And I watch from a distance seventeen
And I’m short of the others’ dreams of being golden and on top
It’s not what you painted in my head
There’s so much there instead of all the colors that I saw
(Tobin - “Dream” by Imagine Dragons)
7 in the afternoon, half-asleep, count the cars
All I think about is you constantly, that's the hard part
Static on the line, I hear it all the time
But I'm quiet when you make me fade
(Christen - “Make Me Fade” by K.Flay)
All Tobin could see was darkness. It stretched on for miles, in every direction. She turned around in circles, over and over again, searching the inky blackness for any sign as to where she was or what she was doing here. But the unending darkness was unyielding. It made Tobin’s skin crawl, her heart racing and her breaths coming in short, worried pants.
Suddenly, the uneasy silence around Tobin was broken up by a hiss of electricity. Tobin’s head lifted up, eyes searching for the cause of the noise. She saw tall stadium lights turn on, illuminating her surroundings. She spied green grass, brilliant white lines, and soccer goals on either end of the field. A relieved sigh left her lips as she realized where she was -- Penn State’s Soccer Stadium.
But she wasn’t alone.
Tobin’s brow knitted in confusion as she saw UCLA’s Number 23 jog onto the field, coming to a stop a few feet away from her. Her hands were on her hips and she had a small smirk on her face. It was the same smirk that she’d given Tobin right before she missed the free-kick. It made Tobin’s blood boil.
“What are you doing here?” Tobin asked, unable to keep the confusion out of her voice.
The green-eyed girl shrugged and pointed toward Tobin’s feet. Tobin looked down and realized she now had her cleats on, a soccer ball in front of her left foot. The girl waggled her brows in a challenge and motioned for Tobin to dribble at her.
Who was Tobin to deny her? Tobin danced circles around the girl, the soccer ball all but glued to her feet. Number 23 seemed content to play defense, keeping Tobin on her toes with a lunge or an attempted tackle, but never actually stealing the ball.
Tobin didn’t know how long they played for. The sky overhead remained as dark as ever, with no stars freckling it or hints of the rising sun. They must have been at it for hours because Tobin’s throat felt raw and she found herself gulping down air, wishing for a glass of water or a Gatorade to chug. Her hair was damp against the back of her neck, and her jersey stuck to her stomach and back. She was starting to tire, her muscles twinging and twitching with every step over or rainbow she attempted in an effort to get past Number 23 and get a shot on goal.
When Tobin’s foot slipped over the soccer ball and she sent it further to the right than she’d anticipated, Number 23 pounced. The girl pulled the soccer ball away from Tobin’s feet. Her green eyes glowed under the stadium lights, full of playful mirth as she took off towards the opposite goal. Tobin sprinted after Number 23, completely in awe of her long legs that carried the dark-haired player across the field at a blistering pace. Tobin couldn’t even get close enough to reach out for the edge of her jersey before the UCLA forward was flicking the ball into the back of the net and spinning around, her hands held up to the sky in celebration. The celebration should have annoyed Tobin. It should have made her burn with agitation, but instead, she found herself smiling at the outstretched arms and huge grin on Number 23’s face. Her green eyes focused on Tobin’s once more, her competitive smirk replaced with a soft smile. Both girls were breathing heavily, their breath collecting between them in soft huffs.
“Nice shot,” Tobin whispered, wishing that she could reach out and hold onto the other girl’s hand, longing to step forward and wrap her arms around her in celebration of her goal.
The green-eyed girl just stayed quiet, her eyes moving across Tobin’s face, from her eyes to her lips and along her jaw. Her hand reached out, and for a moment, Tobin wondered if she was going to touch her, but instead, Number 23 pulled her hand back and ran her fingers through her own hair.
“Who are you?” Tobin choked out, desperate for an answer. She wanted more than just her name. She wanted to know everything about her.
The striker’s green eyes brightened and a larger smile broke out across her face. Number 23 opened her mouth, presumably to respond--
“Huh?” Tobin shot up in bed, her hair plastered to her forehead and the sheets tangled around her legs.
“Sorry, Tobs,” Alex whispered from across the room.
“What are you doing?” Tobin asked, her voice cracking.
