When she's had too much to drink
I say that I don't care
I just run my hands through her dark hair
Then I pray to God you gotta help me fly away and just...
Let her cry, if the tears fall down like rain
Let her sing, if it eases all her pain
Let her go, let her walk right out on me
And if the sun comes up tomorrow
Let her be, let her be.
This morning I woke up alone
Found a note standin' by the phone
Saying maybe, maybe I'll be back some day
(Tobin - “Let Her Cry” by Hootie and the Blowfish)
And everybody's talking how I can't, can't be your love
But I want, want, want to be your love
Want to be your love for real
Everybody's talking how I can't, can't be your love
But I want, want, want to be your love
Want to be your love for real
Want to be your everything
Everything's falling and I am included in that
Oh, how I try to be just okay
Yeah, but all I ever really wanted
Was a little piece of you
(Christen - “Be Be Your Love” by Rachael Yamagata)
Christen broke the news quietly to Kelley as Academy training ended. After explaining that they had to show up and they had to get moving, Kelley grumbled and stalked off, promising to pull the car around and mumbling a few choice words under her breath.
Swallowing thickly, Christen waved goodbye to the last few players and then dropped down onto the bench next to Scottie, thankful that everyone else had cleared out already. This was going to be a tough conversation and they didn’t need an audience for it.
“So I have good news and I have bad news,” Christen said, wishing that her hands weren’t shaking and that seeing Roni wasn’t in either of their futures.
“That sounds scary,” Scottie hummed, her smile still on her face, like Christen was about to make a joke.
Christen grimaced slightly and looked away from the field and over at Scottie. “The bad news is we have to go visit with Roni for a bit, but the good news is that Kelley will take us to get Van Leeuwen’s after. Does that sound okay?”
“But I don’t have Mommy’s jersey,” Scottie said, her smile falling immediately.
“I know, sweetheart. I’m sorry,” Christen replied, her heart aching at the way Scottie’s shoulders slumped and her face dimmed.
“I have to wear it. It’s lucky,” Scottie said, her lip wobbling at the idea of seeing Roni without the one security blanket she had other than Tobin.
“Well...maybe you can borrow my jersey? I know it’s not the same, but it’s right over there in the locker room,” Christen offered, hoping like hell one of the equipment managers was around to actually make this possible.
Scottie bit her bottom lip, mulling it over and thinking about whether that was a suitable substitute. She nodded softly, knowing she’d have to see Roni anyway, and Christen’s jersey would at least be somewhat lucky.
“Okay,” Scottie nodded. “And we can get ice cream after...without Roni?”
“Yeah, without Roni,” Christen nodded, wrapping her arm around Scottie’s shoulders and pulling the girl closer to her. She dropped a kiss to the top of Scottie’s head and rubbed Scottie’s shoulder with her hand. “You can have two scoops of peanut butter marshmallow crunch.”
“Are you gonna stay with me?” Scottie asked, looking up at Christen, worry still evident in her eyes.
Christen smiled as reassuringly as she could. “I’m not going anywhere, remember? I’ll be with you the whole time.”
“Good because she keeps forgetting my favorite color, but you never do,” Scottie nodded, hopping up from the bench and holding her hand out for Christen.
Christen felt that stubborn knot of anger she always harbored for Roni, the one that sat inside her chest, tighten and tangle and twist. But she pushed that aside for now, taking Scottie’s hand and getting up from the bench.
“Let’s go, awesome purple. We’ve got a jersey to find,” Christen said with a small smile, picking up Scottie’s soccer bag with her free hand.
Kelley pulled the car into the fire lane, at W 68th street and Central Park West.
“I gotta say, Mini Tar Heel, you look great in that jersey!” Kelley grinned, parking the car and turning around to face Scottie.
“Thank you! It’s a lucky Christen jersey,” Scottie said, looking down at the jersey that was billowing around her body and her booster seat.
Kelley shot Christen a quick look, noting the stormy glint in her green eyes and the hard line of her jaw.
“Well, you look rad. I’ll be waiting right here to pick you guys up when you’re done, and then…”
“ICE CREAM!” Scottie cheered, grinning at Kelley.
“You bet!” Kelley winked. She reached out to grab ahold of Christen’s hand, pulling Christen out of her own head. “Ready?” she asked quietly.
Christen could only nod mechanically and then unbuckle her seatbelt. She offered Kelley a small smile and then got out of the car, helping Scottie out of the booster seat they’d borrowed from Tobin.
“Stay close, okay?” Christen whispered, a slightly worried look on her face as she looked at Kelley.
“I’ll literally circle the block,” Kelley promised. “One text and I’m here.”
“Bye, Coach Kelley!” Scottie said with a big wave, tugging at Christen’s hand so they could get going.
“Bye, Mini Tar Heel!” Kelley called after her.
Christen shot Kelley one final look full of worry and fear and slight apprehension and then shut the car door. She gripped tightly onto Scottie’s hand as they made their way into the park.
With every step they took, every step that brought them closer to Roni, Christen couldn’t ignore the twisted, tangled knot in her chest or the pit forming in her stomach. She’d meant what she said. She could do this, she wanted to do this for Tobin and for Scottie because she loved them. But there was no promise of her enjoying the experience.
“Princess!” Roni greeted with a smile that was far too big to be genuine. She waved from her spot on a bench near a handful of wooden jungle-gym structures.
