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Bury the Hatchet

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We're all bored, we're all so tired of everything

We wait for trains that just aren't coming

We show off our different scarlet letters

Trust me, mine is better

We're so young, but we're on the road to ruin

We play dumb, but we know exactly what we're doing

We cry tears of mascara in the bathroom

Honey, life is just a classroom

'Cause baby, I could build a castle

Out of all the bricks they threw at me

And every day is like a battle

But every night with us is like a dream

Baby, we're the new romantics

Come on, come along with me

Heartbreak is the national anthem

We sing it proudly

We are too busy dancing to get knocked off our feet

Baby, we're the new romantics

The best people in life are free

("New Romantics" by Taylor Swift)

 

Tobin turned to look toward the door, her jaw dropping as soon as she saw Christen in a tight, black, silk crop top and a matching long skirt. It didn’t matter that Tobin had seen Christen completely naked. It didn’t matter that she’d undressed Christen before. Christen always looked amazing, and tonight, she looked exceptional. Tobin’s feet felt like they were glued to the floor, too stuck in her own awestruck moment to step forward. 

Christen nervously tucked a few curls behind her ear, her eyes moving around the packed studio for a familiar face, one familiar face in particular. 

She knew she was late. She’d gotten caught up at work, which had left her with barely enough time to hurry back to her apartment and change. She hadn’t gotten a chance to straighten her hair like she’d wanted to. She hadn’t gotten a chance to do her make-up as much as she’d wanted to. She had only managed to throw on the crop top, skirt, and bootie heels and rush out the door, running about thirty minutes behind schedule. 

After making a full pass over the crowd and failing to find Tobin, Christen’s brow furrowed. She nervously fidgeted with her purse and wondered what she should do next, if she should try and text Tobin or-

“You broke my sister,” a nicely dressed man stepped forward waving at Christen from the corner of the room. 

“I’m sorry?” Christen replied politely, her brow still furrowed in confusion.

“I’m Jeff Heath,” he introduced himself, stepping to the side to point at Tobin, still trying to collect herself behind him. 

Christen felt a smile grow on her face as she finally caught sight of Tobin. She barely managed to remember social cues and etiquette and take Jeff’s outstretched hand, too entranced by Tobin in that little black dress she loved so much.

“Looks like she broke you too,” Jeff laughed, smirking at Christen’s similarly gobsmacked reaction to his sister. 

Christen snapped out of it and finally looked over at Jeff, her hand falling back to her side. 

“I, uh-” Christen stuttered, unsure how to reply to such a comment.

“Let me get Mom,” Jeff grinned, stepping away from Christen and Tobin and heading to the back of the studio where Cindy was getting some wine and chatting with one of their many family friends. 

Christen’s heart stopped in her chest at the mention of Tobin’s mom, at the idea of meeting another member of Tobin’s family. She’d just assumed she’d be dealing with a slew of photography enthusiasts and Tobin’s brother. She hadn’t prepared for a family affair. 

“You look amazing,” Tobin said, finally finding her voice. 

Christen felt a blush immediately heat her cheeks, but she was still too hung up on the fact that she was moments away from meeting Tobin’s mom. She reached out and punched Tobin lightly in the arm.

“You could have warned me!” Christen hissed under her breath, conscious about the other people around them.

“Excuse me?” Tobin laughed, rubbing at her arm. 

“I didn’t know your mom was going to be here! I would have worn something way more appropriate,” Christen protested, wrapping an arm around her stomach to cover the inch of bare skin visible between the bottom of her crop top and the waistband of her skirt.

“I literally told you that my mom would take a picture and use it as a Christmas card, hence the need for a new outfit,” Tobin defended, a goofy smile still on her face at the unnecessary panic on Christen’s face. 

“I didn’t- I didn’t understand that’s what that meant!”

“My mom’s seen skin before. You’re not gonna scandalize her. I’m showing more skin than you,” Tobin said, pointing at the spaghetti straps and the miles of leg showing beneath her dress. 

“Yeah but you look beautiful and I was in such a rush I don’t even remember if I put deodorant on,” Christen grumbled, stepping into Tobin’s arms and dropping her forehead to Tobin’s bare shoulder to hide her flushed cheeks.

Tobin leaned forward and sniffed comically, trying to make Christen smile and take away her worry. “Nope, you smell amazing as usual. And you look beautiful, and you don’t look like you rushed at all. I love your curls by the way,” Tobin added, knowing that Christen had planned to straighten her hair. 

Christen leaned her forehead off of Tobin’s shoulder and fixed her with a look. “You’re not just saying that because I’m buying you sushi after this?”

“I’m saying it because you look beautiful and have nothing to worry about,” Tobin said, quickly squeezing Christen’s hand in her own.

Christen’s blush deepened as she got a little lost in Tobin’s brown eyes, as her fingers involuntarily tangled with Tobin’s. She let herself indulge in this moment, in the way her heart raced in her chest and the way her stomach twisted with not just want, but with feelings she still wasn’t ready for.

“Thank you,” Christen whispered with a small smile.

“Anytime,” Tobin winked. “I am excited about the sushi after this, though.”

“You made it!” Cindy called, holding two glasses of red wine. 

Christen whipped her head around, immediately stepping out of Tobin’s space and dropping Tobin’s hand.

“I’m Cindy, Tobs’s mom.”

“Christen. Nice to meet you,” Christen replied with a polite smile.

“It’s nice to meet you. Do you like red wine? I wasn’t sure what you like to drink, but Jeff can always run back for something else,” Cindy offered, making Jeff roll his eyes behind his mom’s back. 

“No need, I say yes to all wines,” Christen grinned, taking the offered glass from Cindy’s hand. “Thank you so much.”

Jeff handed Tobin her beer and sent Christen an ‘I’m sorry’ look that looked so similar to Tobin’s. 

“When are Katie and Perry getting here? They’ll be jealous we met you first,” Cindy winked. 

Christen choked a little bit on her wine, recovering quickly and shooting daggers across the top of her glass at Tobin. She subconsciously tugged at the hem of her crop top to try and cover just a bit more of her stomach.

“Who?” Christen asked, her voice slightly hoarse, her eyes fixed on the sheepish look on Tobin’s face.

“Tobin Powell Heath,” Cindy chastised. “You didn’t tell this girl about your sisters?”

“I mean...their names didn’t come up,” Tobin shrugged. It wasn’t like she could tell her mom that their relationship or lack thereof was much more physical than verbal...or at least that’s how it had started. 

“Please forgive my daughter and her lack of manners,” Cindy teased, squeezing Tobin’s arm gently. 

“It’s fine. I love surprises,” Christen replied, arching a brow in Tobin’s direction before taking another sip of wine. 

“Sorry,” Tobin mumbled. “Family picture for the holiday card, remember?”

“Right,” Christen said with an amused smirk, shaking her head a little in Tobin’s direction.

