I wait by the door like I'm just a kid
Use my best colors for your portrait
Lay the table with the fancy shit
And watch you tolerate it
If it's all in my head, tell me now
Tell me I've got it wrong somehow
I know my love should be celebrated
But you tolerate it
I greet you with a battle hero's welcome
I take your indiscretions all in good fun
I sit and listеn, I polish plates until they gleam and glistеn
You're so much older and wiser and I
Break free and leave us in ruins
Took this dagger in me and removed it
Gain the weight of you, then lose it
Believe me, I could do it
If it's all in my head, tell me now
Tell me I've got it wrong somehow
I know my love should be celebrated
But you tolerate it
(Tobin - “Tolerate It” by Taylor Swift)
You don't know, if you belong here
You're afraid I won't stay long
While I lay in your arms dear
Can't you tell that you got me wrong
You got scars, they make you doubt
But you should know I won't leave more
I know it's hard when you give your everything, your everything
But just know that I'm still yours
'Cause these dreams ain't all that they seem
I know that they could hurt me
So won't you hold my hand if they come true
'Cause I could get by and hold my head high if everything deserts me
But I'm not losing you
And no, I'm not losing you
No, I'm not losing you
(Christen - “Not Losing You” by Maddie Poppe)
Four Years Ago...
Scottie’s screaming was what woke Tobin up this time. The throbbing in Tobin’s head was only getting worse, and her throat felt raw and scratchy. She had already taken three different kinds of medicine, and nothing seemed to be working. Her t-shirt had pink stains on it from the kids’ medicine that Scottie had spit up, but Tobin hadn’t felt like she had enough energy to even change her shirt. She reached across the bed, knowing that Roni had been there when she’d fallen asleep and hoping that Roni could get Scottie this time, but now the mattress was cold and empty.
“MOMMY!” Scottie cried from down the hall, her voice shrill and her breaths heaving.
Tobin jerked up, ignoring the aching feeling in her legs and arms, and hurried down the hall to where Scottie was sitting up in her bed.
“I feel bad,” Scottie whimpered, letting out a long cough, her face contorting in pain once the coughs subsided.
“I know, buddy,” Tobin sighed, immediately scooping Scottie up in her arms. “Let’s try to get something to drink.”
“Okay,” Scottie mumbled, burying her face into the side of Tobin’s neck.
Tobin stumbled into the kitchen, nearly tripping over the suitcases that were sitting in the hallway. She couldn’t remember if they were unpacked from the bachelorette trip Roni had been on for one of her friends or if they were newly packed for something else, but seeing them made Tobin’s stomach feel tight. It sent a bitter taste into her mouth.
“Hot,” Scottie whispered. She tightened her small fists in Tobin’s shirt and pressed her face further into Tobin’s neck.
“You feel hot?” Tobin asked.
“You do, Mommy,” Scottie replied.
“Yeah, I think we still have fevers, little bit,” Tobin nodded.
Tobin filled a kettle with water and set it on the stove. She wasn’t really sure that Scottie would even drink tea, but she was willing to try anything to get something warm down Scottie’s throat. If Scottie’s throat was anywhere as sore as her own, she knew a warm drink would offer some temporary relief.
“I need you to drink some water, buddy. Are you hungry at all?” Tobin asked, grabbing a blanket from the couch and heading back into the kitchen. She put the blanket over a chair and set Scottie down on the blanket, wrapping her up like a little burrito.
“I want Mom,” Scottie blubbered, her lower lip wobbling as tears filled her eyes.
“I know,” Tobin sighed. She put a sippy cup of water and a few plain crackers in front of Scottie on the table before pulling her phone out of her sweatpants’ pockets and trying to dial Roni’s number. She got her voicemail, just like she had yesterday when they'd gotten back from the pediatrician’s office.
Scottie took a few sips from her cup and then held it out for Tobin. “Here, Mommy. Share,” Scottie sniffled, tears falling from her gray eyes.
“That’s yours,” Tobin said softly, feeling her own eyes start to water at the sight of Scottie so sad and in pain. She knew her own tears were coming, tears of anger and frustration and regret, but she didn’t want her almost four-year-old daughter to see them. “I’m gonna get my own and eat some food with you. I’m also gonna make a super-secret special drink.”
“Okay,” Scottie whispered, pulling her sippy cup back toward her and letting out a small huff.
Tobin made herself a cup of tea, but Scottie had made a face when she’d tried it, so Tobin ended up warming some milk and mixing in some honey to make it sweet.
“I know Mommy’s tea was gross. Why don't you try this super-secret drink?” Tobin offered, handing Scottie a mug that she didn’t care about if Scottie broke it on accident.
“Thank you,” Scottie mumbled, taking a sip of the milk and smiling a bit at Tobin when she liked the taste.
“I have a really good idea,” Tobin said, wanting something she said to brighten Scottie’s eyes, even if just for a moment. “You and I can have a sleepover in my big bed for the rest of the day. I don’t know about you, but I’m really sleepy.”
“With Mom?” Scottie asked, her excitement about sleeping in Tobin’s bed with both of her moms evident in her voice.
“We can see if Mom’s busy or not,” Tobin said softly, her heart cracking a little at Roni’s absence and Scottie’s clear longing for the other woman. “But if she’s busy, the two of us will just have to have tons of fun on our own.”
“Yeah, fun,” Scottie nodded, looking a million times better as she drank her warm milk and honey.
“Do you want anything else to eat?” Tobin asked, popping a plain cracker into her own mouth.
Scottie shook her head as she took a large drink, spilling a bit of milk down the front of her shirt and on top of the table.
“Oopsies,” Tobin said, scooting out of her chair and wiping Scottie’s shirt, chin, and hand with a dishtowel.
Scottie giggled and put the empty mug down. “Oopsies,” she repeated, letting out another giggle.
“I think you and I both need to change our shirts, buddy,” Tobin chuckled, looking at the pair of them.
“UNC?” Scottie asked, jutting her lower lip out in a pout.
“I think that’s a great idea. The lucky jersey will probably make you feel tons better,” Tobin said.
Scottie nodded animatedly, the color back in her cheeks and a light back in her eyes. Tobin lifted Scottie out of the chair, blanket and all, and carried her to her own bedroom. Tobin dug through her own dresser, noticing the limited number of Roni’s clothes that sat in the drawer. Scottie was already squirming out of the fuzzy blanket and pulling her own t-shirt off.
“All right, let the magic take over,” Tobin said with a smile. She pulled the oversized jersey over Scottie’s head, her heart melting at just how long it was on her tiny body. She swapped her own shirt out for a UNC shirt, knowing that Scottie loved to match.
“Let’s tuck you in, little bit,” Tobin said, pulling back the covers and situating Scottie onto the pillows.
“Stay?” Scottie asked with a yawn, snuggling under the covers.
“I will always stay,” Tobin said.
“Promise?” Scottie said in a quiet voice, her eyes big and sad and full of pain.
“I pinky promise,” Tobin whispered, her voice tight and wobbly. “Can I go get something to help your stuffy nose from the hall closet?”
Scottie nodded, her eyes filling with tears again.
“I’ll be so fast, and then we can cuddle,” Tobin promised, pressing a kiss to Scottie’s forehead.
