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The bell above the door dinged as Tobin left the shop. She navigated the crowded boardwalk until there was enough space for her to put down her board and push off. She watched a dance troupe doing their opening bit as she skated by, and a little further down a man in green scrubs was advertising a dispensary. She liked Venice, but it was better in small doses. The people were relaxed and friendly, but the faint smell of stale weed seemed to permeate everything. Tobin liked that every other person had some kind of board and that she could stop to watch whatever street performance was currently on.

 

On the other hand, Christen thought Venice was for tourists and high school kids trying to piss off their parents and said that going there would give them a contact high that would cause them to fail their drug tests. So, when Tobin said she was going to her favorite surf shop here and asked her girlfriend if she wanted to come, she already knew the answer would be no. That gave her the perfect excuse to keep the last of Christen's Valentine's Day present a surprise. She had just finished solidifying her cover story with a replacement fin and was heading back toward her car to get the present when a small group gathered around a busker caught her attention.

 

Tobin could see a soccer ball periodically bouncing above the heads of the crowd gathered and could hear the familiar thumps of juggling in between the crowd's oohs and aahs. She hopped off her board and walked around the side of the group, toward the beach wall, to get a better view. She saw a small girl, who looked to be in her early teens, freestyling to music off of an iPhone with a cracked screen, an orange Nike shoe box in front of her for tips.

 

Tobin guessed she had arrived toward the end of the routine because the onlookers were already excited and the girl seemed to be ramping up to the finale. She pulled out her phone and started filming, just in time to catch her do an impressive combination of around the worlds, finishing by popping the ball up, catching it on the back of her neck, and giving a little curtsy. The crowd cheered and whistled, many dropping money into the box. Tobin put her phone away and fished around for cash in her pockets. She came up with a five and moved in front of the girl, who was thanking her patrons as they went about their day.

 

"You're pretty good. How old are you?"

 

The girl looked up and froze, her eyes wide. Her mouth hung half open.

 

Tobin backtracked. "I don't mean to be nosy or anything. Like, I know your parents probably tell you not to talk to strangers and they're right, I just—"

 

Something flashed across the girl's face and she closed her eyes and shook her head. "You're Tobin Heath," she blurted.

 

"Oh!" Tobin said. She laughed and scratched the back of her neck. "Yeah, I am. Nice to meet you!"

 

She stuck out her hand and smiled. The girl took it, but she still seemed a little overwhelmed.

 

"I'm Mattie. And twelve," she said bashfully.

 

"Twelve?" Tobin asked, confused.

 

"You asked how old I was...I'm twelve."

 

Now it was Tobin's turn to be surprised. "Twelve? Shi—dang! You're really good for twelve. Whose club do you play for?"

 

"I don't — I don't play for a club," Mattie responded, blushing.

 

"Oh, do you just freestyle then? Like you don't play regular football?"

 

Mattie looked more embarrassed at this.

 

"I didn't mean like freestyling was weird or anything! It's really cool!" Tobin corrected quickly.

 

"No!" Mattie interjected. "I do play regular socc—football. I mostly just play pickup, though."

 

Tobin smiled at that. "That's cool! Sometimes that's my favorite way to play. Want to go kick the ball around a little?"

 

Mattie balked. "With you?"

 

"Yeah. You can teach me that trick you did that was like a karate kick."

 

Mattie still looked stunned, but picked up her shoe box, iPhone, and ball and followed Tobin over the wall and onto the beach.

 

"It kind of looks like it's gonna rain," Tobin commented.

 

"Yeah," Mattie agreed. "I hate it. It's been storming a lot the past few weeks."

 

"Chr — I mean my —," Tobin coughed. "I heard it was because there's a really strong El Niño."

 

"There's a really strong 'the boy'?" Mattie questioned, confused.

 

Tobin laughed. "No it's like this thing with the ocean — I don't really know. It just means it rains more."

 

"Oh," Mattie accepted, shrugging and putting her things down in the sand. She rolled the ball onto her foot and balanced it in the crook of her ankle. "Here," she said, kicking it up to Tobin.

 

Tobin caught the ball and juggled from foot to foot before passing it back. "Hold up," she said, taking off her shoes and socks and rolling up her jeans. She tossed each of her sneakers into the sand a few feet apart as a makeshift goal. "Much better."

 

Mattie laughed. "Now you're going to have sand on your feet when you put your shoes back on!"

 

"Worth it," Tobin said confidently. "Let's play."

 

As they started to play one on one — Tobin taking it easy, but Mattie making her work a little — Mattie peppered her with questions about the national team and her own tricks. ("Favorite game?" "World cup final." "Favorite youtube video to make?" "Soccer Tennis with Yael.")

 

Eventually, after she had poked the ball around Tobin and between the shoes, Mattie asked about the World Cup coming up in June. "Do you guys like the group? Are you glad you'll play Sweden that early or no?"

 

Tobin shrugged and shagged the ball. "Most of the team from the Olympics was pretty happy about it, but I don't really care. We'll play who we play when we play 'em, y'know?" She passed the ball out to Mattie. "We'll play winners. You go again."

 

Mattie lined up against Tobin, positioning her hips right, then crossing over neatly to her left. Tobin read it the whole way, simulating real defense for the young player. Mattie pulled her right foot over the ball and spun her body back toward Tobin, who stayed with her for the second crossover. Except Mattie didn't crossover, instead deflecting the ball through Tobin's legs and pushing her to dart after it. Tobin tried to follow but was laughing too hard to recover.

 

"I can't believe you megged me!" she complained, still chuckling.

 

Mattie just tapped the ball between the shoes and threw her arms out in celebration. "Goooalasssoooo! And the LA Sunrise unseat defending champs, the Portland Thorns, in the NWSL final," she boomed in her best announcer voice. "How the mighty have fallen!"

 

Tobin laughed harder at this display. "I see how it is, then. You're a Sunrise fan?"

 

"Of course," Mattie retorted. "¡Soy de Los Ángeles!" she called, playing again to the non-existent crowd.

 

Tobin grinned. "Who's your favorite player?"

 

Mattie shrugged and ducked her head. "I don't know," she blushed.

 

"C'mon," Tobin insisted. "You know, I happen to know a few Sunrise players. I could probably get you an autograph or some tickets..."

 

The girl looked up at this. "Are you serious?"

 

Tobin tried not to giggle at the hopeful look on her face. She put on a nonchalant expression and shrugged, walking over to her socks and shoes and picking them up. "I think we could probably make something work."

 

Mattie looked like she was scared to voice whose autograph she really wanted, so her next question came out soft and quiet. "Can you get me Christen and Mal's autographs?"

 

Tobin decided to mess with Mattie a little more, flopping down on the beach wall and huffing. "Oh I see — you want their autographs but not mine?"

 

Mattie saw right through her teasing, narrowing her eyes and smirking, lazily picking up the ball and walking to the wall to sit next to Tobin. "Well, I did just nutmeg you, so maybe you should be asking for my autograph."

 

Tobin scoffed humorously. "Well if that's the way it's gonna be..."

 

Mattie crossed her arms over her chest and tried to look tough. "Mmmhm. It is."

 

They continued to look at each other with narrowed eyes until Tobin broke and threw her head back laughing. Mattie lasted a half a second more in her posturing before doing the same.

 

"For what it's worth," Mattie conceded. "You are my little brother's favorite player. He's too young to sit through a whole match, but he makes me show him the Youtube videos over and over. He can't say your name so he just calls you 'Toes'. Like, 'Mattie, put on the Toes videos.'"

 

Tobin smiled as she brushed the sand off her feet as best she could. "That's cute. How old's your brother?"

 

Mattie grinned widely at this topic. "He's four. Or as he would tell you, four and a half."

 

Tobin laughed. "I have a lot of nieces and nephews that age. They say some pretty funny stuff."

 

"Tell me about it. You know the donut shop with the giant donut on the roof? It's on his way to preschool, and for weeks at the beginning of the year, he would ask me if I thought I could score a goal in the donut. I had no idea what he was talking about until I happened to go past it one day and realized it was on his way. I told him I don't think they let you shoot at it and he just said, 'Toes could do it.'"

 

"We'll definitely have to get him some swag then," Tobin laughed. "I'm not sure I can make that donut thing happen, though."

 

Mattie's grin grew even wider. "That would be really cool."

 

Tobin nodded, put her shoes on, and stood. "We'll make it happen then. Any other requests? Who're your favorite national team players?"

 

"Still Christen and Mal," Mattie said surely.

 

"Yeah," Tobin agreed. "They're pretty good, huh?"

 

Mattie cocked an eyebrow at her. "Thinking of joining the Sunrise?"

 

Tobin paused but answered confidently. "Nope — Thorns forever!"

 

"What about you, though?" she continued. "You're really good, but if you wanna play for them someday, you gotta start playing competitive soccer. Have you tried out for any clubs?"

 

It was Mattie's turn to look uncomfortable. For the first time since meeting her, Tobin actually took in her appearance. The girl had curly dark hair, bright brown eyes and tanned brown skin with small freckles across her cheeks. She was wearing a pair of black Nike soccer shorts, a ratty red t-shirt that said "St. Joseph's Youth Center" and black Adidas soccer sneakers that looked to be the same age as she was. The ball she held between her knees was similarly worse for wear.

 

Tobin wondered if she'd been presumptuous, so she corrected herself. "Those teams are pretty expensive, though. And the travel can really add up. You can always play for your school. There are a lot of chances to get noticed that way," she reassured.

 

Mattie stared out at the clouds above the water as if trying to make a decision. She readjusted her face and gave Tobin a small smile. "No, I'm going to join a club. I just have to save up for the fees, that's why I'm out here freestyling," she explained. "My parents just think I should pay some of them," she added quickly.

 

"Oh, that's cool I guess," Tobin accepted. She dug into her pockets and found two 20's. "Let me contribute to the fund then," she said as she grabbed the Nike box and placed the cash in.

 

Mattie tried to protest but Tobin cut her off. "We talk all the time about growing the future of the women's game," she explained and gave her a small smile. "That's what I'm doing here." She closed the box and handed it back to Mattie. "And do you have a cell phone? Or I should probably get your parents' number, actually, if you want those tickets and stuff?"

 

Mattie's eyes went wide. "No! Uhhh..no, I don't want to trouble you. Seriously, this was already so cool," she said nervously.

 

"Are you sure?" Tobin asked. "At least let me sign something for your little brother, then. If I can't score a goal through a donut."

 

Mattie relented. "Okay. I don't really have anything for you to sign, though."

 

"Here," Tobin pulled out a Sharpie and took off the black Thorns snapback she wore.

 

"You really don't need to give him your hat—"

 

Tobin waved her off. "They give me a bunch of these to wear around because they think it makes people buy them."

 

"Okay. But...what do you carry around a Sharpie for? To give autographs with?" Mattie teased.

 

Tobin blushed. "A girl asked me to sign something earlier and forgot to take it back." She flipped over the cap and began to write on the red underside of the brim. "What's his name?"

 

"It's Sam," Mattie replied, trying to see what Tobin was writing.

 

"Alright," Tobin said, putting the cap on the pen and the hat on Mattie's head. "I've got to run, but seriously, if you want tickets to a Sunrise game, just have your parents call the front office and tell them to say I told you to call."

 

"Tell the Sunrise office to say you called?" Mattie questioned, raising her eyebrows.

Tobin shrugged, grabbed her board and purchases, and stepped back over the wall. "The message will get to me," was her only explanation. "But I'd better be hearing more from you either way," she said as she turned. "I want people warning me about your nutmegging skills, alright?"

Mattie nodded in response and Tobin started to ride up the boardwalk. She looked down at the bill of the hat in her hands, which read

To Sam —

Make sure to get your sister's autograph while you still can.

—Toes, 17.

"Tobin!" Mattie called. Tobin turned her head as she was gliding off. Mattie tried to think of something to say. "Thank you!" was all she could come up with. Tobin sent her a big smile and a shaka sign.

Mattie stood on the cloudy beach, holding the hat with a dazed expression on her face.

Tobin skated back to her car and sat in the front seat, typing out a tweet.

Awesome chillin w u Mattie! This kid is the real deal!!! Future star here!!

She attached the video she took of Mattie's finale and sent the tweet. She swore as the 'Low Battery' pop up flashed, locking her phone and putting it in the cup holder before she pulled out of the spot to resume her original mission.

***

As Tobin pulled off the highway later on her way home, the skies opened up. Luckily, she was only about two turns and a half a mile from her driveway. She parked and hid the present under her jacket, grabbing the surf shop bag and racing to the door. She ducked inside, carefully taking off her socks and shoes and trying to keep the sand from the beach as contained as possible.

"Shit," she whispered after spilling a little and trying to sweep it over the door-jam, but only succeeding in pushing it into the crack underneath.

"Tobin?!" Christen called from the other room. "Come in here!"

Tobin looked up guiltily from her half-assed cleaning attempt and rushed to the hall closet to hide her present. "Hey, babe, one sec! I'm coming!" She shoved the bag in the pocket of her UNC hoody that was hanging there, one of the few pieces of clothing she was fairly sure Christen wouldn't steal.

"Seriously, Tobs, I've been calling you for almost an hour now. You need to see this!"

Tobin walked into the living room, completely confused now. "How come I didn't get your—" she started, before pulling out her dead phone. "Oops. What's going on?"

Christen was standing in front of the TV, remote in one hand and cell phone in the other, as the local news played. "Here, I'll start at the beginning." She rewinded the show a few minutes.

Runaway ward spotted in online video , the text on the screen read.

"New this hour," the anchor began. "Earlier today, soccer star Tobin Heath, of the United States Women's National Team and the Portland Thorns, tweeted a video from the Venice Boardwalk of a young girl doing some impressive tricks with a soccer ball."

Tobin's tweet, and then the video, flashed on the screen as the anchor continued, "The video was retweeted thousands of times. Soon after, a Twitter user posted a side by side photo comparison of the girl in the video with a flyer of missing foster children in the checkout of a Vons supermarket. The posters, distributed by the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services, were created in an effort to reduce the number of missing and runaway foster children in LA. That number rose over 500 in 2018, the highest it has been in over a decade. The girl was identified by a number of twitter users from the LA DCFS website as Matilde García, a twelve-year-old last seen over 6 weeks ago. A DCFS spokesperson said they are glad García appears to be in good health, and have asked local area police and LAPD to be on the lookout for anyone matching her description, in hopes that they can return her to safe care. Both LAPD and DCFS urge anyone with information to come forward."

Christen paused the TV again and turned to Tobin. "You weren't even gone for three hours," she said, exasperated. "How did you manage to cause this much trouble?"

"I guess now I know why she didn't want to give me her parents' phone number," Tobin replied, still processing the new information.

"Why did you want to call her parents? Was she okay?"

"Huh? Yeah. I was just trying to get her tickets to a game," Tobin explained, as if this was obvious.

"A Thorns game?" Christen questioned. "Or, like, whenever we have a friendly here."

"No, a Sunrise game," Tobin said, pausing to exaggerate her displeasure at the next bit of information. "She's a huge Sunrise fan, and you and Mal are her favorite players."

Christen smirked at this news and Tobin's performed disdain for it. She put down the remote and walked toward the front of the house. "C'mon," she motioned to Tobin. "Get your jacket."

"Where are we going?" Tobin asked, still feeling like she had taken a ball a little too hard to the head.

"To go help look for this girl," Christen said assertively. "It's pouring rain out. We have to at least try to find her and get her inside."

Tobin smiled at Christen's explanation and followed her over to the closet. Christen grabbed her and Tobin's jackets, as well as a pile of beach towels.

"What are those for?" Tobin asked.

"In case we find her and she's drenched from the storm."

"Oh. Good call. Actually, wait," Tobin ran off up the stairs and returned 30 seconds later holding LA Sunrise rain gear. "She didn't have a jacket with her."

Christen smiled approvingly. "Good idea. I especially like the choice of team."

"Yeah, well," Tobin grumbled. "I couldn't take the chance of bringing Thorns gear and her refusing to wear it."

Christen laughed as they pulled up their hoods and walked out into the storm.

***

Rain beat down on the windshield as Christen pulled onto Highway 1. By some miracle (or perhaps by El Niño's divine intervention) people had decided to avoid the storm and there was little traffic.

Tobin had been quiet since getting in the car, and Christen was starting to worry. "Hey there, broody," she said, putting her hand on Tobin's leg. "What's going on?"

Tobin looked down and played with Christen's index finger. "I should've noticed that something was weird while I was talking to her. I mean — who lets their twelve-year-old go to Venice alone?" Tobin rubbed the heel of her hand into her eye. "What if Mattie's hurt or something? I could've helped her if I'd known earlier—what if she's not okay?" she asked quietly.

Christen ran her thumb across Tobin's knee. "She's been on her own for six weeks, Tobs. She's good at not getting caught, and she's made it this long on her own. She can make it a little bit longer."

"What are we going to do if we find her?" Tobin asked, still worried. "Do we bring her to the police station?"

"They were showing a hotline on TV for you to call with information," Christen answered, trying to be reassuring.

"Did you write it down?" Tobin asked.

"No, but they kept showing it on the screen so I remember it."

Tobin grinned at that, her nerves starting to abate. "Wow, you're such a nerd," she teased.

Christen rolled her eyes. "It's a phone number, Tobin. They showed it like 100 times. It's not like I was memorizing digits of pi."

"Seriously, such a nerd."

Christen went to take her hand back, but Tobin held it, bringing it up to her lips and kissing her knuckle. "You're a very, very pretty nerd," she corrected.

"Hmm," Christen replied, returning her hand to Tobin's knee.

"How'd you even know what happened?" Tobin asked. "You never watch local news."

Christen raised her eyebrows and flicked her gazed to Tobin and then back toward the road. "Tobin. It was all over Twitter. My mom called when she saw it on the news. Plus, everyone was texting you, and then when they couldn't get a hold of you, they texted me. Have you not turned your phone back on yet?"

"What? No," Tobin answered. "I left it at the house cause it was still dead."

Christen sighed and exaggerated an eye roll, but squeezed her hand. "And to think, all of this excitement because you waited until the last day to buy my Valentine's Day gift."

Tobin whipped her head to face her girlfriend, a defensive expression on her face. "What? What do you mean? I went to the surf shop!"

Christen laughed. "Literally every time you go to that surf shop, it's almost Christmas or almost my birthday or almost our anniversary, or I get some random present from you a few days later. You always make a big deal about how you're going to the surf shop in Venice , and then I pretend to hate Venice so you can pretend to be sneaky."

Tobin looked shocked by this information. She released Christen's hand and turned back in her seat, crossing her arms and frowning out the window.

"No, honey," Christen bargained. "Don't pout. I think it's really cute!"

Tobin pouted more. "I can't believe you knew this whole time," she complained but laid her hand back on top of Christen's.

"It's only because I know you so well," Christen answered.

"Does this mean you're gonna come with me now when I go to Venice?" she asked hopefully.

Christen wrinkled her nose. "I didn't say I liked Venice. I may have just...exaggerated my distaste so you could think you were smooth."

"Well, then. I'm just gonna keep using it. But I'll go to more often, so you won't know if you're getting a present or not," Tobin reasoned.

"Or you could just buy me presents every time anyway."

"Maybe I will. Also, I am smooth."

Christen decided to let her have it, squeezing Tobin's hand before returning hers to the wheel. "We're a few blocks from the beach, we should start keeping an eye out now."

"How are we going to find her?" Tobin asked.

"Let's just check out where you met her, and see if we see any places she could go to get dry."

Tobin and Christen both got out when they got to the beach, Tobin showing Christen where she met Mattie and the two of them searching up the boardwalk in opposite directions. Once they found nothing, they moved a block in from the shore, before returning to the car and crawling through the parallel streets, slowly moving inland.

"She may not stick around here," Christen suggested. "Maybe she just took a bus to Venice for the day?"

"I don't know," Tobin thought. "It kind of seemed like she performed there a lot. Maybe you're right, though. I don't really remember her mentioning anything about how she got around. I don't think she had a bike or whatever."

"Maybe she's staying with a friend," Christen posited. "Did she mention anyone she hangs out with or anything?"

"Actually, yeah. Well—not a friend. She has a little brother, Sam. It seemed like they were pretty close," Tobin answered. "It’s not like she could stay with him, though. He's four and a half."

"Did she say where he lived? Maybe she's nearby."

"Well, he passes the donut on the way to school," Tobin offered.

Christen looked at Tobin out of the corner of her eye to see if she was joking. "He passes the donut?"

"Apparently, there's like a donut shop with the giant donut on the roof? He asked her if she could kick a ball through it..."

"Ohhhh..." Christen laughed. "Randy's, yeah. Okay, let's head up that way then." She switched on her blinker at the next intersection and turned left. The rain was still beating down on the windshield, the wipers going full speed, but the sky had cleared near the horizon to the east, and it was lit up pink and gold. "Why does he want her to shoot a ball through it?"

"I don't know," Tobin shrugged. "He's four. He said I could do it, though."

"You?" Christen asked.

"Yep. I'm his favorite player," she said proudly. "He calls me 'Toes' because he can't say 'Tobin'."

Christen laughed hard at that answer. "Well, that one is definitely going to stick—"

"—Chris, no—" Tobin interjected.

"—especially when you refuse to put on shoes," Christen finished.

Tobin looked annoyed that her bragging had backfired. "How much longer?" she asked from her position pouting out the window. They were passing back by the airport and a plane coming in from the opposite direction flew over their heads.

"It's a little further up this way. We don't know where she might be staying dry, though, so keep an eye out."

Tobin continued to look out the window as they passed houses and apartment buildings. "Wait," she said, pointing out the window. "Turn down here."

She turned off the main drag and slowly drove along the fence of a large park, where she could see a baseball field and a few soccer fields. "You think she stopped for some footy?" Christen asked with a combination of humor and disbelief.

"That's where I'd go," Tobin answered. Christen brought the car to a stop and Tobin pulled up her hood and opened the door. She turned back inside the car. "Wait here—let me just see if there's somewhere she could be hanging out and then we can head back up toward the donut shop."

Christen nodded as Tobin closed the door and ran to jump over the fence. Christen winced as she caught herself on the top and landed less than gracefully, before pulling into a parking spot and trying to illuminate as much of the park as she could with her high beams.

***

Tobin looked around in the fading light for a place Mattie might be. The muddy pitch slipped under her shoes, and she wished she were wearing boots. She spotted what looked to be a building on the opposite side of the field and squished her way over. As she approached, she could see it was a small equipment shed, with a door and one small square window. Through the panes, she could make out a bag of soccer balls, some baseball equipment, and what looked like a large tarp piled on the floor. Upon further inspection, Tobin saw a light flashing from one end of the tarp and heard faint voices. She spotted a head of dark hair resting on a beat-up soccer ball and a charging cord that dangled from the shed's utility box before disappearing under the tarp. Tobin tried to damp the hope that crept up from her stomach at the thought of finding Mattie, as well as the fear that some other, possibly dangerous, stranger was hiding under there. There was a broken padlock at the foot of the door, so she only had to pull back the latch to open it.

"Ahhhh!"

A figure rushed her wielding an aluminum baseball bat. She covered her head and cursed her stupidity at blindly opening the door.

"Tobin?" she heard Mattie's voice ask confusedly as the figure in front of her lowered its weapon.

Tobin removed her hands from her face to confirm that her ears weren't playing tricks on her. When she saw the girl she had been looking for, she let out a sigh of relief. "Shit—I mean, shoot," she cursed. "Thank God, I thought you were a crazy person."

"You're the one breaking into my shed!" Maddie protested.

"Your shed?" Tobin asked. "I think someone had already broken in here."

"That lock was like that before I ever came here," Mattie explained. "I wouldn't leave such an obvious sign that I was squatting. Speaking of which, how did you find me? Why are you even here?"

Tobin didn't know where to begin. "Do have Twitter?" she offered.

Mattie furrowed her brow at Tobin's explanation. "Yes...but I don't have wifi out here."

"Well, I took a video of the end of your performance, and then I tweeted it, cause it was sick—"

"Shit," Mattie swore under her breath.

"—and then it kind of went viral, and somebody saw your picture at a Vons, and we were on the news—"

"Fuck," Mattie said, louder this time, as she began packing up her small pile of possessions and folding the tarp she had been hiding under.

"Hey!" Tobin scolded. "What are you doing using that word? Also...what are you doing?"

Mattie ignored her and continued to gather her things.

"Mattie, stop!" Tobin interjected, grabbing her elbow. "What are you doing?"

"I can't stay here, it's too close to the beach," she explained, shaking Tobin off. "How long did it even take for you to find me?"

"An hour or two," Tobin answered. "But we were actually on the way to Sam's donut, and I saw the field. We got pretty lucky."

Mattie frowned. "I shouldn't have told you that story."

"Why not? Where are you going, Mattie? What are you planning on doing? You can't just live in equipment sheds and freestyle for spare change."

"I don't see why not. It's worked pretty well so far," Mattie said defiantly.

"Yeah? What about school? You need to get an education. The Sunrise aren't going to be able to scout you if you don't go to college, and neither will US Soccer," Tobin argued.

Mattie wasn't having it. "Lindsey Horan didn't go to college. And Mal could've gone pro right out of high school."

"Yes, but they both went to high school!" Tobin said, not sure why she was getting this frustrated. "They both could've played for any school in the country, and they both started playing club in middle school."

Mattie continued to protest. "The Sunrise have open tryouts every spring. And more and more players are getting called into the Senior team from the NWSL now."

Tobin was reluctantly impressed by the young girl's knowledge of the landscape. "If you know that, you must know how hard it'll be for either of those things to happen. I'm not saying they're impossible, but you'd need to be coached by the best coaches, playing against the best competition, to get that good."

Mattie didn't appear to have a counterargument to that, and Tobin thought she had finally convinced her. "I have six years to figure that out," she finished weakly.

"Well, it'll be much easier to figure out if you're not on the lam," Tobin offered hopefully.

Mattie rolled her eyes. "On the lam? What are you, like, a cowboy?"

Tobin put her hands on her hips and affected her best Texas accent. "I'm the sheriff, missy. And I'm bringing you in."

This time, Mattie's eye roll somehow involved her entire body, with the kind of exaggerated disdain that only a preteen could really pull off. "You're so lame. I'm not coming with you."

Tobin changed tactics. "C'mon...I've got a surprise for you in the car."

Mattie burst out laughing. "Are you trying to sound like a stranger danger video?" she managed to get out. "What did you drive here in? A van with 'Free Candy' painted on the side?"

Tobin huffed. "Okay, that wasn't the best way to phrase that. But you really should come to the car, you won't be sorry." Mattie continued to laugh, and Tobin threw up her hands. "There's no non-creepy way to say that you should get in my car."

Mattie scrunched up her nose, but her eyes were soft. "That's because I'm pretty sure it's legally kidnapping," she teased.

"Kidnapping?!" Tobin protested. "I'm out here trying to return you to safety!"

Mattie laughed, and Tobin frowned at her lack of cooperation. "How about this, then: have you eaten dinner?"

Mattie tilted her head and squinted one eye. "I had a pop tart?"

Tobin frowned further at that. "Okay. Well, we passed a diner on the way here. How about I get you some dinner, and you let me try to convince you that running away is a bad idea?"

Mattie thought about it, seeming to weigh her options. "Okay, then. But only if I can get french fries."

Tobin couldn't believe that worked. "I would be offended if you didn't," she replied. "Here," she took off her jacket and handed it to Mattie. "It's still pretty gross out."

Mattie started to protest, but Tobin just shoved the jacket toward her. "Do you have all your stuff?" Tobin asked.

"Yep," Mattie answered, holding open her Nike box, which now contained a few more clothes and her phone charger. She kicked the ball she had been using as a pillow, the one she and Tobin had played with earlier, up into Tobin's hands. "You carry that."

Tobin held back her concerned comment about this being everything Mattie owned, happy that she convinced the girl to at least come to get food.

Mattie put the shoe box inside Tobin's jacket and zipped it up over her only possessions. Tobin opened the door to the shed and they squelched out onto the muddy grass again. Tobin led Mattie toward the running SUV in the parking lot with the high beams on.

"Who's we?" Mattie asked as they got closer.

"Huh?" Tobin replied.

"You said 'we were on the way to Sam's donut.' Who's in the car?"

Tobin grinned. "That's your surprise!"

Tobin went over the fence first, more gracefully this time, and helped Mattie down. Once they got onto the asphalt, Tobin stomped the mud off her shoes and Mattie copied her. They walked up to the car and Tobin opened the back passenger side door for Mattie. She grabbed one of the towels on the back bench for herself and laid another out for Mattie on the seat.

"Here you go," she offered. "Oh and give me my jacket once you get in, I have a better one for you."

Mattie climbed into the car, unzipping Tobin's coat and placing her Nike box on the seat. Tobin closed the door and got in on the passenger side. As Tobin watched from the front, Mattie shed the jacket and looked up at the woman turned backward in the driver's seat, offering her a small smile. Her eyes went wide with recognition and her mouth fell open.

Her expression didn't change as the woman offered her hand.

"Hi, I'm Christen."

***

"Hi, I'm Christen."

At first, Christen thought the girl might not take her hand, but she slowly reached out, a nervous expression on her face. That expression changed to annoyance when Tobin let out a gleeful laugh from the passenger side. Mattie shook Christen's hand and smiled at her before kicking the back of Tobin's seat.

"I told you it was a good surprise!" Tobin continued laughing.

"I can't believe you didn't tell me!" Mattie pouted. "You should have just said 'Christen Press is in the car.' It would've been way faster than arguing with me."

"I'll remember that the next time I need to kidnap you," Tobin retorted.

Christen gasped and hit Tobin's shoulder. "Tobin! You can't say that!"

"I—she—-" Tobin sputtered, and put up her hands in clueless defense. Out of the corner of her eye, Christen saw Mattie stick out her tongue at Tobin in the mirror.

"Don't think I didn't see that," she warned.

Tobin grinned smugly back in the mirror before turning to face Christen. "I told Mattie we could go to that diner we passed around the corner," she explained, giving Christen her best puppy dog eyes. Christen looked back questioningly at Mattie, who was bashful again.

"We don't have to if you don't want to," Mattie said, looking at her hands in her lap.

Christen smiled. "Of course I want to go to the diner. Who else is going to steal all of Tobin's french fries?"

Mattie looked up, smiling so wide her grin displayed a gap in her molars where her adult tooth hadn't grown in yet.

Christen felt herself mirroring the expression as she turned to put the car in reverse. She pulled back onto the street, and after Tobin and Mattie began debating what kind of milkshakes they should get, she snuck another glance at the young girl in the back seat. She looked different than the picture they showed on the news, leaner and more tired (too tired for a 12-year-old, Christen thought). She hadn't failed to notice how Mattie guarded the shoe box next to her as if it contained all of her worldly possessions, and Christen took a deep breath when she realized that it probably did.

It only took a minute to get to the diner, a short building with shiny silver accents, on the corner of the main road. The car splashed through a large puddle in the parking lot, which was bathed in the neon blue and pink of the restaurant's lighting. Christen parked the car, and as she and Tobin pulled up their hoods to get out, and Tobin turned around to face Mattie. "Here, I almost forgot," she said, handing back the Sunrise jacket she had grabbed at the house, "we brought you this."

Mattie took the shell, noticing the logo and holding it with reverence. Her eyes scanned over the material until she looked up with a furrowed brow. "Is this Mal's?" she asked, pointing to the number 9 stitched on the arm.

"Yeah," Tobin answered, shrugging. "I figured since she's shorter than Chris, it would fit you better."

Mattie was speechless, but put the coat on and pulled up the hood.

"Ready?" Christen asked, trying to give Mattie a reassuring smile.

"Last one inside is a rotten egg!" Tobin yelled, opening her door and running into the rain. Christen shook her head and rolled her eyes, which made Mattie giggle before they both chased after Tobin toward the entrance.

Per the letterboard at the door, they seated themselves in a booth against the window; the only other patrons were an older couple sitting at the counter. "I'll be right with you," the waitress called from the table she was cleaning.

"No rush," Christen answered. She slid into the bench opposite Mattie, while Tobin sat next to the girl and spread out, putting her feet up next to Christen on the opposite seat. Mattie shot her an incredulous look.

"What?" Tobin asked. "You said you'd hear me out over dinner, I'm getting comfy. I have a lot of arguments to make."

Mattie rolled her eyes and looked grumpy. "Arguments about what?" Christen asked.

" Mattie wants to stay on the run. She's going to juggle for money until she's old enough to go the Sunrise open tryouts," Tobin answered summarily.

Christen turned a concerned gaze on Mattie. "What are you going to do about school?"

Tobin smirked, smug that she was able to hand this argument off to a responsible voice of reason. Mattie at least had the decency to look bashful as she answered, "I don't need to go to school—I'm going to be a professional soccer player."

Christen looked at Mattie sternly. She could see Tobin fidgeting in the corner of her eye, knowing Mattie had given the exact wrong answer to Christen's question.

"I think you know that's not the right answer," Christen started, "but how about you tell us why you think that's the only option?" She looked softly at Mattie, who was now staring at the table with a conflicted expression on her face.

"How about we start with why you ran away?"

At they waited for Mattie to respond, the waitress walked over and handed them menus. Christen waited until she walked away before prompting Mattie again. "Mattie?"

Mattie finally met her eyes, and Christen could see the fear in them. She felt her chest tighten and she reached out to cover one of Mattie's hands with her own. "Let's order first. Have you eaten dinner?"

"She had a poptart," Tobin answered for her.

Christen frowned at this information. "You must be hungry then," she said, opening her menu. Tobin and Mattie copied her, but not without Tobin grumbling, "Sure, but when I eat poptarts for dinner, it's all 'You're 30 years old!' and 'What would Dawn say?'."

Christen wanted to scold Tobin for not helping, but as Mattie giggled at her goofiness, she realized the jokes were loosening Mattie up.

"Eating a poptart is okay, Tobs," she responded. "Eating a whole box for dinner is concerning."

"That was one time!" Tobin protested. "And I was really hungry!"

Mattie laughed at their banter, and Christen smiled now that she seemed relaxed again. They all ordered burgers, fries, and milkshakes. Mattie and Tobin bickered over the merits of vanilla milkshakes, which Tobin thought were classic and Mattie thought were " literally the most boring thing ever ." After the waitress had taken their orders, Christen put her hand on Tobin's leg next to her and shot her a look that said try to get her talking. Tobin nodded and winked in understanding.

"So, Mattie, why are you in foster care?" she asked.

Mattie tensed again and looked up in surprise. Christen stopped her thumb, which had been rubbing circles on Tobin's ankle, and pinched her calf. Tobin's knee jerked up and hit the underside of the table, causing the silverware to jump and clang. Mattie raised her eyebrows and looked between Christen, who was frowning at Tobin, and Tobin, who was rubbing her knee and wincing.

"What was that for?" Tobin asked her girlfriend.

"I wanted you to ease into the topic!" Christen complained, exasperated. "You can't just ask someone something like that outright."

Mattie giggled again at the bickering. The women both turned to face her, surprised. "She's right, you know. You're not supposed to ask people how they got orphaned."

"You're an orphan?" Christen asked.

Mattie looked as if she regretted revealing that information.

"Look, Mattie," Christen said cautiously. "You can talk to us, alright? We just want to help."

Mattie looked at Christen, then at Tobin, who nodded in agreement. The girl sighed. "I know you are, I just...hanging out with Tobin earlier, and both of you now...it's, like, really cool. And I don't want to ruin that," she looked down. "I don't want you looking at me like 'poor orphan Mattie.'"

"Hey," Tobin said, and Mattie's gaze rose to meet hers. "I promise not to look at you like poor orphan Mattie." She held out her pinkie to seal the deal. "I'll even go back to making fun of you as soon as you tell us the truth." Mattie looked doubtfully between Tobin, Christen, and Tobin's outstretched little finger.

Christen also held out her pinkie and smiled. "I probably won't make fun of you, I hope that's okay." Mattie smiled at that and accepted both of their pinkie promises.

"Okay," she said.

Gathering herself, she looked out the window and took a deep breath. "My mom was pretty young when she had me; she always said she didn't know who my dad was, but when she was 16, she ran away from home. She came back, six months pregnant, and my Abuela almost didn't let her stay. Thank God she did, because she pretty much took care of me herself."

"I guess when I was first born, my mom was better with me, or at least that's what my Abuela said, but as I got older, she wasn't around as much. I'm pretty sure there were drugs—nobody said anything, and Abuela tried to keep it from me, but I could tell that sometimes she was different, and her and my Abuela would fight and I wouldn't see her weeks at a time. When I was 7, she went missing for like a year. Normally, she would at least try to show up on my birthday, and when she didn't, I remember Abuela praying a lot. I think she thought she was dead. When she finally showed up, Abuela wouldn't let her in the house, probably 'cause she was high, but she had a newborn baby with her. Abuela put me in the car, we took Sam to the hospital and left my mom sobbing on the front porch."

Mattie turned back to the table, staring at the linoleum that covered it.

"That was the last time I saw her. The police showed up at our house a week later, and Abuela just told me Mom was 'with God now.' I think from the way my social worker asks me about it, she might have killed herself, but I really don't know. And...Abuela took really good care of us, but a lot of the time she just wanted to pretend things were better than they were, so whenever I asked about Mom she would make up some story or quote something from the Bible. I know she was just trying to protect me, but I could've handled the truth. Eventually, I just stopped asking about that stuff."

"It’s not like I wasn’t sad when my mom died, but at the same time, she wasn't around that much, so it was kind of easy to pretend she just wasn't there, y'know? I know that sounds bad, but Abuela wouldn't talk about it, and I had this new baby brother, so for the most part, I could just pretend things were better, too. I would play with Sammy, and I even started playing travel soccer with the town. I missed my mom, but everything seemed kinda good somehow."

For the first time since she began the story, Mattie looked truly distressed. Christen and Tobin had both been frozen in place, listening with bated breath from the start. They both leaned toward her at the pause. "At the beginning of the school year—last one, not this one—these guys in suits started coming around the neighborhood. Everyone got really nervous, and Abuela said never to answer the door when they were there." Tears began streaming down Mattie's cheeks at this. "One day, we had gone to the grocery store and were walking back from the bus stop. The men stopped Abuela on the front lawn and told them to show them her papers. She did, but they said she was illegal and committing a crime and they arrested her." At this, Mattie dissolved into sobs.

Tobin put an arm around her and pulled her into her shoulder. Christen could see Tobin was holding back tears as well. She wasn't sure exactly what she was feeling, the anger, sadness, and protectiveness all swirling together. Overpowering it all was a need, deep in the pit of her stomach, to do something—anything—to make Mattie stop feeling like this.

"Mattie," Christen said gently, "Where is your Abuela now? Did she get deported? Is she still in the country?"

Mattie sniffed and tried to stop crying. "No," she answered. "They took her to a detention facility. It was really crowded, and she got sick. Sam and I had been in a group home for around a month and a different social worker showed up. They told us she—" Mattie stopped and put her hands over her face before Tobin pulled her back into her shoulder. Christen's cheeks felt cold where the tear tracks were forming. Tobin was looking at the ceiling, clutching Mattie to her chest.

"Hey, sorry for the wait on these—" the waitress looked up from the tray she was balancing and almost dropped it, surprised by the distress on the faces before her. "I can come back in a few minutes..."

Christen saw Mattie's head shake and heard her mumble something into Tobin's shoulder. Tobin let out a watery chuckle. "That's alright," she said. "I think we're gonna need those milkshakes."

The waitress smiled sympathetically and placed their orders down. She mouthed "let me know if you need anything else" to Christen, who nodded as she backed away.

Mattie extracted herself from Tobin's shoulder. "Sorry about your sweatshirt," she said, nodding at the wet spot she had left.

"Whatever—it was already wet from the rain," she said, shrugging.

Christen pushed Mattie's food in front of her and mixed her shake in the steel cup before placing that in front of her too. "Eat your food while it's hot."

The table was quiet as they dug in, with only Tobin's "Mmm...these fries are good" disrupting the silence.

After most of their dinner was gone, Christen looked up. "Mattie, where's Sam now?"

Mattie swallowed the bite of her burger and gestured behind herself. "He's placed in a group home a mile or so that way."

"Is that where you ran away from?" Tobin asked cautiously.

"Kind of," Mattie said. "Technically, yes, I ran away from there, but they were gonna move me soon. The home was for kids under 12, and I was gonna be moved to this other home in Palmdale."

Christen felt confusion and anger boil up as she furrowed her brow. "Why would they move you so far away? How could they separate you from Sam? Were there no foster families nearby?" Tobin looked up at her, eyes wide at the outburst, but Mattie just swirled a fry in her ketchup and shrugged.

"There aren't a lot of openings for 12-year-old girls," she explained. "And even though my social worker tries, there's this stuff with Sam's birth certificate, 'cause my mom never signed it, and so the system doesn't process us as siblings."

Christen and Tobin both contemplated the circumstances for a moment. "That really sucks," was all Tobin offered, and Christen had nothing else to add.

"Are you able to see him?" Christen asked.

Mattie shook her head. "Not since I left. But I have some friends there, both the kids and the sort of adults who help out there, and I can normally get someone to let me talk to him on the phone every other day or so."

"When will you be able to see him again?" Tobin asked.

"I don't know," Mattie said sadly. "I'm trying to figure something out."

Christen was still outraged by this. "I can't believe they let something like this happen. My dad's friend works at city hall, and I know someone who works for the county. We'll talk to them tomorrow and get this all sorted out," she said decidedly.

"That's really nice of you," Mattie said. "But I don't know what they can do."

"For one, they can probably find you a foster family to stay with, and two, they can get Sam's paperwork fixed," she answered.

"Do you really think that'll work?" Mattie asked doubtfully, a sliver of hope barely filtering into her voice.

"You should try it either way," Tobin offered.

"And if those don't work, we'll keep trying," Christen added. "We'll keep talking to whomever we need to talk to until we figure it out, okay?"

Mattie's expression fought between distrust and gratitude. She took a deep breath.

"Okay."

"Okay, you'll let us help?" Tobin asked.

"Yeah," Mattie said. "Okay, I'll let you try."

"In that case," Christen said, pulling out her phone, "I'm going to call the hotline, because I'm not totally sure we aren't legally kidnapping you right now." Mattie giggled in response as Christen typed in the number.

"Don't laugh," Tobin warned as Christen held the phone to her ear. "If we're in jail, it's going to severely hurt the Sunrise's chances this season."

The line began to ring as Mattie countered Tobin. "Sure," she replied, "but it'll also hurt the Thorns' chances, and that's almost worth it."

At that point, the waitress came over with the bill, putting it face down on the table and giving Tobin a small smile and a "Take your time." The phone in Christen's ear stopped ringing, and after a click, an answering machine message played.