“I didn’t want to turn the light on and wake you up. I just had to pee,” Alex shuffled across the room, picking up the water bottles and textbooks that she had knocked over in the dark.
Tobin fell back against her pillow, letting frustration wash over her body. She couldn’t be mad at Alex for being her typical, clumsy self. She also couldn’t complain that she’d been woken up from a dream featuring UCLA’s Number 23. If she did, she’d be setting herself up to be teased for the rest of her Penn State career, maybe even the rest of her life.
Tobin pulled the sheets back up her body, feeling suddenly chilly with her fan blowing right on her. She closed her eyes, wishing simultaneously that she could rejoin the forward in their dream world and also forget she existed at all.
Despite her best efforts, Tobin hadn’t been able to put Number 23 out of her mind. Her ice bath and dinner with ARod, Lauren, Alex, and Lindsey hadn’t helped her forget, even if her friends had been somewhat entertaining. Her brain had felt foggy during the entire dinner, and she hadn’t been able to eat more than half of her pasta and a few forkfuls of salad, despite having daydreamed about bagels the entire day.
“Dude, did you leave your head in the locker room?” Lindsey laughed, knocking her shoulder into Tobin’s.
“I left it on the field, staring at Number 23,” Tobin thought. But she couldn’t admit to that, so instead, she responded with, “Nah. I’m just exhausted.” That seemed to satisfy Lindsey, who proceeded to dive into a story about how she almost skipped coming to college to go pro in France.
Tobin was only half-listening, stabbing at another piece of lettuce, watching as the leaf slipped off her fork and landed in a pool of salad dressing that had gathered at the center of her plate. She’d ditched her friends soon after that and returned to the dorms early, hoping to find some solace from her thoughts about the UCLA forward while she slept. But even in her dreams, she hadn’t been safe.
She heard Alex tip-toe back into the room, her efforts to remain silent in vain. Once Tobin was up, she was up. There wouldn’t be any sleep happening anymore. So, Tobin resigned herself to be productive now that she was awake. Tobin waited until she heard Alex’s breathing even out before slipping out from beneath her sheets. Tobin slid on a pair of sneakers, grabbed a sweatshirt, a soccer ball, and her cleats, and headed out of the dorms.
Campus was quiet this early in the morning. It was a little after four AM on a Saturday, so there was nobody else out and about as Tobin headed to the practice fields. She made quick work of hopping the fence and then putting on her cleats. She dribbled the ball towards the eighteen-yard box, searching for the spot she’d taken the free-kick from in yesterday’s game. Once she found it, Tobin reached down for the soccer ball and gently placed it in the grass, moving it back and forth over the blades. She was looking for that sweet spot, where the ball would almost float on top of the grass. It took her a few tries, but then she found it. Tobin smiled as she left the ball perfectly situated in the grass and then stood up, moving a few steps backward.
Tobin looked up toward the goal and found herself momentarily disappointed that her view wasn’t obstructed by a certain dark-haired forward. She shook those thoughts from her head, refocusing on the task at hand.
One deep breath, then another, and then Tobin was ready. She sprang towards the ball, taking three short steps and striking the ball with the inside of her right foot. The ball curled toward the goal, sinking into the top corner. A picture-perfect shot.
“Gooooooooal!” Tobin cheered, running a few feet forward, jumping into the air, and throwing her fists up in celebration. As she smiled, eyes on the ball sitting in the goal, Tobin couldn’t ignore the fleeting thought that echoed through her mind. She wished that Number 23 had been here to see her score, to celebrate with her. It left Tobin with an odd sort of pit in her stomach.
Tobin had never minded being alone on the soccer field before. In fact, she often preferred it that way, so she could practice new moves and fresh footwork without prying eyes or judgemental stares. She was good on her own.
But for the first time in maybe her entire life, Tobin didn’t want to be alone on the field.
Christen pinched the bridge of her nose, feeling the makings of a migraine looming.
She’d been staring at her computer screen for an embarrassingly long time. A quick check of her wristwatch told Christen it had been about 2 hours since she’d gotten back to her room.
