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Tobin isn't used to losing.

 

Sure, LA was having a rough season by their standards, but they were still hanging out in the top half of the table. Tobin has never been on a team just one spot off the bottom of the table. They're 9th out of 10 teams in the east, 18th out of the 20 teams in the entire league. Tobin has never seen stats so poor. She's proud she can at least say she's trying her hardest, and she knows her teammates are as well, but that almost makes her more frustrated because they're trying so hard and just can't seem to make anything work.

 

After a decent first couple games with the team, they lose 3 in a row without scoring a single goal. They don't lose by more than a goal or two, so at least they aren't getting hammered, but it hurts more being so close to at least earning a draw but instead getting nothing.

 

It doesn't help that the loneliness really starts settling in too. She thinks a big reason for that is because she's already disappointed with the team's results that it's easy for other negative feelings to creep in. But after every game, all she wants is to hold Christen or hear Ryan's laugh or see Nata's smile and she can't. Well, she can do those last two, but it's only through the phone and it's just not the same.

 

Heather is great, she gives Tobin a key to her house and tells her she's welcome literally whenever. She makes fast friends with her new teammates, especially Sam and Nikki who are so wild they remind her of Kelley. They make her laugh and convince her to do dumb things she wouldn't normally.

 

She has friends her and she's happy, truly, but it's not the same. And therefore she can't keep this sinking feeling from creeping into her chest every time it gets a little too quiet.

 

The truth is, Tobin's never been too good on her own.

 

When she first started going to youth national team camps, before she made good friends with her teammates, she isolated herself a bit during the downtime between trainings.

 

When she moved the UNC she missed her family so much her heart ached daily, but Lauren and Amy quickly helped alleviate that.

 

When she spent the season in Paris it was the worst. She didn't speak the language and she was coming into a team with already established social circles so it was hard to crack through despite how welcoming they all were. She was already in such a bad spot emotionally because of everything with the national team that she barely had the energy to make any sort of effort. It wasn't until she connected with Laure that she really started to feel at ease in France.

 

Being here in Jersey, she's able to feel comfortable because for over half her life this was her home. She doesn't feel totally out of place here. She has her friends and her family and her teammates, but for the first time in her life Tobin has someone--two people, counting Nata--she loves immensely and it's hard being separated from them.

 

She talks to Christen about it over facetime after a loss in Chicago and she makes a suggestion she hadn't previously considered.

 

"Maybe I'm not the only one you should talk to about this," Christen tells her as she settles back against her couch cushions.

 

"What do you mean?" Tobin asks.

 

"Well you said you really enjoyed talking to Ben and you liked seeing the progress she helped me make. Obviously I'm not trying to tell you what to do and I know therapy isn't for everyone, but it's done wonders for me," Christen explains. "I'm just wondering if maybe talking to someone else will help you establish coping mechanisms for dealing with feeling this way."

 

Tobin thinks it over for a second. "I mean I'm sad, but I don't think I'm depressed."

 

Christen smiles softly. "You don't have to be depressed to go to therapy. It doesn't have to always be because something is wrong. Even when I'm feeling great, I still see Ben every other week just to check in. It's nice to have an unbiased sounding board. She helps me see things from a new perspective."

 

Tobin sighs, "yeah, that could be a good idea. I've just never really thought about it for myself. I know there's nothing wrong with therapy, I just feel kinda weird about it. Which I know is why there's such a stigma around it."

 

"It's okay to feel weird about it,” Christen says to ease her concerns. “Therapy isn't always an easy thing, but it also isn't a dirty word like some people will have you think. It's just an idea though, I don't want you doing something you don't want to just because I suggested it. I just want you to be happy."

 

"I know you do, sweetheart." Tobin grins, her heart swelling as she can feel Christen's love for her radiating off her even from 3,000 miles away. "It really is a good idea, I'll think about it. I can ask my brother-in-law's friend if he has any recommendations for people around here."

 

"I could always ask Ben if she has any contacts there if you don't want anyone else to know. Whatever you want to do, babe."

 

Just then, Tobin hears the door open to her hotel room and she knows Heather is back. She grins before she says, "right now all I really want to do is see you get naked for me."

 

"Dude!" Heather exclaims, walking into the room with her eyes covered as if she'd actually be able to see anything from where she's standing.

 

"Is that Heather? Tobin!" Christen chastises her, but she's smirking slightly, which softens the blow. She's clearly amused by Tobin messing with her friend.

 

Tobin's cracking up when she feels a pillow get lobbed at her head from Heather's side of the room. "You said whatever I wanted to do, Chris! I was just doing what you said. Don't worry, I'll make Heather leave before anything happens." She lifts an arm just in time to deflect the next pillow thrown her way.