"Thank you for calling the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services Tip Hotline. If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911 immediately. Otherwise, please leave a message describing the incident you saw, as well as your name and contact information. A representative of DCFS will contact you during our business hours, Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 6 PM, to follow up with any questions."

The answering machine beeped and Christen frowned. "Hi, this is Christen Press. My number is 424-555-1203. I saw your number on the news and I'm calling about Mattie Garcia. I know where she is and she's safe, and if you just have someone get back to me, we can bring her wherever she's supposed to be. Thank you."

Christen hung up the phone and met Tobin's puzzled and unhappy eyes. "They didn't pick up?" she asked.

"Nope. The message said they would call back between 9 and 6, so I guess we need a plan B."

"I guess we could call the police in MB and see what they say?" Tobin suggested.

Christen shook her head. "No. I'm not taking the chance she spends the night at the police station. C'mon," she motioned, getting up and grabbing the check. She walked up to the counter to pay and Tobin followed close behind.

"Where are we going?" she asked in a low voice.

"We're going home," Christen answered assuredly. "Mattie can stay in Mal's room, the bed is already made from after your brother visited."

"Is that legal?" Tobin whispered.

"It's probably in a gray area," Christen answered as she handed the waitress her card. "Look," she turned back to Tobin. "I'm not letting Mattie stay in some random place tonight that we don't get to have a say in. If DCFS calls, I will answer and say we will meet them at their office in the morning. Either way, Mattie is coming home."

Tobin stood with her mouth agape at her girlfriend's resolution. "Okay," she said, biting her lip nervously. "I guess we're going home." Christen finished paying and they turned to find Mattie, Mal's jacket zipped to her neck, eyes wide, standing expectantly.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"We've got another surprise..." Tobin answered enticingly.

"Oh no," Mattie said cautiously, "What now?"

Tobin pretended to be offended as they exited the diner and walked toward the car; the rain had calmed to a drizzle.

"Were my last suprises not amazing?" she asked, gesturing to Christen as proof.

"You're gonna stay at our place tonight," Christen explained, opening the back door of the SUV for Mattie.

"You guys live together?" Mattie asked as Christen closed the door. Christen froze and looked at Tobin, who was trying not to laugh. Christen pursed her lips and walked around to the driver's side door. She made eye contact with Tobin again across the hood of the car. Tobin just shrugged and rolled her eyes before getting in. Christen followed suit.

"Yes, we live together," Tobin answered, turning around to face Mattie in the back. "Or, at least when we're in LA. Christen is my girlfriend. We've been dating for 3 years."

Christen squinted as spotted a smirk flicker across Mattie's face before she arranged it an innocent expression of confusion. "Your girlfriend?" she asked, eyebrows raised.

Tobin scrambled. "Yeah—I mean, we—uh—" she started, before Mattie broke out into a fit of laughter. Christen joined in when she saw the confused expression on Tobin's face.

"I already knew you two dated," Mattie giggled. "I just wanted to make you explain it."

Christen bit back more laughter at Tobin's indignant disbelief. "How did you already know we were dating?" she asked.

Mattie gave her an exasperated eye roll. "Tobin, literally everyone knows you two are dating."

Christen shook her head at the argument and turned around to start the car. " Everyone? " she heard from Tobin. " Everyone in the whole world knows we're dating?"

Mattie scoffed as Christen backed the car out into the parking lot. "Everyone who knows anything! Everyone on the internet!"

"Well," Tobin took a smug tone, "does everyone know whose room you're staying in tonight?"

Mattie frowned. "What?"

"I'll give you a hint," Tobin continued. "You're wearing her jacket."

Christen could see the realization dawn on Mattie in the rear view mirror before she pulled out onto the street.

When she spoke, her tone was confused. "Mal lives with you?" she asked.

"Only during the season," Christen answered. "She's in Colorado now. Her parents are kind of overprotective and they didn't like the idea of her living with a host family. So, I'm her host family."

Mattie laughed. "That's adorable. I'm surprised the Sunrise didn't make a YouTube video about it—I bet people would love that."

"They tried," Christen explained. "We didn't do it in the preseason because of SheBelieves, and once the season started I think they forgot. I'm sure they'll try to get us to do one this season."

Mattie was silent for a moment. "You alright back there?" Tobin asked.

"Yeah, it's just...this has definitely been the strangest day of my life. I just had milkshakes with two of the best soccer players in the world, and now I'm going to sleep over at their house in Mallory Pugh's bedroom there. If someone told me that this morning, I would've said they were crazy."

Tobin laughed. "See?" she said. "Don't I have great surprises?"

Chapter Text

The sun was back out the next morning; the only signs that the storm had been there were the three pairs of wet sneakers just inside the door, which Christen placed outside on the porch to dry out when she came downstairs. She checked her phone for messages again and cracked the kitchen window to let in the clean morning sea air. As she opened the fridge to see what the options were, she racked her brain.

What do twelve-year-olds eat? She's definitely too young for coffee. How old is this orange juice? I should have let Tobin buy those Lucky Charms at the store the other day...

Eventually, between the ingredients they had in the fridge and Christen's lack of concrete knowledge on what preteens were willing to eat, she settled on french toast. As she was placing the first piece of soaked bread on the skillet, she felt familiar hands wrap around her waist and a chin rest on her shoulder.

"I love when you make me breakfast," Tobin mumbled, voice still full of sleep.

"I'm making our guest breakfast," Christen corrected.

Tobin buried her smile into Christen's neck. "What am I going to have for breakfast then?" she asked as she placed soft kisses toward her girlfriend's jaw.

Christen giggled and squirmed as she tried to continue making the french toast. This only encouraged Tobin, who grabbed Christen's hips under her shirt and began nipping down to her shoulder. When she got to the spot just above her collarbone, Christen squirmed a little too much, sliding a piece of french toast off of the griddle and out onto the counter. Her laughter turned into a gasp and she swatted at the woman behind her.

"Tobin! That's your piece now."

"Oh, so I do get some of this special breakfast then?" she retorted.

Christen shook her head and raised her eyebrows. "Not unless you make yourself useful. Why don't you go wake Mattie up and tell her breakfast will be ready soon."

Tobin pursed her lips and was about to turn and do just that, but Christen grabbed one of the drawstrings hanging out of her shorts and pulled her closer. Tobin's eyes and her smile grew in happy surprise as Christen put down the spatula and wrapped one hand around the back of her neck and placed one on her waist, leaning in to kiss her hard. After a minute, they pulled back, breathing hard, foreheads touching.

Christen, with her eyes still closed, took a single deep breath through her nose. "Happy Valentine's Day," she let out.

"Happy Valentine's day, babe."

***

Tobin arrived at the door at the top of the stairs and knocked softly. "Mattie?" she asked tentatively.

When she received no answer, she pushed the door open. The room looked the same as it always did when Mal was away, Ikea dresser closed, the mirror atop it surrounded by pictures of Mal's friends and teammates. Everything was neat--a contrast to how it looked in-season when Mal was there; the closet door was closed, the bed was made (although not as neatly as when Christen did it), and the only thing on it was a small Sunrise windbreaker placed across the blanket on the end. Besides the jacket, the only sign that anyone had been there was the open window in the corner. After a moment of confusion, Tobin rushed over to it.

The window was over an outcropping from the roof above the back patio. It looked like a pretty far drop, but Tobin thought she could've climbed down uninjured. Whether someone half a foot shorter than her could've, she wasn't sure.

"Shit," she let out under her breath. Just as she was starting to panic about where Mattie might be, she heard a sneeze come from under the bed. Her breath caught in her throat and she rushed over to the bed skirt, pulling it up and revealing a guilty looking Mattie clutching her shoebox, shoes on, ready to make a break for it. Tobin closed her eyes and quickly thanked God. She prayed for patience and for her heart to come down out of her throat, then reopened her eyes to look at Mattie.

"You don't like your jacket?" she asked, trying to break the ice instead of expressing the panic she felt. She stood up to let the girl out from her hiding spot.

Mattie shuffled out, still holding the orange box tightly. They stood, with Tobin appraising Mattie and Mattie looking something between fearful and put out at being caught. Tobin sighed loudly.

"Mattie," she said, taking another deep breath. "I thought you agreed you would let us try to fix things."

Mattie deflated and sat on the bed, putting her box down. "Look, I really appreciate you guys being so nice, and letting me stay here last night was super cool of you. But honestly, there's nothing you can do. It's better if I just go, so you don't bother getting your hopes up."

Tobin frowned and sat down next to her. "Why do you think that? I'm sure there are good people who can help with these things."

Mattie met her concerned gaze with sad eyes. "It's not that the people are bad. There's just nothing they can do. Everyone's too busy and they never have money for stuff."

The crease in Tobin's brow grew deeper. "That's why you need grownups on your side!" she insisted. "I mean, we don't have that much time and money, but we definitely have more that you had before. Also, we have a lot of Twitter followers. Which I normally don't like to use to get stuff, but I'd make an exception in this case," she teased.

"I can't ask you guys to do that," Mattie smiled, sadly still. "I know how much you hate Twitter," she joked.

Tobin smiled softly. "You didn't ask us to do anything. And I'm happy to use social media or whatever else we have to to help you out. Especially if it means I get to watch you meg more people," she said, elbowing Mattie.

The girl finally smiled at that. "I really don't think social media's going to--"

"Tobin!" Christen called from the top of the stairs as she walked through the open doorway. "What did you, get lost? Breakfast is getting cold. Mattie come eat, we're going to the DCFS office when they open," she said, turning and heading back downstairs. Mattie picked up the Nike box and followed.

"For real?" Tobin asked incredulously as she followed them downstairs. "All she has to say is come eat breakfast?"

Mattie shrugged as they entered the kitchen. "She didn't really give me a choice."

Tobin rolled her eyes and grabbed a stack of plates and a handful of utensils, placing them on the island. Christen did the same with the dish stacked with french toast, motioning for Mattie to sit at one of the bar stools at the counter.

"I hope this is okay," Christen gestured. "I wasn't really sure what you eat for breakfast," she said unsurely.

"No, I--thanks," Mattie said, just as awkwardly. "I don't normally--I like French Toast. Thank you."

"OJ?" Tobin asked from the open door of the fridge.

"Sure," Mattie answered.

They all sat at the counter, cutting and syruping their french toast. "Did Child Services call you back?" Tobin asked Christen.

"No," she said, "but I texted my friend who works in the DA's office and she told me we should just go to the office in West LA. It's like 15 minutes away and they open at nine."

Tobin nodded, mouth full of food. She turned to Mattie, who was quietly pushing food around her plate. "We put your clothes in the wash last night, so they should be clean, or we have plenty of other clothes you can probably wear," she explained between bites.

"Can I still wear Mal's jacket?" Mattie asked picking her head up.

Tobin furrowed her eyebrows and pointed her fork toward the kitchen window. "No, why would you wear that? It's not raining anymore."

"She means yes," Christen interjected, giving Tobin a look. "You can wear Mal's jacket if you want, but we have plenty more Sunrise gear you can wear that might be more comfortable for this weather."

Mattie shook her head. "I don't want to take any of your clothes--" she started.

"We get most of it for free," Christen said, shooing her off. "You're not leaving this house without some gear from the best team in the NWSL."

"I don't know," Tobin countered, "my PTFC gear might be a little big on her." Christen and Mattie groaned and rolled their eyes. Tobin stood to start the dishes and paused next to Christen, kissing her on the cheek. "Sorry, babe. That one was too easy."

"Yeah, I left that one wide open," she answered, wiping her cheek. "Thanks for the syrup kiss, though." Mattie giggled. "Come on," Christen said, picking up her and Mattie's empty plates. "Let's get you ready for the day."

***

Thirty minutes later, the three of them were in the car on the way to the office. Mattie had agreed, without much objection, to accept some Sunrise gear to wear, and some to save for later, and, with many objections, to place her belongings in an extra backpack Christen dug from her closet instead of her Nike box (although she still kept the box inside the backpack).

Tobin drove, and Christen tried the office number again. "Any luck?" Tobin asked as she hung up.

"Not much," she answered. "I guess the hotline got a lot of prank calls after it was on the news. When I told her we were bringing Mattie with us, she just laughed and said 'Sure, come on in, then.'"

Mattie snorted from the back seat. "Claire's gonna be pissed."

"Who's Claire?" Tobin asked.

"She's my social worker," Mattie answered.

"And do we like Claire?"

"She's alright. She's kinda new, so she tries harder than some of the other people I've seen. She tries to keep me near Sam, but she has to get a special thing every time and it doesn't always work."

Christen turned around to face her. "We're going to do everything we can to make it work this time."

Tobin followed the signs off the highway for Miracle Mile, finally pulling into the parking lot of a nondescript, modern looking office building. They followed the building directory to the second floor and a waiting room where a receptionist, who looked to be in her early twenties, was on the phone.

"How is Thursday the 18th?" she asked into the receiver. "No, sorry, April 18th." She held up a finger to the new arrivals, signaling for them to wait.

Tobin, Mattie, and Christen sat in the office chairs, the adults on either side of the young girl. Tobin pulled a months old Sports Illustrated off the magazine stack and offered the rest to the other two. Christen and Mattie shook their heads, Christen turning to read something on her phone, and Mattie fidgeting with the straps of her new backpack which she was still wearing.

After almost a half an hour, the receptionist was still answering call after call. Christen was starting to get annoyed, but she began a game of I, Spy with the increasingly nervous Mattie in an attempt to keep her mind off things. Tobin joined in, egging on Mattie to pick harder and harder things to guess. Just when Christen correctly guessed the tie of the man on the billboard outside the window as Mattie's pick, a disheveled middle-aged man with wispy red hair, a stocky mustache and a deep frown entered the waiting room. He looked at the three of them waiting there expectantly, his eyes widening in recognition at Tobin's face.

"You're that soccer player," his stated, puzzled. "That found the girl."

Tobin looked dumbfounded before standing and offering her hand. "Tobin Heath. This is my girlfriend, Christen, and Mattie, the girl in question."

"Ah, yes, Matilde. Well, thank you for bringing her in. We'll contact her caseworker and get her resituated. In the meantime, Matilde, why don't you gather your things and go wait in the children's room."

Mattie began to pick up her stuff, but Christen put a hand on her shoulder and stepped forward. "Actually, Mr...."

"Harthridge, but you can call me Bert."

"Bert, then, we were actually wondering if we could speak to about Mattie's placement."

The man's frown deepened and he looked at his watch, which was one link too big and slid as he checked it. "I'm very busy today, and I assure you Mattie will be fine."

"It'll only take a second," Tobin joined in, trying to stand tall.

Bert ran a hand through his hair and nodded. "Alright. Okay. Yes, we can talk quickly. Come back to my office. Matilde, I can show you where the children's room is."

Bert led them down a short hallway with a few doors. He opened one to what looked like a converted office, which had colorful foam tiles over part of the carpet and a worn wooden toy chest. There was a small, clunky TV with a built in VCR and a pile of Disney movies on VHS. Bert gestured to a chair next to a small table with coloring supplies on it. "Why don't you have a seat, Matilde?"

Tobin looked as though she was about to comment on Mattie not being able to fit in one of those chairs, but Mattie just slid off her backpack and sat sideways at the table, her knees too tall to go underneath it.

"We'll be just next door," Bert explained, pulling the door shut and locking it from the outside. Tobin and Christen shared a worried look at the action, which Bert caught. "No need to be worried," he assured. "It's just a precaution we take with some of the children who are flight risks. The room has cameras so I can see whatever's going on from my office."

Tobin felt no less worried at that piece of information, but she and Christen followed Bert into his office. "Have a seat," he said, motioning to the chairs in front of his desk. "So what did you want to talk about?"

"Well," Christen said, scooting forward, "we're concerned that Mattie was going to be moved further away from her brother. That's actually why she ran away. We want to make sure she can be placed somewhere closer, or if possible, that they could be placed together."

Bert typed something into his computer. "Well, I'm looking here and I don't see that she has a brother. Sometimes, these kids will spin a story to try and--"

"She wasn't lying," Tobin interrupted, trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice. "Her brother's name is Sam, and her case worker understands the situation. He's in the group home where she was placed before she ran away."

Bert frowned slightly at Tobin's tone, typing into his computer again. "Ah, yes. I see there is a note in her file, it just doesn't connect their profiles." He typed more. "Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of placements for 12-year-olds, especially with Matilde's behavioral record."

"What about her behavioral record?" Christen asked, frowning.

"Well," Bert explained, folding his hands across the desk, "Matilde doesn't always follow directions. I mean, she ran away for six weeks, and probably wouldn't have come in if she hadn't met you. That means she'll require a certain type of supervision, which not all placements can provide."

"There were extenuating circumstances," Christen protested.

Bert shrugged and shook his head. "With these kids, there are always extenuating circumstances. Look, I'm not unsympathetic to Matilde's situation. If she agrees to go to Palmdale for a week or two, there's the possibility of a spot opening up in a group home for teen girls in Carson."

"A week or two? To get put in Carson?" Tobin protested. "She might as well just stay with us until then." She sat back and frowned.

Christen looked between Tobin and Bert. "Could she? Stay with us? Until the spot in Carson opens up?" Tobin sat up hopefully.

Bert wrung his hands. "Well, you two don't have a foster license. Those normally take a few weeks themselves to process. And I'm sure you two are busy--"

"What do we have to do to get the license?" Christen interjected.

Bert squirmed. "Well, there's a fair amount of paperwork, but delay normally comes because you need a house visit and you need a judge to sign off."

Tobin looked at Christen, who seemed unfazed by this information. "Where's the paperwork?" she asked. Bert seemed to be experiencing whiplash from the turns this conversation had taken, but he turned to his computer and looked for something. The printer on the side of the office began to make grinding noises and started to spit out pages. Bert stood, walking over and picking up the forms, handing them to Christen. Christen immediately handed them to Tobin. "Here, fill these out, I have to make a few phone calls." She whisked out of the room.

Tobin looked dumbly at the door she just exited, then at the forms in her hand, then at Bert. "Can I have a pen?"

***

When Christen returned, Tobin had filled out the forms as best she could, with Bert's assistance. Tobin handed them to her girlfriend, who began to fill out the empty fields.

"Who'd you call?" Tobin asked.

"My Dad, for one," Christen said, speaking quickly. "One of his golf friends is a judge downtown, so he's going to call him to see if we can get the license today. Then I called my friend in the DA's office because she knows some people that work for the state. She's going to reach out to them and see about us getting an inspection done as soon as possible." Just then, her phone rang.

"Hello," she answered, picking it up. "Awesome. Really, 11? No, that's great." Christen laughed at something the person on the other line said. "Okay, we'll get her some tickets then. Sounds good. Okay, yes, we'll catch up soon." She laughed again. "Thank you so much. Bye."

Tobin and Bert both looked at her, expectant and confused. "We have a home visit in an hour. Bert, do we need to bring this paperwork somewhere, or can we leave it with you?"

Bert was clearly not used to this sort of immediacy in his department. "I suppose...I can fax these over to the state office."

"Who are we getting tickets to what?" Tobin asked.

"Oh--our new friend of a friend at the state office is a Sunrise fan," Christen answered.

She handed a bemused Bert the paperwork and grabbed Tobin's hand. "Thank you so much. We'll get out of your hair now."

Press exited the office, pulling Tobin behind her. Bert followed them into the hallway. Christen opened the door to the children's room, where Mattie was leaning back in her chair with her feet up on the table, watching something on her broken iPhone. She let the chair fall and quickly put her feet back on the floor. "What's up?" she asked.

"Get your stuff," Christen explained. "You're coming back home with us."

Mattie looked surprised but opened her new backpack to put her phone back in.

"Actually," Bert interrupted, clearly hesitant to give Christen information she didn't want to hear, "I can't let you take Matilde with you until you have the license."

Christen looked at him challengingly, but Tobin placed a hand on her wrist. "It's cool, babe. Mattie and I can hang here while you're at the visit, and you can come get us once you get the license." Christen was somewhat more satisfied with this solution, and while Bert looked like he had some objections, he didn't voice them.

Mattie sat back down, and Tobin joined her at the table, looking even more ridiculous in the kiddie chair. Christen frowned at Bert again but didn't say anything. She looked back at Tobin and Mattie once more and said, "Okay. I'll be back in like an hour and a half. Try not to get in too much trouble. Either of you." Tobin and Mattie both put on their best innocent smiles. Christen narrowed her eyes but turned to leave. Bert looked like he wanted to close and lock the door again before Tobin spoke up.

"It's okay, Bert. I count as adult supervision."

Bert nodded and turned to go back to his office. Tobin shifted to look at Mattie and smiled. "What do you want to do for an hour and a half?"

***

After about 10 minutes of them kneeling and heading Mattie's ball back and forth, Mattie spoke up.

"How come you guys are taking me back to your house?"

Tobin caught the ball and sat down before answering. "We're going to try to get you a place to stay in Carson, but it's going to take a little while, so they wanted to send you to Palmdale until then. We said you could stay with us instead, but Chris has to convince them to give us a license first."

"So I'm gonna stay with you guys for a few weeks?" Mattie said, sitting too.

"Yep."

"And then I'm gonna live in Carson?"

"That's the plan."

Mattie nodded. "Awesome, I can probably go to Sunrise games then!"

Tobin laughed. "Yeah, dude, I mean you can go to Sunrise games no matter where you live. We could just like pick you up and bring you."

Mattie frowned. "Won't you be in Portland?"

"Sure, but I come back to visit all the time. Whenever I have a Thursday or Friday game, and LAFC has a weekend game, I could come down and bring you to the game. Plus, we play the Sunrise at least twice."

"I mean even if I get to go to one game that would be cool," Mattie said, looking at her hands.

"We're probably going to go over to work out later, so we can get you a season pass today."

Mattie lifted her head, excited. "Really? Today? Can I come to the stadium with you?"

Tobin shrugged. "Well, yeah, I just figured you'd work out with us. If you want. If not, you can just watch."

Mattie grinned and giggled but tried to smooth her face. "I guess that would be like, cool. Whatever's good with you."

Tobin grinned back, bouncing her the ball. "Look!" she said, pointing behind Mattie. She began to crawl across the foam tiles and grabbed a book off the shelf behind her. "They have Harry Potter! Which one do you want?" She grabbed another, holding them both out to Mattie.

Mattie narrowed her eyes. "None of them. Harry Potter is dumb."

Tobin looked seriously offended, clutching the books to her chest. "Harry Potter are the best books in the whole world! Well, except the Bible. But besides that! Have you ever read them?"

"No, they're for little kids," Mattie explained, frowning.

"Oh man, no they're not. Here, here's the first one. You can read it while I read number 5."

Mattie looked very skeptically at Tobin, but took the book tentatively and opened it. Tobin cracked open her book and began to read, so Mattie copied her.

***

About an hour later, they heard the door to the main office open and Christen's voice greeting the receptionist. For the first time since they started reading, Mattie looked up from her book. Tobin looked up as well but had not been as engrossed in the story as Mattie, both because she already knew it by heart, and because she kept looking up to gauge Mattie's reactions to the book in her hands.

Christen appeared at the doorway and surveyed the room. She looked a bit flustered but was smiling. "C'mon, let's go. We have Harry Potter at home. You dorks can read it there."

Mattie and Tobin looked at each other before looking back at Christen. Mattie's expression was dumbfounded, while a wide smile broke across Tobin's face as she stood up. "You did it? You got the license?"

"At least provisionally," Christen explained as she picked up Mattie's backpack and kicked her ball into her hands. "They're going to come back next week to do another inspection, but they said Mattie's all set until then and my Dad's friend signed the papers."

Tobin bounded to Christen and wrapped her in a big hug. Christen laughed and reciprocated with the one arm that wasn't holding Mattie's things.

"You too, squirt," Tobin said, pulling Mattie up from the floor and into a hug. Mattie made a show of grumbling but returned it.

"We're also going to have to talk to Claire about getting you into school and a few other things," Christen said. "The inspector works on the same floor as her, so he's going to give her my number and she's going to call me to set something up."

Mattie slumped. "Ugh, I forgot about school." Tobin laughed.

"Yes, school," Christen said, rolling her eyes. "Tobin don't encourage her."

"But today she can come to training right?" Tobin asked, puppy dog pout fully engaged.

Christen smiled, looking at Mattie. "Of course. We can go get our stuff and go now if you want."

Tobin held out her hand to high five Mattie, who slapped it as hard as she could. "Owww," Tobin complained. Christen just shook her head and began to leave. "C'mon, you weirdos. Let's go."

***

After a quick stop at the house to get dressed for training and eat lunch, they drove over. Tobin pulled in the employee parking lot that Christen's 'player' sticker let them use.

Mattie looked around from the back seat. "Aren't the practice fields all the way on the other side?"

"Yeah," Tobin answered, "but we've got to get your tickets, remember? Plus, you don't have any boots."

She and Christen unbuckled and got out, but Mattie still sat flummoxed in the back seat. Christen opened her door and looked in. "You coming?"

Mattie sat, mouth agape. "You're getting me new boots?" she asked in a very quiet voice.

"No, we're just getting you a new shoebox," Tobin called from the trunk, where she was getting their bags. "Yours is getting ratty."

Christen gave Mattie a soft smile and shook her head. "Don't listen to her. We're going to go to the pro store and you can pick out some proper shoes. Whichever ones you want, okay?"

Tobin stuck her head over Christen's arm into the back seat. "Don't get any ideas. This is a Nike household." Christen rolled her eyes and pushed her girlfriend out of the car. "You can get whichever boots you want." From behind her, Tobin shook her head and held out her shirt, pointing to the Nike logo. Mattie giggled. Christen turned to look at Tobin, but she was kicking at a piece of gravel in the parking lot and trying to look innocent.

***

Tobin and Christen led Mattie through a side door marked 'Employee Entrance', which entered into a hallway they followed down to a storeroom. There, an employee was pulling boxes off a shelf before he looked up.

"Hey, Press! Tobin! How's it going?"

"Hi Ryan, how's it going?" Christen offered. "We're looking for some boots for our friend Mattie here. "

Ryan looked at Mattie, who was hiding in the doorway of the room. "Oh, yeah, I saw you on Twitter yesterday! That around the world was sick. What kind of cleats do you want?"

Mattie stayed silent and shrugged.

"Can she try some Hypervenoms?" Tobin asked. "Phantoms? Mat, what size are you?"

She shrugged. "I think like a six?"

Ryan, ever the helpful employee, motioned toward the store. "I'm gonna bring these out to the customer, and then we'll measure your feet, cool?"

Mattie nodded. "Thanks, Ryan," Christen said.

Tobin walked over to the shelf piled high with soccer balls, still in the packaging. "We should get you a new ball, too." She grabbed an orange one off the shelf and spun it on her hand.

"I don't need a new ball, I already have one."

"Yeah, but do you want a new one?" Tobin asked, holding out the box.

Mattie grinned and walked over to the shelf. "Only if I can have this one." She held up an LA Sunrise branded ball.

"Ughhh..." Tobin groaned. Mattie and Christen laughed. "Just for that I'm buying you a PTFC ball and bringing it back next time I go up there." Mattie grinned and hugged the ball to her chest.

Just then, Ryan The Pro Shop Employee returned with a foot sizer. "Alright Mattie, here, take off your shoes." Mattie sat on the bench and slipped off her Sambas. Ryan put her foot on the device and adjusted it. "Now stand," he instructed. Mattie stood and Ryan adjusted the device again. "Alright. You're a seven and a half."

"Really?" Mattie asked. Christen picked up one of her Sambas and looked at the size.

"Mattie," she said, her voice laced with worry. "These are boys' 5s. How do they still fit you?"

"They stretch," she explained. "Plus you get a better grip on the ball when your shoes are snug."

Christen looked at her discerningly for a second. "Ryan," she said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Could you get us some of the Sunrise Hypervenoms in a 7.5 and some indoor sneakers."

"Sure thing," Ryan said, winking at Mattie.

Christen appraised Mattie again. "I know you couldn't get new shoes before, but it's bad for your feet to wear shoes that are too small, okay?"

Mattie just nodded.

"Press, does she want more Sambas?" Ryan called.

"Only Nike!" Tobin called back.

Christen put her hand on Mattie's knee. "Do you want Sambas or something else?"

Mattie shook her head. "Nikes are fine. Or whatever's easiest."

Christen smiled. "Ignore Tobin if you don't want Nikes. When Mal was picking who to sign with, Tobin tried to convince her that we had an official Nike washer and dryer, so she couldn't do laundry at our house unless she picked them." Mattie laughed.

"Hey," Tobin said, hands on her hips, "she almost fell for that."

Christen looked at Mattie and nodded concededly. "It's true, she did. Sonnett and Lindsey still make fun of her for it."

Mattie grinned. "I'll get Nikes, but only cause the box looks cool."

Tobin held up her hands. "Hey, fair enough."

Ryan returned with the shoes. Mattie loved both pairs, so Christen gave Ryan her LAFC employee card to go out front and ring the shoes--and her new ball--up. Mattie bounced her knees on the bench excitedly in her socks. Christen and Tobin looked at her, grinning. Suddenly, Mattie got up and hugged Christen hard around the middle, almost knocking her off balance. "Thank you," she mumbled into her shirt. Christen smiled bigger and patted her back.

Once Ryan came back, Mattie immediately put on her new boots, but kept the empty box in the bag Ryan had given her. They thanked Ryan and walked out around the building, toward the practice fields. Christen stopped to punch a code into an equipment shed, pulling out a bag of Sunrise balls similar to the one Mattie had just gotten, but more worn in. They walked over to the empty field they had reserved and Tobin immediately flopped down on the grass to put her boots on.

They started their session with warmups, Christen carefully teaching Mattie each of their warmup exercises while Tobin offered less-that-helpful color commentary. After they had gone through the usual passing and dribbling drills Tobin and Christen normally did when it was just the two of them, Tobin suggested they take advantage of their extra player to play monkey in the middle.

Tobin regretted this decision after it became Mattie and Christen ganging up on her to see how many nutmegs they could get through her legs. She ended it, though, with the last laugh, by getting the ball through Christen's legs, then through Mattie's (even though they were on the same team), then just kicking the ball into the net.

"Boooo," Mattie called as Tobin did a goal celebration.

"Yeah, boo," Christen joined in. "That's not how you play."

Tobin dribbled the ball back over and pointed an accusatory finger between them. "Neither is how you guys were playing!"

Christen feigned confusion. "I don't know what you're talking about. Right, Mattie?"

"Right," Mattie said.

"Uggggghh," Tobin said, rolling her eyes. "Let's move on to shooting now."

***

When they pulled into the driveway after practice, Christen turned in her seat to face Mattie. "Hey, you've got to take a quick shower, alright."

"Okay," Mattie said. "How come?"

"Claire just texted me, and she says as long as we get there before dinner, we can go visit Sam today."

Mattie perked up. "Really? Are you for real right now?"

Christen laughed. "For real, for real. Go up and shower!" At that, Mattie grabbed her bags and sprinted out of the car and into the house.

***

An hour or so later, they pulled up in front of a large, white, run-down house in Inglewood. There were a few toys scattered on the lawn and a crucifix above the entrance on the porch. They entered the gate and walked up to the front door. Christen and Tobin shared a look before Christen firmly knocked twice.

A slight, old woman answered the door. She wore a blue and green floral shirt tucked into a long tweed skirt and had purple reading glasses with a leash perched in her silver hair. She glanced between the two adults she didn't recognize before noticing Mattie.

"Matilde!" she admonished, ushering Mattie inside. "Where have you been? Do you know how many people have come looking for you?"

Tobin and Christen just glanced at each other before following Mattie and the woman through the open door.

"I'm sorry, Ms. Alice," Mattie said. "I didn't want to be moved far away from Sammy. But then Tobin found me and now I'm staying at her and Christen's house. We worked everything out with the office."

The woman, Alice, looked at Christen and Tobin for confirmation. "I talked to Mattie's case worker, Claire, and she said it would be alright for Mattie to come say hi to Sam before dinner," Christen explained.

"Hmph. Well, as long as you don't mess up his dinner schedule then. But you don't have long! He's in the playroom," she accepted.

As if he sensed he was being discussed, a young boy with light eyes and a flop of brown curly hair passed by the door to their left and looked into the foyer.

"Mattie!" Sam yelled from the playroom, running over in that wild toddler way that made it seem like he might faceplant with every step.

"Sammy!" Mattie yelled back, crouching down for a hug. Sam barrelled into his sister, wrapping his arms around her neck and putting his head on her shoulder. Mattie closed her eyes and squeezed him tighter, her eyelashes growing wet. She opened her eyes when he released her and squirmed out of her hands.

"Mattie," he whispered, pointing to when Tobin and Christen stood. "It Toes. And Christen," he tried to say Christen's name, but couldn't quite get the r sound.

Mattie let out a watery chuckle. "Yeah, it is, bud. Go say hi."

Sam walked over to Tobin and Christen, who smiled and waved at him until he was so close he had to crane his neck to see their faces. Tobin squatted down and held up her hand for a high five.

"Hey, dude. I heard you like watching our videos." Sam nodded, wide-eyed, looking between Tobin's face and her hand.

"Give Tobin five," Mattie instructed. She slapped Tobin's hand and picked up Sam's to show him. Sam stuck his tongue out and hit her hand, surprised at the contact, as if he thought she wasn't really there. Tobin motioned to Christen beside her.

"Can you give Christen five, too?" she asked him. Christen crouched down and held up her hand, which Sam wound up and high-fived. Christen laughed at the enthusiastic slap. Sam looked at her with big eyes.

"Guess what?" he asked.

"What?" Christen replied.

"You're my sister's favorite soccer player," he said in a stage whisper, 'favorite' coming out as 'favowhit.'

They all laughed at this, and it caused both Christen and Mattie to blush slightly.

Tobin rolled her eyes dramatically. "Ugh, we know, Mattie likes Chris better, gosh."

Sam smiled at Tobin, still kneeling in front of him, before getting on his tip toes and kissing her cheek. "Don't worry, Toes, you're my favorite."

Now it was Tobin's turn to blush. She smiled and said, "Thank you, Sam," and offered him another high five.

Sam, instead of accepting it, grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the playroom. "I wanna show you the picture I made," he explained. "C'mon!"

"Okay!" Tobin said, relenting. Mattie and Christen followed, laughing at the sight of Tobin, hunched over and being dragged to the other room.

After Sam gave them his personal tour of the playroom, Alice interrupted to say that it was time for dinner, and Sam had to go wash up. Sam gave hugs all around, leaving Tobin with a drawing of her kicking a ball through the donut sign. Alice managed to smile at them and ushered Sam into the bathroom to wash his hands.

Mattie turned to Christen and Tobin. "Thanks for bringing me to see him. I missed him so much." Christen pulled her under her arm and rubbed her shoulder. Tobin swallowed thickly and looked down at her drawing.

After a quiet ride home, during which Mattie tried to hide the silent tears slipping down her cheeks, she asked if she could go upstairs to lie down.

Tobin walked over to her and wrapped her in a tight hug. "As long as you don't try to run away, okay?"

Mattie leaned back so she could look Tobin in the eye. "I won't." She quickly squeezed Tobin again and gave Christen a hug as well. "Thank you guys for today. For everything."

Christen rubbed circles on her back. "Go lie down," she said. "We'll call you when dinner's ready."

"Okay," Mattie said, releasing her and heading upstairs.

Tobin grabbed Christen's hand and pulled her through the living room and into the kitchen. When they made it as far as the island, she buried her face in her girlfriend's neck. After a few seconds, Christen felt her shirt collar dampen and rubbed the back of Tobin's neck.

"Hey, what's wrong?" she asked, pulling back to get Tobin to look at her. Tobin's face was splotchy, her cheekbones wet. She glanced around the kitchen as if she would spot an explanation for her tears, before meeting Christen's gaze.

"I wanted...I wanted to bring Sam home with us. I don't like that Mattie and him don't get to live together, and if we hadn't met her they probably still wouldn't have seen each other, and her shoes are too small and she doesn't get to play organized soccer and," she paused her rant to pull the carefully folded drawing from her sweatshirt pocket, "and Sam thinks I can score through the donut," she finished, burrowing back into Christen's shoulder.

"I just wish I could fix it," she mumbled into her shirt.

Christen felt a tear slip down her own cheek at Tobin's words. She continued to run her hand up and down Tobin's spine, trying to time her breathing and get her to relax. "Me too, Tobs, me too," she whispered into her hair.

Tobin pulled back to look at her. "What are we gonna do?"

Christen's tears came faster and she shook her head. "I don't know."

Tobin swallowed and rested her forehead against Christen's. "You always know what to do."

"Not this time, babe."

Tobin placed a chaste kiss on her lips. "I know that we don't know how to take care of kids, and we have crazy jobs, but there has to be..."

Christen kissed her back, moving her hand from Tobin's back to her jaw. "I've been trying to figure something out since we left the diner last night. Every time I think I find an answer, I just come up with more questions. Could they stay with us? Would they be allowed to stay with us? How long would they stay here? Where would they go while we're at camp? What about during the season when I have away games? Could they travel with me? Or you? Where would they go to school? And how would Mattie get on a club team if she was traveling all the time? What about--"

Tobin cut off her questioning with a kiss. "Slow down, babe. It's okay. It's gonna be okay. Whatever happens, we're going to find a way to help them out."

Christen smiled against her lips. "You were the one who was upset," she said.

"Yeah," Tobin answered, "but that's before I knew you were worried enough about this for the both of us."

Christen took a deep breath. "People do this, right? Work and take care of kids? Play soccer and take care of kids? How?"

Tobin shook her head, rubbing her forehead against Christen's. "I don't know. I asked Arod how she did it once and her answer was, 'You just do. One day at a time, you just do.'"

Christen reached her lips out again to touch Tobin's before smiling. "I like that," she said. "You should call her and ask for more advice." Tobin laughed. "And I should call my mom. And your mom. And Cheney."

"Mmmm.." Tobin hummed. "We'll call them all tomorrow. For today, I think we should just make dinner." She kissed Christen once more before walking further into the kitchen. She grabbed a pot and began to fill it with water.

"Pasta, then?" Christen asked.

"It just seems like a spaghetti kind of day," Tobin answered, putting the pot on the stove and turning it on. She walked back over to Christen, who was now leaning against the stove side of the island, chewing on her bottom lip.

"What's up?" Tobin asked, placing a hand on either side of Christen on the counter.

"It's just...it's like 5:30, right? Maybe we could call Claire or Alice and ask how we might arrange for Sam to come stay here for a bit. Even for a day, you know, since we're taking those one at a time."

Tobin smiled, reaching behind Christen for her phone and using it as an excuse to press herself flush against her girlfriend's front. She handed Christen her phone and gave her a kiss. "Here, you make the call and I'll make dinner."

Christen hummed against her lips. "Sounds like a plan. Good teamwork."

Tobin pulled out another pan and began to saute vegetables, while Christen moved to the other side of the island and called Claire.

Tobin listened to the half of the conversation she could hear over the sizzle from the stove.

"Hi, Claire? Yes, I'm sorry if I'm calling outside of business hours...Oh, alright, great then. I was just wondering if you knew what we'd have to do for Sam to come stay here. Even for a visit... Uh huh...Yeah...No, we don't but we could get one. Okay, yeah...Really? No, yeah, absolutely...Alright. Thanks, Claire."

Tobin half turned from her post at the stove. "How'd it go? What did she say?"

Christen walked over and kissed Tobin on the cheek. "She's going to call Alice to check that it's okay, but she can get us basically a 72 hour trial period. All we have to do is get a car seat," she said, grabbing her keys off the counter. "Are you okay if I go get it now? Hopefully, she'll call me back and say I can pick him up tonight."

"For sure. I'll finish this and just warm it if you're not back yet," Tobin replied.

Christen walked back over to her at the stove and kissed her softly. "One day at a time, right?"

"One day at a time," Tobin breathed against her lips.

***

Christen hopped in the driver's seat of her car and googled "Where to get car seats" on her phone, followed by "toys r us inglewood." She hit the directions button, put her phone in the dock and backed out of the driveway. There was a significant amount of traffic at this point, so she turned on the radio and started to reflect on the past 24 hours.

She and Tobin had spoken a lot about the future, but always as an abstract concept. They had talked about getting married, about having or adopting kids, but always after the word "someday" or "later." Now she was on her way to buy a car seat while her girlfriend was making dinner for them and the 12-year-old upstairs at their house. Rationally, Christen understood this was crazy, understood the situation was incredibly delicate, understood the adrenaline and strong emotions of the day were clouding their judgment. But every time an image flashed in her mind of Mattie celebrating after nutmegging Tobin, or Mattie crying at the diner, or the look on Tobin's face after Sam kissed her cheek, Christen was ready to throw all rational thought to the wind.

Christen rested her head back against the headrest as the red wall of brake lights illuminated her face. This all reminded her of the feeling that filled her chest in the month before she and Tobin officially started dating. When they were apart, Christen would turn the situation over and over in her mind, but as soon as she saw Tobin again, everything settled and the questions floated away. They felt inevitable; not in a perfunctory way, but in the way you feel at the top of the hill on a roller coaster: when you know exactly what is going to happen but you still feel all the excitement and the nerves and the suspense nonetheless; you're just waiting to fall.

She just kept trying to remember that she had no idea how her and Tobin's relationship would work out, but it did. At which point her brain would remind her that her and Tobin's relationship, until this point, did not involve the lives and emotions of small children the way this situation did. She repeated these circular loops of thought over and over until her phone told her to get off at the next exit. She pulled into the strip mall just off the freeway and parked. Taking one more deep breath, she exited the car and walked toward the store.

After the young sales associate had upsold her to the $200 car seat, she felt like she was in more over her head than ever, but at least like she would be a responsible adult if Sam were going to get in her car. As she finished paying, her phone buzzed and lit up with Claire's contact info. She motioned an apology to the cashier, grabbed the receipt and her cart, and answered.

"Hi, Claire, how are you?"

"Hey, Christen, I just wanted to let you know that I talked to Sam's social worker, and to Alice, and they both agree that Mattie and Sam spending time together is a good idea. Alice just said it couldn't be tonight, because you'd have to pick Sam up in the next half hour, and you'd have to get the car seat and..."

"I already got the car seat," Christen interrupted, excited. "And I'm like 10 minutes away from the group home now."

There was silence for a moment on Claire's end. "I suppose I could try to call Alice back if you really want to have him stay tonight. We don't normally work with such quick turnaround."

Christen swallowed. "Of course not. I understand. These things take time. Mattie was just pretty upset when we got home. I think she really misses Sam."

There was more silence on the line. "You know what, let me call her. I'm sure Sam would love it, and if it helps Mattie settle in somewhere--I'll call her."

