There's a war inside of me
Do I cause new heartbreak to write
A new broken song?
Do I push it down
Or let it run me right into the ground?
I, I feel like
I wouldn't like me if I met me
Well, I can't stop talking
For fear of listening to unwelcome sound
And you haven't called me in weeks
And honestly, it's bringing me down
Oh, I, I feel like
I wouldn't like me if I met me
I, I feel like
You wouldn't like me if you met me
And don't you worry, there's still time
Don't you worry, there's still time
There's nothing to live for when I'm sleepin' alone
(Christen - “You Wouldn’t Like Me” by Tegan and Sara)
Could not care less about your day job
The gossip or ordinary stress
See, every relationship I've ever loved
It starts when someone says
Show me where it hurts and give me something real
And lead me to the part of you that never really heals
And say the words that burn when they leave your mouth
Tell me your story, but don't leave the good parts out
And tell me all about your failures
The little things that make you cry
And tell me the acts that you preach but cannot seem to practice
That leave you compromised
I've seen your trophies, your highlight reels
Show me where it hurts and give me something real
And lead me to the part of you that never really heals
And say the words that burn when they leave your mouth
Tell me your story
(Tobin - “The Good Parts” by Andy Grammer)
Christen was a professional athlete. She was in the best shape of her life. But sitting in a yoga studio in the West Village, trying to twist and contort her body into crow pose, Christen seriously started to doubt her athleticism. She doubted it even more because Kelley and Becky seemed perfectly content to pretzel their bodies into crow pose with ease.
“How. Are. You. Doing. This?” Christen grumbled to Kelley, sighing as she failed to get the pose right again.
“We’re really zen,” Kelley laughed. “You’re holding tension.”
“I’ll show you tension,” Christen grimaced, almost falling forward and smashing her face into the purple yoga mat she’d had to pull out of the back of her closet this morning, a fine layer of dust on it from lack of use.
“Why are you so tense anyway?” Kelley snorted. “I thought you talked to Tobin, and since I didn’t get an angry text about it, I figured it went well.”
“It...went,” Christen sighed, thinking back on the conversation she’d had with Tobin yesterday. She kept seeing those pained, sad brown eyes in her mind, kept hearing the regret and hurt in Tobin’s words. She’d learned things, things she wondered if she had any right to learn. But the most important of all was that Tobin believed she was in Scottie’s world and had to stay there. Even if Tobin wished for things to be different, even if she did as well, she existed in Scottie’s world and not Tobin’s.
“That doesn’t sound so good,” Becky observed quietly, her eyes still shut.
“Did we read it wrong?” Kelley asked, her voice at a whisper.
“Not exactly,” Christen hummed, trying to balance herself on two hands.
“So, she’s totally into you too. Called it,” Kelley said a little too loudly, getting shushed by the instructor at the front of the room.
“I called it first. You were second to call it,” Becky whispered.
Christen gave up on the crow pose and let out another long sigh. “It doesn’t matter who called it. I’m in Scottie’s world, so she shot me down,” she mumbled, grabbing her water bottle and taking a large sip, still feeling a slight sting of rejection.
Yesterday, she’d come home from Tobin’s place and had drowned her sorrows in a pint of Van Leeuwen’s ice cream and a Golden Girls marathon. She’d let herself be sad that she’d put herself out there and had gotten turned down. Even if it was for a good reason, even if Tobin seemed as sad about it as she had, it still hurt.
“That’s bullshit,” Kelley grumbled, getting another stern stare from fellow yogis.
“Quiet back there!” the instructor whisper-shouted, causing Christen to lift her hand up in apology.
“Sorry,” Kelley mumbled before turning to look at Christen again. “But she seemed interested in you, right?”
“She- honestly, it really doesn’t matter. Nothing is gonna happen between us,” Christen replied, watching the instructor show them the crane pose and trying not to let her heart hurt just a bit with that knowledge.
“It definitely matters,” Becky sighed. “You just need to prove that you’re going to respect her wishes, but also that you aren’t going to go anywhere. You can be Scottie’s and Tobin’s, and you just need to prove that.”
“I have zero clue how to do that,” Christen whispered, trying to straighten her arms and achieve the crane pose. “Or if it would even work.”
“You could try just being there?” Kelley offered. “Being Scottie’s coach and her role model and her hero. Don’t go back to what you were doing a month ago.”
Christen slipped and fell down on the mat, squishing her face against the foam. She could hear Kelley and Becky chuckling softly nearby.
“I hate you guys,” Christen grumbled, pushing herself up off the mat and rubbing at her nose.
“Want to bail and get brunch?” Kelley asked, lowering herself onto her knees.
“Oh thank god,” Becky sighed, pulling out of crane pose expertly and getting to her feet.
“We can plan ‘Operation Make MILF Trust You’ over coffee,” Kelley grinned.
“I don’t know if that would even work,” Christen sighed. “She seems pretty intent on not letting anything happen.”
“So we convince her! We show her that you’re irresistible and worth the risk! ‘Operation Make MILF Trust you and Fall for You’ is a go!” Kelley cheered, earning her glares from the other yoga patrons.
“We’ve got to work on your op names, Kel,” Becky shook her head, rolling up her mat.
“You’re a godsend,” Abby groaned, flipping open the doughnut box that Tobin had picked up on the way over. With a powdered doughnut in hand, Abby finally turned her attention to Tobin. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing…” Tobin mumbled.
“You brought me doughnuts,” Abby said, lifting her eyebrows with emphasis.
“And that means something’s going on?” Tobin scoffed.
“Honey!” Abby called for Glennon, her lips twitching up into a smirk.
“Nooooo,” Tobin groaned.
“What’s up? Ooooh, doughnuts! What’s wrong?” Glennon asked, moving her attention to Tobin.
“Doughnuts don’t mean that something’s wrong,” Tobin sighed.
Abby and Glennon simply stared at Tobin, knowing something was wrong and waiting for her to fess up.
“Fine, grab a doughnut,” Tobin grumbled, reaching into the box and grabbing an old-fashioned doughnut before she sat down at the kitchen table. “Christen came over yesterday,” she said quietly, not wanting Scottie to hear her from all the way upstairs in Glennon and Abby’s kids’ playroom.
Glennon reached out and grabbed Abby’s arm, her mouth dropping open in delighted surprise.
“That is great news!” Glennon grinned.
Abby rolled her eyes affectionately, removing Glennon’s vice-like grip from her arm and tangling their fingers together.
“It clearly doesn’t end great, since Heath brought doughnuts,” Abby said, making Glennon’s shoulders slump.
“Rats,” Glennon sighed, digging into her jelly doughnut with less gusto than before.
“She kind of rambled and talked about how she doesn’t date, and then she said she feels like more than Scottie’s coach,” Tobin blurted out, only stopping herself from talking more by shoving her doughnut in her mouth.
Abby and Glennon stayed silent, munching on their own doughnuts and waiting for Tobin to continue. They knew her well enough to know that she needed time and space to work out her thoughts and feelings, in real-time, not constant interruptions from them.
“And that sounds like she’s interested, right? Because that’s how I read the conversation, especially when I turned her down. She looked bummed, so I figured I was reading it right,” Tobin said, moving her hands around for emphasis, the doughnut, waving in front of her face.
“I’m sorry, you did what now?” Glennon said, her eyes narrowing in confusion.
“Well, obviously I can’t date her. She’s Scottie’s coach,” Tobin huffed.
“For the summer. She’s Scottie’s coach for the summer ,” Abby corrected.
“Scottie loves her. If something were to happen and Scottie lost her, Scottie would be devastated,” Tobin mumbled.
Glennon and Abby turned to look at one another and talked in hushed whispers.
“That sounds reasonable, honey,” Abby hummed.
“It sounds like an excuse,” Glennon countered with an arched brow.
“I mean, totally. But Scottie does matter,” Abby reasoned.
Glennon sighed and put her doughnut down on her napkin. “Of course she matters, which is why Tobin shouldn’t push away the first woman who she actually likes, who knows about Scottie and still wants to start something.”
“You’re so smart and I love you so much,” Abby grinned. The two of them turned back to look at Tobin, now on the same page and ready to help.
“No, no, no, no, no, don’t gang up on me,” Tobin whined. “I already feel like a jerk for turning her down. Don’t tell me it was dumb.”
“We always gang up on you,” Abby chuckled. “And you’re not just a jerk, you’re an idiot-”
“Yeah, a huge idiot. Because that woman made the scary jump and told you she wanted more, and you sent her packing. Honey, would you send Christen Press packing?” Glennon asked.
Abby paused. “I feel like this is a trick question…”
“Oh my god,” Tobin groaned, dropping half of her doughnut back in the box that Abby had brought to the kitchen table and slumping down onto the table. “I’m a total idiot.”
Abby and Glennon just smiled and nodded in agreement.
“I could totally keep this from Scottie for a little bit and not be an awful parent for doing that, right?” Tobin asked, lowering the volume of her voice even more, not that she thought Scottie would really hear her since the kids were yelling and laughing upstairs.
“You’re allowed to still be a person. You’ll always be Scottie’s mom, but you need to let yourself have a life too. Honestly, you’ll be a better mom to her if you have your own life. A life where you explore what could exist between you and Christen,” Glennon replied with a warm smile.