“Eyes on the sushi,” Tobin grimaced, knowing she’d be apologizing later for not properly preparing Christen for the whole family. 

“Oh, sushi? Are we all going out after this?” Jeff asked excitedly, clapping his hands together.

“Actually-” Tobin started, taking a swig of her beer and wishing she could escape this moment with Christen sending anxious looks her way and her mom squeezing her arm tightly in excitement. 

“Jeffy, let the girls go on their date night. Don’t be lame and invite us along,” Cindy tsked, rolling her eyes affectionately at her son.

“YOU MET THE GIRLFRIEND BEFORE ME?!” Katie yelled, her voice directed at Jeff. 

Christen felt her stomach drop, her entire body freezing up at the word girlfriend . She and Tobin weren’t dating. They weren’t girlfriends. They were...well most days Christen didn’t know exactly what they were, but they certainly weren’t that. They couldn’t be. She couldn’t date Tobin, she couldn’t risk her heart again. She especially couldn’t do it when Tobin already had a stronger hold on her than Lily ever did. 

She had thought she loved Lily, that she was in love with her. But everything she felt for Lily paled in comparison to the feelings she harbored for Tobin, and that was the most terrifying thing of all.

“I’m sorry, if you’ll excuse me for a second,” Christen said tightly, moving immediately away from the Heath family and toward the restroom at the back of the studio.

“Katie,” Tobin groaned, running a hand through her wavy hair. 

“What?” Katie asked, slightly breathless from moving across the studio so fast. 

“I’m confused,” Jeff observed, his forehead furrowed. “Are you not together?”

“Not technically. I don’t know,” Tobin shrugged, feeling uncomfortable with three sets of eyes on her.

“Then what are you?” Cindy asked curiously.

“Complicated,” Tobin sighed. “I mean, she doesn’t want a relationship. Or at least she didn’t. I do but...”

“What the hell are you talking to us for? Go after her!” Katie instructed, shooing Tobin away.

“Yeah, okay,” Tobin sighed, handing her beer to Jeff and making her way back to the bathroom. 

Tobin wished that she could freeze time, that she could call A.D. or talk to her mom a little longer or ask someone for advice. She wished that she could press pause and just take a few deep breaths because she was about to say things that she’d been putting off throughout this entire messy, complicated situation. 

But, she couldn’t pause the moment or take a breather. Instead, she pushed through the bathroom door and into the whirlwind that was Christen Press. 

“Such an idiot. You’re such an idiot,” Christen whispered to herself, pacing the length of the bathroom, a hand held over her eyes.

“I don’t think you’re an idiot,” Tobin said, locking the door softly behind her. 

Christen’s head shot up, her hand falling to her side. “Yeah, well I feel like one,” Christen sighed.

“Why?” Tobin asked, her eyebrows furrowing at what Christen could possibly feel idiotic about. 

Christen looked like she wanted to say something, something that put a sparkle of fear into her eyes, but it passed quickly. Instead, she crossed her arms over her chest and hardened her gaze. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because your family shows up and starts calling me your girlfriend, but somewhere along the way, that message didn’t get delivered to me.”

“They just made an assumption,” Tobin said, her chest suddenly feeling tight at the way Christen’s words made her heart ache with longing. The word girlfriend left Christen’s mouth with so much vitriol, with disdain, and Tobin suddenly felt a weight pressing against her throat, threatening to cut off all air supply. Christen doesn’t want this. She doesn’t want you like that. 

“Well they assumed wrong.”

Tobin’s throat felt too thick. They hadn’t had this conversation because she’d known exactly how it would go. She’d imagined Christen saying she didn’t care, that sex was fun but meant nothing more than the physical pleasure it brought, that being with Tobin was better than being alone but nothing more. Tobin hadn’t brought up feelings because she’d been afraid of Christen saying something just like that. 

“Right,” Tobin nodded, clenching her jaw a few times and trying to focus on that instead of the nausea that rolled through her stomach. 

“I thought we were on the same page,” Christen mumbled, hiding behind her words and her crossed arms, hiding from her feelings because they were the most terrifying feelings she’d ever felt and she wasn’t ready. She wasn’t ready for this to be more than what it was.

“Clearly we weren’t,” Tobin huffed. “You don’t just go out to dinner and the movies and have weekly TV nights and sleep over with someone you’re just fucking to fuck.”

Christen recoiled at the bite in Tobin’s words, caught a little off guard at the sudden shift in the woman standing in front of her. 

“We’re friends. Friends they- they do that,” Christen defended, the words feeling weak as they left her tongue, the words feeling weaker when they made Tobin clench her jaw and shake her head.

“Maybe you and Lily did that, but I don’t think I can,” Tobin sighed.

“That’s a really shitty thing to say to me,” Christen replied, her heart fracturing just a bit in her chest at the insinuation that what she and Lily had was at all similar to what she and Tobin shared. 

“Why? She’s the reason we even started this in the first place,” Tobin groaned, running a hand across her forehead. She suddenly hated that Lily had been the reason. She was suddenly furious with herself for agreeing to this arrangement when she and Christen both deserved more. 

Christen felt her anger rising in time with Tobin’s, her frustration building right alongside Tobin’s. Her heart hurt and her head was pounding and it all felt like too much .

“Well maybe we shouldn’t have started this then,” Christen shot back, regretting her words immediately, but unable to take them back. They were out there. Her words, dripping with lies and masked feelings, were hanging in the air between them and there was nothing Christen could do to recall them.

Tobin’s eyes snapped to Christen’s for the briefest moment before lowering down to look at her own feet and the uncomfortable heels she’d paired with the dress. She knew Christen had seen the hurt in her eyes, despite the brevity of the glance. She could tell Christen had seen it by the uncomfortable silence that surrounded them. There wasn’t anger anymore. The tension had deflated, and a deafening silence was left in its wake. 

“I didn’t- I didn’t mean that,” Christen managed, her voice quieter, wavering ever so slightly.

“I’ve been someone’s phase before, someone’s experiment, someone’s rebound, and I can’t do that again,” Tobin whispered. 

“That’s not what this is,” Christen protested weakly. This was more than a phase or an experiment or a rebound. This was more than that in every way. Even if it was undefined, even if they’d gone into this under the guise of meaningless sex, this was more than the twisted, toxic thing that had existed with Lily, than the history of heartbreaks in Tobin’s past. The fact that Tobin even questioned that made those fractures in Christen’s heart widen and worsen.

“I don’t want to be your second choice or the Band-Aid that holds things together,” Tobin said, her voice growing a little wobbly. “And I think I’ve been kidding myself a little, thinking that you felt more. That’s on me,” she added, looking up at the ceiling, her jaw clicking as she clenched it even tighter closed. It was starting to hurt. She was starting to worry that she might crack a tooth, but she had to hold it together, she couldn’t let everything spill out. She couldn’t let Christen see her fall apart. 