Christen smiled and did a little fist pump in the parking lot, looking around to be sure no one saw her. "Thank you. That would be amazing."

Claire said she would call back in a minute and hung up. Christen debated calling Tobin to tell her but decided to wait until there was a definite answer either way. Instead, she began to open and install the car seat in the parking lot, which proved to be more challenging than she predicted. She had just found the English version of the instructions in the 100-page booklet when her phone rang again.

"Claire, hi!"

"Hi, Christen. So I talked to Alice, and she reluctantly agreed to get Sam ready, but you have to be there soon, and she's not very happy about how fast this is happening."

Christen pictured the stern old woman they had met earlier. "Alice doesn't seem like someone who likes change too much."

Claire laughed. "No, she's really not. Should I tell her you'll be over?"

Christen nodded before remembering she was on the phone. "Yes, yes. Please do. I just have to finish installing this car seat and I'll be right there. Thank you for all your help today Claire."

"No problem," Claire replied. "Mattie's a special kid, and she deserves some luck. Maybe meeting you guys means she got some."

Christen inhaled deeply. "I hope it is."

***

Tobin had put the finished pasta in the oven to warm and was watching an EPL game on the DVR when a text came in from Christen.

Be home in 30-40. Set up the other bedroom for our guest!!!!

Tobin sat up quickly and almost yelled up to Mattie. She stopped herself and decided to keep the surprise a little bit longer. Instead, she bounded upstairs to the third bedroom, which served both as a guest room and storage. Tobin began moving the U.S. Soccer suitcases off the bed, shoving them in the closet with the surfboard and extra cleats that lay on the floor. When she thought the room looked moderately clean and she had removed anything a 4-year-old could injure themselves with, she went back down to the kitchen to set the table. She tried to put the game back on, but she couldn't focus and ended up just pacing in front of the couch instead.

"What are you doing?" Mattie asked from the top of the stairs.

"Uhh..." Tobin stalled. "Christen just went...to the store...and she's going to be back soon and then we're gonna eat."

"Why're you being so weird then?"

Tobin was saved from making an excuse when she heard the front door open. Christen entered the room with Sam on her hip, half asleep with his head on her shoulder. Mattie's eyes widened comically and Tobin giggled.

"Shhhh..." Christen said. "He fell asleep on the way over here. He's still waking up."

At that, Sam lifted his head off her shoulder and surveyed his new surroundings. He looked up at Christen, blinking, and garbled, "Are we there yet?"

"Yeah, bud," Christen answered, turning so Sam could see Mattie and Tobin. "Look who's here!"

"Toes!" he said excitedly. Mattie huffed and crossed her arms, stomping over to where Christen was putting Sam down.

"What am I, chopped liver?" she asked grumpily.

"Hi, Mattie," Sam replied, giving her a hug. He giggled. "You're not chop liver."

Tobin crouched next to them and scooped Sam up. "It's nice to be someone's favorite," she joked. "Don't be jealous, Mattie." Mattie rolled her eyes and shoved Tobin for her teasing.

"Alright," Christen said. "Tobs, is dinner ready?"

"Yeah, it's in the oven," she said as she tickled Sam's knee.

"Okay, c'mon, let's set the table," Christen said, ushering everyone into the kitchen.

"Is Sam sleeping over?" Mattie asked.

"Yep!" Christen answered. "Claire said Sam could stay with us for a few days, but she's going to come over tomorrow morning to check on him."

"Yay! What's for dinner?" Mattie asked, hopping up on a stool.

"Pasta and vegetables," Tobin answered. "Is that okay?" Mattie nodded, smiling. "What about you, mister?" Tobin asked, turning to Sam. "You want some spaghetti for dinner?"

Sam shook his head. "No?" Tobin asked, "Why not?"

"Because, silly," he replied, laughing and grabbing her t-shirt collar, "I already haved dinner. I haved chicken nuggets and carrots and mashed taters."

"Okay, then," Tobin answered. "Do you still want to hang out with us while we eat?"

Sam nodded emphatically, flopping his hair back and forth. Christen handed bowls with pasta to Tobin and Mattie before making one for herself. Tobin was struggling to eat her spaghetti with one hand and Sam on her lap, so Sam took the fork and twirled her pasta.

"Here Toes. You needa eat this," he insisted, handing her the sloppily twirled spaghetti. Tobin leaned forward and attempted to get as many of the noodles in her mouth at once as she could. "You needa eat all of them," Sam instructed. "So you can win the whirl cup."

"The whirl cup?" Tobin asked, amused, with her mouth full of pasta.

"Yeah, Mattie says it's in summer vacation this year. You've gotta eat your spaghetti so you can kick good." His pronunciation of 'spaghetti' was more like 'espetti.'

"Are you gonna cheer for us?" Christen asked.

Sam flopped his hair again in affirmation. "Well, I'm gonna cheer for Toes, and Mattie's gonna cheer for you."

"Can't you both cheer for both of us?" Tobin asked. "We're on the same team."

Sam took a second to consider this, his face puzzled. "Maybe," he said. "I have to think about it."

Christen, Mattie, and Tobin all laughed at this, so Sam seemed pleased with his answer.

***

Later, after Mattie had helped them give Sam a bath (which resulted in Tobin getting splashed so many times her shirt was soaked through), and they had put Sam to bed (in Mal/Mattie's room, because he didn't want to sleep away from her), Tobin and Christen collapsed on their bed.

"This isn't totally crazy, right?" Tobin asked, looking at the ceiling.

"Define totally," Christen said.

Tobin blew out a deep breath and began to laugh. "If you had asked me last week how we were spending Valentine's day, this is not what I would've guessed."

Christen joined her laughter, rolling to face Tobin. "No, it's certainly not. But it was still a pretty good day," she said, smiling and leaning over to kiss her.

"That reminds me!" Tobin said, breaking the kiss and jumping out of bed. Christen groaned at the loss of contact and put her face in her girlfriend's pillow. Tobin returned not a minute later, bursting back into the room out of breath. "I almost forgot your present!"

Christen smiled and sat up as Tobin got back into bed next to her. "You know, I would give you yours, but I'm not sure it's really appropriate now that there are two little kids in the next room."

Tobin stopped fiddling with the bag in her hands to stare at Christen, her jaw slack. Christen just smirked wickedly and grabbed the bag from Tobin, saying, "Sorry, babe. We'll just have to save it for another time."

Tobin swallowed and sat back, deflated, as Christen opened her present. She pulled out a gold chain with two small interlocking heart pendants. "Hey! You remembered! This is the one I wanted!" she said turning to Tobin and smiling.

"It's not the exact same one," Tobin explained. "They didn't have the one where the hearts were rounder. But with this one, I could get it engraved so it has our initials on the back. See?" She pointed to the back of the pendants, which read 'TPH' and 'CAP' in small letters.

Christen saw and leaned over to kiss Tobin. "I love it. Thank you. Will you put it on for me?" She held her curly ponytail out of the way so Tobin could do the clasp behind her neck. When she was done, Tobin pulled Christen back against her shoulder and kissed her jaw.

"You know," Christen started. "I was thinking today about our real first kiss? Not like the first-first one, but the real first one, when we talked on the beach?"

"Why's that?" Tobin hummed against the side of her face.

"I felt totally crazy then, too."

Tobin turned so she could see Christen's face better. "Really? How come you let me kiss you then?"

Christen pursed her lips and shrugged. "Because once you were kissing me, being crazy didn't matter."

Tobin pressed her lips to Christen's cheek and smiled. "One day at a time, right?" she said.

"One day at a time."

Chapter Text

"Shit."

Tobin heard Christen swear and felt the bed shift as she sat up. She groaned as the motion pulled the comforter from her shoulder.

"Tobin."

She kept her eyes closed but rolled over to face her girlfriend. "Hmm?"

"It's the 15th."

"Okay."

"We have camp in like, a few days."

"Yeah, s'okay, we can drink all the milk before then."

She felt a hand brush the hair out of her face and she struggled to open her eyes. Christen was looking down at her as though she were speaking gibberish. "What?"

"It's..." Tobin turned to look at the clock on the nightstand, "...5:30 and you're all worried about camp next week. I just figured it was cause there's food in the fridge you don't want to waste."

She shook her head. "Tobin, wha-? I'm not concerned about the milk. I'm concerned about the twelve-year-old in the next room we're taking care of for the foreseeable future."

Tobin yawned. "Why? Mattie would love to come to camp. And the girls would love Sam," she said sleepily, closing her eyes again and burrowing further into the space between their bodies.

"So you've already thought about this and your plan was to bring Mattie to camp? And Sam?" Christen asked, baffled.

Tobin cracked one eye. "Yeah, sure. He can hang out with Luke. Are you telling me you haven't thought about it?"

Christen half shook her head, eyes wide. "Well I thought about before but then we saw Sam and you were all 'one day at a time' and so then I was so focused on getting Sam set up I forgot to worry about it again and I-"

Tobin reached across Christen and rested her chin on her hip, looking up at her. "Hey. It's okay. We'll meet with Claire this morning and work everything out."

Christen smiled softly down at her, brushing back her flyaways and shaking her head. "Tobs, I don't think the state of California is going to let two random women travel across the country with a foster kid they've had in temporary custody for a day. Nevermind her brother, who's staying here on the foster care version of a Redbox rental."

Tobin furrowed her brow. "Why not? If Mattie wants to play professional soccer, this would be like--the best possible career day ever."

"Why? What is she gonna do? Watch on the sidelines? And we're gonna have to call Laura and explain everything..."

"I'll just say I met America's next true footballer on the boardwalk. She'll be stoked."

Christen giggled and laid back. "You should tell her just like that, she'd love it."

Tobin hummed and rested her face on her girlfriend's stomach. "So we're all set then."

"Babe, I really don't think Mattie's going to be able to come to camp."

Tobin frowned. "Well, we can't send her to Palmdale. What if she runs away again?"

Christen stroked Tobin's hair and took a deep breath. "We have to talk to Claire."

***

A few hours later, after Christen had enlisted Tobin in her mission to clean every surface in the house, and after Tobin sold Mattie and Sam on oatmeal for breakfast, there was a knock at the front door. Christen was wiping down the kitchen counters for the third time and Tobin was listening to Mattie read the Sorcerer's Stone aloud to Sam.

"Tobin, that's her. Can you get it?"

Tobin opened the door to a short young woman with curly blonde hair and a friendly smile. "You must be Claire," Tobin said, offering her hand. "Come on in."

Claire followed her into the living room and smiled wider when she saw Mattie and Sam on the couch.

"Hi, Claire!" Mattie said, waving.

"Hi, Mattie, hi Sam! How are you guys doing?"

"Great!" Mattie said. "I'm reading Harry Potter to Sam and I got new shoes yesterday." She pointed to the Nike indoor sneakers that she'd had on since she'd taken off the new boots.

"That's great! How about you Sammy?"

"Toes put my picture on the fridge!" Claire looked to Tobin for context.

Tobin plopped down next to Sam and poked his rib, making him giggle. "He drew a picture of me kicking a ball through the donut sign."

"Ahhhh..." Claire pretended to understand.

She turned as Christen walked through the doorway from the kitchen. "Hi, you must be Claire. I'm Christen." They shook hands. "Can I get you something to drink? Tea? Coffee?"

"No, thank you, I'm fine. I figured you could just give me a quick tour of the house, then we could sit and talk."

"Mattie, you want to give Claire a tour?" Tobin asked.

Mattie shrugged. "Sure, okay."

Mattie led Claire into the kitchen with Tobin, Christen, and Sam in tow. She pointed out the laundry room and the downstairs bathroom before taking her back through the living room and upstairs.

"This is Mal's room. It's where I sleep, and Sammy slept in here with me last night because he didn't want to sleep in the other room all alone."

Claire frowned. "Who's Mal?"

Mattie gave her an exaggerated eye roll. "Mallory Pugh? She's only like my second favorite player after Christen! The future of American soccer? She's on that big poster I showed you downtown."

Claire looked at Christen and Tobin. "She lives here too?"

"She stays with me during the season," Christen answered. "She's living in Colorado at her parents' now."

Claire still looked confused but nodded. "When does the season start? Will she be back soon?"

"Preseason starts in like a month, so around then," Tobin answered.

Claire seemed to ponder this. "I see. Well, is that the end of the tour? Tobin, Christen, is there a place where we could talk for a few minutes?"

Christen nodded. "Mattie, can you and Sam hang out up here for a bit? While we talk to Claire?"

Mattie, still holding her book, hopped on the bed and pulled Sam up. "C'mon Sammy. Let's read while the grownups talk about how I'm a problem child."

Claire frowned at her comment and Tobin tried to stifle her laughter.

"We'll only be a few minutes," Christen assured as they exited the room.

Back downstairs, Christen motioned for Claire to sit in the arm chair while she and Tobin sat on the couch.

They sat quietly for a moment, all waiting for someone else to start.

"Mattie and Sam seem to be very comfortable here," Claire said.

Christen made eye contact with Tobin and shrugged. "They're pretty go-with-the-flow, I guess. Plus, I think Mattie being here makes it easier for Sam."

Claire nodded. "I'm sure. But they seem to like you two as well."

"They're good kids," Tobin answered simply.

"They are," Claire replied. "I just--I'm curious about how much you know about their background?"

"Mattie told us all about her Abuela taking care of her," Tobin answered. "And Sam coming and her mom dying, and her Abuela getting taken away."

Claire raised her eyebrows. "She did? That's not something she likes to talk about, especially with new people..."

"I had to bribe her with french fries," Tobin said.

"And I think she felt more comfortable around us because she already knew who we were," Christen offered.

Claire nodded again, slowly. "I'm sure that helped. I suppose--" she paused. "If you know about Mattie and Sam's background, you can surely understand that they need some stability in their life."

Tobin and Christen both nodded in agreement.

"I think that them getting to spend time together is great, and I feel much better knowing that Mattie's somewhere where she isn't likely to try to run again." Claire chose her words carefully. "However, I'm a little concerned that after being here, in this situation, it'll be hard for the two of them, but especially Mattie, to return to normal."

The women both sat on the couch silently.

"Even if normal is in Carson, or if they can be near each other----which is not a guarantee, by the way-- or if, God willing, they were to get placed in a home or even adopted together, if they form an emotional attachment to you two, it's going to be a very difficult transition."

Tobin looked down at her hands folded in her lap.

Claire took a breath before continuing on. "And I don't mean to imply that you're being glib about this. You two seem connected to Mattie and Sam as well. I just think you should consider what role you're prepared to have in their life going forward."

Christen finally spoke. "I think you'll agree that with our jobs--our lifestyle is not really conducive to stability."

"That doesn't mean we don't want to help Mattie and Sam however we can, though," Tobin added.

Claire offered a soft smile. "I understand that, really. I can see that you care about them. But you need to understand that the situation is delicate and that in some ways when you think you're helping, you may actually be doing the opposite."

Christen played with one of her rings before looking up. "Would it even be possible...on your end, would it even be--hypothetically--possible for us, with our jobs and the way things are...to make this situation more permanent?"

Tobin stared at Christen in surprise and tried to read her face. Claire looked between them. "If you two want to talk about this first-"

Tobin shook her head, grabbing Christen's hand and turning to Claire. "No, I'd like to know that too."

Claire bit her lip. "I wouldn't say impossible. The more permanent a situation gets, the more scrutiny there is, but the process also gets more individualized. It's less about checking boxes and more about demonstrating that the child feels safe and happy and is set up for success. Also, just to be clear, what happened yesterday was not normal. If this gets more serious, inspections and permssions won't always go that smoothly. If Christen hadn't worked the system, and if I --and my boss--hadn't thought Mattie would be a flight risk in any other situation, you would never have gotten this kind of temporary custody so quickly. Normally, I have this meeting with prospective foster parents before the child moves in."

Christen looked admonished as Claire continued.

"If you were thinking about making things more permanent, it would certainly make me feel more comfortable about Mattie and Sam's attachments, but it would introduce a whole number of new logisitcal questions. You would need to figure out, both for yourselves and for the state, how you'd make it work. Would the kids travel with you? Where would they go to school? What about when you have to travel and Mattie has school? Those kinds of things. And you'd have to be able to prove to a judge that whatever your routine is, it would be conducive to the child's health and wellbeing."

Tobin tilted her head. "So, like, a good test of how we would do things would be if we took them on a work trip with us?"

Christen shot her a look and Claire furrowed her brow. "I suppose. You'd need to get it signed off on beforehand if it were out of state, and it couldn't interfere with Mattie going to school."

"And when does Mattie have to go back to school?" Tobin asked.

"Well, normally I'd have you visit a few places next week, depending on where there are openings. But all the schools are off for February break, so I'd say the week after that, we'll set up some meetings."

Tobin gave her an easy half grin. "Would it be cool if we did those a week later?"

Claire frowned. "Why do you ask?"

"Tobin and I actually have to travel for work next week, and we wanted to figure out the best plan for Mattie and Sam," Christen explained.

Claire grimaced. "Hmph. This is why it normally takes much longer to get this kind of custody."

"For sure," Tobin said quickly, "But, like, think of how awesome of an opportunity this is for Mattie? To go to a national team camp? Plus, if she meets all these players that, like, went to school and played on club teams and went to college, maybe she'll ditch this whole 'walk-on to the Sunrise at 17' idea."

"Do you really think bribing her with soccer is the right way to motivate her to go to school?" Claire asked.

"It's the only reason I ever went," Tobin quipped.

Christen suppressed an eye roll. "I think Tobin means that she would meet a lot of positive role models there. It would be an encouraging experience, in soccer and in other areas."

Claire pursed her lips. "I would have to talk to my boss. When would you leave?"

"Early Monday morning," Christen answered.

"So we'd need to finish the paperwork today," she said, blowing out a long breath. "Where is the trip to?"

"Well, first Orlando, but it's a tournament, so we have games in Durham, New Orleans, and Houston," Tobin said.

Claire looked at her blankly. "You're going to four states? In...not even two weeks?"

"Is that not going to work?" Christen asked worriedly.

"I mean it's slightly more paperwork for me, but it's not really more complicated than the one state. I would just think that it would be kind of exhausting."

Tobin shrugged. "They want people from different parts of the country to be able to watch the games. We're used to it."

Claire took a deep breath. "You guys would need to give me a commitment that this is a test run for something more serious. It doesn't have to be notarized or anything, but it would need to be today with the timing of the trip. If you're ready now, I'll call my boss on the way back to the office and see if we can't get this done quickly."

"Wait, really?" Christen asked as Tobin fist-pumped.

"If you guys are willing to treat this as a trial for a more permanent arrangement, I can justify the trip on paper."

Tobin and Christen looked at each other before Tobin gave an almost imperceptible nod of her head. "Okay," Christen answered. "We're in."

"Really? Excellent," Claire answered.

"I want to warn you, though; you'll need to be careful about how you talk to Mattie and Sam about the situation. If you're going to make this real, and you're going to tell them, you'd better be sure of all the details. If things fall through after that, it'll be 100 times worse than any of the temporary situations we talked about."

***

After they had given her all the additional details she needed, Claire said goodbye to Mattie and Sam and left to start the paperwork. The kids returned to reading on the couch. Tobin walked into the kitchen, where Christen leaned against the counter, biting her lip and staring into space. She looked up and Tobin met her wide-eyed gaze.

Tobin didn't say anything until she had walked over, wrapped her arms around Christen's waist, and tucked her chin on her shoulder. "Well, that went slightly differently than I was expecting."

Christen let out a hollow laugh. "What did we just do?"

"I don't know," Tobin said, shaking her head. "But I don't think 'one day at a time' is going to work anymore."

Christen took a deep breath. "I suppose not. We kind of have to talk about the whole thing now, huh?"

Tobin pulled back to look Christen in the eye. "I got jealous."

"Huh?"

"When she was talking about them going to live somewhere else. I got jealous."

"Because you don't want them to live anywhere else?" Christen whispered, searching her face.

Tobin gave a small nod. "It's like I can't help it," she said quietly.

Christen let out a sigh. "Me neither."

She laughed. "Claire was half right."

"About what?"

"The dangers of getting too attached. She was just wrong that it would be Mattie and Sam and not us."

"We're so screwed." Tobin giggled, and soon they were both laughing uncontrollably, still holding each other, leaning against the kitchen counter.

Still laughing, Christen leaned forward to kiss her. Tobin smiled. "What was that for?"

"There's no one I'd rather be screwed with."

Tobin smiled and returned her kiss, moving her mouth so it was next to Christen's ear. "I think you mean screwed by..."

Christen's groan started before she even finished the sentence. She shook her head. "That one was too easy, but way to ruin a moment, Tobs."

"You know what else is too--" Tobin started, before Christen put a hand over her mouth, muffling her words. Tobin frowned her lips against Christen's palm.

"Don't pout," Christen admonished. "You can use all the bad lines you want on me after we have a plan for camp." Tobin kissed her hand before removing it from her face and holding it.

"Okay," she replied, "but for the record...my lines are great. Have you looked in the mirror? I think my game speaks for itself."

Christen rolled her eyes, taking a deep breath in through her nose and trying to hide her smile. "Yeah, yeah. Alright, Casanova, you were the one who wanted to bring them. What do we have to do?"

Tobin put on her best clueless expression. "You want me to make the plan?" she teased. "Christen Press, queen of planning, wants me to make a plan for us?" she dramatically stared out the window. "I feel like this is a historic moment!"

Christen shook her head and started to push Tobin off of her, walking away. "No," Tobin whined, holding onto her. "I can make a plan."

Christen looked at her expectantly. "I'm gonna..." Tobin scrambled. "I'm gonna call Arod! She knows how to bring kids to camp! She can tell us everything we need to do!"

Christen narrowed her eyes. "That's actually not a bad plan," she admitted. "Why don't you--" She was cut off by her own phone vibrating on the island. Tobin let her disentangle from their embrace to check it. "It's my mom," Christen explained. "I should talk to her. Call Amy, okay?"

Tobin left the kitchen to find her phone as Christen was picking up. "Hi, Mom," she said.

"Christen!" she heard her mother shout. She moved the phone away from her ear at the loud volume. "What's this about you and Tobin adopting that girl from the news? Your father just told me you had him call Uncle Jeff yesterday for a foster license?" Christen peeked into the living room where Mattie was still reading to Sam. She stepped through the back slider and out onto the porch. "Christen? Are you there?" her mom asked.

"Yeah, Mom, I'm here. It's kind of a complicated situation. I just stepped outside because I don't want to say anything I shouldn't in front of Mattie and Sam."

"What do you mean something you shouldn't say? So it's true? Mattie's that girl? Who's Sam?"

Christen took a deep breath before starting to explain. "Sam is Mattie's brother. He's staying with us too."

"Her brother?" her mom asked incredulously.

"Yeah."

"Why am I just hearing about all of this now?"

"Well it's been a little hectic since we found Mattie, and it's complicated because Tobin and I are," she paused to breathe in, "we are talking about having them stay here longer term, but we're not even sure if they'll let us, and we don't want to get the kids' hopes up."

"Why wouldn't they let them stay? Where would they go instead?" Stacy asked, and Christen could picture her mother's frown.

"The original plan was to have Mattie stay here until a spot opened up at this group home in Carson, but we had a meeting with Mattie's social worker this morning--"

"A group home?"

"It's like an orphanage, Mom."

"I know what it is, I just--is that really the best option they have?"

"Kind of. She was supposed to go to this one in Palmdale and that's why she ran away originally--"

"Palmdale?!"

"Yeah, Mom. But she wanted to be closer to Sam--"

"They don't try to keep them together?"

"Claire--her caseworker--tries, but there are issues with Sam's paperwork," Christen explained. "The best they can do is keep them somewhat near each other."

Stacy tsked. "So you and Tobin are talking about what? Keeping them?" Her mother sounded less disapproving of the idea than Christen had expected. Her voice only betrayed curiosity and a hint of concern.

"We're trying to figure it out. Honestly, Mom, I just can't imagine having to send them somewhere else. Especially if it would mean they got separated."

Stacy hummed. "And how does Tobin feel about all of this?"

Christen laughed. "I think if Claire had told us they couldn't come to camp, Tobin would've snuck them on the plane in her suitcase or something."

"They're coming to camp with you?" her mother asked, surprised.

"Well, Claire's working on it, but she thinks it should be fine. We still have to work out the logistics, but it was either that or Mattie would have to go Palmdale, and we're worried about her running away again."

"Why couldn't they just stay here?"

"What do you mean? Tobin and I are gonna be gone for a week and a half."

"No, I mean here. With me and your dad."

"Mom, I wouldn't ask you--"

"Why not?!" Stacy protested.

"Well, for one thing, you don't have a foster license."

"So! Neither did you until yesterday!"

"Yeah, but, Mom--"

"No buts! If these are going to be my grandchildren--"

"Mom!" Christen interjected warningly. "We're taking this slow. You can't mom out over this. And you can't say stuff like that, especially not in front of them."

Christen could feel her mom grinning through the phone regardless. "Don't worry, honey, I wouldn't. But I want to meet them. Bring them over for dinner tonight."

"I don't know, Ma, we still have to figure out the logistics of bringing them to camp--"

"Don't try that. I know you fly out on Monday. You have plenty of time, and I didn't ask. Be here at 6:30."

Christen knew there was no getting out of this. "Okay, Mom."

"'Kay, baby. I'll see you then. Tell Tobin I say hi. Love you."

"Love you too." She went to hang up but paused. "Mom?"

"Yeah, sweetie?"

"Thank you."

"Of course, that's why I'm here."

Christen hung up and walked back inside to find Tobin in the kitchen.

"How's your mom?"

"Good. We're going to dinner at their house."

Tobin raised her eyebrows. "Tonight?"

Christen nodded. "She wasn't really taking no for an answer. How's Arod? That was a quick call."

"Yeah, she's coming over."

"Here?" Christen asked, surprised.

Tobin nodded. "I started explaining everything, and she was like 'Is Christen there?'" she said, affecting a rather ditzy imitation of Amy's voice, "and I told her you were on the phone, and she was just like 'Luke and I are coming over. I'll be there in an hour' and hung up."

"What did you tell her?" Christen asked, confused.

"I don't know, I just explained what was going on and said we needed advice."

"Alright, then, I guess Amy's coming over."

"Who's coming over?" Mattie asked, appearing in the doorway.

Tobin and Christen looked at each other, silently discussing how much to tell Mattie. "Arod! And Luke," Tobin said finally.

Mattie's eyes grew wide. "Really? What for?"

"Just to say hi," Tobin explained. "And she wants to meet you."

"Me?" Mattie asked, shocked.

Tobin just nodded, not knowing how to explain. "How far into the book have you guys gotten?" Christen asked, trying to change the subject.

"By myself, I got to the part where they have their first flying lesson and Malfoy takes Neville's Remembrall, but me and Sammy just got to the part when they get to Diagon Alley."

"That's like my favorite part!" Tobin said excitedly. "Can I listen?" she asked, walking into the living room.

"Sure," Mattie answered. "But is it really your favorite part or are you just saying that?" she asked skeptically.

"They're all really her favorite parts," Christen whispered to her, making Mattie giggle.

***

Just as they were getting to the part where Harry meets Ron (another one of Tobin's favorite parts), Tobin's phone buzzed multiple times in quick succession. Mattie paused. "Keep going, I'm still listening," Tobin said, pulling her phone out from under Sam's legs, who was now sitting on her lap as he listened. "It's just Allie and Alex," she explained, looking at the "Three Amigas" Messages notifications she had. Mattie went back to reading and Tobin scanned the chat.

Alex: When are you two getting in? I need help w the bbq.

Harry: Har gets in at 2 and I get in at 3. When are ppl coming over?

Alex: I told people 5 but I'm sure they'll just show up whenever they want -_-

Harry: Lol that's what you get for inviting the whole team 2 your house :P

Alex: Tobs what time are you getting in? And by you I mean Press because that's whose help I really want. ;P

Tobin rolled her eyes and typed out a reply. Why don't u just text Chris if its her help u want lol. She didn't wait long for a response.

Alex: I can't force her to help like I can w you. but she'll just come. It's the perfect system

Tobin sent three actual eye roll emojis before explaining, Well, I don't know if we'll even be able to come early. We're still figuring out our camp plan.

Harry: What do you mean you're figuring out your camp plan?

Tobin tried to figure out how to explain the situation.

Did you see my tweet the other day?

Alex: Omg I meant to ask you about that. Did they ever find that girl?

Tobin paused her texting to listen to Mattie read about Harry and Ron's confrontation of Malfoy on the train.

Ya we found her that night

Harry: You found her??? Go Harry!

She looked over at Christen, feet curled under her next to Mattie, listening intently. Me and Chris did. She's been staying with us.

She had to wait longer for the next reply.

Alex: Like at your house? Like you're taking care of a kid?

Tobin looked at the boy on her lap, who was also completely engrossed in the story and smiled. Actually two kids since yesterday. Her little bro Sam is staying here too. We're trying to work it out so they can come to camp

Harry: Har, I thought you guys were talking about getting a dog

Tobin furrowed her brow. Ya we are. What does that have to do w anything

Alex: How did you go from maybe getting a dog to actually getting two kids in the 3 days since we last talked???

Allie followed up with an Anchorman gif that had the caption "That escalated quickly".

Tobin sighed. It's a long story. I will tell you at camp.

Harry: With your new children!!!

Alex: I don't know if I'm excited or terrified about this.

Tobin huffed. Me neither. I have to go tho we're reading Harry Potter

She muted the conversation, knowing Alex and Allie would want to continue to talk about this and wouldn't move it to another text chain. Tobin relaxed as she listened to more of the story.

They only made it to the beginning of the sorting ceremony before the sound of a knock and the door opening interrupted Mattie's reading again. Tobin heard Amy's voice saying, "Go say hi to your Aunties," before the sound of little feet came running into the room.

"Hi Auntie Christen, Hi Auntie T--" Luke stopped his greeting, looking between Tobin and the boy he didn't recognize on her lap. He held an action figure in either hand with a confused expression on his face. Amy entered the room, surveying Luke in his confusion and Christen and Mattie on the couch before her eyes landed on Tobin with Sam on her lap.

Quickly, Christen got up to give Amy a hug. "Hey. Amy, this is Mattie. Mattie, you know who Arod is."

Mattie nodded shyly and Amy smiled and waved at her. "Hi, Mattie. It's nice to meet you."

"And this," Christen said, gesturing, "is Sam. Luke, he's four, so he's only a little bit older than you."

Luke shyly hugged his mother's leg. Amy knelt down and extracted herself from his grip. "Can you say hi to Sam, Luke?" Luke nervously raised a hand, which was still holding his toy.

Tobin nudged Sam forward, encouraging him to return Luke's greeting.

"Luke, why don't you show Sam Poe and Finn?" Amy suggested.

Luke walked forward with his action figures held out. "Want to play Star Wars with me?" he asked Sam.

Sam looked confused but nodded, sliding off Tobin's lap. "Do you want to be Poe or Finn?" Sam shrugged. "Here, you can be Poe, he's my favorite," Luke offered.

As the boys plopped down on the carpet and Luke started to explain the characters and his own list of rules for playing Star Wars, Amy looked up at Tobin with wide eyes and raised eyebrows.

Tobin just sat on the couch and tried to look nonchalant. Christen tried to diffuse the weird energy that had come over the room. "Amy, do you want a drink or anything? In the kitchen?" she asked, motioning to the other room.

"Sure," Amy answered. "Tobin, come help."

"One sec," Tobin said, motioning for them to go without her. When they had left, whispering among themselves, Tobin turned to Mattie, who was eyeing her suspiciously.

"What's going on?" she asked. "Why is Arod really here?"

Tobin considered what to say carefully. "I can't really to tell you yet...it's kind of a surprise. Can you just trust that my surprises have been good in the past, and this one will be good too?"

Mattie looked first at Sam, playing on the floor with Luke, before turning back to Tobin and giving her a slight nod.

"Sweet. Thanks. Can you make sure they don't swallow those lightsabers while we talk to Arod?" Mattie grinned and nodded. Tobin thought she would go back to her book, but she joined the boys on the floor, carefully asking about their game. Tobin smiled and walked to the kitchen.

Amy and Christen looked up from their conversation and the room was silent for a moment. "So, Tobs--I thought you guys were talking about getting a dog?"

Tobin sent her a sarcastic smirk. "Nice try. Allie beat you to that joke by like an hour."

Amy hit the counter with her fist. "Dammit."

"What did Allie and Alex want?" Christen asked.

"Alex is concerned about her cookout. She wanted us to come early to help."

Christen laughed. "She wants your help? With what? Sitting and watching EPL with Servando while we do everything?"

"That was one time!" Tobin protested. "And whose idea was it to put dinner so close to the Arsenal game? That's not my fault." She rolled her eyes. "Also, she said she's just using me to get you there," she gestured to Christen.

Amy nodded. "Yeah, that makes more sense. You're an easy target."

Tobin pouted. "I'm going back to the other room, where I'm actually appreciated."

Christen rolled her eyes at Tobin's dramatics. "C'mon. I'm sure you'll be very helpful at Alex's cookout. But we need to be sure we can get there first." Tobin relented and slid into a chair at the island.

Amy nodded. "You guys picked a rough camp to start with. West Coast to East Coast is always a tough trip."

"What do we need to do?" Christen asked, grabbing the notepad and pen that were stuck to the fridge.

Amy thought. "Well, you need to call the office. Normally, you'd have to worry about getting a rental car, because car seats can't always fit in the vans, but I already have one, so we can just carpool. I brought you an extra car seat but it looked like you already had one in the car."

Tobin nodded. "Chris got one before she picked up Sam."

"You should've called me," Amy said. "Seriously guys, they grow out of this stuff so fast, and I've got like four of everything from Ryan. Sam can come to our playroom and pick out whatever toys he wants. The piles of crap in that room are so high, he'd be doing me a favor. What do you have for toys so far?"

Christen and Tobin stared at her blankly. "Right, you've had him for like 12 hours," Amy realized. "Okay, well we'll need to get him some toys, so the nannies don't have to entertain them the whole time. Luke is bringing all of his Star Wars toys, but you should find something Sam likes in case he decides he doesn't like Star Wars."

Christen was taking notes the whole time. "Great, we'll go to Target this weekend." As she said it, her phone buzzed and she opened a text.

Amy's eyes widened. "Oh--and you need to figure out what kind of snacks he likes. The sitters will feed them, but I like to give them a stash of Luke and Ryan's favorites to keep them happy."

Christen nodded and wrote 'snacks' down. "That was Claire. Her boss just signed off."

Tobin grinned widely and asked in a stage whisper, "Can we tell them now?"

"Let's wait until we have the details figured out, okay? Amy, is there anything we're missing?"

"You're going to have to check the car seat." Tobin groaned. "Yeah, I know Tobs, but your days of not checking bags are over. Which means you'll have to get to the airport even earlier. What time is your flight?"

Tobin let her head hit her hands on the counter and groaned again. "6:00," she mumbled against the granite.

"Jet Blue?" Amy asked. Christen nodded. "That's perfect! They put us on the same flight. We'll be able to put Sam and Luke in the rental no problem. Honestly, this is great; Luke was going to be the only kid there this week. Ryan and Cash are going to come for the game and the weekend, but I was worried he would get lonely during the day."

Tobin lifted head and smiled. "See, Chris? I told you this was a good idea!"

Christen just continued to write on her notepad. "We need to make sure we can get Mattie and Sam tickets so we're all on the same flight then. We should do that right after we call Laura."

Tobin's grin slid off her face. "I forgot we had to do that."

Christen gave her a sweet smile. "Since this was your idea, and it was sooooo good, maybe you should make the call."

Tobin bristled at the challenge. "Maybe I will." She grabbed her phone off the counter and fired off a text.

"That's it?" Christen prodded.

Tobin held up her hands. "I told him to call when she had a minute. What if she was busy?"

Amy laughed. "Gotta work up the courage there, Tobs?"

Tobin's comeback was interrupted by her phone vibrating. She looked down at it like it was a bomb about to go off.

"Don't not answer it!" Christen said, pushing the phone toward her.

Tobin took a deep breath and picked up. "Hey, Laura?" She paused. "Yeah, I was wondering if I could talk to you about something."

Amy pointed to the door. "You know," she whispered, "as fun as this would be to watch, I'm going to see what's going on in the other room."

Christen nodded and motioned for Tobin to join her on the back porch. "Can you hold on one sec Coach?" Tobin asked. The sat down at the table and Tobin put the phone on speaker. "I'm putting you on speaker because Christen's here and we actually both need to talk to you."

"Alright," Laura's voice came through the speaker. "What's going on?"

Tobin paused, wondering how to explain the situation.

"Why do I feel like you're gonna tell me one of you is pregnant?" Laura joked. When they took a little too long to respond, she asked worriedly, "Wait. Is one of you pregnant? How-- What--"

"Nope, no, we're not pregnant," Tobin said, finally finding something to say.

"Thank God. I'll be honest, knowing you two aren't going to have any 'happy accidents' and leave me helps me sleep at night."

Christen tried not to laugh at his word choice. "Well, we're not leaving," Tobin started, "but we may have had a bit of a happy accident..."

"What are you talking about, Tobin?"

Tobin tried to think. "Do you, by any chance, follow me on Twitter, Coach?"

Christen shot her a look. "Christen, are you there?" Laura asked. "What is she talking about?"

"No, Coach," Tobin said, still trying to save the conversation, "I only ask because yesterday I tweeted a video of a girl freestyling at the beach--"

"Actually," she interrupted, "I did see that. People were watching it in the office and they showed it to me. Someone said she was a missing kid or something. That had to be hard to find out. She seemed talented."

"Well, yeah, but good news," Tobin said in a positive tone, "she's not missing anymore!"

"They found her?" Laura asked. Christen rolled her eyes at the way Tobin was dragging this out.

"Yeah, actually we found her and she and her four-year-old brother live with me and Christen now sort of on a temporary basis but possibly like for real," Tobin forced out all in one breath.

Laura didn't say anything for a second. "Uhhh....so you just called to tell me that you decided to adopt two children...three and a half months before the World Cup?" Tobin looked to Christen for help.

"Look, Laura, obviously we didn't plan this, and we're trying to take things slow, but it's a delicate situation. We're still trying to figure out how to handle things."

"Also, Mattie is America's next true footballer," Tobin added. Christen gave her an exasperated glare.

Laura paused again and sighed. "Is one of you going to have to miss She Believes?"

"No," Tobin said, "that's actually part of the reason we called. We were wondering if Mattie and Sam could come to camp."

"Do you mean logistically?" she asked.

"No, that will be our next call," Christen answered. "We were wondering if you would have any issues with it."

"I know you guys know that bringing kids on the road is hard," she said. "You should talk to some of the moms and ask them about it."

"Arod's in our living room right now," Tobin answered. "She's helping us figure it out."

"Alright. You'll both be in camp?" Laura asked.

"Yes."

"And you'll both be focused?"

"Yes."

"Alright, as long as you bring your heads, you can bring whoever else you want. Just work it out with the office."

Tobin did an excited little dance and Christen shook her head, but smiled widely at her. "Thanks, Coach," Tobin said.

"Tobin?" she asked.

"Yeah, Coach?"

"She's really a real footballer?"

"Yeah, Coach."

"Only you," she laughed. "Well, I'm glad she's coming to camp; I can't wait to meet them."

"Thank you, Coach," they answered.

"See you in Florida," she said and hung up.

Tobin looked at Christen expectantly. "C'mon, that went pretty well."

Christen was trying to hide her smile, but failing miserably. "It certainly could've gone worse," she said, getting up and walking inside. Tobin followed her. Amy heard the door open and came back to the kitchen.

"Well, how'd it go?" she asked.

"Surprisingly...okay," Christen conceded. "She doesn't really care as long as we're not distracted."

Amy looked a little surprised and mostly relieved. "That's awesome. So you just have to call the office?" Christen nodded. "Alright, then, I think my work here is done! I've got to pick up Ryan at one anyway, and who knows what traffic will be."

They walked into the living room, where Mattie had returned to reading but Sam and Luke each had an action figure perched on the back of the arm chair and were having what appeared to be an intense conversation through them.

"Hey, Luke, baby, we gotta go," Amy said, motioning for Luke to get down from the chair.

"Nooo," Luke whined. "Sam and I aren't done playing."

"I know," Amy said, "but we've got to go pick up your brother from school." Luke pouted, folding his arms over his chest. "You and Sam can have another playdate soon, okay?"

Luke continued to frown. "When?" he asked grumpily.

"Really soon," she promised. "I'll work it out with Auntie Tobin and Auntie Christen, okay?" Luke seemed to accept this, so he slid off the chair.

"Wait," Sam said, holding out the Poe action figure still in his hand.

Luke shook his head. "You can have him 'til our playdate. It's like the movie when they go to Jakku and get lost but then they see each other on D'Qar." Sam seemed to think this was a logical argument, so he nodded.

"Can you say thank you, Sam?" Christen asked.

"Thank you," Sam said.

Amy smiled at the interaction and nudged Luke. "Can you say goodbye?"

Luke ran over and barrelled into Tobin's knees, before hugging Christen and then Mattie. He walked over to Sam last and saluted. "Force be with you," he said. Sam copied the motion and repeated the phrase.

"Oh no," Christen whispered to Tobin, bumping her shoulder, "we're gonna have to get Star Wars."

***

The day passed quickly after lunch and a call to US Soccer's office, a workout and a marathon trip to Target. (Tobin blamed the slow pace on her difficulty getting Sam out of the toy section, but Christen suspected she was having more fun than he was.) Soon enough, they were pulling into the driveway at Christen's childhood home for dinner with her parents.

Mattie sat awkwardly in the backseat as Tobin grabbed the wine they brought and Christen grabbed Sam. When Mattie hadn't moved in the time it took Christen to detach him from the carseat, she looked at her with a small frown. "You coming in, Mattie?"

Mattie fidgeted. "Are you sure it's okay me and Sam come to dinner at your parents'? We could have stayed at your house so you and Tobin could come."

Christen smiled. "I don't think my mom would like that very much. She specifically requested your presence."

"Me?" Mattie asked, flummoxed. "Why?"

Christen paused and thought for a second. "She knows you're staying with us, and she wants to make sure Tobin and I are taking good care of you guys."

Mattie considered that and nodded. "Okay. I'll make sure to tell her you are, then."

Christen laughed and nudged her head toward the house. "Alright. Come on, let's go."

Mattie had intended to tell Christen's parents this as soon as she walked in the door, but was distracted by the sound of paws scratching tile and the feeling of two warm bodies crashing into her legs. She stumbled, but Tobin put a hand on her back to steady her.

"Shit," Tobin whispered under her breath. "You're not afraid of dogs or anything, right?"

