
Tobin can only grin.
She never expected to feel such a rush from another fan base before, but this is her fan base now and they’re already bringing her so much joy.
She loves them already.
It’s a tough first half. Orlando only scores one goal, but they could’ve easily scored three. Sky Blue’s defense is good enough to keep them in the game, but their offense isn’t able to string more than a few passes together at a time.
Heather is completely bossing the midfield, but she can only do so much on her own. Sam Kerr is an excellent striker, but without proper support, she isn’t able to hold onto the ball long enough to create anything. Two players can’t do it all, no matter how much they’re trying.
They’re a young team and they put up a good fight Wednesday night, but the limited downtime in between and the long season so far is showing the wear and tear it’s had on these players. The desire to do well is there, but the execution is lacking and it’s frustrating them all.
Tobin can’t wait to get out there and see what she can do.
On their way into the locker room at halftime, Christie pulls her aside with a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Looks like we’ll be needing you a little earlier than we were planning. Think you can help us look a little livelier out there?”
“I know I can,” she says confidently.
“That’s what I wanted to hear,” Christie grins. “I’m going to give the team a talk for a few minutes, but then I want you to head back out to the field with Adams and Morales to start warming up. Depending on how things are going, they’ll likely come on together around the 60th minute. I’m hoping you’ll do a good enough job I won’t need them so early and can instead bring them on to help finish out the game.”
“I’ve got this,” Tobin says. “I’m ready.”
“I know you are. If you can get me a draw this game, we’ll focus on getting you more time with the team and aim for a win next game. We just need to get through this one first.”
“Forget a draw,” Tobin scoffs playfully. “We’re winning this game, coach. I’m going to make sure of it.”
Christie smiles and pats her on the shoulder. “Typical Tobin, talking a big game. Good thing I know you can back those words up.”
Christie keeps her speech to the team short. There’s nothing she could tell them they don’t already know. They were on the field. They know how badly they played. All Christie can do is try to motivate them to do better next half.
Warm ups go by quickly, Tobin is so anxious to get out there and play time just seems to fly by. One moment she’s passing the ball to her teammates and working on sending in crosses and the next she’s standing on the touchline waiting for the ref to let her on the field.
“Try not to make me look bad out there.”
Tobin turns around and sees Heather walking towards her. She smiles and throws an arm around Tobin’s shoulders. “If you need any inspiration, just focus on me doing my thing on the right flank and try your best to do what I do,” Heather says.
“Yeah and if you get stuck out there, just switch field over to the left side and I’ll handle things.”
“Why don’t you both just get the ball to me and I’ll maybe give you partial credit when I get this game under control,” Sam says as she jogs past them to the field, laughing at her own joke.
Heather laughs and then turns back to Tobin. “Seriously though, just keep it wide and try to link up with someone in the box. These players are young, but they’re smart. If they’re given the freedom to get in the box, they’ll make those runs. All they need is a little space.”
“I’ve got this,” Tobin says. “We’ve got this.”
“Right on, Tobs,” Heather grins, heading towards the right side of the field.
The fourth official lets her onto the field and she lines up for kick off. She closes her eyes for a moment, focusing on the way the crowd sounds around her, the smell of fresh cut grass and the feeling on the field under her boots.
She may be 3,000 miles away from home and in a relatively unfamiliar stadium with a new team, but at the end of the day, soccer is always soccer. This is the game she’s loved as long as she can remember and will continue to love for the rest of her life. Her circumstances for playing may change, but her love never will.
She can do this.
She knows she can.
Tobin grins up at the scoreboard every few moments as she makes her way around the perimeter of the field, signing as many autographs as she can. She enjoys getting so much facetime with the fans and hearing all their excited, encouraging words.
Tobin assisted Sam’s tying goal and sent in the corner that led to the game winning goal. She knows the win isn’t all her responsibility, but she’s incredibly proud of the part she played. This team always has it in them, they just need an extra spark sometimes to get things going, which she helped provide tonight.
After the hectic and emotional draining last couple of days, her muscles are aching and she’s so ready to climb into bed and get some decent sleep, but she drives herself on to sign a few more autographs.
Most of the fans have cleared out by the time she heads back towards the locker room and there are only a couple players still around either talking to the press, their families, or catching up with friends from Orlando. Tobin enjoys the quiet walk towards the locker room. She’s done do much press the last few days and before the game, Andy told her to take the rest of the night off and had other players take care of the postgame interviews.
“Forty-five halfway decent minutes and you’re grinning like a fool? Clearly you’re letting this all get to your head,” Heather says as she jogs over after her interview to catch up with Tobin.