Christen felt Scottie’s hand in her own tense and her steps slow down just a bit. Christen felt the hesitation, so she stopped, pausing to crouch down to Scottie’s eye level.
“Do you want to know something that Tobin and I do whenever we have to go somewhere we might not want to?” Christen hummed, reaching up with her free hand to adjust the purple sunglasses perched on Scottie’s face.
“What?” Scottie asked, looking at Christen like she was her lifeline, since for this visit she was.
“If we ever want to leave, if we ever get upset or sad or uncomfortable, we say ‘offsides’ and then we go. No questions asked, no explanations needed,” Christen said. She pushed the glasses up on Scottie’s head so she could look into her eyes.
“That’s silly,” Scottie grinned.
“Silly but super helpful. So if you feel like you want to leave at any time, just tell me offsides, and we’ll go,” Christen replied with a matching grin.
“I can do that,” Scottie nodded. “You can say it too if you want.”
Christen was constantly floored by the things Scottie said and did, betraying just how emotionally mature and well-adjusted she was, especially for her age. But then she said something like this and Christen could literally see and feel how much of an impact Tobin had made on her daughter. This right here, this sweet, thoughtful offer was the product of Tobin’s love and influence on Scottie. It was a reminder that while they might be here in this park to interact with Roni, Tobin was Scottie’s mom and that was never going to change.
“You’ve got yourself a deal,” Christen winked, holding up her hand in a fist bump.
Scottie offered a fist bump before taking Christen’s hand again and squeezing it tightly in her own. “I love you,” she mumbled quietly as they made their way over to where Roni was now standing, tapping her designer heel on the pavement.
“I love you too, sweetheart,” Christen whispered back, squeezing Scottie’s hand in her own seconds before coming to a stop in front of Roni.
“Well, you’re only a minute late. I expected worse,” Roni said to Christen before she leaned down to Scottie and pressed a kiss to her cheek. “How are you, Princess?”
“Fine. How are you?” Scottie replied, wiping the lipstick off her cheek with the back of her hand.
“I’m so much better now that you’re here. You want to sit down? I brought some stuff for you,” Roni said, gesturing to her bag.
Scottie shrugged and pulled Christen over to the bench, sitting down in between Roni and Christen, keeping Christen’s hand in her own.
“What’d you bring?” Scottie wondered.
“Well, we talked last visit about girly stuff, so I thought you might like your first little makeup kit. I think I was your age when I got mine,” Roni said, handing Scottie a small bag of lip glosses and colorful eyeshadows.
“Oh, um, thanks,” Scottie replied, setting the bag down on the bench beside her.
Christen had to bite her tongue to keep from saying something. Something like Don’t you think eight is a little young? or Do you even know her at all? But Christen didn’t say any of those things. She just tightened her jaw and ran her thumb across the back of Scottie’s hand gently, her eyes on the girl sitting even closer to her now.
“Someday you’ll want to wear nice things and put on makeup, so that’s a start. Maybe next week we can get Tobin to go shopping with us for something other than baggy jerseys,” Roni said, wrinkling her nose at the Gotham jersey.
Christen snorted, she couldn’t help it. Clearly, Roni didn’t know Tobin well either because Tobin hated shopping. She could barely stomach grocery shopping, let alone clothes shopping. But then she noticed the way Scottie stiffened at the baggy jersey comment.
Christen looked up at Roni, narrowing her eyes at the clear disgust on Roni’s face at the sight of the Gotham jersey.
“She likes the jerseys,” Christen defended, the knot in her chest getting tighter.
“Oh, I know. Tobin lets her wear whatever she wants. It’s very typical of her not to care about appearances, but Scottie needs to learn that they matter,” Roni huffed. “She can’t just run around with ratty clothes and messy hair all the time like Tobin.”
Christen rolled her shoulders, fighting the urge to say every cross word that came to mind.
“I think the fact that Tobin encourages Scottie to wear what she’s comfortable in shows just how much she cares. Scottie can run around in whatever she wants to, and so can Tobin,” Christen replied, her voice taking on a hard edge even as her hold on Scottie’s hand remained gentle.
“I suppose it would matter more if Tobin had a real job,” Roni sighed. “Scottie isn’t gonna learn how to dress for a real job, and that’s going to hurt her in the long run.”
Christen couldn’t believe that Roni was saying these things in front of Scottie. That she was speaking so ill of Tobin, so critically and rudely, when Scottie could hear. It might not be her place, but Christen couldn’t just sit here and let Roni do that. She had to steer the conversation away, she had to get Scottie away, she had to do something.
“Mommy paints,” Scottie said quietly, looking up at Roni as if Roni just didn’t know what Tobin’s job was.
“Oh, I know,” Roni scoffed.
Christen shook her head at the derision dripping from Roni’s words. “She’s incredible at it,” Christen replied, trying to keep her voice level.
“She’s incredible at tricking people into thinking her glorified finger paintings are worth something,” Roni sneered.
“Scottie, how cool does that jungle gym look?” Christen asked quickly, needing Scottie to not be around this right now. She might be crossing all sorts of lines, but she wasn’t going to let Roni belittle Tobin like this in front of her daughter.
“Um...it looks cool,” Scottie mumbled, feeling more uncomfortable than she’d ever felt around Roni.
“Want to go check it out? I’ll be right there,” Christen murmured, her eyes holding Roni’s.