 

"You do know two can play this game, right?" Heather groans. "I can just facetime Dave right now and ask him to get naked too."

 

"You and I both know Dave is already in bed asleep, so nice try." She grins as Heather rolls her eyes and flops down on the bed next to Tobin, waving at Christen. "Dude, what if she were actually naked?"

 

"Then I'd be in for a treat. She's super hot," Heather shrugs. "Your girl is a mess, you know that, Chris?"

 

Christen's laugh dances through the speaker, her smile lighting up the screen. "Oh, I'm well aware. She's lucky she's hot too."

 

"Eh, she's all right. You two lovebirds keep things PG for me, yeah?" She waits until she has a nod from each girl. "All right, I'm getting ready for bed. See you later, Chris."

 

"Night, Heather," Christen says. "You're still hanging out with us in San Jose after the game in two weeks, right?"

 

"Hell yeah I am. I haven't gotten to properly hang out with Cheney and A-Rod in years, I can't wait."

 

"Sweet, I know they're super excited too. I'll see you then," Christen says with a wave as Heather rolls off the bed and heads to the bathroom for her nightly routine. “I’m going to let you go, babe. It’s late and you have an early flight. You should get some sleep.”

 

“But I want to stay up and talk to you,” Tobin whines, rolling her eyes when Heather makes a whipping sound in the bathroom.

 

“You and Nata are so alike it’s ridiculous,” Christen teases. “That pout to so is dead on to his.”

 

“Kid’s a genius, so thanks for the compliment.” Tobin clicks her tongue with a smirk. “I am getting tired, though. So I guess I’ll say goodnight.” She can’t help but let her bottom lip jut out a little at the idea of ending the call.

 

“Turn that frown upside down, sweetheart,” Christen says in a singsong voice. “Two more weeks and you’re mine for four whole days. Then just three more weeks after that and you’re home for the off season. We’ve got this.”

 

“We’ve got this,” Tobin repeats, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that’s true. As bummed as she may be about being away from Christen, she knows they’re rock solid.

 

“Damn right we do,” Christen confirms. “Now get some sleep, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

 

“All right, all right,” Tobin relents. She struggles to fight back a yawn as she says, “I love you, honey.”

 

“I love you too. Goodnight, babe.”

 

“Night,” Tobin says, smiling at Christen before she ends the call. She rolls across the bed so she can plug her phone into the charger and then gets up so she can brush her teeth.

 

Heather is washing her face in front of the bathroom mirror when Tobin steps in. Her hair is up in the messiest bun Tobin has ever seen and her face covered in the bright blue, bubbly face wash she’s using. If she were anyone else, she’d look completely ridiculous, but since she’s Heather she just looks like she’s in her natural habitat.

 

“Goodnight, babe,” she says in a mocking tone.

 

Tobin swings her hand out, the back of her hand catching Heather’s hip before she can pull away completely. “You’re such a dick,” Tobin laughs. She reaches for her toothbrush and tube of toothpaste. As she’s bringing her toothbrush up to her mouth, she realizes Heather is looking at her funny. “What?” She asks, toothbrush hanging out of her mouth.

 

“Nothing,” Heather shakes her head. She averts her eyes to the washcloth in her hand for a moment before she looks back up at Tobin through the mirror. “You’re just like…really happy with her, dude. And that makes me happy. It’s good to see you like this, that’s all.” She shrugs, trying not to make this into a big deal and just let it remain the simple, quiet moment she wants it to be.

 

Tobin takes the toothbrush out of her mouth, then leans over and knocks her shoulder with Heather’s gently, endeared by one of her oldest friends appreciating just how happy she is right now. “Thanks, HAO. That really means a lot coming from you,” Tobin says.

 

“Really? I thought I was a dick.”

 

“Only some of the time,” Tobin teases. There’s an awkward beat of silence, the tone of this conversation so different from the typical lighthearted, silly ones they tend to have. “Seriously, though. I really appreciate you saying that. I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time.”

 

“Are you?” Heather asks honestly. “I mean, you’re always clearly super happy when you talk to Christen, but you seem kinda down the rest of the time. I know losing sucks. It takes a lot out of you.”

 

“It’s not just that,” Tobin says. “I mean yeah that sucks, but I’m committed this team completely. I really love this program. It’s just tough being away from home. This is my home too so I want to be happy, and I am, it’s just hard. I really miss her, you know? And everything that happened with the team in LA just really let me down. I didn’t see it coming at all.”

