"Okay, you think you've got it?"
Nata nods his head dramatically. "Yeah, Tobs. I already said I got it," he almost groans. "Can I go now, please?"
Tobin laughs at how exasperated he is. She really thought Christen was going to be the one most worried about Nata, but turns out it was her. He lost his patience with her before they even made it into the water.
She's been the one trying to convince Christen to let her teach him how to surf since the beginning, but now that she's finally let her she's been a nervous wreck the whole time.
Tobin insisted on making him practice standing up on his board while still safely in the sand so many times even Christen was laughing a little at how careful she was being. Once they finally get in the water, Tobin swims alongside his board, never taking a hand off it and steering him out to where the waves have already crashed so he's safe from the full sized ones. She has him stand up on the board and work on balancing, first while she holds the board steady and then when she stands right beside him, ready to catch him if he falls.
Once she's had him practice all the basics, she knows it's time to let him actually try to ride a little wave, but she's having some trouble actually letting him go.
Plenty of waves have rolled through that would have been perfectly fine for him to try, but she's being too cautious. She's standing right next to him where the water is only a couple feet deep and the kid swims like a fish so he would be perfectly fine even if he were to fall, but she's still so worried. She would never forgive herself if he were to get hurt.
But she's run out of excuses for why he can't go any longer and she knows she's going to have to let him.
Christen is sitting calmly on the beach, watching the whole thing happen from where she's perched cross legged on her towel. Tobin should be appreciating how much Christen trusts her with this, that she's able to remain relaxed, but she's too caught up in her own nerves to even notice. She had tried to convince Christen to come out in the water with them earlier, thinking that would help them both with their nerves to be so close to him should anything happen, but she insisted she was much more content to watch from the shore.
"All right, all right," she grins, knowing she's been pretty unreasonable thus far. She glances over her shoulder and sees, thankfully, one of the smallest waves she's seen today tolling up. "Let's take this next one, yeah?"
"Yeah! Finally!" He's practically bouncing up and down where he lies on the surfboard. "Let's go, let's go, let's go!"
Tobin swallows down all her remaining fears and angles his board towards the beach. "Okay, when I tell you, start paddling and then I'll tell you when to stand up. Do you--" she bites her tongue before she can ask if he's got it yet again. She already knows what his answer to that will be.
"Okay, I'm ready," Nata says, grinning and evidently raring to go.
"Start paddling," she tells him, waiting until just the right moment and then says, "okay go!" She pushes the board lightly to help propel him and then bites her lip and watches helplessly, ready to swim to him at a moment's notice.
She watches as he paddles just a moment longer and then pops himself up on the board like a natural. Once he's standing, he's a little wobbly, but he manages to stay on his feet and the board for a few solid seconds before the mini wave dies out. To celebrate his successful ride, he throws his arms up in the air, which then throws him off balance and he falls into the water with a big grin on his face.
"Yeah, dude!" Tobin cheers, swimming forward so she can help him up on the board.
"I did it!" He shouts once he pops back up above the surface. He wrinkles his nose as the salty water gets in his mouth, but he doesn't stop smiling.
"Yeah you did, buddy!"
"Mama did you see that?!" Nata yells, whipping around so he can squint and spot his mom up on the shore.
"I did, sunshine! Great job!"
Only Tobin is able to detect the nervous relief in her voice. She knows exactly how she feels. Part of her wants to try and convince him that's enough for one day, but she knows he'll never go for it. So instead, she grits her teeth and asks, "want to go again?"
By that point, he's surfing on actual waves (the smallest ones he has the patience to let Tobin wait for) and he's having the time of his life. He sits on the front of Tobin's board while she rides a couple waves, giggling with glee as the water sprays up in his face.
They manage to convince Christen to come out for the end of their time in the water. She mostly just floats on the top of the board while Nata swims around and Tobin hangs off the side. She refuses to actually go underwater, but Tobin and Nata both appreciate the effort.
By the time they've dragged Nata out of the water, packed up their things and gotten him into the car, he's passed out in his seat before they even pull out onto the main road. He's completely drained from a day in the hot sun and exerting so much effort into balancing on the board.
"Thank you for today," Christen says as Tobin drives them back to her house. She reaches over and brushes Tobin's still damp hair out of her face, thumb tracing softly over her cheek.
"What for?" Tobin asks, unsure she deserves the praise.
"You're just so good with him. And as anxious as I was in the beginning, there's no one else I'd trust to teach him how to surf. He absolutely adores you. So do I."
Tobin's blushing at that. She's glad her cheeks are a little sunburnt so Christen hopefully can't tell. "I adore you both just as much." She reaches up and takes Christen's hand from where it's resting on the back of her neck. She tangles their fingers together and kisses the back of her hand before bringing it down to rest in her lap. "Today was a really, really good day."
"It was a perfect day."
"I want to fit in as many of these as I can the next couple months. February is going to be here before we know it and I'll be back in Jersey."
She feels Christen squeeze her hand and glances over to see her giving her what she thinks is a sad smile.
"Don't worry about that right now. Just enjoy the time we all have left in LA," Christen tells her, leaning over to kiss her shoulder.
"I'll definitely be enjoying it to the fullest."
"If that were true, you'd be staying at the house with me tonight," Christen points out.
