I've been seeing lonely people in crowded rooms
Covering their old heartbreaks with new tattoos
It's all about smoke screens and cigarettes
Looking through low lights at silhouettes
But all I see is lonely people in crowded rooms
This city's gonna break my heart
This city's gonna love me then leave me alone
This city's got me chasing stars
It's been a couple months since I felt like I'm home
Am I getting closer to knowing where I belong?
This city's gonna break my heart
She's always gonna break your heart, oh
(Christen - “This City” by Sam Fischer)
Dragon tales and the "water is wide"
Pirate's sail and lost boys fly
Fish bite moonbeams every night
And I love you
Godspeed, little [girl]
Sweet dreams, little [girl]
Oh my love will fly to you each night on angels wings
The rocket racer's all tuckered out
Superman's in pajamas on the couch
Goodnight moon, will find the mouse
And I love you
(Tobin - “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)” by The Chicks)
As the pulsing bass of the too-loud music echoed around whatever shitty club she’d stumbled into, as she sat perched on a barstool and surveyed the sweaty, dancing crowd, Christen Press knew three things for certain.
One, she looked hot in the short, skin-tight black dress she wore. It looked painted on the way it hugged her, showing just a little more leg and cleavage than ‘club appropriate.’ She didn’t need the confirmation from the charged and interested looks she’d gotten from her fellow club patrons. She looked hot and she knew it.
Two, the whiskey sour she’d gotten from the exhausted bartender was not the best one to ever grace her tongue. It had a little too much lemon juice for her taste, making the drink too tart to chug down the way she usually would have. On a typical night, nights that had become far more routine than they should be, she’d be quite a few whiskey sours in by now. But not tonight. Tonight she suffered through a poor drink, thinking that if she’d wanted a lemon-flavored drink, she’d have ordered a lemon drop.
And three she needed to get laid. She needed to get laid like, yesterday. Even if she’d actually gotten laid yesterday, thanks to an achingly beautiful woman who’d picked her up at a bar in Midtown, she needed to get laid tonight. She needed to get laid to forget herself and her life and the fact that her job was in jeopardy and that her life was unfair in the cruelest way possible. She just needed to forget.
Sipping the whiskey sour and cringing at the tart taste, Christen let her eyes scope out the space for whoever would help her take care of that third thing. Someone she could go home with, not bother learning the name of, and sneak away from in the early hours of the morning.
There was an attractive redhead bopping around with her friends near the DJ who kept shyly throwing Christen looks. “Too young and too...energetic,” Christen thought, moving on.
Then there was a stunning blonde lounging, alone, at one of the tables near the back corner. She confidently smirked in Christen’s direction and lifted her drink in a silent greeting. Feeling intrigued, Christen readied herself to walk over-
“Pressy, you with me?”
Christen bit back a frustrated huff, looking away from the blonde. She turned to glare at Kelley, her best friend and current party-pooper, who sat in the barstool next to her.
“Unfortunately,” Christen replied, moving to take another sip of her drink, thinking better of it, and setting it down on the bar.
“Have you been listening to me at all? It’s almost 11:00, and you have to be at the stadium early tomorrow. Let’s just get out of here,” Kelley sighed, her tone slightly pleading. She downed the rest of her beer and signaling to the bartender that she was ready to pay.
“I never listen to you, Kel,” Christen teased. “But I think I’m gonna stay…” she trailed off, her eyes moving back to the blonde across the club.
“Are you serious? Amanda’s gonna kill you if you’re late,” Kelley warned.
“Then I just won’t be late,” Christen shrugged, sparing Kelley a quick look.
“It isn’t a practice or a fitness session. You’re meeting with the part-owner and manager of the whole fucking club,” Kelley reminded Christen, unsure of how drunk Christen was or how drunk she was planning to get as soon as she left.
“Will you just stop worrying about me? I don’t need a babysitter instead of my best friend,” Christen shot back, irritation swirling around within her.
“Text me when you get home at least?” Kelley asked, holding herself back from snapping something hurtful back at Christen.
Christen resisted the urge to roll her eyes and gave Kelley a tight nod. It still sounded like something an overprotective babysitter would say, but Christen was done with this conversation and the edge of judgement she could hear in Kelley’s words. She also couldn’t sit here any longer and see the pity and concern in Kelley’s eyes. She hated those more than the overprotective babysitting.
“Don’t I always?” Christen sighed.