“I did more in those 45 minutes than you did in 90, so I think this grin is pretty justified,” Tobin counters. “Give me a couple more games and Christie will be making you pass over that captain’s armband to me.”
Heather laughs and shoves Tobin’s shoulder. “You’re such a punk. But luckily, you’re a punk I love. Want to grab lunch tomorrow? I’m sure your schedule is finally slowing down now that your first game is out of the way.”
“Yeah, definitely dude.” She holds open the locker room door for her. “Just let me know where you want to go.”
“Sweet, I’ll text you the address. Let’s shoot for like 1:00?”
“Yeah, that’ll work. I’ll see you then.”
Heather nods and heads off towards the showers, but Tobin goes to her locker first, wanting to check her phone. She’s not surprised at all to see she has 22 texts and 6 snapchats from Christen. She’s sure they’re really from Nata, just facilitated through Christen and when she starts to read through them, she’s proven right.
The texts are all commentary on the game going wild over some move Tobin did or complaining about a bad call from the ref. She reads every single one in Nata’s voice and it’s almost like she’s sitting right next to him on the couch, watching the game with him.
For the first time since she got to New Jersey, she feels her throat get tight and her eyes start to tear up over how much she misses him. She can’t believe he’s only been in her life for four months. He’s made such an impact in such a short amount of time and she knows she’ll never go another day without him. She loves him so much and all she wants right now is to be wrapped up in one of his almost too tight hugs.
She wipes away her tears and opens the snaps. The first two are selfies of them in their Sky Blue jerseys, one smiling and one making silly faces. She screenshots both of them. The rest are all videos of Nata at various points in the game.
In one, he’s losing it over a call from the ref in the first half. She knows exactly which one too because she had a similar reaction. The next is him pouting because Tobin hasn’t gone in yet and Christen reminding him it wouldn’t be until the second half, to which he just sort of rolls his eyes and continues to pout. The third is him going wild as Tobin steps onto the field. (“Mama! Look, she’s going in! She’s talking to Sam Kerr! Do you think they’re going to be friends? Sam is so cool.”) The last is him bouncing up and down in his seat and cheering so loudly after Tobin’s assist the sound gets all distorted.
Tobin has the biggest grin on her face and she rewatches each video. She can’t wait until she’s home so she can facetime them both before bed. She knows she won’t make it too long given how tired she is, but she wouldn’t pass up a chance to see both their smiling faces.
She shoots off a quick text to Christen telling her she’ll be home in about forty minutes so they can talk and then she heads towards the showers.
Tobin’s shower ends up being impossibly fast. She’s just too excited to get home.
They were thick as thieves growing up in New Jersey. She’s four years older, but Tobin played up a couple age groups so they moved up through the youth league ranks together. She’s one of the biggest reasons Tobin decided to go to UNC. They only spent one season together in college, but she was a huge influence on Tobin and helped her adjust to life away from home.
They’ve stayed in touch the past few years, but the distance didn’t help. They don’t talk nearly as much as they used to, but they always made sure to keep up with each other, even if it was just a few texts every few weeks.
One of the things Tobin’s most excited about by being back in Jersey is the chance to reconnect with Heather like they used to.
They spend their lunch catching up and laughing endlessly just like old times. They reminisce about their youth league days and all the trouble they used to get into on the youth national teams. Heath was the only one who could convince Tobin to do things she shouldn’t. Tobin tells her all about Nata and Christen, and shows her an amount of pictures most people would find excessive, but Heather loves every single one.
They end up staying at the cafe for over two hours. Once Tobin realizes the time, she starts to suggest they head out, but Heather stops her.
“There’s something I want to talk to you about before we leave.”
Something about her tone worries Tobin. This whole lunch has been very cheerful and lighthearted, but suddenly Heather is very serious.
“Okay,” Tobin says slowly. “What’s up?”
“So you know that comment you made to me after the game about Christie giving you the armband one day?”
“Oh, I was totally joking, dude,” Tobin rushes to defend herself. “I’m really sorry if it came across like I was trying to undermine you. I would never do that.”
“Whoa, Tobin. Relax.” Heather laughs lightly and reaches across the table to pat Tobin’s hand for a moment. “I’m not mad at you or anything. I know you were joking. I wanted to talk to you about it because, you’re actually right about being captain one day.”
Tobin scrunches her eyebrows together. “What do you mean?”
Heather smiles, almost a little sadly, and says, “I’m retiring at the end of this season.”
“You’re what?” Tobin asks in disbelief.
She always just assumed Heather would play forever. She never thought she’d see the day when she retired, and if she did, Tobin just assumed she would retire before Heather did. She’s such a machine it’s not like her body would give up on her anytime soon. She could probably play until she’s forty-five and never miss a single step.