“Okay,” Scottie nodded, abandoning Roni’s makeup on the bench and hurrying over to the jungle gym where a few other kids were playing.
Once Scottie was gone, Christen leveled Roni with a hard look. “Do not talk about Tobin like that in front of her,” Christen said in a low voice, her words full of warning.
“Scottie needs a reality check. Honestly, you do too, sweetie. Tobin’s a mess, and she’s raising my daughter to be messy. She’s hurting her, and it’s about time I step in and take over,” Roni said, her eyes narrowing at Christen.
Christen huffed out a short angry breath, a red haze settling over her mind as the knot in her chest did something worse than tighten. It grew exponentially and made it difficult to breathe, difficult to think.
“The only one hurting them is you. Showing up like this, pretending to give a shit. You don’t know them, you don’t know anything about them. You got Scottie makeup. Really?” Christen shot back, her hands fisting at her sides.
“She’s a young girl. She’s gonna start thinking about makeup soon. I might as well support her now. Tobin’s not gonna know how to show her. And the only reason I don’t know them is because Tobin purposefully cut me out,” Roni defended, her voice tight.
Christen shook her head in disbelief, wondering how the hell this woman could be so conceited, so clearly in the wrong, that she couldn’t even see it.
“You cut yourself out. You did this, nobody else did,” Christen replied.
“Oh, and I told Tobin to ignore calls and return letters? She kept me from my kid. My lawyer says it’s grounds for a fight over custody,” Roni spat.
Christen felt a flicker of worry in her heart for just a moment...and then she saw something nestled in those icy blue eyes of Roni’s. She saw fear and she knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Roni was lying.
Christen let out an exasperated scoff, shaking her head slightly. “You don’t want her! You don’t want custody! Why the hell would you? It was so easy for you to abandon them before, and you’re just going to do it again. You don’t want Scottie; you don’t have a lawyer; you don’t have anything. You’re just scared, and honestly? It’s sad,” Christen seethed, her voice rising in time with Roni’s.
“Like we’re so different! This is a vacation for you. It makes you feel good when Scottie praises you, and I bet Tobin just worships you. I’m sure it’s great for your ego right now, but give it a little more time, and you’ll be just as suffocated as I was! You’re gonna leave them, and Tobin will come straight to me. You’re going to abandon them, just like-”
“Offsides,” Scottie choked out, no longer on the jungle gym, instead standing far too close, close enough to hear most of the two women’s angry words.
Christen blinked rapidly, the red, angry haze quickly dissipating at the sound of Scottie’s voice. She turned to find Scottie standing close, close enough to have heard things, things she shouldn’t have.
“Scottie, I-” Christen tried to say, but Scottie interrupted her, all without raising her eyes from the ground.
“I want to go home,” Scottie whimpered. “I want Mommy.”
“Okay, okay,” Christen rushed out, rising from the bench on shaky legs. Christen reached out to grab Scottie’s hand, but Scottie backed away.
Scottie didn’t wait, she didn’t grab the makeup bag from the bench. She ran in the direction from which they’d entered the park, her blue sneakers slapping against the pavement as she moved as quickly as she could.
Feeling her stomach drop, Christen squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. She turned back to Roni, who had this stupid, smug grin on her face that Christen had to restrain herself from smacking off. Her hands fisted at her sides as she narrowed her eyes at Roni.
“We can go ten rounds like this every week for the rest of our lives, but I’m not going anywhere. I won’t leave them. You and I? We’re nothing alike,” Christen said in a low, vaguely threatening voice. She spun on her heel and raced after Scottie, catching up to the girl who, she was pretty sure, had heard too much.
Outside the park, Scottie tried to yank the jersey over her head, feeling suddenly like she couldn’t breathe with the way her tears were slipping down her cheeks and her chest was heaving with silent sobs.
“Hey, hey, whoa,” Christen said gently, trying to keep Scottie from taking the jersey off.
“It’s too hot! I can’t breathe. Stop! Stop, Christen! It isn’t lucky,” Scottie whimpered, pulling the jersey fully off, so that she was only in her Academy shirt.
Christen dropped her hands to her sides as if they’d been burned. “I’m sorry, Scottie. I- I don’t know what you heard, but-”
“I want to go home. Is Mommy coming home?” Scottie interrupted again, unable to see Christen through her watery vision. She didn’t know another home other than New York City, but suddenly, it felt way too loud with the cars on one side and tourists milling around them. She couldn’t see, every noise seemed to blend together, and Tobin wasn’t there.
Christen’s heart sank at the tears that continued to fall down Scottie’s cheeks, at the way Scottie stayed far away from her, at the distance that was between them, physically and emotionally.
“I’ll get Kelley to take us back, and I’ll see where Tobin is, okay?” Christen managed, pulling out her phone.
Kelley pulled up to the curb within six minutes, just like she’d promised. “That was quick,” Kelley said before her eyes landed on Scottie and the tears that were rushing down her cheeks.
Christen just shook her head at Kelley to get her to stop talking. She opened the back door and went to help Scottie get in, but Scottie moved away.
“I can do it on my own,” Scottie croaked, reaching for the door handle and stepping into Kelley’s car without Christen's help.
Christen felt the rejection hit her right in the gut, nearly knocking the breath from her lungs. This was bad, this was so so bad. Scottie had never talked to her like this before, had never pulled away from her like this before.