Tobin nearly ran down the hallway, pulling open the closet door and taking the humidifier off of the shelf. She raced into the kitchen, ignoring her own pounding headache. She needed to get back to Scottie and make sure she felt cared for, even if Roni wasn’t there. Tobin filled the back of the humidifier with water and put the lid on it. As she turned to head back into the bedroom, the front door opened, and Tobin’s headache suddenly seemed to be circulating anger throughout her body.
“Angel, why is there milk all over the kitchen table?” Roni called out, her annoyance clear in her voice.
“Scottie spilled,” Tobin murmured, clenching her teeth together, partially because she was mad but also because she felt freezing cold and didn’t want them to chatter in front of Roni.
“Why didn’t you clean it up?” Roni replied, setting her purse down on the clean side of the table and turning to face Tobin, her arms crossed over her chest.
“I’m a little busy trying to get her to sleep,” Tobin said, leaning her aching body against the wall. “She really wants you.”
“I can’t get sick, I have a work trip coming up. Paris Fashion week won’t write about itself, angel,” Roni scoffed, rolling her eyes just a bit.
“It’s a freelance job,” Tobin argued. “Tell them your family is sick. You don’t have to go.”
“I put the food on this milk-stained table, so yes I do have to go,” Roni said smoothly, her eyes narrowing a bit at the bite in Tobin’s words.
“You’re not the only one who makes money, and to be honest, I haven’t seen any articles recently,” Tobin replied, her voice serious but quiet. She didn’t want Scottie to hear them arguing, even if it was getting harder to avoid these days.
“Angel, your silly paintings barely make enough for one meal. But I- I don’t want to fight about this. I’m tired,” Roni sighed, running a hand over her face.
“So are we. She just wants you to sleep next to her,” Tobin said, feeling like she was practically begging Roni to stay and help.
“I can’t. I’ll sleep in the guest room,” Roni shrugged, grabbing her phone from her purse and dropping her attention to the screen.
“When are you leaving for Paris?” Tobin asked, her voice lower and harder than she’d ever heard it before.
“I was supposed to leave in a few days, but I think I’ll leave tomorrow. Get some of the pre-Fashion Week activities in,” Roni replied distractedly.
“Of course. Have a safe flight,” Tobin mumbled just a little bitterly before turning around and walking straight to her bedroom. She shut the door softly when she saw Scottie curled up under the comforter.
Tobin took a few deep breaths to steady herself before she hooked up the humidifier and placed it on Roni’s bedside table closest to Scottie. She crawled into the bed, finally feeling the stupid tears start to slip from the corners of her eyes.
“Sad,” Scottie whispered, lifting a hand and laying it on Tobin’s cheek.
“How could I be sad when I have you? I’m just feeling sick,” Tobin whispered, pulling Scottie closer.
“I love you,” Scottie sighed, tucking her head under Tobin’s chin and fisting her hand in Tobin’s shirt.
“I love you so much,” Tobin hummed, feeling a pit in her stomach start to grow. It was one thing for Roni to leave Tobin sick at home, but Scottie deserved more. Scottie didn’t deserve to be disappointed by any more adults. Scottie deserved the world, and Tobin was bound and determined to give her that.
When Tobin woke up, soaking in sweat, her fever finally broken, it was 4:00AM. Scottie was still tucked in her arms, her own forehead finally feeling normal instead of blazing hot.
Tobin slipped from the bed and padded down the hall. The guest room was empty, the suitcases were gone, the milk was still on the table, marking the wood with stains. Tobin didn’t even feel her eyes sting anymore. She pulled ingredients out of the fridge for chicken noodle soup and turned on a Disney movie as quietly as she could. When Scottie finally woke up, she’d have food and a fun movie on for her. They didn’t need Roni for comfort or for cuddles or for help. They didn't need Roni for anything, not when they had one another.
“Yo, where’s my coffee, Tar Heel?” Kelley said, waving her hand in front of Tobin’s face. Her laughter subsided at the sight of the empty, far away look in Tobin’s eyes.
“Sorry, we were running late today,” Tobin said robotically, keeping her eyes glued to the grass in front of her feet and her arms folded over her stomach.
“Are you good, dude?” Kelley asked, her voice quiet as she laid a hand on Tobin’s shoulder.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Tobin nodded, offering a fake, tight smile at Kelley.
The truth of it was, she was far from fine. She hadn’t slept well, even with Christen and Scottie in bed with her. She’d woken up feeling the same way she’d felt when she was twenty-five and Roni had disappeared for the last time, flying to Paris and never coming back to the New Jersey house, at least not until it was too late. Not only that, but she suddenly felt this stupid paranoia that Roni was waiting around every corner trying to ruin a life that Tobin wanted more than anything.
“You know, like, you can talk to me? I’m not just your kid’s coach or your girlfriend’s best bud,” Kelley shrugged, her hand falling to her side.
“Scottie had a surprise birthday visit from my ex-wife,” Tobin said quickly.
“Fuck,” Kelley said, dropping down onto the bench by Tobin’s side. She signaled to Becky to get things started for her and then looked over to where Christen and Scottie were sitting down in the grass on their own, their separation from the group making more sense now.
“I’m waiting for a call from the locksmith about setting up a time for him to come over,” Tobin added.
“My uncle knows a guy. I can have him drop by tonight to get your locks changed and stuff,” Kelley offered.
“That’d be great,” Tobin said, her jaw clenching tightly.
“I’m...I’m so sorry, Tobin,” Kelley offered, patting Tobin’s knee. “But you’ve got a whole bunch of us who have your and Scottie’s backs.”
“You should really get out there. Christen looks annoyed,” Tobin said, pointing at where a tall kid was now talking to Christen and making her scowl.
“Pressy is always annoyed with Joni,” Kelley said with a shake of her head. “And we’re always going to be here for you and Mini Tar Heel. You’re stuck with us now, dude,” Kelley added with a smile, running her knuckles across Tobin’s head and jumping to her feet.
“Thanks,” Tobin mumbled, returning her gaze to the grass by her feet. She didn’t want to look out onto the field and see the way Scottie’s shoulders were still slumping.
“Go join the rest of the girls, Joni,” Christen sighed, running a hand across her face in slight exasperation. She didn’t need Joni to keep standing here, asking why Scottie was getting special treatment, why Scottie wasn’t participating in the group drills. She needed the annoying ten-year-old to get out of here so she could get back to looking out for Scottie.
Christen watched Joni kick at the grass as she made her way over to where Becky was corralling the rest of the girls. With another sigh, she turned around and dropped back down into the grass in front of Scottie.
“Sorry,” Scottie mumbled, shoving her shinguards into her socks.
Christen reached out and stilled Scottie’s movements gently. “Did you know that you and Tobin have the same smile and laugh?” she said softly, setting the shinguards aside and angling her head to try and catch Scottie’s eyes.
“No,” Scottie said softly. “No one thinks she’s my mommy.”
“I knew she was when I met you guys,” Christen replied. “But something else you two have in common is that you apologize for things you don’t need to. So just like I always tell her, you don’t have to say sorry when you’re not the one who needs to say it. Okay?”
“Okay,” Scottie nodded, pulling her knees up to her chest.
Christen ran a hand through her hair, wishing she knew what to say to make this better. She wished she could come up with the perfect thing to bring that light back into Scottie’s eyes and the smile back onto her face.
“Mommy thinks I forgot,” Scottie said quietly.
