KO: Dude, where are you? Game’s about to start!
Christen ignored the text from Kelley, opting to focusing on the snow-covered streets in search of a parking spot. The plow had come through earlier to make way for the few drivers who braved the first storm of the season, but the snow had steadily fallen since. The Californian in her still got nervous driving in the snow despite living through two Midwest winters in Chicago before moving to New York last August. And here—just like in Chicago—she lived where the subway was above ground and had been shut down hours before, leaving her with little choice but to drive.
Christen internally cheered when she found a spot a block from the indoor arena and glanced at the clock on her dash: 5:04. She gritted her teeth and lined up the car to parallel park—she hated being late. Though she’d left with plenty of time to make the game, even accounting for the bad weather, she’d driven half the speed as those around her and grew flustered as the minutes crept closer to game time. Now she was in a hurry.
She barely had the car in park before cutting the ignition and grabbing her bag out of the passenger seat. Gingerly avoiding piles of slush, Christen ran the block to Astoria Sports Complex, waving to the desk attendant before taking the stairs two at a time to the upper-level indoor field. She heard the familiar banging of a ball against a plaster wall, and a few calls for passes or warnings of man on!
Damn, the one time I’m late they actually start on time, Christen thought, shaking her head. She rounded the corner and saw half a dozen girls sitting on benches, talking amongst themselves while watching the game.
“Y’all were right—they’ve got skills,” Emily commented to Kelley.
“Right? Better than I remember,” Kelley said, eyes focused on the field but hand outstretched to Christen in greeting. “Hey slow poke, nice of you to join us.”
“Look, the snow is not this girl’s friend,” Christen joked, grasping Kelley’s hand. She turned to the field to call out to the captain. “Becks! Made it!”
Becky looked to the sidelines and shot Christen a thumbs up. “Next game!” she shouted back.
Christen placed her bag on the bench and took out her turf shoes, stretching her body for the game of pick-up before she joined the team. “Am I with you guys?” She looked at the six girls in green pinnies on the sideline. “I thought we were playing 6v6?”
“Yeah, we are,” Ali smiled at her and reached out her arms in greeting to Chris. “Ash brought along two friends and one of them was filling in until you got here.” The girls squeezed each other hard and Ali planted a kiss on top of Christen’s head. “Missed ya, lady.”
“You, too, Ma. It’s been a busy season. We’ll hang soon, okay?” Christen offered apologetically.
“We better,” she was met with a wink and blinding smile.
Christen finished stretching as Rose called out the two-minute warning. The energy on the pitch picked up, both teams scrambling for a last minute goal, many of the girls laughing while trying to out-maneuver one another. The group of them had been playing in a league for a few seasons, most of them ex-D1 soccer players itching for a way to get touches on the ball after long days at the office. Christen would never have found the group on her own, but Kelley had dragged her along one Saturday evening last September. That morning at brunch with Christen and her sister, Kelley had rolled her eyes as Christen complained, again, about not making friends after a month of moving to the city.
“For the hundredth time, come to my game tonight. It’s soccer with a bunch of pretty girls,” was how Kelley chose to sell the pick-up league. “Plus, a lot of them are queer and single.”
Christen scoffed at her. “Kelley, one, I don’t mind spending my time with straight people.” She nodded toward Tyler for emphasis. “Two, the gays I do hang around are all from the queer events you’ve dragged me to, and they all think I’m straight anyway. All these New York queers really need to hone their gaydar.” Christen’s sister laughed and shook her head. She shot Tyler a look.
“No, it’s true, but can you blame them?” Her sister asked. “I mean there’s a game my friends and I play on the subway where we guess if a girl is a hipster or gay.” Christen’s jaw dropped and Kelley cackled, but Tyler continued defensively. “It’s pretty hard to tell sometimes!”
Kelley nodded through her giggles. “It’s true, Chris,” she jerked her thumb at Tyler. “She’s got a point. Those Brooklyn hipsters really throw off the gaydar.”
Tyler nodded emphatically. “Right?!”
“They’ve fucked it up for all of us by appropriating the queer style.” Kelley joked. “I mean, flannel? Beanies?? Cuffed jeans and Docs??? Those bitches.” The seriousness on Kelley’s face gave way to a smirk and Christen rolled her eyes.