Christen closed the back door gently and then got into her own seat, dropping her head into her hands the moment Kelley pulled the car away from the curb.
Are you still at the park? I can bail you out.
We’re almost back to your place. It...it wasn’t good. Scottie’s really upset and I don’t know what to do
I’ll be home in fifteen
Tobin threw the car in park, closed the garage, and ran into the studio, racing up the stairs as quickly as she could. Christen was pacing in the kitchen, but Scottie wasn’t anywhere within sight.
“Are you okay?” Tobin asked as she scanned the room for her daughter.
Christen lifted her head at the sound of Tobin’s voice. Her lower lip hadn’t stopped trembling, even as she held it mercilessly between her teeth. Her cheeks were tear-stained and her eyes were full of tears.
Christen couldn’t get her voice to work. She couldn’t tell Tobin she was okay because she wasn’t. But worst of all, Scottie wasn’t okay.
“Jesus, I’m so sorry,” Tobin sighed when she saw Christen, rubbing a hand over her face. She erased the space between them quickly, her heart tightening in her chest at the wrecked look on Christen's face.
She knew she could trust Christen with Scottie. She had no doubt about that, but she never should have trusted Roni with Christen.
“Up-” Christen’s voice cracked and she had to swallow before continuing. “Upstairs.”
“I’ll be back in one second,” Tobin promised, quickly wrapping her arms around Christen. She needed to see Scottie. She needed to be a mom first, to assess the actual damage of whatever Roni had said, so she kept the hug short, even when her entire body begged to stay wrapped around Christen.
Christen didn’t hug Tobin back. She couldn’t, not after what she’d said and done. Not after making Scottie cry, not after making Scottie pull away and call offisides. She didn’t deserve the hug or the understanding in Tobin’s soft voice.
“Go,” Christen whispered, stepping out of Tobin’s arms and crossing her arms over her chest. She nodded over Tobin’s shoulder at the stairs.
Tobin gave Christen one last look before jogging across the room and up the stairs, pausing outside Scottie’s closed door to knock. She could hear the soft sniffles and the hiccupy sobs from outside the room.
“Little bit, can I come in?” Tobin asked.
“Mommy,” Scottie immediately croaked, her voice pleading for Tobin.
Tobin pushed the door open, her heart breaking at the sight of Scottie sitting on the floor with one of Tobin’s t-shirts on. Her hair was messy, her cheeks were splotchy from crying, and a fuzzy blanket was wrapped over her shoulders. Tobin softly shut the door behind her and got onto the ground, wrapping Scottie in her arms. Her hug only sent the girl into another round of sobs, so Tobin waited. She held Scottie against her chest and rubbed a hand up and down her back, whispering words like, I’m here and It’s okay and It’s you and me.
When the sobs finally stopped and Scottie was only sniffling again, her fingers twisted into Tobin’s button-up, Tobin spoke up.
“Today was a bad day, huh?” Tobin asked softly, not wanting to start any more sobs.
Scottie just nodded, pressing her face further into Tobin’s chest.
“Do you think you can tell me when it got bad?” Tobin whispered, pressing a kiss to Scottie’s temple.
“Roni was- was saying mean things about you and- and Christen told me to go play,” Scottie said, her words broken up by shaky breaths.
“I bet Christen didn’t want you to hear the mean things,” Tobin said gently, running her fingers through Scottie’s hair.
“But I did hear them. I heard them, and I said offsides, but I still heard them, Mommy,” Scottie whimpered.
“What did they say, buddy? Maybe I can tell you what’s true and what’s made up,” Tobin murmured.
“Christen said Roni lied, that she didn’t want me. And then Roni said Christen was going to leave because she was suffo- suffa- suffomicated,” Scottie replied, trying to repeat the word she’d heard Roni use, not knowing what it meant. “She sounded so angry, Mommy.”
Tobin’s heart cracked with each of Scottie’s words. She never wanted Scottie to feel unwanted, and that’s exactly how Roni’s and Christen’s argument had made her feel.
“She said Christen is going to leave and then we have to go back to her, but I don’t want Christen to leave, and I don’t want to go back to her, Mommy,” Scottie continued in a wobbly voice.
“Scottie, we are never going back to her. We’re never going to live with her again, and if you say the word, I can try and make it so you don’t have to see her if you don’t want to. But, you have to listen to me really closely right now. This is really important, okay?” Tobin said, swallowing her own sadness and anger and hurt to focus on Scottie and making the tears go away.
Scottie sniffled and sat up. She put her hands on Tobin’s cheeks and focused on Tobin’s face, ready to listen and focus, despite the tears swimming in her eyes.
“I don’t know why Roni comes back sometimes. I don’t know why she doesn’t want to be here all the time, but that’s her biggest loss. I think something is wrong with any person who doesn’t want you in their lives every single day, like I do. You are the best part of every single day, and I feel really bad for her because she doesn’t get that,” Tobin said, holding onto Scottie’s hands on her own cheeks.
Scottie nodded, a thoughtful look on her face. “I don’t want to go to the park with her anymore, Mommy. I don’t want to feel yucky, and she makes me feel yucky when she’s mean to you and Christen,” Scottie whispered.
“You don’t have to go anymore. I will do everything I can so you don’t have to go anymore. And I need you to know that Roni was trying to make Christen feel bad. She was trying to make her angry. I think she might be a little jealous that Christen gets to spend so much fun time with you, so she said some things that aren’t true. Christen promised to always come back and not to leave, and she’s kept that promise so far, right?”