“No,” Kelley grumbled, standing up from her barstool and grabbing her wallet. She tossed a few bills on the bar and turned to leave.
Christen grabbed onto Kelley’s arm to stop her for a second. “I’ll text you,” she said gently.
“I’ll pick you up at 8:30,” Kelley said, pulling her arm away from Christen and slipping through the crowded club.
With Kelley gone, taking with her the stifling presence of sympathy and worry, Christen finally relaxed.
It had been six months and still, Kelley treated her with kid gloves, always walking on eggshells around her. It was like she was worried Christen was going to shatter and crumble under the weight of it all. Kelley, who was usually chaotic and silly and the most unserious person ever, stopped acting that way around her in moments like these. At trainings or in the locker room, she’d spray water on her or try to jump on her back and tackle her to the ground and laugh, but when she came out to bars or clubs, she was withdrawn and worried.
If only Kelley knew she’d already shattered, already crumbled, and wasn’t in any hurry to piece herself back together. Maybe she’d stop laughing at practice too.
“Took her long enough,” the blonde woman practically purred, leaning against the bar next to Christen. She’d been watching all night, waiting for Kelley to disappear before getting up to talk to Christen.
“I couldn’t agree more. Can I buy you a drink?” Christen asked, letting her green eyes trail up and down the other woman, liking what she found and letting the charged energy between them carry her away from thoughts of Kelley or why she was in this bar in the first place.
“A cosmo, please,” she nodded, sliding onto the barstool next to Christen.
Christen nodded and signaled the bartender, her eyes never leaving the blonde’s. “Did you know that everyone’s go-to drink says something about them?” Christen asked, her lips quirked up in a teasing smirk.
“Oh, really? And what does mine say?” the blonde asked, a teasing grin on her face.
“A cosmo says…” Christen trailed off, wetting her lower lip with her tongue slowly. “You’re classy. Sophisticated enough to drink out of those martini glasses, but not pretentious. And you ordered an upscale drink in a club that is anything but upscale...so I’d also say you’re also not planning on staying long.”
The blonde smirked as Christen spoke, her eyes narrowing with each word. “You’re good. I wasn’t planning on staying for the drink, actually.”
Christen stood up from the barstool and grabbed her purse. “Me neither.”
As she walked through the East Village, stepping off of the sidewalk to avoid tourists and restaurant hosts, as she breathed through the stifling heat and humidity of New York City in early May and dodged the dripping AC units from apartments above, Tobin Heath knew three things for certain.
One, she was absolutely finished trying to go on dates with people who didn’t know about Scottie beforehand. Abby, her old college friend, had been wrong about only mentioning her daughter on the first date and not before. It was the third time she’d been ditched before ordering dinner, and she wasn’t about to experience it for a fourth time. The pitying looks from the waiters and other patrons had been pretty sobering on this date, proving that most people her age really weren’t looking for a serious commitment to a woman with a seven-year-old.
Two, she really didn’t want to have to knock on Abby and Glennon’s door at 10:30PM when they’d told her to stay out as long as she wanted, even offering to let Scottie stay the night. She thought about just going home, about pretending like she had a wild night with the gallery owner she’d met a week ago, but then she thought about stepping into her silent apartment, or worse waking up alone in that silent apartment the next day.
Three, she still had 14 more blocks to walk: 9 more until Abby and Glennon tried to give her a pep talk and then 5 more with 50 pounds of dead weight in her arms.
Tobin sucked in a deep breath when she got to Abby and Glennon’s Greenwich brownstone, ringing the doorbell and praying that Abby was too distracted by a basketball or soccer game to question her about the date or even realize what time it was. She just wanted Abby to hand her the kid and ask nothing.
“When did she bail this time?” Glennon asked with a small chuckle after opening the front door, a sympathetic look on her face.
Tobin let her forehead fall against the door frame, blowing out a long sigh. “We had drinks but hadn’t ordered dinner when she claimed to have an emergency. I’m pretty sure the last three dates I’ve been on ended with someone’s dog having to be rushed to the vet.”
“You’re a godsend for the health of dogs all over the city then,” Glennon replied, reaching out to pat Tobin’s cheek affectionately. “Come on in, sweetie. I’ll get you some cake.”