Tobin laughs gently, "we agreed I wasn't going to stay with you full time because we didn't want to move in together yet. It's just one weekend at Kelley's and then I'll be back."
Emily went to Georgia early for the holidays and Kelley was going to go with her, but instead decided to stay in LA for one more weekend and have Tobin over to hang out. They haven't had a lot of one-on-one time together since Tobin's been back to LA. They've hung out plenty during double dates with their girlfriends, dinners at Amy or Lauren's, lunches after indoor games with half their teams. But they haven't hung out just the two of them since before Tobin was traded and they're both excited for some quality time together.
"I know, I'm just jealous she gets you all to herself and I don't," Christen pouts.
"Babe trust me, you have nothing to be jealous about with Kelley. She isn't nearly as cute as you," Tobin teases.
"Haha, you're so funny," Christen rolls her eyes. "I guess I'll just have to sleep in my big bed all alone and find other ways to keep myself entertained."
Tobin takes advantage of the red light and turns to face her. "Don't you dare tease me like that," Tobin laughs.
"I'm not teasing you. I'm just stating a fact," Christen shrugs, playing nonchalant. "It's not my fault you're that easy to work up."
"You're so mean to me."
"Says the girl leaving me alone for two nights," Christen counters.
They stare each other down for a moment, both trying to play tough. But eventually they both give in and grin at each other, just before Tobin has to start driving again as the light turns green.
"I'll be back before you know it," Tobin says. "And I promise I'll make up for lost time."
"Hmm, you better," Christen hums, very much liking the sound of that. "And remember Monday afternoon, I'm leaving work early so we can go to the s-h-e-l-t-e-r to surprise Nata."
Tobin glances in the rearview mirror at the boy absolutely passed out to the world in the backseat. "I don't think you have to spell. He so out of it he can't hear you."
"He's been begging for this for months. I'm not taking any chances."
"He's going to freak, you know?"
"Oh, I know. I can't wait for it," Christen grins, just imagining it.
Christen told Tobin a while ago that Nata has been asking for a dog for the longest time. First, he wanted one for his birthday, but then Tobin was traded and he decided he wanted to go see her instead. So instead he asked for one for Christmas and Christen has finally decided she's okay with adopting a dog. Tobin knows Christen is just about as excited as Nata. She explained if it weren't for Nata struggling so much with his transition of his adoption, she would have had a dog a couple years ago. But she wanted to make sure he had her absolute full attention for as long as he needed. Now that she's confident he's completely comfortable and happy, they're ready for a dog and she's nearly buzzing with excitement.
Technically it's a Christmas present for Nata, but it's a present for her too.
"I know, because this is easily the tenth time you've reminded me about it today alone," Tobin teases. She's exaggerating, but only just.
"Oh hush. You know you're excited too," Christen says in self defense.
"Oh I definitely am. I'm most excited to see how hype you're both going to be about it when we're there, though. I'm glad you invited me to go along because I know I'll need to stop you from getting more than one."
Christen opens her mouth to protest, but instead just smiles. "You might be a little right about that."
Tobin shoots her a wink. "Don't worry, I'll be there to stop you from going home with every single one."
"My hero," Christen laughs. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Then it's a good thing you're stuck with me."
Tobin's happy about it, though. The chill weekend at Kelley's would've been fun, but she knows she would've gotten restless. This way she'll still get to spend quality time with her friend, but also get to exert some energy and enjoy, as Kelley says, 'the great outdoors.'
Kelley already has their bags packed up and her car loaded, complete with a tent, sleeping bags, plenty of water, food, and of course, far more beer than the two of them will need for just two days.
They cruise through the hour long drive, windows down and music blaring. It's unseasonably warm, even for California, so they enjoy the feeling of the wind blowing through the car and appreciate how the noise drowns out their poor singing.
Tobin insists on setting up the tent as soon as they get to the campsite even though Kelley just wants to start on the first hike. Tobin wins though, knowing they'll be too tired to do it after the hike even if Kelley can't see it now.
Once everything is set up and ready to go, they spend the rest of their Saturday hiking a much tougher trail than Kelley said it would be. They're professional athletes so of course they're in shape, but they're in off-season shape. And the extra sweets and alcohol they've allowed themselves to consume the past few weeks have taken a bit of a toll.
By the time they make it back to the campsite that night, Kelley's praising Tobin for having the foresight to set the tent up earlier. She proves it by crashing for a quick nap while Tobin starts a fire so she can cook the foil dinners Kelley packed.
Once Kelley gets up, they eat dinner, drink beer and enjoy how quiet things are out at the nature preserve. There are a few other campsites with occupants scattered around, but most people are home prepping for the holidays and not out camping. Kelley quizzes Tobin on star constellations, which gets more and more difficult with each beer, but she thinks she does pretty well. It's not like Kelley would know the difference either way.
Sunday they sleep in and have a lazy morning. Kelley complains the whole time about her back hurting and ends up switching the trail they were going to hike today for an easier one. Tobin reminds her it was her idea to sleep on the ground so it's her own fault her back aches and Kelley just flips her a middle finger in return.
The hike really is much easier, but the views are still breathtaking so they're more than grateful for it. Tobin would never admit it to Kelley, but her muscles are still aching from yesterday and her back doesn't feel the best either, so she's glad she picked an easier trail. "Screw getting old," she thinks to herself.