“Yeah,” Scottie agreed quietly.
“Do you think Christen is gonna leave? Is that something you’re scared of?” Tobin asked.
“I’m not scared of that, Mommy. But I think I’d be really sad if she did leave,” Scottie mumbled.
“I would be really sad too, but I don’t think she will. And you and I will always have each other, no matter what happens. It’s always you and me, even if we decide to let someone else join the club too,” Tobin said softly.
“You and me, forever and ever,” Scottie replied with a small smile, squeezing Tobin’s cheeks just a bit with her hands.
“That’s right. You and me, forever and ever,” Tobin said, melting at Scottie’s sweet words.
“I think we need to hug Christen now, Mommy. She’s sad too, and I was too sad to hug her earlier,” Scottie sighed, her mouth turning down in a frown at the fact that Christen had a bad day too.
“I know she’s sad. You two are matching with your puffy eyes,” Tobin whispered, poking Scottie’s cheeks and making her smile again. “Why don’t we have a movie night or something with lots of cuddles?”
Getting a smile from Scottie in response, Tobin carried her down the stairs to the kitchen, her heart dropping when she saw that the kitchen was empty. Scottie’s face was still tucked into her neck as Tobin scanned the room for any sign of Christen. Her purse was off the hook, and she wasn’t in the living room area. It was a note under one of the fridge magnets that finally set Tobin’s heart beating at a regular pace again.
T & S,
Went out to grab us dinner. I’ll be back soon.
“Look at that,” Tobin hummed. “Christen’s getting dinner for movie night.”
“I hope she comes back soon, I’m starving,” Scottie mumbled, sighing against Tobin’s neck.
“Me too, little bit. Why don’t you pick out a movie?” Tobin said, walking across the room and setting Scottie down on the couch.
Two hours had passed, and still, Christen wasn’t back. Tobin had sent a few unanswered texts and called a couple of times, only getting her voicemail. She’d spent those two hours worrying and pretending that everything was okay, even letting Scottie eat cookie dough out of the tub from the freezer.
“Little bit?” Tobin hummed after two hours and seven minutes had passed and their second movie had just started.
“Is Christen back?” Scottie mumbled, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She sat up from her blanket cocoon on the couch.
“Not yet, but I think maybe I should go see if she needs help carrying dinner home,” Tobin said softly, brushing Scottie’s hair away from her face.
“That’s a good idea, Mommy,” Scottie yawned.
“Do you think it would be okay with you if Glennon came and played a board game with you while I go help Christen?” Tobin asked, swallowing the worry that was making her throat thick and tight.
“Glenny,” Scottie grinned, not picking up on Tobin’s worry in the slightest. “I always beat her at Chutes and Ladders.”
“She just texted me and told me she wants to play with you. I think she’s feeling confident about winning tonight,” Tobin winked.
Scottie rolled her eyes. “She never beats me.”
“I know, buddy,” Tobin chuckled, kissing Scottie’s forehead gently.
“Will you hurry home, Mommy? You and Christen. I have a hug for her still,” Scottie replied softly.
“We’ll hurry as quickly as we can,” Tobin nodded, dreading the idea of not being able to find Christen, of Scottie not being able to give her that hug. She’d texted Glennon twenty minutes ago, so Tobin wasn’t surprised when the front door buzzed. “You ready to beat her in every game we own?”
Christen set down her empty sangria glass, already feeling the effects of it. “Tobin wasn’t kidding,” she scoffed.
“It’s the best-kept family secret,” Gio grinned. “My great-great-grandmother made it up, and we haven’t changed it since. Speaking of Tobin, where is she?”
Christen’s face fell, and she dropped her attention to the empty glass on the table. She simply held the glass up to Gio and avoided his questioning gaze.
“I can call her and kick her ass for you if you want. Sometimes Tobs is a bit stubborn,” Gio said, taking the glass from Christen, giving her a look of concern. He could see the way her eyes were watery and her cheeks were streaked with tear tracks.
“It’s my ass that needs kicking,” Christen sighed, pressing the heels of her hands against her eyes.
“You hurt her?” Gio asked, suddenly reconsidering the sangria he’d offered on the house.
Christen swallowed the lump in her throat and shook her head, her hands still pressed against her eyes.
“Not her,” Christen whispered.
“My tiny maestro?” Gio asked, obviously referencing Scottie.
Christen physically flinched, pained by the reminder of the tears she’d caused, of the hurt she’d brought upon Scottie. “I think so, yeah,” Christen admitted.
“I highly doubt that, since I’ve seen you with her,” Gio said softly. “But I know how hard it can be to see a sad Scottie. I’ll bring you a pitcher.”
“Thanks,” Christen mumbled, offering Gio a tight smile.
“We’ll get you all buzzed, let you sleep off the sangria, and then send you back to the Heaths,” Gio said.
“You’re still sending them food right?” Christen asked, vaguely remembering asking Gio to make Tobin’s and Scottie’s favorite dishes and deliver them to Tobin’s place. But after that strong sangria, she wasn’t sure if she was remembering it correctly.
“I was planning on you being my delivery service,” Gio admitted, a little sheepish that he hadn’t already sent food with his actual delivery guy. “But, honestly, it’s pretty late. Scottie’s probably asleep by now.”