“But-” Christen tried to protest, her voice failing her a bit and Tobin’s voice continuing, undeterred.

“But I can’t fall any harder if you aren’t falling too. I don’t want to just love you. I want to be in love with you. This was never meaningless to me,” Tobin whispered as her chest tightened, constricting around her heart. 

Tobin couldn’t let the tears fall here and now, and she knew they were coming. She needed to get out of this bathroom, to leave while she still could, while the honest words were still floating in the air. She wasn’t far from home. She could get in bed and fall asleep and pretend like everything was okay. But the sheets still smelled like Christen, and the two coffee cups in her sink would remind her of waking up that morning with the other woman on her chest. 

So instead of going home, Tobin fled the bathroom, told her family she’d see them tomorrow for dinner, and slipped her heels off, racing to her nearest friend’s house to crash. 

Kling didn’t ask questions. She didn’t say I told you so. She made up her couch and left Tobin to finally let the floodgates open, let the tears fall, let the weight of every feeling she’d shoved under the bed for the past four months wash over her all at once. 

~

Christen threw her purse across the apartment, sinking onto the couch and dropping her head into her hands.

The words kept replaying over and over in her mind. I don’t want to just love you. I want to be in love with you. This was never meaningless to me.

Tobin loved her. Tobin was in love with her. 

Christen would be kidding herself if she said she was surprised. She’d known it; she’d seen it in the soft looks Tobin gave her; she’d felt it in the kisses Tobin pressed to her forehead when Tobin thought she was asleep. It was in every word and every action and every gesture. 

Christen would be kidding herself if she said she didn’t feel the same way. She’d known it, she’d felt it every time Tobin laughed or shot her that lopsided grin that made her stomach flip. She’d felt it in every touch and kiss and embrace between them for the past few weeks, if not longer.  

Christen loved Tobin. She was in love with Tobin.

Letting out a ragged breath, Christen started to rock back and forth on the couch, pressing the heels of her hands against her closed eyes. 

She couldn’t love Tobin, though. She couldn’t, not when the last time she’d loved someone it had ended so poorly. It had ended with her crying, alone, on the bathroom floor. It had completely removed her from any comfort or security; it had reduced her to almost nothing. It had left her in a free fall, with nowhere safe to land.

But...that love, if she could even call it that, had led her to Tobin. It had led her to the safest place to land. 

It had led her to the one person who could make her smile or laugh no matter how horrible her day had been. It had led her to the one person who never treated her like a commodity or took her for granted. It had led her to the one person who she wanted to spend her days with and her nights with and every single moment in between.

But when Tobin had expressed the same wants and desires, Christen had frozen. She had remained silent, her fear making any possible response die on her tongue. She had watched Tobin walk out of the restroom and realized that she hadn’t actually ever known heartbreak before. 

She thought she had, with Lily. She thought she’d learned the ins and outs of misery. She thought she’d become a pro at taking blows, shaking them off, and forging on. She thought she’d understood, at a deep, visceral level what pain and hurt and anguish felt like. 

But watching Tobin walk away from her, watching Tobin believe that she was the only one falling in love here and that this was still meaningless to Christen, that had been pain. That had been hurt. That had been anguish. 

Four months ago, Tobin had said something to her. She’d said: “Now you know you’re strong enough to say it, hopefully sooner the next time.”

But she hadn’t said it sooner. She’d been ruled by fear once again, her love sitting on the back of her tongue and remaining unvoiced. She hadn’t learned her lesson. She hadn’t done things differently this time. And that was possibly the most heartbreaking thing of all. She’d had a chance to do things differently, because this thing with Tobin was different and wonderful, and she’d squandered it.

Christen blindly reached for her purse, pulling out her phone. She quickly called Crystal, needing someone to talk to, someone to help her work through what to do next, someone to hold her hand and tell her that it was okay to be scared but she shouldn’t let it continue to rule her life.

And that was exactly what Crystal did. After coming over and pouring them each a glass of wine, after hearing Christen recount everything, not just from tonight but from the entire saga of their not-so-relationship, Crystal fixed Christen with a look that oozed tough love.

“It was obvious you two loved each other when you came over for wine night two weeks ago,” Crystal said gently. 

“How?” Christen asked, her voice rough after spending so long explaining things.  

“She looks at you like everything you say is the most important thing in the world, and you look at her like she’s the funniest person on the planet, even when her jokes are total dad jokes,” Crystal answered. 

Christen nodded thoughtfully, dropping her gaze down to her fidgeting hands in her lap. 

“I fucked this one up too, didn’t I?”

“I think this is a very different situation,” Crystal said honestly. “You and Lily were never gonna work. She’s the straightest person I know, and she’s kind of an asshole. Tobin actually loves you back. So, yes you totally fucked up, but I don’t think it’s comparable, and I don’t think it’s a lost cause.”

Christen reached out and clung to Crystal’s offered hand like a life line. “I’m so scared, Crys. I don’t know if I can be broken like that again. I don’t know if I can do that again,” Christen whispered fiercely, her eyes filling with tears.

“Unrequited love hurt you, but that’s not what you have with Tobin. Unless...you don’t feel the same way about her. In that case, you need to cut Tobin loose,” Crystal sighed. 

“I didn’t want to feel the same way. I never wanted to love anyone ever again because love was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. But...now it’s not,” Christen admitted, her voice quiet but sure. 

“Are you over her?” Crystal asked. 

“Lily?” Christen scoffed. “Very much so.” 

“Good because you can’t keep being scared and mourning the life you didn’t get. It’s keeping you from living the life you could have. And I’m just gonna go ahead and say that it seems like your silence and the way you pretended not to care probably made Tobin feel like a fun distraction for the Lily feelings, and no one wants to feel like the backup plan.”

Christen took a second to ponder that, the sick realization that Crystal was right washing over her quickly. She recalled Tobin using the words second choice and Band-Aid earlier tonight and her stomach rolled at the thought. 

“But that’s not what it was. It might have started that way but...it hasn’t been that way for me in a long time. I never- I never thought she thought that,” Christen said, her heart tightening painfully in her chest. 

“Sweetie, she was clearly too freaked out to tell you about her feelings, so her sister had to bring them up for her and force you two to talk,” Crystal said, squeezing Christen’s hand in her own. “I just think she needs to hear that from you. She needs you to tell her that she’s not the backup plan, that she’s the main course not the side dish...do you need more metaphors?”

Christen shook her head and blew out a long breath. “She’s not a backup plan or a diversion. She’s...she’s the plan for me, Crys.”

“And it sounds like she wants you to be her plan,” Crystal said, wishing she could wave a wand and make the sad look on her best friend’s face disappear. 

With a nod, Christen shot to her feet. “You’re right. I should go talk to her. I can fix this. I need to fix this.”

“Do you know what you’re going to say?” Crystal asked, rising to her feet to meet Christen’s eyes. 