They're back to the campsite earlier than expected, the easier trail not taking nearly as long. Kelley has a soccer ball in her car so they play 1v1 until it starts to get too dark and then Tobin insists it's Kelley's turn to cook dinner tonight. Kelley grumbles about it, but she does it anyway.
After they've eaten and are lounging in their camp chairs drinking beer, Kelley clears her throat.
"So, uh, there's actually something I wanted to talk to you about."
Tobin can tell right away this is something important. Kelley's nervous, which she almost never is. Her voice is a little shaky and her fingers are tapping frantically on her knee. Tobin has no idea what this is about, but it must be something big.
"Okay, what's going on?"
Instead of giving her a verbal response, Kelley stands up and goes to her car. She opens the door and fishes around in the glove box for a minute before she finds whatever it is she's looking for and walks back to the chair. She reaches over and sets a small, black velvet box on the arm of Tobin's chair.
Tobin knows exactly what it is right away, but she figures making a joke might lighten the mood and help Kelley calm down. "Kell, you know I love you, but not like that."
"Oh my god, shut up," Kelley groans. She laughs, though, and her smile is easier when she rolls her eyes and reaches for the box again. "You wish I was proposing to you."
"You're right, you've got me all figured out. I've been secretly in love with you for years and I've just been waiting for you to finally figure it out," Tobin says, face completely neutral.
"Fuck off, that's gross," Kelley deadpans. "Seriously though, I think I'm going to do it over the holidays. Not actually on Christmas because that's so cliche and annoying, but maybe a few days after and before New Years or something."
"Damn, dude. That's amazing, congrats," Tobin says, genuinely. She's so happy for her friend and she has the giant smile on her face to prove it. "I didn't realize you were there yet."
"I don't think either of us thought we were either, but I don't know. Having her living here since the trade has been really good for us and things just feel so much more serious now. Like technically she lives with Mal, but she spends almost all her time at my place. And somehow we always get on the topic of marriage and kids? Like we'll be doing something completely different and I don't know, somehow things always find their way back to that. Even if it's just a quick comment about the kind of flower Emily would never want our wedding that we move on from right after. It's always there. It sounds dumb, but when you know you know. And I know."
Tobin reaches over and squeezes Kelley's arm, wishing she hadn't had that last beer and was just a little more coherent right now. But she'll manage.
"This is huge, Kell. I'm really, really happy for you. The two of you are perfect for each other."
"Yeah, we kind of are, aren't we?" She asks with a dreamy look in her eye. "Do you want to see the ring?"
"Hell yeah I do!"
Kelley hands the box back to her and Tobin flips open the lid carefully. It's nothing flashy, just a simple silver band with a line of diamonds inlaid across the top of it with an emerald in the middle. It's exactly the type of engagement ring Tobin can imagine Emily wearing. She would never want a traditional ring with a giant diamond that draws attention immediately. She would want something exactly like this, simple and classy, with just a touch of uniqueness from the emerald.
"Wow, Kell. This is perfect. It's beautiful," Tobin tells her, taking one last look at the ring before she hands it back. "She's going to love it."
"Yeah, you think so?" Kelley flips open the box and takes another look at it. She's probably already spent so much time staring at it before now that she has every single detail memorized, but she keeps looking anyway. Just in case there's something new to see.
"I know so," Tobin assures her.
"You think she'll say yes?"
Tobin's first instinct is to roll her eyes because the answer is so obvious to her she can't believe Kelley is even asking, but she guesses she must need the reassurance. Deep down, Kelley already knows the answer. She just needs to hear it one more time to believe it.
"Of course she will," Tobin says. "She loves you so much and anyone who's ever seen the way she looks at you knows it. She isn't even going to hesitate."
Kelley takes a deep breath and then closes the box, tucking it away I'm her pocket. "You're right," she says. "Of course you're right. I love her and she loves me. We're ready for this and she's going to say yes."
Tobin just nods, knowing Kelley doesn't need an actual response right now. She just needs to say the words out loud and let them really sink in.
Once Kelley's had a moment to accept it, she turns back to Tobin with a sly smile. "So when are you proposing to Christen?"
Tobin hates the way she blushes, but she can't help it. She's thought about it and they've talked about it briefly, but they've both agreed it isn't something they're even close to being ready for yet. Their time will come, but they're a long way off from that for now.
Still, it fills her with butterflies just imagining it.
"We haven't even been together nine months yet," Tobin reminds her. "We aren't ready."
"Tobs, I'm pretty sure you were ready the moment you laid eyes on her."
She knows on some level that's true. She had absolutely no idea at the time, but that feeling was there. That feeling of everything locking into place and suddenly making sense. There's no way she could've known what that feeling meant at the time and it took her a long time to realize what it was, but there's no denying she felt it.
She knows Christen did too.
"Fair, but we still aren't there just yet. We will be one day, but not yet."
The promise of one day has her considering stealing Kelley's car and driving to Christen right now so she can tell her she loves her. She doesn't know when 'one day' will be, but she does know she can't wait for it. Whether it's next year or the next or even next month, she'll know it when she feels it. Like Kelley says, when you know ,you know. She's had moments like that throughout her entire relationship with Christen, she knows it'll be the same way for this too.
"As long as I get to be maid of honor at your wedding, I'll be patient until whenever that day comes."