Mattie shook her head and looked down at the two faces staring up at her and wagging their tails. "Good," Tobin said, "cause this--" she pet one of the dogs "--is Khaleesi and this--" she pet the other "--is Morena." Mattie reached a hand out and pet Khaleesi's head. She smiled when the dog thwacked her tail harder at the attention. She looked over to see Sam in Christen's arms, not finding the dogs as cute as she did. Christen was whispering to him reassuringly, but the way he clung to her shirt told her he was still frightened by the animals.

"Here, Sammy, see?" she said, petting both the dogs at once. Sam seemed slightly more relaxed at Mattie's comfort, but still didn't want to get down from Christen's arms.

"There you are," a woman Mattie assumed was Christen's mom called, walking into the foyer. "You must be Mattie!" she said, holding out her arms. Before Mattie could react, she was wrapped in a bone-crushing hug. When she pulled back, Mattie tried to mirror the blinding smile on Mrs. Press's face. "And this is Sam?" she asked, walking over to where Christen held him. Mrs. Press gave him a little wave. Sam, overwhelmed by the new surroundings, shyly hid his face in Christen's neck.

"Hey, Sammy," Christen said, "This is my mom. Can you say hi?" Sam reluctantly removed his hand from where it clenched the fabric of Christen's shirt and gave a wave in return.

"Dinner will be take about a half an hour," Mrs. Press explained as she led them into the kitchen. "And your sisters should be here soon."

Christen frowned. "I didn't know everyone was coming over."

Mrs. Press smiled. "Well, after I talked to you, I was thinking about it and thought it would be nice to have the whole family over for pizzas."

Mattie saw the warning look Christen gave her mother, but she didn't know what it meant. Tobin seemed to see it too, because her voice was a little too peppy when she asked, "Did you say pizza? Sweet! What kind?"

Mrs. Press seemed happy to accept Tobin's change of topic, and started explaining the personal pizza bar she set up. She directed Mattie to wash her hands in the sink, and once she and Sam were washed and set up with their own pizzas to decorate, Mattie quickly forgot the awkward exchange that had just occurred.

A steady stream of Press family members--and possibly family friends, she couldn't be sure--started to fill the room, and Mattie was introduced to all of them, but she started to lose track of names and relations after meeting Christen's dad and first sister. She mostly just stuck to Christen or Tobin's side with Sam, at least until Sam warmed up with the dogs, at which point she mostly followed around her brother following around Khaleesi and Morena. She found herself outside, helping Sam play fetch, which was a relief from the activity of the house. That's where Tobin and Christen found her, each taking a seat on either side of her on the rock wall.

"You okay?" Christen asked, rubbing her back. "You've been quiet all night."

"Yeah," Mattie said and forced a laugh, "I've just been trying to remember everyone's names."

Christen and Tobin both gave her a sympathetic look. "We came out to tell you, you can know the surprise now," Tobin said.

Mattie looked up, surprised. "What is it?"

"Well..." Christen started, "Do you know what next week is?"

Mattie started to think when Tobin grabbed her arm and almost yelled, "You're coming to SheBelieves camp with us."

As Mattie sat there, stunned, Christen rolled her eyes and admonished Tobin. "You didn't let her guess!"

"Sorry," Tobin said, still smiling, but more bashfully now, "I was excited."

Christen turned back to Mattie. "Is that okay?"

Mattie couldn't do anything but nod, wondering how things still managed to shock her after the week (and really, year) she'd had.

***

Monday morning, getting to the airport proved easier than either Christen or Tobin had predicted. Mattie was so excited to go to camp, she was already awake when Christen came into her room. They didn't even wake Sam, just carrying him to the car and strapping him into the car seat. There was only a little traffic on the way to the airport and the security moved quickly. They saw Arod and Luke at the gate, and even in their groggy states, Sam and Luke were excited to see each other. Everything was going smoothly as they sat, ready for takeoff, Tobin and Sam on one side of the plane, closer to the front, and Christen and Mattie on the opposite side further back. Tobin should've known it wouldn't last.

Sam woke up midway through takeoff. "My ears hurt."

"It's the air pressure, bud," Tobin answered. "Open your mouth wide."

Sam opened his mouth and let his tongue hang out. "No, like this," Tobin said, demonstrating how he should pop his ears. Sam tried again to no avail. "It's not working," he whined.

"Can you yawn?" Tobin asked, yawning. Sam gave a small yawn but was missing the concept. "It still hurts, Toes."

"One sec," she said, digging through her bag. She came up with a pack of gum. "Do you know how to chew gum?" Sam shrugged. "Have you ever chewed gum before?" she asked, changing tact. Sam shook his head. Tobin considered asking Christen for help but thought she and Mattie might be sleeping.

"Okay, look," Tobin said, taking out a piece of gum and demonstrating how to chew it. "You can't swallow it, okay? It's bad for you."

Sam hesitantly took the unwrapped piece she was offering him. "Why? What happens?"

"If you swallow it?" Tobin asked, casting around for an answer. "A gum tree will grow in your belly."

"A gum tree?" Sam asked.

"Yeah," Tobin nodded. "It will hurt a lot."

Sam solemnly put the gum in his mouth, chewing it slowly. Tobin watched him carefully, and after a few minutes, he smiled. "Hey, my ears don't hurt!"

Tobin smiled and held up her hand for a high five. She set up Sam with some cartoons on the in-seat TV, happy to have solved that crisis on her own. She had him spit out the gum after a few more minutes and started to relax. The victory lasted until they were somewhere over Arizona.

"Hey, y'all, this is your captain," a twangy voice said over the intercom, "there's a bit of a storm coming up, so I'm gonna keep the seatbelt sign on in case of turbulence. You may feel a few bumps but it should only last about 15 minutes."

At the first thump of the plane, Sam looked up at Tobin with wide eyes. She took out one of his earbuds and stroked his hair. "It's okay, buddy, we're just flying through some clouds." She pointed out the window, but it was mostly dark gray. When the fear didn't leave his eyes, she lifted up the arm rest between them and rubbed his back.

Sam leaned close to whisper in her ear, so she leaned down. "What if the plane gets stuck in the cloud's rainspout and falls down with the rain."

Tobin tried to think of an answer to reassure him but came up with nothing. "That's not how it works," was all she could offer.

"How does it work?" Sam asked curiously.

"A plane? I don't know, it's complicated. But you do you know how many plane rides I've been on?"

"How many?"

"Like more than 500." Sam narrowed his eyes at Tobin's claim.

"That's impossible," he insisted.

"Nope. Totally true," Tobin said, nodding emphatically.

"Have you been everywhere?" Sam asked with wide eyes.

Tobin laughed. "Not everywhere. A lot of them were to the same places."

"Oh," Sam said, disappointed.

"But you know what I learned on all those plane rides?" Tobin asked.

"What?" Sam asked.

"This is totally normal. The plane won't go down the rain spout." She was relieved when Sam seemed to accept this answer and rested his head against her side. However, the turbulence continued, growing rougher. After about ten minutes, Sam looked up at her.

"Toes, I think I have a gum tree," he said.

Tobin looked at him confused before searching her pockets for the pack of gum. "Why? Did you get another piece? Did you swallow it?"

Sam shook his head. "No, but I don't feel good. My stomach feels spinny," he said, looking pale.

Tobin got the barf bag open just in time. She managed to catch all of it in the bag and promptly rolled the top over. She looked for a napkin for Sam.

"Do you think you're gonna throw up again or was that it?" she asked, rubbing his back.

He shook his head. "I feel better."

"Wanna go to the bathroom and wash your mouth out?" Sam nodded.

Tobin picked him up one arm and held the bag in the other. The flight attendant spotted them as they neared the bathroom. She gave Tobin a sympathetic look. "Did he get sick?" she asked.

"Yeah," Tobin answered. "I think it was the turbulence."

The attendant nodded. "I can get some ginger ale and crackers for him."

"That would be great," Tobin said thankfully. "And is there any way we could get a bottle of water?"

The stewardess reached into a compartment next to her and pulled one out. Tobin juggled it between her hands and thanked the woman before entering the restroom, which was thankfully empty. She threw out the bag and helped Sam reach the sink to wash his hands and face. She unscrewed the water bottle and he chugged half of it, panting dramatically after. Tobin laughed. "Is that better?" she asked, brushing the hair out of his face. Sam nodded, still sipping the water and breathing hard. "Are you ready to go back to the seat?"

Sam nodded and she led him back out of the bathroom. On their way, the flight attendant handed them a soda, a box of saltines and a new barf bag.

"Thanks," Tobin said, slightly embarrassed.

"Don't worry about it," she said. "It happens all the time."

Sam finished half of his ginger ale and three crackers before he fell asleep on Tobin's lap. She took a deep breath and continued to rub his back. She had expected bringing Mattie and Sam would make this trip more complicated than the many, many others she had taken. She knew that having a kid at camp was hard, that traveling with kids was hard, from Amy and her other friends with kids. She admitted silently to herself that she didn't expect the flight there to be quite so eventful. They weren't even three hours into the trip and she was already questioning whether she could keep this up for two weeks, nevermind making it a routine.

She was brooding, she realized, so she looked out the window and tried to pray. She prayed for strength, and she prayed for patience, and she prayed to make it through this week unscathed, but mostly she prayed for the boy laying across her lap and his sister eight rows back; that somehow, they would come out of this mess whole and unharmed--or at least no more harmed than they already were.

***

Christen had a slightly different flight experience. She and Mattie slept, talked and read intermittently. Mattie asked Christen about the upcoming Sunrise season and the World Cup. Christen asked Mattie about going back to school and her opinions on various football teams around the world.

"Don't tell Tobin," Mattie said conspiratorily, "but my favorite EPL team is Arsenal."

Christen laughed. "Why can't I tell her that? She'd be so excited!"

Mattie folded her arms and shook her head. "She'd just think I copied her. She'd be all smug about it."

Christen smiled. "Maybe, but it'd probably get you a bunch of Gunners' gear."

***

They spotted Arod and Luke in the tunnel as they exited the plane, so they all walked to the gate together. They found Tobin with Sam asleep on her shoulder.

"Auntie Tobin!" Luke ran ahead, excited. He was telling Tobin about the movie he saw on the plane as the rest of them walked up.

Christen looked worriedly at Sam, who was starting to wake up but still had his head on Tobin's shoulder. "Did he sleep the whole time?"

Tobin grimaced. "No, he had a bit of a rough flight."

"What happened?" Amy asked as Christen inspected him for signs of damage.

"The turbulence made him a little sick."

"Aww, Sammy," Christen said, rubbing his back. "Want me to take him?" she asked Tobin.

"Actually, can you? I've had to pee for like an hour," she said. Mattie stifled a laugh at her expense and Tobin glared at her.

"Why didn't you come get me?" Christen asked as Tobin transferred Sam over to her.

Tobin shrugged. "He was asleep and I didn't want to wake him up in case he got sick again."

"Is Sammy okay?" Luke asked Tobin.

"Yeah, buddy, his tummy was just upset cause the flight was a little bumpy."

"Can I still play with him at camp?"

Tobin laughed. "Absolutely, dude. He just has to wake up first."

"Okay, good," Luke said. "Cause I brought my Han and Chewie toys for us to play with..." Luke continued to prattle on about the toys and games he planned to play with Sam this week, and Tobin tried to keep up. They made it all the way to baggage claim before Amy interfered and let Tobin run to the bathroom.

When she got back, Christen and Tobin stayed with the kids and the stuff, waiting for the bags, so that Amy could pick up the car and meet them at the door. By the time they had pulled Sam's car seat off the luggage belt, Tobin had a cart precariously buried in their and Amy's things.

Amy pulled up in a white sedan just after they got to the curb. She got out to help deconstruct Tobin's tower of luggage. Tobin had started installing the car seats in the back when Christen spoke up.

"Tobs, one of us is gonna have to ride in the van. Do you want to ride here or there?"

Tobin thought for a moment before answering. "I'm good here," she said, turning to take Sam and buckle him in.

"Are you sure?" Christen asked as she closed the door and straightened up. "You don't need a break?" she asked quietly.

Tobin gave her a small smile and a quick kiss. "This is the break."

"Really? You're cute, you know that?"

Tobin smirked. "Oh, I'm not being cute. You're gonna have to go sit in that van, and someone will ask where I am, and you're going to have to tell this story about six times, and answer a million questions."

Christen laughed and shook her head, knowing she was right. "And here I thought you were being noble."

"Look, babe, it's not that I wouldn't happily take a hit for you," Tobin explained, "but they'd be much meaner to me. I'm pretty sure Kelley's flight just got in. I'm not ready to deal with that abuse." Christen giggled at the thought.

"Mattie?" she asked, leaning her head in the front seat of the car. "Do you want to ride in this car or in the van with me? I think Mal's flight is getting in soon, so you'd be riding with her."

Mattie looked at her with an expression of pure terror. "You want me to ride in the team van?"

Christen laughed softly. "You don't have to! There's room in here for you, I was just seeing if you wanted to. We can introduce you to everyone when we get to Alex's." Mattie still looked unsure.

"It's gonna be fine," Christen reassured her, "They're not scary, I promise." She smiled. "Okay?"

Mattie gave her a small smile in return and nodded. "Okay, I'll see you guys in a little bit."

"Bye Auntie Christen!" Luke waved.

"Bye Luke! Bye Sammy," she said, shaking the half-asleep boy's foot. She ducked out of the car. "Alright, you should get going." She lazily tangled her fingers with Tobin's. "Alex is going to kill us if we're not there to help her set up, and you guys still need to drop everything at the hotel and go to the grocery store."

"Okay." Tobin kissed her on the cheek.

"Bye Amy! Thanks!" Christen said as she started to walk toward the door where the vans picked them up.

"See you in a bit," Amy called back.

Tobin watched her go before getting into the front seat of the car. "Okay, everyone buckled?" Amy asked.

Tobin turned to look in the back seat and saw Mattie looking like she got caught. "Mattie! C'mon you've got to wear your seatbelt."

"I can't," Mattie said. "It's stuck behind the car seat." She indicated behind Luke, where the buckle was pinned. Amy looked at Tobin reproachfully for her installation work.

"Oops," Tobin said. "Why don't we switch then, Mat?" She turned to Amy. "Is she old enough to sit in front? How old do you have to be?"

Amy looked unsure. "I only know the car seat ages. We're not to the front seat stuff yet."

Tobin turned and looked at the warning on the visor in front of her. "Look, here. It says 12. Perfect. Mattie, you've got shotgun."

Mattie looked excited about this development. As she climbed over Sam's car seat, he groggily complained. Tobin opted to contort herself over the center console and directly into the back.

"Yay, Auntie Tobs!" Luke said, excited that his Aunt was sitting next to him.

Mattie got buckled in the front. Amy looked back at Tobin and smirked. "Comfy back there?" she asked the woman whose arms were pinned against her sides and whose knees were nearly pushed up to her chest.

"I'm definitely in here snug and secure," Tobin said flatly. "Let's get this show on the road, shall we?"

***

Christen approached the team van from the passenger side, and having left her luggage with Tobin and Amy, got right in. The back of the van was empty, but there were two people in the front seat. Kelley was looking back at her from the passenger seat, which was expected, and Alex was staring at her questioningly from the driver's side, which was not.

Alex looked out the open door, craning her neck. "Where are the children?"

"What?" Christen asked, still confused as to why she was there.

"Why do you think I volunteered to do a van run? I want to meet my niece and nephew before anyone else has a chance to become their favorite aunt."

"Hey," Kelley frowned at Christen, "Why did I have to hear about this from her?" She stuck her thumb toward Alex.

Christen rolled her eyes. "I'm sorry I don't send you minute by minute updates of my life. We've been pretty busy the past few days."

As they were talking, Becky, Rose, Mal and Lindsey approached the van and threw their suitcases in the back.

Kelley huffed. "Well, fine, but next time you and Tobin accidentially adopt some kids, you need to tell me."

"Woah, what?" Becky said as she climbed in the back. "You and Tobin adopted kids? When? I talked to you last week!"

Christen glared at Kelley. "It's a long story. And we haven't adopted them," she explained. Rose and Lindsey followed Becky into the back, and Mal sat in the bucket seat next to Christen.

"Wait, you're serious?" Becky asked, "Where are they? Where's Tobin?"

"Sam needs a carseat, so they're riding with Amy and Luke," Christen answered.

Becky smirked disbelievingly. "I thought you guys were talking about, like, getting a dog." Alex and Kelley laughed.

Mal finally tuned into the conversation with a confused expression. "Wait, we're not getting a dog? Why?" Alex and Kelley laughed harder from the front seat as Alex started the van, which was now full. Christen just buried her face in her hands and groaned.

Becky prodded her again for an explanation, so Christen gave the car the abridged version of the past week's events.

They car sat in stunned silence for a moment before Lindsey laughed, putting on a devilish grin. "Ha--Mal, you thought you had a few more years before they got a kid and kicked you out! Guess it came earlier than expected."

Everyone but Christen and Mal laughed. Mal glared back at Lindsey and Christen gave her a stern look. "Mal is not getting kicked out," she said.

"I'm not?" Mal asked surprised.

Christen sighed. "I'm not sure exactly how it's going to work, but you can still stay at the house if you want. I think Mattie would throw a fit if we kicked you out." She smiled at Mal. "You're her favorite player. So you better be extra nice to her," she said, stern again.

"I am?" Mal smiled proudly and the rest of the van groaned.

"Yes. And speaking of being nice, I don't want to hear any of these jokes in front of Mattie and Sam. Mattie still thinks this is temporary until she gets placed closer to Sam, and we're not going to tell her anything otherwise unless we're 100% sure we can make it work. Understand?"

There were various groans of agreement, and a grumbled "Yes, Mama Press," from Kelley up front. She looked guilty as Christen glared at her. "Fine," Christen relented. "Get all of your stupid quips out now, so you don't do it in front of them."

They all began talking at once.

"Dibs on godmother!" Alex called. Kelley whipped around indignantly, "Why does Alex get to be godmother? I've known both of you longer! I should get first dibs!"

"Is Mal gonna have to share her room?" Lindsey laughed.

Becky joked, "I can't believe the government decided Tobin could take care of a kid."

"But are you guys really not getting a dog now?" Rose asked with genuine concern.

Christen sighed. "Okay, just once, for the record: this has no bearing on whether or not we get a dog!"

***

The van continued to badger Christen with questions and smartass remarks all the way back to the hotel, where they were disappointed to find Tobin, Amy and the kids had already come and gone. Alex, anxious both to meet the children and to get back to her house for the cookout, rushed them all back into the van.

As they turned onto the road that led to Alex's development, they saw Amy's rental car waiting to the side of the gate.

Alex scoffed. "Honestly, Tobin should know the code by now. She's only been here two dozen times."

"Yeah, but normally she's with either me, you or Allie, so she never has to learn it," Christen explained.

Alex pulled the van up to the keypad and started to type. Kelley, Mal, and Rose, on the right side of the van, were craning their necks out the window to try to see into the car.

"Shit, Press. You're fucked," Kelley said, shaking her head.

"Why?" Christen asked as Alex pulled the van toward the opening gates, and the rest of the van got a glimpse into a backseat. Tobin was mediating an animated conversation between Sam and Luke, who were each holding one of her hands.

"Aww..." the entire back of the car let out as they passed.

"Wait, what's happening?" Alex asked, trying to drive and look at the same time.

"Oh my God," Mal said, turning to Christen. "He's so cute! We're keeping him right? I can help babysit--I'm a really good babysitter, I'm CPR certified--"

Christen cut her off with a look. "What did we just talk about?"

Mal sulked guiltily. "Fine, I'll be chill."

***

Parked in front of Alex's house, Amy got out to unbuckle Luke and Tobin started undoing Sam's seat from her place next to him. Mattie waited cautiously in the front seat, staring at the gaggle of players mingling as they exited the van a few feet up. Christen walked over to the side Sam's car seat was on, opening the door and picking him up. Tobin started to climb out over the car seat when she noticed Mattie hadn't moved.

"You okay, Mats?"

Mattie swallowed. "Yeah," she replied nervously.

Tobin looked at her teammates, who were trying and failing to look inconspicuous as they waited for Tobin and Mattie to get out of the car. "I promise they don't bite. Even Kelley."

Mattie still looked nervous, so Tobin extracted herself from the back seat and opened Mattie's door. "C'mon," she motioned, "I'll introduce you."

The rest of the group was excitedly greeting Sam and Luke, who were basking in the new attention, but Kelley and Alex walked toward them. Kelley held out her hand. "Hi, I'm your Au--" Alex elbowed her. "I'm Kelley." Mattie shook her hand, staying quiet.

"Alex," she said, opting to go for the hug instead of the handshake. "It's nice to meet you. I'm glad you got to come to camp."

Mattie smiled but still looked terrified.

"So, like, how come Mal's your favorite player?" Kelley asked, breaking the tension. "Is that something that's up for debate, or..?" They all laughed. "I'm willing to bribe you," Kelley said with a serious expression.

Mattie just shook her head and smiled as they walked toward the house. "You and Tobin should start a club." Tobin rolled her eyes and threw her arm over Mattie's shoulder. "I'm definitely at least tied for second, you just won't admit it."

Mal walked up to them looking a little nervous. "Hi, I'm Mal," she said, giving Mattie a little wave.

"Hi, I'm Mattie," Mattie replied, once again a bundle of nerves. They walked in awkward silence for a moment, until they had made it through the gate to Alex's backyard, when Mattie blurted, "Thanks for letting me use your room and your jacket even though you didn't know it."

Mal laughed. "Well, thanks for making me your favorite and making the rest of these idiots jealous." Mattie laughed, blushing slightly. "C'mon," Mal motioned to where Lindsey and Rose were showing Sam and Luke how to play KanJam, "come ditch the old people and hang out with us."

"Mallory!" Tobin admonished, offended.

"Yeah, don't say that!" Kelley joined, "We're young at heart!"

Mal and Mattie just giggled and ran off to join the others.

"I'm still mad!" Tobin called after them.

"C'mon," Alex shoved them toward the house before they could argue, "you told me you'd help."

They walked into the lanai and through the kitchen door to see Ali, Becky and Christen talking. Becky was helping Ali make a salad and Christen was watching the KanJam game out the window. As they greeted each other and Alex assigned tasks to each of them, Kelley looked around, "Where's Ash? How did she avoid this forced labor--I mean fun?"

Alex rolled her eyes and Ali pointed the knife she was using toward the window that faced the side yard. "She and Servando are on grill duty." Tobin and Kelley looked out and immediately burst out laughing. Ashlyn and Servando standing, talking and laughing, in front of two matching grills in matching aprons that said "Flippin' Awesome."

"This is what happens when they go to the store together," Alex explained. "They got the grills last summer and they decided to get the same ones. Then when we sent them to Costco to get stuff for today, they decided they needed an 'official grillmaster uniform.'"

***

The team continued to arrive in groups of four or five, and various members floated in and out of the kitchen, some helping with dinner more than others. Sam and Mattie (and Luke) were so busy being entertained by the girls that after an hour and a half, Tobin and Christen hadn't talked to either of them (beyond Christen yelling out the kitchen door to break up a chicken fight Rose and Sonnett were trying to encourage between Luke and Sam.)

They were nearly done preparing all the food when the front door opened and a voice rang out from the front of the house. "HARRY! WHERE ARE YOUR CHILDREN!" Tobin rolled her eyes and shared a look of pre-exasperation with Christen as Allie walked into the kitchen and hugged Alex and Kelley, who were the only others still left in the kitchen.

"Seriously, where are they?" Allie started looking around. "I brought them presents."

"Dammit, Allie are you kidding?" Alex asked. "You're bribing them?"

"I've got to establish myself as the favorite Aunt."

"That's cheating!" Alex protested.

"Psh like trying to meet them first at the airport wasn't cheating?" Kelley challenged. "Also, Al, we're not supposed to say the A-word."

"You picked them up from the airport? Dammit. I tried to change my flight to get in at the same time but there wasn't anything earlier. Also, Harry!" Allie hit Tobin across the arm. "You're not going to let me be your kids' Aunt?!"

"Oww," Tobin complained, rubbing the spot where Allie hit her. "It's complicated, Har."

Allie stood with her hands on her hips, looking between Tobin and Christen expectantly. "Well? Am I going to get the whole story or not?"

"Yeah," Ali chimed in, "I still feel like I haven't heard the whole thing beginning to end."

Tobin and Christen looked at each other and sighed, both taking a seat at the island as their friends gathered around. Tobin began to tell the story of meeting Mattie on the beach, and Christen filled in the gaps from her perspective.

When Christen revealed that Mattie had nutmegged Tobin when they first met, it got a rowdy reaction.

"I'm never gonna live that down, huh?" Tobin asked.

"That you got megged by a 12-year-old?" Kelley said. "Not likely."

"How good is she?" Alex asked. "Like good-good?"

Tobin raised her eyebrows and tilted her head. "She's been working out with us and she been keeping up pretty well. She's certainly got some one on one moves."

"Aw, Har," Allie said, ruffling her hair, "she takes after you."

"I'm surprised she's not in the system," Kelley said, "is ODP sniffing around?"

Christen shook her head. "I doubt it. She's played like one, maybe two seasons of organized soccer in her life. The rest has just been pickup and working out by herself. I mean, if she were in high school and playing for the team, maybe, but not at this level."

"And it's not like she was gonna go to high school," Tobin said, spinning her phone. "Her brilliant plan was to juggle for money to eat until she was 17 and could enter Sunrise open tryouts."

"Where was she going to live?" Allie asked.

"Well, when we found her, she had broken into an equiptment shed by a field," Tobin explained.

Kelley looked reluctantly impressed. "Not gonna lie, that's kind of badass."

"Yeah if it weren't terrfying," Christen said. "If Tobin hadn't happened to be in Venice that day, she'd probably still be sleeping on a bag of balls under a tarp."

They all sat quietly for a moment. "She really slept on a bag of balls?" Alex asked.

"Yep," Tobin answered, telling the story of finding Mattie in the shed and convincing her to leave. Christen told the story of going to the diner. They recounted their visit to Child Services with Bert and getting Mattie's new shoes. Tobin blushed again as Christen told the group about their first meeting with Sam. After Christen was done telling them how she had convinced the state to let Mattie and Sam stay with them, Alex interjected.

"Damn, Pressi," she said, impressed at Christen's strong-arming, "That was some Game of Thrones level deviousness." She held her fist out to Christen and bumped it.

Tobin looked between them. "You two will tell me if you decide to take over the world, right?"

"Sure, babe,"Christen said, smirking, "but I'm going to leave you a note on the bottom of the grocery list, so I can't be sure you'll get the memo."

Tobin groaned and lolled her head back as her friends laughed at her.

They talked about bringing Sam home and meeting with Claire and the dicey parts of the situation and their panic that they were getting in over their heads. They all laughed at Tobin's struggles on the plane that morning. By the time they had finished reccounting the events of the past week, Tobin and Christen were both tired remembering how much had happened.

"Shit," Kelley said simply.

The silence was interrupted by the slider opening and Sonnett and Sam sticking their heads through. "When are we eating? Sammy's hungry."

Sam hit her leg. "Emmy! You said you were hungry and you wanted me to come with you!"

Sonnett shook her head. "I didn't mean you! I meant big Sammy." He scrunched up his face like he didn't believe her, but she just gave him her most innocent look, causing the entire kitchen to crack up.

"Here, Sonnett, grab these plates and send in some more hands. I think we're ready," Alex said.

"Sammy, come here," Christen motioned. Sam ran over and Christen helped him onto her lap. "This is Allie." She motioned to where Allie stood waving. "Can you say hi?"

Sam frowned and turned his head quickly, looking between Tobin and Allie. He gave Tobin a puzzled look and asked, "Harry?"

The adults laughed and Tobin nodded. "Yeah, buddy, that's Harry."

"Oh," Sam said, turning to Allie. "Hi."

"Hi, Sam it's nice to meet you," Allie said, holding up a hand for him to high-five.

"Guess what?" he said, giving her five.

"What?" Allie asked. He looked up at her earnestly. "I won KamJam!" He bounced excitedly in Christen's lap. Allie just shot Christen and Tobin a look with wide eyes that said, Oh my God, he's cute.

***

After dinner, they made a fire in Alex's fire pit and roasted S'mores. Tobin was supervising Sam and Luke "eating" S'mores, which mostly just consisted of them spreading marshmallow and chocolate on their face. It didn't help that everytime Tobin turned around to wipe one of their faces, another teammate (or Servando) would sneak the other one a new mess.

"Lynn!" Christen called across the fire from where she sat between Kelley and Alex. Lynn looked up with an innocent expression, pretending she hadn't just been handing Sam another sandwich. "He's cut off," Christen said sternly. Lynn pulled her hand back, opting to talk to Sam about whatever he was animatedly babbling about instead.

Christen settled back to restart the coversation she was having with Kelley and Alex about the new tv shows they were watching, but they seemed to be having a silent argument.

"What's going on?" Christen asked, narrowing her eyes.

Alex nodded at Kelley and Kelley got a resigned look that worried Christen.

"You need to tell us if you need help."

Christen raised her eyebrows in concern, but Kelley just shook her head. "Tobin won't, she only talks to you about that kind of stuff. So you have to tell us."

Christen, still confused, turned to Alex for clarification. "We just want you guys to know we've got your back," Alex explained. "Like, I'm sure the whole team will have your back, but we were talking to Allie earlier, and we just--we've--" she gestured betweeen them "got your back and we want to help with Mattie and Sam and stuff."

Kelley nodded. "We're your family. I mean we're all family, but we're your family and you're gonna let us help."

Christen couldn't find words and she wasn't sure she'd be able to speak through the emotion clogging her throat anyway. So she just nodded and mouthed, "Thank you," while Alex and Kelley hugged her from either side. She looked up to blink the moisture out of her eyes and caught Tobin's gaze across the fire. Tobin frowned at Christen's face and the hug, and she raised her eyebrows, as if to ask Is everything okay?

Christen smiled at her and gave a quick nod, thinking, for the first time in almost a week, that it really might be.

Chapter Text

"Tobin Heath!" the voice rang through the speaker. Tobin groaned and rolled over to make sure the sound of her phone ringing and the near-shouting on the other end hadn't woken her roommate when she remembered she didn't have one. The logistics people had reserved an extra room after Tobin and Christen had called and explained their situation, figuring that Mattie would sleep in Tobin's room and Sam in Christen's or vice versa. However, when they went to go to bed the night before, Mattie and Sam had insisted on sleeping in the same room, so Tobin ended up by herself, which she wasn't very happy about, but it was convenient at the moment.

"Good morning to you, too, Mom," Tobin answered when she registered the voice on the line. "It's so nice to hear from you at..." she looked at the clock "...5:50 A.M. this morning."

"Don't be fresh," her mother chastised. "I didn't want to call you last night because it was late and I know you're at camp, but I'm on my way to tennis and I thought you should know I had a very interesting conversation with Stacy last night."

For a moment, Tobin scrunched eyes shut and wondered what her and Christen's moms could have possibly discussed that would warrant this phone call; when she realized her mistake, she shot up in bed.

"Mom, look, I was totally going to call," she started. "Really, I meant to, things have just been crazy."

Her mother made a disapproving sound and Tobin sighed. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you."

Cindy relented. "It's okay. Stacy told me Christen didn't tell her either. She said you two were a little caught up in it."

Tobin paused before answering and played with the duvet on her lap. "Yeah, it's been pretty insane. On one hand, I don't know where the last week has gone. I swear I was just going out to get Chris's present. On the other hand, I can't believe I've known Mattie and Sam for less than a week."

Her mother made a sympathetic noise. "Mattie and Sam, huh? Well, am I going to hear the whole crazy tale from you or do I have to wake up Christen next?"

Tobin laughed and began to tell the story. By now, she had recited it enough times to know which parts were going to a laugh or an "aww", and she could appreciate that her mom was hearing the more polished version, rather than experiencing it as an ongoing crisis the way she had.

"So? What's the plan?" her mother asked after she had recounted the whole ordeal.

"We're taking it one day at a time."

"Toobbbiiinn..." her mom warned.

"No, Mom, listen. Not like my kind of taking it one day at a time. Like Chris's. We can't even tell Mattie and Sam anything might be more permanent before we know for sure, in case it doesn't work out."

"Do you think it'll work out?"

Tobin was nervous to voice the wish she had barely shared with Christen yet, so she answered quietly. "I hope so. This isn't really how I pictured us having kids--I mean, I don't think I could have pictured this--but...I really hope it does, Mom."

"Then it will," her mom asserted. "You've always done everything you set your mind to, this won't be any different."

Tobin continued to pick at the comforter. "What if I mess it up?" she asked, her voice even lower than before.

"Mess what up?"

"I don't know, mess up the inspection and the inspectors think our life is too crazy? What if they don't think we're ready? What if I'm not? Not ready to be someone's...mom?"

The word felt strange in her mouth, like a language she didn't know, but even more foreign was the thought of it. It's not that she hadn't realized what they were talking about this whole time, but voicing aloud that they might actually become parents was different.

Her mom, for her part, just laughed. "Tobin, nobody's ever ready to be a mom. I certainly wasn't."

Tobin frowned. "You're just saying that. I bet you were born ready to be a mom."

Cindy laughed again. "How would you know that? You don't remember a time when I didn't already have at least three kids."

"Yeah, but you always seemed really good at it," Tobin grumbled.

"Well, I had a lot of practice. What would you say if someone told you it seemed like you'd always been good at soccer?" 

Tobin held back an eye roll and a sarcastic response that she had always been good at soccer. "Yeah, yeah, fine, it takes practice."

"And Tobin?"

"Yeah?"

"You wouldn't be someone's mom," Cindy explained. "You would be Mattie and Sam's mom."

At those words, a settled feeling spread from her ears to her chest and out through her body, and Tobin let out a small smile. "Thanks, Ma."

"Of course. Now, I've got to go, I've been sitting in the parking lot for 10 minutes and I'm sure Janice is waiting for me."

"'Kay, Mom, love you."

"Love you too. I'll see you next week for the game, okay? And call me before you get any more children alright?"

"Haha, very funny. Bye mom," Tobin said as her mother hung up, exasperated but decidedly lighter after their conversation.

She looked at the clock and saw that it was 6:23. She knew she wasn't going to fall back asleep at this point, and she didn't think Christen would be up yet, what with the time change. She sent her a text anyway.

Morning babe. Lemme know when you're up

She decided to wander down to the lobby Starbucks to get some coffee and scope out if anyone else was awake. She had just paid and was waiting for her drink when her phone rang again. At seeing "Cheney" lighting up the screen, she went through a whole series of emotions almost instantly. First, she was excited that Cheney was calling. Then she was confused that Cheney was calling at this time. Then she realized (again) why she was probably getting an early phone call and was confused as to how Cheney found out. Then she was nervous.

"Hey, Cheney," she picked up.

"Tobin Heath!" Tobin winced and wondered if all of her phone calls were going to start this way for the foreseeable future.

She figured she could at least attempt to diffuse the situation. "Cheney, I'm glad you called! I have some news for you!"

"Nice try, Tobs. I just talked to Amy and I got the full report."

"Arod's up?" Tobin asked, momentarily distracted. "You talked to her this morning?"

"Yes, Tobin, she's up with Luke. Don't try to change the subject. Why am I hearing this from Amy?"

"Chen, if it makes you feel better, I just had this same conversation with my own mother this morning, which is why I was already awake when you called."

"You didn't tell your own mother you accidentally adopted two children?!"

She should have known that one would backfire. "I just mean that I haven't been, like, calling everyone and giving them updates and forgot to call you, okay? We've just been kind of putting out the fires as they spring up."

Her name was called and she grabbed her coffee off the counter as she heard Lauren sigh, resigned, on the other end of the line. "Yeah, okay, I suppose that's fair. How long has it been?"

"I met Mattie a week ago, tomorrow," Tobin said, pausing as she felt bad, for a second time this morning, that she hadn't been keeping the people important to her up-to-date on the soap opera that was her life at present. "Cheney? You know you're on the top of my advice list, right? Like the tippy-top? I've wanted to ask you what to do, like, this whole time, I just didn't have a minute to do it. I called Amy because we had an immediate camp crisis, but I'm sorry--I should've called earlier."

"Don't be sorry, Tobs," she said reassuringly. "I just feel bad that I couldn't help you with this. It's still kinda weird to see you grown up and handling your own life crises."

Tobin laughed as she sat in a chair outside the coffee shop. "Well, I couldn't just rely on you to solve them forever!"

"Why not?" Lauren teased. "Your crises were always so much fun; the wanderlust, the international jet-setting, the many beautiful women vying for your--"

"Cheney!" Tobin protested. "Stop. My life is not that dramatic."

Lauren scoffed. "It used to be! Even now, when you're all settled down and domestic, you're still the drama queen. Last week you literally ran through the rain to find a girl you met a the beach and charmed her into coming to dinner with you."

Tobin rolled her eyes. "Chris is the only one that can charm Mattie. I maybe charmed Sam, but he's easier to impress."

"I heard he had an exciting first plane ride."

Tobin groaned. "C'mon, Arod told you about that? That's so embarrassing!"

"Why is it embarrassing? Sam couldn't help getting sick," Lauren admonished.

"Not embarrassing for Sam!" Tobin explained. "For me! I had to take care of him for what? 4 hours? And I managed to let him get terrified and then hurl in the 30 minutes he was awake? How am I supposed to be, like, actually responsible for him?"

"I heard you caught it all in the bag and took him to the bathroom," Lauren said in a challenging tone.

"Yeah, but it's probably my fault he got sick in the first place," Tobin brooded. "I should've given him breakfast or not let him chew the gum or sit weird."

"Tobin," Lauren said, sounding exasperated. "Kids get sick. And scared. It happens. It doesn't make you bad at this."

Tobin couldn't think of two other people in the world who made her feel more like she was 12 years old and getting a wisened lecture than her mom and Cheney, but she admitted to herself that her conversations this morning were long overdue. "Are you sure?" she asked, not liking how small her voice sounded.

"Well, outside of me supervising your sorry butt around the world for half our lives, I've only been at this parenting thing for a couple years, so, no, I can't be sure. But I think that's kind of the point."

Tobin laughed. "If you aren't sure and Chris isn't sure and my mom isn't sure...I don't understand how anyone raises children."

"Well, let me know if you figure it out, okay?"

Tobin's phone buzzed and she glanced at the screen, which showed a reply from Christen. "Alight Chen. I've got to go get ready and everything."

"Alright, I'll let you go. The kids are coming to the New Orleans game, right?"

"Yep, they'll be at all three."

Lauren squealed. "I'm so excited to meet them! Amy says Sam is adorable--and I watched that video of Mattie on your twitter. Tobin! She's got some moves!"

Tobin laughed. "Yeah, she's got some pretty sick ones. She'll probably show off for you if you ask."

"Gah! I can't wait. Love you, Tobs. Have a good camp!"

"Thanks, Cheney. Love you too. See you soon." Tobin hung up the phone and saw the text from her girlfriend.

Morning <3 you're up early. Everything okay?

Tobin opted to reply in person rather than via text and returned to the coffee shop to get Christen's regular and a couple bottles of juice. When she knocked on the door to their room five minutes later, it was Sam who answered.

"Sam, I told you to wait for me to open the door," she heard Christen call from inside the room.

"It's Toes!" he said excitedly. "Mattie says we get to have a playdate with Luke today!" he told Tobin. He was holding the Poe Dameron toy Luke had given him and bouncing on the balls of his feet.

"Ya, bud," Tobin agreed. "We're gonna have breakfast and get ready first, though, okay?" Sam pouted but looked unsurprised, as if he had received the same answer multiple times this morning and was still disappointed. Tobin herded him out of the doorway and back into the room, where Mattie was lying on one bed, watching something on her phone, and Christen was organizing piles of clothes on the other.

"Morning, babe," Tobin said, handing Christen her coffee, which earned her a smile and a kiss, "Are we going somewhere?" she asked, motioning to the reorganization of the suitcases that was happening.

"No, but Sam wanted his Poe toy, and so I went to get it out of the luggage, and then I started getting out everyone's outfits for the day, and I figured it would be easier if I just organized our clothes by city, so that way--" she looked suspiciously at Tobin, who was biting back laughter. "What? What's so funny?"

"Nothing," Tobin said, grinning widely. "Just--never change, okay?" She leaned in to kiss her but Christen turned her head, rolling her eyes, and swatted at Tobin.

"You know," Tobin said, mumbling into her cheek, "my suitcases are super messy. Maybe you should come back to my room later and help me organize them."

Christen just swatted her again, but Tobin knew from the grin Christen was trying to hide that her words had the desired effect. Satisfied, she moved around the bed, removing two orange juices from the plastic bag in her hands and tossing one to Mattie, who caught and opened it.

"Do you want some juice, Sammy?" she asked and began to remove the wrapping from the other bottle, before helping Sam up on the bed to drink out of it. As Sam took the open drink from her, he looked up.

"Does this count as breakfast so then me and Mattie can play with Luke?" he asked.

"Not quite," Tobin bargained. "It's like pre-breakfast. We're gonna go eat in a little bit and Luke will be there, okay?" Sam nodded and drank his juice.

Tobin surveyed Mattie, sprawled out on the other half-made bed. "Whatcha watching?" she asked, flopping down on the bed facing her.

"The Barca game from the day before last," Mattie answered, showing Tobin the cracked screen. Tobin excitedly scooted up next to her so she could watch.

"How're you watching it on this?"

"You mean because of the screen? You get used to it."

"No, like do you have subscription package?"

Mattie gave Tobin an incredulous look. "Tobin, the game was over, like, more than 24 hours ago. There are dozens of download links up."

Tobin raised her eyebrows. "Alright, whatever, Miss Computers," she said, squinting her eyes to try to make out the action on the screen.

"In 15 minutes we're going down to breakfast," Christen warned. "Whether or not that game is over."

"And then we get to play with Luke?" Sam asked hopefully.

"Yeah, bud," Christen assured as she started to load piles back into the suitcases.

"Mattie, did you hear that?" Sam asked excitedly. "Only 15 more minutes!"

"I know Sammy, I can't wait," Mattie said genuinely, glancing up from the game.

Tobin looked at Mattie and then at Christen before saying, "Hey, Mat, you don't have to stay with the nanny the whole time we're at training if you don't want to. As long as she knows where you are, you can come up here and chill or whatever... She's gonna watch Sammy and Luke."

Mattie looked up quickly at Tobin before turning back to the game. "That's okay. I can stay with Sam and Luke."

Tobin searched Mattie's face and Christen added, "Okay, but if you get tired of Star Wars or anything, we'll tell Kerrie you have a key to the room and are okay by yourself."