After landing at LAX after their cross-country flight from State College, Pennsylvania, Christen had hurried back to the dorm she shared with Crystal and Megan. They had a suite that consisted of three, tiny single bedrooms, a living space with a couch, hardly big enough for the three of them to enjoy at the same time, and a small kitchenette. It was small, but having Crystal and Megan as roommates made Christen feel at home in the still relatively new surroundings. Normally, the three roommates had an open-door policy, each of them leaving their bedroom doors wide open so that they could easily see each other and socialize from anywhere in the suite. However, after the three of them had unloaded their bags into their bedrooms, Christen had encouraged Crystal and Megan to go to dinner without her, claiming a bit of a stomach ache and expressing the need for an early bedtime.
She hadn’t completely lied to her roommates. Her stomach was feeling weird. Butterflies had been fluttering along the sides of her stomach since the game the day before in Pennsylvania. Her fingers had been itching to Google search Tobin at the hotel, but she’d forced herself to wait, knowing that Kelley or Megan would most likely sneak a peek at her computer or phone and tease her for the rest of her life. So, instead of team dinner, Christen had chosen to shut her bedroom door and curl up in her bed with her computer, typing phrases like Tobin U-14 Soccer Player or Allie Long and Tobin U.S. Soccer U-14 Camp or Tobin Penn State Soccer Forward, into the search bar.
It was surprisingly easy to find the Penn State forward. Like Christen had expected, there were hardly any other Tobins worth Googling. She’d scrolled past a couple of Facebook links to men named Tobin in the LA area and a link to the BabyNames.com meaning for the name Tobin before finding the girl she couldn’t get out of her head: Up and Coming U.S. Soccer Star: Tobin Heath. The article was from a local paper in Morristown, New Jersey.
“Tobin Heath,” Christen whispered as she read, letting the forward’s name slip out of her mouth. It felt easy to say her name. It rolled off her tongue as if she’d already said it a million times. Tobin’s name tasted sweet and Christen found herself mumbling it every so often as she read.
She only meant to skim the article once, maybe twice. But Christen couldn’t stop herself from reading it a couple of times, smiling at the description of Tobin as a young, carefree but incredibly talented soccer player. She’d been able to see that clearly on the field yesterday, without even interacting with her. Tobin’s mom was quoted at the end of the article, “We never had to tell her to practice when she was growing up. She just always wanted to. She loves it.” That much has been obvious as well yesterday. Tobin’s love for the game shone in every pass, every touch, and every word of encouragement she said to her teammates.
After only ninety minutes on the field together, Christen was sure she’d never met anyone who loved soccer as much as Tobin did.
Christen exited the article and returned to Google again, finding a few more articles about the U-14 camp, nothing really quite as detailed or Tobin-oriented as the Morristown newspaper article.
She switched over to YouTube, hoping that there was more information on Tobin, or at least the U-14 camp that she’d attended with Allie. She wasn’t as lucky there either. Of course, she could see some of the U-14 practices and scrimmages on YouTube, but Tobin hadn’t really been a ham for the camera. Christen could pinpoint her by the way that she wore her hair in a messy bun and her socks on her ankles, but Tobin seemed to avoid the camera at all costs. Allie, on the other hand, loved the camera, winking and waving at it. Christen could see that nothing had changed much for Allie in the last few years, she was still the center of attention.
After her fifth YouTube video, Christen started to feel a bit strange. This was stalker-level behavior and she certainly was not that. She was merely intrigued. Some might go so far as to say bordering on fascinated. But that was all. It was strictly a professional curiosity. Coach Foudy had told them that knowing their opponents made them easier to beat. So that’s what she was doing - knowing and studying.
Yet, Christen knew there was a bit more to it than that. There was just something about Tobin Heath that called out to Christen and made her impossible to ignore.
Christen closed out of YouTube and knew exactly where she wanted to go next to continue her trip down the Tobin Heath rabbit hole. Her fingers twitched slightly, itching to open the desired app. Instead, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, her hands stilling at her sides. “Google and YouTube you can explain away, but if you open this app, there’s no going back,” Christen said to herself. With a frustrated huff, she closed her tabs and shut her computer. It was time to call it a night and put an end to this hours-long, semi-stalk session.