“Dave and I want to have kids. It’s something we’ve talked about for years, but he’s been so supportive about me wanting to wait until I was ready to retire first. We’ve wanted to start a family for so long and we’ve been so patient, but we’re ready. I’m ready to hang up my cleats.”
Tobin feels totally blindsided. She was so excited about getting to play with Heather again, but now she’s learning it’s only going to be for the eight games left in the season? She definitely didn’t expect this to be happening.
“HAO, that’s amazing. You’re going to be such good parents,” she says. As surprised as she is, she’s always happy for her friend and excited to see this next phase of her life. “What does that have to do with me, though?”
“Christie didn’t just bring you here because she wanted your sick crosses and nutmegs. She wants a leader. She wants someone with experience and the ability to be a positive influence on younger players. She wants a captain,” Heather tells her. “When I told Christie at the beginning of the season that this would be my last, I told her she needed to try and get you back to Jersey. Neither of us thought it was actually going to happen, but the second we heard through the wire LA was wanting to trade you, it honestly felt like fate.”
Tobin scoffs in disbelief. “Why me, though?”
“Come on, Tobs. Are you serious?” She waits a moment until she realizes Tobin isn’t going to answer and then she rolls her eyes. “You’re a damn legend in this game. Your passion and loyalty to this sport and to your team is unparalleled. These players need someone they can look up to, but also someone who isn’t going to look down on them. We’re building a really good group here, but they just need a little guidance. You were captain in LA for three seasons, this can’t come as a complete surprise.”
Tobin’s head is still reeling a bit.
She was not expecting this at all when Heather asked her to lunch. She thought they were just going to catch up, probably talk about the game last night and maybe a little more about the team, but that’s it. She never could’ve guessed she was going to be promised the captaincy next season.
“That was different,” Tobin says. “I started on that team as a rookie. I worked my way up through the ranks. I felt like I earned that armband. I’ve only played 45 minutes here.”
“Maybe you’ve only played 45 minutes for this team, but you’ve spent a lifetime playing and dedicating yourself to this sport. You may not want to hear it, but you’re an inspiration to so many players, and not just the young ones. I’ve drawn inspiration from you since the first time I saw you play. You’ve been earning this armband since you first kicked a ball.”
Tobin blows a stream of air through her lips and scratches at her chin. “Wow,” is all she can manage to say at the moment.
“Is that a good wow?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tobin laughs. “It’s a really good wow. I’m sorry, I’m just a little caught off guard. I wasn’t expecting this.”
“Christie wanted to talk to you about it when you first got here, but I convinced her to wait until after your first game. I also convinced her to let me be the one to tell you. I can be quite persuasive, didn’t you know?”
Tobin rolls her eyes. “Yeah, of course I know. You convinced me to break onto the roof of that hotel in Argentina, remember?”
“Ah, that was such a good night. You were so scared I thought you were going to pee your pants.” Heather lets out a belly laugh and smiles so widely it’s damn near blinding.
“So you’re really walking away from the game, huh?” Tobin asks. “I never thought I’d see the day.”
“Oh no, don’t get too ahead of yourself. I’m not walking away from the game, I’m just taking a step off the field and onto the touchline. Christie asked me to be an assistant coach next season, so before you get too excited about all you’re going to get away with next season without me, think again.”
“Oh god, you’re going to be my coach? Is it too early to request a trade?”
Heather throws a balled up napkin in Tobin’s direction, but Tobin dodges out of the way at the last second. “Watch it. You make those kinds of jokes next season and I’m making your ass run laps.”
“We’ll see what Christie has to say about that,” Tobin says.
Heather smiles and then settles back in her seat a bit a studies Tobin for a moment. “So how are you feeling about all this?”
“I mean I’m still a little surprised, but I’m excited. I’m sad to know I only have a few more games to be able to play with you, but I’m glad you’ll still be sticking around. I’m so flattered you and Christie have so much faith in me. But most of all, I just can’t wait to become your kid’s godmother.”
Heather laughs and shakes her head. “Of course that’s the main thing you’re focused on,” she says. “Sorry for just kinda dropping this all on you, but I wanted to be honest up front about it. Like you said, we still have eight more games, so don’t go getting any ideas about taking the armband before then or I’ll fight you.”
“I’ll try to refrain myself,” Tobin teases. “Thank you, seriously. As much as I hate to admit it, LA working so hard to trade me away was a major hit to my confidence. I don’t even know how to explain how grateful I am to this team for picking me up.”
“You can show your gratitude by playing the way you did last night for the rest of the season.”
“You can bet on it,” Tobin says proudly.