 

“Yeah, I don’t think anyone did. I couldn’t believe when Christie told me we actually landed you. I thought it was a joke.” Heather laughs lightly, remembering her surprise. “I can’t imagine what that must have felt like. As happy as I was to get to play with you again, I felt terrible knowing what you had to go through to make it happen. You didn’t deserve to be let down like that, but in the end you ended up with a team that’s really grateful to have you. I hope you know that.”

 

“Yeah, of course I do,” Tobin nods. “I’m really happy to be here, I am. I don’t mean to make it seem like I’m not. It’s just a tough adjustment.”

 

“I get that completely. And look, if you ever want to talk about it, just let me know,” Heather says. “Dave is an excellent listener.”

 

It takes Tobin a second to realize the joke, but when she does she lets out a laugh and knocks into Heather’s shoulder again. “I’ll make sure to give Dave a call if I need him.” She pauses for a beat, debating whether she wants to say what she’s about to or not, before she speaks again. “I actually have been thinking about speaking to someone, though. Like a professional. Just to help me work through some stuff, you know?”

 

Tobin’s eyes glance cautiously over at Heather, wondering what sort of reaction she’s going to get out of her. She doesn’t want pity. She really doesn’t want judgement. She’s afraid of getting disdain. But of course she’d never get any of that out of Heather.

 

She nods, nothing but understanding in her eyes. A soft smile on her face at how much Tobin has grown from the cocky little teenager she was when they first met. “I’ll give you my therapist’s number. He’s really great.” Heather goes back to washing her face, finishing up and then leaning over the sink to rinse the soap off.

 

“Wait,” Tobin says, her brain finally catching up. “You see a therapist?”

 

“Yeah, like once a month,” Heather shrugs. “Why do you seem so surprised?” She reaches for a dry towel and blots the water off her skin.

 

“I just wouldn’t have guessed it,” Tobin explains. “You’re like the happiest person I know.”

 

Heather smiles at Tobin’s mild naivety. “Just because someone seems happy, doesn’t mean they always are,” Heather says like it’s brand new information. Her words are kind though, almost gently teasing Tobin for being surprised by this. “I am happy most of the time, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my low points too. Most of the time we just talk like old friends. It’s nice to have a source of judgement free support, you know?”

 

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Tobin says. “Christen said something similar tonight.”

 

“Smart girl. I knew I liked her,” Heather smiles. “I’ll send you Kevin’s office number. They have a bunch of really good doctors there. If you want to call, cool. If not, then like I said. Dave’s a great listener.” She places a gentle hand on Tobin’s shoulder and then steps out of the bathroom, leaving Tobin to think over what they just discussed.

 

Tobin makes the decision then she will talk to someone. She’ll call the number Heather gives her and she’ll make an appointment tomorrow. As soon as the decision is made, she already feels a little lighter. Choosing to take a step to better herself already brightens her mood.

 

She raises her toothbrush again and continues what she’d set out to do when she stepped in here. She struggles brushing her teeth around her smile, but she makes it work.

xxx

“Tobin, it’s great to meet you. I’m Dr. Medina, but you can call me Estelle if you’d like.”

 

Estelle holds out her hand, smiling brightly after closing the door to her office behind Tobin. The room is painted a soft gray color, with yellow and navy furniture, and decorative wall hangings. There’s a large window on one wall that’s covered in yellow curtains, letting in enough natural light to brighten the room, but covering the panes completely so Tobin doesn’t feel like she’s being watched. It’s different from Ben’s office, and yet it makes her instantly feel warm and invited. Maybe there’s some secret home decorating book all therapists use. Not that Tobin has been in more than two therapist’s offices to really know, but still.

 

“It’s nice to meet you too,” Tobin says. She shakes Estelle’s perfectly manicured hand, stark white nails standing out against her brown skin. “Thanks for fitting me in so soon.”

 

“Oh, of course. I always block off a few hours a week so I have time for last minute add ons,” Estelle says. “Please have a seat.” She gestures at the couch behind Tobin and then moves to the armchair across the room.

 

Tobin sits down on the couch, feeling more than a little awkward. Last time she was in this situation, she had Christen’s gentle hand on her leg. Here she’s on her own. She came here because she feels lonely and right now she’s never felt more alone. She lets out a shaky breath, which Estelle clearly picks up on. She raises an eyebrow just slightly once she’s settled into her chair.

 

“So, Tobin, there’s a question I like to ask all my first time patients to gauge things a little bit,” Estelle starts. “Have you ever attended a therapy session before?” Her tone implies she expects the answer to be ‘no,’ but she does a good job of not being surprised when Tobin speaks.