“And if it goes horribly, horribly wrong?” Tobin murmured.
Abby shrugged. “That’s life. Anything is possible. But we don’t think it will. From everything you’ve told us-”
“-which is a lot ,” Glennon interjected with a wink.
“-Christen adores Scottie, so I don’t think you’re the only one looking out for your kid in this situation,” Abby finished.
“So, I kind of suck, and she’s probably not gonna want to speak to me,” Tobin sighed.
“Hey, don’t talk about our best friend like that,” Glennon replied, shaking her head a bit. “You made a mistake for the right-ish reasons, but now you can make up for it.”
“We’ll come up with a plan,” Abby nodded.
“We’ll call it… ‘The Great Wooing’ plan,” Glennon grinned.
“Can we make a pity cake while we make said plan?” Tobin asked quietly.
Taking in the slumped shoulders and regretful look on Tobin’s face, Abby and Glennon nodded in tandem.
“We’ll make two,” Abby replied.
“You ready to rumble?” Kelley asked, bouncing up and down next to Christen.
“Run me through it again?” Christen asked, her nervous gaze trained on the parking lot.
“Don’t pretend like Sunday didn’t happen. You gotta respect her desire to just stay friends,” Becky said.
“Don’t be an awko taco weirdo,” Kelley threw out.
“Keep treating Scottie like you always have and keep being there for her,” Becky continued.
“Talk to Tobin like you always do. Show her that you’re there for her and that you’re not going anywhere,” Kelley added.
“If you feel yourself slipping back into bad habits or start freaking out, say ‘offsides’ and we will totally help you out,” Becky said with a soft smile.
“And keep throwing Tar Heel those smiles that make her blush, and she will be tripping over herself to let you be in their lives like you want to be,” Kelley finished with a clap of her hands.
Christen scratched at her jaw nervously, wondering if this half-baked plan the three of them had cooked up over waffles yesterday would even work. She wanted to respect the fact that Tobin just wanted her to be Scottie’s. But she also didn’t want to go down without a fight. So, like the three of them had decided, she would repeatedly show up. She would prove that she could be here for Scottie and for Tobin. And hopefully, with enough time and persistence, Tobin would start to warm to the idea of her being more than just Scottie’s.
“Christen!” Scottie called from across the field, waving with one hand and holding onto Abby’s hand with the other.
Christen deflated slightly when she didn’t see Tobin by Scottie’s side. But she quickly shook it off and sent the girl a large smile and a wave.
“Well, shit,” Kelley grumbled.
“Your plan didn’t prepare me for her to be MIA,” Christen sighed, getting off the bench.
“Well, ask where she is,” Kelley mumbled under her breath.
“Christen, Abby did my hair this morning!” Scottie said, turning around to show Christen her hair.
Christen took in the slightly lopsided pigtails and felt her smile grow. “Well then I would tell Abby to stick to scoring goals and leave the hairstyling to other people,” Christen replied, bending down to accept the hug Scottie offered.
“Hey, hey, these are the best I’ve ever done,” Abby defended herself.
“That’s sad,” Kelley snorted, dodging Abby’s shove and hurrying onto the field to start setting things up. Becky followed behind her, shooting Christen a thumbs up before walking away.
“I’m out of practice. My girls do their own hair now,” Abby grumbled.
“It’s good to see you, Abby,” Christen said, standing back up and feeling Scottie press herself into her side, her small hand tangling in the back of her shirt.
“It’s great to see you,” Abby said, opening her arms and offering Christen a hug.
Christen stiffly hugged Abby back, remembering all of the ignored phone calls and text messages she’d received from her old teammate.
“You’re squishing me!” Scottie protested from in between Christen and Abby.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Abby teased. “Your mommy told me to squish you and watch you play today.”
“Is Tobin not coming?” Christen asked, trying to keep her expression neutral.
“She’s being a boring adult today,” Abby rolled her eyes.
“Booooooring!” Scottie repeated, trying to roll her eyes as well and not really succeeding.
Christen accepted the flicker of disappointment and took it in stride. At least Tobin wasn’t avoiding her after their conversation this weekend.
“Mommy’s walking the street,” Scottie chirped, wrapping her arms around Christen’s waist.
“Um, she’s what?” Christen asked, looking up at Abby.
“She’s on Wall Street,” Abby burst out laughing. Christen laughed as well and rubbed her hand across Scottie’s back.
“Tobin does commission work, and some financial guy bought one of her pieces, so she’s meeting with him today,” Abby clarified.
Christen nodded and then looked down at Scottie, already finding those bright gray eyes fixed on her. “What do you say we convince Abby to practice with us today?”
“But she’s old,” Scottie whispered, loudly enough for Abby to hear and protest.
“Super old,” Christen agreed, poking her tongue against her cheek to stop herself from laughing. “But I haven’t played with her in a while and I missed her. So maybe we can make an exception?”
“Okay,” Scottie shrugged. “I play with Abby every week, and she’s really loud and mean when she plays.”
“I’ll make sure she’s on her best behavior today,” Christen replied, poking her pointer finger against the tip of Scottie’s nose.
“I’m never mean,” Abby protested.
“Want to go take some shots on goal before everyone else gets here?” Christen asked, wanting a moment alone with Abby and knowing this was her only way to get it.
“Yes, please!” Scottie said, racing toward the goal. “Last one there’s a rotten egg!”
Christen turned her attention to Abby and fixed an apologetic grimace on her face. “I meant to call you back. Things just got…” Christen trailed off, searching for the right words and coming up empty.
“You don’t need to apologize,” Abby shook her head. “You have every right to work through things at your own pace, and responding to my calls didn’t have to be a part of that process.”
“It was, um,” Christen cleared her throat. “It was... my parents . I didn’t mean to shut anyone out after, I just needed some time.” It was hard to say the words, but she needed to say them. She didn’t just owe them to an old friend, she owed them to herself as well.
“Christen, you don’t need to explain anything to me. I’m just glad to see you doing so well, and I’m sorry that you had to go through all of that. No one deserves that,” Abby said, her voice soft.
“I’m getting there,” Christen hummed, blinking away the burn of tears in her eyes. “I just wanted you to know that I wasn’t ignoring you. I missed you, Abby.”
“I never thought you were,” Abby said with a smile on her lips. “I missed you too, Press. But you’ve officially converted my goddaughter into a Stanford fan. That’s the only thing you need to apologize for.”
Christen laughed and swiped under her eyes quickly, hoping Abby hadn’t caught the tears that had snuck out.
“I haven’t even been trying, but now that I know she’s amenable to it, I’ll try harder,” Christen chuckled.
“She’s already ditched the UNC jersey and ripped Tobin’s heart out of her chest,” Abby chuckled.
Christen knew it was a joke, she knew it was just light-hearted fun, but she remembered what Tobin had said to her. That she was Scottie’s, not Tobin’s. She didn’t feel like she was allowed to come between them in that way.
“It’s a good thing,” Abby said, elbowing Christen in the side.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Christen replied softly, flashing a tight smile up at Abby quickly.
“I actually am really glad Tobin asked me to bring Scottie. I wanted to ask you a favor,” Abby said.
“No, I will not defend you while you try to score headers,” Christen hummed, bumping her shoulder into Abby’s. “Been there, done that.”
“It’s not soccer-related actually,” Abby grinned, loving the easy comradery that she’d always had with Christen.
“Fire away,” Christen shrugged, wondering what Abby could possibly need help with.
“Glennon’s gonna be helping her friend move this weekend, and there’s this gala I’m going to. I don’t want to go alone…” Abby started.
“Do I get to dress up?” Christen teased, her mind already running through the various outfits she had in her closet that she’d love to pull out and wear again. She hadn’t really gotten dressed up or gone out to a fancy party or gala since everything happened.
“Black tie event,” Abby nodded. “You can totally say no if you want, but it’ll be nice to have a friend there, and Tobin’s busy, so I can’t ask her or anything.”
“I’d love to go. Saves me from vacuuming my apartment and listening to the Frozen soundtrack,” Christen chuckled, her cheeks heating slightly at the admission.
“That’s what you’ve been doing lately?” Abby laughed. “You must have it bad.”
“What do you mean?” Christen asked hesitantly, scratching at her jaw.
“Oh, please,” Abby snorted. “The only person who has it as bad as you is Tobin. I’ve never seen someone eat as much pity cake as she did at Sunday night dinner.”
“Pity cake?” Christen repeated, tactfully avoiding the Tobin parts of that reply.
“Glennon makes them when someone’s bummed,” Abby shrugged.
“She’s bummed?” Christen asked, guilt flashing through her quickly.
“She told us about...things between you two. I hope that’s okay. But she’s bummed about it, yeah. It’s hard to want to do something and hold yourself back, you know?” Abby mumbled.
“Better than anyone,” Christen whispered, turning away from Abby’s knowing look.
“If you ask me, she’s an idiot,” Abby sighed. “I told her as much, for the sixth time that day, which started her on slice number four of pity cake.”
Christen barked out a laugh and bumped her shoulder against Abby’s again. “How nice of you, Abby,” she teased, once more avoiding the parts of Abby’s comment about Tobin.
“You guys are the slowest rotten eggs in the world!” Scottie shouted, throwing her hands up in exasperation.
“No, I’m not!” Christen yelled back, laughing as she shoved Abby and sprinted away from the bench toward Scottie.