Tobin rolled her eyes but couldn’t help the way her lips twitched up into a smile at the teasing. She stepped into the brownstone, immediately feeling at home in her best friends’ house. She and Scottie were over here every other week for what they fondly called ‘Chosen Family Dinner,’ and Abby and Glennon brought their kids over to Tobin’s house for ‘Sunday Soccer’ when it rained or they couldn’t get to an outdoor field.
“Please tell me Scottie didn’t eat any cake,” Tobin groaned, knowing her seven-year-old most certainly had and was probably still awake.
“Uh…” Glennon trailed off, throwing a sheepish look over her shoulder as they walked into the living room.
“Is she still bouncing off the walls?” Tobin asked, following after Glennon.
“MOMMY!” Scottie shrieked, vaulting over the back of the couch and running right for Tobin, the remnants of chocolate icing on her face.
Tobin caught her with sure hands, lifting her up and propping her against her hip. “You look like a chocolate monster,” Tobin laughed, kissing Scottie’s forehead and sinking into the sweetness of her wide gray eyes. Failed dates didn’t seem to hurt quite as much when she had Scottie looking at her with so much love at the end of them.
“You got the monster part right,” Abby grinned, getting up from her spot on the couch and shuffling over. She ruffled a hand across Scottie’s blonde hair, messing up her soft, loose curls just a bit. “Bailed before dinner, right?” Abby guessed, winking at Tobin.
“Yeah,” Tobin nodded.
“You didn’t have dinner?” Scottie asked, her forehead wrinkling the same way Tobin’s did when she was confused or worried.
“Oh, I had dinner,” Tobin said, squeezing Scottie’s sides and making her giggle.
“I did too! Glenny and Abbs made tacos and let me add a lot of cheese,” Scottie replied almost proudly.
“Yummy!” Tobin grinned, letting Scottie slip out of her arms and run across the room to the sectional where Glennon and Abby’s daughters were sitting.
“Bedtime Wambach-Doyle crew,” Glennon called out, moving to Abby’s side and wrapping her arm around her wife’s waist.
“But mom!” the girls protested.
“Did you just but mom her?” Abby asked, raising her eyebrows at their daughters, receiving sheepish looks in response.
“Where’s the cake?” Tobin asked, feeling her shoulders slump a little at the way her night had ended.
“Counter. Feel free to take a few pieces, you look like you need it,” Glennon replied, jerking her head in the direction of the kitchen.
Leaving Glennon and Abby to their bedtime ritual, Tobin took a slice and sat on the edge of the counter, letting the chocolate icing melt in her mouth.
“Mommy, can I have another slice?” Scottie asked, poking her head into the kitchen.
Tobin shook her head no but slipped off the counter and let Scottie take a bite from her fork.
“I just want to eat cake for the rest of my life,” Scottie grinned, wiping the back of her mouth with her hand and getting chocolate icing on that part of her as well.
“You and me both, dude,” Tobin sighed, putting her plate and fork into the dishwasher.
“Are you sad, Mommy?” Scottie asked, intelligent gray eyes trained on Tobin as she tilted her head to the side.
Tobin’s heart ached for a second. There was no way she was going to tell Scottie that sometimes she felt sad, that sometimes she felt lonely. “How could I be sad when I have the chocolate monster standing in front of me?” Tobin asked, her smile growing at Scottie’s sweet face.
“GRRRR!” Scottie growled, holding her hands up in the air and pretending to be said chocolate monster. She bared her teeth and stomped over toward Tobin, who couldn’t help but laugh just a little.
Tobin scooped her up off the floor and set her on the edge of the counter, standing right in front of her, so that she wouldn’t fall. She wet a paper towel and set about cleaning off Scottie’s mouth and chin and her nose, which had also somehow gotten chocolate on it. She finished cleaning her up by scrubbing Scottie’s hands under the sink and drying her off with a dishtowel.
“Bye, bye chocolate monster,” Scottie pouted, looking down at her clean hands, missing the chocolate already.
“WOOOAAAAH!” Tobin said, her eyes growing huge. “The chocolate monster was my daughter this whole time?”
Scottie giggled, loud and warm and infectious. She lit up the room with that laugh.
“Of course it’s me, Mommy!” Scottie said, still giggling.
Tobin leaned forward and blew a raspberry on Scottie’s now clean cheek, sending her into another fit of giggles.
“Are you ready to go home and get some sleep?” Tobin asked. “We’re up way past our bedtimes.”
“I don’t have a bedtime, it’s summer!”