“Forgot what, sweetheart?” Christen replied, her brow furrowing.
“When she left.”
Christen’s chest tightened and her stomach dropped. She immediately scooted closer to Scottie and laid a hand on the grass between them, silently offering contact should Scottie wish it.
“We were really sick,” Scottie admitted, double knotting her cleats. “Mommy got really really sick.”
“You don’t need to tell me anything you don’t want to,” Christen said gently.
“Okay,” Scottie shrugged, taking Christen’s hand in her own and giving it a soft squeeze. She didn’t mind telling Christen things, not when Christen promised to always stay. “She had to go away.”
“Tobin or…” Christen trailed off.
“Roni wanted to go away. Mommy had to go away,” Scottie clarified.
“I don’t know if I completely understand, sweetheart,” Christen replied, her confusion growing at the vague statements leaving Scottie’s lips.
“She was really sick,” Scottie repeated. “She thinks I forgot, but I didn’t forget.”
“Tobin was really sick when Roni left?” Christen clarified, her jaw clicking shut. Her anger at Roni was curling around her heart, making it ache and pound and clench painfully. She couldn’t fathom leaving Tobin and Scottie in general, but she couldn’t even begin to fathom leaving them when they were sick and in need.
“Yeah, we were sick when she left,” Scottie nodded. “But I got better faster.”
“I’m sorry you were sick,” Christen said softly.
“It’s okay. I think I want to go play now,” Scottie said, changing the subject the way only a child could.
“If you feel like stopping, you can, okay? Just come find me and we can stick together,” Christen replied, reaching out to brush some flyaways behind Scottie’s ear.
“Sure,” Scottie nodded, finally tucking her shinguards in her socks. “Thank you.”
“Anytime,” Christen murmured. She watched Scottie hop to her feet and race over to where Becky and Kelley were taking the girls through a passing drill. The light still wasn’t back and she hadn’t gotten a smile or even a giggle. It made the worry that had started to knot itself in her chest yesterday at the sight of Roni standing in Tobin’s kitchen tighten and worsen.
Everything inside of Christen was screaming at her to protect Scottie and Tobin from this woman. She felt an intense need to keep them safe, to hold them close, and make sure nothing bad ever happened to them again. She also felt an intense desire to kick the shit out of Roni.
But since she couldn’t, Christen let out a long breath and got to her feet. She was about to go join Kelley and Becky when she caught Kelley’s eye. Kelley gestured over to the bench, where Tobin was sitting, hunched over, her face in her hands.
Christen’s heart tightened at the sight and she quickly rerouted toward the bench, her coaching duties put on hold for a moment longer. She sank down onto the bench by Tobin’s side, making sure to keep some space between them. With a gentle touch, she laid her hand in the middle of Tobin’s back, feeling the tension in Tobin’s frame.
“What can I do?” Christen asked quietly, wishing there was some sort of quick fix to take away the years of pain and replace it with joy.
“I’m pretty sure right now you’re supposed to be coaching,” Tobin answered, trying to joke but very aware that her teasing fell flat. “You’ve already done more than enough.”
“Agree to disagree,” Christen replied, throwing Tobin’s words from last night back at her.
“Really, you’ve done way more than you even know,” Tobin said, finally turning her head to the side to look at Christen. “I wish you hadn’t been dragged into it, though.”
Christen shrugged, unbothered at having been dragged into anything. “And I wish you two had never been treated like that, or disappointed like that,” Christen murmured, moving her hand up and down Tobin’s back gently.
“Well...if you think about it-” Tobin started, a small smile spreading across her face, “-if we hadn’t been, we wouldn’t have you.”
Christen returned Tobin’s smile, a small bit of warmth spreading through her chest. “While I’m super happy we have each other, I still wish she hadn’t hurt you two. It just-” Christen stopped herself, using her free hand to rub at her sternum, right above the ball of fury she still had inside of her. “I hate that you two went through that. It makes me so angry, Tobin. So goddamn angry.”
“Don’t waste your energy,” Tobin said softly, wishing that she could reach out and touch Christen, that she could rest her hand on Christen’s leg or take Christen’s hand in her own. She settled for the warmth that she felt from Christen’s touch on her back.
“I know, I know. Anger and hate are a shout into the void that does nothing. But I still feel it. I can’t stop feeling it when Scottie, when you - when you’re both just...down,” Christen sighed, her eyes tracking Scottie as she ran around the field with much less gusto than usual.
“I mean, sometimes shouting into the void feels really good,” Tobin hummed. “I definitely did it for a while, but Scottie and I are okay. We’re gonna be back to normal soon. We always have a couple days of feeling some hurt whenever she pops back up, but it never lasts.”
“What if she doesn’t leave?” Christen asked softly, her hand stiffening against Tobin’s back.
“Roni really likes to think that Scottie and I are sitting at home waiting for her to come back. I think it’s a power thing or a control thing. I think she always thought she had a big enough pull on us that Scottie would always call her Mom and I wouldn’t file for divorce, but she doesn’t ever plan on staying. That’s not the kind of person she is. She’s just mad that we weren’t waiting for her,” Tobin replied honestly.
Christen nodded, looking away from Scottie and over at Tobin. “Me being with you isn’t going to make things worse, is it? With her?”
“I’m not planning on sacrificing my own happiness and Scottie’s just to avoid Roni throwing a tantrum,” Tobin mumbled.
“Good, because those Frozen on Broadway tickets are non-refundable,” Christen said with a teasing lilt in her voice, her mouth lifting into a small smile.
“And we’ll be there,” Tobin laughed for the first time in hours.
“Did I mention it’s the sing-along version?” Christen said, her smile growing, Tobin’s laughter like music to her ears.
“You realize that as soon as you give those tickets to Scottie she’s going to perk right up,” Tobin chuckled.
“I’ll give them to her soon. Maybe tonight in our pillow castle,” Christen replied, unconsciously leaning just a bit closer to Tobin.
“Only if you aren’t exhausted after your own practice,” Tobin said, not wanting Christen to stretch herself too thin.
“I really thought I could get out of it, but Amanda said it’s mandatory before the Red Stars game this weekend,” Christen sighed.
“You do not have to come over after practice to build a pillow castle. The pillows will be there whenever you come over next,” Tobin assured Christen, wanting her to know that she could go to her own apartment and relax if she wanted to.
Christen cocked her head to the side, a small smile playing at her lips. “When are you going to realize that I love spending time with you two?”
“I know you do,” Tobin replied, her smile growing a little at the way her body felt warmer with Christen’s sweet words.
“You don’t know, though,” Christen said quietly with a small shake of her head. “There is literally nowhere else I’d rather be and nobody else I’d rather be with than you two.”
Tobin let out a soft groan and closed her eyes. “I have to wait like eight hours to kiss you after you just said that.”
Christen chuckled, the sound warm and light and filling the air around them. She turned to see that everyone on the field was distracted, the girls and coaches alike. So, she pulled her jacket off and held it in the air, blocking the people on the field from being able to see them.
“Or just eight seconds for me to work a bit of magic,” Christen winked.
Tobin’s heart fluttered at the dorky, sweet way Christen was creating some form of privacy for them on the bench. “You’re really amazing,” she whispered, leaning closer to Christen.
Christen closed the last bit of space between them, pressing her lips against Tobin’s quickly. “Just really into you,” Christen replied softly, kissing Tobin once more before leaning back and lowering the jacket.