Tobin felt like a complete idiot. She kept replaying Christen’s visit over and over in her mind, visualizing how nervous Christen had looked and how absolutely dejected she’d seemed once Tobin’s words were out in the open. It wasn’t that she thought Christen would actively hurt Scottie. On the contrary, Tobin knew Christen would do everything she could to love Scottie and protect her.
Despite knowing that though, Tobin couldn’t stop herself from thinking about every woman she’d been with who’d run the other way. Roni had shattered things, and Tobin had put the pieces back together, maybe even better than they had been before. But her limited dating experience since had ended with her sitting in restaurants alone and wishing she didn’t feel the need to welcome another person into her life romantically.
Glennon had pointed out to Tobin that Christen was asking for more, that she had already spent time with Tobin and Scottie and wanted more, which made her different from everyone else she’d gone out with, and Tobin couldn’t deny that. Christen was different. She was kind and compassionate and beautiful and talented and loved Scottie. But that scared Tobin even more. If those past dates had been painful, losing Christen would be heart-wrenching, and she wasn’t only thinking of herself. Scottie was already so attached. Losing Christen would break her heart.
“Mommy?” Scottie whispered, wrapping a finger around Tobin’s belt loop and tugging slightly.
“What’s up, little bit?” Tobin asked, pulling her eyes away from the pan that she was washing.
“You’re sad again,” Scottie mumbled. “And don’t lie because lying is bad.”
“I’m just thinking, buddy,” Tobin sighed.
“Then you’re sad thinking, but you’re still sad,” Scottie pointed out thoughtfully.
“Sometimes even moms get sad, and that’s okay,” Tobin said, rinsing the pan one more time and setting it on the drying rack.
Scottie grabbed her kitchen stool from near the refrigerator and dragged it over. She then got on top of it and climbed up onto the countertop, sitting next to the sink. She put her hand on Tobin’s cheek, making Tobin stop what she was doing and look at her.
“How can I make you not sad?” Scottie asked quietly.
“You already make me not sad. You make me the happiest,” Tobin grinned, leaning forward and kissing Scottie’s forehead.
“We can listen to Frozen , that always helps me feel better,” Scottie offered.
“How about we watch it in bed tonight?” Tobin asked, unable to keep the smile off of her face, remembering how she’d suffered through Frozen with Christen on the way to the restaurant.
“You got yourself a deal,” Scottie replied, holding out her hand in a fist bump. “Christen says you have to fist bump or it doesn’t count.”
Tobin’s heart clenched slightly, and she hoped that it wasn’t obvious on her face. She bumped her fist against Scottie’s before telling her to go get changed into pajamas and wait for her in Tobin’s bed.
“Christen!” Scottie called, racing across the field like she always did, her bag bouncing up and down against her body.
Christen didn’t hear her today though, she was listening to a podcast in her AirPods and was completely unprepared for the little body to collide with her own. She had been bent over the ball bag and the force of Scottie's embrace sent them both tumbling down to the grass.
“Oh my god,” Tobin swore under her breath, picking up her pace but trying not to spill coffee all over herself at the same time.
Christen was laughing, like tears from the corners of her eyes laughing, lying in the grass with Scottie half on top of her.
“Hi,” Scottie grinned, her own giggles shaking her body.
“You knocked me off my feet, kid,” Christen said, continuing to laugh as she pulled Scottie in for a hug.
“I missed you,” Scottie mumbled, wrapping her arms around Christen’s neck and squirming closer to her.
Christen’s chest tightened at the words, at the chord they struck within her. She shouldn’t be this attached, not after only a month and a half. But she was, she was desperately attached and falling in love with this kid and praying that it wasn’t going to leave her hurting when the Academy eventually ended.
“I’m so sorry,” Tobin blurted out as soon as she reached Christen’s side, feeling her cheeks start to blush at the mere sight of Christen.
Christen sat both her and Scottie up, keeping Scottie in her arms. “She’s fine, I wasn’t paying attention. Too lost in my murder podcast,” Christen chuckled, using one hand to put away her AirPods.
“Scottie, you shouldn’t run into people without warning,” Tobin said, unable to hide the smile that was on her face now that she knew everyone was okay.
“You probably shouldn’t when it’s other people, but you can run into me anytime,” Christen said, winking at Scottie when the girl pulled out of the hug, but stayed sitting in her lap.
“Funny, you didn’t say that to me,” Tobin smirked, remembering their first meeting when they actually bumped into one another. It wasn’t until she heard the flirty way that came out that her eyes widened a little.
Christen felt her brows shoot up slightly, blushing not just at the comment, but at the endearing way Tobin seemed to be surprised even at herself.
“I get to go see my Grandma this weekend!” Scottie interrupted, stealing Christen’s sunglasses from where they’d been hanging on the collar of her shirt. She put them on, the glasses far too big for her head.
“That’s so exciting!” Christen replied, trying not to think about the sentimental value of the sunglasses as Scottie’s fingers touched and grabbed with little care.
“Scottie, you didn’t ask to try on her sunglasses,” Tobin sighed, cringing when she saw Scottie’s fingers swipe across the lenses.
“Christen, can I keep trying on your sunglasses?” Scottie asked with that signature toothy grin on her face.
“Of course, kid. Just try not to break them, someone really important gave them to me,” Christen said gently.
“Who?” Scottie asked, turning her face to look at Christen.
“My- my dad,” Christen replied hesitantly, adjusting the glasses on Scottie’s head. “He...he loved sunglasses. All kinds, all colors. He had a pair for every outfit. And he loved giving them as gifts. He gave me these before, um- last year,” she added, keeping her voice light and her smile on her face, even though she wanted to keep neither. Even if it hurt a little less to talk about this with Scottie, and by extension Tobin, it still hurt.
Tobin didn’t miss the fact that Christen was using the past tense to talk about her dad. She didn’t miss the sadness in Christen’s eyes, and she suddenly felt a huge urge to wrap the woman up in her arms.
“Roni sends me sunglasses sometimes,” Scottie shrugged. “The last ones were ugly.”
“Well how about we find you a super cool pair you can wear to the next home game, then?” Christen replied with a smile, reflexively holding Scottie just a little tighter at the mention of Roni, who she assumed was the ex-wife who’d done quite the number on Tobin and Scottie.
“I get to go to the next game?” Scottie gasped.
“You didn’t hear? My favorite player gets to come to every home game,” Christen winked.
“I’m your favorite?” Scottie asked, her eyes widening in wonder.
“I don’t let just anyone borrow my dad’s sunglasses,” Christen replied, finding it a little easier to say the word dad this time. She couldn’t help but smile at the gobsmacked look on Scottie’s face. She wanted to keep doing things like this, things to put that smile on Scottie’s face. Maybe that should be part of her plan too.
“You’re my favorite coach,” Scottie grinned, removing the sunglasses from her head and hanging them back on Christen’s shirt.
“Thank you for being so gentle with them,” Christen murmured.
Tobin’s heart was a puddle of goo. She had no words to add to the conversation, and honestly, she thought her words might break the moment, so she tried to focus on Kelley and Becky across the field, even stepping away slightly to give Scottie her moment with one of her favorite people.
“Of course,” Scottie beamed.
Christen suddenly realized she’d promised Scottie that she could come to every home game without actually checking with the person who had the say in that. She looked away from the girl in her arms and up at Tobin, and noticed that she was no longer standing close by.
“Tobin?” Christen asked, feeling her heart pick up just a bit when she said her name. She had uttered it so softly and she wanted to kick herself. It was just a name, she shouldn’t be so tripped up by it. She shouldn’t have said it the way she did, like a reverent whisper, loaded with feelings and desires she had no business feeling or desiring.
“Christen?” Tobin answered, turning around to look at the woman who kept stopping her heart and then sending it into a racing tailspin.
“Is it okay if Scottie walks out with me and is the ball girl for the rest of the home games this season?” Christen asked, cringing slightly at having not checked before basically promising Scottie she could. “I know I should have checked with you, but-”
“I bet she’d love that,” Tobin interrupted with a nod. “It’s cool with me.”
“The season goes until November,” Christen added, saying more with her words than just communicating the end date of the season.
“We’re not planning on going anywhere,” Tobin replied, her eyes landing on Christen’s and staying there for a beat too long.
“Neither am I,” Christen murmured softly, and maybe it was too serious and meant more to her than it did to Tobin or Scottie, but she said it anyway.
“Mommy, you should give Kelley and Becky their coffees. I have a secret, and you can’t hear it,” Scottie said, leaning into Christen.
“Oh, really?” Tobin laughed.
“Scram, we’ve got secrets to share,” Christen teased, holding out her hand for her own coffee before Tobin left.
Tobin’s smile grew to its full size, making her cheeks ache. “Coffee for the bossy lady,” Tobin sighed, handing the drink to Christen. “And a kiss for the even bossier little girl,” she added, pressing a kiss to Scottie’s head, not realizing that leaning down to kiss her would put her in a position that was mere inches from Christen.
For the first time since knowing Christen, she was close enough to smell the jasmine and honeysuckle scent that was in Christen’s detergent or lotion or hair products or was just naturally her . It made Tobin’s heart ache to reach out and touch her, to pull her in for a hug, to spend every second with her. Tobin’s breath caught in her throat, and she had to force herself to stand up quickly and walk across the field to Kelley and Becky.