Her sister shrugged. “At least if you were straight the dating process would be much less dramatic to hear about.” Kelley barked with laughter and Christen blushed, giving her sister a light shove.
“You love to live vicariously,” Christen challenged her sister.
“True,” Tyler conceded.
“Well, we can let all the girls on the team know you’re fair game, okay? That you’re on the same team,” Kelley suggested, wiggling her eyebrows and high fiving Tyler.
At Tyler’s urging—“Yeah, go make friends of your own and stop tagging along with me and mine!”—Christen acquiesced.
Before they had even begun playing that first evening in August, she knew Kelley could tell she was relieved to finally get on a field again. Christen practically bounced on their walk from the Houston Street subway stop to the park, and joined in on the excited chatter with the other girls while they laced up their boots and passed the ball around.
Ten rounds of round robin-style games later, the group made their way to Henrietta Hudson’s, the “unofficial, official soccer bar,” as Kelley introduced it with a sweeping gesture. Becky, as captain and founder of the league, had convinced the owner of the bar (“And a fellow sportsbian!” Kelley added) to provide the team with discounted drafts and pitchers all season. Considering the league, and the subsequent group of girls who drifted into the bar after games, grew each week, it was a pretty easy sell.
“If we ever make it into the competitive league, I think we’ll have a sponsor in Hen’s,” Becky laughed. “They’ve been pretty good to us.”
Christen was caught off guard an hour later when Emily and Ashlyn cleared the floor and brought out a table, two dozen plastic cups, and two pitchers of Bud Light before scanning the entire bar. “Alright, ladies! It’s flip cup time!” Ash called out while Emily did a hype man dance next to her. It was clear to Christen already that the soccer team dominated the Saturday night crowd, as teammates and random girls around the bar gathered around them. The girls lined both sides of the table and proceeded to play, Christen’s side losing the first round. Emily, who was on the other side, cheered the loudest of all and pointed at Kelley: “You’re going down, O’Hara!” Kelley laughed and just called out, “Watch out, Sonnett, you know no one picks a better truth or dare than me.”
Christen looked at Kelley suspiciously. “Huh?”
“Oh!” Kelley exclaimed, as though she’d just remembered a key element of the night. “We play Truth-or-Dare flip cup.” She waved her hand aimlessly at the crowd around them. “Whichever side wins chooses someone on the other side to carry out a truth or dare.” Kelley shrugged. “Normally they start out harmless but can get…rowdy.”
Christens eyes widened as she surveyed the bar for its exits. “Uh, Kell, I did not sign up for this.”
“Don’t worry, Chris, they go pretty easy on the newbies. Let ya get a taste of what you’re signing up for and all that.” She winked and turned her eyes to the other side of the table where Becky had called for the groups’ attention.
“Kelley!” Emily pointed to her. Kelley groaned good-naturedly and the other girls giggled. “Truth or dare?”
Kelley pretended to think. “Dare.” She smirked, raising her eyebrow.
“Of course,” Ashlyn laughed. “Okay, Kell, pick someone on the team to twerk up against.”
The girls howled with laughter when Kelley dragged Emily (“Hey, Sonny, you basically broug ht this on yourself.”) and exaggeratedly rubbed her ass against the blushing blonde’s pelvis. Christen shook her head in amusement when she realized she was already sold on this group.
“Hey! You made it,” Becky clapped Christen on the shoulder. “Allie, thanks for stepping in for Chris.” She shot a grateful smile at a tall blonde in a blue pinny. “Grab some water and take a break. We’ll use you as an alternating sub for whichever team needs you.” She turned to the rest of the group. “Pink off, green on! Blue versus green, 10 minutes. Ash, keep time?” Becky turned to the keeper.
Ashlyn mock saluted Becky. “You got it, cap.”
Christen turned to the blonde next to her, accepting the blue pinny. “Thanks. I’m Christen.”
“Allie,” the blonde responded with a smile. “This is a cool group. Thanks for letting me play with you guys.”
“Uh, don’t thank me. I heard Ashlyn roped you into this.” Allie nodded and kept smiling. “You may want to rethink that gratitude when you look over all your turf burns tomorrow.” She laughed at her own joke and Allie chuckled softly.