Christen stretched her arms above her head and let out a long groan, feeling more than just the exhaustion from a long game and travel day in her muscles. She would need to stop in and see the team’s trainer, Alicia, before training tomorrow. It was too early in the season to take any chances.
Abandoning her computer on her bedside table, Christen turned her light off and pulled her thick duvet cover up to her chin. She willed her mind to clear, hoping her racing thoughts would quiet down and she would be lulled to sleep despite her sore muscles and aching head. As luck would have it, though, the name Tobin Heath swam through her head with such force that she knew sleep would evade her until she searched for Tobin on one last app.
Christen rolled over and grabbed her phone. She quickly opened Instagram, ignoring the little voice of reason in her head telling her to stop. Her fingers moved softly across her phone screen, typing Tobin Heath into the search bar. Christen was so engrossed with her search, that she failed to register the sounds of her roommates walking into the living room, Crystal laughing at one of Megan’s jokes.
The results page held only one account - Tobin Heath (@tobito17). The small circle icon held a photo of Tobin that Christen was sure was meant to be a somewhat professional, college soccer headshot. Tobin was wearing Penn State’s navy jersey, her hair in loose waves dropping past her shoulders. She had the lightest dusting of make-up on her face, nothing too over the top. But instead of a serious look or even a shining smile, Tobin was winking at the camera, her tongue sticking out of the side of her mouth as she held up a shaka sign with her left hand. Christen rolled her eyes. It wasn’t fair how good Tobin looked while she was goofing off.
Christen sat up a bit straighter when she realized Tobin’s profile was public. With shaky fingers, she clicked on the profile. Tobin’s bio was short and to the point, and Christen expected nothing less. It simply read: Every day is leg day when you’re running away from your problems. Penn State WSOC #17
“Pressy! We know you’re awake in there!” Megan sing-songed, knocking firmly on Christen’s closed door.
Christen squeaked, her phone dropping out of her hands and into her lap. She rushed to get up, pushing the three layers of warm covers off of her. She lunged out of bed, her left leg getting tangled in a bedsheet and causing her to hit the floor with a thud.
“Christen, what’s going on?” Crystal asked from the other side of the door, a hint of worry in her voice.
“No-Nothing. I’m fine!” Christen called, getting to her feet and reaching her hand toward the doorknob, unlocking the door, and pulling the door open. Her hair fluttered away from her face with the force of opening the door. Christen fixed her roommates with a look that hopefully exuded a sense of calm.
Megan saw right past it, noticing Christen’s blushing cheeks immediately.
“Were we interrupting something? Oh mah gawd were you getting yourself off, Pressy?!” Megan laughed, poking Christen’s arm.
“NO!” Christen flushed again, a deeper red than she ever had before.
“Yeah, yeah, likely story. Why else would you break our open-door policy?” Megan asked, pushing past Christen and flinging herself onto Christen’s bed.
“We brought you dinner just in case you were hungry,” Crystal interrupted, holding a to-go box up to Christen. Crystal’s eyes screamed, “I’m sorry about her.” Christen simply smiled, waving her off.
The food in the box smelled delicious, and Christen’s stomach grumbled automatically. “Traitor,” she silently scolded her stomach before taking the box and putting it on her desk.
“Thanks, Crystal. I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”
Megan’s head perked up and she fixed Christen with an offended look. “What about me? All you’d have gotten was kale and unseasoned chicken if Crystal had been in charge.”
“And if you’d been in charge, we would have ended up at Tito’s Taco truck off-campus,” Crystal replied, leaning against the doorframe of Christen’s room.
Megan stuck her tongue out at Crystal and flopped back down on Christen’s bed, “You say that like it’s a bad thing. Ugh, now I want tacos. Crystal what did you dooooo?”
Christen laughed as she opened up the to-go box and spied some mac and cheese in there. She smiled up at Megan in gratitude.
“Have I told you lately that I love you?”
Megan stuck both arms in the air and gave Christen two thumbs up. “You love me so much we’ll get tacos tomorrow?”
“Fine,” Christen replied just as Crystal said, “Absolutely not.”
The three friends dissolved into laughter. Christen sat down at her desk, letting herself become completely occupied by the smell of dinner and her eager appetite. Her focus was wholly on the food in front of her, just barely listening to Megan’s ridiculous story about almost getting into a fistfight with a women’s basketball player over the last chocolate chip cookie at the dining hall.