 

“I have,” Tobin nods. “Just a couple times. My girlfriend, Christen, she sees someone pretty regularly and she asked me to go with her once when she was having a hard time. We’ve gotten really good at talking to each other open and honestly, but she wanted me to sit in on a session once just to check in. That time it was mostly just her talking and me listening, though. But before I moved out here we went again so we could make sure we were in a good place before that happened. It really helped. Therapy was never really something I considered before, but it was nice.”

 

“I’m happy to hear you found those sessions beneficial. I hope you’ll feel the same about this session and any others we may have in the future as well.” Estelle opens up her notebook to a blank page and clicks her pen, signaling she’s ready for them to start. “Tell me about yourself, Tobin. What brings you here today?” Estelle asks, her voice steady and soft.

 

Tobin clears her throat. “Uh...well I’m originally from around here, but I just moved back about a month ago. I’m a professional soccer player and I just got traded to the team here after spending eight years in LA.”

 

“LA to New Jersey? That’s quite a big move,” Estelle observes. “Were you expecting to be traded?”

 

“Not at all. I thought things were going great in LA. I had a really strong support system out there. I’d just started dating this really amazing girl. I was really happy there.”

 

“And now you’re not happy?”

 

Tobin thinks over that for a second. She doesn’t necessarily feel unhappy, but she also isn’t totally at peace. She tells Estelle as much. “It’s kind of touch and go, honestly. Just because I’m away from all those I love in LA doesn’t mean I’ve lost them. I talk to them every day. And all my family lives here so it’s nice to be close to them again. My new team is great. But I just…” She trails off, not really sure where to go from there.

 

Luckily, Estelle tries to help her out. “It seems to me there may be some unresolved feelings after your trade. A shock like that couldn’t have been easy to process. You uprooted your life so quickly--not just the personal side, but the professional as well--and completely relocated. Having family here might make things easier, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t still difficult. Have you taken the time to really process what this all means for you?”

 

A cross between a scoff and a laugh bubbles up from Tobin’s throat. “I’m not exactly the best with processing my feelings. My girlfriend, Christen, she’s been helping me learn how. But old habits die hard.”

 

Estelle smiles, “yes well, feelings aren’t always fun. A lot of the time it seems easier to just keep them buried. But unfortunately, that usually tends to make things worse. Feelings don’t like to be ignored.” She laughs lightly, leaning back in her chair. “What did you feel when you found out you were going to be traded?”

 

Tobin huffs out a breath, not even knowing where to begin. “Shocked, obviously. Uhm…betrayed. I thought I could trust my coach, had been loyal to her for years, but she didn’t seem to have any trouble turning her back on me. I felt alone, and I’ve never been very good at being alone. I felt heartbroken. I’ve done so much for the team, poured my heart and soul into it over the years, I was devastated to learn I had to leave it. I was also scared. I didn’t know what this trade would mean for my relationship with Christen. I was worried the distance would be too much for us.”

 

“You love Christen a lot, don’t you?”

 

Tobin can’t help but smile at the thought. “I love her more than I’ve ever loved another person before. She has a seven year old son, Nata, and I love him so much too. We’ve only been in each other’s lives a few months, but they’re my family in every sense of the world. It’s so hard being away from them.”

 

“I’m sure that it is. Has the trade caused tension between the two of you?”

 

“No, not at all,” Tobin dismisses. “If anything, it’s brought us even closer together. We’ve been able to confirm exactly how we feel about each other, which has been really reassuring. I just…I felt like I had finally found this piece of myself that had always been missing and now suddenly I’m 3,000 miles away from her. I have family around me and friends and teammates, I have this great support system here, but yet I feel so alone because I can’t share all this with Christen. Which sucks, because I feel like I’m being unfair to all the people I do have.”

 

Tobin hadn’t really thought about that last part until the words found their way out of her mouth. She’s realizing now maybe that’s why she hasn’t been able to really bond with any of her teammates. She feels like she doesn’t deserve their friendship because she can’t stop thinking about the friends and loved ones she left behind. She wonders how long it would have taken her to reach this conclusion on her own or if she ever would have at all. Looks like this therapy thing is already paying off.

 

“You’re allowed to miss your friends in LA and still be grateful for the ones you have here. It isn’t an either or thing. If they’re your friends, then they will understand how hard this is for you. They won’t expect anything from you they know you can’t give them.”

 

“Yeah, you’re probably right. It all sounds so easy when you say it,” Tobin jokes, laughing so Estelle knows she isn’t serious.