Scottie was grinning over toward the bench, having been the only player on the field to actually notice Christen lift up her jacket to block their faces.
“Ooooh, you were caught,” Tobin teased.
“Worth it,” Christen whispered, waving at Scottie and then letting out a small sigh. “I should probably stop shirking my duties.”
“Have fun, Coach Christen,” Tobin smirked, leaning back against the bench.
Christen rolled her eyes and got to her feet. She lingered though, turning back to Tobin and reaching out to push some hair behind Tobin’s ear.
“I missed that,” she whispered, trailing her finger down Tobin’s cheek and toward her lips that were still pulled up into a smile.
“Me too,” Tobin said, feeling a thousand times lighter just with a few words from Christen and her gentle touch.
“You’ve got a sexy smile,” Christen winked, turning on her heel and running onto the field, the sound of Tobin’s melodic laughter following her the whole way.
“Okay, dish,” Becky whispered, poking Christen in the side, wanting to know the gossip and also wanting Christen’s words to distract her from the freezing cold ice bath they were currently sitting in.
Christen pulled the towel tighter around her shoulders and shivered. “She was waiting in the fucking kitchen, you guys,” Christen sighed, shaking her head.
“Yeah, my uncle’s friend is changing Tobin’s locks this evening,” Kelly mumbled.
“What does she look like?” Becky asked curiously.
“Annoyingly gorgeous,” Christen grumbled, sinking further into the cold water.
“Does she look like you? Does Tar Heel have a type?” Kelley shivered.
“Not at all,” Christen shook her head, her jaw tightening at the reminder of the woman she’d had the unfortunate luck to meet yesterday. “Red hair, mile-long legs, pinched expression on her face all the time.”
“Does Scottie call her Mom?” Becky asked, adding another question to the list.
Christen’s stomach rolled. “I don’t know. Tobin had me take Scottie upstairs, so they didn’t really interact at all.”
“Protective Tar Heel,” Kelley smirked.
“How did Tobin react to her?” Becky asked, ignoring Kelley in favor of getting more answers from Christen.
“Loud. Angry. I’ve never heard her sound like that before. But...under all that, she just sounded sad,” Christen admitted. “Neither one of them really stopped crying until late last night. She did a fucking number on them, you guys.”
“Poor things,” Becky sighed.
“Do you think she’s still in the city?” Kelley asked, a scowl forming on her face at the information Christen had just shared.
“For her sake, I hope not,” Christen all but growled.
“Oooh protective Pressy too,” Kelley grinned. “You know we’re both here to help whenever you need us or whenever they need us. Tobin and Scottie are ours too now.”
“Yeah, we care about them too,” Becky added.
Christen nodded, growing quiet for a moment. She watched the water circle around the ice bath, her mind on Tobin and Scottie. She thought about the pain they’d been through. She thought about the number of times Roni had disappointed them. She thought about the broken road that had led them to her, littered with hurt and unkept promises.
And then she thought about how she was going to do better. She wouldn’t cause them pain. She wouldn’t cause them hurt. She wouldn’t break promises. She was going to be there for them; she was going to stay.
“I think I love her,” Christen whispered, the words tumbling from her lips almost without permission. She blinked quickly and looked up, her eyes moving between Becky and Kelley. She was surprised at herself, at the admission, even if she wasn’t surprised by the feelings. They’d been building and swirling around within her for a while now. What did surprise her was that she’d blurted it out in the middle of an ice bath.
Kelley’s mouth flopped open, but no words came out. Becky looked similarly stunned. “That’s a really big step,” Becky breathed out.
“I...yeah,” Christen mumbled, scratching at the corner of her jaw.
“Are you going to tell her that?” Becky asked, still filling in the silence for Kelley.
Christen shook her head quickly. “Not right now. I shouldn’t, not with Roni here. But...I’m just feeling things. A lot of wonderful, big, scary things. And I just-” Christen stopped, forcing herself to take a deep breath and not completely panic over the fact that she was very much in love with Tobin Heath. “I had to tell someone.”
“Do you think she feels the same way?” Becky asked, keeping her voice neutral and calm.
“Tar Heel better fucking feel the same way,” Kelley spluttered out.
“I hope so,” Christen whispered. She offered Becky and Kelley tight smiles and then swallowed thickly, her eyes falling to the water once more.
“She looks at you like she does,” Becky assured Christen, reaching out to take one of her hands. “She looks at you like she can’t believe you exist.”
Christen blushed a little at that, squeezing Becky’s hand. “I don’t know about that. But- I’ll tell her. Just...not right now. Not with the whole Roni thing hanging over us.”
“Yeah, maybe you shouldn’t,” Becky agreed. “You don’t want her to think it has anything to do with what’s going on right now.”
“It doesn’t, right?” Kelley asked.
“No,” Christen replied forcefully. “It has nothing to do with her. What I feel for Tobin...it’s been there. It’s been there for a while.”
“I’m really proud of you,” Kelley whispered.
Christen felt her brow furrow. “Why?”
“I was just really worried about you for a long time,” Kelley said carefully, not wanting to upset Christen by bringing up the past and her old coping mechanisms. “We both were. And at first, you hated the Academy, and you didn’t like Tobin, and now you’re just open and in love and kind of glowing. I’m just really proud of you for putting yourself first and finding people who make you happy.”
Christen felt her eyes fill with tears as a wobbly breath escaped her lips. In just a matter of months, she’d completely turned her life around. She’d found happiness and people who made her laugh, and she’d stumbled into love without even realizing it. The full force of that was finally hitting her, minutes after admitting to it.
She loved Tobin. She didn’t think. She knew. She loved Tobin and that was the scariest feeling of all. But she wasn’t the same person she was three months ago. She didn’t run from her fears or her feelings; she faced them head-on. She embraced them.
“I love her,” Christen repeated, this time with a smile on her face, a blinding one. Despite the tears gathered in her eyes, she was smiling bigger than she ever had before. “Oh my god, I love her,” Christen laughed, squeezing Becky’s hand and then reaching out for Kelley’s.
The tenderness and beauty of the moment were broken up by the timer going off for all of them to get out of the ice bath. Becky laughed when Christen jerked out of her grasp and climbed out of the bath.
“You going over to their house?” Becky asked, a knowing smile on her face.
“Yup, Kelley let’s move!” Christen called out over her shoulder.
“I’m a chauffeur now,” Kelley groaned, but her smile was teasing, and she quickly climbed out after Christen.
“She’s so happy, Kel,” Becky grinned.
“It’s freaking adorable,” Kelley murmured, drying herself off.
“Get her to her girls safe and sound,” Becky instructed, setting the timer for another five minutes.
“Aye, aye, captain,” Kelley saluted before she hurried over to her locker to change.
Now that she had admitted it, Christen realized her love for Tobin was in almost everything she did.
It was in the barely-there kisses she pressed to Tobin’s forehead whenever she got up from the couch to get them a snack or a drink. It was in her voice whenever she said good morning or good night. It was in her smile whenever she caught Tobin and Scottie goofing off together. It was in the air whenever she was around them.
It was just there and Christen couldn’t wipe the dopey grin off her face now that she’d realized it.
“All right, Casanova, out you go,” Kelley said, pulling up outside of Tobin’s house.