“I don’t think it'd be a good idea, anyway,” Christen replied with a sad, half-smile.
“I don’t think you’re gonna have to decide,” Gio mumbled, pointing at the glass window.
Christen followed Gio’s hand and looked out the window, spying Tobin walking across the street. Guilt immediately washed over her, making her chest tight and her eyes burn again.
When she’d wandered into Gio’s two hours ago, she had come here to simply get take-out and go back. But with the distance, with the space from Tobin and from Scottie, her heartache had gotten worse and her mind started to run a little wild. It started to convince her that Scottie would never forgive her for what she said today. It started to convince her that she’d crossed too many lines, overstepped too many boundaries. It started to convince her that she’d gone too far and irreparably damaged whatever happiness she’d found with Tobin and Scottie.
“I’ll get the pitcher ready,” Gio said, squeezing Christen’s shoulder and walking away from the table to slip back into the kitchen.
Christen tore her gaze away from Tobin, unable to stomach the concerned look on her face. She crossed her arms on top of the tablecloth and stared at the flame of the small candle in the middle of the table. She lost herself for a moment in the dancing flame, feeling nothing but guilt and regret and hurt. She was so lost in it she didn’t hear Tobin come up.
“You are a hard woman to find,” Tobin mumbled as she dropped into the seat across from Christen. Thankfully, the table was in the back corner of the restaurant and relatively secluded from the rest.
Christen didn’t look away from the candle. She couldn’t look into those brown eyes right now. She didn’t want the pity or the sympathy, or worse, the anger, that might be within them.
“Not hard enough, I guess,” Christen managed, her voice tight and her eyes filling with tears.
“Did you not want me to find you?” Tobin asked, her stomach churning slightly at the tone of Christen’s voice and the lack of eye contact. She’d stopped by Christen’s apartment building, texted Kelley and Becky, walked through Bryant Park, and finally decided to try Gio’s on the slim chance that Christen was there. But now she was suddenly feeling like Christen hadn’t wanted to be found, like Christen wanted to be far away.
“You shouldn’t want to,” Christen whispered. “I hurt her, and I didn’t mean to, but I did. I hurt her, Tobin.”
“You didn’t,” Tobin said, shaking her head firmly, her chest aching with the pain she could hear in Christen’s voice, the pain that Roni had caused. “What Roni said scared her, but you didn’t hurt her.”
Christen got a far-off look in her eyes as her lower lip started to tremble. “You weren’t there. You didn’t...you didn’t see the way she looked at me. I said horrible things to Roni. Things I shouldn’t have, things I wouldn’t have said if I knew she was listening. But I said them and Scottie heard me and she took off my jersey. She- she hasn’t looked at me since.”
“I know I wasn’t there. I’m sorry I wasn’t there,” Tobin whispered, feeling guilty about the entire situation. She should have canceled her meeting or insisted on calling someone else to take Scottie. “But I know you, and I know Roni, and whatever you said was valid, even if Scottie shouldn’t have heard it. She isn’t upset because of what you said. I promise.”
Christen couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t believe that Scottie wasn’t upset with her. She’d seen the look on Scottie’s face, she’d seen the way Scottie ripped off her jersey, she’d felt the distance Scottie put between them.
“She called offsides,” Christen whispered, her voice breaking. She was so overcome with guilt, so overcome with pain, that her shoulders physically sagged.
“I know she did. She told me that,” Tobin said, reaching her hand across the table and letting it fall in the middle of the table for Christen to hold onto if she wanted or needed.
“I- I made her call offsides. I did that. I did that and I’m so-” Christen faltered as a tear slipped out of the corner of her eye. “-I’m so sorry.”
“No,” Tobin said, shaking her head again. “You didn’t make her call offsides, Chris. She’s not upset because of what you said. She’s upset because of what Roni said about you .”
That made Christen finally look up, away from the flame, and meet Tobin’s gaze. “She shouldn’t have had to hear any of that,” Christen said softly, her face scrunched up in pain at the reminder of Roni’s words.
“I agree,” Tobin said, letting out her breath that she hadn’t realized she was holding as soon as Christen looked at her. “Roni shouldn’t have lied and said what she said, especially given what all Scottie has been through.”
“Am I...am I putting her through more?” Christen whispered, almost scared of the answer but unable to keep the question locked inside of her.
“You are doing the exact opposite of that,” Tobin promised. “You show up, and you keep promises, and you lift her up when she’s down. You love her unconditionally, and that’s all Scottie’s ever wanted or needed.”
Christen felt a quiet, choked sob escape her lips, the tears that had only been pooling up until now starting to fall. She’d been so certain that she’d messed this up, that she’d broken it beyond repair because she’d foolishly let Roni get the best of her. She'd been convinced that she'd made Scottie upset with her words, but here Tobin was, assuring her that wasn’t the case.
Christen covered her mouth with one hand to keep the next looming sob at bay and slid her other into Tobin’s, her grip on Tobin’s hand tightening with every moment that passed and every tear that continued to fall.
“I’m still so sorry,” Christen managed, her breathing shaky and her words wobbly.
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Tobin sighed, rubbing her thumb along Christen’s hand.
“But I left. I did what I promised I wouldn’t do,” Christen protested, her face falling with the realization.