 

Estelle gives her an amused smile. “It isn’t easy, none of it is. If it were, I’d be out of a job,” she jokes back. “You said something a minute ago about not being good at being alone. What makes you say that?”

 

Tobin blows a long breath through her lips. “You just really like getting down to it, huh?” She laughs lightly and Estelle smiles before Tobin continues. “I guess I’ve just always really struggled with being happy--or even just content--on my own. It’s always been really hard for me to not be bored or…anxious…I guess when I’m by myself. I get so stir crazy and I start having these terrible thoughts about myself and doubting the way people actually feel towards me. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m having them until I’m upset and then I can’t figure out why. I’m happy with myself and everything like that so I’m not sure why I think those things, but when it gets quiet I can’t help it. So I’ll take any chance I can to not be on my own.”

 

“What sort of chances do you usually take?”

 

“It’s not like it’s bad things I look to do. I’m not putting myself in danger or anything like that. A lot of the time it’s just calling up friends and seeing if they’re doing anything I can tag along until I almost feel like I’m annoying them. In those cases when I didn’t want to be a bother I would call some girl or another to hook up. I would do that a lot.” Tobin pauses and then adds, “before Christen I would sleep with a lot of girls, but I don’t think boredom was my sole motivation. I like sex and as long as my partner is on the same page as I am, one time hook ups don’t bother me. So yeah, the companionship was always nice, but I don’t think that’s all it was.”

 

Estelle nods and scribbles something down, letting Tobin sit with that thought for a moment. “Once you met Christen, did that sense of boredom vanish?”

 

Tobin shakes her head. “Not completely. We didn’t start dating immediately. But I guess once I met her, she’s the only one I wanted to be with during those times. When I was by myself, I didn’t want to call any random girl because they weren’t who I wanted. I could call my friends, but it just wasn’t the same.”

 

“Because you wanted Christen,” Estelle says, more statement than question.

 

“Yeah. And I still don’t feel the best on my own, but now I know what I want in order to feel better.” Tobin realizes how those words sound and adds, “I don’t mean to make it sound like we have an unhealthy relationship or anything. I really don’t think we do. She and Nata are the best things that have ever happened to me. It’s not like I can’t be without them. I mean I’m here and I’m okay. I’m not calling her every other minute or retiring so I don’t have to leave LA or anything like that. I can be on my own here, I just want to learn how to be better at it.”

 

Estelle smiles, clicking her pen a few times. “Well the good news is, you already know what you want. More good news is I’m here to help you with that as best I can. So let’s see what we can do about this, yeah?”

 

Tobin lets out a sigh, feeling so much better being able to voice the words that have been dancing around her brain for weeks, and even some she didn’t realize were there. She feels lighter already. It still makes her a little nervous spilling her soul to a stranger, but by the end of the session it feels like she’s known Estelle for years.

 

Estelle gives her homework, or at least suggests homework. She wants her to block off time, preferably a whole day, when she doesn’t have trainings or team meetings and to spend the whole time by herself. She doesn’t want her to call Christen or text Kelley or see Heather or anything. She wants her to spend the entire time on her own and try to become more comfortable with that. She suggests a few different things she can do during that time to keep herself entertained, reading, writing, taking up a hobby. Her only request is that she does it by herself.

 

The thought of that much solitary time, especially with it being intentional, frightens her. She promises to try, though. She schedules an appointment in two weeks and leaves feeling better than she did when she got here, which she supposes is the whole point.

 

She knows she still has some work to do, but she’s proud of what progress she’s made.

xxx

Being able to have a weekly lunch with her mom has been one of Tobin's favorite parts of being home. When she was younger, her relationship with her mom was perfectly fine, but she never felt like they got along quite as well and her mom did with her sisters. They just didn't have as much in common.

 

As Tobin has grown up though, she and her mom have gotten even closer. They've both made efforts to learn about their unshared interests because they're important to the other one. Tobin's pretty sure her mom doesn't even like soccer, but because of how much Tobin loves it she's learned all about it and watches all of Tobin's favorite teams play, not just Tobin's games. And Tobin doesn't particularly care about old movies, but her mom loves them so she has a whole collection now.

 

When Tobin was living in LA, they had a scheduled facetime session every Sunday, and they still texted and called almost every day. Now that Tobin is living near home again, Cindy will drop by all the time to take Tobin to lunch or bring her baked goods or just hang out after training. They both love getting to spend so much time together now.