“Thanks, Kel,” Christen said, grabbing her bag. “See you tomorrow?”
“I can pick you up here before practice if you want. Just text me the plan,” Kelley nodded.
Christen blushed and offered Kelley a smile. “I will. Tell Sonny I say hi,” she teased, opening the car door.
“How- I- She’s not-” Kelley muttered.
Christen pointed to Kelley’s neck. “She should really learn not to leave those in such noticeable areas.”
“She finally agreed to give us a shot,” Kelley said quietly, “So I’m not gonna complain about her hickey placement.”
Christen’s grin grew. “I’m really happy for you, Kel. Look at us, giving love a shot. How grown-up of us.”
“Go hug your people,” Kelley said with a blush on her cheeks.
“Go hickey-up your girlfriend,” Christen teased, hopping out of the car.
“You can walk to practice tomorrow,” Kelley deadpanned, her blush only getting darker.
Christen waved as Kelley pulled away from the curb. She practically skipped up onto the sidewalk and up the steps to Tobin’s place, still feeling like she was floating on cloud nine after that love revelation.
But whatever pep in her step she had quickly left her when she caught sight of the pastry bag leaning against the door.
Christen narrowed her eyes and grabbed the pastry bag, reading the note left on the front of it:
Angel, I know last night wasn’t the best reunion. I’m staying in the city. I’d love to take you and our princess to dinner and talk. I’m not going anywhere. -Your Roni
It took every ounce of self-control not to crumble the pastry bag up and toss it off the porch. Instead, Christen let out a strangled breath and knocked on the front door.
“Hi,” Tobin breathed out, her shoulders visibly relaxing when she saw Christen.
“Hi back,” Christen replied with a tight smile.
“Christen!” Scottie called from inside the studio.
Christen held the pastry bag up for Tobin to take, brushing a quick kiss to her cheek. “Took a lot of restraint not to toss it into the street,” she whispered as she moved by Tobin and into the studio.
Tobin followed behind her, locking the door, peeking into the bag, and barking out a laugh as soon as she saw the note and the pastry.
“What’s funny, Mommy?” Scottie asked, her hands covered in paint and smearing colorful swirls onto a canvas on the floor.
“Scottie, what’s one food I really don’t like?” Tobin asked with a tiny smile on her lips.
“Almonds!” Scottie giggled.
“That’s right,” Tobin nodded, walking across the room to the garage door. She tossed the pastry bag into the trash can near the door and stepped back into the studio.
Christen joined Scottie on the floor of the studio and arched a brow in Tobin’s direction. “Almond croissant?” she asked, nodding her head in the direction of the trash can, where the pastry and the note now sat.
“You bet,” Tobin said, leaning down and pressing a kiss to Christen’s head. “I had a bad experience with almond extract as a kid, and I’ve never been able to recover.”
Christen wrinkled her nose and reached out to run her fingers through Scottie’s curls.
“Christen, do you want to paint with me?” Scottie asked, holding up her messy fingers to entice Christen to join her.
“You can borrow a smock or a shirt,” Tobin added, pointing at a hook on the wall that held several huge button-ups that had paint splattered on them. Scottie clearly had borrowed one. The button-up was huge on her, and Tobin had clearly had to roll the sleeves many times to free Scottie’s arms to work.
Christen looked down at her ratty blue jeans and old Nike t-shirt. She shrugged and tossed her bag a few feet away from her.
“I’m good with a little mess,” Christen replied, rising onto her knees and dipping a hand into the jar of yellow paint on the ground next to the canvas. She traced her fingers across the top corner of the painting, contributing to Scottie’s artwork.
Tobin’s cheeks ached with the huge smile that she felt spread across her face. She’d always worried that hanging out with a kid would be a little too messy for Christen. Tobin was sometimes aware that her life came with a level of messiness that Christen’s didn’t. But seeing Christen laugh with Scottie, both of their hands covered in paint, made Tobin’s heart race and melt at the same time.
Tobin had to force herself to look at the latest painting she’d nearly finished. The painting itself was rectangular and consisted of warm colors. Oranges swirled across the canvas, and yellow faded in and out of some strokes. There were some reds and even soft pinks, and it made Tobin think about the sunrise that Scottie always wanted to wake up for. What Tobin loved most about this piece was that she’d made it for herself. For the last few months, while her latest collection was sitting in MoMA, she’d been doing commissioned pieces. And while she loved making people smile with pieces she made especially for them, she felt most creative when she had no limitations, when the art was just something that naturally spilled from her own brain.
Right now, working on a painting she actually felt a strong personal attachment to with her daughter and girlfriend laughing a few feet away, Tobin felt like everything was right in the world. She felt peaceful and grateful, and she knew that no matter what happened with Roni’s visit, everything would be okay because she had moments like these.
“Are you sure purple’s your color?” Christen asked Scottie with a teasing smile on her face, already reaching out to grab a bit of light purple paint out of the jar.
“I love purple,” Scottie nodded.
Christen wiped the purple paint onto Scottie’s cheek with a laugh. “Awesome purple really does suit you, cutie.”
Scottie puffed out her chest before reaching both of her hands out and putting them on Christen’s cheeks, smearing multiple colors across her face.
“You look good in every color,” Scottie smirked.
Christen grinned, reaching back out for the purple paint. She got some more on her fingers and then drew a heart on Scottie’s cheek.
“Not just happy yellow?” Christen asked, wiping the paint onto her jeans without a care.
“All the colors,” Scottie nodded with a giggle. “Mommy, doesn’t Christen look pretty?”
Tobin turned around and let out a loud laugh at the paint that covered Christen’s cheeks and stuck to a few pieces of hair.
“She looks beautiful,” Tobin nodded. “So do you, little bit.”
Christen blushed at Tobin’s compliment and felt a mischievous smile tug at her lips. “Do you think Tobin’s color is really goofy orange?” she asked Scottie, reaching out to pull a jar of orange paint closer.
“Woah woah woah,” Tobin said, stepping back slightly.
“We can find out,” Scottie said with a matching mischievous grin.
“Okay, let’s cover some paintings if we’re gonna start making a mess,” Tobin said slowly, pulling a few sheets down over a couple of commissioned pieces that she’d completed or nearly completed.
“We’re not planning on making a mess,” Christen grinned, helping Scottie dip her hands into the orange paint.
Scottie hurried over toward Tobin and pressed her orange handprints to Tobin’s chest on her white shirt, right over her heart.
Chuckling, Christen dipped her hand into the jar and followed Scottie over. She drew a heart onto Tobin’s cheek to match Scottie’s, and then pressed her palm over Tobin’s heart as well, right next to Scottie’s.
“Oh, thank you,” Tobin said softly, her smile practically blinding.
“Mommy, can I put my hand on your painting?” Scottie asked, looking up at Tobin with wide eyes.
“Uhhhh…” Tobin said, thinking about whether she really wanted any handprints on the painting she’d been working on. On the one hand, it wasn’t for work, so Scottie could definitely do it without consequences, but on the other hand, Tobin really liked it the way it was.
“I think my shirt needs some handprints, actually,” Christen supplied quickly, steering Scottie back over to the paints on the floor. “What colors do you want to do?”
“Really?!” Scottie asked.
“Tobin’s shirt looks so cool, I don’t want to be left out of all the fun,” Christen replied.
“I can do purples or pinks or yellows,” Scottie said, already moving over to the paints.