“I’ll wing it,” Christen shrugged.

“Or you could sleep on it,” Crystal suggested, thinking about how many times unplanned conversations went wrong. 

Christen didn’t want to wait. She didn’t want to sleep on it. She wanted to fix things and clear the air and kiss Tobin with everything she felt inside, instead of kissing her and praying Tobin couldn’t feel how much it meant to her.

But then she paused and took Crystal’s words to heart. Maybe she should wait. Maybe she should sleep on it so she could go into the conversation fresh and rested and prepared. 

“I can fix this right?” Christen asked softly, her voice slightly trembling and very vulnerable.

“If you tell her everything you just told me and if she actually listens, then...yes, I think you can fix this,” Crystal nodded. “Do you want me to stay here tonight?” 

“It’s okay. I know you have work tomorrow,” Christen replied, waving off Crystal’s offer. 

“I don’t care. Your couch is huge, and I’d honestly prefer knowing you’re holding it together and not chickening out on going after what will make you happy,” Crystal said.  

“My bed is also huge, and I changed the sheets today so,” Christen chuckled.

“Lovely,” Crystal grinned. “The two of you have insane endurance. I really thought the almost daily sex would end after the first month, but damn,” Crystal chuckled, taking Christen’s hand and tugging her toward her bedroom. 


“I can feel you guys staring at me,” Tobin said, emptying the cash register and stacking the bills on the counter. 

She’d woken up at 9:45 that morning on Kling’s couch to all three of her friends hovering over her with coffee and breakfast and tissues. Despite their sweet intentions, Tobin had felt suffocated, like at any minute, she’d break all over again, this time with an audience. It hadn’t gotten better at work. She’d spent most of her night locked in the back office and filling out paperwork and order forms for new axe-throwing targets. But any time that she’d stepped out to help a customer or wait a few tables, her friends had trailed behind her with worried expressions on their faces, with pity in their eyes. 

“We’re just concerned, Boss,” Megan shrugged.

“And we’re here if you want to talk,” A.D. chimed in, offering Tobin a reassuring smile.

“What’s there to talk about? I shot my shot, and she didn’t feel the same way. It happens all the time,” Tobin said, keeping her voice even and steady, despite the tightness in her throat. 

“Are you sure she doesn’t? Because the way she looks at you-” Kling tried to interject, only to be shot down by Tobin.

“She said my family assumed wrong when they assumed we were together, so I’m gonna say I’m sure,” Tobin huffed, shoving the bills and random coins into the small bag she was holding. 

Kling looked like she wanted to argue, to say more, but A.D. grabbed onto her shoulder. 

“I’m sorry, Tobs,” A.D. sighed, hating the hurt she could see written on her friend’s face. “We’ll get out of your hair.”

“I’ll see you guys tomorrow,” Tobin said, mindlessly stacking a few clean glasses and putting them on a shelf under the bar. When she heard none of her friends move away, she glanced up, feeling slightly bad for basically telling them to leave her alone. “I’ll text you all when I get home safe and sound tonight, okay?” 

“We’re holding you to that,” Megan said, wagging her finger in Tobin’s direction. “If we don’t get one, we’re gonna kill you ourselves.” A.D. and Kling nodded along with Megan’s empty threat.

“I will take a selfie when I’m curled up and watching an HGTV show,” Tobin promised, holding up two fingers in a scout’s honor salute. 

Her three friends gave her salutes back and then headed for the front door, throwing worried looks over their shoulders as they left Tobin alone in the bar.

Tobin grabbed a bottle of beer from the small fridge at the back of the bar and quickly popped the cap off of it, taking a swig and letting the bubbles tickle her throat on the way down. 

This place had been normal and safe. Her spot behind the bar had been her place , but now her bar was Christen’s too. Christen had touched every single part of her life, and she couldn’t even fill out boring paperwork without thinking about the woman walking into her office. The worst part was that Tobin had done this to herself. She’d gotten into a friends with benefits situation, and even when she’d developed feelings, she hadn’t pulled away. 

Tobin walked out from behind the bar, and over to Target Seven. The axes had all been pulled out of the wall and hung at the end of the aisle. She quickly picked one up with her left hand, still holding her beer in her right and threw it as hard as she could into the target, watching as a weak spot on the target splintered and cracked. She threw axe after axe at Target Seven, letting the anger she felt toward herself and toward the entire situation, spill out. 

Tobin hadn’t fully understood Christen when she’d first met her. She hadn’t fully understood why she was so incredibly broken up about Lily. She’d empathized; she’d remembered girls in college who’d used her to experiment and tossed her aside, but that had been different. She hadn’t loved them.

She understood Christen loud and clear now. She knew exactly what it felt like to love someone and lose them, to love someone and realize that they didn’t feel the same. And suddenly Tobin couldn’t help but wonder if this was exactly how Christen had felt when she’d thrown that first axe. Because suddenly, all the emotions Tobin had been schooling all day to avoid any more pity were flowing freely through her body, propelling axe after axe into Target Seven, then Target Six, then Target Five, pausing to grab another beer before starting on Target Four.

“Shit,” Tobin grumbled, looking at the dribble of beer that had slipped from the neck of her bottle after her latest throw. 

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” came a soft voice from behind Tobin, making her freeze.

Tobin couldn’t turn around. She wouldn’t, not when that face and those perfect green eyes were taking over her brain as it was, not when her spaces weren’t safe anymore. Tobin slowly picked up another axe, lifting it slowly, so that Christen knew she was going to throw it and would get out of the way. Then she jerked her arm forward, releasing the axe with far too much power behind it. It hit the bullseye, sending a few pieces of the target falling to the ground. 

“Are you just going to throw axes all night?” Christen asked, dropping the few napkins she’d picked up for Tobin and her spilled beer onto the table near Target Four.

“I get a discount,” Tobin mumbled, taking another sip of beer. 

“I’ll just wait you out then,” Christen replied, dropping into the stool at the table near Target Four. She’d come here to say her peace, to tell Tobin everything she wanted to, but she wasn’t about to do that when Tobin had a sharp weapon in her hand.

Tobin’s next five throws were not as impressive as the last. They were off mark, a couple bouncing off the target and landing on the ground. It suddenly seemed like the wind had gone out of her sails, like she couldn’t throw with all of her bottled up emotions when Christen was sitting there watching. 

“You can keep the sweatpants. What else do you want?” Tobin asked, turning around and finally looking at the other woman. 

Christen swallowed the small flicker of hurt she felt at the harsh tone of Tobin’s voice, at the hardness in those usually warm brown eyes. 

“I wanted to apologize,” Christen replied, her hands twisting the napkins nervously.

“You’re forgiven. It was my bad,” Tobin shrugged, moving around Christen and back toward the bar. She hadn’t planned on drinking to get drunk tonight, but right now it sounded like a nice idea. 