“You mean right now? This is just a breather. You left a note and came to our restaurant. I wouldn’t call that leaving,” Tobin said, wanting to scoop Christen into her arms and make the guilt she could see swimming in Christen’s eyes disappear. “Everyone needs to take a breather from time to time. I need a few hours on my own sometimes, and I’m her mom. You didn’t break a promise.”
Christen’s eyes narrowed slightly like she was unconvinced, her grip on Tobin’s hand so tight it was almost painful.
“Were you planning on drinking this sangria and not showing up again?” Tobin asked, knowing the answer was a resounding ‘no’ but needing Christen to understand that she hadn’t broken a promise to Scottie.
Christen looked vaguely offended at the question, her brow furrowing. “Of course not,” she replied, her voice a little hoarse but strong.
“I know. I know you, and I know you wouldn’t just leave. Scottie knows that too,” Tobin said, her voice confident enough for the both of them. She squeezed Christen’s hand in her own and ran her thumb along the back of it. “I...I signed adoption papers. I fostered and tried on the parent role before Scottie. I got to make that decision, and even though I was out of my element, I got to prepare a little. You’re jumping into a role and a life that you probably didn’t imagine four months ago. You don’t have to be perfect all the time, and you’re allowed to need space to breathe.”
Christen was quiet for a few moments mulling over Tobin’s words, her eyes locked on their clasped hands in the middle of the table. Four months ago, she might not have imagined this was where she'd be. But right now, with Tobin's hand in hers, it felt like this was where she was meant to be.
“I wanted you to find me,” Christen said finally, her voice no louder than a whisper. “And I didn’t mean to disappear, but I do think I needed space for a second.”
“I’m glad you came here,” Tobin admitted. “And if you need some more time and space, I can get you dinner and cab you to your apartment, no questions asked.”
“I think I’m good on space for a while now...and on the sangria,” Christen replied with a wet chuckle, her heart feeling lighter than it had in hours.
“It’s strong stuff, right?” Tobin hummed, smiling softly at Christen. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a handkerchief for Christen.
Christen just smiled and reached into her own pocket, pulling out the handkerchief with Scottie’s name on it that Tobin had given her for the away trip.
“She doesn’t need me anymore,” Tobin tsked, putting the handkerchief back into her pocket with a lopsided smile.
Christen gripped tighter onto Tobin’s hand, her face growing a bit serious. “I think I’m always going to need you,” Christen admitted softly.
“That’s very good to hear because I definitely need you, and I know that Scottie needs you too,” Tobin said gently.
Christen blew out a shaky breath and ran the handkerchief under her eyes, stuffing it back into her pocket once she was done.
“She’s not mad?” Christen asked, her forehead furrowed in slight disbelief still, despite having heard Tobin promise a few times that Scottie wasn’t.
“She told me she really wants to give you a hug because you were really sad at the park,” Tobin said, leaning onto her elbow, wishing that the table didn’t exist and she was right beside Christen.
Christen let out a small huff, reaching back into her pocket for the handkerchief. “I guess I should just keep it out,” she sighed, managing a watery smile as she wiped away another few tears.
“She isn’t mad at you. She was upset because Roni said you’d leave,” Tobin whispered, offering a tight, somewhat wobbly smile across the table herself.
The mention of Roni had rage burning through Christen again, hot and fast. “I know hate and anger are just shouts into the void, but Tobin I- I’m shouting,” Christen replied, her voice a little stronger than it was moments ago.
“You aren’t shouting alone,” Tobin huffed, running a hand over her forehead in frustration.
Christen nodded, leaning against the table to bring herself just a bit closer to Tobin, the movement completely subconscious. “I couldn’t just sit there and let her talk about you and Scottie like that. I know I should have, I should have ignored her but-”
“No, Chris. Thank you,” Tobin whispered, squeezing Christen’s hand in her own.
The rest of Christen’s words died on her lips at the look of complete love and adoration on Tobin’s face. She felt every bit of residual anger and hurt and guilt melt away. They were no match for the love Tobin was showing her, for the love in her eyes and in her words. They were gone now and left her feeling full instead of empty. Full of love.
“For a long time, it’s been Scottie and me against the world. That’s what it’s felt like, and I can ignore things and push down anger and hurt when it comes to comments about me. But no one’s ever stood up for the two of us. No one else has taken on the world for us, and you seem to constantly do that. So, thank you. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to really thank you the way you deserve, but thank you,” Tobin murmured, her voice thick and shaky and raw.
Christen knew they were in the middle of a place of business. Granted, it was Gio’s, and Gio was basically family to Tobin and Scottie. But it was still full of patrons and families out to eat and teenagers on dates. It was the complete opposite of private and empty, but right now Christen didn’t care.
She got up from the table, pulled Tobin to her feet, and threw her arms around Tobin’s shoulders. She buried her face in the crook of Tobin’s neck and clung tightly to her. Christen held onto Tobin as tightly as she could and decided she wasn’t going to let go. Not for a long while.
“I’d take on everything for you two,” Christen sighed, ignoring the clattering dishes and conversations still happening around them, focusing instead on the woman in her arms who felt like home.
“We’d do the same for you. I know it’s really serious to say this, but you- you’re more family to Scottie and to me than she ever was or ever will be,” Tobin whispered, keeping Christen tightly wrapped in her arms. She didn’t want to scare Christen with something so serious, but she knew she wouldn't be able to forgive herself if she let this moment pass without making sure that Christen knew just how much she meant to both of them, just how much she mattered.