Ever since Megan and Crystal had shown up, Christen was no longer thinking about Tobin Heath, her effortless beauty, or the fact that Tobin’s Instagram profile was on her phone buried somewhere under the duvet. Tobin was out of sight and out of mind.
Christen’s mouth was full of a cheesy bite of mac and cheese when she heard Megan yell, “Christen Press! You dog!”
Christen whipped around in her chair, her hair nearly landing in her to-go container. She was met by the sight of her pink-haired roommate holding her phone, a shit-eating grin on her face.
“Megan, I swear to God,” Christen growled. “How do you even know my password?”
“It’s literally 1-2-3-4, Press. I’ve cracked more difficult codes,” Megan rolled her eyes.
Christen dropped her face into her hands, feeling her cheeks burn. “I hate you,” she grumbled.
Megan completely ignored Christen, instead choosing to zoom in on one of Tobin’s pictures. “Daaaamn, this is the sexy and talented forward that you eye-fucked at Penn State yesterday!” Megan screamed.
“Keep your voice down,” Christen hissed.
“You eye-fucked someone?” Crystal asked, dropping down onto Christen’s bed next to Megan.
“I did no such thing!” Christen defended herself.
“You so did. I saw your face. Those eyes were literally moving all over her body during warm-ups,” Megan smirked.
“She’s a talented player. I was admiring her skill,” Christen said, standing up from her chair and placing her hands on her hips. This was exactly what she hadn't wanted to happen. She’d specifically waited to search for Tobin Heath in the safety of her own room, and Megan had completely ruined that.
“A talented player. Mhm, yeah. That’s all,” Megan rolled her eyes. She scrolled through Tobin’s Instagram, looking at each picture, and it took all of Christen’s strength not to tell both of her roommates to get out and leave her alone.
“She’s got a great ass,” Megan objectified.
“Let me see,” Crystal laughed, reaching her hand out for the phone.
Christen leaped forward, wrapping her right hand around the phone and her left hand around Megan’s arm.
“Pinoe, let go!” Christen yelled. She yanked the phone once more, not expecting Megan to actually release it, and stumbled backward, dropping her phone onto the floor and glaring at her roommate before squatting down to retrieve it.
“Relax, Christen. We’re just teasing you. Tobin seems nice, and she’s super talented. No wonder you have a crush-”
“I don’t have a crush,” Christen interrupted Crystal, straightening her t-shirt and moving her hair over her shoulder.
“Okay, okay. Fine. You don’t have a crush,” Crystal nodded, her grin completely giving her real thoughts away.
Christen looked down at her phone, coming face to face with Tobin’s huge grin. It was a picture of Tobin in a pair of ripped jeans and a hoodie. She was perched on a porch railing, her arms around a woman and man, two people that Christen could only assume were Tobin’s parents. Christen smiled at the picture before her eyes drifted down.
“You totally like her!” Megan chirped. “Look at that smile, Crystal! She’s smilin-”
“MEGAN!” Christen whisper-shouted, her eyes widening and drifting up to Megan’s face.
“What?” Megan asked, sobering within seconds of hearing Christen’s tone of voice.
“You liked the picture!” Christen explained, flipping her phone around to show both of her roommates.
“Dude, that was totally a foul!” Tobin complained, grabbing another Sour Patch Kid and popping it in her mouth. She moved her fingers deftly across the controls, hoping that she could get the ball back from Jeff.
“The Fifa ref doesn’t seem to think it was a foul,” Jeff grinned, jamming his thumb into his remote and sending a ball into the back of Arsenal’s net.
“Duuuuude,” Tobin groaned, letting her head fall back into her pillow. “This game is rigged.”
“You just can’t admit that I’m better than you,” Jeff bragged.
“We have another half to play, and you’ve only equalized the game. Arsenal never loses, so I wouldn't be so cocky if I were you,” Tobin countered, looking at her brother’s face on her phone screen.
“Hold on, I’m gonna grab a soda,” he called from off-screen.