Christen huffed and quickly trailed after Tobin. “I don’t even know what that means. I’m trying to apologize for what happened at your brother’s photography thing.”

“I know, and I accept the apology. I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have made it complicated or whatever,” Tobin said, grabbing a third beer and heading to Target Three. 

Christen felt her annoyance flare, watching Tobin walk away from her again. “If you’d stop for five seconds, you’d give me a chance to tell you that I’m sorry because this was never meaningless to me either,” Christen called out, her voice going soft at the end. 

Tobin froze halfway between the bar and the aisle for Target Three. Her heart simultaneously raced and ached at Christen’s words. She didn’t want to hope. She didn’t want to feel that warmth spreading through her chest, just for it to be extinguished and leave her with a cracking heart. 

“I’m sorry that I was scared. I’m sorry that I figured out what I wanted but I wasn’t strong enough or brave enough to say anything. I’m sorry I made you feel like you were just a distraction or a fix-it fuck. I’m sorry, Tobin. I’m so so sorry,” Christen continued, her voice as soft as ever as she slowly approached Tobin, as she hesitated a few inches away, unsure if she could broach the final bit of space between them. Tobin’s back was still to her and she had no idea how her words were landing, but at least she was saying them. She was finally saying them.

“Please don’t just say that if you don’t mean it,” Tobin mumbled, her chin and bottom lip wobbling a little, no matter how tightly she clenched her jaw. 

Christen slowly moved around Tobin, moving to face her. She took a deep breath and met Tobin’s watery eyes, feeling her own eyes start to water too. 

“The first time we talked in this bar...I thought you were full of shit,” Christen began, a wry smile tugging at her lips as her eyes watered. “Telling me that you couldn’t be in love with someone who didn’t love you back. Telling me that you had to be in love with them, together. I- I thought you were wrong,” she continued, checking her desire to reach out, to touch Tobin. Instead she forged on, needing to get this all out. 

“It took me four months to realize you were right. It took me four months to realize you were right because...we were falling in love together. I don’t just love you, Tobin Heath, I’m in love with you because you’re in love with me too. I’m not saying it to say it. I mean it. These past four months have been more meaningful to me than anything else in my entire life,” Christen finished, her heart hammering in her chest and a few tears spilling down her cheeks.

Tobin’s heart ached for an entirely different reason now. Her chest tightened because the woman she loved most was crying in front of her, because Christen looked hurt and scared, because she looked vulnerable in their place.

So, Tobin broached the space between them. She put her third beer on the floor and reached out to run both of her thumbs under Christen’s eyes, wiping away the tears that were slipping down her face, the same tears that were reflected in her own eyes. 

“I am full of shit most of the time,” Tobin admitted, remembering what she’d said to Christen. While it had been her honest opinion, it had also been a desperate attempt to make Christen feel better. 

Christen let out a wet laugh, using her own hands to wipe away the tears on Tobin’s cheeks. “Not about this,” Christen said with a small shake of her head. “You were right, and I’m sorry it took me so long. I’m- I’m so sorry.”

“I think that’s enough sorrys,” Tobin said, pressing her cheek into Christen’s hand. “I love you back, and I’m- I’m really really glad that I get to be in love with you.”

A delighted laugh bubbled up out of Christen at the way the word love made her heart soar instead of break. She’d spent two decades cursing love and hating love. She’d spent so much of her life afraid of it, thinking it was filled only with sharp edges and jagged corners and pain. She’d spent so long believing that love and happiness were mutually exclusive things. But right now, with Tobin cradling her face and looking at her with those soft, warm brown eyes, Christen realized she’d been oh so very wrong about love. 

“Say it again,” Christen whispered, a smile tugging at her lips.

“I’m in love with you, and for the past couple months, I’ve been making love to you. I’m really, really looking forward to making love to you while being in love with you,” Tobin added, a lump forming in her throat, threatening to send gloriously happy tears down her face. 

“Me too,” Christen murmured, leaning in slowly, giving Tobin time to pull away. She wanted to kiss Tobin. She wanted to kiss her with the love she felt and she wanted Tobin to kiss her with the love she felt. 

They’d kissed so many times over these past four months, but they’d all been kisses of half-truths and deceptions and hidden meanings. They’d been kisses that wished for more but didn’t think more was possible. But now, this could be a kiss that wished for more and got more, because more was possible.

Tobin forced herself to meet Christen’s slow speed. She wanted to race forward, to wrap her arms around Christen and kiss her senseless, but she followed Christen’s lead, understanding the significance of this first kiss after everything that had been shared between them. 

She met Christen in the middle, wrapping her arms around Christen’s waist and pressing her lips gently against Christen’s. It wasn’t their most heated kiss, their most feverish, their most desperate, but it still made one of them whimper. Tobin couldn’t even tell who, since they were pressed against one another, both re-exploring each other slowly and carefully, with as much tender love as they possibly could. 

“Take me to bed,” Christen whispered against Tobin’s lips, repeating a request she’d made dozens of times these past few months. But this time, she let her words fill with every bit of love and want and passion and care that she felt.

Tobin kept an arm around Christen or a hand tangled in Christen’s as she flipped off lights, poured her untasted third beer down the drain, and locked the money from the register into the safe. 

“Do you have a preference?” Tobin mumbled against Christen’s cheek as she locked the front door of the bar.

“Yours. I never got the chance to take that black dress off,” Christen replied with a playful smirk, her eyebrows waggling.

“I’m in a flannel, and you’re not wearing that sexy number from the studio opening, so no dice. Maybe I’ll convince you to go to dinner with me sometime this week and I’ll do an outfit repeat,” Tobin grinned, leading Christen down the street in the direction of her townhouse. 

“An outfit repeat? For me?” Christen teased.

“Anytime,” Tobin nodded with a smile.

~

Tobin felt nerves that she’d never felt with Christen before. She wanted this to be good. She knew they were physically good together, but she wanted loving one another to be good. She wanted this to never change, even if everything had changed.

She locked her front door, took Christen’s coat for her, and hung it near the front door with her own. The two of them walked hand and hand upstairs, the silence between them comfortable but weighted with the words they’d just shared. 

“We did this so out of order,” Christen chuckled, leaning into Tobin’s side as they made their way down the hallway to Tobin’s bedroom.

Tobin let out some of her nerves with a soft laugh. “We really did.”

“I’m just glad I fell in love with someone who’s super great in bed,” Christen grinned, knocking her hip into Tobin’s, trying to dispel the rest of the nerves she could see on Tobin’s face. 

Surprisingly, Christen wasn’t nervous. They’d always managed to figure this part out, the physical stuff. It had come naturally and easy to them, so Christen wasn’t worried about it being difficult. If anything, she knew it would be even easier, now that they’d shared their feelings with one another.