Christen let out a wobbly breath at the seriousness and the implications behind Tobin’s words.
Family had taken on many different meanings to her over the course of her life. For a long time, it was the Press Pack. Her parents and her sisters, they were her family. And then she’d added friends and teammates, at all levels. In college and in Sweden, in New York, and at the National level. But this family was different. This was a family by choice, a family of choices. This was a woman and her kid choosing Christen. Choosing her to be theirs.
It still felt a bit surreal that Tobin and Scottie had chosen her. That they had deemed her worthy of being a part of their lives. This wasn’t the first time she’d heard the word family mentioned in relation to her and the Heaths. Her teammates had said it, her coach had said it. But this was different. This was Tobin affirming that everything she was feeling and wanting and hoping for was real. She had found family here, in Tobin and in Scottie.
Christen had found a family and she was never going to let them go.
“She doesn’t deserve you two,” Christen murmured. “And I’m beyond lucky that you think I do because...you guys are family to me too,” she added softly.
Tobin pressed her smile against Christen’s temple, dropping a gentle kiss there. “Do you want to go home?” Tobin asked softly.
“Eight more seconds,” Christen whispered, not willing to end the hug just yet. She wanted eight more seconds of magic, the magic that always came from being in Tobin’s arms.
Tobin smiled and relished in the feeling of Christen being pressed against her, even with an audience.
“So...I still can’t feel my lips and I finished that sangria a while ago,” Christen admitted with a chuckle.
Tobin laughed loudly, throwing her head back. “Remember when you said you hadn’t met a drink that could knock you on your ass?”
“I’m not on my ass...yet,” Christen grinned, the sound of Tobin’s laugh making her feel impossibly light.
“How about we take Gio up on the dinner to-go option and soak up the sangria with some garlic bread? I know someone who will wake up from any kind of sleep for good garlic bread,” Tobin whispered.
“Let’s go home,” Christen murmured, knowing she already had home right here in her arms.
“You’re gonna be koala snuggled for the rest of the night,” Tobin said, wrapping an arm around Christen’s waist and leading the way toward the kitchen, ready to head back to the house as soon as they had their dinner.
“Sounds perfect to me,” Christen replied softly.
“I lost seven games,” Glennon said, keeping her voice low in order to not wake up the little girl asleep on the couch. “Next time I start getting a big ego, I’ll come babysit.”
“Thank you, Glennon,” Tobin grinned, setting the bag of food on the table and offering to walk Glennon downstairs to the door.
“I know the way out,” Glennon winked, waving goodbye to Christen as she headed for the stairs. “Love you guys!” she called out over her shoulder.
“We love you too!” Christen replied, leaning back against the kitchen counter and watching as Tobin unloaded the garlic bread and carried the container over to the coffee table.
Tobin chuckled softly when Scottie’s nose wrinkled in her sleep. “Little bit,” Tobin whispered, sitting down on the couch and running her index finger along Scottie’s nose.
“Mommy?” Scottie mumbled sleepily.
“Hey, buddy. I know it’s pretty late, but do you want to eat something?” Tobin asked, running a hand through Scottie’s hair.
“Is Christen back?” Scottie asked with a small yawn, blinking her eyes open.
“Back and with garlic bread,” Christen replied, moving to the couch and sitting by Scottie’s side.
“Christen, I missed you,” Scottie mumbled, reaching out to grab ahold of the sleeve of Christen’s shirt.
“I missed you too, sweetheart,” Christen replied, getting a bit choked up as she bent down to kiss Scottie’s forehead.
“You were sad,” Scottie said, looking up at Christen with wide, gray eyes.
“So were you,” Christen murmured.
“I don’t want you to leave,” Scottie admitted softly.
Christen let out a short breath. It didn’t matter how many times she had to say it. She’d say it until she was blue in the face. She’d say it every day for forever. She wanted to make sure Tobin and Scottie knew she wasn’t going to leave. She was here to stay.
“I’m not going to leave, sweetheart. I promised, remember? And I keep my promises,” Christen assured.
“Did I make you sad?” Scottie asked, sitting up further on the couch and pulling her legs up so that she could sit up on her knees.
Christen hesitated. She didn’t want to tell Scottie that she’d made her sad. She didn’t want to extinguish the light that was back in those gray eyes.
“Roni made me sad,” Christen replied, brushing some of Scottie’s hair out of her face. “Her saying those things about you and Tobin, and then making you upset by saying them, made me sad.”
“Mommy says I don’t have to see her anymore,” Scottie said, scooting closer to Christen on the couch.
“You don’t have to see anyone you don’t want to,” Christen agreed.
“Can I give you a hug now?” Scottie asked, practically in Christen’s lap already with how close she’d moved.
Christen smiled and wrapped her arms around Scottie, feeling like she could finally breathe again when Scottie held tightly onto her. Christen could finally exhale and leave this horrible day behind.
“Mommy, you can hug too,” Scottie mumbled against Christen’s shoulder.
Tobin didn’t hesitate. She moved down the couch and wrapped her arms around both Christen and Scottie, so that Scottie was in between them.
“I’m not sad anymore,” Christen sighed, sinking into the feeling of Tobin and Scottie both holding her.
“Then I’m not either. Not with garlic bread and you and Mommy,” Scottie whispered.