“Right?!” Allie encouraged her. “I mean an indoor field is nice and all, but who doesn’t want to freeze their ass off in the winter wonderland that is New York in this snowstorm?”
Christen laughed hard, but turned toward the girls on the field when Kelley called out, “Chris, quit flirting and come here so I can whoop your ass!”
Light chuckling filled the arena at Kelley’s teasing and the resulting blush creeping across Christen’s face, spreading as she jogged onto the field. She looked around at the girls, glancing at an unfamiliar lanky brunette in a blue pinny. The girl looked relaxed and comfortable, yet somehow eager at the same time, her eyes flitting around the pitch. Christen took in the length of her, checking out her sculpted legs and muscular shoulders. She was pulled out of her staring by a sharp “Go!” from the sidelines.
They played a quick and fun game, Christen impressed with the new girl’s footwork and serves into the box. The girls didn’t keep score, citing that the pick-up games were just meant to be light and easy. Christen loved that there was no pressure surrounding her, no one judging her based on her skill, no fear of losing a starting spot or being cut from her team. It was one of the things she liked most about the league, the way it gently guided her back into loving the game.
When Ashlyn called out “Time!” the girls in blue jogged off the pitch to make way for a pink versus green scrimmage. Christen liked the round robin format since it gave her a chance to sit and talk with friends on the sidelines while they watched the other two teams play, knowing they all got to play again in just a few minutes.
Christen hoped she’d have a chance to talk more with Allie—it’d be nice to have a new friend with a sense of humor like hers—but she stuck close to the lanky brunette, both talking in hushed voices with a few laughs sprinkled in. She watched the two talk and was mesmerized by the brunette’s smile and the way she threw her head back in laughter, suddenly a kid without worries. Christen had the urge to be the one making her laugh, but she saw Allie snake her arm around the brunette’s shoulders and crinkled her nose in disappointment. Okay Kelley, time to deliver on the single girls you promised me.
Christen spent her time between games talking with Becky and Rose or cheering on the girls on the field. She laughed at Rose’s outrageous commentary of the action, occasionally catching her breath when she saw Allie and the girl looking at her out of the corner of her eye. Four games later, the girls were packing up their bags and putting on their winter layers, preparing for the seven-block trek to the bar. No one wanted to travel to Henrietta’s—they couldn’t play in the West Village as they usually did, due to the lack of indoor fields—so Becky led them to a nearby bar in the Astoria neighbor that she had finagled into giving the team a happy hour discount.
The group bypassed the bar and usual Saturday night crowd, heading to the back room to settle bags and shed snow-dusted coats. Becky headed to the front with Carli and Ali in tow and returned with six pitchers and plastic cups.
“First round is on the Caps!” Ali yelled to the crowd, and the group broke out into choruses of “Thanks, Becks!” “Thanks, Carl!” and the smacking sound of air kisses. A pitcher and cups were deposited on each table, and after pouring drinks many of the girls gravitated toward the middle of the room to mingle. Christen laughed with Ali and Mal at Kelley and Emily’s dance-off, Ali smacking Ashlyn’s arm when she and Pinoe urged the two on.
“Babe,” she let out with a laugh, “don’t encourage them.” But she smiled at Christen and shrugged, and Christen laughed, because, really, what else could you do when those four were together?
Christen smiled and looked around the room at the girls, some of whom were playing darts, some talking and laughing, some egging on Kelley and Emily. She saw Allie and the brunette sitting across from each other at a table against the wall, heads bent together looking over a menu. Christen made her way over and swung her leg over the bench next to Allie. “The tacos here are pretty good,” she offered.
“Oh, yeah?” Allie looked up and smiled. “Chicken or fish?” The girl across from them scoffed at the twinkle in Allie’s eye.
“Well, the gay side of me wants to say fish,” Christen remarked, jest in her tone and a smirk on her face. The two girls laughed and the brunette eyed her curiously. “But,” she leaned in and lowered her voice, motioning for the other two to join her, “I’m a personal fan of the chicken. Don’t let the other gays know.” She pulled her head back and winked.
“The other gays?” The brunette asked, eyebrow raised. Christen was shocked at the pitch of her voice. She expected something a little higher, maybe more feminine.
“Toby, you thought Ashlyn would play on a team without any lesbians?” Allie scoffed at her friend.