Tobin shut her bedroom door behind them and slowly walked Christen backwards, so that Christen’s back was pressed against the door. “You’re a very confident woman, did you know that?” Tobin asked, smiling at Christen’s bright eyes, eyes that seemed unabashedly full of love. 

Christen slipped her pointer finger into the belt loops of Tobin’s jeans and pulled Tobin flush against her. “In some areas, yes,” Christen replied with a matching smile.

Tobin slipped her hands under the hem of Christen’s sweater, keeping her eyes on Christen’s. “This gets to come off?” she asked, just like she had dozens of times since early on when Christen hadn’t wanted to be completely naked, when she’d wanted some distance, a barrier. 

“I love that you always ask me that,” Christen whispered, lifting her arms over her head. “And I’m sorry I said no before, but I’m not planning on saying no again.”

Christen had spent four months in the gray area, trying to simultaneously hide and call out for help. She wanted Tobin to see her, but she also wanted Tobin to never get behind her walls. She had kept her shirt, and most of her clothes for that matter, on, or partially on, during a lot of their interactions as a way to protect herself, to keep distance between them. But there was no need for distance anymore. Now, there could be closeness and intimacy. Now, Tobin could see all of her, inside and out.

Tobin lifted the sweater over Christen’s head, depositing it on the floor and leaning in to capture Christen’s lips with her own. She let her hands explore the smooth skin over Christen’s back, relishing in how familiar and new everything felt. 

Christen made quick of the buttons of Tobin’s flannel, pushing it down her shoulders in an effort to even things up. She ghosted her hands up and down Tobin’s sides, her lips moving against Tobin’s with practiced ease.

“You’re beautiful,” Tobin whispered, trailing her fingers over Christen’s hips and letting a few of them slip under the waistband of Christen’s jeans. “Do these get to come off too?” 

“Anytime and every time,” Christen smirked, using Tobin’s turn of phrase and adding her own spin to it.

“Did you just expand upon my catchphrase?” Tobin gasped, popping the button of Christen’s jeans. 

“I did, and I can think of at least six different ways you can thank me,” Christen grinned, leaning back against the door for something solid to support her. She was already feeling weak in the knees and they’d barely done more than lose their shirts. With the love now acknowledged between them, things weren't just easier, things were hotter and more intense and better. So much better.

Tobin rolled her eyes affectionately and unzipped the jeans, kneeling down on the floor, so that she could pull the jeans down Christen’s legs and help Christen step out of them. She tossed the jeans aside and looked at the long smooth legs in front of her. 

Tobin planned on taking her time. She planned on loving every single part of Christen, since she finally could. So, she kissed every inch of Christen’s legs, pausing every so often to whisper something to Christen. 

“I love this scar,” Tobin mumbled, ghosting her lips over Christen’s knee. 

Christen felt a stuttering breath leave her lips, her hand at the back of Tobin’s head tightening its grip in her hair. 

“Fishing hook. I was-” Christen’s head pushed further back into the door as Tobin’s hands moved up and down the backs of her thighs, gently pushing them open. “-saving a turtle as a kid and got caught on a fishing line.”

“You’re adorable. I love this freckle too,” Tobin whispered, committing each word Christen shared to her memory and pressing a kiss to Christen’s thigh, right above her knee. 

“Born with it, no cool story this time,” Christen husked.

“I love your hips,” Tobin grinned, kissing her way across Christen’s hips. 

With a few gasps and moans, Christen tried to push her hips off the door, trying to guide Tobin just a little further down. 

“I’m not making love to you against this door, though,” Tobin chuckled. “Not for the first time since…”

Christen blinked her eyes open and looked down at Tobin, a soft, wonderstruck smile making its way onto her face.

“Then I’ll say it again, take me to bed,” Christen murmured.

“So impatient,” Tobin smirked, wrapping her arms around Christen’s waist and guiding her back toward the bed. 

“You love it,” Christen replied, reaching down to pop open the button of Tobin’s jeans, intent on keeping things very even tonight.

“I do,” Tobin agreed, walking Christen backwards until Christen’s legs hit the side of her mattress. 

“I can’t believe you do,” Christen whispered, sinking down onto the bed, an awestruck smile on her face as she toyed with the waistband of Tobin’s jeans.

“You can’t believe I love you?” Tobin asked, stepping in between Christen’s legs and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “You’re extremely lovable. You’re smart and funny and beautiful and amazing in bed. And sometimes, when you think I’m asleep, you rub my back,” Tobin added with a smirk. 

Christen leaned her forehead against Tobin’s stomach, her arms wrapping around Tobin’s waist. 

“I just...I spent a lot of time doubting those things. This all feels a bit surreal to me right now,” Christen mumbled into Tobin’s shirt.

“But it’s very real,” Tobin promised, pressing her fingers into the tight muscles at the back of Christen’s neck. 

Christen nodded against Tobin’s stomach, not entirely trusting her voice right now. 

“Can I ask you something?” Tobin murmured, scratching gently against the back of Christen’s neck. 

“Anytime and every time,” Christen replied, her arms tightening around Tobin’s waist.

“Are you free after work on Tuesday?” 

Christen tilted her head, propping her chin against Tobin’s stomach, and looked up at Tobin, a small smile making its way onto her face. 

“Yes,” Christen hummed.

“Good, because I’d really like to take you to dinner, but I need you to know that I’m considering it a date...like a ‘pick you up at your door and walk you home after’ kind of date,” Tobin said, sinking into the new warm feeling that was washing through her entire body. 

“Good, because I want it to be,” Christen grinned.

“I don’t do that with friends,” Tobin added, leaning down to press a kiss to Christen’s forehead. 

“Good times two,” Christen sighed, her eyes fluttering shut at the feeling of Tobin’s lips on her skin. 

“And now I’d like to make love to you,” Tobin whispered, pushing Christen back onto the bed and following closely after her. 

“After you take these off,” Christen replied with a smirk, pushing at Tobin’s jeans as she pulled her lower lip between her teeth. “Please?”

“For you? Anytime,” Tobin smirked, slipping off of the bed and disposing of her jeans, adding it to the pile of clothes on the floor. When she crawled back onto the bed and sank down, pressing herself against Christen’s skin, her entire body felt warm and safe and comfortable in a way that she’d never felt before. 

Tobin continued to take her time, pressing her lips to every part of Christen’s stomach and chest, arms and legs and face. 

“Can I take these off?” Tobin asked, tracing her fingers over Christen’s bra and the waistband of her underwear. 

“Yes,” Christen rasped, her eyes already screwed tightly shut, her breathing already labored.

Tobin lifted Christen into a sitting position and wrapped her arms around her to reach the clasp of the bra. Her lips trailed over Christen’s neck and shoulder as she worked to get the piece of clothing off. Once Christen’s chest was bare, Tobin focused all of her attention to Christen’s breasts, swirling her tongue around each nipple and growing wetter as she heard each of the soft noises and responses that left Christen’s mouth. 