"You might have to fight Amy and Lauren for it, but if you win then the spot's all yours," Tobin laughs.
"I feel like you're setting me up for failure having to fight them, but I won't back down from a challenge. They scare me, but I'll still throw down." Kelley mimes throwing a couple punches, proving how ready she is for the challenge.
"I have no doubt about that." Tobin knows all her friends are tough as hell and can be scrappy when they need to. It's metaphorical, but she's pretty sure in a real fight between the three they would end up just destroying each other and no one would win.
She smiles at Kelley, who's now staring up at the wild mess of stars in the sky and sipping her beer slowly. "You know, I'm really proud of you," she tells her.
Kelley gives her a bewildered look, not entirely sure what that means. She doesn't get the chance to ask before Tobin is explaining.
"I've known you for a long time and we've experienced some really great times together, but we've also seen each other at some really wild points and some really low ones too. We've been through a lot and knowing where we've ended up and what all we still have to go through, I'm just really proud of how far you've come. And I'm happy to get to be on the ride with you."
Kelley swallows hard, the hand holding her beer shaking a little before she brings it to rest against her leg. She's fighting back tears, but she's doing a great job of it. "Thank you, Tobin. That means so much to me."
Tobin nods and smiles, holding up her beer bottle for Kelley to clink hers against. They spend the rest of the night discussing far more trivial things, but Tobin thinks she'll remember that night under the stars forever. They've been through so much together and they have so far left to go, and tonight will always remind her just how important this friendship is to her.
She'll be grateful for it forever.
He stands between them and holds one of each of their hands as they walk up and down the rows of kennels. Even Tobin, who doesn't love dogs nearly as much as Christen and Nata, feels her heart constrict for every single dog she sees. She finds herself wanting to adopt every single one, which is the exact thing she's supposed to be preventing from happening.
Christen reads the little info cards on each kennel for Nata. She told him he would get to pick which dog he wanted, but she had to approve too. She wants to be responsible about it and make sure they get one that will fit into their lifestyle and home life, not just the one Nata thinks is cutest.
When they step up to a chocolate labrador mix, Tobin thinks he's found his favorite. Her name is Lela and she's two years old. Her card says she loves to run and play fetch, but she's well trained and can be calm while indoors. She's great with kids and other animals and she loves cuddles. When Nata sticks his fingers between the holes in the crate, Lela runs up and licks them, her tail wagging excitedly. Nata giggles and pets her head as best he can.
Tobin thinks she's perfect and she can tell Christen does too, she practically has hearts jumping out of her eyes.
"What do you think, bud? Is she the one?" Tobin asks, thinking she already knows the answer.
"Uhm," he thinks for a moment, letting Lela lap at his hand for another moment before he pulls it away. "Maybe, but I want to look more. I hafta be sure."
"So responsible," Tobin mouths as Nata is distracted with looking towards the next kennel.
"He's my son, what do you expect?" She winks at Tobin. "Let's keep looking," Christen says to Nata. She steers him down the aisle again, but her eyes linger on Lela for just another moment.
They make it three more kennels down before Nata stops in his tracks, eyes immediately locked on to the dog he sees. His jaw drops and he gasps, "look how cute!"
Tobin pokes her head around the corner so she can see the dog in question and has to bite back a groan at what she sees. It's a chihuahua. Worse, it's two chihuahuas.
Tobin doesn't like small dogs.
She love big dogs and medium dogs so much, but small ones are loud and hyper and annoying. Her sister's best friend had a mini poodle in high school and it's like that thing could sense how much Tobin didn't like him. He was a sweetheart to everyone and a terror towards her. She's never liked any small dog since.
She sends up a quick prayer it isn't too late to convince Nata to get Lela.
"Mama, what are their names?"
Christen leans down so she can read from the card and speak right towards Nata. "The white one is Hero and the black one is Leo. They're two year old brothers. They love to snuggle, don't like thunderstorms and are the best of friends."
Nata looks at them in awe, laughing as they walk up to the fence, perfectly in step. They seem a little hesitant, but when Nata leans down and reaches his hand through the fence, they sniff him only for a second before they start jumping up and down, and spinning around. He pets them both and then looks up at his mom.
Tobin knows that look.
"Mama, they're perfect."
Christen looks only slightly more thrilled that Tobin feels, but she hides it with a smile. "Which one, sunshine?"
Nata gives her a shy smile, barely actually looking up to make eye contact with her. "Both of them."
Christen sighs and stands back up straight, sending Tobin a look that says, 'I'm so screwed here.'
"Nata, the deal was for one dog. Not two," she tells him.
"Yeah, but they're so tiny. They're smaller than one big dog," he reasons. "And they're brothers. We can't just take one and leave the other. He would be so sad."
"Oh he's good," Tobin whispers. She doesn't even want them to adopt this dog, let alone both, but she can't argue with that logic. He knows how to get what she wants.
She watches as Christen's resolve completely melts. She manages to try and dissuade him for another minute, but thirty minutes later she's driving them home and there are two little chihuahuas in the backseat with Nata fawning over them the whole drive.
"What have I gotten us into?" Christen asks, looking over her shoulder at Nata trying and failing to get both dogs to sit in his lap at the same time.
"That kid is a master manipulator," Tobin laughs.