Tobin paused the game. She wanted to win and knock the smirk off Jeff’s face, but she’d never cheat and play when he wasn’t holding the remote and capable of defending. She listened to Jeff running down the stairs to the kitchen, just barely hearing her dad’s laugh and her mom’s soft voice. Her chest ached for a minute, a heavy homesickness looming over her. The house sounded like it always had, creaking softly with its familiar noises from her childhood, and if she closed her eyes, she could swear that she could smell her mom’s cooking and feel her dad’s tight hugs.
“Are mom and dad still awake?” Tobin asked when Jeff came back onto the screen.
“They’re going to bed right now. They had a date night or something, so they were out later than usual,” he shrugged.
“I miss them,” Tobin admitted softly. “All of you actually.”
“We miss you too, Tobs. We all watched your game yesterday, and it made us miss you even more.”
“I wish it had been a better game to watch,” Tobin mumbled, still feeling responsible for the loss.
“I think it was a good game. Your goal was awesome, and you assisted the other two. You were on fire,” Jeff said, his enthusiasm almost infectious.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Tobin blushed.
“Just focus on the next game, right? You’ll probably kick their asses. Who are you playing?”
“UPenn, and we’ll most definitely kick their asses,” Tobin agreed, her cockiness reappearing.
The two siblings sat in silence for a minute, Jeff sipping his soda and Tobin wishing she were on the couch beside him and not miles away in a dorm room with a snoring roommate.
“How’s school going?” Jeff asked.
“It’s fine. I’m starting classes this coming week, and my teammates are all really nice. My roommate’s kind of loud in the mornings, but she’s really cool,” Tobin responded, looking over at Alex’s sleeping form under the covers across the room.
“I can’t wait until Mom, Dad, and I get to watch you play in person again.”
“Me too, Jeff,” Tobin sighed. “I think I’m getting a little homesick for all of you.”
“Well, we’re just over here doing our usual thing,” Jeff sighed. “I made the varsity tennis team at school.”
“That’s great, dude!” Tobin praised. “I’m so proud of you!”
“Oh yeah, next stop Olympics,” Jeff joked back sarcastically.
“I really am proud of you, and I hope I get to see one of your games this year,” Tobin repeated, hoping he could hear the sincerity in her voice.
“Want to keep playing, or are you stalling because you know I’m gonna beat you?” Jeff asked. He loved his sister, but the two of them were very alike, and sometimes serious conversations were too much for the both of them.
“You’re gonna eat those words,” Tobin laughed, picking up her controller again.
She moved the joystick, watching as her Arsenal players moved across the screen. Jeff’s defense was too good, though. She couldn’t get a ball past him, and she’d just about resigned herself to a tie when her phone buzzed against her left knee. She looked down, seeing Jeff’s face, his eyes squinting in concentration. Above his head was an Instagram notification, the likes of which she would have typically ignored.
Tobin never really cared about social media. She liked the artistic expression that Instagram supplied, but other than that it was more of a hassle than something Tobin really enjoyed. She’d post a picture every month or two and leave the app unopened until the next post. The notification at the top of her phone screen alerted her that someone had liked a picture. Normally, she would look away from her phone or swipe the notification away, but the username caught her attention: @Pressy_23. That number was enough to pull her away from the controller in her hands and her yelling brother on Facetime. The number distracted her long enough for Jeff to tackle one of her players and sprint the ball up the right side of the field.
“GOOOOOAAAAALLL!” Jeff screamed from her home in New Jersey.
“Shit,” Tobin mumbled.
“Did you let me win? It’s like you weren’t even trying,” Jeff laughed.
“I didn’t let you win. I was just distracted,” Tobin responded, her mind already miles away, thinking about the UCLA forward and her number 23 jersey, wondering if she was the girl behind the Instagram like.
“Distracted by what?” Jeff asked.
“I’m just tired, buddy. Rematch tomorrow night?” Tobin asked, hoping to get her brother off the phone quickly but without being rude.
“Sure, Tobs,” Jeff agreed, his eyebrow still quirked in question as if he didn’t quite believe her.
“Good night, dude.”
“Good night,” Jeff replied.