“Well, I’m up way past my bedtime, and you know that I have trouble sleeping without a cuddle buddy,” Tobin said, not really wanting to be bossy and remind Scottie that even in the summertime she had to be in bed before 9:00.
Scottie let out a big yawn at the mention of sleeping, her eyes blinking a little as they suddenly grew heavy.
“Okay. Home now?” Scottie asked quietly.
“Yep,” Tobin nodded. “You should thank Glenny and Abbs for the tacos and cake.”
“GLENNY! ABBS!” Scottie yelled, momentarily forgetting about her sleep.
“Shhh…” Tobin chastised, trying to keep her laugh in her chest. “It’s bedtime here too.” Tobin reached out and lifted Scottie off the counter, letting her walk into the living room to thank their friends.
“Thank you,” Scottie mumbled into Glennon’s stomach, giving her a big hug. She then gave Abby a hug as well before returning to Tobin’s side.
“Thanks for watching her, and thanks for the pity cake,” Tobin said, taking one of Scottie’s hands in her own.
“Anytime, Heath,” Abby replied with a warm smile. “My wife makes the best pity cake in the city, so you always know where to come next time your date ditches you.”
“I don’t think there will be much dating anytime soon. I’ll see you guys on Sunday,” Tobin said, leading Scottie to the door.
“Get home safe! Love you!” Glennon called out with a wave.
“Love you!” Scottie yelled.
“Love you guys!” Tobin answered over her shoulder. She pushed the front door open and helped Scottie down the stairs, offering Abby another wave when she saw her locking the door.
“What’s a titty cake?” Scottie asked, rubbing her eyes tiredly with her free hand.
Tobin couldn’t stop that laugh from slipping from her lips. “I think you mean a pity cake, little bit.”
“Okay, what’s a pity cake?” Scottie yawned, leaning into Tobin’s side.
“Well, when you pity someone, you feel bad for them. Pity cakes are supposed to make someone who’s sad feel better,” Tobin explained.
“So you were sad?” Scottie observed thoughtfully, looking up at Tobin when they came to a stop at the crosswalk and waited for the signal to turn.
“Shit,” Tobin thought, backtracking quickly in her head. “Glennon just thought I might be sad because I didn’t get any dessert at dinner, so she made some for me to have when I came to get you.”
“Dinner without dessert is the saddest thing ever. Okay, maybe not sadder than that puppy commercial, but still really sad.”
“It is pretty sad, but I’m not sad tonight because I got dessert with my chocolate monster,” Tobin explained, stepping into the street when the crosswalk signaled for her to go.
“Mommy, my legs are tired,” Scottie mumbled halfway across the street.
“You’ve got sleepy legs?” Tobin asked. She knew this was coming. Scottie was up way past her bedtime, and she was bound to be sleepy and grumpy. She bent down and lifted her up, reminding herself that at some point she wouldn’t be able to carry Scottie like this anymore.
“I’ve got sleepy everything,” Scottie mumbled, burying her face in Tobin’s neck. Her little arms were wrapped loosely around Tobin’s shoulders.
“You better sleep in tomorrow. Your first practice is at noon,” Tobin reminded Scottie, knowing that she was more than excited about getting to practice at the Gotham FC training facilities.
“Will you watch?” came Scottie’s sleepy question.
“I have a meeting, but I think I’ll be able to watch you at the very end,” Tobin whispered, wishing she could have rescheduled the meeting.
“I like when you watch me play,” Scottie yawned against Tobin’s neck.
“I love watching you play. You’ll probably be exhausted after practice, but maybe we can go to our place afterward,” Tobin offered.
Scottie just nodded and started to breathe a little slower, slipping toward sleep.
“Where the hell is it?” Christen hissed under her breath. She’d managed to find her underwear, her dress, and her heels, but the bra was nowhere to be found and it was nearing 7 AM. Christen checked under a pile of clothes on the hardwood floor, striking out again. She was about to check under the bed when she heard the rustling of sheets.
Christen looked toward the bed, momentarily terrified that...this blonde woman whose name she couldn’t remember was going to wake up. Which it seemed like she was about to do, so Christen quickly slipped the dress back over her head.
“You’re an early riser,” the blonde husked in a sleepy voice.
“Got somewhere to be,” Christen replied, sliding her heels on and taking a small step away from the bed and toward the door. She could always buy a new bra.
“Last night was fun,” the blonde hummed, her eyes heavy and blinking slowly.