"Ugh I know, please don't remind me," she groans. "He's going to be responsible for these dogs, though. He's going to let them outside and help bathe them and make sure they don't make messes around the house. Isn't that right, Nata?"
"Yes, Mama," Nata calls from the backseat, followed immediately by a laugh when one of the dogs yawns and sighs.
"You're so whipped," Tobin tells Christen.
"Oh whatever. You would have done the exact same thing when he pulled that 'they're brothers' card and you know it."
Tobin doesn't even bother denying it.
"I still don't like small dogs," she says instead.
"Yeah, yeah, just give them time. They'll grow on you, I know it."
"No way," Tobin swears.
Later that night, Tobin ends up falling asleep on the couch after dinner, with both dogs curled up on her stomach. Christen makes sure to take multiple pictures for blackmail purposes later.
Christen groans and moves around, still in a sleepy haze, and mumbles, "stop it, your nose is so cold."
She doesn't try to push her away though, so Tobin just readjusts and moves in closer. "Merry Christmas," she whispers against Christen's jaw, placing a kiss to her soft skin.
She feels Christen grin as she slowly starts to wake up. "Merry Christmas, honey." She wraps her arms around Tobin and holds her close. "Why are you up so early?"
"I'm just excited. It's Christmas!"
"You sound like Nata," Christen says, a sleepy laugh escaping her.
As if on cue, the door to Christen's room is pushed open slowly and they hear the patter of two feet followed by the clacking of eight little paws moving into the room. Nata lifts each of the dogs onto the bed first before climbing up himself.
"Merry Christmas, Mama. Merry Christmas, Tobs," he says as he maneuvers his way in between them, slipping under the covers as Tobin pulls them back for him. He places a sloppy kiss on both their foreheads and then settles in to snuggle.
"Merry Christmas, my sweet boy," Christen says, kissing his head and smoothing down his wild bedhead.
"Merry Christmas, Natanael," Tobin tells him before kissing his forehead in return.
Nata pats the blankets over his stomach, causing Hero and Leo to run immediately to their favorite person in the whole world. The three of them are honestly obsessed with each other. They sleep with him every night and follow him around everywhere he goes. The only time they aren't with Nata is when he’s not at home, in which case they're glued to Tobin's side. She still insists she isn't a fan of small dogs but doesn't want to be mean to them so she allows their company.
Christen and Nata (and begrudgingly, Tobin) know that's a lie, though.
Both dogs sniff Tobin and Christen in turn before they settle down on top of Nata's stomach and close their eyes, content to get a little more sleep until it's time to officially get up and start the day.
"When can we open presents?" Nata asks, his excitement barely contained.
"I don't know, dude. I'm not sure if Santa brought any presents this year. I think he was too busy," Tobin teases him, hoping to get a rise.
"Nu-uh," Nata shakes his head. "I already went downstairs and saw all the presents under the tree. Santa was here."
"You scoped out the presents without me? No fair!"
Tobin already knows exactly how many presents are set up downstairs. She stayed up much too late with Christen setting them up.
Since he got the dogs, there aren't too many big presents under the tree, but Christen made sure to get him some smaller things so he would have some to unwrap. Plus his gifts from Tobin and Tobin's family are under there too, along with Tobin's and Christen's presents for each other. So there's a lot to see, even if it isn't all for him.
"You hafta wake up earlier if you want to see the presents with me. You were still sleeping when I opened the door."
Tobin wonders when he possibly could have gotten up. It's barely 7:00 now and Tobin's been awake for about 20 minutes. He must have been worse at containing his excitement than she was this morning and woken up far too early for as long of a day as they have ahead of them.
They're going to unwrap presents and have breakfast here this morning. At some point they'll facetime Tobin's family and unwrap their respective gifts together. Then they're going over to Lauren's for lunch with the Holidays and the Shillings, including some of their extended family. Then they're headed to Christen's parents' house with Christen's sisters for dinner and more presents. Tobin is already tired just thinking about how busy the day will be and wishes she could have gotten a little more sleep, but she knows that was never going to happen. It's her first Christmas with Christen and Nata, and she's been waiting for this for weeks.
"I'll remember that for next year," Tobin says. "How about we get up and get this thing started, yeah?"
"Yeah!" Nata hops up out of bed, the dogs feeding off his excitement and letting out barks of joy and spinning in circles. "Let's go, let's go!"
He jumps down from the bed and helps each dog down before running out of the room, headed right for the stairs. "Come on, Mama! Come on, Tobs!"
Tobin laughs at how much energy he has so early, wishing she could have a little of that. As excited as she is, she can't help but let out a long yawn and wishing she could get just a few more minutes of sleep. She sits up and stretches, groaning at all the joints that pop in the process. She looks over at Christen and nudges her to sit up. "Come on, Mama. Let's go, let's go," she repeats.
"You two, I swear," Christen rolls her eyes. She sits up and kisses Tobin's cheek before swinging her legs out of bed. "What am I ever going to do with the two of you?"
"Enjoy how adorable and lovable we are." Tobin rests her chin in her hands, batting her eyelashes in Christen's direction.
Christen laughs as she slips into the bathroom to get ready.
Tobin happily agreed - anything to see that kid smile like he did when he tore off the wrapping paper. And besides, she knows she’ll have almost as much fun helping him build them as he will.