Christen watched Tobin walk away, her breathing still a little labored. She hadn’t recovered from Tobin being so close to her, from those scents of sandalwood and something floral that had overwhelmed her senses. They were an intoxicating combination, Tobin was intoxicating , and Christen wondered if she’d ever recover.
“Are you even listening to me?” Scottie asked, bringing Christen’s attention back to the seven-year-old in her lap.
“What’d you say?” Christen replied, a sheepish smile on her face. She had been completely ignoring the girl in her arms in favor of obsessing over the girl’s mom.
“Mommy’s sad,” Scottie repeated, looking up at Christen.
And just like that, whatever light and comfort and delicious promise had come from being so close to Tobin was gone. In its place was concern, a concern that had Christen’s forehead wrinkling and her mouth turning down in a frown.
“How do you know that?” Christen asked, hating the worry she could see in Scottie’s gray eyes and the responsibility resting on her small shoulders. She didn’t want Scottie to have to be the only one looking out for Tobin.
“She isn’t listening to music in her studio anymore,” Scottie pouted. “And her eyes look different, and she didn’t even sing to “Let It Go” last night, even though she usually does because it makes me laugh.”
Christen was almost at a loss for what to say. She didn’t want to pepper Scottie with questions to try and figure out if Tobin was sad about what had happened on Sunday, like Abby had alluded to, or if there was more going on. It wasn’t really her place and she didn’t think it was Scottie’s place to have to answer questions like that anyway.
So instead, she pushed aside her concern for Tobin and focused on Scottie. She stayed in Scottie’s world like Tobin wanted her to.
“Well, Scottie, sometimes our moms get sad, but it’s not our fault. All we can do is give them really big hugs and extra scoops of ice cream for dessert,” Christen replied.
“That’s what Mommy said!” Scottie gasped.
Christen had lost count of the number of times that had happened, where she would say something and Scottie would exclaim that Tobin had said the same thing.
“Christen?” Scottie asked.
“Scottie Heath?” Christen teased with a small smile, trying to bring the light back into those gray eyes.
“I think you need to spend time with Mommy,” Scottie hummed.
“Do you not want to spend time with me anymore?” Christen asked, desperate to steer this back toward something she could manage. She had to respect Tobin’s decision to keep their lives separate, but it was hard to do when Scottie seemed intent on tangling them together.
“I do!” Scottie blurted out. “But Mommy always smiles really big when she talks to you. You can hang out with both of us.”
“I…” Christen trailed off, wishing more than anything that she could agree. But she shouldn’t. “I think that’s something you should talk to your mom about, kid.”
“Okay, I can do that!” Scottie said, trying to scramble out of Christen’s lap.
“Wait, I didn’t mean now!” Christen replied quickly, trying to grab onto Scottie’s arm or jersey or something, but all she caught was empty air as Scottie raced away from her.
Christen sighed and dropped her head into her hands. Great, now Tobin was going to think she put Scottie up to this.
“Mommy!” Scottie called, skidding to a stop beside Tobin.
“Are you finished with your secrets?” Tobin teased.
“Christen wanted me to ask you about her spending time with us since she makes you happy!” Scottie grinned.
Tobin’s eyebrows shot up at Scottie’s words. She lifted her head and looked toward where Christen was still sitting in the grass with her head in her hands.
“Did she ask you that or did you ask her that?” Tobin clarified, seeing that Christen looked absolutely mortified.
“Ummm...well I sorta asked her, but then she said I had to ask you first,” Scottie shrugged, bending down to pick some wildflowers from the grass field.
“Why don’t you go pass the ball with Kelley?” Tobin suggested.
“But I don’t want to pass the ball with Kelley,” Scottie replied, her brow furrowing.
“Or Becky,” Tobin offered.
“I like Coach Becky. Look, I can wear my jersey like her,” Scottie said, rolling the sleeves of her jersey up.
“I bet she’d love to see that. Why don’t you go show her?” Tobin suggested.
“COACH BECKY! LOOK!” Scottie yelled, racing across the field to where Becky was setting up the small, pop-up nets.
Tobin walked over to where Christen was still hiding her face, dropping down onto the grass beside her.
“I didn’t ask her to say that,” Christen mumbled from behind her hands.
“I know,” Tobin nodded. “She has a habit of putting words into people’s mouths.”
Christen finally lifted her face from her hands and turned to look at Tobin, which was a mistake because there was a wayward strand of hair that had escaped her bun and was now blowing in the wind, enticing Christen to reach out and tuck it behind Tobin’s ear.
“I definitely wouldn’t have said that after this weekend. You drew a line; I respect the line. I’m not crossing the line or using Scottie to cross it,” Christen assured.
“I was kind of dumb this weekend,” Tobin replied softly, looking out across the field.
That gave Christen pause. “Do you actually not know anything about the real estate market in SoHo?” she joked weakly, scratching at her jaw self-consciously a bit.
Tobin smiled at Christen’s joke, wanting more than anything to take away the space between them. “No. About the line, and about you. I was...really dumb.”
“Dumb, a very adult word you got there,” Christen replied, not letting herself fall into hope’s trap. Tobin’s words could mean anything. She could mean that she didn’t want Christen in their lives in any capacity.
“I know I probably blew my chances, but I’d like to talk again if you’re willing. Not here, obviously,” Tobin mumbled. “I have a thing this weekend. If you want to come you can. I’d love the company,” Tobin offered, looking over at Christen.
Christen sighed. “I can’t this weekend. I have a game Saturday up in D.C. and an event on Sunday,” she replied regretfully.
“Another time then maybe,” Tobin hummed, offering a soft smile to Christen.
“I’d like that,” Christen found herself saying, hopelessly within hope’s trap now as she mirrored Tobin’s smile.
“You clean up nice,” Abby grinned as soon as Christen opened her door.
“Such a tone of surprise. Do you not remember the ESPYs?” Christen teased, stepping out of her apartment and pulling the door shut. She ran a hand down the side of her strapless, black, floor-length dress, straightening the skirt and making sure the slit didn’t ride too high up her leg.
It felt a little strange to be getting so dolled up, putting on the make-up and styling her curls into a loose up-do. But she also had missed it, the time and care one could put into their appearance. She hadn’t been out in this capacity since her parents, and she’d missed it.
“I’m not surprised,” Abby said, offering Christen her arm. “You’re gonna be drawing some eyes tonight.” “One particular pair of eyes,” Abby thought to herself, unable to keep the mischievous smile off her face.
“I’d prefer not to,” Christen admitted, taking Abby’s arm and letting her lead them to the elevator.
“Oh, really? Why’s that?” Abby asked, feigning innocence.
Christen knocked her hip into Abby’s and rolled her eyes. “Who’s watching the girls if Glennon is helping a friend move?”
“Oh, um a- a babysitter,” Abby stuttered, not expecting Christen to ask her that. She hadn’t come up with a good cover, and she couldn’t be honest and tell her that Glennon was at home with the kids having a movie night.
“Oh my god, Abby, did I tell you that I failed to put two-and-two together and realize Glennon was Glenny? Scottie was rambling on about family dinners and Tobin going to visit this Glenny person, and for some reason, I just did not think of your wife,” Christen laughed.
“Scottie’s been calling her Glenny since she was three. It’s adorable, and Glennon loves it,” Abby laughed, thankful for the new topic.
“It’s super cute,” Christen agreed. “I didn’t realize that Tobin had adopted Scottie when she was already three. I honestly didn’t even realize she was adopted until Tobin mentioned it.”
“It’s usually a longer process, but Scottie needed a foster family really quickly, and Tobin had already fostered a few kids before, so they placed Scottie with her. I think Roni really wanted to adopt a baby, but Tobin just fell in love with Scottie as soon as she saw her,” Abby sighed, remembering the night that Tobin had called her to tell her about Scottie and the following weeks when she called regularly for advice.
“That I get,” Christen chuckled, letting Abby lead her out of the apartment building and down to a town car waiting on the curb. They slid in and the car promptly took off through the city streets.
“You should have seen her when Tobin first picked her up. Scottie was tiny, and she latched onto Tobin pretty immediately. I’m sure she’ll show you a picture sometime,” Abby said, looking out the window at the buildings they were passing.
“Maybe,” Christen replied, feeling that stubborn hope inside of her again. The one she shouldn’t be feeling. The one she had to ignore if she was going to stay in Scottie’s world.
“For the first few years, it was hard to get her to stop showing people pictures,” Abby laughed.
Christen laughed right along with Abby, being able to picture sleep-deprived but totally enamored new mom Tobin showing anyone who would give her the time of day pictures of Scottie.
“Tobin was so chill in college. Nothing bothered her; everything just rolled right off her back, and then she got Scottie, and I watched her morph into this huge worrywart. She’s mellowed out since, though. Sorry, you probably don’t want to talk about her right now,” Abby said, clearing her throat softly.
Christen had to bite back a quick, overly eager response. A response where she begged Abby to keep telling her things, to keep adding to her mental stores on Tobin and Scottie. She instead shot Abby a small smile and forced herself to reply calmly.
“It’s okay, I don’t mind,” Christen replied. “I like hearing about her from your perspective. It’s very different from the soccer mom side I see.”