“Totally,” Christen agreed, smiling tightly at the blonde who was now sitting up in bed.
“We should do it again sometime,” she added, wanting Christen to give her her number or something.
“I don’t really do that,” Christen replied with an apologetic shrug, taking another small step toward the bedroom door. “But thanks, this was great.”
“You want breakfast or something before you go?”
“I don’t really do that either,” Christen chuckled, dropping a hand to the handle of the bedroom door.
“Well, maybe I’ll see you around then,” the blonde shrugged, rolling over in bed.
“Not likely,” Christen thought to herself, slipping out of the bedroom. She grabbed her purse from the counter and left the apartment.
The sun was just peeking through the tall buildings around her as Christen started her walk down the empty sidewalk, quickly orienting herself with wherever this blonde woman lived. Thankfully, she was in the bottom-most part of Midtown, only a few blocks from her place in Chelsea. Ignoring the few yellow taxis that ambled down the streets, Christen decided to walk, using the cool summer morning to clear her head.
“Looking good,” a man working construction muttered as Christen walked past, sending his buddies into a chorus of catcalls and whistles.
“Go fuck yourself,” Christen breezily, continuing down the sidewalk and not sparing the construction workers a second glance.
“Daaaamn,” one of the workers burst out laughing, smacking the original catcaller in the arm.
“Shut up,” he muttered, turning back to his work.
Christen smirked to herself slightly and hung a left, nearing her brick apartment building. She climbed the steps up to her building, nodding at one of her neighbors as she made her way inside and toward the elevator. She’d taken barely two steps inside of her spacious studio loft before she was scared shitless by a voice coming from her kitchen.
“Really?” Kelley scoffed, setting her cup of coffee down on the counter and looking at Christen in the same outfit from the night before.
“Like you have any place to talk,” Christen grumbled, walking straight over to the coffee maker and pouring herself a big, heaping cup.
“They could literally be firing you today, and you stayed at some girl’s house last night,” Kelley said, choosing to ignore Christen’s comeback.
“Then at least I’ll have gotten a good fuck before I’m unemployed,” Christen shot back, glaring at Kelley over the rim of the mug.
“Who are you right now?!” Kelley fumed, her exasperation finally getting the best of her. “I get you’ve got shit going on. I get that you’re a mess. But I’m trying to be here for you and be your friend. You used to track my phone to make sure I wasn’t messing up my life, and now I feel like I need a toddler leash for you.”
Christen took a sip of her coffee, feeling beyond chastised. She ignored the slight tears pricking the corners of her eyes and backtracked. “I...I’m sorry,” she mumbled, her eyes falling to the floor, unable to stomach looking at Kelley any longer.
“I’m just worried about you because I love you,” Kelley sighed.
“I- I’m worried about me too,” Christen whispered with a small shrug, her under-caffeinated self being far too candid.
“That’s actually a relief to hear,” Kelley said, her forehead unfurrowing a little.
Christen squeezed her eyes shut as the looming tears threatened to fall again. She was worried about herself. How could she not be? She’d been in a self-destructive, downward spiral, littered with alcohol-induced one night stands, ever since-
No. She couldn’t go down that path right now. She couldn’t think about that right now. She couldn’t. Instead, she cleared her throat and then took another sip of coffee. “Do I have time to shower?” Christen asked, wiping at the corner of her right eye where a single tear had fallen.
“Make it a quick one. I’ll make breakfast,” Kelley nodded, stepping forward to wrap Christen in a hug.
“I’m good, Kel,” Christen said quickly, dodging the hug. She moved around Kelley and out of the kitchen, headed for the bathroom.
“I’m making you breakfast, and you’re gonna eat it!” Kelley called, already making noise in the kitchen with a couple of pots and pans.
Christen made a noncommittal noise in response, shutting the bathroom door behind her. She set her coffee down on the counter, turned on the sink, and then sank to the floor, her back against the door and her knees pulled to her chest. She buried her face in her crossed arms and finally let the tears fall, hoping Kelley wouldn’t be able to hear her over the noise in the kitchen.
“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” Scottie chanted, bouncing on the foot of Tobin’s bed.
Tobin peeled her eyes open, a smile already spreading across her lips at the way Scottie was jumping around in her old, light blue UNC jersey. It swallowed Scottie whole, ending at her knees, but she insisted that wearing the jersey was good luck. She’d asked to sleep in it when they’d gotten home late last night, mumbling sleepily while Tobin pulled it over her head and falling asleep in Tobin’s bed, the two of them curled up together.