 

Tobin leaves her therapy session and heads right to lunch with her mom. She hasn't decided if she's going to tell her about it yet or not. It's not that she doesn't want her to know. She knows her mom went to therapy during the divorce so it isn't something she would judge her about. It's just something Tobin thinks she wants to keep to herself for now until she feels better in general.

 

It's a good lunch. Cindy asks about Christen and Nata, and how things are going with the team. Tobin asks about Cindy's job and the church youth group she's leading.

 

There's nothing out of the ordinary until they're nearly ready to leave and Cindy speaks up.

 

"So there's actually something I wanted to talk to you about," Cindy says once she's handed her credit card to the waiter and he's cleared their plates away.

 

Tobin scoffs playfully, "you mean you didn't just want to hang out with your favorite daughter? Rude."

 

"I don't play favorites with my children," Cindy corrects, "but of course I always want to hang out with you."

 

"Yeah, yeah, trying to suck up just because you want something out of me. I see how it is." Tobin smiles and leans forward to rest her forearms flat on the table top. "What's up?"

 

Cindy's nose twitches, something Tobin has learned over the years means she's about to talk about something she doesn't want to. She did it when Tobin was eight and she told her the goldfish she’d had for almost two years died. She did it again when she was ten and told her and her siblings they were moving and would have to change schools.

 

Tobin has no idea what could be going on now to warrant that uncomfortable twitch, but she's intrigued and a little concerned.

 

"So I have an idea to run by you, and I don't know how you're going to feel about it. All I ask is you hear me out and let me talk through this like I'm wanting to, okay?" She waits until Tobin nods and says, “I’m only telling you this, not your sisters or brother so please keep this to yourself for now.”

 

Tobin's more than a little concerned now. She reaches out and takes one of her mom's hands. "Mom, are you okay?"

 

Cindy waves her hand to shoo away any concern before laying it on top of Tobin’s. “Oh yes, honey. I’m totally fine. This isn’t anything like that, I promise.”

 

Tobin sighs as the tension in her spine recedes, no longer worried her mom is about to tell her something terrible. “Okay,” she says, voice calm once again. “What’s going on?”

 

There’s another nose twitch before Cindy starts. “So I know you might not take this too well at first, but I just ask for you to have an open mind.” She waits until Tobin nods before she continues. “So I actually have a date tonight.”

 

A smile immediately crosses Tobin’s face. “Mom, that’s great. Why would I not take that well?”

 

To the best of Tobin’s knowledge, her mom hasn’t gone on a date since she was with her dad. She and the rest of her siblings have all encouraged her to do so over the years. Cindy has always told them she’s open to it if she were to ever meet anyone she wanted to spend time with, but Tobin doesn’t think there’s ever actually been anyone. At least no one Cindy has told her about.

 

She’s only ever been vocal about wanting her mom to find someone and be happy again, though, so she isn’t sure why Cindy thinks this would upset her.

 

Cindy sits up with her back a little straighter and sighs. “Because I’m going on a date with your father.”

 

Tobin’s jaw actually drops. She doesn’t know if she’s ever had a moment like that in her life that shocked her so much she actually had her jaw drop like in the movies. She can’t think of any other acceptable reaction to this news though. Out of all the things her mom could have told her, this is literally the last one Tobin could’ve thought of. Actually, that’s not true. This isn’t even in the realm of possibilities of guesses that would’ve crossed her mind.

 

When she feels her mom squeeze her hand gently, Tobin finally closes her mouth and slouches back in her seat.

 

The waiter chooses that moment to bring back Cindy’s credit card and receipt for her to sign. Cindy smiles kindly at him and takes her hands away from Tobin’s to tuck her credit card back in her purse. While Cindy is adding the tip onto the receipt and signing off, Tobin takes the time to collect herself as best she can.

 

She wants to react to this as best she can, but honestly, how are you supposed to react when your mom tells you she’s going on a date with your dad who devastated your family when he left ten years ago? Tobin always wanted her mom to date, assumed she would at some point, but she certainly never thought is would be with her dad.

 

“That’s about the reaction I expected,” Cindy says after a moment with a hesitant smile. She lays her hand back on top of Tobin’s. “How are you feeling?”

 

“I don’t…” Tobin laughs a little in disbelief. “I don’t even know right now, Ma.” She wracks her head for flurry of feelings that are currently rattling around inside, but she can’t grasp onto one long enough to put a voice to it. She’s damn near speechless, but she told her mom she would try to keep an open mind about this, so she’s going to try her best. She shakes her head and adds, “shocked, obviously. I mean…how did this even happen?”