He's decked out in his signed Leo Messi Barcelona jersey she got him too. She had to pull absolutely every string she's built up in her entire professional career to make it happen, but it was worth it. When she first opened it, she was so awestruck she almost considered keeping it for herself, but she knew she couldn't do it. It's about four sizes too big for him so he's swimming in it, but she wanted it to be something he could wear forever. He gave her maybe the tightest hug she's ever received when he saw it and he pulled it over his head immediately. Christen joked he probably won't take it all for a month, but they both know it's barely just a joke.
Christen is in the kitchen, cleaning up the dishes from their breakfast, still grinning over the new pots and pans set Tobin bought her. Tobin cringed when she bought something so boring for Christen, but her girl loves the art of practical gift giving and she's been eyeing this set for months. She'd gotten so giddy when she unwrapped the box, her excitement rivaled Nata's when they went to the animal shelter last week. Seeing that smile on her face made Tobin feel so much better about the gift.
Plus it didn't hurt Christen also has a new diamond necklace sparkling around her neck for good measure. Because as much as she likes practical gifts, she also loves lavish ones.
Tobin thinks she did pretty good in the gift giving department this year.
As did Christen. She got Tobin a framed copy of the picture Christen showed her at her office all those months ago, the one she took of Tobin's favorite constellation in Finland. It's only a fraction of the size, nothing as audacious as the one in the gallery, but it's perfect. Tobin already knows exactly where she wants to hang it in her apartment back in New Jersey. The frame is hand painted by the same person Christen had paint the shin guards she gave her on her birthday. It's swirls of black and deep blues and purples matching the exact shades of the sky, dotted with pinpricks of white stars. It's even more gorgeous than Tobin remembers.
She also got her a quilt made up of old t-shirts and jerseys from her entire soccer career. She asked Tobin's mom for a little help collecting some of the youth team shirts and snooped through ebay for some of the older US soccer jerseys. Each square on the quilt is a step in her career, moving through chronological order from her very first team jersey when she was five years old and ending with a Sky Blue jersey in the bottom corner. She may or may not have teared up a little when Christen helped her stretch it out across the couch so she could see the whole thing.
It's surreal, seeing her entire career on display like that. Memories flash through her head as her eyes move over every single panel. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows, all proudly stitched together for her to remember forever. Christen is an expert at giving thoughtful gifts and today was no different.
Tobin is in the chair across from Nata, helping him by organizing the pieces, but letting him actually put them together unless he asks for help.
Once he finishes all the steps on the page he's working on, without looking up he asks, "Mama, cuando iremos a la casa de Ryan? Quiero contarle sobre mis legos."
Christen and Tobin make eye contact immediately. They both know what this moment means, they talked about it a few days ago. Tobin is ready to start talking with Nata in Spanish and she's just been waiting for him to say something she understands well enough to respond to. She's still learning, but she knows the best way to learn is to practice. Once Nata knows and can help her, she knows she'll have a much better time with it. He's said a few things in the past week, but nothing Tobin was quite ready to respond to yet. This though, she thinks she can handle.
Christen raises her eyebrows, asking Tobin if she's able to answer and Tobin nods.
She takes a deep breath and thinks through the words a couple times in her head. She's much better at listening and reading Spanish that she is at speaking it. She can read almost anything at this point and at least have a vague idea of what it says. Speaking is more challenging though. Her brain doesn't process the words quite as fast yet. Christen helps her most evenings and she's getting better, but she's still a little slow.
Once she's confident in her answer, she says, "nos vamos al mediodía."
Nata's head whips up from his lego instructions when he realizes Tobin is the one who responded. His eyes are wide as he looks at her, wondering if he heard right.
Tobin grins and confidently says, "un poco. Estoy aprendiendo para ti."
Nata turns around to look at Christen for confirmation. When she nods at him and shoots him a wink, he turns back around to face Tobin and is absolutely beaming.
"Esto es increíble! Gracias Tobin!" He jumps down from his chair and runs around the table so he can hug her tightly.
She hugs him back and kisses the top of his head. She thought this would be cool for him, and she knew from talking with Christen that this was important to her, but she didn't realize just how important it would be to him. She was already glad to be doing it, but now she wants to study twice as hard and learn absolutely everything she can, anything to keep him smiling like this.
When he pulls away, he launches into rapid fire spanish and Tobin can barely keep up. She knows he's saying how cool he thinks this is and how they can talk in Spanish all the time now, but that's about as much as she gets out of it.
"Whoa, Nata. Lentamente por favor, necesito aprender más," she laughs, loving his excitement, but a little lost at the same time.
"Lo siento," she says with a bashful smile. "I can't help it, this is so awesome."
"You think you can help me keep learning? I want to get really good at speaking Spanish so we can talk whenever you want, okay? You might have to be a little patient, though."
"I can do that! I'll be the best teacher ever."
"I have no doubt you will be, dude." She reaches out to muss his hair and says, "te quiero, Nata."
"Te querio mucho!" He leans forward and hugs her again.
Tobin wraps her arms around him and then looks up at Christen in the kitchen. She only smiles at her for a moment before she turns around to focus on washing the dishes again. Tobin knows it's because she has tears in her eyes at what she just witnessed and doesn't want Tobin to know.