“Scottie, Scottie, Scottie,” Tobin mumbled in a sleepy voice.
“It’s my first day of Academy today!” Scottie cheered, jumping up the bed and landing half on top of Tobin’s chest.
“Ooof,” Tobin wheezed, tickling Scottie’s sides and making her laugh. It was Tobin’s favorite sound to wake up to. “I guess we better make some breakfast and build those big muscles then.”
“French toast sticks?” Scottie asked with hope shining in her eyes.
“How about one french toast stick and some scrambled eggs?” Tobin suggested.
“Hmm...do I get orange juice too?” Scottie asked, narrowing her eyes.
“Orange juice and a fruit cup,” Tobin nodded.
“You’ve got yourself a deal,” Scottie nodded, holding out her hand for a shake.
Tobin grinned at Scottie and shook her hand, loving that she copied some of the things she heard Tobin say to other people around them. It also reminded her that Scottie was always listening, that she absorbed everything around her, and Tobin wanted everything to be good.
“Let’s go, then!” Tobin cheered, picking Scottie up off the bed and zooming her to the kitchen, already feeling time slip through her fingers when she thought about how much more difficult it was to fly Scottie around their house the bigger she got.
“So what’s a Gotham?” Scottie asked Tobin through a mouthful of scrambled eggs once they’d settled around the kitchen table. “I didn’t like being a Tiger last year, tigers are scary.”
“Gotham’s the city that Batman’s from,” Tobin said, taking a sip of her coffee.
“Batman lives here?!” Scottie asked with wide eyes.
“He’s supposed to,” Tobin grinned. “But, I don’t know if we’ll ever meet him. He’s pretty private about his life.”
“Cool,” Scottie grinned, scooping another forkful of eggs into her mouth.
“You excited about getting a new soccer jersey today? No more orange tiger jerseys,” Tobin asked before taking a bite of her breakfast.
“Maybe they’ll let me wear yours, Mommy,” Scottie replied. “I haven’t decided if I want to be a Gotham this summer yet.”
“You can definitely wear it to the stadium. I don’t know if they’ll let you wear it all day, though. Teams usually like everyone in the same gear,” Tobin said, her heart melting at Scottie wanting to wear her old college jersey to practice.
Scottie nodded as she chewed. “Maybe if I ask nicely they will let me?”
“You can always ask, little bit,” Tobin said. “The worst they’ll say is no.”
“Did you play with any of the Gotham players, Mommy?” Scottie wondered, her attention turning to her french toast sticks. She had two instead of one, thanks to her irresistible pout.
“Abby retired from Gotham, and she and I played in college for a year, but you know that. She’s told you too many stories about that,” Tobin cringed, thinking about her time as a freshman for Abby’s fifth year at UNC. “Auntie Moe Moe and I played at UNC too, and she plays for Gotham,” Tobin answered.
Scottie brightened. “When can we see Moe Moe? I want to beat her at Go Fish again!”
“You want to text her and ask?” Tobin suggested, sliding her phone across the table to Scottie. She pulled up Morgan Brian’s contact and let Scottie take over from there.
Scottie set about composing the text, her tongue poked out of the corner of her mouth as she touched the screen.
Tobin sat up from her chair and reached for her camera, grabbing it from the counter and snapping a few pictures of Scottie. She liked the candid moments, the moments in pajamas with messy hair. There were dozens of memory cards devoted to Scottie in moments like these, but Tobin couldn’t get enough.
“No paparazzi!” Scottie giggled, jumping down from her chair and running away, Tobin’s phone still in her hand.
Tobin rolled her eyes at the phrase that Abby had probably taught her, racing up the stairs to catch up with Scottie.
“Just a few more! You’re too cute!” Tobin called, making Scottie laugh even harder.
Christen looked at the three people sitting with her in the conference room: Amanda Jones, her head coach, Collin Haloe, Gotham FC’s general manager, and Jane Reynolds, part-owner of the team. Amanda had a solemn expression on her face, compassion shining in her eyes. Jane also looked relatively sympathetic, albeit a bit strained. But Collin was frustrated, all red in the face and sweating as he spoke.