“I love you,” Tobin whispered as she slipped her thumbs under the waistband of Christen’s underwear and dragged the fabric down Christen’s legs. 

Christen had only heard those words a handful of times, had only gotten a few chances to hear the way Tobin’s voice grew softer and slower when she said those three words. But she was certain that she’d never grow tired of hearing them. After spending far too long hating love, she was now absolutely loving it.

“I love you, too,” Christen murmured, her eyes fluttering open so she could look down at where Tobin was dropping kisses to her ankles and her calves and her knees. A beaming, blissed-out smile played at her lips as she reached out to run her fingers through Tobin’s hair when Tobin was close enough. “God, I really love you.”

Tobin lowered her lips to Christen’s inner thighs, unable to stop herself from smiling against Christen’s skin. Her heart was swelling at Christen’s words, her stomach was flipping in complete adoration and anticipation, sending butterflies fluttering all the way up to her chest. She moved her lips upward until she reached the apex of Christen’s legs. 

This was how she’d first made Christen come apart, but this time she wouldn’t be on a bathroom counter in the back of a bar with an ugly dress on the floor. This time, Tobin wouldn’t be afraid to pour her entire self into every touch and kiss and flick of her tongue. 

Tobin had been terrified of time. She’d been afraid of going too fast or too slow. She’d longed to take her time but feared seeming too serious or intentional. Now, though, she could take all the time in the world; she could move intentionally and meaningfully without worrying about scaring Christen away or not having a next time.

She sank into the warmth pooling between Christen’s legs, moaning at the way Christen seemed to taste even better now that everything had been revealed between the two of them. 

“Right there. Yeah,” Christen gasped, pushing her hips up into Tobin’s mouth. She grasped desperately at the sheets and at the hair at the back of Tobin’s head, feeling like her entire body was on fire. “Mmmm, baby, right there,” Christen added, a moan spilling from her parted lips.

Heat shot through Tobin’s body at the pet name that slipped from Christen’s lips. 

“What was that?” Tobin murmured, pausing her ministrations but keeping her face between Christen’s legs, ready to continue as soon as her heart stopped threatening to thud through her ribcage. 

“What was what?” Christen whined, bucking off the bed and seeking out Tobin’s tongue. 

“What you just called me,” Tobin whispered, pressing her tongue to where Christen wanted her most. 

Christen whimpered, her back arching off the bed as Tobin moved her tongue in that swirling motion she loved so much.

“Baby,” she repeated, too far gone to be embarrassed at the accidental use of the pet name. She had loved the way it had rolled off her tongue with ease, loved the way it made her feel. “I called you baby,” she managed to add before another moan was ripped out of her.

Tobin groaned, moving her tongue at a slightly quicker pace, wanting to make Christen feel as amazing as that one, simple word had just made her feel. She slipped two fingers inside, nearly whimpering at the way Christen clenched around them. With curling fingers and an insistent tongue, Tobin brought Christen to the edge. 

They’d been here a countless number of times. She knew Christen. She knew Christen’s body. Christen’s legs tightened around her back, her hand fisted at the back of her neck, her abdomen tensed and tightened, and Tobin knew that Christen was seconds from tumbling over the edge. She curled her fingers once more, pulling her face away to glance up at Christen. 

“Come for me, baby,” Tobin husked, pressing kisses to Christen’s inner thighs. 

With a keening whine, Christen toppled over the edge, Tobin’s name now interspersed with I love you and baby as she rode the waves of pleasure each kiss and each curl of Tobin’s fingers brought. 

“I love that too,” Tobin smirked, moving up Christen’s body while she sucked her fingers clean. 

As she tried to catch her breath, Christen felt a dreamy smile make its way across her face as her eyes fluttered open.

“What’s that?” Christen asked, her voice light and breathy, her arms rising to wrap around Tobin’s shoulders.

“Making you come,” Tobin hummed, sinking down into Christen’s arms. 

A deep blush heated Christen’s cheeks as she nuzzled her nose along Tobin’s. “Want to hear something cool?”

“Hmm?” Tobin sighed, pressing another kiss to Christen’s shoulder. 

Christen hooked her leg around the back of Tobin’s and rolled them effortlessly, settling on top of Tobin. She felt her dreamy smile morph into a smirk at the sparkling surprise in Tobin’s brown eyes.

“I love that too,” Christen husked, capturing Tobin’s lips in a soft kiss. She took her time as well, finally feeling unhurried and unrushed for the first time in bed with Tobin. She let her lips and fingertips track across previously charted territory, but tonight, she kept her touch gentle and she used her lips to whisper words of love into Tobin’s skin. 

When Tobin’s bra and underwear had joined the growing pile of clothes on the floor, Christen knelt between Tobin’s legs, her fingertips ghosting up and down Tobin’s thighs as her eyes drank in the stunning vision on the bed beneath her. 

“So beautiful,” Christen whispered, almost to herself. She didn’t say it to be heard, she didn’t say it to compliment Tobin. The words had just slipped out, an observation that she’d made so many times and had to keep inside. But now, with Tobin laid bare before her, her honey brown hair spread out across the pillows and her lips pulled up into the sweetest smile, Christen let herself say the words again. “You’re so beautiful.” 

At the delicate blush heating Tobin’s cheeks, Christen felt a smile pull at her lips. Tobin was beautiful and she was going to tell Tobin that every day. And tonight, she was going to show Tobin just how beautiful she found her to be. 

Christen lavished Tobin. Christen cherished her; she revered her; she treasured her. She fell to her knees at Tobin’s altar and worshipped her, with deft strokes of her tongue and gentle caresses of her fingers. And right as she had built Tobin up, right as she was holding Tobin at the edge of desire, she looked up at the undone mess she’d rendered Tobin and smiled.

“I love you, baby,” she whispered before running her tongue through Tobin again, and again, and again, until she heard the choked groan and felt the tensing of Tobin’s body, until she knew she’d sent Tobin over the edge with nothing but love.


They fell asleep in the early hours of the morning, sated and tangled in each others’ arms, unafraid of cuddling or kissing or whispering each and every thought that spun through their minds. 

And that’s exactly how they woke up, warm and safe, cocooned in each others’ arms, with one exception. 

“I can’t believe I love someone who leaves their phone on loud,” Christen grumbled, burying her face further in the crook of Tobin’s neck and trying to ignore the ringing cell phone nearby, the one that had woken her up from the most peaceful night’s sleep she’d had in forever.

“I don’t,” Tobin whined, pulling the covers up further over the both of them. “It’s yours.”

“Mine’s downstairs in my coat pocket,” Christen replied, squeezing her eyes shut and tightening her arm around Tobin’s waist. “It’s yours.”

Tobin let out a grumpy whimper as the phone started ringing for a third time, stretching her arm out as far as she could and just barely snatching her phone off of the bedside table. 

“Hello?” she rasped, unable to mask her morning voice. 