 

“Well after Nata’s birthday party, once everyone else left your father stayed behind to help me clean things up. It was strange at first, I’ll admit. We hadn’t been in the same room alone together in over ten years, have hardly spoken in all that time. It was awkward and I think we were both wishing we could be anywhere else in that moment, honestly.” There’s a soft smile on her face as she remembers the moment. Tobin hasn’t seen her mom smile like that in a long, long time. “But then I was washing dishes and he was drying them and it reminded us both of all the times we stood in that same kitchen doing exactly that and I don’t know…we turned to each other and smiled and then suddenly it didn’t feel weird anymore. We started talking about you kids and how proud we are of you all. We caught each other up on our lives. We opened a bottle of wine and--”

 

“Okay, I don’t think I need to hear about the rest of this,” Tobin interrupts, fearing where this might be heading. She’s trying to have an open mind, but she’ll never be that open. Ever.

 

“And we talked,” Cindy says, her voice and eyes pointed in disapproval at what Tobin was trying to imply. “We just talked. It was really nice and there were glimmers of that man I loved so dearly for so long. I hadn’t seen him in a long time, since even before everything fell apart. It made me remember why and how much I always loved him.” There’s a quiet moment before she adds, “how much I love him.”

 

Tobin hears the breath she sucks in at that. She feels a little guilty when she sees her mom cringe, clearly hurt by Tobin’s reaction. That hits Tobin harder than this news did. She knows this can’t possibly be an easy conversation for her mom to have. She’s making herself vulnerable with this and she’s clearly scared. But she’s being honest with Tobin. She isn’t telling Perry or Katie or Jeff this. She’s telling Tobin. She trusts her enough and appreciates her opinion enough that she’s bringing this to her instead of anyone else.

 

However Tobin may feel about this, that isn’t what’s important right now. All that matters is how her mom feels. She clearly wants, needs, to talk this through with someone and Tobin makes the decision to be that for her, no matter how difficult that may be.

 

She leans forward again and flips her hand over so she’s now holding her mom’s hand. She gives it a gentle squeeze. “Are you sure about this? He hurt you so badly, Mom.” There’s no anger in her voice, just genuine curiosity to want to understand where her mom’s head is.

 

“No one knows that better than be, honey,” Cindy teases to try and lighten the mood. “I haven’t forgotten that, though and neither has he. We’ve had lunch a couple times the past weeks to talk about things and he knows I’m not going to forgive him just like that. I would never let myself do that.”

 

Tobin nods, giving herself a moment to think of what she wants to say next. “You better not let this be easy for him,” Tobin finally says, an easy smile on her face.

 

Her mom laughs, clearly grateful for the break in this heavy conversation. “Oh trust me, I’m not,” she confirms. “We’ve already agreed this isn’t going to be a quick process. There are still a lot of wounds that have yet to totally heal and it isn’t going to be easy for me to completely let him back in yet. He’s already agreed to couples therapy and he knows I’m not going to let him off the hook unless he’s willing to put in the work. Ironically enough, your father taught me a lot about forgiveness.”

 

“What do you mean?” Tobin asks.

 

Cindy pulls her hands away so she can cross her arms as she leans back against the booth, visibly uncomfortable. “We’ve never told any of you this, honestly we’ve never told anyone, but uhm…” Cindy averts her eyes and says, “I cheated on your dad.”

 

Tobin can’t help her eyes from going a little wide. This is just so much information to take in at once that Tobin doesn’t know if her head is ever going to stop spinning completely. She barely gets a chance to let this news settle before her mom continues.

 

“It was back when we were still in college,” Cindy says. “I was young and stupid. It was just one time and I didn’t really think it mattered at the time. I loved your dad, but I didn’t realize how much. I never imagined I’d marry him or that we’d ever be anything more than a college relationship, so selfishly I didn’t think it was a big deal that I did it. I’m not proud to admit that, but it’s the truth.

 

“I told your dad about it right away. I figured he would just break up with me and that would be the end of it. But he surprised me,” Cindy says. “He was angry, of course. He was also heartbroken--it was the first time I’d ever seen him cry. But then he told me he loved me and he asked if I felt the same. I told him I did. He then asked if I still wanted to be with him. It took me longer than it should have to think about it, but again I told him I did. His last question was if I was willing to fix things and find a way to make it work. I didn’t even hesitate before I said I was. In the moment of my life that I’m least proud of, he showed me grace. If not for that, I wouldn’t have you or your siblings. My life would have been completely different if he hadn’t forgiven me.”

 

“So what, you hurt dad over 30 years ago and then he hurts you and now you’re just even?”