Christen sighed and leaned back against the table Tobin’s paints were resting on, knowing she’d do just about anything to keep that smile on Scottie’s face.
“See, I think you’re a natural,” Tobin whispered, pressing a quick kiss to Christen’s shoulder.
“Remember that when I accidentally teach her a really bad swear word and get her to play soccer for Stanford,” Christen hummed with a smile.
“I’ll do my very best,” Tobin teased.
Christen turned her head to look at Tobin, her eyes taking in the beaming smile and the orange heart painted onto her cheek. She swore that she fell a little more in love with Tobin at this moment, and she swore that it was beyond obvious in the way that she was smiling over at Tobin.
“You’ve got a dopey smile on your face,” Tobin whispered, reaching around Christen and dipping her finger into the nearest bit of paint she could find.
“Your fault,” Christen murmured.
Tobin ran her finger from the middle of Christen’s forehead down to the tip of her nose, leaving a trail of yellow paint.
Christen just narrowed her eyes playfully. “This better wash off,” she whispered.
“It’s permanent, I’m afraid,” Tobin joked.
“Then you’ll always have my heart,” Christen teased, poking her finger against Tobin’s cheek, right over the heart she’d painted there.
“That’s very sweet,” Tobin hummed, her heart pounding against her ribcage at the more serious meaning behind Christen’s words. “Do I need to paint one on you, or can I just tell you that you have mine too?”
Christen’s heart fluttered in her chest and a deep blush heated her cheeks. She felt a smile grow on her face as she opened her mouth to respond-
“You can kiss her if you want, Mommy!” Scottie called out with a lopsided grin on her face, her attention moving back to the paints and trying to pick the ones she wanted to use to put handprints on Christen’s shirt.
“Thanks, little bit!” Tobin called back. “I always want to,” she murmured for only Christen to hear.
“That’s so crazy because I always want to too,” Christen whispered, her green eyes dancing with amusement.
Tobin stepped forward and tugged on the hem of Christen’s shirt to move her closer. She gave Christen a short kiss, relishing in the soft feel of Christen’s lips, even if the kiss was eight-year-old appropriate.
“Honey,” Abby whispered in warning, but there was no stopping a Glennon Doyle scorned and seriously pissed off.
“I am woman, hear me roar!” Glennon seethed, pacing around the VIP box. “The nerve of that woman! To show up here! To talk to you like that! To make Scottie cry! To talk about Christen like that!”
“Yeah, she called her my mistress,” Tobin growled.
“TOBIN! She doesn’t need any more fuel,” Abby warned.
“Mistress? MISTRESS?” Glennon yelled. “I swear to God if I ever see her-”
“She said she’s staying in the city?” Abby asked, stepping up behind Glennon and dropping her hands to her shoulders. She gently rubbed her wife’s shoulders, trying to calm her down as she looked across the box at Tobin with sympathetic eyes.
“I mean, she says a lot of things. We’ll see if I actually have to deal with her again,” Tobin sighed.
Glennon patted Abby’s hands. “Murderous rage has subsided, thank you,” she said, moving to where Tobin was sitting. She sank into the seat next to Tobin and grabbed ahold of Tobin’s hand.
“You promise you’re okay?” Glennon asked quietly, trying to find the answer for herself in Tobin’s eyes.
“I mean, I’m pissed. I’m mad that Scottie was upset by seeing her, and I hate that she just shoved herself into my house and yelled about a woman I lo- care about. Don’t look at me like that right now,” Tobin said, her cheeks turning red.
“We are so coming back to that when the devil incarnate is no longer traipsing around our city,” Glennon replied with a smile.
Abby ruffled her hand across Tobin’s head and then plopped down next to Glennon.
“Fuck Roni. Let’s watch the woman you lo-care about kick some ass against the Red Stars,” Abby teased, shooting Tobin a wink over Glennon’s head.
Tobin sunk deeper in her seat, feeling her palms get a little sweaty at the idea of nearly telling her friends just how deep she was in this relationship. It had only been a few months, but she was overwhelmed by how much she felt for the other woman. Tobin felt her heart ache to love Christen when Christen took care of Scottie, when Christen laughed so hard that she had to throw her head back, when Christen sank into her arms for a long hug, when Christen did just about anything. She just needed to wait for a better time to tell her.
“Tobs, you’re never allowed to lose this girl. There’s free beer!” Cindy called out after entering the VIP box and seeing the coolers stocked with beer.
“I’ll do my best!” Tobin called back, holding up a thumbs up.
“Marry her! There are free nachos too!” Jeff added, making Tobin officially hide her face in her shirt.
“Can I have tape today, too?” Scottie asked, swinging her legs back and forth. She was sitting in Christen’s padded chair in front of her locker, and Christen was sitting on the ground in front of her.
“For what?” Christen asked with a smile, cocking her head to the side. She’d been so happy to see how good Scottie was doing these past two days. The light was back, and so was her laugh, and Christen just wanted to do her best to keep them around.
“I dunno,” Scottie shrugged. “For good luck.”
“Do you want to write anything on it?” Christen wondered, reaching around Scottie to grab her roll of tape and the Sharpie.
“Mhm, but it’s a secret,” Scottie nodded, waggling her brows dramatically.
Christen chuckled and ripped off a piece of tape, one much smaller than what she used for her own wrist. She gently wrapped it around Scottie’s wrist and then handed Scottie the Sharpie.
Scottie uncapped the Sharpie and focused on her wrist. She stuck her tongue out in concentration and scrawled out four things. She quickly capped the pen and handed it back to Christen with an even bigger smile on her face.
“Do I get to see?”
Scottie held out her wrist, revealing three letters: C, S, and T and a wobbly looking heart.
Christen had gotten so used to the choked-up feeling she got whenever Scottie did something like this, something sweet and thoughtful, that she almost didn’t notice the way her throat tightened and her eyes burned with unshed tears.
“That looks great, sweetheart,” Christen replied quietly, poking her finger in the dimple on Scottie’s cheek.
“Thank you,” Scottie beamed. “Now I get to be like you.”
Christen let out a shaky breath and shook her head, dropping her focus to the tape she was now wrapping around her own wrist.
“You should just be you, Scottie Heath. You’re the best,” Christen replied, ripping the tape and then setting it aside.
“I always get to be me,” Scottie said, smiling at Christen. “Mommy says I should never turn that off.”
Christen deposited the tape back in her locker and smiled up at Scottie, hoping her unshed tears weren’t noticeable.
“Tobin’s right. Never turn that off, okay?”
“Pinky promise,” Scottie said, parroting all the pinky promises Tobin had made with her and offering her pinky to Christen.
Christen took Scottie’s pinky in her own and squeezed it gently. She then picked up the Sharpie and wrote the typical numbers she always wrote on her wrist. But this time, she added four letters along the very bottom of the tape. She capped the pen and then turned her wrist around for Scottie to see what she’d written.
Scottie narrowed her eyes at the new addition to Christen’s tape, trying to sound out the letters that didn’t make up a word.
“SH for Scottie Heath, and TH for Tobin Heath,” Christen explained, grinning at the confused crinkle that had appeared between Scottie’s brows.
“You play for us?” Scottie asked, her eyes widening in wonder.
“Yeah, sweetheart, I do,” Christen replied, her throat getting thick again but she welcomed it. She welcomed it just like she welcomed every big, scary emotion she’d been faced with these past few months.