Mattie nodded. "It's cool. I'll probably just hang with Sammy."

Tobin smiled. "You know, I love my little brother, but I don't think I was half as good with him as you are with Sam when I was your age."

Mattie shrugged and continued to watch the game. "I just want to spend as much time with him as I can right now. I didn't see him for like, over a month." She paused. "Plus, even if you guys get me into Carson, I'm not sure how often I'll be able to see him."

Tobin wished she could say something reassuring, and she looked over Mattie's head at Christen, who was biting her lip into a frown. They held each other's gaze, and Tobin thought about her mother's words of reassurance from earlier. Christen raised her eyebrows and held up one finger in front of her chest, and Tobin nodded back, knowing what she was trying to say. One day at a time.

***

After Luke and Sam were forced to eat at least some cereal, they were allowed to go play, and Tobin and Christen left the kids with the nanny to go to training.

Barring any injuries, Tobin and Christen both knew from conversations with Laura that this roster was likely to be the World Cup roster announced in May. The goal for camp (and the tournament), Laura emphasized, was to build toward the World Cup so that they were peaking in June. She wanted to see which combinations would work in certain situations, and against top competition. Not necessarily on winning. Most of the team, however, was sore that they hadn't won SheBelieves since the inaugural tournament. As such, training was pretty focused. They finished the first session all drenched in sweat.

At lunch, Mattie and Sam's attention was once again occupied by their teammates. Allie, Alex and Kelley all seemed to be enjoying their ongoing competition to be crowned favorite aunt, although they were stymied both by Sam's disinterest in doing anything other than playing Star Wars with Luke, and Mattie's habit of getting stolen away by Mal and the cohort of younger players. Toward the end of lunch, Christen could tell Tobin was getting a little grumpy because she was picking at her food.

"Hey, you okay?" she asked, putting a hand on the side of her leg under the table.

"Huh?" Tobin asked. "Oh, yeah. I'm good."

"Are you feeling a little left out?" Christen asked, smirking knowingly.

Tobin pouted. "Whenever someone else brings their kids to camp, I get to play with them. But when we bring our--I mean--we bring Mattie and Sam and I barely even see them!"

Christen felt a flutter in her chest at Tobin's indignant mood. "Why don't we do movie night in our room tonight and we can have some quality time, okay? Sam has been wanting to watch Star Wars, so we can watch the first one."

"Okay," Tobin agreed, smiling and starting to dig into her lunch again. "But we have to invite Luke," she said between bites. "Also, I was talking to Becky and she says we should watch them in Machete order."

Christen gave her a bemused look. "What?"

Tobin continued to shovel pasta into her mouth as she explained. "Yeah, you know, it's like: do you start with the prequels or do you start with the originals...machete order's like 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 6."

When Christen continued to stare at her is if she had grown another head, Tobin finally stopped eating and looked at Christen, disappointed. "We've seen multiple Star Wars movies together."

"I mean, I've probably seen them all at one point," Christen explained. "I know that Darth Vader is Luke's father and all that, I just don't know, like, the order and the minor plot points."

"Okay, so like you know the prequels, right?"

Christen scrunched her brow. "The newer ones but not the new new ones?"

"They're the ones with Natalie Portman," Tobin clarified.

"Oh," Christen smiled, "yeah I know those."

Tobin huffed. "So, like, some people watch those first, cause technically they're earlier in the story." Christen nodded. "But like, if you watch the prequels first, you already know Vader is Luke's father, and also they aren't very good, so you get bored."

"Well, they have Natalie Portman in them, so I think they're good, but I'll concede that argument so you can get to the point."

Tobin exaggerated an eye roll. "So you watch the first two original movies, then you find out who Darth Vader is, then you watch his origin story, then you see the end."

Christen nodded slowly. "And Becky calls this...what?"

"Machete order," Tobin explained, turning back to her lunch, "And Becky didn't name it, it's from the internet."

"Oh, well, if it's from the internet," Christen said sarcastically.

Tobin just grabbed her hand under the table and smiled widely.

"What?" Christen asked, confused but feeling Tobin's smile spreading to her own face.

"I'm excited for movie night." She squeezed her hand. "It was a good idea."

"See?" Christen joked, adjusting their hands so their fingers were threaded together. "Between my event planning skills and your Star Wars knowledge, we're all set. We can totally do this."

***

After another sweaty practice in the afternoon, during which the humidity was truly Floridian, everyone was beat. Everyone except Tobin, who had been hyper since Christen suggested movie night at lunch. She had even managed to smile through the beep test while beating her own personal record. After, she was still juggling in the water breaks, unable to sit still.

"Who let Tobin eat candy for lunch again?" Laura asked as they were cooling down at the end of the session. Tobin was dribbling in and out of her teammates who were stretching on the ground.

"I blame Press. They were canoodling at lunch," Kelley said. There were giggles at the accusation.

"What? We were not 'canoodl-" Press interjected.

"Yeah, you're right," Emily added. "They were doing their version of canoodling, which is so much worse because it's just them sitting there making moon eyes at each other." This drew more laughter.

"Nope, we weren't cuddling at lunch," Tobin said, dribbling behind Christen and kicking the ball so it ricocheted off Kelley and then Emily's backs, "but we will be cuddling tonight...because we're watching Star Wars!" she finished smugly.

The team laughed harder at that. Christen gave her a reproachful look, which Tobin understood to mean Good job inviting everyone to your movie night, genius. Tobin frowned as she realized what she had done.

"That's why you've been so hyper all practice?" Carli asked disdainfully.

Tobin gave a big smile and nodded.

"You guys are having movie night without us? No fair, I want to come," Mal whined.

"If you're doing Machete order I want to watch," Becky said.

"Okay, Becky can come since she picked the order," Tobin said, pointing at her. "And Amy can come because Luke is invited."

Amy pretended to think. "You know, I may just drop Luke off, I think I've seen Star Wars enough times."

"Well, I haven't," Rose piped up and was soon joined by a chorus of "I wanna watch" whines. Kelley and Emily went so far as to start following Tobin, who was still dribbling through the team, around on their knees with their hands clasped.

"Alright," Christen said authoritatively, cutting off the protests. "Anyone who wants to come watch Star Wars can, but you can't talk through the movie, and you can't hog Mattie and Sam's attention because Tobin misses them."

Tobin looked at Christen incredulously, not believing she would open her up to this kind of teasing, but most of the team found the information so endearing that they let out a collective "aww" and looked at Tobin with soft smiles. Laura just stood watching her team, shaking her head at their nonsense.

***

During dinner, Tobin told Sam and Luke they were watching Star Wars later, which may have been a mistake because it made it almost impossible for them to sit still and eat. By the time they got up to the room, both of them were off the walls. They were so excited, Mattie didn't even bother to pretend that Star Wars was lame when Christen told her they were having movie night.

"Pick your seats before everyone gets here," Christen instructed Mattie and Tobin as she opened the snacks they had gotten from the Publix down the street. "These two will probably climb all over everyone, but if you want spots on the beds, claim them now."

Tobin jumped onto one of the beds and patted the spot next to her for Mattie to sit. Mattie laughed and jumped onto the other.

"Hey," Tobin whined.

"Mattie, sit next to Tobin, she misses you."

"How does she miss me? She's seen me like every few hours today."

"Yeah, seen you hanging out with everyone else," Tobin grumbled.

Mattie looked at Christen in amusement and Christen just raised her eyebrows. "Fine," Mattie conceded, flopping down on the bed next to Tobin. Christen set up the movie and the team slowly filtered into the room. Some brought blankets and pillows to make room on the floor, while others took chairs or spots on the beds. After Christen sent a group text warning that the movie was starting in one minute and waited for any stragglers, she turned off the lights and pressed play. As the first notes of the theme started to play, Christen squished onto the bed next to Tobin. The words of the prologue started to slide up the screen, Sam scrambled up the bed from where he and Luke sat next to Alyssa. He climbed into Tobin's lap, whispering, "What does it say?"

Christen watched, more than heard, Tobin quietly read Sam the text on the screen. She could tell he didn't understand most of what was going on, but he was enthralled all the same. As the view panned on a large space ship, he settled back against Tobin's chest. Christen watched the movie, which made much more sense now that she was seeing it all in one sitting, but she paid much more attention to Mattie and Sam's reactions. Sam whispered to Tobin every time a new character he recognized from his or Luke's toys came on screen. Mattie, on the other side of Tobin, would nudge her in excitement anytime something remotely intense happened.

By the time it got to the final space battle, Christen was resting her head on one of Tobin's shoulders and Mattie was on the other. She could tell both Tobin and Sam were fighting stay awake despite their excitement at the onscreen action. As the final credits rolled, she looked over and saw both of them and Mattie were completely out. The team clapped at the ending and Christen shushed them, motioning to the sleeping trio next to her while she started to turn on the lights.

"Oh my God," Allie said, quietly, but still in a full Long Island accent. Alex immediately pulled out her phone to take a picture. Allie and Lindsey followed suit before Christen intervened.

"Alright, you don't all need pictures of this, c'mon," she said in a harsh whisper. Most of the movie goers started to disperse, Moe and Mal whispering their goodbyes and Alyssa motioning that she was going to take Luke, who also fell asleep, back to Amy's room. However, Alex just raised her eyebrows and gave Christen a half smirk.

"Want me to text you the pic?" she asked challengingly, waving her phone. Christen gave her a look, but surveyed the pile of bodies on the bed, rolling her eyes and nodding. Alex smiled smugly and said goodnight.

***

When Tobin woke up Wednesday morning, she groaned at the weight across her chest. She opened one eye and saw brown curls. She was confused for a second that, as the curls she usually woke up to were darker and didn't smell like fake blueberries. She opened both eyes and laughed quietly to herself. Sam had slid sideways from where he had been sitting on her lap last night and now lay diagonally on top of her. His head was on the pillow in between Mattie's and Tobin's. Mattie lay facing the other bed, away from Tobin and Sam. Just as Tobin started to delicately move Sam off of her so she could get up, the door opened.

Christen grinned at the sight in front of her. "Sleep well?"

Tobin inched Sam a little further off of her chest. "I can't believe you let us sleep like this," she whispered.

"I'm surprised all three of you stayed asleep for this long. I expected to wake up to find one of you in bed with me because you had been pushed out."

Tobin finally slid out from under Sam's torso and moved his legs off of herself. "He can't have been comfortable like this."

Christen shrugged as Tobin walked over to her and handed her one of the coffees she was carrying. "I tried to see if any of you three would move last night, but you were all out." She took out the picture Alex had sent her. "See?"

Tobin rolled her eyes, trying not to betray how cute she thought the picture was. "How many people did Alex send that to?"

"Oh, relax," Christen said. "Drink your coffee. I have a feeling we're gonna need it today."

***

She was right. Dawn and Laura had decided to make today the really tough fitness day before the more tactical sessions and pregame meetings. They spent the morning in the gym doing conditioning circuits. They got a quick reprieve with lunch and an hour-long film session before they were back out on the field doing conditioning based drills. By the time they all started the long walk back to the hotel, everyone was beat. Christen thought she was going to have to carry her girlfriend back up the path with the way she was dragging, so she suggested that Tobin head upstairs while she and Amy went to get the kids.

Kerrie had said they would meet them in the dining room because they had been playing outside. When Christen and Amy walked in, they found Kerrie crouched next to Luke and, ten feet away, Mattie talking to Sam. Luke and Sam were both crying. Kerrie looked up as Christen walked over to Sam and Amy to Luke.

"We had a little disagreement over...actually I'm still not sure what they were fighting about," Kerrie explained.

"It was something about Han Solo," Mattie explained. "Luke threw Sam's Han doll over the pool gate and Sam threw Luke's Han at Luke's head and then Luke tackled him."

"Luke!" "Sam!" Christen and Amy both turned to the boys in admonishment. "You could've really hurt Luke." "We don't hit."

"What do you say to Sam, Luke?" Amy asked expectantly.

"Sorry," Luke said, still pouting, but bashful.

Christen raised her eyebrows at Sam. "Sorry, Luke," Sam said.

"Give him a hug," Christen said, pushing Sam.

Sam and Luke reluctantly hugged each other.

"I think they're probably just exhausted and had a joint meltdown," Kerrie explained. "Neither of them napped this afternoon."

"You want to go take a nap with Toes?" Christen asked Sam, brushing back his curls. Sam nodded.

After a quick nap, they went down to dinner, and it was as if the fight had never happened. Christen was amazed at Luke and Sam's change in mood. They had even given Kelley one of their action figures and were instructing her carefully on the premise of the game they were playing. Christen was sitting next to Amy, watching them.

"I can't believe they were in a fist fight, like, two hours ago and it's like they don't even remember," she remarked to Amy.

Amy shook her head. "I can't believe they spent almost three whole days together without getting in a fight. Some days I leave Luke and Ryan alone for 15 minutes and when I come back it's World War III. Last week, Ryan took one of Luke's toys and Luke squirted glue all over his head."

Christen looked at her in horror. "Was he okay?"

Amy waved her hand. "It was Elmer's. It washed out."

Christen was still concerned.

"Look, Press," Amy reassured, "kids--especially boys--are like tiny chaos machines. They wreak havoc on themselves, each other, everything around them. You just have to expect it. The good news is, they're also basically made of rubber, so the damage never lasts long."

Christen watched Sam lean over the table to adjust the arm of the Chewbacca toy Kelley was holding and tried to believe that.

***

The next day, the flow of their routine felt almost normal. Wake up, have coffee, bring the kids to breakfast. Go to training and meetings, eat lunch (with the kids), go back to training. Practice was lighter than the day before as they started to focus on their first game against England on Saturday. At the end of the day, the team scrimmaged Orlando City B, and Kerrie brought the kids down to watch.

Mattie stood on the sideline and paid attention to every play made on the field, while Sam and Luke chased each other around and occasionally glanced toward the action. After an hour of hard scrimmaging, Laura had wanted to loosen them up, and started calling ridiculous plays. The game quickly became a contest to see who could pull off the most absurd tricks. Following a play in which Sonnett tried to boot the ball 80 yards to Rose for a header in the box, Laura approached where Mattie stood on the sidelines.

"So, how do you like our chances?" she asked.

Mattie blinked at her, just noticing Laura next to her and more than a bit shocked at it. "In she believes, you mean?" She nodded. "They've been playing well, but France is hot right now. And who knows, England might just out-muscle us and get lucky." Mattie shrugged. "I hope we win, but I don't want to, like, jinx anything."

Laura just smiled and nodded again. "I'm Laura Harvey by the way," she said, holding out her hand.

Mattie laughed and accepted his handshake. "Yeah, I know. I'm Mattie."

"Yeah, I know."

Mattie gave him a confused look.

"I mean, half my team has been looking over here for your reaction every time they do something fancy, but there are two of them who seem to be trying harder than the rest to impress you."

Mattie just blushed.

"I heard--actually I saw--you've got some fancy footwork of your own."

"It's just some freestyle tricks," she said, shrugging.

"What position do you play?"

"Wherever, I don't really care as long as it's soccer."

"Good answer. How'd you like to try midfield?" Laura asked. "Sam!" he called as there was a break in play, and waved to her. Mattie's eyes went wide and she started to shake her head when she realized what was happening, but Sam was already running over.

"What's up, coach?" Sam asked, slightly out of breath.

"Mattie needs to borrow your pinnie," Laura said, gesturing.

Sam broke out in a wide grin and stripped the fabric over her head. She all but put it on for Mattie, who was growing more overwhelmed by the second, and guided her out towards the field. When the girls left on the bench saw what was happening, they started cheering and whistling. The players left on the field looked at the commotion, and all but one of them joined in.

Christen looked at her coach furiously and started to storm over to the sideline before Tobin stepped into her path. "Laura, I swear to God, if she gets one bump--"

"She'll be fine," Laura assured, as the team laughed at her protectiveness.

Christen looked worried but got back in position on the throw in. Kelley threw in the ball to Mal, who immediately looked for Mattie on the right wing. Mattie was still so in shock, when the ball arrived at her feet, she just trapped it and looked up at the defender marking her.

The man, or really, the kid, was fresh-faced and looked almost young enough to pass for a high school. He seemed mildly puzzled, but mostly amused, that he was now guarding a 12-year-old. Mattie noticed the way he was exaggerating his stance, as if to seem like he was really playing intense defense against her, but he was crouching ridiculously low.

She crossed over once to see how he would respond, and he moved with her, but not much. Then, she rolled the ball out toward the sidelines to give herself more room. The defender was growing more entertained at the fact that the 12-year-old kid he was guarding could actually dribble, and Mattie could see that he thought she had used the extent of her skill set. She recognized that look. She had seen it on the face of every kid on every crappy field she'd ever played on, especially if they were older and especially if they were a boy. So, she decided to break out one of the moves she reserved for the times when she needed to impress a crowd, or an opponent, the most.

She cut back toward the middle of the field, getting the kid, still comically low in his stance, to come with her, except as soon as he took the step, she rolled the ball onto the back of her right ankle and flicked it behind her back, over both of their heads. Mattie thought it was a weak rainbow by her standards, but she got lucky that the kid was trying to be funny with the way he was guarding her. He realized what was happening half a second too late, and moved to cut off the sideline, but Mattie darted inside around him for the ball, which had actually gone more toward midfield than she intended.

When she looked up, approaching the 18 with the ball at her feet, she was surprised to see almost everyone had stopped playing. Some of the players stood dumbfounded, others laughing, others cheering. Only Christen was making a run into the box. Christen was smiling and pointing in front of her for the ball, so Mattie played a pass in off her left foot, which she touched in easily, largely due to the fact that her defender was still pointing and laughing at his teammate and the goalie barely made an attempt to react.

Christen gave her full goal celebration. She ran over to Mattie, picking her up and swinging her around. Mal approached with both hands on her forehead, the rest of the players on the field not far behind.

"Mattie, that was awesome!"

"That was so cool! Did Tobin teach you that?"

"Can Tobin teach me that?"

Mattie blushed, a little overwhelmed by the attention. Tobin took her time lazily jogging over to the circle, wearing a smug smile. She just held her fist out to Mattie, who tapped it. "Not bad, kid."

"Alright," Laura called. "That's it. I don't think we can top that one and Christen might kill me if someone plays actual defense against Mattie."

Both teams laughed and jogged to the sidelines. The OCB boys asked some of the players for pictures, and a few of them even wanted a picture with Mattie, including the kid she beat. Laura rounded them up after for a quick chat before they headed back to their rooms. Mattie stood on the outside, near Sam and Luke and Kerrie, juggling a ball.

"Alright. Travel day tomorrow, so be good about rest and recovery tonight. The vans will leave at..." she looked at a folded piece of paper in her hand "...nine for the airport, so be on time."

Mal fake coughed and said "Sonnett" under her breath while Emily did the same, coughing "Mal." Even Laura laughed. "Yes, Sonnett, Pugh, be on time. Alright, we'll do one last cheer, and I think our special guest should lead it today." The team made a lot of noise at the suggestion and Mattie looked up. Tobin grinned and pulled her in toward the huddle. A path cleared toward the center and Tobin guided her through before leaning down.

"What do you want the cheer to be?" she whispered behind her hand.

Mattie turned to whisper back. "What does it have to be?"

"Whatever you want. 'Team on 3', 'Beat England', whatever. You can do 'She Believes on 3' if you want, that's a good one."

Mattie scrunched up her face and shook her head before replying. "'She Believes' is lame." Tobin just gave her an exasperated look that she interpretted as Well, pick something.

"Fine." Mattie gave Tobin a look and put her hand in the center with the rest of the others.

"Believe on 3! 1, 2, 3...BELIEVE!"

***

Friday morning, Tobin and Christen took care to feed Sam breakfast, and bought Dramamine, in hopes of avoiding another episode like the flight to Florida. They packed up the suitcases, reorganized by Christen's new method, which Tobin neither questioned nor fully understood. Christen suggested they trade off who sat with Sam on the flights, in case the motion sickness persisted. Tobin kind of wanted to prove she could make it through a flight without him getting sick, but knew this would be a rare time she could spend with Mattie one on one that couldn't be hijacked by her youthful teammates, so she agreed.

While Tobin excitedly told Mattie about everything she wanted to show her at UNC, where they were playing and practicing, Christen supervised an intense competition between Luke and Sam--who showed no signs that they had ever been upset with each other--to see who could cycle through the channels on the seat back TVs the fastest.

They arrived at the hotel around 1, having a few hours to eat and settle in before they headed over for pregame practice. In their hotel room (technically Christen's hotel room), Tobin was dribbling a ball animatedly between the beds, entertaining Sam. Christen giggled at her energy.

"A little wired, Tobs?" she teased after Tobin had used her as a dummy defender for a third time.

"I'm excited, aren't you?"

Christen laughed. "Babe, are you really surprised I'm not as excited as you to go to your school?"

Tobin frowned. "I guess not, but HAO is coming! You should be excited about that!"

"I am excited to see HAO. Just apparently not quite as excited as you," she teased.

Tobin dribbled over to Sam and whispered something in his ear.

Sam nodded and smiled before shouting, "Tar!"

"Heels!" Tobin finished. Christen just rolled her eyes.

***

Mattie rode in the van with Tobin to pregame practice, and Tobin pointed out landmarks from her college years on the drive to campus. She planned on giving Mattie a full tour after their walkthrough. The vans, and the rental car holding Amy, Christen, Sam and Luke, parked on the side of the access read to the stadium. Leaning against the wall by to the service entrance was one Heather O'Reilly. The vans emptied out onto the sidewalk, people lining up to greet Heather. A man in a black UNC polo appeared to lead them on a tour of the stadium. Tobin had been to Kenan many times, even in the tunnels, so the tour was pretty boring for her, but Mattie and Sam were so impressed by the sheer scale of things that she found it enjoyable.

After the stadium walkthrough was done, they headed over to the Fetzer for an open practice. Kerrie took the boys to sit in the stands, but Tobin could see Mattie was talking to HAO by the bench. When she looked over again, Kerrie was still sitting with the boys, but Heather and Mattie had disappeared. Once practice wrapped up, the team signed a few autographs and packed up their things. Tobin walked over to Christen and bumped her.

"Do you know where Mattie went?" she asked.

Christen frowned. "What are you talking about? She was standing with HAO..." Christen looked around, not spotting either of them. For a second, Tobin almost regretted asking, because she could see from the look on her girlfriend's face that this was going to escalate quickly. Christen took out her phone and called Heather, but got no answer. Tobin started asking teammates and staff members if they had seen them, to no avail. Finally, Doug, the media guy, called over.

"Tobin--they're out on the practice fields."

Tobin nodded at him and ran down the sideline to the stairs and took them two at a time to the top, where she could see two figures passing a ball back and forth on the field below. She let out the breath she was holding. She walked back down the stairs, finding Christen, and hooked a finger over her shoulder in the direction she came from. "They're over there playing footy."

Christen closed her eyes and dragged a hand over her face. "We probably should have guessed that."

As the team packed up their things and exited the stadium, Tobin put Sam on her shoulders and she and Christen walked over to the practice field to find Heather and Mattie (plus Tobin thought Christen was considering ripping HAO a new one for not telling them they left). When they reached the sideline, Tobin was surprised to see another familiar face on the sideline, talking to the pair.

"Tobin! I came to catch the end of your practice, but I found out you brought me a new recruit," Anson called.

Tobin laughed. "I've been giving her the hard sell, Coach."

Anson walked over to her and Christen, shaking Christen's hand. "That is if she isn't already talking to Stanford."

Christen smiled and shrugged. "She is a California girl..."

Anson laughed and looked up at Sam on Tobin's shoulders. "And who's this guy?"

They introduced Sam and caught up with Anson. More of the UNC alums filtered over to the field when they saw their old coach. Mattie mostly stayed on the outside of the group as they talked, juggling by herself or passing with whoever was willing. Tobin put Sam down so he could play with Ashlyn and walked over to Mattie, motioning for the ball.

"So...what do you think?" Tobin asked as she received the ball in the air, juggling it a few times before passing it back.

"This place is cool," Mattie said. "It's like seeing soccer history in real life."

Tobin grinned. "You think it's cool enough to spend four years here at some point?"

Mattie laughed. "Yeah, sure. Right after I get a new iPhone and pigs fly."

Tobin frowned. "What do you mean?"

"C'mon, Tobin. This whole trip is like...like soccer fantasy camp. Sure, right now I'm meeting Anson Dorrance, but once we get back to real life, I'm not going to college."

Tobin laughed and trapped Mattie's return pass, resting her foot on the ball. "Yeah...I don't really think you're gonna get away with not going to college."

Mattie shook her head. "I'll be fine without college. It'll be way easier for me to just go to open tryouts than to do all the school and the application and the recruitment to go to college."

Tobin grew frustrated. "First of all, I'm not sure that's really true. Second, going to college isn't just a way to get to the league. You need to go to school regardless of whether you play soccer. We're not gonna let you slack off because you think you can go pro."

"What're you going to check my homework?" Mattie asked. Tobin gave her a look like that was exactly what they were going to do. "Yeah?" Mattie challenged, "You gonna drive out to Palmdale--" Tobin made a noise in protest. "--fine, or Carson, but we both know that's a long shot--every night so you can make sure I did my required reading?"

Tobin wanted to yell that no, they would not be driving to Palmdale, or to Carson, because Mattie would just be upstairs in her room, and that hell would freeze over before Christen let her even consider skipping college, but she knew this wasn't how they were supposed to have this conversation, and that it was too early. Instead, she juggled the ball back up and shook her head in disagreement.

"That's what I thought," Mattie said.

***

The morning of the game was pretty relaxed, except for a few new arrivals. The minute his brother and dad arrived, Luke wanted to introduce them to Sam. They were joined by Cassius when he and Dom arrived and soon had expanded their intense Star Wars circle to four. Adam was going to take Mattie and Sam to the game, so they could sit in the VIP box to watch the game. The game was in the afternoon, so they left for the stadium pretty early.

Mattie rode in the front seat, talking to Adam, mostly making small talk about the differences between LA and North Carolina. They arrived at the stadium and had a US Soccer pass that got them into a smaller parking lot from the general public. They walked up a tunnel that Mattie had seen on the tour yesterday and took an elevator that she hadn't noticed before. The doors open, and she could see signs for "Press" and "ESPN" as well as an arrow pointing toward luxury boxes. Adam shuffled the group in that direction and nodded at two men in US Soccer polos standing and chatting next to a door marked "Sky Box B." When Mattie opened the door, she was immediately spotted by Heather, who came over to greet them. She gave hugs all around before turning to Mattie.

"Are you excited? Is this the first game you've seen live?" Mattie nodded. "Well, you picked the right seats." She led Mattie down to the first row of seats where her husband Dave was sitting and introduced them. Adam set Luke, Sam, and Ryan up with their toys in the corner of the box, and came over to sit with Mattie and the other adults.

Mattie looked out onto the field, where she could see the players were finishing warming up. She spotted Christen and Tobin, who were taking shots in front of the goal. She could see them periodically look up toward the box they were sitting in and squinting. At one point, Tobin lazily jogged over to Christen, asking her a question before looking at the box and shaking her head. Mattie realized they were trying to see if she and Sam were there yet, so she walked to the window.

"Careful, Mattie," Heather warned. "If you fall, Tobin's gonna kill me."

"I'm just saying hi," she explained, raising her hand toward the field. She saw Christen recognize her and smile. She tapped Tobin's shoulder and nodded up. Tobin grinned and waved, before taking the ball at her feet and dribbling through Christen's legs. Christen rolled her eyes and Tobin gave Mattie a thumbs up, which she returned. After a few last shots, Laura called them in and the team jogged to the locker room.

Someone in the box found a remote and unmuted the TV.

"...Well, Julie, after that convincing win from France, the US is going to need a strong showing against this English side to prove they can win this tournament."

"You know, I think you're right. We saw a lot of bright spots in October during qualifying, but it would be a stretch to say the US won that tournament convincingly."

"Of course, the US women coming off a win in the 2018 CONCACAF Gold Cup, just narrowly beating Canada in the semi-final, only to almost fall to Mexico in the final before pulling out a win. 2018 was certainly a year that saw a lot of change in the US team, not so much in the roster, but in the coaching staff."

"Yeah, they certainly had a bit of a rebuilding year, and really this cycle has been--Adrian, I've talked to a lot of people who are saying that if the US were to win this World Cup, it really wouldn't be a repeat, because it's almost a completely different team."

"I've heard a lot of the same thing. You could see in the last few games of that Qualifying, there were a few moments where it seemed like Laura Harvey is finally starting to settle into this team, and the squad is really starting to gel."

"We'll certainly see with the US facing some stiff competition in this tournament."

"Which includes France, who just overtook Germany in the FIFA world rankings last fall."

"Yeah, and not only is the US probably itching to be back on the top of that leaderboard, Adrian, but they haven't won this tournament since it first occurred in 2016, and I talked to some of these ladies today--they'll feed you the party line about their priority being on June in France, but you can tell they want to win this one on home soil."

"Well, Julie, we'll certainly get a glimpse tonight of whether that's possible. And it looks like we're getting ready to get underway, here at Kenan Memorial Stadium. If you're just joining us, I'm Adrian Healey, here with my co-host Julie Foudy, live from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where the number 4 ranked United States Women's National Team is set to take on the number 7 ranked England. We'll be back in a bit."

Whoever had the remote muted the broadcast as it went to commercial, and Mattie sat up to see the teams getting ready to come out of the tunnel. She called to Sam to come look, but there wasn't enough action on the field to capture his attention yet. Mattie waited anxiously, switching between staring at the field and the tv screen, waiting for the entrances to start. Finally, the broadcast switched back from commercial and Mattie saw the referees get ready to move. The teams started to walk onto the field, England in white and the US in new navy blue kits with a red pattern on the bottom of the shirt.

To Mattie, the anthems and the introductions seemed to drag on, though she still got a rush as the players, especially Tobin and Christen, were announced, when with each one she re-realized that this was someone she now knew in real life. The noise in the stadium, which the commentators said had over 35,000 people in it, worked to a dull roar as the teams prepared for kickoff. Mattie looked out over the crowd, a little sad she wasn't in the massive swath of red, white, and blue for her first game, but realizing she probably had one of the best seats in the house. England won the coin toss, and a minute later, they kicked off, and the game was underway.

Right from the start, it was physical. The first fifteen minutes alone saw almost 10 fouls and a yellow against Kelley. Both teams were getting chances, but every ball into the box on either side seemed to get cleared instantly. Just before the 20 minute mark, it looked like England might actually convert. Moe was passing the ball to Rose in transition, when Lucy Bronze took a chance, getting a toe on the pass before it got to its intended target. Rose had been running the other way and was caught a step behind as Bronze made a break. She hit Nobbs cutting over the middle to England's left flank. The US backline was still falling in, at a disadvantage. Nobbs looked up as they started to collapse on her, opening up space across the middle, when the ball was tackled out from in front of her.

"And Ali Krieger comes in out of nowhere! Krieger, finds Lavelle back up the flank. Lavelle crosses in front of the defender...finds Morgan over the middle...Morgan, the one touch to Press...Press--and that's a goal! That ball, which started from just above England's 18, made its way up the US's right side in probably about 3 seconds, wouldn't you say?"

Everyone in the box jumped up and started yelling. Mattie watched the replay in awe.

"And that's one of those bright spots we're looking for from the US in this tournament. After Krieger's tackle, probably six touches on the ball the whole way on that play. Krieger looks up, finds the US at an advantage because England had been beating them on the break, and they just move that ball right up. Lavelle has no problem beating Christiansen, on her heels, in the midfield and then finds Morgan, and once you've got two on two with Alex Morgan and Christen Press on a break, you're pretty much done."

"And they didn't even give them a chance to defend! Just Morgan with the pass off the bounce and Press, making a run into the middle of the box and sneaking behind the defender, just puts a foot on it in the air, across the keeper into that right corner."

Mattie couldn't contain her excitement. Everyone else was sitting down, but she couldn't believe she was seeing this in person. She tried sitting back down next to Heather, but her knee bounced.

Heather laughed. "How's that for the first goal you ever see live, huh?"

Mattie just beamed and nodded, turning her attention to the resuming play. The US seemed to get a lift from the goal, but the game had fewer quick transition moments as the half wore on, and resumed its gritty physicality. By the end of stoppage time, the score remained the same. Mattie listened to the announcers dissect the first half, comparing the US and England, but also the US and France in their game against Germany. She showed Sam the replay of Christen's goal, which he found very exciting, although when Mattie suggested that he and Luke watch the second half as it happened on the field, he didn't seem to grasp that the action on TV was actually occurring a couple hundred feet away.

She was disappointed when Christen, along with Lindsey and Alex, were subbed out at the beginning of the second half, but Carli, Amy, and Mal came on, which meant Adam also increased his efforts to get the boys to watch the game. Ryan agreed to watch when they had the ball, but Sam and Luke showed no interest. Despite changes to both sides, the second half continued much like the first, with the teams trading set pieces but neither able to capitalize. The US was still pressing and playing decidedly better than England, but just couldn't convert. The commentators kept referencing late goals from England in the past two years of She Believes that England beat and tied the Americans on, respectively. Mattie wished they would just stop bringing it up, because she felt like they were jinxing it. When Foudy again mentioned their last two meetings in the tournament, Heather voiced the same concern.

"For the love of God, Jules, if you bring up those goals one more time I swear you're gonna make one happen!"

Sure enough, in the 82nd minute, England converted on a free kick from 30 yards out. Mal had tackled an English midfielder from behind, the penalty was served into the box, the ball squirted out of the scrum and was flicked into the net by Nobbs, who had been involved in both of the goals that were being rehashed throughout the whole game. Everyone in the box groaned. A tie was certainly not disqualifying, but now they were going to have to listen to at least another 10 minutes of comparisons to the French side's 2-0 win over Germany. Play resumed, the US quickly turning the ball over and England getting possession. The Lionesses were clearly trying to run out the clock, not minding the tie as much as the US did and happy to get out of the match with a point.

The closeup camera kept following Mal, who looked pissed, Mattie thought, that she had given up that penalty. She continued to press high, scrambling after the ball in the backfield. She followed a pass to Nobbs and met Tobin at the sideline, trapping the English midfielder. Tobin poked the ball loose from Nobbs's feet, putting it just behind her, and Mal took off. Mattie had seen Mal run the ball back before, but this might have been the fastest she'd ever seen her go. Everyone in the box, everyone in the stadium, stood up, as Mal dusted one of the two players between her and the goal, cutting inside and tripping her up. The second defender collapsed to come get her, but at that point it was too late. Mal had picked up too much speed, and sent a screaming shot into the left upper 90. There was nothing for the keeper to do.

The stadium went crazy, the team went crazy, Tobin, who got to her first, beaming and all but tackling Mal on the pitch. Mal, for her part, barely smiled, looking almost bored, as if she were just restoring the rightful balance, cleaning up after her mistake. There was still one minute, and then stoppage time, so both sides hurried back into position for the kickoff. Mal's goal seemed to put a cap on the game though, and England didn't get another chance.

***

Back at the hotel, the team was pumped. Some of the post-game coverage noted the goal differential and France's dominance in the first match of indicators that they were still the favorites, but Mattie didn't care, and neither did any of the American players. Adam took her Luke, Ryan, and Sam straight back to the hotel, trying to avoid the traffic and mayhem at the stadium. They waited in the lobby as the vans showed up. Tobin and Christen were the first ones in the door, scanning the lobby for Mattie and Sam right away. Sam ran over to Christen, yelling "You scored, you scored!" as she picked him up, and Mattie walked over to Tobin and gave her a fist bump.

"You almost scored there a couple times. I guess Sam just doesn't understand your defensive contributions yet," Mattie teased.

Tobin grinned and threw her arm around Mattie's shoulders, pulling her into a half hug. "As long as he gets that we won, I don't care."

Mattie gave her a real hug, which clearly surprised Tobin a little, but she returned it fiercely. "You played awesome," Mattie said.

"Thanks."

"So did you," Mattie said, extracting herself from Tobin's hug and turning to Christen to hug her as well. Christen shifted Sam to one hip and pulled Mattie in. "Your goal was amazing," Mattie gushed.

"Hey, what about my goal?" a voice called as a commotion entered the lobby. Mal, Emily, Moe, Lindsey, Sam and Rose had apparently all fit in one van, because they entered the hotel in the middle of a heated debate.

Mattie laughed and walked to give Mal a hug too, which Emily and then the rest of the group glommed onto in an attempt, apparently, to squish Mattie.

"Mattie, wanna play Kingdom with us?" Sam asked from her position on the outside of the hug, stretching her arms around the group.

"What's that?" Mattie mumbled through the space under Emily's arm where she was stuck.

"It's a game that Rose made up," Mal answered. "It's dumb."

"You're just mad you were the fool last time, Mal," Lindsey teased.

Mal frowned and they resumed their previous argument while Mattie snaked out of the pile of bodies. "Can I play Kingdom with these guys?" she asked Christen and Tobin, who were watching the scene in front if them, amused.

Christen looked closely at her younger teammates, who were disentangling themselves. She sent them each a calculated glance before asking, "Moe--is this game appropriate?"

Moe shrugged. "The game itself is fine, but when Mal starts swearing 'cause she's getting spanked, it might take a turn."

Christen sighed. "Okay, go ahead, but we have an early flight tomorrow, so we'll come get you when it's time for bed." Mattie clapped and joined the girls on their way to the elevator.

"Mallory," Christen called after them, "no swearing in front of Mattie."

Mattie just rolled her eyes and laughed, but Mal threw up her hands in exasperation when her friends started needling, "Yeah Mal, watch that mouth of yours." Mal just groaned as they squished into the elevator.

***

Many hours later, Tobin went to collect Mattie. She approached the room, which she could tell was where the game was occurring because of the loud arguments that had been coming from it. She knocked on the door and Moe answered. "Hey," Tobin said, walking in past her. The group was half on, half off one of the beds, huddled around a board game and still arguing.

"Hey," Emily said from where she sat on a chair next to the bed with a pink paper crown on her head and compression pumps on her legs, "no grown-ups allowed."

"Sonnett, you're 25," Tobin said, rolling her eyes. "Mattie, it's time for bed."

"But we're not finished our game," Sam explained, gesturing at the board.

Tobin sighed. "How much longer?"

"Only like another half an hour," Rose answered, which earned her dirty looks from Mattie and the other players. "What?" she said.

"That's way too long," Tobin said, shaking her head and motioning to Mattie, "We have to get up early tomorrow." Mattie just gave her a resistant look".

"C'mon, Tobin, when did you get so lame," Lindsey sassed. "It's not even that late."

"Yeah, Tobin, stop being such a mom," Sonnett added. Tobin shot her a warning look.

"Mattie, let's go," Tobin tried again sternly, trying not to show her frustration. Mattie looked like she was deciding how much of a challenge she could get away with, when there was another knock at the door and Moe went to answer it again.

"Are Tobin and Mattie in here?" Tobin heard Christen's voice ask. Moe reappeared with the new arrival.

"Mattie, it's time for bed," Christen stated and motioned toward the door.

"But--" Lindsey tried.

"No buts," Christen cut her off. "We have to leave for the airport at 6:30. You guys should be going to bed too."

There was grumbling, but Mattie climbed off the bed and stood and walked toward the door. Mal followed, explaining, "Yeah, I should probably get some sleep, too." Slowly, the rest of the group began to get up and Lindsey began packing up the game.

Tobin stood glued to the spot, dumb look on her face, torn between amusement at how easily Christen got them to pack up the game, frustration that no one had listened to her, and awe in her girlfriend's ability to boss people around.

Then again, Christen only had to say "Tobin", and she was snapped out of her daze, following her immediately out the door.

****

The next morning, on the early flight to Houston, they maintained their system of switching off sitting with Sam and Mattie, which meant Tobin was sitting with Sam again. There were no crises so far, though, because he was so tired from the previous night's excitement that he passed out before they even took off. Mal, who was sharing their row, was disappointed.

"I thought me and Sam were gonna get to hang out this whole flight, and then he just falls asleep on me," she pouted.

Tobin laughed. "I'm the one who needs the extra quality time. You're going to get to hang out with him all the time once preseason starts," she said, trying not to sound bitter.

Mal looked at Tobin sympathetically. "You think they'll still be staying with you by the time preseason starts?"

"Yeah, definitely." She frowned and looked at Mal quizzically. "It's only like a week away."

Mal looked slightly surprised. "I guess, Mattie just made it seem like she was probably gonna go to the Carson home pretty soon after you get back."

Tobin stretched to look over the seat, across the plane and a few rows up. She could see Christen and Alex's heads poking over the seat backs and an empty space in the middle where she knew Mattie was sitting. She sat back down and looked at Mal. "Does she seem like she wants to go to Carson?" she asked in a quiet voice.

Mal shrugged. "I guess. She kind of thinks it won't happen, I think, but she's hoping. She has this whole backup plan for how she could still get to Sunrise games from Palmdale."

Tobin grimaced and shook her head. "She's not going to Palmdale, and she's certainly not using any backup plans to get to games."

"I know, I told her she could just have my Lyft login and use that. I don't really know how far it is but she could always just get one to the house and ride with me and Chris."

Tobin looked at her incredulously. "Okay, first of all, giving her your Lyft password is not cool. Do not do that. She's 12, she can't be getting into cars with strangers." She tried not to look surprised at how adult her own voice sounded.

"She got into a car with you when you were a stranger," Mal challenged. "And from the stories she's told me, she's more capable of getting around on her own than I am."

Tobin shook her head. "That was before. I'm glad nothing happened to her then, but that doesn't mean her running away wasn't super dangerous. And you don't have to worry about her getting a ride from Palmdale or Carson or anywhere else."

Mal frowned. "She's not gonna get to come to the games?"

Tobin shook her head. "No, of--she's just already gonna be at the house."

"Like all the time?"

Tobin paused, wondering how much to tell her younger teammate. "I don't--if I tell you, do you promise not to tell Mattie?"

Mal furrowed her brow.

"It's not like bad, we just can't tell her some stuff before we know the details."

Mal frowned and thought before nodding. "Okay, fine, I promise."

Tobin shook her head. "There's no way we're letting Mattie go to Palmdale, and if we can help it, she won't be going to Carson. The details are super sketchy and we'd still have to convince the Child Services people that it would work, but we don't want them to leave at all. And you should've seen Chris in the office with this administrator guy...she's probably going to get them to do whatever she wants."

Mal was shocked and excited. "Really? So, like, you think you'll adopt them and everything?"

Tobin took a deep breath and gave a half shrug. "Like I said, everything's still really up in the air. We don't know what the state will approve us for or how long it'll take. That's why you really can't say anything to Mattie until we've sorted out the details."