 

Tobin can’t help the slight anger that creeps into her tone. She isn’t even sure why she’s showing anger towards her mom when it tastes like the anger she’s felt about her dad for the past ten years. This isn’t meant for her and she doesn’t deserve it, but she’s the one that’s here right now.

 

Cindy doesn’t so much as flinch at her emotions, though. She’s probably been expecting it since she decided to talk about this with Tobin. She was ready for it. She doesn’t let it intimidate her. She stays calm when she speaks again.

 

“No, I don’t see it that way,” Cindy says. “I’m not forgiving him because he forgave me. I’m forgiving him for the reasons he forgave me.”

 

Tobin gives her mom a confused look that asks her to elaborate.

 

“He chose to forgive me because he loved me and he knew that love was worth fighting for. He was willing to put in the effort to find a way for us to stay together. That’s what I’m willing to do now. We both are.” Cindy leans forward and folds her hands under her chin, elbows resting on the table. “It’s something I wish he would have been willing to do years ago, but there’s nothing to be done about that now.”

 

Tobin lets out what’s probably her hundredth sigh since this conversation started. She looks around the restaurant at all the people she honestly forgot were even here. She was so engrossed in the conversation with her mom she didn’t even remember they were in a room full of people. They’re all happily enjoying their lunches, laughing and smiling, going on about their days without a care in the world.

 

Meanwhile, Tobin’s head and heart are spinning in circles around each other.

 

She doesn’t know what to think of all this. Honestly, she probably won’t be able to figure it out for a while, but she needs to give her mom something. She’s put her faith in Tobin and she wants to make sure that wasn’t for naught.

 

Just like with her dad months ago after their dinner with Christen, Tobin has a choice. Just like Tobin’s dad years ago back in college when her mom admitted her infidelity, Tobin has a choice. Just like her mom now when faced with the idea of forgiving the man who so terribly broke her heart, Tobin has a choice.

 

She can choose to be against this. She can choose to tell her mom she thinks this is a terrible idea and she won’t sign off on it. She can choose to be selfish and refuse to be quiet about how much she disagrees with all of this.

 

Or.

 

She can choose to do what she said and keep an open mind about this. She can choose to trust her mother and support her in anyway she can during this time. She can choose to play her part in making an effort to heal her family in whatever way they can.

 

She can choose to let her mom be happy in any way she can, which is really all she’s ever wanted.

 

Tobin lays her hand on the table, palm facing up. Tears spring in Cindy’s eyes at the gesture and of course Tobin can’t stop her own at the sight. Cindy reaches to hold Tobin’s hand and lets out a little choked sob before she manages a smile.

 

“This isn’t going to be easy. Not on any of us,” Tobin says like it isn’t already obvious, but she needs to say it. “Jeff is going to have such a hard time when he hears about this.”

 

“I know he will,” Cindy admits. “I don’t plan on anyone finding out about this for a long time, your dad and I both agreed. We don’t want to get anyone worked up in case this ends up not working out.”

 

“Then why did you tell me?”

 

“I thought you might be the only one who would understand. Despite everything, you’ve forgiven him recently too.”

 

She’s right. Out of all her siblings, Tobin is the only one who’s really made an effort to move on from everything. Perry and Katie tolerate their dad and Jeff has, at least as of late, decided he can be around him so long as he practically chooses to act as if he isn’t there at all. None of them have forgiven him, though.

 

None of them have done what Tobin’s done and tried to find a place for their dad in her life once again.

 

Tobin nods and then raises her mom’s hand up to kiss her knuckles. “Mom, all I’ve ever wanted is for you to be happy. You haven’t truly been in a long, long time. If working things out with dad means I get to see you be happy again, then I’ll find a way to be okay with it. And I’ll make sure the rest of the family does the same, whenever it may be that they find out.”

 

Cindy reaches for a napkin from the dispenser on the table with her free hand and dabs the tears away from her eyes. She has on a happy smile, but the tears just won’t stop falling. “I love you, my sweet girl,” she says with a watery voice, a genuine smile on her face.

 

“I love you too, Mom.” Tobin moves to stand up from the table, pulling her mom up as well so she can wrap her up in a tight hug. She rubs her back and feels her tears on her shoulder, so she just hugs her tighter.

 

After a few moments, Cindy kisses Tobin’s cheek and then pulls away. “Okay, enough of all that.”

 

They share a laugh and then Tobin reaches for her sunglasses and keys on the table. “Come on, let’s get out of here. We have a date to get you ready for.” Tobin puts her arm around her mom’s shoulders and leads them out of the restaurant.

 

This certainly isn’t how she expected this lunch to go, but oddly, she wouldn’t have wanted it to go any other way.