She wants to get up and go hug her, and she will in just a moment, but she hugs Nata for a little longer first. She knows this moment is for them and that's what Christen wants, which is why she tried to hide her tears in the first place. She doesn't want to pull attention away from Nata right now.
So she holds Nata a little tighter while she gives Christen a minute to compose herself and thinks about how she's pretty sure this is her best Christmas ever.
She's stretched out on the bed, eyes closed and a smile on her face when Christen steps back into the room from the bathroom. Tobin opens her eyes and takes in the sight of her beautiful girlfriend.
Her curly hair is pulled up into a bun, her face free of makeup and still damp from being washed. She's wearing her black rimmed glasses, a UNC shirt of Tobin's and soft gray shorts that show off her legs perfectly.
Tobin sighs and counts her blessings as Christen approaches the bed. "You're so beautiful I can hardly stand it," Tobin tells her.
Christen's smile is light and full of love. "Thank you, sweetheart." She sits on the edge of the bed and reaches her hand out for Tobin's. "So I know you've been ready for bed for the last two hours, but I have one more gift for you."
"Mhm, is it lingerie?" Tobin asks, going from charming to dirty in no time at all.
Christen pauses and Tobin thinks she's about to roll her eyes at the comment, but then she says, "okay, I have two more gifts for you."
Tobin sits up in bed and tries to pull Christen towards her. "You know, suddenly I'm not tired at all." She kisses her, wasting no time before she starts to deepen it.
Christen indulges her for a few seconds, but pulls back before Tobin can slip her tongue into her mouth. "Okay, hang on. There will be plenty of time for that later with your second gift," she says as she pushes Tobin away gently and moves off the bed. "The first one is important, though."
Tobin wants to reach for Christen and pull her back, but that last part catches her attention. She tilts her head curiously and asks, "what is it?"
Christen leans over to take something out of the bottom drawer of her nightstand. It's a small, flat rectangle, wrapped in the same silver and red wrapping paper Christen wrapped all her gifts in this year. She sits cross legged on the bed and hands it to Tobin, her hand almost shaking a little.
Tobin takes the present with one hand and reaches for Christen's hand with the other, holding it softly. "Honey, what's wrong?"
"No, no," Christen shakes her head, "it's not like that. Nothing is wrong, I promise. This is a good thing, it's for us. I'm just anxious."
Tobin squeezes Christen's hand before she drops it. She still isn't sure what's going on, but she knows she won't figure it out until she opens the gift.
She slips her finger under the paper and unwraps it to find a legal size, yellow envelope inside. She gives Christen a confused expression to ask her what it is.
"I didn't have a box that would work unless I stuffed it with tissue paper," she explains. "Just open it and I'll explain."
Tobin does as instructed. She undoes the clasp on the folder and opens the top. She reaches inside to pull out the contents. When she reveals it's a copy of Christen's magazine, World Now, she gets even further confused.
"It's your magazine?"
Her eyes look over the cover, wondering if there's an article or something that's supposed to catch her attention, but nothing seems familiar. The only thing she realizes is out of the ordinary is the name of the magazine, World Now: Local. She thinks it must be a special edition, but she still doesn't understand why Christen is giving it to her.
"Flip to page 3," is all Christen says.
Tobin narrows her eyes in confusion, looking up for a quick moment, but Christen's face betrays nothing. She opens the magazine to the specified page and sees the names of all the people who worked on this edition of the magazine. Her eyes scan over the names and she smiles when she sees Christen's, always getting a kick out of seeing her name in print. Her eyes start to continue down the page when her brain realizes something out of the ordinary about what she just read.
She looks back up to Christen's name and notices what's different.
Suddenly her reasoning for giving her this magazine all makes sense.
There in big bold letters it says: Christen Press - Editor in Chief.
Tobin looks up at Christen, not even realizing she has tears in her eyes until she feels them fall onto her cheek.
"They made you Editor in Chief?" Tobin asks, bursting with pride.
"Yeah," she nods, her eyes just as watery. "They're opening up a new branch of the magazine focused entirely on travel destinations within North America. They want to focus on the hidden gems most people don't know about instead of the usual tourist locations and they want me to run it," she explains. "But it gets even better than that. Look at the address on the bottom of the page." She bites on her bottom lip nervously, waiting for Tobin to put the last piece of the puzzle together.
Tobin looks back down, blinks away a few tears so her vision isn't blurry, and reads what's listed as the mailing address. There are three words that stand out at her like they were written in 30-point font.
New York City.
She can hardly believe her eyes.
"Are you serious?" She gasps. She knows Christen wouldn't joke about something like this, but she needs verbal confirmation this is all true. "You're moving to New York?"
"Even better, we're moving to New Jersey."
"Oh my god." Tobin drops the magazine and leans across the bed to wrap her arms around Christen. They fall back on the mattress in a tangled pile of limbs, lips frantically searching for each other. "This is unbelievable," Tobin whispers against Christen's lips.
"Believe it, baby, because it's true." Christen grins and rolls them over, ducking her head down so she can press that smile against Tobin's throat.
Tobin laughs in disbelief. "This is crazy. When did this happen? How did this happen?"