“Tobs! Where are you? We said 10:30 for brunch right?” came Jeff’s voice on the other end of the line.

“Shoot, what time is it?” Tobin mumbled, blinking her eyes open slowly. 

“Um...10:20?” Jeff chuckled.

“Okay, give me twenty minutes. I’ll run. Sorry, dude,” Tobin sighed. 

“Twenty minutes for what?” Christen mumbled sleepily, not realizing Tobin hadn’t hung up yet.

“TOBS, WAS THAT A GIRL?” Jeff shrieked into the phone.

“I’ll see you in twenty. Order me a coffee,” Tobin grumbled, hanging up the phone call and dropping her phone onto the mattress. 

“What’s in twenty? I want to sleep,” Christen sighed, burrowing even closer to Tobin. 

“My mom and sisters are leaving Portland today. They wanted to do brunch before they left, and I promised to join them. You can stay and sleep. There’s coffee and bagels, and I’ll meet up with them really quickly. Maybe I can skip brunch, just drop by and say goodbye.”

“Can I come?” Christen asked quietly, her face still hidden in the crook of Tobin’s neck. It wasn’t just about spending time with Tobin. She wanted to go and try to make a better impression on Tobin’s family this time after rudely running off the other night. She wanted to show up on Tobin’s arm and not freak out at the word girlfriend . She wanted everything with Tobin, and this was one of the parts of everything.

“Really?” Tobin asked, trying to look down at Christen’s hidden face. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to. You can re-meet them next time they’re in town.”

Christen moved her face out of the crook of Tobin’s neck and shot her a shy, somewhat nervous smile. 

“I want to,” Christen replied softly.

“We have eighteen minutes,” Tobin sighed, unable to keep the dopey smile off her face. 

“We’re already late, what’s a few more minutes?” Christen hummed, tilting her head to press a lingering kiss to Tobin’s lips. “Good morning, by the way,” she whispered.

“Good morning,” Tobin murmured, her cheeks aching at the growing smile on her face. 

Christen moved her lips across the hard line of Tobin’s jaw, kissing down the side of her throat, her hands starting to wander across bare skin.

“I’m really looking forward to telling Jeff why we’re late,” Tobin laughed, wrapping her arms around Christen’s bare back. 

“Yeah, your girlfriend is a fan of morning sex,” Christen hummed, nipping gently at the corner of Tobin’s jaw as her hands traced lazy circles on Tobin’s stomach. 

“Oh really? I get to tell him that?” Tobin husked, her heart fluttering at the use of the word girlfriend. 

“Mhm,” Christen replied, her touch moving lower as her lips made their way back to Tobin’s. 

“I love you,” Tobin whispered between kisses. 

“I love you too, and I’m going to use six of those eighteen minutes to show you just how much.”

~

“It’s good to see you again,” Cindy smiled over her cup of coffee. 

“You’re the not girlfriend, right?” Perry asked, having missed the entire dramatic first meeting. 

“Actually, I’m the girlfriend,” Christen corrected. She smiled at the Heath family sitting around the brunch table and tightened her hold on Tobin’s hand.

“Oh, thank god,” Katie sighed, putting her mimosa down on the table. “I really thought I was gonna have to go all ‘protective oldest sister’ on you.”

“Not today,” Christen chuckled, leaning into Tobin’s side a bit and winking in Katie’s direction.

“What changed? Did Toby make you margaritas?” Perry asked, making a face at Tobin. 

Christen shot Tobin an amused, slightly confused look. “They know about margaritas?”

“Margaritas are a Heath family tradition,” Cindy said, sending a soft smile across the table at Christen and Tobin. 

“It’s how we seal the deal,” Katie said. “I sealed the deal with my now husband with the family margaritas.”

“It’s how I got this,” Perry added, holding up her hand and showing off an engagement ring. 

“I don’t have anyone in my life yet, but when I do, I’m totally making margaritas for them,” Jeff agreed. 

“So I was wooed with a family tradition?” Christen teased, her eyes crinkling as she smiled over at Tobin, who had the prettiest blush heating her cheeks.

“Take it as a compliment. We’re very selective about who gets to try the family recipe,” Tobin hummed. 

“Thank you for deeming me worthy,” Christen replied, lifting their clasped hands to her lips and pressing a kiss to Tobin’s knuckles.

“Are you kidding me? Toby’s shooting way out of her league,” Perry teased, getting a glare from Cindy. 

“Then she clearly hasn’t told you what I was wearing when we officially met,” Christen chuckled.

“Yes, I was so hoping we’d get the story!” Jeff grinned, leaning back in his chair. 

“G-rated,” Tobin whispered, hiding her face behind her coffee mug. 

Christen pursed her lips and felt a light blush color her cheeks. “Well, I showed up at her bar, for the second time, in the ugliest, most heinous, bubblegum pink bridesmaids dress ever, and somehow she still made me that margarita,” Christen replied, her thumb softly stroking along the back of Tobin’s hand as she spoke. 

“Bubble gum pink is totally Tobin’s type,” Katie smirked. 

“You brought out the margaritas that early?” Perry gasped, holding her hand over her heart like Tobin had taken some huge risk. 

“Do you see her?” Tobin mumbled, gesturing at Christen. Christen just shook her head at Tobin’s reply, feeling her blush deepen. 

“Fair point,” Perry snorted. “Continue.”

“Your turn,” Christen said with a smile, nudging Tobin and reaching out for her cup of coffee.

“Well, Chris hated the dress, so she stole my favorite pair of sweatpants out of my gym bag, and I still haven’t gotten them back,” Tobin said, taking a huge bite of her waffle to avoid having to say anymore, especially when her blush was growing at just the thought of what she and Christen had done in between taking the dress off and putting on the sweatpants. 

“They’re comfy,” Christen defended with a shrug. “Plus I let her come visit all the puppies at work, so we’re even.”

“Wait...what do you do?” Jeff asked, leaning forward with the same enamored look that Tobin always wore when puppies were mentioned. 

“She’s Portland’s favorite vet. She has her own clinic, and sometimes she gets to bring puppies home and lets me play with them,” Tobin bragged, leaning forward to match Jeff’s excitement. 

As Christen wiped away the bit of maple syrup from the corner of Tobin’s mouth, as she caught Tobin grinning over at her with that soft look in her eyes, Christen realized she’d unlearned everything she thought she knew about love. She then promptly realized that she’d learned something new.

She’d learned that love was the most wonderful thing ever invented in the history of the world.

Love was bold and brave and beautiful. Love was freeing and empowering and grounding.

Love was embracing the fact that the woman she’d spent the last four months getting to know, the one she’d been falling for, for equally as long, was her match in every way.

Love was embracing the fact that the person she loved more than anything, loved her back.

Love was realizing that nothing was going to change that fact.

Love was, without a doubt, the most perfect truth she’d ever lived.