“I think we’ve been pretty clear about how we want Gotham to appear. Images are important. No, images are vital, and if we want to fill those seats with lots of people, we need fans to want to bring their parents and their kids and their nieces and nephews,” Collin said, flipping through his briefcase in search of something. “It’s not just you. We had to have this same meeting with ARod two seasons ago, and we cut Solo for the shit she pulled.”
Christen cringed, remembering how stealing the team van, getting pulled over by the cops, and arrested for a DUI had effectively forced Gotham FC’s hand when it came to Solo. But she hadn’t done anything to that degree.
Collin finally found what he was looking for and pulled the folder out of his briefcase. He opened the folder and pulled out the cut-out articles and pictures from magazines he’d been collecting for the past months, each of them showing Christen with a new girl or a new alcoholic beverage in differing degrees of drunkenness.
“You understand that this is not the image we need people to have of our star forward, of the player gracing our banners outside the stadium.”
Christen’s jaw tightened at the sight of the pictures and the articles. So she liked to go out and party, so she enjoyed the company of a lot of different women. It wasn’t her fault the media was a sexist, racist machine intent on dragging her name through the mud for simply coping in the ways she needed to cope.
“I understand that if I was a white guy, you’d be thrilled with all the attention I was getting and the free publicity I was giving the club,” Christen said coolly.
“Unfortunately, the world sees women differently,” Jane sighed from her seat. “And while it’s fucked up- pardon my language, this kind of stuff from our star player is bad publicity for Gotham. It could tank us.”
“Exactly,” Collin nodded. “Our publicity team thinks you should be benched. Honestly, a few members of the executive team thought firing you would be the best option-”
“But, obviously that’s not what’s happening here,” Amanda interrupted, rolling her eyes a little at Collin’s threat.
Christen blew out a shaky breath and looked between the other three people in the conference room.
“Look, I really appreciate everything this club has done for me. Especially after...everything. But if you think firing me or benching me is the right call, I’d respectfully disagree,” Christen replied, sending a tight grimace of gratitude in Amanda’s direction. “I know I’m not the same rookie you signed six years ago, but I score more goals than anyone else on this team. I’ve won a World Cup and an Olympic Gold medal for this country. Firing me would be a mistake.”
“We agree,” Jane said softly.
“But we’ve come up with something you can do to help not just the club, but yourself too,” Amanda said, smiling at Christen. “We did the same thing for Kelley, and she loved our solution so much she’s come back the last two summers to volunteer.”
Christen narrowed her eyes, looking over at Jane. “Why is she smiling at me like that?” she asked.
“I’m sure you know about our Development Academy program,” Jane said, sliding one of the parent flyers toward Christen.
Christen grabbed the sheet of paper and appraised it. “What does this have to do with me? I don’t have kids.”
“You do now,” Collin laughed.
“Excuse me?” Christen deadpanned, dropping the paper back to the conference table.
“We always have a few players coach the younger kids,” Amanda clarified. “This year, Kelley and Becky volunteered to help, and you’re going to join them. So, clear your schedule. You train them Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Unless it conflicts with our game schedule, then it’s on Fridays.”
“The Academy goes until August. You won’t be working with the high-school kids, they have year-round coaches we keep on staff. This is more of like a fun summer camp for kids under 10,” Collin continued.
“How does this solve anything? Wouldn’t it be better just to do an interview or something? Kiss some babies, show off my key to the city, that sort of thing?” Christen asked, her tone slightly pleading. She didn’t want to coach the Development Academy. She didn’t really like kids. They were messy and sticky and always sick or asking wildly inappropriate questions. The last thing she wanted to do right now was be stuck with a group of them three times a week.
“Coaching the kids will give you, and us here at Gotham, some good publicity,” Collin said.
Christen crossed her arms over her chest. “What’s behind door number two if I say no to this one?”
Collin, Jane, and Amanda stared back at her, letting the silence speak for itself.
Christen sighed and ran a hand through her curls. “When do I start?” she asked dejectedly.
“This afternoon. The kids get here at noon, so you’ll need to be on the field at 11:30 to help sign everyone in. Becky can help get you situated,” Amanda said, pulling a t-shirt out of her lap and tossing it across the table to Christen.
Christen caught it, looking down at it. It had the Gotham FC logo on the front and read “COACH CHRISTEN” across the back.
“Thank you all so much for this amazing opportunity,” Christen said with a bite of sarcasm in her voice. She got up from the table and walked out, the t-shirt wrinkling in her tight grip.