Mal mimed zipping her lips shut and throwing away the key. "I won't, I swear. This is so cool. I was considering guilt tripping Christen into letting them stay, but this is way easier."

Tobin laughed. "She definitely doesn't need much convincing, but--" She paused. "It's cool that you want to help Mattie like that."

"Yeah, I mean, she's cool," Mal said, shrugging, "I mean, I've had people look up to me, but never someone who was, like, also my friend. It's cool."

"Yeah, I guess that's kinda like you and me."

Mal smirked. "Except you and me are further apart in age than me and Mattie."

"What?" Tobin protested, doing the math.

Mal laughed. "Yeah, by almost two years. If you and me didn't already play together, I'd probably be more likely to play with her than you."

"Oof," Tobin said. "Okay, I get it, I'm old." She mimed a wound to her chest. "Seriously, though, Mal, thank you for being so cool with her."

Mal just gave her half a grin and shrugged, pulling up her headphones. "Whatever I can do to help, old geezer."

Tobin rolled her eyes and shook her head. She put in her own earbuds, turning on ESPN and trying not to worry about the fact that Mattie hadn't even considered, at least aloud to Mal, the possibility of staying with Tobin and Christen. As she watched the top 10 countdown, which included both of the goals from their game the day before, she wondered, not for the first time, if they shouldn't just tell Mattie their intentions.

***

The rest of the day was low key, just consisting of recovery sessions and meetings. Monday, they had practice in the morning and then a walkthrough and an open practice at the stadium. After, they had a team dinner at the hotel as their pregame meal. The conference room had 3 long tables set up in a U-shape. Tobin went to sit next to Christen, who had Sam on her lap, at the table where Amy, Luke, and Alex were already sitting, when Christen put a hand on the chair she was going for. "Can you go check on Mattie?" Christen asked, blinking her eyes in a way she knew Tobin wouldn't say no to. Tobin looked over at where Mattie was sitting with Mal and company and frowned.

"She's with Mal, she's fine."

Christen gave her the eyes again. "Please, just make sure they aren't, like, corrupting her. I know they're doing a really good job including her but I'm worried they're treating her a little too much like one of their own." When Tobin continued to pout, she tried flattery. "Please, they think I'm a narc and they won't say anything bad to her in front of me. They think you're so cool they probably won't even notice you're there."

Tobin pouted. "They're not gonna think I'm cool when I'm clearly being sent over to spy." She grabbed her plate and her phone and began to walk across the room. "You're ruining my street cred, woman."

"I love you," Christen called after her.

Tobin shuffled over to the seat across from Mattie and next to Emily. "Is anyone sitting here?" she asked.

"Pop a squat, Tobs," Emily said, pulling out the chair. "Glad you decided to join the fun table."

Mattie narrowed her eyes. "Why did you decide to join the fun table?"

Tobin scanned her brain for an answer. "They were gossiping," was the best she could do. "Something about someone's wife and this other kid, blah, blah, blah." In fact, Tobin was well practiced at just tuning out Christen and Alex's gossip-related conversations, but the lie was believable enough that Mattie and the girls accepted it.

Conversation resumed, and Rose went back to telling a story about the time she locked herself in an equipment closet in college and almost missed a game. They continued to tell embarrassing stories, both about themselves and each other, and Mattie was loving it. Tobin admitted the stories were pretty funny, but after Sonnett told one about how she blacked out and woke up in a wheelbarrow with one shoe, she realized that Christen was probably right about the girls being too comfortable around Mattie. For her part, Mattie kept up with their quick banter, trading digs with the other girls that Tobin tried not to find as funny as she did.

"Mattie, c'mon, you'd make such a good CB," Emily insisted. "True footballers play defense."

Rose pulled Emily from the table, all but clotheslining her. "Don't listen to Sonnett. Midfield is way better. You get to play offense and defense, so it's way less boring."

"Nice try guys," Mal said, rolling her eyes, "if me and Christen are her favorite players, she obviously wants to be a forward, right, Mat?"

Mattie shrugged. "I dunno, when I played travel I played wherever. I didn't really care about positions 'cause I would just dribble the ball up and score."

They all laughed appreciatively. "I bet your coach loved that," Lindsey said shaking her head.

"Damn, Tobin, this whole thing seems like fun," said Emily, smirking at Mattie, who looked prepared for a smartass comment, "where do I get a homeless soccer phenom to take in?" The table laughed and Emily took a satisfied sip of water to hide her grin from Tobin.

Tobin considered actually hitting her upside the head, but Mattie was too quick.

"I dunno, but you should ask Christen," Mattie nodded at Tobin, "she seems to be collecting us."

Emily choked, trying not to spit water on the table and drooling all over her plate. Rose actually stood up and walked away from the table. Tobin just sat there with a hand over her face, shaking her head, while the rest of them laughed (mostly at her).

"You can't say stuff like that," she told Mattie.

"Why not?" Mattie said, proud of the reaction her joke got.

"Because I got sent over here to make sure these idiots weren't corrupting you, but clearly they are."

Mattie rolled her eyes. "They're not corrupting me."

"You want to tell that joke again in front of Christen?" Tobin countered.

Mattie thought about it for a second, then made a face like she didn't really want to but she wasn't going to admit that. Tobin sat back and folded her arms over her chest. "Yeah, that's what I thought."

***

On the day of the game, they had an easy morning. Amy dropped Luke at their room so he and Sam could watch the next Star Wars movie.
Tobin's mom and Christen's parents were on flights due to arrive within 30 minutes of each other in the early afternoon. They insisted that neither of the girls come get them on game day, but they were going to stop by the hotel to pick up Sam and Mattie and take them for the day so that they could focus. (Tobin and Christen agreed previously that they would probably just use this as an opportunity to spoil Mattie and Sam, despite the many warnings they received not to act like these were their new grandchildren.)

Once they arrived, Tobin introduced Mattie and Sam to her mom. Tobin gave her mother credit for introducing herself as 'Cindy,' instead of Nana, but she could tell by the look on her face that it required a lot of restraint. After the introductions were made and the not-Grandparents were saying hi to familiar faces in the hallway and hearing stories of Mattie and Sam's adventures at camp, Tobin and Christen went back in their room to make sure their parents would have everything they needed to watch the kids. Christen packed a bag for them and Tobin wrangled Sam back into the room to get on his shoes and jacket.

"How come me and Mattie are going with your and Christen's moms and dad?" he asked Tobin as she tied his shoe.

"Well, you know how Christen and I have a game today?" Sam nodded. "My mom and Christen's parents are gonna watch you and Mattie during the game. Like how you hung out with Luke's dad during the last game? And Kerrie and Luke will be there, too."

"Cause you guys are both playing in the game?" he asked, still confused.

"Yeah, bud, remember last game? You saw me and Chris both play, right?" Sam nodded as if this were obvious, but he was still confused. "Why do you ask?" Tobin prodded.

"Luke says that his dad watches him and Ryan during the game because his mom is playing and so she can't watch him, and he watched me and Mattie 'cause you and Christen were both playing." Tobin nodded slowly and furrowed her brow, trying to follow Sam's distress. Sam frowned like he had thought a lot about this, but still didn't know what to ask, so he looked at Tobin with a frown. "Luke says you and Christen are my moms."

Tobin could see Christen freeze in the middle of putting a sweatshirt in the bag. Tobin took a deep breath and tried to remain as unfazed as possible. She smiled at Sam. "Did Luke tell you why he thinks that?"

Sam put up one hand in a half shrug. "Well, his mom told him that when you and Christen had a baby, you would both be its mom instead of being a mom and dad like Luke's, 'cause sometimes babies have two dads or two moms or one dad or one mom. But then, Luke says you got me and Mattie instead 'cause we were already kids and already brother and sister, and he thinks sometimes it happens like that."

As Tobin and Christen looked at each other, unsure and frozen, Stacy poked her head in the door.

"Yoohoo, let's rock and roll, Sammy."

Both women looked up at the interruption, and then looked at each other. Christen broke first.

"Hey, Sam, would it be okay if we talked about this later? It's a good question and I'm glad you asked it, so I want to make sure you get a really good answer." Sam, thankfully, thought this was perfectly reasonable, and nodded, hopping off the bed. Tobin let out a quick sigh of relief and put Sam's jacket on. Christen handed her mom the bag and they all gave Tobin and Christen hugs good luck.
Tobin and Christen returned to the room and sat on separate beds, an awkward tension in the air as one of them waited for the other to speak. They still had almost 2 hours before the bus left, so Tobin figured they would have the looming conversation before that, but in the meantime, she couldn't take the silence.

"You mind if I turn on the TV?" she asked.

"No, go for it," Christen said, putting her legs on the bed and grabbing her phone. Tobin put on ESPN and tried to gauge whether or not she was upset about the conversation with Sam, and separately, whether she was mad that Tobin wasn't the one to talk first. In truth, Tobin really didn't know where to start. She knew this conversation would come at one point, but she kind of thought that they could avoid it until after camp. She didn't expect Sam to ask them outright, which she realized from her experience with little kids was a bad plan.

The minutes continued to tick by as she went through opening lines in her head. She could've sworn Christen almost tried to say something a few times but stopped herself. When the clock hit 4, Tobin switched to the England-France game that preceded theirs. Tobin felt the energy in the room dissipate slightly, and she herself felt better now that she felt she had something to do besides procrastinating talking to her girlfriend. The new activity didn't facilitate a conversation, though, and as the first half wound down, France up 2-0 and controlling the game, Christen spoke.

"We should probably go downstairs."

Tobin nodded and started to gather her things.

***

Christen looked out the window of the bus at the other cars sharing the highway on the short ride to the stadium. She had thought that with the change in scenery, she and Tobin would naturally start another conversation and possibly make their way to the topic of Sam's questions. As soon as they met Emily and Rose on the elevator, however, she realized that she did not want to have this conversation with an audience, and they wouldn't be alone until well after the game ended.

At first, just after Mattie and Sam and their parents had left, she kept thinking Tobin was going to open the conversation, and then she began to grow worried, thinking that they were avoiding talking about this because they weren't on the same page. She knew what she wanted to say to Sam, and that she wasn't supposed to say anything like what she wanted to before long conversations with Tobin, Sam, Mattie and several people employed by the state of California, but she just wondered what Tobin had wanted to say. She had been much better at playing off Sam's question as innocent than Christen would have been if she had fielded it, which was sort of reassuring and also totally not.

As they pulled off the exit ramp and toward the stadium, Christen tried to push those thoughts out of her mind. She turned to face toward Tobin and squeezed her hand. Tobin looked up and searched Christen's face. She tried to ask with her expression if they could put this on hold until the end of the game.

Tobin nodded. "We'll talk about it later."

France ended up beating England 3-0, so they would have to beat France and at least tie Germany to have any shot of winning the tournament. Everyone felt like they needed to beat Germany anyway, as a statement that they were in the same shape as France. The tension was high, but as they went through their normal pregame routine, and Christen started to feel a little looser. By the time warmups and introductions were over, and the anthems had played, she had all but put the earlier conversation, and lack thereof, out of her mind. She completely eased into the game, so it didn't feel like a surprise when, 8 minutes in, she sent a cross over the top of the box that found Alex's head and then the back of the net. She ran to hug Alex and she could feel the team's energy sharpen. An early goal against Germany, a few more, could put them in line with France and make them seem like a contender to win.

Their optimism didn't last long. Not 5 minutes later, Marozsán bent the equalizer into the upper ninety from outside the 18. The teams were back to a tie. The game was settled, the opponents trading set pieces and long periods of possession, both fighting tooth and nail for the winning goal. It wouldn't come.

Alex and Christen were subbed at halftime and watched, helpless, as the stalemate continued on. There were moments of hope, including a promising corner from Tobin and a breakaway from Mal, but neither manifested in a goal. By the final whistle, the whole team, on the bench and on the field, was frustrated. They shook hands with the German players and signed autographs, but no one mingled long. The tie felt like a loss, like they had conceded the tournament even though it was still within reach. They had tied France recently, but they hadn't beaten them since 2016, and Friday's game loomed in the future after this result.

Tobin and Christen's parents were taking them out to dinner after and had invited some of their teammates to join them. Alex, Kelley, and Allie accepted, and Allie was bringing Bati. Christen showered quickly and got dressed before waiting by Tobin's locker for the rest of the girls to get ready. She was anxious to get dinner over with, so she and Tobin could have the conversation they had been putting off and maybe she would at least feel better about that part of her life. She expected Tobin to be frustrated after the tie, but when she got out of the shower and approached Christen she just gave her a tired smile and a small "hey."

"Hey," Christen responded. "I'm guessing you haven't seen the group text. They told us to head straight to the restaurant. Sam was hungry, I guess."

Tobin looked at her with soft eyes and a small smile, nodding. "Okay," she agreed and started packing up her stuff.

For possibly the millionth since she met her, Christen wished she could see inside Tobin's brain and figure out what was happening in there. She loved her girlfriend's mellow aura; it often centered her. Sometimes, though, she wished Tobin's still waters ran just a little bit shallower. Christen wasn't sure if she was actually frustrated and hiding it for her benefit, or upset about the fact that they didn't talk earlier, or just tired. She, herself, was starting to lean toward the latter.

They waited for the others to finish getting ready and Kelley gave them a once over. Christen knew they were being quieter--especially toward each other--than usual, but she hoped the other girls would chalk it up to physical and emotional fatigue from the game. Kelley seemed to, as Christen saw her choose not to comment. They piled into the car, Alex and Allie talking quietly about the game and Kelley scrolling through her phone. She and Tobin remained silent throughout the ride in the backseat, but a few minutes in, Tobin rested her head on Christen's shoulder, which made her feel better.

"There they are!" Christen's dad called as they walked into the restaurant. It was an upscale Tex-Mex joint, with terra cotta tile walls, dark lacquered wooden tables, and low, warm lighting. They made their way over to the table, where her parents sat with Tobin's mom, Bati, who was just taking off his coat, Mattie, and Sam, who was bellied up to the basket of chips and salsa with a salsa covered napkin tucked into the neck of his shirt. Christen was a little surprised to see that Mal's parents had also come, sans Mal, although they had become friendly with the Presses and the Heaths since Mal had moved into her and Tobin's house.

The group greeted them with smiles, Mattie instantly launching into a play by play recap of the game that Kelley willingly took the brunt of, sitting down across from her. The rest of them settled into the table.

"...and when she took down Moe?" Mattie narrated after she had made it through almost the entire first half. "That totally should've been a foul. That was bullshit."

"Mattie," Christen scolded.

"Sorry," Mattie said apologetically. "But it was," she added to Kelley in a low tone, and Kelley grinned.

"Woo, Chris," her dad called across the table. "That's a pretty intense mom voice you got going on there. You been practicing that?"

The table laughed and Christen managed to roll her eyes at her dad's joke. Mattie resumed her narration and he started in on a story about some guys on the flight there. With the attention off her, Christen took a deep breath. The second her dad had said the word 'mom' she remembered everything she was stressed and frustrated and scared about all at once. She tried to slow her thoughts, taking quiet, deep breaths, but across the table from her, her mom was helping Sam fix his salsa bib, Mattie continued to animatedly analyze the game with Kelley, and Tobin sat there watching the table with a far away look in her eyes.

Christen couldn't take it, the future in front of her all too soon and not fast enough, and she stood, excusing herself to go to the bathroom. She walked back through the restaurant, which was busy for a Tuesday, but not overly crowded. And yet, it seemed everywhere Christen looked there were mothers and children.

There was the blonde woman in the next room, trying to get her two toddlers to eat their tacos neatly. There was the older woman in the booth with reading glasses, whose teenager was showing her something on her phone she didn't seem to understand. Even as she entered the bathroom, she nearly walked head into a woman carrying an infant in her arms and leading another small child by the hand. Excusing herself, Christen took a deep breath and let them exit, before walking to stand in front of the sink.

Maybe those weren't those children's mothers--how did she know? She might be making the same misjudgment people kept making with them and Mattie and Sam. Of course, she thought, closing her eyes and putting her head down, she knew exactly why people perceived that of her. She heard the door open and kept her eyes shut and her head down, lest her face betray her current state of anguish as the woman entering walked by. She heard the sound of all three stalls being pushed open and looked up to see what they were doing.

She saw Tobin, who turned to her, face as infuriatingly impassive as it'd been since the afternoon. "We should talk about it now, so we're not weird at dinner," she explained.

Christen nodded and took a deep breath, playing with one of her rings. "Yeah."

They looked at each other, but still, neither wanted to start. Christen leaned with her back against the sink counter, Tobin with her head against the opposite wall. Finally, Tobin spoke, her voice squeaking. "Moms, huh? Kids sure say the darndest things."

Christen examined the girl across from her and felt her heart drop at the thought that this conversation was going to go the way she feared. She got angry, then, not that Tobin didn't feel the same way about being Mattie and Sam's moms, but that she got to feel so relaxed about this and Christen didn't. When she spoke, it was in a controlled tone, but with a harder edge than she intended. "He was asking a legitimate question, Tobin. This has to be incredibly confusing for him, for both of them. Look, it's fine if you don't want to--ugh, you could at least try to understand why he was feeling that."

Something like anger flashed across Tobin's face and she stood up off the wall. "Hold up. First of all--I was kidding. I fucking know why Sam is confused, alright. I'm confused. We've barely spoken to each other since it happened, besides the game. I was just trying to break the ice." She was still standing in the middle of the room, tense, but her explanation was measured.

Christen somehow found Tobin's ability to be calm even more frustrating. "Well. Here you go," she motioned to the space between them. "Ice broken."

"Really, Chris?" Tobin asked in a low voice. "Now we're gonna fight about this?"

Christen held up her hands. "Look, I'm sorry, Tobin. I'm sorry I can't be as cool about this as you." She knew she was pushing a button she shouldn't, but she could only feel satisfied when she saw Tobin's face finally react.

"What the f--are you really trying to say this isn't affecting me? That's bullshit. That's bullshit and I know you fucking know it, too. What do you want? For me to get mad? For me to freak out?" She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, putting her hands on her hips and walking over to Christen at the sink. In a quieter voice, she looked at Christen and asked, "What do you want? Please, for the love of God, tell me what you actually want."

Christen reluctantly felt her body relax at Tobin's proximity. She looked her girlfriend in the eye, pushing down the nerves in her stomach and stating what she actually wanted in a low voice. "I want you to feel like you're their mom, too."

Tobin's face was blank for a moment before a grin broke across her face. "Too?" she asked. Christen furrowed her brow. "You feel like you're their mom?" Tobin clarified. Christen gave a single small nod and Tobin crashed their lips together. She tried to kiss her, hard, but couldn't for more than a second because she kept smiling and breaking contact. Christen was still confused, but Tobin's smile-kissing was contagious and made her giggle. She pushed a hand against her girlfriend's collarbone so she could see her face.

Tobin was beaming. She felt her own face mirror the smile, though she still wasn't totally sure what just happened. "What do you want?" she asked Tobin.

Tobin chewed on her bottom lip to contain her grin. "I want us to be Mattie and Sam's moms." Christen leaned forward, kissing her before she continued. "And I don't care about the stupid rules or the stupid inspections or stupid California."

Christen raised her eyebrows, still smiling. "I think to actually be their moms we might have to care about those a little bit."

"Nah," Tobin said, shaking her head. "You can just tell them what to. If you use your mom voice, they'll do whatever you say." Christen laughed as Tobin began trailing little kisses down her neck, tickling her. "Your sexy, sexy mom voice," Tobin mumbled into her collarbone. Christen's giggle was cut off when Tobin bit down on the base of her neck, and she tried to contain the noise from deep in her throat. She could still feel Tobin's smile against her neck as she worked up and down.

"We're gonna be moms," she breathed out, hoping that saying it aloud would make it sound less crazy. "We're gonna have a 12-year-old and a 4-year-old."

"You're gonna be such a hot mom," Tobin said as she switched sides. "All the other moms in the pickup line are gonna hate you cause you're so hot." Christen laughed.

Tobin continued her ministrations, and in the back of Christen's mind, she realized they were going to be on national television this week, and hoped that Tobin wasn't completely destroying her neck. "Tob--be caref--" she warned, but groaned at whatever Tobin's tongue was doing and fell silent. It wasn't until Tobin sucked her skin so hard she thought she could feel her individual teeth leaving marks that she put a stop to it.

Tobin made a noise to protest when she pushed her backwards, but was cut off by Christen's lips. When Christen continued to push her away from the sink and toward the stalls, she grinned and ran her hands over Christen's lower back under her shirt. They stumbled toward the second stall until Tobin hit the back of her head on the divider. "Sorry," Christen whispered, but they were both giggling.

"Such a hot mom," Tobin breathed. She spun them so Christen's back was to the stall door and shuffled her inside without separating, one hand still on Christen's hip under her shirt and the other on the top of the door. Once inside, Tobin pushed her against the wall and grabbed the edge next to her head. Tobin kissed her cheek, moving her mouth next to Christen's ear. She moaned and whispered in a low, breathy voice, "I just thought about you driving a minivan."

Christen laughed and pushed Tobin across the stall, pinning her on the opposite wall with her hip bone and thigh. Tobin's hand went to Christen's hair and she continued to smirk at her own goofy dirty talk. "I bet your butt would even look good in mom jeans." Christen rolled her eyes and moved her mouth to play with Tobin's earlobe. "Chris," she breathed out needily, "I want you to nag me." She paused for a beat before giggling at her own joke.

Christen groaned and began kissing down Tobin's jaw, punctuating each of her words. "Tobin. Shut. the fuck. up." She met Tobin's mouth with her own, effectively swallowing whatever smartass response Tobin had and moved her hand to play with the button of Tobin's jeans. After that, Tobin complied with her request. Just as she was starting to inch Tobin's zipper down, they heard the door whine as it opened and separated slightly, trying not to giggle. Christen held a hand against the stall door, which they neglected to lock.

"Are you two in here?" a raspy voice asked. When they realized it was Alex, they giggled harder.

"You fucking are! Are you..." Alex bent down to look under the dividers. "Seriously, guys? I thought you stopped doing this! Get out here!"

Tobin and Christen laughed outright at that, and Christen moved back so Tobin could fasten her pants. They exited the stall to meet Alex, who was standing with her arms over her chest, Tobin walking behind Christen with a hand still on her hip. They tried not to laugh but cracked up as soon as they saw her.

"We can't take you anywhere," Alex chided, exasperated and trying not to laugh as well. Tobin and Christen tried to look innocent. "God...you're just lucky I convinced Mattie to let me come look for when she noticed you were missing. Last thing you need is her walking in on you two up to your old tricks." Christen blushed and bit her lip. Tobin buried her face in her girlfriend's neck and continued to giggle.

"Honestly," she continued, shaking her head. "You're not even drunk...both of your parents and your children are out there!"

Tobin just guided Christen toward the door and whispered in her ear. "Hear that, babe, our children."

Alex held up a hand to stop them. "Ugh. Please wash your hands."

"I--we didn't even--" Tobin protested, but Christen pulled her to the sink.

"C'mon, Alex is practicing her mom voice," she explained. They saw Alex roll her eyes dramatically in the mirror.

Tobin scrunched up her face. "Needs work. It's not hot enough." Christen elbowed her.

Alex groaned and threw her hands over her face. "I can't believe you weirdos are, like, practically parents."

Tobin and Christen grinned at each other as they dried their hands and Christen kissed Tobin's cheek.

"I can."

***

The next day, Tobin was practically floating. After Alex dragged them out of the bathroom, they had agreed to delay talking to Sam about definitions until they had talked to Claire again. Sam seemed to have forgotten it completely, so content with all the attention he was getting at dinner. Tobin felt so good that she and Christen were on the same page again, even Friday's game seemed exciting again, no longer an impossible battle, but a welcome challenge. On top of everything, she was going to get to see Cheney.

They had an active recovery session in the morning and flew to New Orleans in the middle of the day. After their afternoon film session and a light practice, they all watched the next Star Wars movie at Sam and Luke's request. It was the first prequel, which Tobin was the least excited to watch, but Sam and Luke were enjoying the pod races and the special effects. They were sitting on the floor in at front of the TV looking up, Mattie was sitting on one bed, reading Harry Potter on Tobin's kindle (she had gotten to the third book at this point). Tobin was laying half across Christen on the other bed, resting her head on her girlfriend's torso and alternating between watching the movie and texting.

"Is that Lauren?" Christen asked quietly, playing with Tobin's hair.

Tobin nodded against her stomach. "She's getting in at 10 tomorrow so she thinks she'll be over at like 11."

She felt Christen's quiet laugh. "She thinks she'll be over at 11 or you told her to get here at 11?"

Tobin grinned. "I may have suggested she should come over as soon as possible."

She felt her girlfriend lean over to see her face. "Tobin!"

"What? It's been a really long time since I've seen her, babe! I miss her."

Christen sat back and Tobin heard her laugh and sigh. "You know, sometimes I think you love Cheney more than me," she teased.

Tobin rolled, flipping her head so she was looking up at Christen's face. "One, that's impossible, I love you too much. Two, you gotta think about the fact that without Cheney, there's no way I would have gotten my act together to be with you. So she gets lots of bonus love from how much I love you."

Christen smiled and brushed Tobin's flyaways. "Bonus love, huh? I guess she should get some of that from me, too, then."

Tobin grinned and kissed Christen's upper abs, before turning back to her original position. She took a picture of Luke and Sam's heads staring up at the movie and sent it to Lauren.

Hurry up! Look what you're missing.

***

Lauren walked into the lobby five minutes before 11, carrying Jrue Tyler with sunglasses on her head. Luke ran to her first, excited to see his aunt and cousin. Lauren let Jrue down to greet him and looked over at the chairs where Tobin was sitting with Amy, Christen, Sam and Mattie.

Amy and Tobin got up to greet her first, and Christen herded Mattie and Sam over. Tobin was so excited she jumped on Lauren in the middle of the lobby.

"Cheney!"

"Get off, Tobin, I'm not here to see you, I'm here to see Mattie and Sam." Amy and Christen laughed as she got down.

Luke was introducing Sam and Jrue, so Lauren walked over to Mattie and held out her hand. "Hi, I'm Lauren--or Cheney, if that's easier."

"Hi," Mattie said, laughing and taking her hand. Tobin thought Mattie had gotten much less starstruck around new famous soccer players, but she could tell she was still a little nervous. They went upstairs to Christen's room to hang out, Lauren greeting teammates as they appeared. True to her word, though, she spent much of the time talking to Mattie and trying to get to know her.

She stayed for a few hours, until they had to head over to the Superdome for the walkthrough and open practice. She hugged Tobin tight as she said her goodbyes.

"You're doin' good Tobs," she said. "I'm proud of you. You got this." Tobin pulled back and was going to remark that she would see her tomorrow before the game, but realized from the look in her eye that that wasn't what Lauren was talking about. She smiled and nodded to her.

"Thanks, Cheney."

***

Finally, Friday arrived. Tobin woke up feeling loose, which always made her confident on game day. They had one final meeting in the morning, during which Laura mostly showed highlights of their recent games in an attempt to boost their confidence. Afterward, they lazed around the hotel. Cheney and Jrue Tyler came over to hang out in the afternoon, and then big Jrue drove over in another car to help chauffeur the gaggle of husbands and kids to the stadium.

Tobin paced excitedly in the room before the game, ignoring Christen's recommendations that she should try to relax. She was pumped, more excited for a game than she had been in a while. Finally, it was time to board the bus and they rode over to the Superdome. Tobin looked out the window as they neared the stadium, and saw huge swaths of traffic. She knew US Soccer was doing a lot of promotion around the game, trying to get people excited before the World Cup, and apparently, it had worked.

The locker room had a quiet, but not down, energy before the game, like everyone felt cautiously optimistic and no one wanted to say anything. Warmups were similar, everyone trying to keep the nerves at bay. When they made their way out to the pitch for the actual match, Tobin was struck by the noise from the crowd. She couldn't tell how big it was, but she was sure she'd hear about the attendance later. She felt a calm confidence pass over her as the anthem played, and just like that, it was time for the start.

The game started with France pressing high. The US took the kickoff, but were immediately smothered by the French defense and had to work just to keep possession of the ball in their own half. The first 10 minutes involved the teams alternating playing keep away in the midfield, with neither able to settle the ball. After a particularly long stretch of American possession, the French women finally got the ball into the American third.

Tobin was marking Henry, who had the ball, toward the American left sideline, deep outside the 18. Henry played the ball down the wing to Abily, who tried to beat Ali on the end line, but earned a corner. France set up in front of the goal and Majri prepared to take it. Tobin was still on Henry by the near post. Majri sent the ball deep into the box, finding the head of Renard despite the sea of navy she surrounded by. The ball bounced down to hit the ground, inches from the goal line. Three navy jerseys, including Tobin, went in to clear the ball, but a sliding Le Sommer got a piece of the ball and knocked it in.

The French players celebrated their early lead, and for a second, Tobin felt the energy in the Superdome fall. She made eye contact with Alex and Christen, who were whispering to each other, both looking furious, near the center of the pitch. She nodded at them and set her jaw. There was no way they were losing to France again.

The US pushed the ball up quickly, working it around to the right side. Mal took the ball down the right wing to about 12 yards from the end line, before beating her defender, dribbling over the top and curving in. She got off a shot off her left foot at the top of the box, and for a second, Tobin thought it was going in. Bouhaddi just got a hand on the ball, sending it off to the other side of the goal. Christen was there and tried to get a foot on it, but the momentum of the ricochet was going the other way and Georges, who was marking her, was able to force her off balance. The ball went out for a goal kick.

After the two settled moments for the teams, the game reverted to its original tempo of midfield scrum. With five minutes left in the half, each team had earned one more corner apiece, but neither amounted to anything. Then, with the US pressing, Rose got a toe on a pass intended for Abily just over the midfield line on the US side. She chipped the ball a few feet forward, looking up, and then dumping the ball just inside the 18 in the middle of the box. Alex was there, running onto the ball as Bouhaddi came off her line. She caught the ball on her chest and dropped it to her foot, placing the equalizer left past the diving keeper.

The stadium was alive again. Tobin could see Alex in front of her and on the big screen up above, clenching her fists at her waist and roaring. "Let's go!" Tobin heard as she ran over to hug Alex.

They didn't get another good chance in the last five minutes or the two added, but they went into halftime fired up. Laura told them she was keeping the lineup the same, trying to keep the momentum going. The locker room was loud, music playing, everyone talking and shaking each other to get the energy up. Tobin made eye contact with Christen and was pulled into a tight hug. "Let's do this," she said, clapping Tobin on the back. Tobin squeezed her tightly and felt a calm pass over her body.

"We're gonna win this thing."

France took the kickoff to open the second half, and the game resumed right where it left off. Tobin had a few good looks herself, including a shot from the left side of the 18 that ricocheted just off the far post. France had one or two missed chances, but the US was playing up much more in their face than the first half, and it was limiting the opportunities they were getting. The ball still stayed in the center third for the most part, both teams playing such tight coverage that the ball was moved around and back more often than forward.

With eight minutes left in regulation, France poked a hole of doubt in Tobin's previous certainty. The US was working the ball across the field around the midline when Majri, who was marking Tobin, read JJ's pass and interrupted it. Tobin ran back after her, but she was a step behind the whole way. Just when Tobin thought she was going to lose her, Kelley came streaking in and forced the French player right. They trapped her on the American left sideline, about 20 yards from midfield. Kelley was giving her a foot of space on the sideline, daring her to take it. The French midfielder pushed off Tobin and made her break, but Kelley poked the ball out from her feet, up the sideline. Tobin disentangled herself from the scrum and took off after the ball, just barely keeping it inbounds.

She looked up, scanning the field quickly. Alex and Christen were both about 20 yards over the midline on the side, Alex closer to Tobin on the left side and Christen more toward the center. Carli, who had come in for Rose 15 minutes ago, was deeper, almost directly in the center of the pitch. And then Tobin saw Mal, who was flying down the opposite wing, almost even with Alex and Christen. She booted the ball, bouncing it to the oncoming Mal's foot. Mal one touched the shot, and Tobin thought for sure it was in. Bouhaddi just brushed it, though, and it went over the crossbar. US corner.

Laura signaled to take it short, so Moe ran over to where Tobin stood and received the ball before passing it to Tobin. She rolled the ball back to the left sideline, about 12 yards from the end of the pitch. The young French right back who was marking her was giving her a little room and trying to force her center, clearly not wanting to get beat. Tobin looked in the box and saw Christen with two men on, back to goal. She took two touches to get even with her defender, not enough to dust her, but enough to get Georges to cheat over. That was all Tobin wanted. She put some space between her and the right back, fading away and chipping the ball off her right foot.

She could have sworn she saw the whole play happen while the ball was still in the air. It went over Georges outstretched leg and landed at Christen's feet. Christen had positioned herself against Renard as if she was going to turn outside and the defender moved further onto her back, between her and the goal. Christen feinted the outside turn, getting her to bite, and then went inside, poking the ball a half a meter left and shooting high off her right foot, head down. Bouhaddi went for it, but she was a step short. The ball hit the inside of the crossbar and bounced into the net, hard.

The noise was insane. Tobin had fallen back onto her butt after getting the pass off, and scrambled to get up and celebrate. Christen turned, arms out, pointing, as the ball went in. Alex was the first one who got to her, hugging her so hard she tackled her to the ground. The team joined in, pig piling on Alex and Christen. Tobin slid on her knees into the mess, getting covered as well as more teammates jumped on. She found Christen's smiling face at the bottom of the pile and yelled. "You okay down there?" Christen nodded, reaching her hand as much as she could toward Tobin. Tobin put a hand on the side of her head and briefly touched their foreheads together, upside-down, underneath their teammates.

The pile slowly peeled itself apart, the girls all talking, telling themselves to stay focused, not to let France equalize. Laura was beaming on the sidelines, and Tobin heard her yell, "If any of you knuckleheads broke one of my forwards in that pile, there's gonna be hell to pay!" They ran back and anxiously set up for the French kickoff. Their nerves were for naught. Ninety seconds later, Moe intercepted a pass at midfield and found Carli 10 yards in front of her. Carli took two touches and buried it from 30.

The noise grew even louder. Tobin couldn't even hear what Laura was yelling from the sideline, and eventually, she gave up, using her arms to motion for them to settle down. France kicked the ball off a little shell-shocked, seeming to look for an opening rather than push the way they had the whole game. They were still working the ball around their half when the referee signaled for 3 minutes of stoppage time. Majri got the ball at midfield and Tobin closed her out, so she quickly worked the ball back over the top. Henry got it on the other flank and got a step on Mal off the dribble. The backline collapsed on her, and she flicked the ball to Le Sommer, who was open as a result. For a second it seemed like she might get a shot off, but Becky punted the ball 40 yards in the opposite direction. That was the last chance France got.

Immediately after the game ended, the US soccer people started setting the field up for the trophy ceremony. Tobin skipped over to the sideline where her teammates were celebrating. Allie met her, picking her up and spinning her around. Now a bit dizzy, she looked for Christen.

"Hey," she yelled into her ear when she found her, "do you think they'll let Mattie and Sam on the field?"

"I told one of the US Soccer people to look out for Cheney, so we should be all set," she yelled back. "That was a nice ball, by the way. I forgot to thank you for that."

Tobin just gave her a crooked grin and lifted one shoulder. "You can always thank me later."

***

Cheney made it down to the field with Jrue and the gaggle of children just as they were walking up to get their medals. Tobin laughed watching Sam's eyes grow wide at the confetti and smoke machine. Mattie was visibly buzzing, and Tobin couldn't wait to hear her blow by blow analysis of the match, wanting to hear what was happening in the box as the game went on. She was forced to wait, though, because as soon as they got the okay to get off the stage, Mal and Sonnett ran over to claim her attention first. Tobin found herself, instead, standing and talking with Arod, Cheney, and Christen.

Sam, Jrue Tyler, and Luke were running wild around the field, playing with confetti and half the team competing for their attention. Somehow, Mattie had found a ball and convinced Mal and Sonnett to play with her at the goal closest to where people were standing. Rose got roped in to make it two on two, despite Mal playing 90 minutes and Rose playing the better part of 70.

Tobin was tuning in and out of the conversation, mostly watching the small scrimmage unless she was asked a direct question, and even then, mostly letting Christen answer for her. She saw Sam, running across the field with a pile of confetti in his hands. He had his sights set on Mattie, presumably carrying the pile of confetti to dump on his sister's head. For the second time that night, Tobin saw what was going to happen before it did, and took off across the pitch.

Mattie was marking Sonnett, who was making ridiculous faces as she tried to fake out Mattie or dribble around her. The scrimmage had involved a lot of exaggerated pushing and fouling, which Christen had been frowning at the whole time, and this Mattie-Sonnett battle was no exception. Mal and Rose were also fouling each other, laughing as they jockeyed for position across the goal at the top of the six. Sam was running right between the pairs, and he was still three feet in front of Tobin when Sonnett set up for her cross to Rose.

Everything went in slow motion. Tobin saw Mal and Rose spot Sam a second before Sonnett did. They put up their hands, yelling "No!" and "Stop!", but it was a moment too late. Sonnett's foot contacted the ball just as she looked up to see Sam running across the box. At that point, Tobin took one more step and laid out, tackling Sam around the midsection when the ball was maybe a foot from his face. She pulled him down on top of her so he didn't get squished. She landed on her back in the net, with Sam across her chest and the confetti he had thrown upward when she hit him raining down.

She smiled. "You alright bud?" Sam nodded and giggled, holding his hands out to catch the confetti.

Tobin looked up and realized Mal and Rose, as well as quite a few people left in the stands who watched the scene unfold, were applauding. She laughed. "Looks like people were impressed by your run, Sammy."

Sonnett was looking at her with wide eyes. "Holy sh--snap I am so sorry!"

Tobin shook her head and stood, picking Sam up. "I knew he was coming in from your blind side, don't worry about it."

Mattie still looked stunned, as she had only seen the danger right before Tobin dove. "Jeez Sam, you need to watch where you're going!" she scolded.

Sam looked like he might cry at being told off, so Tobin grabbed his wrist. "Everyone is all in one piece, right?" she asked Mattie. "We're all okay." She looked at the girls. "I'm gonna take him over here," she gestured. "You guys can keep playing if you want."

As she walked back over to where she was standing, she looked at Sam. "You gotta be careful when the big kids are playing alright? They can kick the ball really hard, so it would hurt a lot if you got hit." Sam nodded in somber agreement. "It's okay, bud, I know you were excited."

They approached Amy, Lauren, and Christen, who were all staring at them. Tobin smiled and called, "When'd you teach Sammy to cut into the box like that, Chris?"

Christen didn't laugh, instead grabbing her shirt with the hand that was across her chest. "I swear to God, Tobin, don't try to make this funny. I think I'm gonna throw up."

"Aww, c'mon," Tobin complained. "Look at him, he's fine." As if to prove her point, Sam kicked his legs for her to let him down, and took off running, away from the goal this time, toward where Crystal and Julie were trying to teach Jrue Tyler and Luke some dance to the music playing on the speakers. Tobin went to stand between Christen and Cheney, nudging Christen to try to get her to relax.

Cheney punched her arm. "Damn, Tobs, that was a good save. How'd you even see that in time?"

Tobin shook her head and laughed. "Just got lucky I guess."

"Awww..." Amy melted and nodded toward the dance party, which Moe had now joined. "It's the new new kids with the new kids' kids."

They all laughed and Tobin looked at Christen, who add almost imperceptibly nudged her with her elbow.

"Let's hope."

Chapter Text

"Are we going to the field now?" Mattie asked as they pulled out of the parking lot.

"No, we're going shopping," Christen responded. Tobin and Mattie both groaned. Christen rolled her eyes. "Look, Mattie, you and Sam need school clothes, and you have to get notebooks and pencils and everything. The principal gave me a list."

Christen and Tobin had set up a meeting with the principal of the middle school Mattie would be starting at tomorrow. Claire had met them there. Christen thought the school was nice enough but wasn't sure that the class sizes would be small enough for Mattie given how much schoolwork she had to catch up on.

They arrived at the mall, heading straight to Target to hopefully knock out most of the list. After Sam had picked out a giant box of crayons, he and Tobin started to get a little antsy, and Christen sent them to go pick out a new toy. ("One, Tobin.") Fifteen minutes later, they returned to where Christen and Mattie were looking at shorts and Tobin was carrying a large bag in one hand and holding Sam's in the other.

"Tobin, I said one thing!" Christen said eyes wide. "How much did you guys get?"

"Technically, Sam only got one toy," Tobin defended. "One of them is for me." Christen raised her eyebrows. "Or Mattie if she wants it!" she corrected.

"What did you get?" Mattie asked, peering into the bag. "Nah, I don't like video games."

Christen's eyebrows climbed higher up her forehead. "Video games?"

"We got stitches!" Sam said excitedly. Christen looked at Tobin for clarification.

"Switches, buddy."

"Switches!" Sam corrected. "And Mario Car and Star Wars Legos!"

"Woah!" Christen said as Tobin cautiously moved to put the bag in their cart. "Really?" She asked her in a low voice. "He's four, Tobin, he doesn't need video games. He needs, like, books."

"Okay, sure, but think about all the plane and car rides we're gonna have to go on. It might come in handy..."

Christen shook her head and sighed. "I guess. I just wish we had talked about it first."

"We're still here," Tobin said sheepishly. "We could always just return them."

"Not now we can't," Christen said, indicating to where Sam was babbling excitedly to Mattie about Lego Star Wars.

After Target, they made it through half of American Eagle before Tobin and the kids really started to drag. By the time they got to Old Navy, Christen was glad that Tobin took Sam outside to get pretzel bites because it let her and Mattie move a little faster. Once they had loaded everything in the car, Christen suggested they go furniture shopping to get Mattie a bed for when Mal came but was met with resistance.

"Babe, I don't think we'll make it through another store," Tobin protested. "Either Sam will melt or I will."

Christen shot her an annoyed look. "Okay, well we need to get it at some point. Mal will be here on Saturday and they can't sleep on the floor."

Mattie spoke up from the back seat. "I can sleep on the--" Christen cut her off with a look.

"No one is sleeping on the floor. That sounds like a great way for us to fail an inspection." She paused and sighed. "But, I guess we can go furniture shopping tomorrow."

"Yes!" Tobin and Mattie celebrated. Sam clapped too, but probably more at their excitement than the prospect of skipping more shopping.

***

Christen woke Tobin up at 6 for the kids' first day of school. Tobin made sandwiches, then she and Sam sat at the island, sleepily eating Lucky Charms as Christen paced around the kitchen, going over the supply list for the third time. Mattie trudged into the kitchen with her backpack on one shoulder.