Christen kisses Tobin's neck twice more before leaning back to sit on Tobin's thighs. She plays with the hem of Tobin's shirt as she speaks. "There have been rumors swirling around the office about us opening a domestic travel branch of the magazine for probably about a year now, but I never really paid them much attention. I figured if it ever came to anything, they would formally announce it. Then about four months ago they brought me into the discussions and said they were considering me for the Editor in Chief position. I thought it sounded way too good to be true, but it wasn't."
"Four months? Why didn't you say anything?"
"I actually found out about it the morning you came in and told me about your trade," she admits, eyes dropping to what her hands are doing as she remembers how hard that day was. "I didn't say anything then because you had enough going on and it wasn't a done deal yet. Then I didn't say anything later because they brought up having the branch in New York and I didn't want to get your hopes up if it didn't work out. When it became clear it was legit, I wanted to surprise you with the news and I thought Christmas was a good way to do it. I only signed the contract three weeks ago."
"This is insane. I can't believe I didn't figure this out, you're so bad at keeping secrets," Tobin teases. She sits up so she can kiss Christen's neck.
"I'm pretty proud of myself for not giving anything away, honestly," Christen admits. "Remember when we were in Jersey for Nata's birthday and I went into the city for some last minute shopping? I actually had a meeting with some board members instead and they first mentioned their plans for New York."
"No way!" Tobin laughs, "are you kidding me? I'm going to have to start looking out for you if you're that good at lying to me."
"Oh hush," she swats at Tobin's arm, "you know I'd never lie to you for selfish reasons. You struggled so much with the trade at first, I didn't want to get you excited about the idea of us moving so close to you only for it to fall through."
"You're just moving close to me? Not in with me?" Tobin asks, wiggling her eyebrows.
"As wonderful as that sounds, not just yet, babe," Christen sighs, letting her down gently. "It will be a big transition for Nata and I want us to be able to get settled before we move in together. I want that, I do. But I have to look out for him first. We'll move there in March and your lease is up in August, so by then we can discuss it more. I don't think it will need to be a very long discussion," Christen says, giving Tobin her most hopeful smile.
"I'm okay with that," Tobin nods.
She understands completely. Nata being comfortable and happy is all that matters to her. Of course she thinks he'd be thrilled if she moved in with them, but he's too young to know any better. She needs to let Christen look out for her son first and foremost, and she's going to support her through it
Tobin wraps her arms around Christen's waist, nuzzling her head against Christen's stomach. "This still doesn't feel real," she whispers into her shirt.
She doesn't know how she ever got this lucky, but she does know Christen is soft and warm and she's never been happier than this moment right now. She thought twenty minutes ago was the happiest she's ever been, but this feeling puts that one to shame.
"I know it doesn't," Christen says, stroking Tobins hair. "But I promise it is." She holds her for a few more moments before she leans back and tilts Tobin's chin up to look at her. "I know I've said this before, but you're it for me. You're everything good I always wanted but never knew I'd actually get. You love me better than I ever thought I'd deserve. I feel like I'm the best person I possibly can be with you and I don't ever want to stop feeling like this. You're my one and only, my one true love and all those other cliches that don't really feel all that cliche to me anymore now that I feel them for you. I love you and I've missed you so much these past few months, and I know it's only made us stronger, but I'm really glad I don't have to miss you like that anymore."
Tobin's bottom lip is trembling so much she has to pull it between her teeth to make it stop. It honestly feels like her chest is about to burst right open with all the things she's feeling right now, but she's never felt more alive. All the colors in her field of vision are so bright and she can hear every single sound in the room down to her own heartbeat pounding in her ears. She feels fire where Christen is touching her and she can taste every salty tear as they fall to her lips. Her senses are in overdrive and still through all of it, she has the clearest, most vivid thought she's ever had in her life.
She's going to marry Christen.
Not today, not tomorrow, maybe not even next year, but she's never been more sure of anything else. Like Kelley told her the other day, when you know you know. And right now she knows beyond any doubt her brain could ever come up with. She's thought it before, but now she knows. It's going to take everything in her to convince herself not to go out and buy a ring tomorrow to keep stashed away until the moment is right. She knows she can't do that, it wouldn't be fair to Christen. There are so many conversations they need to have before that can happen.
Right now, Tobin is satisfied with the knowledge that she's going to love Christen forever. That's enough for her tonight. That's more than enough for her.
"I love you so much," is all she can manage to say. She wants to say so many things, wants to describe all the things she's feeling. Christen deserves it after everything she just said, but right now her brain is so hectic she can't latch on to anymore words than that.
It's enough, though, because Christen understands. Tobin knows she does based on the way she looks at her with total clarity. Christen's always been best at reading her, better than anyone else she's ever known. It's like she was made to know her and love her. Maybe she was. Maybe they both were. There's so much good they both want to do with their lives, but maybe their ultimate purpose has always been to love each other and bring out the best in one another. Tobin feels like with Christen she can be her best self, just like Christen said. Maybe that's the point to all of this.
Tobin doesn't know for sure, maybe she never fully will. What she does know is that she loves Christen and if she can't tell her just how much right now, she's sure as hell going to show her.
She surges up to kiss her, placing her hands on her hips and pushing her down onto her back. She climbs on top of her and puts every single ounce of renewed energy she has into trying to make Christen feel absolutely everything she's feeling right now and everything Christen has made her feel since the moment she walked into her life.
She doesn't know if that's even possible, but she does know she's going to spend the rest of her life trying.
She can't think of anything better.