“And what do you see?” Abby asked, cocking her head to the side and glancing over at Christen.
Christen blushed and looked away from Abby, not wanting to take the bait. “Things I shouldn’t,” Christen admitted. “I shouldn’t see her as anything, at least that’s kind of the message I got last weekend. Only now I’m not so sure. She...she asked to talk.”
“Probably because she got brave,” Abby mumbled. “Glennon gassed her up.”
Christen chuckled and shook her head. “Whatever it was, I’m trying not to read too much into it. I’m finally getting back on my feet and I don’t need to be looking for a place to land that’s not on solid ground, you know?”
“You don’t think Tobin’s solid?” Abby asked, her eyebrows scrunching together in thought.
“I do,” Christen replied quickly, her heart fluttering at the admission. Tobin was solid ground. She was strong and unwavering, steadfast and dependable. Tobin was someone who could be her safe harbor, but she wasn’t sure if Tobin wanted to be. Christen took a deep breath and added, “I just don’t know if she would let me land.”
After a beat of silence, Christen shook her head and smiled weakly at Abby. “But wow it got heavy in here, yeah? Does this swanky town car have sparkling water or something?” she asked, changing the subject quickly.
“There’s water in the cooler,” Abby nodded, reaching forward to open the small cooler. “We’re almost there, anyway.”
“Where are we going? I didn’t actually ask,” Christen laughed.
“How much do you love me?” Abby asked, offering Christen a tight smile.
“Uh...enough. Why?” Christen wondered, her eyes narrowing.
“We’re here, ladies,” the driver announced as he pulled up in front of the Museum of Modern Art.
“MoMA! So cool, right?” Abby said, smiling brightly and opening her door.
“I guess...I haven’t been here in years,” Christen said carefully, not sure why Abby looked so guilty and mischievous all at once.
“The show tonight is gonna be awesome!” Abby said, a little too enthusiastic for normal.
“I thought you said it was a gala?” Christen asked with a furrowed brow.
“It totally is, but there’s also art…” Abby mumbled, pulling Christen by the hand out onto the street.
“You’re so weird, Abby,” Christen laughed, not understanding why Abby seemed so secretive about this but she just decided to roll with it.
Abby led Christen through the front doors, telling security her name and watching as they checked her and her plus one off. “We’re going to the third floor,” Abby said quietly, heading to the elevator and pressing the buttons for them to ride up. The entire time, she felt jittery, hoping that all would go well for both Christen and Tobin. She didn’t need their second attempt at a talk to go poorly, but she’d told Glennon to get a cake ready just in case it did.
“Wow, you did this one too?” a woman cooed, looking between the painting on the wall and Tobin by her side.
“Yes,” Tobin blushed, glancing back at the painting that the woman was looking at. “All the paintings in this room are mine.”
“That’s incredible,” the woman replied. “Are any of them for sale?”
“Not any of these just yet. They’ll be sold at the end of the summer exhibit. I do have other pieces on my website for sale right now, and people sometimes commission pieces if they have a specific person or place in mind,” Tobin said, giving the woman her undivided attention.
“So I could hire you to paint me something?” the woman practically purred, leaning into Tobin’s space.
“Absolutely,” Tobin nodded, reaching into her suit jacket pocket, pulling out her business card, and offering it to the woman.
The woman reached out, running her pointer finger against one of Tobin’s as she took the card. “What about tonight? Could you start then?”
Tobin’s face flushed at the insinuation. She hadn’t expected someone to proposition her for that, not at an art gallery where most of the people were decades older than her. “My dance card’s all booked up tonight,” she said, thinking about Christen and what it had been like to sit and talk to her at Scottie’s last practice.
“What a shame. Let me know if it frees up,” the woman replied with a coy wink.
“Will do,” Tobin nodded, knowing fully well that she wouldn’t be actively seeking this woman out later.
Tobin wandered around the room with her nametag on the lapel of her jacket, answering a few questions that people had about her work. Making art was fun. It didn’t feel like a job, but this...this was exhausting. Tobin always hated the schmoozing, the compliments, the loud conversations over wine and cheese, and the bright lights in the museum. This was work.
It was in the middle of one of the many overly schmoozy conversations that she caught sight of dark, curly hair and felt her stomach flip.
“Excuse me,” she mumbled to the man who was trying to talk to her about some art theory that he’d learned about in college. She hurried away from him, stepping out of the room that contained her art and turning to look down the hall.
The head of dark curls was now at the end of the hallway and ducking into a different artist’s room.
Tobin darted down the hallway, dodging a few glasses of wine and a couple of museum patrons. When she rounded the corner, her eyes met green ones, and the entire museum fell silent in the back of her mind.
Christen froze, her glass of water halfway to her lips, her gaze holding with Tobin’s. She couldn’t breathe, she could barely even think. She felt like the world stopped turning as her eyes stayed locked with that pair of familiar, warm brown eyes. The ones that stirred something within her that she was maybe a little less scared of now.
Tobin was here, at this gala event Abby had dragged her to, and Christen couldn’t wrap her head around odds like that.
“Abby?” Christen asked tightly, her eyes still locked with Tobin’s.
“Yeah?” Abby hummed, pulling her eyes away from the painting she was admiring from another local artist.
“What is Tobin Heath doing here?”
“Oh, did I forget to mention that part?” Abby asked with a guilty chuckle. “She’s a featured artist.”
Christen couldn’t even respond. She just stared at Tobin, feeling drawn in, inexplicably pulled in Tobin’s direction. She couldn’t stand so far away, not when she saw the tailored navy suit and the soft, beachy waves in Tobin’s hair. She couldn’t be over here, with Tobin all the way over there, when Tobin looked just a little wonderstruck and surprised in the absolute best way.
Tobin lifted her hand in an awkward wave, and immediately chastised herself. “Are you serious? That was the lamest greeting you could have thought of.” She couldn’t help it, though. She couldn’t think of anything other than how beautiful Christen looked in her black dress and dark lipstick. She couldn’t help that her heart was thrumming at the fastest pace she’d ever felt and that her skin felt prickly and tingly and that her stomach was rolling in the best way possible. She stepped forward into the room, knowing only one thing for certain: she wanted to be close to Christen more than anything else.
Christen’s feet were moving, not even really registering the fact that Abby was talking to her. She elbowed through the crowd, and approached Tobin, unable to deny the pull any longer.
“Hi,” Christen all but breathed, her lips pulling into a shy smile once.
“Hey,” Tobin said, her voice low, almost reverent. “You look amazing.” “You shouldn’t have said that out loud,” Tobin thought, her eyes widening a little at the brazenness.
“You don’t look too bad yourself,” Christen replied smoothly, her cheeks filled with a pretty blush at the compliment.
“Thank you,” Tobin said, glancing down at her navy suit and the black shoes on her feet.
“I, um, I didn’t know this was the museum Scottie was talking about,” Christen hummed, fighting the urge to step closer and run her hand along the lapel of Tobin’s coat, to tuck a few strands of hair behind her ear.
“I didn’t know this was what you were busy with this weekend,” Tobin said softly.
“I didn’t either, really. Abby told me I was accompanying her to a gala,” Christen laughed.
“What a liar,” Tobin chuckled. “She ditched Glennon for you, then.”
“Glennon’s not helping a friend move tonight, is she?” Christen asked, shaking her head at how naive she’d been, believing Abby’s pitiful excuse.
“She said she didn’t feel well and couldn’t come, but I’d guarantee that she and the kids are watching a movie and eating popcorn right now,” Tobin smirked.
“Remind me to thank her,” Christen replied, her voice soft.
“Remind me to thank her too,” Tobin murmured.
The two simply looked at each other for a moment, enjoying the fact that there weren’t dozens of kids running around on a soccer field around them, that there wasn’t a seven-year-old begging for attention. Tonight, they were just Christen and Tobin.
“Excuse me,” a server holding a tray of wine glasses said, moving past Tobin, making her step closer to Christen to clear the path.
Christen sucked in an audible breath, her eyes widening a bit at the feeling of Tobin’s hand on her waist, at the proximity they now enjoyed. She was close enough to see the honeyed flecks in Tobin’s brown eyes and the smile lines around her mouth. They were closer now than they were at the fields and Christen wasn’t hating a single second of it.
Tobin felt like her brain was short-circuiting. She felt the silky material of Christen’s dress under her fingertips and Christen’s soft breath against her cheek. Tobin had never been this close to Christen, and she wondered if moving any closer would kill her since this distance was stopping her heart in her chest already.
“Uh...sorry,” Tobin mumbled, taking her hand off of Christen’s waist and stepping back but not quite as far as she had been before.
“It’s fine,” Christen whispered, fighting off a wince at how deep her voice had gotten. She cleared her throat and gripped her clutch tightly in her hand to avoid scratching at her jaw.
“Do you want a drink or something?” Tobin asked, looking over her shoulder for another wandering waiter.
“I’m okay for now,” Christen replied, still trying to get her bearings after being so intoxicatingly close to Tobin.
“Okay,” Tobin nodded. “I should- well, I should actually get back to my corner before someone comes to find me.”
“Oh, right. Of course,” Christen said, feeling a flash of disappointment that Tobin had to go so soon.
“I’ll see you if you wander that way?” Tobin asked, her voice hopeful and her body longing to stay rooted right where she was. “Maybe soon?”