“You thought a team of ex-collegiate athletes wouldn’t be mostly comprised of lesbians?” Christen added, laughing with Allie.
The brunette—Toby, Christen reminded herself—held up her hands in surrender, a broad smile plastered across her face. “Okay, okay, valid points.”
Christen looked between the two of them. “Did you guys hear about the league from Ashlyn?” She wondered. She was met with two nodding heads. “That’s cool. How do you guys know her?
The two girls looked at each other, figuring out who would answer Christen. “We played with her in college,” Allie told her.
“At UNC? Cool, great soccer program. Not as good as Stanford, but…” Christen trailed off, tongue in her cheek.
“God, don’t you Cards have any other response to that?” Toby laughed.
“’You Cards?’” Christen questioned. “So you’ve met Kelley, I take it. No surprise she’d want to know where you two got your skills from.”
“Oh, well she was there to witness Toby’s skills from the beginning,” Allie offered.
“Al,” Tobin warned.
“From the beginning?” In the six years she’d known Kelley, Christen had never heard her mention a Toby.
“Yeah,” Allie continued, despite, or possibly because of, her friend’s protests. “They played together on the youth national teams.”
Christen’s eyes nearly bulged out of her head. “You’re kidding!”
“Nope,” Allie smiled across the table and placed her hand on the blushing brunette’s forearm, squeezing. “My Toby’s always been that good.” Allie’s beaming smile was answered with an embarrassed smirk from her friend.
Christen looked at the two, wondering how much weight “My Toby” held. She saw Ashlyn and Kelley approaching the table and scooted over, motioning for Kelley to sit.
“What’s up, ladies? Great games today.” Kelley sat next to Christen and filled her cup from the pitcher on the table.
“Yeah, it was a ton of fun. I’ve missed footy,” Toby beamed at Kelley and Ashlyn.
“Yeah, even watching from the sidelines was nice,” Allie added.
Ashlyn smiled at the two of them. “Glad you could come out. Tobs, aren’t you glad I twisted your arm to come now? I knew you couldn’t go long with a ball at your feet and some legs to ‘meg.” The table of girls laughed and Christen remembered how awestruck she was at the girl’s skill with the ball.
“Hey, Kell, you didn’t tell me that you knew Toby from the youth national teams,” Christen looked up at Kelley.
“Oh, Toby?” Kelley looked between the two brunettes sitting at the table. “Tobs, I didn’t know you two were at nickname level yet,” she teased. A blush sprouted from Toby’s—or not Toby?—cheeks.
“Oh no, Tobs, Christen’s got you blushing already?” Ashlyn clapped her hand on the embarrassed girl’s shoulder. “I warned you we had some charming girls on this team.” The brunette laughs and now Christen’s cheeks were heating up.
“Wait, is Toby not your name?” Christen panicked. She was calling the new kid by the wrong name, and the girl didn’t correct her. How embarrassing for them both.
“Uh, sort of,” Toby—or not Toby—explained. “It’s Tobin. Or Tobs. Sometimes Toby.” She smiled gently, but Christen could see her ears turning red.
Allie put her hand on Christen’s arm and stage whispered, “It’s okay. She lets people call her Toby, too, but only really special people.” She pulled back and surveyed Christen and Tobin’s faces. “I guess you made the cut.”
Both girls blushed fiercely.
Allie, Ashlyn, and Kelley watched in amusement as the two girls fumbled for words, briefly making eye contact before looking away. Christen decided to change the subject.
“So, uh, UNC, huh? Is that where you too got together?” She gestured between Tobin and Allie.
Ashlyn burst out laughing and Allie gave her an Oh, honey, no, look. “Nah, we’re just friends. Tragically, I’m straight. Otherwise I’d’ve been the one taking this girl off the market.” She pinched Tobin’s elbow and received an eye roll in return.
“I’ll be sure to pass the message along to Bati,” Tobin sassed, her face still crimson.
Hm, Christen thought. Maybe Kelley can’t deliver on the single queer girls promise, but Ashlyn sure can.
“Yeah, but Shirley’s a solid consolation prize,” Ashlyn winked and Tobin blushed, this time accompanied by a large smile. Her eyes flitted to Christen and her smile tightened, dropping slightly.