“We love you a lot,” Scottie said, her smile becoming blindingly bright and happy.
Christen’s smile mirrored Scottie’s. “And I love you a lot, too.”
“Are you going to be careful this game?” Scottie asked as she reached her hand up to touch Christen’s cheek where she’d once had a bruise from a game.
“Pinky promise,” Christen hummed, her hand rising to cover Scottie’s against her cheek.
“Good! Because when it’s really sunny, Mommy said we could take my new bike to the park, but you have to feel good to do that!” Scottie said.
Christen laughed at the sudden change of topic and mood. She pushed herself up off the ground and stayed crouched down to Scottie’s eye level.
“Maybe we can go after Pancake Sunday?” Christen offered.
“Ooooooh Pancake Sunday?!” Kelley called from across the locker room. “Can I come?”
“I love pancakes! Can I come?” Morgan yelled, winking over at Christen.
“Whoa, pancakes? Can I join too?” Becky grinned, leaning back in her chair and rolling up the sleeves of her jersey.
Christen turned to look back at Scottie. “How do three more people at pancake Sunday sound?” she asked quietly.
“Mommy’s gonna have to make a lot of batter,” Scottie whispered, her eyes scrunching up in delight.
“And we’ll get to flip so many pancakes,” Christen added, a smile growing on her face.
“Time to head out!” Amanda called out to her team. “And sign me up for the pancakes, Press,” she added with a wink.
“You got it, Coach,” Christen chuckled, lifting Scottie out of her chair. “Think Tobin will love having the whole team over tomorrow?” she asked Scottie.
“Definitely,” Scottie nodded, hopping from foot to foot and taking Christen’s hand in her own for lining up.
Christen couldn’t remember the last time Gotham had beaten a team this bad. The final score was 7-1, and she’d netted three of the goals. Each time she’d scored, she tapped two fingers over her heart and pointed at Scottie on the sidelines. Each time she’d scored, she swore she could hear Tobin and Tobin’s parents and Abby and Glennon cheering impossibly loud. It was the perfect game and she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
She only signed a few autographs. She didn’t want to ignore the fans, but she did have Scottie and Tobin and Tobin’s parents waiting for her. So after her fourth or fifth poster and her tenth selfie, she bowed out of any more fan interactions and headed for the tunnel.
She passed a few of her teammates doing media or talking with each other and headed for the area where their community engagement manager, Bobbie, always took the ball girls after games.
Her blood ran cold when she heard a voice that was quickly becoming far too familiar in the absolute worst way possible.
“I’d like you to let me take my daughter home,” Roni argued.
“The last name on your I.D. doesn’t match hers, and you aren’t the person who dropped her off with us,” Bobbie replied calmly, keeping her hand on Scottie’s shoulder.
“That’s a bit old-fashioned of you,” Roni scoffed.
“I’m sorry, but my job is to keep all of the girls here safe, and unless you have other proof, I’m not releasing her to you,” Bobbie said more firmly.
Roni changed tactics, lowering herself to look down at Scottie. “Come on, Princess. Tell the nice lady here that you want to leave with your Mom.”
“My mom is upstairs. Her name is Tobin,” Scottie said as confidently as she could, looking up at Bobbie and stepping slightly away from Roni.
“I think we’ll wait for Tobin then,” Bobbie said to Roni.
Christen couldn’t get there fast enough. She hurried up, her eyes narrowed in Roni’s direction. “What’s going on here?” Christen asked, trying to keep her voice calm as she stepped between Scottie and Roni, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Of fucking course,” Roni grumbled to herself.
“That’s a bad word,” Scottie whispered, looking up at Christen.
“I know, sweetheart,” Christen murmured, lifting her arm for Scottie. The girl quickly left Bobbie and melted into Christen’s side, burying her face in Christen’s jersey. “I got it from here, Bobbie,” Christen said, her focus solely on Bobbie. Bobbie backed away after offering one final look in Roni’s direction.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” Roni spat, adjusting her purse on her shoulder. “You aren’t her mother. Actually, it’s my name on the paperwork.”
“I think you should leave,” Christen replied, keeping her voice even, her arm tightening around Scottie.
“I don’t really care what Tobin’s flavor of the month thinks. I’m here to spend time with my daughter,” Roni growled.
Christen’s jaw clicked shut, swallowing the instant replies she thought of, ones full of colorful language that would let Roni know exactly what she thought of her.
“If you actually cared about her, you wouldn’t be trying to spend time with her like this,” Christen shot back. “Now leave, before I call security.”
“Princess,” Roni said, leaning down toward Scottie and taking her free hand that wasn’t wrapped around Christen’s waist. “I’m gonna come by later. You and your Mommy and I can get some dinner.”
“I don’t think Mommy wants to,” Scottie said softly, tightening her arm around Christen a little more.
Christen felt the corner of her mouth lift into a small, victorious smile at Scottie’s words. She took a step back and kept Scottie pressed against her side, so that Roni couldn’t hold onto Scottie any longer.
“I’ll call her and make sure, okay?” Roni said with a sweet smile that morphed into a smirk when she looked at Christen. “Just so you’re aware. You’re the third person Tobin’s asked to play house with, so I wouldn’t feel special and I wouldn’t be smirking like that.” Roni spun on her heel and made her way back out of the tunnel toward the front gates.
Christen felt her shoulders slump a little as she watched Roni strut away. “You okay, sweetheart?” Christen asked softly, her eyes still focused on watching Roni.
“Are you?” Scottie asked, burying her face into Christen’s stomach again. “She had angry eyes.”
“I’m fine,” Christen replied evasively, running her free hand up and down Scottie’s back, Roni’s words echoing through her mind.
“I’m looking for a little peanut!” Jeff called from the end of the tunnel.
“Grandpa!” Scottie beamed, loosening her hold on Christen to lean around her and wave at where Jeff, Cindy, and Tobin were making their way down the tunnel.
“There she is! Christen, that was an incredible game,” Jeff cheered, leading the group toward Scottie.
Only then did Christen turn away from the front gates, from watching Roni disappear into the crowd. She fixed a smile on her face as she pivoted herself and Scottie toward the Heaths.
“Thanks, Jeff,” Christen said, trying to infuse her voice with as much excitement as she could.
“It really was a spectacular game. Thank you for saving us tickets,” Cindy added.
Scottie left Christen's side and bypassed Jeff’s open arms heading straight for Tobin and burying her face into Tobin’s shirt.
“No problem. Like I said, anytime,” Christen replied, trying to ignore the way her stomach sank with each reminder of Roni’s words that her mind decided to replay for her on a loop.
Tobin practically lost her balance with the way Scottie pushed into her stomach. She stumbled back toward the wall and lowered herself down so that she could talk quietly with Scottie.
“Scottie must've missed her mom or something,” Jeff said quietly to Cindy, looking a little butthurt about the dodged hug.
“Yeah, or something,” Cindy replied, her eyebrows furrowing at the serious way Tobin was focusing on Scottie. “You probably need to get all changed before heading out. We don’t want to keep you. We just wanted to say thank you,” Cindy added, trying to pull attention off of Tobin and Scottie for a minute.
Christen forced herself to look away from Scottie and Tobin, her eyes drifting to meet Cindy’s. “I’m really glad you guys could make it,” Christen offered. “I’ll change quickly and meet you guys out front?”