“I could wander now...but I’d need someone to show me the way. It’s a little confusing in here with the crowd and all the rooms,” Christen replied, a small smile tugging at her lips.
“Sure. Yeah,” Tobin replied, fumbling with her words and her body for a second unsure of whether she should offer Christen her arm or just walk ahead. She settled on something that in hindsight was likely more intimate, resting her hand on Christen’s back and guiding her out of the room and down the hall.
“I should have known these were yours,” Christen observed quietly, looking at the pink, cotton candy-colored painting that Scottie loved so much. “You just have this...thing that no one else does. This is a Tobin Heath painting, through and through.”
“I’ll assume that’s a compliment,” Tobin grinned, looking at the pink painting as well, her arm brushing against Christen’s slightly.
“I meant it as one!” Christen assured, turning to offer Tobin a dazzling smile. “These are all extraordinary. Especially this one,” she added, nodding at the cotton candy painting.
“That’s Scottie’s favorite. She claimed it, so you’ll have to choose another,” Tobin teased.
“I get to choose one?” Christen asked with a small chuckle, her green eyes dancing.
“Sure,” Tobin shrugged with an easy smile on her lips.
“I want the one in your studio,” Christen whispered, her cheeks flushing slightly with the admission.
Tobin knew exactly which one Christen was talking about. Christen wanted the painting of Scottie, the one Tobin still hadn’t managed to get right, the one that Christen looked at and saw perfection, even if Tobin didn’t.
“Okay,” Tobin hummed, her stomach somersaulting again at the admission. It seemed like Christen became more and more amazing with each word she spoke, and Tobin was feeling a little overwhelmed by the way her heart kept fluttering in her chest.
“Were you...were you serious about talking again?” Christen wondered, her voice soft. She knew they were in the middle of a crowded museum, that Abby was off somewhere, that they weren’t alone. But tucked away in this little corner of the third floor, it felt like they were in a world all of their own.
“Yes, I was serious,” Tobin nodded, reaching out to brush her fingers across the back of Christen’s hand.
Christen let out a short, relieved breath and looked down at their hands. She tracked the briefest, barely-there touches of Tobin’s fingertips along the back of her hand. She watched so intently, almost as if Tobin’s touch could communicate whatever it was Tobin wanted to tell her.
“I haven’t had dinner,” Tobin mumbled quietly.
Christen lifted her gaze back to Tobin, her hand itching to take Tobin’s in her own. “Me neither,” she replied softly. “You definitely shouldn’t skip dinner. It’s an important meal.”
“Neither should you. You’re a professional athlete, so it’s doubly important,” Tobin said, her brown eyes a little playful.
“We should probably make sure we don’t skip it then.”
“There’s a food cart downstairs that stays open really late. I can’t leave early, unfortunately,” Tobin whispered.
“I’ll wait for you,” Christen hummed, swallowing thickly at the deeper meaning behind her words as she finally let herself reach out to capture Tobin’s hand in her own, giving it a small squeeze.
“Abby ditched you,” Tobin teased, pressing the button for the ground floor in the elevator.
“She’s just adding to the list,” Christen laughed.
“What list is that?” Tobin asked, cocking her head to the side and leaning back against the wall of the elevator.
“She clearly lied to get me here and now she’s ditched me. If she wanted me to spend time with you, she didn’t have to go to such extremes,” Christen replied with a shrug, looking at the closed elevator doors.
“I’ve got to get her a good birthday present this year,” Tobin chuckled, standing upright when the doors opened. She waited for Christen to exit first before she followed behind her.
Tobin led Christen to a food cart that sold South Indian dosas, letting Christen order first before giving them her own order and paying for their dinner. She insisted that since Christen paid for dinner in Little Italy, she could buy dinner tonight.
They wandered with their dosas for a few blocks, not really walking anywhere in particular, until Christen started to recognize some of the streets.
“Want to eat these somewhere with a table?” Christen asked when they reached a stoplight.
“Uh...I’m not sure any place with a table will let us in with food,” Tobin said, her forehead wrinkling a little in confusion.
“My apartment is about five blocks from here, but I understand if that’s a little...much. We can eat on the steps in front of my building if you want?” Christen offered, feeling her nerves flutter around within her and make her words come out in a rush.
“No, it isn’t too much. That’s fine, that’s perfect,” Tobin nodded, suddenly feeling nervous for the conversation she was about to have with Christen and the prospect that Christen could say no to Tobin’s request, that she could say Tobin had missed her chance.
“Okay,” Christen replied softly, smiling just a bit and tugging on the arm of Tobin’s suit jacket to pull her in the right direction. “I’m this way.”
When they reached the outside of Christen’s apartment building, Tobin glanced up at the brick building. “Nice place,” she hummed.
“It’s got a little something, yeah,” Christen agreed, walking up the front steps. “Nice neighbors, quiet street, and insane rent like all of Manhattan,” she added with a chuckle.
“I used to run through Chelsea a lot when I first moved here,” Tobin said, trying to soothe her nerves with small talk.
“But you don’t anymore?” Christen asked, holding open the door for Tobin.
“Sometimes I do,” Tobin nodded. “Scottie’s too big to push in a jogger now. Plus, I bought a treadmill.”
“Doesn’t that feel a little like a hamster on a wheel?” Christen laughed, leading them to the elevator and taking the short trip up to her floor.
“Try a lot,” Tobin sighed. “I can’t call a babysitter every time I want to run, though. That’d be a little excessive.”
Christen laughed again, warm and rich and melodic. She shuffled out of the elevator, fishing her keys out of her clutch and then opening up her apartment. She was immediately grateful she’d been cleaning so much. She was pretty sure this was the cleanest her studio had ever been.
“So...this is me,” Christen said, walking into the apartment and heading straight for the small eating nook next to the kitchen.
“Wow, you’re super tidy,” Tobin hummed, glancing around at the vacuum marks on the carpet and the immaculate kitchen.
“I’m not usually this clean. But I’ve been on a real vacuuming kick lately,” Christen grinned, dropping into a chair at the table and turning her attention to Tobin.
“Expecting company?” Tobin teased, letting her eyes take in the soft, neutral colors in the room. It was modern like Tobin’s place, but it wasn’t nearly as colorful, likely because Scottie wasn’t begging to design things.
“No, not exactly. I just needed a clean plate, I guess. A fresh start.”
Tobin nodded, knowing exactly what that felt like. As soon as Roni had left and Tobin had filed for divorce, she’d packed up all of her and Scottie’s stuff, dumped things that reminded her too much of Roni, and packed a truck headed for the city. “Fresh starts are good,” she sighed, sinking down into a chair across from Christen at the table.
“Especially after being a little sad this week, right?” Christen asked, her thoughtful gaze trained on Tobin, her dosa abandoned in front of her.
Tobin cocked her head to the side for a minute, wondering why Christen thought that. “Scottie?” she guessed, knowing that her daughter had no filter.
Christen nodded, the corner of her mouth twitching up into a half-smile. “She worries about you.”
“I know she does,” Tobin sighed, closing her eyes for a second. She hated that Scottie worried. She was supposed to be the parent, not the other way around, and any time that Scottie looked worried or tried to take care of her, it killed Tobin just a little bit. “I wish she didn’t.”
“Someone should,” Christen hummed. “You shouldn’t go through life without somebody worrying about you.”
“Maybe, but I’d like for her to hold off on the worrying until she’s finished with college and doing something amazing,” Tobin grinned.
Christen felt herself smiling as well. She immediately thought of things to say. Things like, Let me be the one who worries about you ; I’ll be that someone until Scottie’s old enough . But she kept those in. She still didn’t know why Tobin wanted to talk.
“Do you want to eat before we...?” Christen trailed off, her stomach clenching in anticipation.
Tobin shook her head, growing quiet for a moment. “I was sad,” she said finally, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to stomach her food if she didn’t try to speak first.
Christen leaned her arms on the table, tilting her head to the side a bit as she listened intently. She couldn’t decide what to focus on between her racing heart, the nerves swirling around in her stomach, or the way Tobin’s expression looked so vulnerable it nearly made her heart break.
“I’ve dated,” Tobin said, trying to find the words she hadn’t yet really had a chance to fully prepare. “Don’t get me wrong, I went through an angry one-night stand phase for a few months, but you can’t really do that when you have to pick up a four-year-old from your friend’s place the next day. But I’ve dated, and they all kind of...sucked. I tried to find people who were a part of my world and not Scottie’s, like at art galleries or at this one school where I volunteered for a bit in their art department, but even though they were convenient, they weren’t right for me.” Tobin blew out a soft breath, scared about what she was going to say and hoping that Christen wouldn’t respond negatively.
“They never wanted to stick around after finding out about Scottie, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted. But Glennon pointed out that you’re the first person who’s gotten to know both Scottie and me and wanted more. And because of that, you- you terrify me a little, Christen,” Tobin admitted quietly, running a hand through her hair. She gazed across the small table at Christen and felt her heart continue to race, the way it always seemed to around the green-eyed woman.
“Scottie loves you, and I know that if I mess this up I could hurt her, and I’d never forgive myself for that. I also realize how much pressure that probably puts on you. But I can’t lie to myself or to you and say that I don’t want to try. I was an idiot the other day and I’m so sorry. I hid behind Scottie when all I wanted to do was tell you that I want...I want you ,” Tobin said, her voice a little wobbly at the end.