"Mattie, did you pack the pencil case I put on your dresser? Do you think you have enough pens? I bought an extra planner, I don't know if they'll give you one--"

"Chris," Tobin said through a mouthful of cereal. "She'll be fine. Two pens is one more than she even needs."

Christen looked at Mattie, who just shrugged and nodded before pouring herself cereal. "How am I more nervous than you for your first day at a new school?"

"I've had like 5 first days at a new school in the past year and a half," Mattie replied nonchalantly.

Tobin tried to silently reassure Christen that, yes, this would be the last one.

***

Mattie made it through her morning of classes unscathed. Her first three teachers stood her up in front of the everyone and introduced her, but all immediately launched into a lecture afterward, so she didn't actually have to interact with any of the other kids. The material they taught wasn't familiar, but Mattie figured she was only going to be here for a few weeks, and by now she had mastered the art of pretending to try to catch up in school until she moved.

At lunch, she sat in the corner of the courtyard, pulling out the lunch Tobin packed her and her headphones. A sticky note fluttered to the ground with all-caps, childlike writing scrawled across it.

Have an awesome first day, Mat!! - T 

There was a tiny drawing of a stick figure, which Mattie assumed was supposed to be her, scoring a goal. Mattie laughed at Tobin's clumsy artwork and penmanship, touched by the gesture. She opened her backpack and her Nike box inside of it. She stuck the note to the inside top cover. As she was zipping her backpack back up, two girls approached her table. Mattie sized them up, trying to give off a vibe that she wasn't someone for them to mess with. The girls looked nervous themselves and kept glancing at each other.

The one who seemed slightly more confident motioned to the bench next to Mattie and asked if she could sit. Mattie didn't respond, just raising her eyebrows as if to say It's a free country and removing one earbud. The two girls sat down, still cautious. They looked at each other again and seemed to have a silent argument. Finally, the more confident one spoke.

"Is it really true that you're the girl from Tobin's twitter? That's what people are saying."

Mattie was caught off guard. She removed her other earbud slowly, skeptical of what these girls wanted. She nodded once.

"Oh my God that's so cool!" the quieter one spoke up.

"That around the world was crazy!" the loud One said. "And did you really meet Tobin?"

Again, Mattie nodded. The girls squealed, and although she wanted to be annoyed, she knew that a few weeks ago she would have had a similar reaction. Something the girls said caught Mattie's attention. "People are saying I'm the girl from Tobin's twitter? Everyone here follows Tobin on Twitter?"

The girls got uncomfortable and looked each other. "I mean...a lot of people saw the video, but they mostly know you were a runaway foster kid."

Mattie let her head fall back and groaned. Being the new kid was bad enough; being the new runaway foster kid from the news was next level bad.

"No, it's okay," the quiet one said. "Most people aren't being mean or anything, it's just nothing happens here, so you're, like, a local celebrity."

Mattie gave her a doubtful look.

"Really. No one's going to give you crap about it," the confident one said. "A lot of kids will probably ask to see you juggle, though. Or ask you to play soccer after school." She smiled.

"You guys probably play if you know who Tobin is, right?" Mattie asked, figuring that's why they actually came over.

"Yeah," the confident one answered. "We play for the city travel team, and then we play for the Beach City Flyers club. I'm Isabella and this is Sophie, by the way."

Mattie gave half a smile. "Mattie."

"We were actually wondering," Sophie spoke up. "We've never seen you at a tournament or anything before. What club do you play for?"

Mattie froze up on instinct, before remembering these girls already knew most of her story. "I don't play for a club team...I've been in foster care?"

Sophie and Isabella looked embarrassed. "Sorry," Sophie said, "we should've realized that."

Mattie shrugged, nonplussed. "It's fine."

"Maybe you can play on Flyers then," Isabella said hopefully. "And you can definitely play on our city team!"

Mattie hedged. "I dunno. Maybe. I don't think I'll be staying here very long."

Isabella looked at her suspiciously, but Sophie spoke up first. "Where are you going?"

"Where are you staying?" Isabella cut in.

She froze and looked between them, not sure what to divulge.

"I knew it!" Isabella exclaimed. "Soph, I told you! Jenna Irons lives down the street from them, and she said--"

"Izzie!" Sophie interrupted, shooting wide eyes at Isabella.

Mattie looked between them. "What's going on?"

Isabella rolled her eyes at the warning look Sophie was giving her. "One of the girls on our city team, Jenna, lives down the street from Christen and Tobin, and her mom said she's seen Christen and Tobin drive by with two kids in the back, and that one of them was a girl around our age, because Mrs. Irons wanted to know if Jenna knew her--or knew you, I guess. Then Jenna showed her the video from Tobin's twitter, and she said that was probably you, and that video of Tobin diving and saving that kid after SheBelieves, and said that looked like the little boy. So then we watched that video again, and we thought the girl guarding Sonnett might actually be you, and that you've been living with Christen and Tobin."

Mattie just stared at them, dumbfounded. "You guys already know Tobin and Christen live together?" she asked, deciding to start from the beginning.

Isabella shrugged. "I mean, people see them around town all the time. My mom saw them at the grocery store a few weeks ago."

Sophie nodded in agreement. "A lot of people in town know they live here. My older brother works at the coffee place they always go to and he sees them so often he stopped telling me about it."

"Oh," Mattie said, a little surprised and still pretty overwhelmed. "Well, uh, yeah. They're helping me and my little brother Sam--that's who Tobin tackled in the video--so that we aren't separated because Sam's paperwork is messed up."

"So they're not like...adopting you guys?" Sophie asked delicately.

Mattie let out a bark of laughter. "No, they're just fostering us until they can find us a place to stay together. I mean, they're really kicking World Cup prep into high gear soon, so I'll probably only be here for a couple more weeks."

"That's still pretty cool, though," Isabella offered.

"Yeah, it's totally awesome," Mattie said. "They said I can get free Sunrise tickets and go to the games whenever I want!"

Isabella and Sophie looked at each other and then back at Mattie, talking at once. "Are you serious?" "Like VIP?" "Can we come?" "Can we meet Press?" "Oh, and Mal?"

Mattie laughed. "So I guess you guys are Sunrise fans, then?"

***

The first day's events repeated themselves and soon became routine. Tobin and Sam would sleepily eat cereal at the kitchen counter, Christen would drop Mattie off at school, Sam would play until preschool started, at which point Tobin and Christen would drop him off and go train. Mattie continued to eat lunch with Sophie and Isabella, who peppered her with questions about her trip to camp and told her all about the school's social hierarchy and their soccer teams.

Tobin and Christen talked to Claire almost every day, trying to start the process that would let them start the process that would let them start the actual adoption process. The forms upon forms and constant phone tag became normal.

Friday, they were in the midst of a morning that had begun to feel normal, with Tobin and Sam at the counter and Mattie getting ready just slowly enough to stress Christen out.

"Mattie!" Christen called upstairs. "We've got to be out the door in five minutes!" She moved to the counter, where Mattie had left her a packet of forms that the school had given them to fill out. Christen was starting to think her life had become a neverending cycle of paperwork. She shuffled the papers into Mattie's homework folder and went to put them in her backpack, which was on the floor next to the island where Mattie had left it after doing her homework last night.

Christen opened the bag and Mattie's shoebox fell out. "Mattie, why do you--" Christen started as she picked up the box and it fell open, just as Mattie walked into the kitchen.

"Why do you have my shoebox out?" Mattie asked in a panicked voice as Christen bent down to pick up the contents. She placed a pair of black gym shorts and a red t-shirt back in the box, then gasped when she saw the object beneath them.

"Why do you have a giant roll of cash?" Christen asked. "Mattie, there must be a few hundred dollars here in small bills. How did you get this?"

"It's from juggling," Mattie said defensively, reaching for the money and putting it back in the Nike box.

"Well, you shouldn't walk around with that much cash on you, it's dangerous. Also, what is this? Your bug out box? Were you planning on running away?"

"I--no--" Mattie started.

"Well, go put it up in your room and then get back down here to eat breakfast. We're gonna be late."

"But--" Mattie protested.

"No buts," Christen said. "Let's go."

Mattie carried the box out of the kitchen and upstairs, while Christen repacked her backpack with her lunch and folder. Mattie shuffled back into the kitchen a moment later, full of attitude, and slumped into a chair to pour her cereal. Christen and Tobin shared a confused look.

"Mattie, what's wrong?" Christen asked, concerned. Mattie just shrugged and continued to eat. "Is this about your shoebox?"

Mattie made a noncommittal gesture. Christen frowned and was about to finish her current line of questioning when Tobin jumped in.

"Hey, it's 7:05, we should probably leave soon, huh?"

Mattie just grunted and shoveled down the rest of her cereal while Christen watched her. When she stood up, Christen took her bowl and brought it to the sink. Mattie put on her backpack and Tobin sidled around the island to stand next to her girlfriend at the sink. "Hey, I'll drop her off today." Christen opened her mouth to protest, but Tobin continued. "You were gonna call Claire about the preseason tourney before training anyway. Why don't you do that now and get it out of the way?" Christen didn't make eye contact with her but nodded.

***

"It's a cool looking shoebox," Tobin opened as they stopped at the first of three traffic lights on their route to school.

"Tobin," Mattie warned.

"I'm just saying, the orange, the check. They're iconic."

Mattie said nothing as the light turned green and Tobin turned right onto the main road. She huffed. "Fine, I'm sorry I was rude to Christen, okay? I'll apologize to her when I get home."

Tobin glanced at Mattie out of the corner of her eye. "Where'd you get that box?"

"What?"

"That box--it's the one you had when I first met you, not one of your new ones. But you didn't have Nikes when I first met you, you had Sambas. Where'd you get the box?"

Mattie looked out the passenger side window. "My Abuela got me boots for my 10th birthday. They weren't like Hypervenoms or anything, but they were these brand new Nikes, purple and orange. I wore them so much the laces started to snap." She laughed.

"Did you outgrow the shoes?" Tobin asked.

Mattie shook her head, still looking out the other side of the car. "The first home me and Sam ended up in after they took her, it was like this makeshift church community center set up for all the kids who were getting separated from their families. There was this group of girls who had been there for almost a month, and they ran the place. Our first night, I wore the shoes to bed so no one would steal them, but they took them right off my feet." She laughed and shook her head. "They were so dumb. The shoes didn't even fit them, and my shoebox with the rest of my stuff was right under my cot. They just wanted to scare me."

Tobin cleared her throat. "That must've sucked."

Mattie looked at Tobin and smiled a little. "Yeah, but I got them back."

"How?"

"Where do you think I got my iPhone from?"

***

Tobin was glad to have straightened out Mattie's shoebox issues, but she realized as soon as she got home that Christen was upset with her. She offered to let Christen get ready for training first, while she and Sam sat on the couch and played Mario Kart. Christen just gave her a look and headed upstairs. Fifteen minutes before they had to leave, Tobin started the process of moving Sam upstairs to get ready.

"C'mon bud, it's almost time for school," she coaxed.

Sam pouted. "No, I don't want to go."

"Why not? You like school."

"Yeah, but I wanna play another race."

Tobin turned off her game console and put it to the side, holding a hand out for Sam's. "No," he said, holding it away. Tobin gave him an exasperated look. "Please?" she asked.

"Sam, come get ready!" Christen called from upstairs. "I took out your BB-8 shirt." Sam handed over his controller and scooted off the couch. Tobin sighed and followed him up to get ready for training herself.

The ride to the preschool was quiet, except for Sam's nearly one-sided conversation about what he was going to draw today. Tobin and Christen occasionally asked questions in response to his chatter, but otherwise, the front seat was silent. Tobin couldn't decide whether to feel awkward or annoyed. Christen parallel parked in front of the preschool and opened her door before Tobin could offer to bring Sam in.

"Bye, buddy," she said, turning in her seat to wave to the boy. "Have a good day."

"Bye Toes!" he waved as Christen unbuckled him, picking up Sam to hold on one hip and swinging his backpack onto her opposite shoulder. Tobin watched as they approached the door where a teacher stood, greeting the students and parents. Sam slid down from Christen's arms and she bent down to help him put his backpack on. He turned back to her and kissed her on the cheek. Tobin saw him say something to Christen, causing her to laugh before he kissed her cheek again. Tobin felt a small smile spread across her face, despite the mood she was still in. Sam saw one of his friends and waved, running the rest of the way to the door to meet her. Christen said hi to the girl's mom--Cate, Tobin thought, though she wasn't sure--and turned to walk back to the car, still smiling. They made eye contact through the window and both looked down, each grin shrinking slightly.

Christen got back in the driver's seat and pulled out onto the road. The silence was still palpable, but not as tense or angry as it had been. Neither of them spoke until Christen pulled on the interstate, which was still bumper to bumper from the morning rush hour. She cleared her throat. "I know what I was mad about, but I don't know what you were mad about."

Tobin faced the driver's side for the first time since getting in the car. Christen was biting her lip and had her gaze firmly on the brake lights ahead of them, but her posture was much more relaxed than it had been since Tobin got home. "You're not mad anymore?" Tobin half-asked, half-concluded. "What were you mad about?"

Christen sighed. "I just...I don't like that I'm always the one who has to tell them what to do, and you're the fun one who they're friends with."

Tobin raised her eyebrows and looked at her girlfriend incredulously. "Wait. That's what you're mad about? That's what I'm mad about!"

Christen rolled her eyes. "You're mad that you get to be the fun one? That you get to let them get away with everything?"

Tobin started to respond before shaking her head and turning forward. "Forget it."

"Tobin."

She took a deep breath. "I don't feel like I let them get away with anything. They just don't listen to me. I have to have a twenty-minute argument to get them to do anything I say, and normally you just swoop in before I convince them and they do whatever you tell them." Christen was about to respond, but Tobin continued, speaking in a high, cracked voice. "I try to 'be friends' with them so that maybe they will do things I say because they like me. But it's like I'm their friend they ask things for and you're like...their actual mom."

"Tobin," Christen said softly, reaching for her hand.

"And it's only gonna get worse when I go to Portland and you're here with them all the time. And I know it's not fair for me to say cause you're the one who has to handle everything and like take care of them, but I'm jealous."

Tobin quickly wiped a tear that was threatening to fall from her eye. "It's like...normally I have to get sad before the beginning of the season about missing you, but now I have two extra people to think about missing."

"Babe," Christen whispered, trying to look at Tobin and the road, though the traffic was barely moving. "Look at me. First of all, you always get sad before preseason, but then you get there and you're great. You see all of your friends, and you're playing in the Park, and you still talk to me every day. I know you'll be okay once it starts, but it's more than okay for you to be sad about not getting to see them as much. Don't feel guilty about that. I'd be jealous, too."

"Second," she continued, moving the car forward a foot in the jam, "I never want you to feel like I'm any more their actual mom than you. We're a team, and if we need to work on them listening to you, that's what we'll do. Cause I can't do any of this without you."

Tobin intertwined their fingers and smiled softly. "You don't have to do any of it without me." Christen brought Tobin's hand to her mouth, humming and kissing the back of it. "Why were you upset?" Tobin asked gently. "That you don't get to have fun with them?"

Christen shrugged her head to one side. "Yeah, I guess...it's not really that, though."

"What is it?" Tobin asked, running her thumb over the back of Christen's hand.

Christen swallowed. "Did you ask Mattie about her shoebox?"

Tobin nodded and bit her lip. "Her Abuela gave her Nike cleats for her tenth birthday. Some other kids stole her boots, but she managed to keep the box. She didn't say, but I think it's probably the last thing she has from her."

"Shit," Christen said, letting her forehead fall against the steering wheel.

"Babe," Tobin said, squeezing her hand. "She's not upset. She even told me she's going to apologize to you this afternoon for her attitude."

"She's going to apologize that she was upset about me not letting her carry her last tangible memory of her grandmother in her backpack?"

"Babe," Tobin said softly. "She knows you didn't know that." She paused. "Why were you upset about it, though?"

"It's not the shoebox," Christen said, her voice getting quieter. "It's that she tells you all these things she won't tell me. I asked her why she was upset and she didn't say anything, and then she gets in the car with you and tells you everything." She cleared her throat and let her head fall back against the headrest, inching the car forward again. "I don't like feeling like...she trusts you more. Or she likes you more or something."

"Chris," Tobin said, shaking her head. "You know that's not true." Christen shrugged unsurely. "She loves you--she idolizes you. That's probably why she didn't want to tell you the story. She doesn't want her hero to think she's soft or know she got her shoes stolen."

Christen chewed on her bottom lip. "I don't want to be her hero. I just want to be her mom."

Tobin sent Christen her biggest smile, which, even while changing lanes to get off the highway, she could tell her girlfriend saw out of the corner of her eye by the tiny grin on her own face. "What?" Christen asked.

"How do you feel about being both?"

Christen smiled as she put on her blinker and cut off a silver Bugatti to get on the exit ramp. "I love you, you know that?" she said, squeezing Tobin's hand.

"And Mattie loves you. Maybe you guys just need more one on one time so she's more comfortable around you. I would tell you to show her ways you're not perfect, but I wouldn't want you to lie to her."

Christen rolled her eyes. "You're a nerd."

Tobin raised her eyebrows. "Sure, but I'm a nerd with a hot, perfect girlfriend that loves me, so..." She grinned at her own joke. "Did you end up calling Claire?"

Christen nodded. "Yeah, she said they started the paperwork for reclassifying Mattie and Sam into a sibling group, and that Mattie's all set to stay at my parents' for the week of the tournament."

"Wow, that was quick."

"I guess my dad called a few people and bossed them around."

"That doesn't sound like anyone else I know." Christen smiled and rolled her eyes. "Seriously, he should teach you how to do that."

They bantered happily until they arrived at the training facility. Christen parked and they were unbuckling when she placed a hand on Tobin's wrist. "Oh, wait."

"What?" Tobin asked.

"I almost forgot," Christen said as she leaned in and brushed her lips against Tobin's cheek. "Sam asked me to give you that."

***

Saturday was the last full day before Tobin had to leave for Portland, so they went to the beach. Mattie understood that Tobin was leaving and why, but they had been having a harder time explaining it to Sam.

"I'm gonna miss you a lot, Sammy," Tobin said as they worked on their sandcastle.

"I thought you weren't leaving til Sunday," Sam said, confused.

"Yeah, bud, that's tomorrow."

"Well, when are you coming back?"

"I'm not coming home for a couple weeks, but you and Christen are gonna come up next weekend and you're staying for a week."

"How long til next weekend?"

"It's like 5 school days."

"Five?" Sam asked with wide eyes.

"Yeah, can you count to that?" Tobin asked.

Sam nodded and counted to five on his fingers to show her. "Is Mattie coming too?"

"No, bud, Mattie is staying with Christen's mom and dad, remember? She has to go to school. But she's gonna come visit for the next weekend."

"That's a long time," Sam said solemnly.

Tobin took his hand. "Yeah, it is. But it'll fly by, I promise. And we're gonna have so much fun when we get to Portland."

"Can we build sandcastles there?"

"Probably not. It's colder there. But you know who's gonna be there? Remember Harry?"

"Auntie Harry?" Sam asked.

Tobin laughed. "Did she tell you to call her that?" Sam nodded, grinning. "Yeah, Auntie Harry is gonna be there. And," Tobin said, pausing for suspense, "her doggies."

"She has doggies?"

Tobin nodded. "Two little ones. And guess who else is gonna be there?"

"Who?"

"Sonny and Lindsey. And Moe. And Mal is gonna come with you."

"Really?" he said with wide eyes.

"Yeah, bud. It's gonna be so fun."

"Five days is so long, though. I'm gonna miss you," he pouted.

"I know, buddy. Me too."

***

Mal flew in that night and volunteered to babysit Mattie and Sam so that they could go out for Tobin's last night, but Tobin and Christen insisted that everyone was coming to dinner. They went to a seafood place near the water with picnic tables on the patio. Mattie was torn between being sad that she wasn't going to see Tobin for two weeks and being excited that Mal was here for the season. Tobin just spent most of the dinner trying to prevent Sam from feeding the seagulls.

"Sam, do you know why seagulls live by the sea?" she prompted after his third attempt to befriend them.

"No, why?" he asked.

"Because if they lived by the bay, they'd be bagels!" Sam gave her a strange look.

"Tobin, that joke is so old," Mattie complained.

Tobin held up her hand. "Well, clearly Sammy hasn't heard it."

"That's because he's four."

"And a half!" Tobin and Sam protested together, which did get him to laugh.

***

The goodbye in the departures lane of the airport the next day was rough. Mal said goodbye at the house, both because she didn't want to intrude and because she had "already seen Tobin cry once in her life, and that was enough." Tobin had laughed when she said it. However, once she had unloaded her bags onto the curb, Sam started to really understand she was leaving and everything went to shit. Tobin picked him up as he started to melt, trying to calm him down.

"It's only five days, remember?"

"That's forever," Sam wailed into her shoulder, fists tightening in her sweatshirt.

"It's not that long, buddy," Tobin tried to soothe, but the image of Mattie and Christen watching sympathetically in front of her was beginning to blur.

Tobin blinked the moisture out of her eyes and rubbed his back. She walked over to Mattie, who was also growing misty, and gave her a side hug.

"Be good, okay?" Mattie nodded into her ribs. "Who am I kidding? You'll probably behave much better without my bad influence," she said, winking at Christen, who laughed along with Mattie. Mattie squeezed her extra tight before letting go.

They let Sam cling for a few more minutes before Tobin was cutting it close to missing her flight. Christen came over and rubbed his back, extracting one of his hands from Tobin's hoody. "C'mon bud," she coaxed. "It's my turn to cry into Tobin's shirt and not let her go." They both laughed, and it got Sam to giggle, letting go of Tobin's shirt and letting himself be transferred to Christen. Tobin stood awkwardly, no longer having anything to do with her arms. She gave Mattie one last hug.

"C'mon, babe," Christen nudged. "You're gonna miss it if you don't go soon."

Tobin sighed. "Maybe that's my plan." She wrapped Christen (and as a result, Sam) into a hug. "Five days is nothing, right?"

"Five days, one at a time, babe."

Tobin pulled back to kiss her girlfriend. "I love you," she said, leaning her forehead on Christen's.

"I love you, too." She kissed her again. "Now, go. If we miss the first goodbye flight of the season it'll set a bad precedent."

Tobin took a deep breath and stepped back, throwing her backpack over her shoulder and grabbing the handle of her suitcase. She looked at her watch and realized she really did have to go. "Bye," she said in a small voice.

"Bye, Toes. See you in this many days," Sam said, holding out his open hand.

***

Monday afternoon, Tobin was tired. She had just finished practice and media and was walking back to her locker to grab her bag. "Tobin," Mark called from his office. "Can you come in here for a second?"

Tobin stuck her head in the doorway, and Mark motioned for her to sit across from him. "What's up, Coach?"

Mark inspected her. "How was your media session?" he asked.

Tobin shrugged. "Good, I guess. The usual stuff, how is it to be back, world cup, blah blah blah."

"How is it to be back?"

"Uhhh...good?" Tobin answered, confused.

"Are you sure?" Mark asked. When she didn't answer, he continued. "You seemed off today."

Tobin balked. "Really? Shit, I'm sorry. I didn't think I was--"

"Not on the field, Tobin," he explained. "Your play has been fine. Maybe even a little...pensive, and at first I thought you were just...maturing. But off the pitch, you've been less...Tobin-y."

"Coach?"

Mark waved his hand around. "You know, usually you get back and you're all giddy and smiley for preseason. Today, you seem a little withdrawn."

Tobin cursed internally. She hadn't wanted the events of her personal life to affect her performance in Portland, on the field or as a teammate. "I'm sorry, Coach. I've had some stuff going on."

Mark nodded. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Tobin sighed, realizing she should probably bring her coach up to speed sooner rather than later. She told the abridged version of Mattie and Sam coming to live with her and Christen, about camp and their efforts to solidify the situation in the past week.

"Tobin, that's fantastic," Mark said, walking around the desk and pulling her into a hug, clapping her on the back. "Seriously, congratulations."

"Thanks, yeah, we're pretty excited," she said, smiling. "I guess I'm just kind of readjusting to being away from them."

"Of course," Mark said nodding. "Do you guys need anything? Sitters for them up here? Do you need any time?"

Tobin shook her head. "I don't think so. Chris's parents are down there, and they've been a big help. Sam's gonna come up for the week of the tournament, though. And Mattie for the weekend."

Mark smiled. "That's great. Will you need someone to watch him?"

"I think just when we play LA, honestly, and Sam already knows Bati. Besides that, practices and stuff will be staggered, so we should be fine."

Mark shook his head, still smiling. "Damn. I'm proud of you, man."

"Thanks, Coach."

***

Tobin awoke to her phone ringing the next morning. She fumbled to pick it up without checking the caller id. "Hello?"

"Sam's having a bit of a meltdown," she heard Christen's voice say. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and hopped out of bed. She could hear Sam sobbing in the background, and Christen trying to comfort him.

"What happened?" Tobin asked.

"He doesn't want to eat his cereal without you. He was okay yesterday, but then this morning..."

Tobin winced, both missing Sam and feeling bad that he wouldn't eat with Christen. "Want me to talk to him and tell him you make better cereal?"

Christen laughed a little. "No, that's okay. I was thinking it would be good...you guys kind of had a thing going, eating breakfast...can you just eat cereal with him over facetime?"

Tobin smiled and walked to her cabinets to pull out a bowl. "Yeah, hold on. Call me back in like a minute." She hurriedly poured herself some mini-wheats and leaned her phone against a jar of peanut butter on the island. Christen's request came a few seconds later and she hit accept. Sam appeared in his booster seat in the kitchen, face still red from crying. Christen was standing behind him adjusting his chair.

"Good morning, Sammy," Tobin greeted.

"Toes!" Sam said, surprised.

"I heard you weren't being a very good listener for Christen," she scolded. Sam looked admonished. "What do you say?"

"I'm sorry, Christen," Sam responded somberly.

Christen kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you for apologizing." She turned back to the camera. "Tobs, I'm gonna go make sure Mattie is ready, okay?" Tobin nodded and she left the frame.

"Hey, Sam, you know if you want to talk to me you just have to ask, right?" Tobin said, picking up her spoon and beginning to eat her cereal, which Sam copied. He nodded through bites of Cap'n Crunch. "Why didn't you want to eat cereal with Christen? I love eating breakfast with her."

Sam nodded. "Me too," he said happily, prior angst forgotten. "I did want to eat breakfast with her. But I ate breakfast and lunch and dinner with her yesterday, so I just wanted to eat breakfast with you, too. I miss you."

Tobin felt something crack in her chest as Sam continued to sit there, cheerily shoveling cereal into his mouth. She swallowed the lump in her throat. "Well, how about this, bud. We can still eat breakfast just like this every morning, okay? If we're in the same place or not."

Sam grinned, spilling milk down his chin, and nodded.

Tobin took a screenshot for her lock screen. "Cool. How was school yesterday?"

***

After her talk with Sam, Tobin felt both cheerier and more anxious for the weekend to come and bring him and Christen to Portland. She was much peppier at practice, which Mark noticed, and even back in her apartment afterward. Allie, Lindsey, and Allie's dogs were lounging on her couch, but she couldn't stay still.

"Harry, would you sit down?" Allie complained.

"I can't, I'm excited!" Tobin said as she juggled a ball from one foot to the other. "Only 91 hours until they get here."

"Oh god, you moved the countdown to hours?" Lindsey asked, exasperated.

"Why you think I should go to minutes?"

"Harry, are they staying here?"

"Yeah, obviously."

"Where?" Allie asked, looking around. "Isn't Mattie coming up next weekend too?"

Tobin stopped juggling. "Yeah." She did an inventory of available sleeping surfaces. They could probably make it work by putting Christen and Sam in her bed and her sleeping on the couch, but that was a temporary solution and she wasn't psyched about the idea of sleeping away from her girlfriend for a night more than absolutely necessary. She briefly considered a living room blanket fort but stored that idea away for later.

Allie and Lindsey amusedly watched her internal struggle. "I'll be right back," Tobin announced, turning to leave the apartment.

She walked quickly out her door, down the hall past the elevator to the stairwell. She went down the stairs two at a time, exiting into a first-floor hallway, cutting through a courtyard, and ducking through a fire door, finally spilling out into the lobby of her building. She looked inside the leasing office and grinned when she recognized the curly dark hair and horn-rimmed glasses of the man standing at the copy machine with one hand on his hip.

"Davey! What's up dude!"

"Oh my god, Tobin. What do you need?" Davey's loud voice called in mock exasperation. "I know you only visit me when you need something."

She laughed, accustomed to the brashness. "C'mon man, it's not like that."

He scoffed. "Yes it is, don't even lie to me, you whore. How long have you been back?"

Tobin rolled her eyes. "Barely two days. I got in on Sunday night."

"Okay fine, so you didn't miss last weekend. Although you did miss last weekend because let me tell you--" He looked at her with wide eyes to indicate there was a story. "Well, we'll just have to make new memories this weekend then. You can pick. Where do you want to go?"

Tobin laughed. "Uhh...I'm probably gonna pass. I don't think I've fully recovered from the last time you convinced me to come out with you guys. Plus, we've got our preseason tournament starting on Sunday, and Christen's team is playing so she's getting here Saturday."

Davey rolled his eyes at Tobin. "What did you guys, like, get your coaches to plan that? You can't spend more than a week apart? Why does her coming mean you can't go out? Do you really need to rest up Friday night for a Saturday night of passionate lovemaking to make up for the six freaking days you were away from each other?"

"Davey, did you not hear me say it's preseason?" Tobin said, ignoring his jabs and trying to steer the conversation back to her original purpose. "Also, Christen isn't really the only one coming to visit. We've sort of been fostering these kids for a few weeks now, and the four-year-old, Sam, is coming up on Saturday with Chris, and then the twelve-year-old, Mattie, is coming up next weekend."

Davey gave her a disbelieving look. "Are you serious? I fucking hate lesbians."

Tobin laughed and rolled her eyes. "No, you don't. You say 'I love lesbians' at least once every ten minutes."

Davey sighed dramatically and shook his head. "I know, I fucking love lesbians. I just hate your primordial need to nest with each other and accrue children. It means I'm constantly looking for new gay girls to come drink with me."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Your life is so hard," Tobin said sarcastically. "Speaking of nests."

"I knew you fucking wanted something."

She sighed. "Fine, you were right. I want to know how hard it would be to switch my lease."

"What do you mean?"

"Like, do you guys have any three-bedroom units open right now that I can move to and just switch my lease over?"

"Wait. Are you, like, adopting these kids or something?"

"Davey. Can you do it or no?"

"Fine. But only because your girlfriend is a literal goddess and I wouldn't want to upset a deity." He moved behind his desk and sat down, mashing on the keyboard at a speed Tobin could barely believe he was possibly typing at.

"No arguments here. But I'm not actually telling her yet. I want it to be a surprise."

Davey sighed and continued to type. "Ugh, fine, I'm looking. You don't have to keep being cute about your stupid little family to get me to do this."

Tobin sunk into one of the chairs in front of the desk, smiling as Davey words bounced around her head. Her stupid little family. It was true, she thought, and it was certainly starting to feel like that, but word still made her heart expand and a warmth ran through her body.

***

Four hours later, after enlisting Allie and Lindsey and eventually Nadia to help her move her stuff down to the other end of the hall with the promise of the good pizza and any of the beer in her fridge as a reward, Tobin and Allie were slowly wheeling her headboard down into her new apartment balanced on a longboard.

"It's not gonna fit, Har. We're going to have to pick it up."

"Horan, Nadim, get over here."

"I came here for the pizza, Tobin, where is it?" Nadia complained though she and Lindsey grabbed the top of the headboard as Tobin and Allie tilted it.

"The guy should be here any minute. Now, c'mon, this is the last thing." They carried the headboard through the main room of the apartment and into Tobin's new bedroom, shifting it upright and onto the frame. "There. Done," Tobin announced. They walked back into the living room. Lindsey and Nadia sat back on the couch while Allie surveyed the area.

"Harry, it's pretty empty. Also, is this how you want everything arranged? Cause once I sit down to eat this pizza I'm not getting back up."

"Tobin, your TV doesn't work," Lindsey said, fiddling with the remote and getting a disconnected message.

"Shit, I'm gonna have to call them tomorrow to get everything switched over. And just sit down, Har," Tobin said, plopping into an armchair and motioning to the couch. "Chris is gonna have an opinion on all that stuff anyway, so I'll probably just get beds for the kids before she gets here and then she can do whatever she wants."

"Ugh, I wish I had a wife," Lindsey quipped.

Tobin's phone rang with an unknown number. "That's the food. I'll be right back." She got up to go downstairs. "And she's not my wife."

"Who's fault is that?" Allie mumbled as she left the apartment, causing Lindsey and Nadia to giggle.

"I heard that!"

***

It seemed to Tobin like three weeks passed before Saturday arrived. When it finally did, she woke up at 6 without her alarm and started getting ready for her now daily breakfast call with Sam. She carefully positioned her phone on the coffee table, checking the camera to make sure her surroundings could pass for her old apartment, feeling lucky that the units were so similar, then went to Christen's contact and hit the video button. It rang twice before Mattie's face appeared on the screen.

"Good morning Mattie," Tobin said. "Will you be joining Sam and I for breakfast today?"

"I don't know. Christen just handed me the phone and told me to answer it."

"Tobs, I don't think we have time for a breakfast call today," Christen called from somewhere out of frame. "I still have to drop Mattie off at my parents', and we're not even totally packed, and then we're gonna have to take out Sam's car seat in and out of the car service, and you know how long--"

"I got him a car seat," Tobin interrupted.

"What?" Christen said, appearing on the screen.

"Just put him on your lap on the way to the airport. It's like 10 minutes. Or park and take the shuttle."

Christen raised her eyebrows. "You already have a car seat for him up there?" At this point, Mattie had grown bored with this conversation and passed the phone off. Christen took it and started moving about the kitchen as she talked.

"Yeah, sorry I meant to tell you. But it's all installed and everything."

Christen visibly relaxed. "Okay, that's one thing off my list."

"What are the other things?"

She looked up like she was going through a mental list, and Tobin could see she was going upstairs. "I still have to make sure Mattie has all her school stuff packed, and Mal's still asleep, and I still need to pack Sam's snacks--also, do you have pillows and stuff for him? I packed an air mattress but I wasn't--"

"Babe," Tobin cut her off. "You don't need to do like any of those things. Your parents have a key, and the house is on their way to drop Mattie at school anyway if she forgets anything. Mal's an adult, she'll be fine; she could sleepwalk to the airport at this point. And you don't need an air mattress or snacks or any of that stuff for Sam. I've got everything you guys need. Just bring him some clothes and some cheez-its for the plane."

It looked like Christen was in their bedroom from the ceiling. She stopped moving. "Are you sure? We don't need anything?"

Tobin nodded. "Oh--except bring our Nintendos. And the chargers and stuff. And Lego Star Wars."

Christen smiled and rolled her eyes. "We can't forget the essentials, can we?"

"Well, I've got everything else covered." She saw her girlfriend sit on the bed and sigh, letting the tension fall from her shoulders.

"Okay. Yeah, okay." She looked at the camera. "Thank you. This was very...prepared of you."

Tobin smirked. "You sound surprised."

Christen bit her lip but couldn't hide her grin. "Tobin, do you remember the time you waited until the car ride from the airport, on the way to Christmas Eve dinner at her house, to buy your mother a present? And there were only like two stores open?"

"That was one time," she scoffed, still grinning. "And she loved that gift."

Christen laughed affectionately at the memory. "Thank you for getting everything ready, babe."

"Of course. We're a team, right? I'm just pulling my weight." She watched the camera move to the wall as Christen got up to start getting things ready again.

"Speaking of teams, I have to go straight to the hotel with mine after the flight lands. Do you want to come get Sam at the airport?"

"You mean we can't hang out when you get here?" Tobin pouted.

"No, at least not for a few hours."

"So no reunion makeout sesh?"

"Babe, I don't think there was going to be a reunion makeout sesh either way. I doubt Sam would give me that much time alone with you."

"That's why I bought him a Switch," Tobin complained. "Also, he'll probably take a nap at some point."

Christen sighed. "Sorry, babe, the only reunion makeout you're gonna get is in the arrivals loading zone." Tobin huffed dramatically. "What time is your practice today?"

"Mark's making us come in at 8. I think he wants to check if we're hungover after the first Friday night back."

Christen laughed. "After what Allie and Lindsey did to Sonnett and the rookies last year, I don't blame him."

Tobin rolled her eyes. "I guess. I'm just glad I'll have the whole day free. I thought I was gonna hang out with you, but it looks like it'll just be me and Sammy."

"I'm sure you two will be fine for a few hours. That's why I let you buy the Switches." Tobin laughed. "Okay, babe, I'm gonna go check that Mattie's packed but I'll see you in a few hours."

"Okay bye love you," Tobin said.

"Love you, too," Christen replied, ending the call, and she sat back in her half-empty apartment to eat Cheerios alone.

***

Tobin drove straight to the airport from practice, not wanting to be late picking up Sam. She ended up being twenty minutes early and circled the airport loop a few dozen times before the flight from LA landed and the team spilled out to where the rental vans waited. Tobin had parked in front of the vans, hoping to avoid being shooed along by airport security. She hopped out of the car as soon as she saw the black, silver and gold mob exiting the automatic doors.

"Toes!" she heard as she scanned the team. Sam was running toward her wearing an LAFC t-shirt that fit him like a dress. Tobin darted forward, both because she was excited to see him, and because he was starting to trip on the giant shirt. She reached out to scoop him up just as he was about to faceplant.

"Sammy!" She exclaimed, spinning him around. "How was the flight?"

"Good, I didn't even need gum this time cause I learned to do this," he said, demonstrating how he popped his ears.

"Woah, are you serious?" Tobin asked and Sam nodded seriously.

"Hey, babe," Christen called as she walked past them to load suitcases into the car.

"How was the flight?"

"As well as could be expected. Mr. Sam was very well behaved, though," she said.

Tobin held up her fist for Sam to bump. "Do you want me to pick you up at the hotel later?"

Christen shook her head. "We're gonna be at the stadium anyway. I'll just walk over after."

Tobin hadn't expected this, and as she moved to the back door and started to strap Sam into his car seat, she scrambled to come up with a plan that would keep her moving surprise intact. "Okay, but call me when you get to the door."

"Why? Are you gonna roll out the red carpet?" she joked.

"Maybe," Tobin smiled, finishing buckling Sam in and giving him a wink. "Also, they did something with the key fobs, so yours might not work."

"Okay, I'll call you then."

Tobin ducked out of the car and closed the door. Christen leaned in to give her a quick kiss before rejoining her teammates, but Tobin had other ideas. As Christen started to pull away, Tobin grabbed the collar of her warmup and smiled into her lips. "Excuse me, I think I was promised a loading zone makeout."

Christen laughed and shook her head, but kissed her again. Tobin moved her hand to the back of Christen's neck, reveling in their reunion. They didn't break apart until the wolf whistles and jeers from Christen's team started. "No canoodling with the enemy," Mal called.

"Hey, respect your elders," Tobin snapped back as Christen smiled into her jaw.

"I'll see you in a few hours, babe," she said, placing one last peck on Tobin's cheek.

Tobin watched her get into a van before walking around to the driver's side and hopping in. "You ready, Sammy?" she said, looking into the rearview mirror. Sam was grinning deviously and Tobin narrowed her eyes. "What's so funny?"

He giggled and started to sing. "Tobin and Christen sitting in a tree. K-I-S-I-I-N-G. First, comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Sammy in a baby carriage!"

Tobin laughed. "Who taught you that one, bud?" she asked as she started the car.

"Maaaal," he said in a self satisfied sing-song voice.

"Don't you think you're a little big for a baby carriage?" Tobin said, peeking in the rearview mirror as she pulled back into the airport loop.

"That's what I said, but Mal said nothing else rhymed so we had to keep it," he said, shrugging.

"Oh, well then, okay, if Mal says so," Tobin said, still laughing.

***

Christen arrived at the apartment building and used her fob to enter the side door without issue, so she was halfway up the stairs when remembered she told Tobin she would call her.

"Hey, are you here?" Tobin answered when she called.

"Yeah, but you don't need to come get me, my key worked."

"Hold on, I'll be right there," Tobin said, and Christen rolled her eyes at being ignored. "Are you taking the side stairs?"

"Yeah, I'm almost there," she said, reaching the landing and pulling the door open to a panting Tobin almost running into her. She laughed and hung up her phone. "Hi, babe, you alright?"

Tobin grinned. "Yep, just coming to greet you."

"Did you leave Sam alone?" she asked, concerned.

"Don't worry, he's holding down the fort," she smirked.

Christen looked at Tobin suspiciously. "What are you up to?"

"Come here," Tobin said, leading her in the opposite direction than she expected.

"Are we going to Allie's?"

"Nope."

"Who else lives this way?"

Tobin stopped next to a door that said 316. "We do," she announced, grabbing Christen's key fob and unlocking and opening the door.

Christen was confused, and a little concerned that Tobin was breaking into someone's apartment. "Phew, Davey said he was just gonna switch the lock over, so your key would work, but I didn't really believe him."

"You moved?" Christen asked as she walked into the new apartment. It was almost the same as Tobin's old one, but the living room and kitchen were bigger and flipped like a mirror image, and there was a hallway off one side of the main room. In the center of the large open area, the couch was pushed with the back to the TV, and what appeared to be more blankets and sheets than Tobin even owned were draped off the back. The cushions had been repurposed as walls to the makeshift structure. Sam's head popped out of a hole in the middle of a fort.

"Christen look what we made!"

"It's bigger, and I figured you'd have opinions on how to arrange everything," Tobin explained, grinning. "So Sam and I were just workshopping in the meantime."

Christen laughed as Tobin pulled her by the hand. "That's our room," she pointed. "It's pretty much the same but I think it's a tiny bit bigger." She pulled her toward the hallway on the opposite wall. "And this is Sam's room and Mattie's room." Christen peeked in the first door, which only had the suitcase with Sam's things in it. The other room had a mattress with sheets and pillows but no comforter, and a Portland Thorns soccer ball in the middle of the bed. "We used Sam's bed and Mattie's comforter in the fort. I didn't get them frames and stuff cause I didn't know if you wanted to pick them out or to let them pick stuff out, but at least this way they have a bed to sleep in--"

Christen cut off her rambling with a kiss. "You did really good, babe."

"Yeah?" Tobin asked as if she was a little unsure.

Christen looked at her softly, tucking a flyaway behind her ear and rested her hands on the back of Tobin's neck. "So good."

Tobin gave her a small smile and moved her arms around Christen's waist. "It was an okay surprise?"

She bit her lip and nodded. "Did you do this all yourself? It must've been a lot of work."