“Sounds great,” Jeff said with a smile.
“We’ll see you out front,” Cindy added, realizing that Tobin wasn’t paying enough attention to respond.
Christen gave Tobin and Scottie one last look before turning around and heading down the tunnel.
Tobin paced back and forth in front of the stadium, her own anxieties about Roni making her feel antsy and restless. Scottie had told her enough. She’d told her that Roni had tried to take her from Bobbie and from Christen. Scottie told her that Roni had been mean to Christen, that she’d said she would come and take them out to dinner sometime soon. But between the sniffling and the eight-year-old understanding of an adult conversation, Tobin wasn’t really certain what Roni had said or how Christen had responded.
“Where is everyone?” Christen called out softly, her hands stuffed into her pockets. She stopped a foot or so away from Tobin, itching to get closer but suddenly feeling unable to.
“My mom and dad took Scottie in their car. She wanted to swim before dinner,” Tobin said, fiddling with the car keys in her hands.
“Oh, okay,” Christen replied, scratching at the corner of her jaw.
“I’m really sorry,” Tobin said, her voice almost pleading.
“Stop apologizing for her,” Christen said softly with a shake of her head. “And we should take this conversation somewhere else,” she added, noting the few fans that still lingered outside the stadium.
“Right,” Tobin nodded, leading the way to the parking lot where her car was sitting. The whole way she felt her stomach roll uncomfortably, worried about what kind of verbal abuse Christen experienced from Roni. Tobin opened Christen’s door for her, staying silent until they were both in the car.
Christen blew out a long breath, leaning her elbow on the door of the car and covering her face with her hand.
“If Scottie asks, I didn’t teach her the phrase ‘flavor of the month,’ I promise,” Christen sighed.
“Oh my god,” Tobin spluttered, slamming her foot on the brake before she’d even backed up an inch, making the car lurch.
“I would just put it back in park, babe,” Christen said quietly, her hand still covering her eyes.
Tobin did as Christen suggested, unbuckling her seatbelt and turning to look at Christen. “Chris, you- you are not that,” Tobin said, refusing to repeat the phrase that Roni had said. She reached out for Christen’s hand, running her fingers over the knuckles on Christen's hand softly.
“I know,” Christen whispered, not sounding like she entirely believed it.
“And I know you told me not to apologize for her, but I’m still sorry that she said that because it isn’t true. I’m sorry she cornered you,” Tobin said, only feeling more worry coil in her stomach at Christen’s silence and her closed eyes.
Christen sighed again, moving her hand a bit so that she was pinching the bridge of her nose. She kept her eyes tightly shut, not wanting to look over at Tobin for this next part.
“She said you’d done this before. With other women. Played house, or whatever it is we’re doing,” Christen mumbled, feeling her stomach roll just repeating the words.
“Is that what you think we’re doing?” Tobin asked slowly, stopping her fingers from moving along Christen’s hand.
Christen shook her head, feeling stubborn tears pool in her eyes as she finally opened her eyes and looked over at Tobin. “No, not until she said that. Until she insinuated that you- that this was the third go-round for you,” Christen replied.
Tobin let out a long breath. She silently cursed Roni for doing this, for putting her in this situation, for putting hurt and fear in her favorite pair of green eyes.
“Scottie has never met anyone I’ve ever dated before, not even as a friend,” Tobin said quietly. “Well, at least not purposefully. We ran into someone I dated once at a grocery store, and she didn’t recognize me with a kid, so I’d say you’re the first. I don’t bring people into our lives without thought. I’m not... playing house,” Tobin finished, leaning back against the driver’s side door and drumming her fingers over the console.
Christen turned away from Tobin and used the sleeve of her sweater to wipe at the corner of her eye, catching the lone tear that had the audacity to fall right now.
“I shouldn’t have believed her. That was stupid,” Christen huffed, her voice a little tight.
“Hey,” Tobin said softly, reaching out for Christen again. “It wasn’t stupid. We hadn’t talked about that, and she was going for any insecurity she could, clearly.”
Christen met Tobin in the middle, tangling their fingers together atop the center console. “She’s…” Christen trailed off, almost at a loss for words.
“A real bitch,” Tobin suggested. “I’m aware.”
Christen cracked a smile, finally looking back over at Tobin. “I’m just trying to figure out how she ever managed to get someone like you,” she murmured.
Tobin let out a long sigh, remembering how Roni had acted sweet when they’d first met, how she’d taken care of Tobin when she’d gotten injured.
“I think the word for it is deception,” Tobin mumbled, feeling that same sense of shame that she’d felt when she’d told her parents that she and Roni were getting divorced, that they’d been right about her all along.
Christen scooted as close as she could to Tobin, leaning over the console so she could use her free hand to smooth out the furrow in Tobin’s brow.
“That’s nothing to be ashamed of, Tobin,” Christen whispered. “I wasn’t saying that as a reflection of who you are. I just meant that I can’t for the life of me figure out how someone like her gets lucky enough to have you and Scottie, for however brief a time. That’s some seriously problematic karma,” Christen added, her mouth lifting into a small, half-smile.
Tobin let out a soft laugh, pressing her face into Christen’s touch. “Maybe she was a really good person in a previous life,” Tobin shrugged.
Christen wrinkled her nose, Roni’s words still stinging just a bit. “She called me a flavor of the month, I don’t care how good she was in her past life.”
“Baby, you’re the flavor of a lifetime,” Tobin said, leaning forward and capturing Christen’s lips with her own.
Christen melted into the kiss, moving her hand to the back of Tobin’s neck and running her fingertips along the sensitive skin back there. When she felt Tobin shudder and deepen the kiss, she couldn’t help but smile just a bit.
“That was-” Christen managed between kisses, “-really corny.”
“But true,” Tobin mumbled against Christen’s lips, swiping her tongue along Christen’s bottom lip.
With a small groan, Christen pushed herself further against the console trying to get as close to Tobin as possible. When the console proved too obstructing, Christen broke the kiss just long enough to move out of her seat. She settled into Tobin’s lap and reconnected their lips, burying one hand into Tobin’s silky smooth waves and using the other to cup Tobin’s cheek.
Tobin’s moan of pleasure was interrupted by a soft tap on the window. Tobin’s fingers dug into Christen’s waist as the two women whipped their heads up to look at the window. Tobin awkwardly rolled her window down slightly, still holding onto Christen in her lap.
“Uh, hi Elmer,” Christen managed, her cheeks filled with a dark red flush and an embarrassed smile on her face.
“Lot’s going to close, Ms. Press,” Elmer grinned, tipping his security guard hat and walking away, whistling a tune.
“Well he seems nice,” Tobin murmured, pressing one more kiss to Christen’s neck.
Christen groaned and dropped her head to Tobin’s shoulder. “I’m never going to be able to look him in the eye again.”
“Hey, Chris?” Tobin asked softly.
“Yeah, babe?” Christen mumbled, still keeping her face pressed into the soft material of the PRESS Gotham FC jersey Tobin was wearing.
“How would you feel if I told you that my mom really wants Scottie to sleep over at her house tonight after dinner?”
Christen felt a slow smile make its way onto her face. She leaned back off of Tobin’s shoulder and fixed her with a charged look.
“I would feel very lucky, considering I have the day off tomorrow.”