Tobin turned off her Xbox and reached for her phone, ending the call and switching over to Instagram. She clicked on her notifications, noticing that @Pressy_23 had liked only one picture from March of last year. It was a picture of Tobin and her parents at her grandparents’ beach house. Tobin clicked on @Pressy_23, her mouth immediately going dry when she saw the profile picture. There, in the small circle icon, stood the dark-haired forward. She was grinning softly, her hair in curls and the beach behind her. Her skin was tanned, hardly covered by the yellow tank top and jean shorts that she wore. Tobin pulled her eyes away from the picture and down to the bio.
⚽ UCLA Women’s Soccer #23⚽
99 Problems, 99,000 Blessings. Sky above, sand below, peace within. ☀️ 🌊
Dog mom for life 🐶 💖
“Christen Press,” Tobin spoke into the dark, her breath catching in her chest. “You’ve now lost me two games this weekend.” She sighed in frustration, wishing she could see more than just Christen’s profile picture and bio since the UCLA forward was private. Her mind felt like it was spinning faster than her fingers could move over her phone screen. She clicked back to her own Instagram page, searching through her followers to see if Christen Press was one of them. She didn’t want to feel bummed about not seeing Christen’s name under her list of followers. She hadn’t expected to see her name, since the two of them hadn’t even had a conversation yet. It was possible that Christen hadn’t even meant to like her picture in the first place. That being said, Tobin couldn’t stop her heart from dropping a little when she realized that Christen hadn’t followed her.
“Why that picture?” Tobin wondered, clicking on the liked picture. It was just a picture of Tobin and her parents, one that Tobin had absentmindedly posted during the spring semester of her senior year of high school. She’d been feeling nostalgic then, really feeling grateful for all of the sacrifices her parents had made. They were her rocks, the people who’d helped her get all the way to Penn State. The people who she’d be most thankful for when she was wearing her World Cup medal someday. “It had to have been an accident,” Tobin decided, clicking away from the picture and returning to Christen Press’ private Instagram account.
She looked at the profile picture again, noticing that Christen’s hair was slightly messy, blowing sideways with the wind. Her smile was face-splitting, and her eyes crinkled. Tobin couldn’t help but smile back at the picture, feeling butterflies beat against her stomach, up to her chest, and into her throat. “She was looking at your profile,” Tobin thought again, her heart practically floating out of her body and into the sky with that idea. Christen Press had been looking at her Instagram account, which meant Christen Press had been interested in Tobin. She’d been interested enough to find her name and search her on social media.
Earlier that night, Tobin had been feeling down, not just because she’d lost her first collegiate game, but also because adapting to college had felt harder than she’d expected. She missed her parents and siblings. She missed the comfort of home and her backyard with her pop-up soccer goal. She missed her club team and youth coach, even mowing the soccer fields and painting the lines for the younger teams. For the first time since her parents had driven away from her dorm at Penn State and left her on move-in day, Tobin felt a sense of hope. Her heart felt light, maybe even giddy, because Number 23, Christen Press, the most beautiful person Tobin had ever seen, had looked through her Instagram and liked a photo. Christen was interested in her.
“She’s probably just trying to scout out the competition,” Tobin’s brain interjected, stopping her from becoming too hopeful. Christen seemed like a focused player, one who did her homework, and Tobin was a competitor. It was very likely that Christen simply wanted to know more about Tobin and find her weak spots. Tobin turned off her phone, unsure of how to feel. Her brain was more logical than her heart, pointing out that Christen was likely preparing for the NCAA Championships way down the road by looking at as many competitors as possible. Her heart, on the other hand, was beating faster than usual, racing with anticipation that Tobin couldn’t fully quell. “Relax, Tobin. You might not even see her again if you don’t get yourself in check and start scoring more goals.”
The tiny red heart nestled in the bottom left corner of Tobin’s Instagram picture mocked Christen for a full 70 hours. It didn’t magically disappear just because she wanted it to or asked it to. It was there, and there was nothing she could do about it.
“You liked her picture. She knows you did because she got a notification. Tobin Heath knows you stalked her. Your life is officially over, all thanks to Megan freaking Rapinoe.” This anxiety-induced, soul-crushing internal monologue had accompanied Christen through her first few days of classes, her Facetimes with her family back home, and now into the locker room for today’s practice. It had been her ever-present company and there was nothing she could do to get rid of it.