She didn’t even know if Christen fully understood all that she’d said since it had been so rambly, but she was hoping she did. She was hoping she’d look at her with those calm, understanding eyes and everything would feel right.
Christen let out a shaky breath, ducking her head slightly and breaking the eye contact she’d been holding that entire time with Tobin.
That was...a lot. But it was a lot in the very best way. It was a lot and it was what Christen had wanted to hear. It confirmed for her why Tobin had been hesitant, why she still was, and it also confirmed that Tobin was as aware of this pull between them as she was.
Tobin wanted to try, Tobin wanted her . It made her heart soar and her spirit sing, but it also made her fear grow tenfold. She was still worried she was too messed up, too much of a burden. She didn’t want to crumble under the pressure this would put her under, and she didn’t want to run the risk of disappointing Tobin or Scottie.
“You terrify me a lot too, Tobin,” Christen whispered, forcing herself to take a deep breath and then look back up at Tobin.
Tobin’s stomach tightened a little bit at that. She knew it was a long shot, that Christen might have changed her mind or might have thought more about the consequences should they not work out. She nodded softly, letting Christen know she was listening, despite not really feeling like she could respond.
“You terrify me because you look at me like Scottie does, with that hope and that understanding and that light ...and I don’t think I’m entirely deserving of it, even if I want to be,” Christen continued, her voice so soft it was almost inaudible.
“I don’t think you see you the way we do,” Tobin said quietly.
Christen shook her head slightly and grew quiet for a few moments, her hands tightening their grip on her arms. Before she told Tobin that she wanted her too, that she wanted this, she needed Tobin to know. She needed Tobin to know who she was getting in all of this.
“Remember that day I wasn’t at training?” Christen whispered, her chest tightening a bit at the knowledge of where this was going.
“Yes,” Tobin nodded, watching Christen carefully, knowing that she was about to share something important and wanting to give her all of her attention.
“I...I wasn’t sick.”
“Okay…” Tobin nodded. “Well, that’s okay if you needed a day to yourself.”
“I-” Christen hesitated, her jaw tightening as she looked down at the table. It had been so easy to tell Abby. Well, not so easy but it had been easier. This? This was hard. It was hard because she knew once this was out there, Tobin could look at the state of her mess and run in the complete opposite direction.
“I’ve had a lot of days like that for the past seven months. Since my- since my parents died ,” Christen’s voice broke on that word, but she kept going, knowing she needed to get this out. If she didn’t get this out now, she never would. She needed to get this out and see if Tobin still wanted her, still wanted to try. “I’ve been in a bad spot, doing things I’m not proud of. I was drowning in questionable choices on a downward spiral until I got roped into coaching the Development Academy. Until I met Scottie and- and you .”
Tobin felt guilt immediately flood her system at the way she had judged Christen when she’d first met her and looked at those stupid tabloids. She felt the urge to take Christen into her arms, the same urge she’d been having more and more frequently since getting to know Christen. But she didn’t do that. She just sat across the table and listened.
“I’m not...I’m not Coach Christen, with a smile on her face and her life together. I’m still drowning a little bit, and I’m a hot mess, and I showed up at your place last weekend ready to tell you all that so you’d know what you were getting yourself into. I’m not put together, and I don’t really have solid footing right now, but I’m-” Christen faltered, her eyes still locked on the table. She was too scared to look up, too scared to see how Tobin was reacting to her word vomit. “I don’t think I’m saying it right, but...I want you so bad it scares me, Tobin. And I’m trying to be better and I want to try. For you and for- for me .”
“Trying is the only thing I care about,” Tobin murmured, reaching out and placing her hand in the middle of the table, silently reaching out if Christen wanted to meet her in the middle, if she still wanted to try this .
Christen silently slid her hand into Tobin’s, marveling at how warm Tobin’s hand was, how reassuring her touch was. She still didn’t dare look up yet though, preferring to follow the slow circles Tobin’s thumb was tracing along the back of her hand.
“I’m sorry you lost your parents,” Tobin added softly, not knowing firsthand how painful that must have been but empathizing as well as she could.
“I didn’t tell you so you’d feel bad for me. I just wanted you to know why I am the way I am,” Christen whispered, her throat thick and her eyes stinging.
“I’m not feeling bad for you or pitying you. I’m just sorry you lost two people who loved you and who you loved,” Tobin said, not taking her eyes off of Christen.
Christen felt her eyes fill with tears, her vision swimming. She had no ability to stop the tears. Not when Tobin was so sweet and soft, so gentle and kind. Not when her hand was still holding tightly to her own, with no sign of letting go.
“Would it be okay if I hugged you?” Tobin asked quietly, her heart aching at the sight of Christen so heartbroken, in so much pain.
“I think I’d get you all makeup-y,” Christen choked out. “And crying on an accidental first date is really lame.”
“It isn’t lame, and I have a good dry cleaner,” Tobin insisted, staying in her seat until Christen gave her the green light.
“You really don’t have to,” Christen whispered, not wanting Tobin to feel the full extent of how shaky she was right now. After talking about her parents openly for the first time since they’d died, with someone she had admitted to wanting and was in desperate danger of falling for, she was barely holding on.
“I know I don’t have to. I’d like to, but if you’re more comfortable with me over here, then I’ll stay,” Tobin said, keeping her voice gentle and even. She’d known that Christen had experienced something. She knew firsthand from Abby, but she could also see it in the way Christen responded to the people and things around her. Tobin just hadn’t realized how much pain she was actually in. If she’d known, she probably would have offered a hug weeks ago.
“Do you give hugs as great as Scottie does?” Christen sniffled, finally chancing a look up at Tobin, knowing a few tears had leaked out and were currently running down her cheeks.
“Who do you think taught her?” Tobin smiled softly, squeezing Christen’s hand in her own.
Christen let a wobbly breath escape her lips, and then she nodded, almost imperceptibly, giving Tobin the green light she was looking for.
Tobin stood from her seat, letting go of Christen’s hand just long enough to walk around the table and stand beside the seat that Christen was sitting in. She offered Christen one of her hands, pulling her up to her feet as soon as Christen gave her her hand.
With slow, steady breaths, Tobin prepared herself to give the best hug of her life, hoping that she could do something to make Christen feel better. She wrapped her arms around Christen, pulling her closer and holding her securely against her body, the way she’d been aching to for weeks.
In the safety of Tobin’s arms, arms that held her like they were meant to, Christen finally let herself break.
She gave herself permission to cry, clinging to Tobin and praying that she would keep them upright since Christen was sure she was moments from collapsing. She cried tears of grief and pain, tears of shame and embarrassment, tears of relief and hope. She cried until she felt like she couldn’t cry anymore. But the whole time, Tobin held her and rubbed her hands across her back, and whispered soft, reassuring words.
It felt like too much, too soon. Too emotional, too raw, too real. They’d both admitted to their deepest hurts before even really knowing what they were or where they stood. But as Christen stood there on shaky legs, with tear stains on her cheeks and her face pressed against the side of Tobin’s neck, she couldn’t find it in herself to regret it. She couldn’t regret it because, for the first time since she’d buried her parents, she didn’t feel like she was drowning anymore.
“So...how good is that dry cleaner?” Christen mumbled, loosening her vice-like grip on the back of Tobin’s suit jacket once her tears had subsided enough for her to catch her breath.
“Scottie has spilled everything possible on me,” Tobin whispered. “I’m not worried about a little bit of makeup.”
Christen smiled a bit, pulling back out of Tobin’s arms and immediately moving to wipe under her eyes, knowing her mascara was smudged and the complete opposite of attractive.
Tobin silently pulled a handkerchief out of her pocket and handed it to Christen. She’d started carrying handkerchiefs in her pockets as soon as she became Scottie’s mom, wanting to be the same kind of parent her parents had been for her. Her dad had always carried handkerchiefs or tissues on him, just in case.
Christen took the handkerchief with a wobbly half-smile, wiping under her eyes and at her cheeks, trying to erase the evidence of her slight breakdown. “I shouldn’t have gone for the smokey eye,” she chuckled weakly.
“I don’t know. I thought it was pretty striking,” Tobin hummed.
“Even now?” Christen shook her head with an amused huff, feeling the complete opposite of striking.
“Still beautiful,” Tobin shrugged, feeling her cheeks flush a little at the admission.
Christen’s cheeks filled with a similar flush. “Oh, um, thank you,” she whispered, realizing how close they were still standing, how one of Tobin’s arms was still around her waist, her hand resting on the small of her back.
“Uh...are you hungry?” Tobin asked, not wanting to make Christen uncomfortable with her close proximity but also not wanting to step away before Christen was ready.
Christen laughed, her eyes crinkling at the adorably hesitant and random question. “A little,” Christen replied, letting her hand fall to the lapel of Tobin’s jacket, running her thumb along it slowly. “But before we go back to food I just- I wanted to say thank you.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Tobin said, shying away from any thank you Christen could possibly say.
“You’ve done more for me than anyone’s done in a long time,” Christen murmured.
“Thank you for letting me,” Tobin whispered.
Christen offered Tobin a small smile and finally stepped back, running the handkerchief under her eyes once more in an effort to get all the smudged makeup off. “Are you hungry?” she asked, repeating Tobin’s earlier question.