“True,” Allie conceded with a sigh. “Even though I exceed her in every way as a best friend and life partner to Tobin, I guess she’s a good enough girlfriend.” She winked at her friend and earned an exaggerated eye roll.
Oh. Well, scratch that.
“You need to get laid,” Christen had been told later that night. Many of their teammates had headed into the Village to gather at Cubbyhole, a lesbian bar in Manhattan. Kelley had bought two Blue Moons from her favorite bartender, tipping as generously as always, and Christen watched her eye Kelley appreciatively as she sashayed back to the team.
“Kell, you’ve been laying the foundation with that bartender for weeks. I think you’re projecting.” Kelley just smiled and shrugged.
“Could be true for both of us. Now pick a girl, any girl. The whole bar is your oyster.” She theatrically spread her arms out, gesturing to the ones she thought would catch Christen’s eye.
Christen surveyed the crowd, but couldn’t muster up the energy to approach the cute tomboys milling around. “I don’t know. I’m not really in the mood, you know?” She wasn’t lying—she could tell her heart wasn’t in it tonight. “I can’t just turn on the charm; it takes some time to psych myself up.”
Ashlyn slung her arm around Kelley’s shoulders and Ali snuck up behind Christen, resting her head on a curl-covered shoulder. “Chris, there’s no one more charming than you. Go bat your eyelashes and get a pretty girl to buy you a drink.” Ashlyn looked pointedly at Kelley. “And Kelley doesn’t count.”
Ali pulled Christen in close. “Don’t listen to them. Hang here with me and we can watch Kelley hit on the bartender some more.”
Kelley whipped her head toward the two while Ashlyn chuckled. “Jeer all you want, but at least I’m being proactive in my singledom. We can’t all be happily taken, let alone happily single.” She glared at the three girls and turned on her heel, but quickly turned back around to blow them a kiss. Christen shook her head and leaned back into Ali.
“She’s right, you know. I should put myself out there more.”
“Chris,” Ali sighed. “You can’t force yourself, you know? It happens when you’re not trying so hard. Nine out of ten girls going home with someone tonight aren’t going to turn it into something substantial. They bang--maybe--and have some drunken pillow talk and pass out and drink coffee in the morning. And then at least one of them is heartbroken when it goes nowhere and goes out the next weekend and the whole process starts over.” She ruffled Christen’s hair, ignoring the girl's protests. “You’ll meet a girl you like when you’re relaxed and doing something you enjoy. Maybe at the animal shelter or something, or maybe you could take up your coworker on that blind date she’s been trying to talk you into...” Ali trailed off, hoping Christen would consider her suggestions.
Christen thought for a moment. Expanding her horizons could be a good idea...and she could always use more connections.
Ashlyn piped up. “You know, Allie was in the same boat before she met her boyfriend—you know, mostly hanging at bars and clubs and going home with randos,” she pitched in. “But then she met Bati at some charity soccer event last year, and she’ll be the first to tell you that a relationship was the farthest thing from her mind that day. She was running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to organize all the volunteers. Bati was just there by the luck of the draw.”
Christen considered Ashlyn’s statement and the blonde could see the gears turning in her friend’s head. “Really, you could talk with her. Why don’t we all hang next week? The three of us can shed some love light on you and Kell.”
Christen hesitated. “Why don’t we just hang out? There doesn’t have to be any, you know… love talk.” Ali and Ashlyn eagerly nodded, happy Christen was considering the offer at all. “She’s new, right? I’m sure she could use friends. I know I needed some when I first came here.”
“Perfect,” the keeper said through a grin. “I’ll set something up. Thursday?”
“Sure, Thursday sounds good.” The girls clinked their beers and turned back to Kelley, in the middle of an animated conversation with the bartender whose head was thrown back in laughter.
“What I wouldn’t give for her charm and confidence,” Ali smirked.
“No need, babe. But maybe she can pass some off to Chris,” Ashlyn dramatically winked at the girls next to her, placing a kiss on her girlfriend’s temple.
“And on that note, I think something might come up Thursday. How weird!” Christen turned on her heel and deposited her beer in the recycling bin by the door. She threw a wink and a kiss back to her friends and stepped into the snowfall, a new sense of peace drifting overhead.