Looking back on the moments following the scuffle and subsequent picture liking, Christen hadn’t reacted in the best way. At first, she was upset. She’d thrown the phone at Megan, begging her to fix the problem.
“Undo it now, Pinoe.”
Megan, having the decency to look embarrassed and contrite, handed Christen’s phone back to her with a small shake of her head, “There’s literally nothing I can do. Even if I unliked it, she’d still get a notification. I’m really sorry, Pressy.”
Christen snatched the phone, locking it and putting it down on her desk. She fought off a wave of nausea, willing her erratically beating heart to slow down and give her a chance to breathe.
“She probably didn’t see it...right?” Christen asked quietly, her words filled with such vulnerability that Crystal hated being the one to break the truth to her.
“She probably did, and that’s okay. Don’t bother unliking it and don’t stress about it. It’s not the end of the world,” Crystal assured, shooting Christen a comforting half-smile.
Christen wrapped her arms around herself, trying her best to believe Crystal’s words. But she couldn’t. It was the end of the world. And she was left to face it alone since Crystal had homework to do before classes started and Megan had a date. Christen was pretty sure it was with the very basketball player Megan had almost gone to blows with earlier, but she was too preoccupied to care.
Once the anger and worry had faded with the setting sun, and the cool autumn night descended upon her, Christen finally felt something else settle deep in her chest: embarrassment. As she laid in bed, her eyes fixed on a small crack in her room’s ceiling, Christen felt shame burn through her entire body. She was usually always freezing, needing to burrow beneath layers of covers to sleep. But that night, she kicked all of her covers off the bed and onto the floor, leaving her in just a pair of soccer shorts and a sports bra to sleep in. Her bone-deep mortification was enough to keep her warm.
Christen’s head lifted and she caught sight of Kelley barreling towards her. Christen readied herself for Kelley’s strong embrace, but nothing could have prepared her for the hug she received just now.
“Kel, I saw you this morning in class,” Christen said, wiggling her way out of Kelley’s grasp and leaning down to untie her shoes.
“Whatever dude, five hours feels like forever.”
Kelley walked off towards her locker at the other end of the locker room, leaving Christen to her thoughts. Christen dressed slowly for practice, her mind a million miles away as the rest of her team filtered into the locker room.
“Hey,” came a quiet voice and Christen didn’t even need to look up to know it belonged to her roommate.
“Hey,” Christen replied, eyes boring holes into Megan’s cleats. “Your shoe’s untied.”
Megan chuckled softly and sat down next to Christen. “It’s good luck. Or at least it used to be until I screwed things up for my roommate pretty bad.”
Christen softened slightly, shooting Megan a quick look out of the corner of her eye. She could read the apology clear as day on Megan’s face and she felt bad it had to be there in the first place. Things had been a bit tense between them since Saturday, and Christen knew she was to blame for it.
“I’m pretty sure you were wearing flip flops on Saturday night, so the whole lucky laces thing still works,” Christen replied, nudging her shoulder against Megan’s.
Megan smiled softly and reached out to give Christen’s hand a squeeze.
“I am super sorry, dude.”
Christen nodded, accepting the apology but wanting to move past all of this. “I know, I am too. Let’s just forget about it and focus on our game against USC on Thursday, all right?”
With the reminder of their upcoming game, Megan’s face brightened and she was back to being the Energizer bunny.
“TWO DAYS TO GAME DAY PEOPLE!” Megan shouted, jumping up and down around the locker room, hyping her teammates up.
Christen fought off a smile as she finished lacing up her cleats. While she was still mortified and upset, she was ready to put all that on the back burner and turn her focus to soccer. Coach Foudy told them that they had a real chance at making it all the way to the NCAA Championship game, and Christen believed her. Their team was full of talented and hardworking players, and their chemistry on and off the field was great. Christen knew they could make it to the finals. She had no doubt in her mind.
She just hoped Penn State wouldn’t end up in their bracket. After the whole Instagram thing, she would really like it if she never had to come face to face with Tobin Heath again. Christen wouldn’t survive that mortifying ordeal.