“Always,” Tobin nodded.
The two sat back down at the table and started their meal. They traded light and easy conversation, the previous heaviness disappearing with every minute and smile and laugh they put between it and themselves. They talked about where they grew up and what they studied in school, about their most embarrassing childhood memories and their favorite concerts.
It could have been minutes or hours, Christen wasn’t entirely sure. It was just so easy to talk to Tobin, even after having broken down in her arms, arms that had strangely felt like home.
After refilling their water glasses, Christen made her way back to the table. “So...this must be some kind of record for you,” she said, putting Tobin’s glass on a coaster and then settling back in her chair.
“What do you mean?” Tobin asked, her mind racing to catch up with what Christen was referencing.
“I’ve never heard you not talk about Scottie for this long before,” Christen chuckled, hiding her smile behind her water glass.
“Notice that you broke the record I was trying to set,” Tobin teased back.
Christen shrugged, knowing they had to eventually circle back to the not even four-foot, seven-year-old elephant in the room.
“Who can blame me? She’s a great kid,” Christen replied with an easy smile.
“Thank you,” Tobin said, her lips tilting up in an easy smile at the mention of Scottie.
“I really care about her, Tobin,” Christen admitted.
“I know you do,” Tobin said, focusing her attention on Christen and not the water glass in front of her or the apartment they were sitting in. She could tell Christen was broaching a serious subject, and she wanted to be completely present.
“And I- I like you,” Christen continued, her voice softening as a slight blush heated her cheeks.
“I like you too,” Tobin echoed, her smile growing and her stomach flipping at the pretty blush on Christen’s cheeks. “And obviously I love Scottie. I don’t want to lie to her, but…” Tobin pushed her hair behind her ear to settle her nerves. “I don’t want to say anything to her until we know what this is.”
“But you do want to figure out what this is?” Christen asked softly.
“Yes,” Tobin nodded, wanting to reach across the table for Christen again.
“Because I wouldn’t blame you for cutting and running now. I might have ruined that gorgeous suit, which basically gives you a get-out-of-jail free card,” Christen sighed, leaning back in her chair and resisting the urge to cross her arms or scratch her jaw.
“I don’t want to cash in the card,” Tobin said, keeping her hand in the middle of the table, waiting for Christen to take it. “I just don’t want to tell her and get her hopes up until we know what’s going on. I mean, I could be the worst kisser or have terrible taste in music, and that could be a game-changer for you.”
“There’s no way that’s possible,” Christen murmured, a flush creeping up her neck.
“I’d like to figure things out before getting her involved because she loves you, and I know the minute I tell her anything, she’ll get excited. I want to be sure about what things are and where things are going when I tell her,” Tobin hummed.
“I agree, I just- I don’t want to let her down or...you down,” Christen replied, placing her hand next to Tobin’s. She reached out with her pointer finger and ran it against Tobin’s, just wanting a small bit of contact.
Butterflies erupted in Tobin’s stomach at the contact, and she wondered if she would survive getting closer to Christen. “I don’t think you will,” Tobin said softly, trying to soothe the nerves that Christen clearly had about this.
“Your vote of confidence is noted and appreciated,” Christen joked weakly.
“I think you underestimate yourself,” Tobin said, reaching out and tangling her fingers with Christen’s.
Christen shrugged, running her thumb along Tobin’s pointer finger, feeling a bit more grounded now that her hand was back in Tobin’s.
“That’s a possibility,” Christen hummed. “But either way, we don’t tell Scottie and we don’t do...this in front of Scottie,” Christen added, squeezing Tobin’s hand lightly.
“For now,” Tobin nodded.
Christen smiled at that, at the certainty behind Tobin’s words, at the way it sounded like someday they would be able to hold hands like this in front of Scottie, in front of everyone.
“That doesn’t mean that I don’t want you to spend time with us...outside of soccer,” Tobin said, feeling her face flush a little at the suggestion.
“I’d really like that,” Christen murmured, scrunching up her nose a bit at the adorable blush on Tobin’s face.
Tobin glanced at their empty food containers and the clock that read 1:19AM on Christen’s wall in the kitchen area.
“Shoot, you have practice,” Tobin blurted out, practically jerking up from her chair.
“Not at 1 in the morning, I don’t,” Christen laughed. “It’s not until noon today,” she added, tightening her hold on Tobin’s hand to keep her from getting up.
“Thank god,” Tobin sighed. “Sometimes I forget that people have normal working hours.”
“I wouldn’t say kicking a soccer ball around on a field for a living constitutes normal working hours,” Christen replied with a smile.
“If I didn’t have to make someone breakfast, I’d sleep until noon every day,” Tobin grinned.
“So not a morning person?” Christen chuckled.
“Only once the caffeine kicks in,” Tobin hummed.
“I’m the same way,” Christen agreed. “No coffee, no talky.”
Tobin’s lips turned up into a huge smile. “That’s adorable.”
“My mom used to say it,” Christen replied, her chest not even tightening at the mention of her mom, something she had expected to happen and was surprised it didn’t. “She got up really early for work when I was a kid, but my dad would always wake up with her and make her coffee. Every day. But she would warn him that no matter how sweet he was for getting up with her, there would be no talking until she got her coffee. So, no coffee, no talky,” she said with a small, wistful smile. “I haven’t thought about that in a while.”
“That’s really sweet,” Tobin chuckled. “I’ll remember that one.”
Christen was about to reply when Tobin yawned. It was clear that Tobin tried to stop it, even going so far as to hide behind her free hand, but Christen caught it. It was the cutest yawn she had ever seen.
“It’s late,” Christen said, her tone a little sad at the prospect of her time with Tobin ending.
“Or really really early if you think about it,” Tobin smirked.
“Either way, you yawned,” Christen shot back.
“I tried really hard not to, though,” Tobin grinned, squeezing Christen’s hand in her own.
“I noticed. It was cute,” Christen murmured, pulling her lower lip between her teeth as she fought off a blush.
Tobin had to clear her throat and look away for a second to stop imagining what it would be like to kiss Christen, to stop gawking at the way she was biting her bottom lip.
“I should go. I’m driving to my mom’s tomorrow to pick up Scottie, and I promised I’d get there before lunch.”
“Will you tell her I say hi?” Christen asked, sliding her hand out of Tobin’s and gathering their empty boxes from the table.
“Scottie...or my mom?” Tobin asked, her smile growing with her question. She stood up and followed behind Christen, feeling lighter than she had in an extremely long time.
Christen chuckled and threw the boxes away, shaking her head at the playful tone in Tobin’s voice.
“Scottie, smart ass,” Christen quipped, turning to lean back against the counter and face Tobin.
“Of course. She’ll probably steal my phone during the drive and send you a selfie,” Tobin sighed.
“And probably a blurry picture of you too.”
“Yeah, that needs to stop,” Tobin groaned, running a hand over her face.
“I hope it doesn’t,” Christen replied, tilting her head to the side a bit and trying not to give in to her desire to hug Tobin again, to never let go.
“I’m sure it won’t,” Tobin mumbled. “I can- uh...I mean I’ll text you later if that’s okay?”
Christen felt another smile make its way across her face. She hadn’t realized it until now, but smiling didn’t feel foreign or forced anymore. Smiling felt natural, especially around Tobin and Scottie.
“It’s very okay,” Christen hummed in reply.
“Okay, good,” Tobin nodded. “I’ll get out of your hair then,” she said, shoving her hands in her pockets and taking one step to the side.
“You know, I still can’t decide something and I was wondering if you’d help me out,” Christen said, halting Tobin’s awkward shuffle to the door. While this whole song and dance was cute, she wasn’t about to pass up the chance to hug Tobin one more time.
“What’s that?” Tobin asked, her eyebrows furrowing a little.
“I can’t decide if your hugs or Scottie’s hugs are better. I think I need to do some more research. Maybe even a field study or two,” Christen quipped, a teasing smile playing at her lips.
“It’s a good thing I’m a big fan of scientific research,” Tobin grinned, taking her hands out of her pockets and stepping forward to wrap her arms around Christen.
Christen sank into the hug. It felt like they’d done this hundreds of times, not just once before. The familiarity of the embrace shouldn’t be there already, but it was. Christen tightened her arms around Tobin’s shoulders, and pressed her smile against the side of Tobin’s head.
“I think I’ll need to do more research moving forward,” Christen whispered.
“That’s the best news I’ve heard all week,” Tobin murmured, pulling Christen a little closer.
Eventually, the hug had to end, and eventually, Christen had to walk Tobin to the door. They lingered, as long as they possibly could without either of them doing something silly like ask for another hug or something a little more.
“Text me when you’re home?” Christen asked quietly, leaning against the doorframe as she watched Tobin back up down the hall.
“Will do,” Tobin promised. “Have a great practice.”
“Have a great...Monday? I don’t actually know your schedule like you seem to know mine,” Christen chuckled.
“That’s because I don’t have a schedule,” Tobin grinned. “Only thing I’m doing this week is chauffeuring Scottie to soccer, taking her to the museum on Wednesday, and texting a really pretty lady.”
Christen’s cheeks warmed again. “Sounds like a good week and a lucky lady. Good night, Tobin.”
“Good night, Christen,” Tobin echoed, finally turning around and stepping into the elevator with a huge smile on her face.