"I bribed Allie and Linds and Nadia with the good pizza for the moving part," she said, smiling. "And obviously Sam helped with the recent interior design tasks."

On cue, a yell of "Toes! Christen!" came from the living room.

"Yeah, bud?" Tobin called as they walked out of the hallway.

"C'mon, we're gonna play space pirates, remember?"

Tobin bit her grin and looked at Christen gleefully. "Wanna play space pirates?"

***

After space pirates turned into space cowboys, and then just a reenactment of every Star Wars movie Sam had ever seen (which was nearly all of them at this point), Christen rolled out of the fort to stand up.

"Okay, I should probably head back to the hotel. We've got a pretty big game tomorrow."

"What?" Tobin said, scrambling to follow her out of the fort. "You're leaving?"

"Yeah, babe. You know the rules."

Tobin pouted. "The rules are dumb and made up and we never follow them anyway."

"I always follow them."

"It's preseason!"

"It's the principle of the thing. And, you know, if you aren't too mad about how bad we beat you tomorrow night..." Christen said, smirking.

Tobin frowned and made to climb back into the fort. "Nevermind, you can leave."

"Babe," Christen said, laughing and pulling Tobin up to give her a kiss. "I'll see you tomorrow. He's got everything he needs to go with Bati, right?"

Tobin nodded and pouted against Christen's lips. "I really won't see you til the game?" Christen shook her head and Tobin whined.

"It's one day, Tobin," she said, winking. "I know you can do it." Christen bent down to peer inside the fort. "Bye Sammy, I'm gonna see you tomorrow, okay?"

"Are you going to bed?"

"Yeah, buddy, at the hotel. Are you gonna be good for Tobin?" Sam nodded. "Okay, good. And be good for Bati, too. You're gonna hang out with him while we're playing." He nodded again before crawling out to hug Christen.

"I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you, too, kiddo. But I gonna see you in not even a whole day, though."

"Oh," Sam said. "I guess that's okay then."

"See Tobin? Sam says it's okay."

Tobin rolled her eyes as Christen gathered her things for the night. Tobin and Sam sat at the entrance to the fort and watched. "Bye, babes," Christen said, kissing each out their foreheads.

After she left, Tobin and Sam crawled back into the fort. "Well, we're on our own, pal. What do you want to do? Want to watch a movie?" she asked.

Sam nodded. "Can we watch Force Awakens?"

Tobin laughed and nodded. "Not sick of that one yet?"

Tobin played the movie, but before it was even half over they were both asleep, still in the fort.

***

The Dash beat Salt Lake City 2-0 in the first match with goals from Moe and Kealia. The LAFC-Thorns game was highly billed, and Providence Park was pretty full even for a Sunday evening preseason match. Christen and Nadia scored one goal apiece in the first half, which was relatively slow for both teams. Almost immediately after play resumed, the Sunrise got the ball on the break and Mal zipped past the Thorns back line for the go-ahead goal. Portland answered 10 minutes later off a cross from Tobin that Allie headed just over Kailen's fingertips.

The teams ping-ponged back and forth on the attack for the next 30 minutes, the game seeming to move increasingly fast with every play. Finally, in the 83rd minute, Christen stripped the ball just inside midfield, beating the three Thorns in between her and the goal before bending it in. It looked like it was going to hold, when, five minutes later, Portland got a corner on their right side. Tobin set up to take it and Christen followed Sonnett out along the extended 6 where it looked like she might get the ball. Tobin raised her hand and Christen saw a little smirk on her face as she started her run. As she struck the ball, Christen realized what it meant.

"Shit," she said under her breath. "Olympico!" she called. It was too late. The ball bent over a jumping Kaelin at the near post and into the net where Gibby was running to cover the line that the ball had already crossed. The stadium went wild and pink smoke went off over the Riveters section.

"I hate that damn smoke," Christen grumbled to Sonnett as they jogged back.

"What, no love for that Tobin Heath Magic?" she teased.

"Watch it. You're talking to the queen of Tobin Heath Magic love." She paused at her phrasing.

Sonnett grinned as she ran back to Portland's side. "I suppose if that's your official title, Your Majesty."

"Sonnett! Do not make that a thing!"

"Too late, your highness!" She called over her shoulder.

***

Some of the Thorns and Sunrise went out to a postgame dinner, during which Sam sat between Sonnett and Mal and laughed so hard he fell asleep at the table mid-giggle. Back at the apartment, Christen and Tobin coaxed him into groggily brushing his teeth and letting them put his arms and legs into pajamas and get tucked in. They called Mattie to recap the game but she was already asleep, so they retired to their bedroom.

After christening the new apartment, Tobin lay with her arm behind her head, drawing circles on Christen's back through her oversize t-shirt as she lay on her shoulder. "I can't believe you fucking tied it like that," Christen mumbled into her chest, running her hand up and down Tobin's side under her tank top.

Tobin laughed. "What happened to no work talk in bed? You started that rule."

"You break it all the time," she grumbled. "Now Sonnett and them are going to call me 'the Queen of Tobin Heath Magic Love forever."

Tobin laughed again and tilted her head to look at Christen. "Well, it's true," she smirked. "It is kind of a long title, though."

Christen propped herself up on one elbow so she could see Tobin's face properly. "I know I already told you, but you did a really good job with this."

Tobin smirked. "Thanks, you know, I've been working on that Olympico goal a lot lately."

"Tobin."

"Oh, you meant tonight. Yeah, you really seemed to like that thing at the end. I mean, it's not new, but maybe that angle--"

Christen rolled her eyes. "Tobin."

"I mean, they don't call me the Queen of Christen Press Love Magic for nothing."

Christen dropped her forehead to her shoulder. "Tobin," she giggled into her chest. Tobin laughed and Christen picked her head up to see the self-satisfied grin spread across her face. "I'm serious. I thought we were going to be making trips to Target for air mattresses and scrambling to make it work, but you really stepped up. Thank you."

Tobin shrugged and played with one of Christen's loose curls. "You're the one who took care of everything this week."

She shook her head. "I had my parents and my sisters and Mal and a dozen other people."

"I had Allie and everyone else."

"Tobin." She sighed and leaned down to kiss her. "You did good, okay? This apartment..." She paused. "Everything since we met Mattie has been so hectic and so..." She smiled. "...one day at a time. And it's still been amazing, don't get me wrong. It's just felt very fleeting. This apartment, having a home base up here with room for the kids...it feels permanent."

Tobin's grin softened. "You know what Davey said when he was switching my lease over?"

Christen made a face. "Oh God, do I want to?"

"No, it wasn't bad," Tobin laughed. "He called us a stupid little family."

"That's cute," Christen said, laying her head back on Tobin's chest. "He could've left out the stupid part."

"Yeah, well, it's Davey."

They relaxed, and Christen was on the edge of sleep when she spoke up. "Tobin?"

"Hmm?"

"I love our stupid little family."

"Me too, babe. Me too."

***

The week was relaxed, mostly involving hanging out in the apartment or furniture shopping. Tobin and Christen didn't spend as much time together as they might have liked because after Sunday night they practiced and played at opposite times, but it worked out because Sam was never without one or both of them.

Wednesday night, the Sunrise tied the Dash 1-1 and the Thorns beat the Monarchs 3-0. During the Thorns game, Sam got a hold of Bati's Coke and drank half the bottle while Christen wasn't looking, so after the game, he was off the wall. Tobin and Christen had tried letting him run around the field after the second game, playing pickup soccer in the apartment with his mini ball, and putting Clone Wars on Netflix, but Sam was still buzzing.

"Mal was looking really guilty when I found him with the soda," Christen said as she plopped next to Tobin on the couch and Sam continued to fly his Millenium Falcon around the living room. "I bet she helped him steal it. We should make her come play with him."

Tobin shook her head. "No, I think Bati did this as payback for every time I riled up Shay and Kass and then left. He's probably been waiting for us to get a dog or a kid he could wind up."

"Maybe," Christen said, laughing and looking at her watch. She sighed. "It's 9:45. We should call Mattie before she goes to bed."

Christen called her dad's number and he picked up after two rings. "Hey, Dad. Is Mattie still up?...Okay, thanks." She laughed at something her dad said. "Yeah, we just couldn't get that second goal...That's true...Alright, love you Dad," she said, pulling the phone away from her ear and putting it on speaker.

"Hi," Mattie's voice came in.

"Hey Mat, how was school?" Tobin asked.

"Boring," she replied.

"How did your math test go?" Christen asked.

"Fine, I think."

"Did you finish that English paper you got last week?"

Mattie collapsed back into her spot on the couch in Christen's parents' living room. "No, Mrs. Donner said I could have an extra week."

"Why?" Christen asked, and Mattie could hear the rising concern in her voice through the phone. "Did you fall behind on it?"

"No," she said, shrugging. "She just said since I started the book after everyone else, I could get extra time."

"Mattie, you've got to get caught up," Tobin said. "We talked about this."

Mattie huffed and let her head fall back on the couch. Her plan to fake her way through catch up had been working great with her teachers, but Tobin and Christen had taken to nagging her to get up to speed more quickly. "I'll work on it," she lied.

"Is that Mattie?" she heard Sam say though the other end, sounding far away.

"Yeah, bud, do you want to talk to her?" Christen asked.

"Mat, he had soda so he's a little wound. Try not to encourage it," Tobin warned.

Mattie giggled. "Okay."

"Hi, Mattie!" Sam called.

"Hey, Sammy, did you see the games?"

"I want to see her on the screen," Sam complained.

"I'll switch to facetime, Sammy," she said, pushing the button. The phone rang before displaying Sam's face upside down. Tobin hand appeared over the camera and flipped the phone.

"Here you go, buddy."

"Mattie, I want to show you my room!" Sam said into the screen. The frame shook as he ran with both hands holding the phone.

"Walk, Sam," she heard Christen call after him. Mattie could see flashes of the apartment behind him and saw him pass through a doorway.

"This is my room," Sam said, turning the phone around to show her. He moved the phone too fast for her to see much, but she could see a small bed with what looked like a Star Wars quilt and Sam's BB-8 plushie.

"That's really cool Sammy," Mattie said but wondered quietly why Tobin bought a comforter for the week Sam was going to be there.

"Yeah, and Toes says we can paint whatever I want on the wall like a X-Wing or a R2."

"Sam, you're only going to be there a few more days. I'm coming in two days, and then two days after that we're coming back to California."

"Yeah, I know, but when we come back," he said as if it were obvious.

Mattie bit her tongue, not wanting to explain the unlikelihood of that or to tell Sam that he shouldn't make Tobin paint things she was going to have to cover up. "Oh, okay then."

"And watch this," Sam said, still excited and oblivious to her concerns. He turned off the light and held the phone so that Mattie could see the ceiling, where there were a dozen glow-in-the-dark stars. "Toes says this is what the stars look like when you go camping in the woods. I asked if we could go but she says we have to wait til summer when it's warm out."

"Cool, Sammy," Mattie answered, even as her heart ached. Sam continued to babble about Portland and his room and Mattie felt her eyes start to water, wishing Sam could get to have his dream bedroom and all the adventures he was excited about. Even after he finished, and Tobin and Christen said goodnight, she must have looked sad, because when she went to give Mr. Press his phone back, he searched her face.

"Everything okay there, Mat in the Hat?"

Mattie laughed. "Yeah, it's fine. Sammy is just really happy--which is great--but I'm just worried he's gonna..."

"Worried he's gonna what?" Cody asked.

"Like--adjust to this," Mattie explained.

"Don't you want him to adjust?" he countered.

"Yeah, I want him to feel safe and everything...I guess I'm just worried that once the paperwork and everything is sorted, the next place we go won't be so...nice," she finished, looking around the kitchen as she did.

Cody frowned and sized her up. "Mattie, you know, Tobin and Christen really, really care about you," he said slowly. "They're going to make sure you end up...in a safe and loving home."

"I know, and I know they're really trying, but it's not that easy. There aren't people lining up to take in kids like us, and group homes don't come with your own room with Star Wars bedsheets."

He looked at her seriously. "Mattie, I promise there are people who really, really want to live with them. Like, forever," he emphasized, smiling.

Mattie rolled her eyes. "I know you think that. It's cause you guys are really nice. Not everyone lets strange children their daughter takes in come stay at their house for a week."

Cody looked like he wanted to argue, but smirked instead. "You are pretty strange, huh?"

"Mr. Press," Mattie said, groaning and rolling her eyes.

"How many times do I have to tell you to call me Cody? Or, optionally, Big Daddy?"

"Fine, Cody," Mattie said, repeating her previous eye roll.

"There you go. Rolling your eyes at me like all these other women around here." Mattie laughed, and Cody gave her a soft smile. "It's really going to work out, Mattie."

Mattie just smiled back, wishing she could believe him.

***

Friday at lunch, Mattie was pretty excited about finally flying to Portland that afternoon but not nearly as excited as Sophie and Isabella were her for her.

"I read that the crowds in Portland are crazy. It's like a rave."

"Iz, I'm not gonna be in the crowd, I'm gonna be in the box with Christen and Sam."

"Yeah, I'm sure it'll be much less cool to watch the game from the VIP box," Sophie teased.

Mattie rolled her eyes and bit back a laugh. "That's not what I meant and you know it."

"Still," Isabella said, almost dreamily, "you're going to Soccer City, USA. Will you get Sonnett's autograph for me?"

She laughed. "I'll see what I can do."

"I wish you were getting to see the Thorns vs the Sunrise there, though," Sophie lamented. "That would be crazy."

"Maybe you'll get to go for the Sunrise game during the regular season, though," Isabella suggested. "When do they play Portland?"

"The first game is in a couple weeks, cause that's when Tobin will be back. But I don't think they go up there until after the World Cup, so I'll probably have moved out by then."

Sophie and Isabella looked at each other. "How much longer do you think you're staying?" Isabella asked.

Mattie shrugged. "Right now, Christen and Tobin are just trying to get Social Services to process me and Sam as siblings, and after that, they said all the paperwork and stuff gets way easier cause we have one case worker and one file and everything. I don't know how long that's gonna take, but after that, I think they can try to get us placed. It won't be later than June though, even earlier really, because have World Cup prep and then they leave for France."

"Why can't they take you to France?" Isabella asked, frowning.

"I mean for one, I don't even know if it's allowed cause it's outside the country. Also, they need to focus--it's the World Cup. They can't be carting us around."

Sophie and Isabella let it go, turning back to talk about Portland and the ridiculous stories--most of which, Mattie thought were untrue--they had heard about it. By the end of lunch, Mattie was just excited to get up there.

Christen's mom picked her up after school with the bag she had packed that morning. Stacy got a phone call from Christen on the way ("This is the third one today") asking whether or not Mattie had everything and whether they were on schedule.

"Christen, we're fine. I will walk her to the gate myself, I promise...Okay, honey, love you too," Stacy said, hanging up the phone and turning to Mattie. "She worries too much. Probably gets it from her mother." Mattie laughed. They drove 20 more minutes to the airport and parked. Stacy took Mattie's duffle and she wore her backpack. Once they got inside, Stacy walked up to the ticket desk.

"Hi, she's an unaccompanied minor, so I'm going to go to the gate with her..."

"Of course," the attendant nodded, furiously typing into the computer and asking for Stacy's ID. Mattie got an embarrassing badge put around her neck, and Stacy got a pass to let her through security. While they waited in line, Stacy asked her what she knew about Portland. Mattie immediately started talking about soccer, which Stacy teased her for. At the gate, they checked in at another desk and waited for the flight to start boarding. The short man with the neat haircut, who introduced himself as Jose, motioned that it would just be a minute.

"You know, I'm gonna miss having you around the house. So are the pups. You should come visit more."

"Maybe I will," Mattie said, feeling bad that she probably wouldn't follow through. "I'm gonna miss you too, though," she said honestly. "I liked staying with you."

"We're all set Mattie," Jose called.

She and Stacy stood up and the woman wrapped her in a hug. "You can come back anytime." Mattie squeezed a little harder, believing her for just a second.

Once they taxied in Portland, the flight attendant delivered her right to Christen outside security, which she thought was a little ridiculous, and asked for her ID, even though Mattie told the guy she was her guardian. Christen took her bag and pulled Mattie into a side hug.

"C'mon, Sammy and Tobs are in the car and are both very grumpy that they didn't get to come in to greet you."

***

Mattie reluctantly loved Portland. She still hated that the Thorns always seemed to beat her favorite teams, but she loved the streets and the weird people and Tobin's apartment and she loved Providence Park. It didn't hurt that in the first game, the Sunrise put on a show. Mal and Christen combined for 3 of LAFC's 4 goals which only made it better. She even enjoyed watching the Thorns beat Houston 2-1, mostly because Tobin was pulling out all of her flashiest moves, which the crowd clearly thought was for their preseason entertainment, but with the way Christen was nudging her, and Tobin was sneaking glances up at the box, Mattie thought was for hers.

They went out for what everyone called 'the good pizza' after the game, where Mattie remembered to ask Sonnett for an autograph for Izzie.

"Uhh...yeah, sure. What do you want me to sign?" she asked, a little flustered.

Mattie cast around. "Here, sign my ticket. I'll give her this."

"But she didn't even come to the game," Emily protested.

Mattie rolled her eyes. "Sonny, I just told her I'd get you to sign something. I didn't say what."

Sonnett was about to accept the explanation when Christen turned around to join their conversation. "Who are you getting that for?" she asked.

"I told Isabella I'd get her Sonnett's autograph, but I forgot to bring anything to sign."

"Why don't you ask Tobin to get something for her from the pro shop and Sonnett will sign that?" Sonnett shrugged and made a face at Mattie like that was an acceptable idea. "Or, even better, she can sign something for her in person when they come to LA in a few weeks. Is that okay Sonnett?"

"I'll do whatever Mattie says."

"Mattie, are you gonna invite Sophie and Isabella to the game?"

"Uhh..."

"Why don't you do that so she can pick what she wants to be signed." Mattie just nodded, not knowing how to ask Christen if they would still be living with them in a few weeks, or if she could still take her friends to games once they moved out.

***

The airport drop-off for the second goodbye flight of the season was both easier and harder than the first. On one hand, the season starting and the practice week made the distance feel more manageable, but on the other, Tobin wasn't going to see Christen, Mattie or Sam for almost three weeks, which was the longest stretch they would be apart for pretty much the whole season.

"You're gonna get caught up in English, right?" Tobin asked as she hugged Mattie, who grumbled affirmatively in response. "I'm gonna find out. Don't think I won't."

"And you," she said, picking up Sam and squeezing him. "Are you gonna be good?" she asked, blowing a raspberry on his cheek and causing him to giggle.

"Yes," Sam said, nodding and squirming.

"Good. What are we gonna have for breakfast this week?"

Sam shrugged and lifted his hands. "I dunno."

"Well, pick something out, and I'll get the same thing so we can eat it together, okay?" Sam buried his head against her neck and nodded. "It's gonna fly by, bud. I promise." Sam just hugged her tighter.

"Can you promise me that?" Christen asked. She was holding it together, but it seemed to take more effort than the last goodbye flight.

Tobin reached for her hand and pulled her in for a kiss over Sam, who was still hanging from her neck. "If you need me to come down for anything, call me, okay? Even if you guys just miss me and you want me to come watch a movie. It's only a few hours."

Christen rolled her eyes. "You can't start flying down when we miss you, babe."

"Watch me," she challenged with a soft smile. Christen's calm exterior faltered momentarily and she stared sadly at Tobin's lips. "Hey. Babe," Tobin said, interrupting her brooding. "We can do this."

Christen smiled slightly, burying her face in the side of Tobin's neck that Sam left open. "Mattie, where are you?" she said, reaching back blindly with her hand. "Get in here!" Mattie surrendered her hand and was pulled into the group hug.

***

Tobin volunteered to start making the frequent calls to the state or the county that were needed to move the paperwork along. There were calls with Claire about maintaining their somewhat dubious fostering status, with Sam's caseworker, Rena, and various bureaucratic agencies to try to get Sam and Mattie's paperwork tied together, and a daily call to California Social Services to check on the status of Mattie and Sam's adoption eligibility (which Tobin thought was probably annoying them, but Christen insisted that 'the squeaky wheel gets the grease', so she made it every day anyway).

She was beginning to feel like she was having the same three conversations every single day, but the Thursday after Christen and the kids had returned to LA, she finally got some good news.

"Hey, Rena," she said as she picked up the phone. "What's up?"

"Hi, Tobin," Rena said in the thick accent Tobin was now accustomed to. "I just wanted to let you know that Sam's paperwork came through, and he's going to be added to Mattie's case."

Tobin was surprised. "Really? So they're legally siblings now?"

"Basically. Sam still does not have a maternal signature on his birth certificate, but they will no longer be processed separately, and Claire will be handling their case."

"Well, you must be disappointed that you won't be getting calls from me every day, then," Tobin said, laughing.

Rena chuckled. "Of course I am, but now I will actually be able to get some work done! Now, I will let you call Christen, but just tell her there is new paperwork because of the change, and Claire will have all of it."

"More paperwork, she'll love that," she joked. "Seriously, though, Rena, thank you for all of your help."

"Of course, Tobin. Goodbye."

Tobin called Christen immediately after hanging up, catching her just as she got out of training. Christen was excited that things were finally moving and elected to go to Claire's office immediately, so she could get there and back in time to pick up Sam and Mattie from school. Claire gave her a heap of new papers, mostly informational brochures about fostering siblings and versions of forms they already had with the new joint case number. Christen took the stack and put it on the passenger seat, hopping back in the car to get Sam across town. Once she had him, they went to wait in the pickup line at the middle school for Mattie.

She spotted Christen's car as she walked down the sidewalk with Sophie and Isabella, walking over the grass to the door. As she opened it, Christen smiled and waved to Mattie's friends, who waved back nervously. Mattie said goodbye to them, throwing her backpack in the car and climbing in. Christen moved the pile of paperwork to the backseat, but not before Mattie glanced the top page.

"Hey, how was school?" Christen greeted.

"What's that?" she asked, ignoring the question.

"That is some good news. You and Sam got moved to the same case. You can't be separated anymore."

"Really?" Mattie's eyes widened. "That's great," she heard herself say. Christen started talking about how they would now have to make half as many phone calls and fill out half as many forms, but Mattie couldn't hear her over the buzzing in her head. Did this mean they would be placed soon? How long would it take? She blinked her eyes closed to clear her thoughts, but the image of the piece of paper she spotted and the words next to her name were burned into her mind.

Matilde García -- Special Needs (CA-A23O)

Once they got home, she told Christen she was going up to her room to do some homework, but she immediately pulled out her phone and started googling. Mattie was confused. She had never been told by Claire or the other caseworkers she had that she had special needs, and she had never seen that code.

She tried 'special needs foster care' first, but none of the results made sense. Adding the code didn't return anything either. Finally, after a few variations of 'special needs codes' and 'California social services', she found a pdf of special needs designations for the state of California. She scrolled down and pieced together the letters and numbers she had seen next to her name. The document revealed that she was now classified as an older child in a sibling group that had to be placed together, which brought relief because she already knew that, but confused her because it meant that Christen and Tobin were paid more than $200 more per month to look after her.

She knew foster parents got paid to cover the expenses of the kid, and it made sense that kids with special needs got more of an allowance, but did being older than Sam meant that she had special needs that cost that much more?

Mattie went back to google and started looking up combinations of 'older sibling foster care' and 'special needs.' She read through half a dozen different FAQs and chat rooms, but the more she read, the worse she felt. Everyone on the internet seemed to suggest that having a much older child in a sibling group would make it harder for the children, especially the younger one, to get adopted. Her heart crept up her throat. What had she done? By getting Tobin and Christen to make it almost impossible for her and Sam to be separated, she had made it almost impossible for them, for Sam, to get placed in the kind of home she wanted for him.

Her mind raced as she tried to figure out a plan. After everything Christen and Tobin had done to get their cases connected, she knew there would be no way to switch it back. She considered packing up her stuff and climbing out the window immediately, but she didn't want to abandon Sam or stick Christen and Tobin to deal with placing him by themselves before she knew there were arrangements in place.

As she was going through the options in her head, Mal came in and collapsed onto the other bed. Mattie closed all the tabs on her phone and tried to look casual.

"What's up?"

Mal groaned. "Look, I love Christen, and I'm really glad good stuff is happening with you and Sam's case, but I can't wait until Tobin is back. There's only so much I can listen to about Social Services forms and inspections, but she can talk about it forever."

Mattie laughed. "You should just tell her to call Tobin."

"I tried, but I guess Tobin was at practice until just now because she finally dismissed me from the kitchen."

Mattie half-listened as Mal switched to talking about something funny that happened at practice, but her mind was still on a contingency plan. She was going to have to wait, though, for the right opportunity to execute it.

***

The next night, Christen was lying awake in bed when she heard her door creak. She leaned up and spotted a few messy curls peeking through the opening.

"Christen?" Sam whispered.

"Yeah Sammy?"

"I had a bad dream."

"Come here, buddy," she said, sitting the rest of the way up and turning the light on her nightstand on. Sam climbed up on the bed and she pulled him into her side. "What was your nightmare about?"

"We were in space and Darth Vader was trying to cut off my hand, and Toes was flying a X-wing to come get me but there were a lot of Stormtroopers with TIE fighters so she couldn't."

Christen brushed his hair back. "Maybe we shouldn't watch Star Wars before bed then, huh?" Sam just snuggled further into her. "Want to sleep in here tonight?" He nodded. Christen leaned over to turn off the light and lay back down.

"I miss Toes," Sam whispered into the dark.

Christen paused and went to reach for her phone. "Want me to call her? She might still be up, and I know she misses you. She tells me every day."

"She does?"

"Yeah, bud."

"Do you miss her?"

Christen could see his eyes, wide, looking at her even in the dark. "Of course I do. I love her a lot."

"Me too," he said.

"You do?"

"'Acourse. I love her and you and Mattie all a lot."

Christen swallowed. "I love you too, Sammy." He lay back down on her shoulder. "You want me to call Toes?"

He shook his head and his curls tickled her face. "No, 'sokay. We can just miss her together."

***

Saturday, the Thorns beat the Pride 2-1 in the season opener at Providence Park and Sunday the Sunrise beat the Monarchs by the same margin in Salt Lake City.

On Monday, Christen got out of training with a voicemail from Claire that contained another win.

"Hi Christen, just calling to let you know the state got back to me, and they've assigned your adoption case to someone over there. They'll probably call you later today to set something up for this week, but I just wanted to let you know as soon as I heard. Talk to you later!"

Christen listened to the message twice before calling Tobin to share the news.

"Are you being serious right now?" she asked after Christen told her.

"I mean I haven't gotten the call from the state yet, but she called like fifteen minutes ago. Do you think you can come down for a meeting this week?"

"I mean I'll make it work no matter what," Tobin said definitively. "But probably Thursday would be easiest? We've got Houston on Friday night, so if I leave Wednesday after practice and then leave at close of business from there, that'll give me almost a whole day with you guys and I'll just miss the shake out the morning before the flight. I'll talk to Mark to be sure, though."

"Okay, so I'll tell them Thursday then."

"Okay, cool." She paused briefly. "We should probably hang up in case they call one of us."

"Yeah."

"Yeah."

There was more silence. "Chris?" she heard Tobin say.

"Yeah?"

"We got this."

***

The state ended up calling Tobin, and she set a meeting for Thursday at one. Tobin talked to Mark and made arrangements to fly down Wednesday night and then onto Houston Thursday evening.

Christen poked her head into Mattie's room on Tuesday night to tell her. "Hey, Tobin's coming home tomorrow night."

Mattie frowned. "But you guys have Sky Blue this weekend. And they have...the Dash, right?"

Christen nodded. "Yeah, but we have a meeting with the state on Thursday, so she's coming down for that and then flying to Houston. She won't be here for very long."

"Won't she miss practice?"

"A little, but it's an important meeting."

She perked up. "Is it good news?"

Christen smiled. "Hopefully. It seems like things are finally starting to move."

"That's awesome," Mattie said, both relieved that things would work out and saddened because it meant she was leaving.

Christen narrowed her eyes. "You sure? You okay?"

Mattie forced her most natural smile. "Yeah, I just have a lot of homework and I'm kinda tired."

Christen looked like she wasn't going to buy it, but said, "Alright. I'll leave you to it then. We're going out to dinner tomorrow night, so make sure you get everything done before then, okay?"

Mattie smiled and nodded and Christen closed the door. She breathed a sigh of relief and started thinking about what she needed to do to get ready.

Wednesday night came quickly, and they all piled into the car to get Tobin from the airport. Sam was so excited, Mattie thought she might cry at the sight of him. She really tried to enjoy dinner, not to think about tomorrow. Christen and Tobin let her stay up late and hang out with them and Mal after dinner. When she finally went to bed, she tossed and turned for hours. She checked her backpack a half dozen times, careful not to wake Mal.

In the morning, she felt like she was watching herself go through the motions of getting ready as if it were a movie. Mal grunted goodbye, still half-asleep as she left the room. Tobin and Sam were in their spots at the counter, peppier than normal at the situation. Mattie tried to feed off their energy, but Christen kept looking at her suspiciously.

Everyone came to drop her at school because Tobin wanted to come along. Mattie hugged Sam, Tobin, and Christen before she got out of the car. "Hey, we're still gonna be here when you get out of school," Tobin joked.

She gave a weak laugh. "I know, I'm just glad I got to see you."

"Me, too," Tobin said genuinely.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Christen asked, searching her face.

Mattie nodded. "I'm great. Bye, Sammy," she repeated, hugging her brother again and exiting the car. She waved as they drove away and tried not to cry. As the car drove completely out of sight, she tried to reassure herself that she was doing what was best for them. It was better this way.

***

The waiting room at the Social Services office had no windows and two hard fluorescent panel lights. Christen and Tobin waited for ten minutes after their appointment, before a middle-aged woman with black hair slicked back into a froofy bun emerged from one of the two doors carrying a thin file folder.

"I'm sorry, I was stuck on a call," she explained. "You must be Tobin and Christen. I'm Janet," she said, offering a hand. They both shook it, and she motioned to her office. "Why don't you come in and we can talk."

They walked into Janet's office, which was barely wide enough across to fit her desk. They sat in the two chairs in front of it, which reminded Christen of the ones in interrogation rooms on procedural shows. Janet shuffled around her desk and opened the folder in her hands.

"Okay. Mattie and Sam Garcia, case 29340. You've been fostering them for...almost two months now, and you're looking to get cleared for adoption."

Tobin and Christen both nodded silently. Tobin rubbed her palms on the tops of her jeans.

"Great! Well, let's see what we've got here. You've got Mattie and Sam's birth certificates, and I've got a note here saying there are some issues with Sam's, but nothing we can't work around. I've got copies of your birth certificates, looks good." She shuffled through a few more papers. "You're looking for a joint adoption?"

Christen frowned. "You mean of Mattie and Sam? Yeah, I thought when we fixed it the system so they came up as siblings, it meant--"

"No, I meant: you're looking to adopt them as a couple?" Janet clarified.

"Oh, yeah. Yeah, we are."

"Okay, because I have proof of residency here for Christen, but for Tobin, I've only got a photocopy of an Oregon driver's license."

"My apartment in Portland," Tobin explained.

Janet frowned. "You two don't live together?"

Christen shook her head and clarified. "I mean, the house here is under my name, and Tobin's name is on the lease in Portland, but for all practical purposes, we live together. Unless we have to be in two different places at the same time for work."

Her frown deepened. "But Tobin is legally an Oregon resident?"

"How do you define--" Tobin started.

"Where are you registered to vote? Where is your car registered? Where do you pay bills?"

"Portland," Tobin answered quietly.

Janet nodded curtly. "Do you two have any legal or financial entanglements together that could tie Tobin to California residency? Cars, LLCs, other property? A joint bank account?"

They shook their heads.

"Then I'm afraid we have a bit of a problem," Janet said. "It's going to be really difficult for you to adopt these kids together while legally living in two different states. We would have to involve the Social Services department in Oregon, and it would basically be like doing two separate adoptions. It would probably take a few years."

"A few years?!" Tobin almost shouted. "We have to go to France in June!"

Janet furrowed her brow. "You're planning a trip to France? And you're bringing Mattie and Sam?"

Christen shot Tobin a look to chill before answering. "We have to travel there for work in June, for the World Cup? Claire told us the farther along we were in the adoption process, the easier approval would be, especially since they'll be with our families most of the time."

"They'll be with your families?"

"We're not supposed to have kids mixed in with the team so that everyone can focus. Our parents were coming for the whole tournament anyway, so the kids will stay with them except when we have a bit of a break. And it's a little over 6 weeks away, so we needed to move the process as quickly as possible."

"You're starting the adoption process so that you can bring them to France?" Janey asked skeptically.

Tobin got indignant. "No. We're starting the adoption process so we can parent our kids without sitting through 12 stupid meetings and writing a book in paperwork about it."

"Tobin," Christen hissed, but she continued.

"And so we can answer Sam properly when he asks if we're his moms. And so Mattie can stop talking about going back to Palmdale or like she's ever moving out of our house."

Janet just looked at her with raised eyebrows.

"Seriously," Tobin said. "how are we supposed to make her do her homework when she thinks we're not gonna be there to make her go to college?"

Janet looked between them cautiously. "Okay, so obviously you guys are serious about this adoption, but the paperwork is still going to be really complicated this way. I've never actually seen a case exactly like this--I've actually only seen married couples do the sort of dual state process but--"

"I thought it didn't matter whether or not we were married," Christen said, frowning.

"Oh, no it doesn't," Janet explained. "But you'd have legal standing in both states, and you would jointly own your property--so actually Tobin could just adopt through California at that point--but, regardless, being unmarried is in no way a barrier to adoption. The complication stems from the different state residencies. Now, I suppose another option, if speed is really of the essence, would be for Christen to adopt the kids by herself now, and then you could start the adoption process for Tobin later and separately."

Christen looked to make sure Tobin wasn't going to vault over the table and was about to say no, that they were doing this together when Tobin spoke up. "What would that timeline look like? Would she have full custody by the time we leave?"

Christen frowned at Tobin and tried to make eye contact, but Tobin was just staring at a spot on Janet's desk with her jaw set. Janet went on to explain the timeline for the solo vs joint adoption, and the differences in the process. Christen only half listened because she kept sneaking glances at Tobin, who was listening to Janet intently and nodding. The next thing she knew, Janet was handing Christen two different folders and they were leaving the building.

She was in a daze as Tobin drove, checking her face every few minutes to see if she was upset. She had a right to be, Christen thought. It wasn't fair that the state wanted to legally reinforce Tobin's parenting insecurities.

"Hey, are you mad at me?" Tobin asked, interrupting her thinking.

"Am I mad at you?" Christen asked, taken aback.

"Yeah, for asking about the solo adoption. I'm sorry--if it's your name on the paperwork, I should've let you ask more of the questions."

"You're not upset about her suggesting it in the first place? I really didn't think you'd be okay with not legally being their mom too."

Tobin swallowed. "I mean sure, it would suck, but it would be temporary. And as long as one of us has custody, and we don't have to jump through all these hoops, that's all that matters. It's just a label, right?" she finished unsurely.

"No."

Tobin tried to look at Christen's face while keeping her eye on the road. "No? Like, no, it's not just a label?"

Christen shook her head. "I mean no, we're not doing a solo adoption. We said we would do this as a team, and that's what we're going to do. I don't want to be legally their mom until you are."

Tobin continued trying to look at her and the road at the same time, but gave up and reached for her hand instead, bringing it to her lips. "I love you, you know that?" Christen hummed. "Thank you." She squeezed her hand. "Although us adopting as a team makes things like 100 times more complicated. You might have to work some of your arm-twisting paperwork fu again."

Christen just stared out the window and drew circles on Tobin's hand with her thumb. Tobin turned off the main drag and into their neighborhood. Christen took a deep breath. "What if we just got married?"

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tobin's head whip toward her and then back toward the road. "Like before the world cup?"

Christen shifted to face the center of the car. "Like today. Janet said if we were married this wouldn't be an issue. Let's go find a judge and get a marriage certificate."

Tobin pulled into their driveway, still quiet, and parked.

Christen took another deep breath before continuing. "I know we'd talked about waiting, and we said we had to have a big wedding, and you want to get married in a church, but this wouldn't be like our real wedding. It would just be--"

Christen blanched as Tobin unbuckled and scrambled out of the driver's seat. "Tob--Can we at least talk--"

Tobin looked up with one foot out of the car. "One sec," she said. "Stay right there." She ran in the side door of the garage.

Christen sighed and let her head fall back against the seat, wondering if this had been a truly terrible idea. Tobin reemerged a minute later, running and jumping back into the car. "Sorry," she said as Christen looked at her, bewildered. "I just wanted to get this part right."

She held up a hand. "I know, and obviously I don't want to rush this--"

Christen stopped talking as Tobin held out her hand and revealed a small black ring box. She opened it, and Christen looked at the distinct braided gold band, the two square diamonds on either side of a square green stone. Her eyes widened in recognition, thinking back.

***

They bumped shoulders and brushed hands as they walked down the street. Tobin's hair was a mess from the last alley Christen had pulled her into, and neither of them had made an attempt to smooth it. She could still taste the whiskey Tobin had been drinking on her tongue and she felt a strong buzz in her own arms and legs. They could still hear the shouts echoing from the next street over, but this sidewalk was much less crowded and the smell much more bearable than Bourbon Street. They were walking south toward the hotel, on the right side of the road, Christen walking on the inside of the sidewalk. She had taken to peering in the half-lit windows of closed shops as they giggled along. They admired the funky paintings through the window of a gallery and laughed at a weirdly lifelike statue of a dalmatian that Tobin insisted was staring her down.

The next store was an antique shop with a display of furniture in one window and old jewelry in the other. Tobin bumped her hip as Christen looked over the necklaces and rings on the table. "See something you like?" she asked flirtily.

Christen raised her eyebrows. "You gonna start buying me jewelry?"

Tobin shrugged. "Hey, if you're really gonna be my girl now, I'm gonna spoil you."

Christen couldn't ignore the slur of the other girl's speech, and couldn't distinguish if the flip her stomach just did was from Tobin's words or their earlier indulgences. "I thought we agreed we'd wait to talk about it until we were sober," she challenged.

Tobin ignored her and pointed through the window, gasping. "How about that one? It looks just like your eyes."

Christen looked where she was pointing. The ring was beautiful but was covered in a thin layer of dust and tarnish like it had been sitting in the window for a long time. The band of the ring split and twisted as it got to the stone, with little diamonds set in the loops. There were two smaller square diamonds on either side of a stone she didn't know the name for. The central gem, she had to admit, was a pretty close match for her eye color. It even shifted a little in the light of the display. She shook her head and started pushing Tobin back along the street. "Tobin, that's an engagement ring."

Tobin laughed. "What makes something an engagement ring versus a regular ring?"

Christen shrugged. "I don't know, but I know that's an engagement ring. I don't make the rules."

Tobin rolled her eyes. "C'mon, Chris, there are no rules about what's an engagement ring. Can't that just be the perfect ring for me to buy my new girlfriend because it matches her eyes?"

"It's a perfect engagement ring, and what happened to not talking about that while we're drinking?"

"What if it's fate?" Tobin asked, bouncing as she walked next to Christen. "What if God sent us down this road to find that ring and we're just ignoring the sign?"

"You think God made that guy almost puke on your shoes?" Christen asked incredulously.

Tobin looked at her earnestly. "He works in mysterious ways."

Christen laughed and shook her head, looking up at the few night stars that could be seen through the colorful glow of the city. She glanced back at Tobin, hair a mess, shirt askew, all smiles, and wondered if she could pinpoint how long she'd felt like this about the woman in front of her, the woman who believed in fate and God and not making plans more than a week in advance. She looked back up at the sky again. "Who knows, Tobs, maybe He does."

***

She ran through their trip to New Orleans last month in her head, trying to remember when Tobin could've made it back to that shop. "Is this actually the same ring? How did you--Did you have Cheney go get it? I can't believe it was still there." Her voice was wobbly, and she felt a single tear slip out of the corner of her eye.

Tobin frowned. Christen could see moisture in her eyes too. "What are you talking about? I was like the first one in the shop the next day."

"The next day?"

"Yeah, remember...you wouldn't let me sleep with you until we talked, so I went back to my room, and then in the morning I brought you a scone?"

Christen was dumbstruck. "You bought this the next, next day?" Tobin nodded slowly and Christen let out a watery laugh. "I can't believe you bought me an engagement ring before we started dating."

Tobin laughed too. "Come on, we were already pretty much a done deal at that point. Don't make it sound like it was our first date," Tobin argued and Christen rolled her eyes, causing more tears to fall. "And I didn't buy it as an engagement ring at first, I was just gonna give it to you. But then I was like, shit, what if I give her this one and I can't find a better engagement ring? That would suck. So I decided to save it."

Christen smirked. "You kept it in the garage?"

Tobin half nodded. "There's a hidden pocket in my cleat bag. I figured I always have that with me, so I'd be prepared if the moment presented itself."

By this point, tears were streaming quickly down both of their faces. Christen was biting her lip to contain the wide grin threatening to break out across her face. "You're crazy, you know that?"

Tobin gave her a crooked smile. "Only for you, babe." They just sat there, staring at each other, smiling like idiots, still in the front seat of the car, parked in the driveway.

"Are you gonna ask, or do you want me to?" Christen asked, giggling and breaking the silence. "If we're really doing this today, we're going to need to hustle. Your flight's at 5 and we still have to find a judge."

Tobin sniffed and laughed, wiping her face. "No, no, I mean I've been working on a speech, I just..." She pulled the ring out of the setting and put the box down, looking up at Christen with a small smile. "I guess I didn't really picture it like this. I guess I couldn't have picture most of what's happened in the past two months. I couldn't have pictured Mattie or Sam or how happy they'd make us. I can't picture how we're gonna make everything work. But the one thing I can picture, I always picture, is you and me. Babe, will you marry me?"

Christen leaned forward to kiss her and nodded at the same time. Tobin tasted salty, although that could've been her own tears on Tobin's face. She sat back and Tobin slipped the ring onto her hand, kissing her again. "Let's go get married."

They walked inside and were surprised to find Kelley lounging on the couch next to Mal watching a reality TV show. Neither of them looked up at the door opening. "Hey, Kel, I didn't know you were gonna come over," Christen said. "I thought you wanted to hang out after the game."

Kelley half looked up and got up to greet them. "Well, I did, but I heard Tobin was--" she paused as she took in their appearances. "What the hell happened to you two?"

Tobin grinned. "It's a surprise, but actually, I'm glad you're here. Maybe you can help."

Kelley and Mal just looked at them confused. "Christen, someone from the City called, but I wasn't sure if I was supposed to answer," Mal said before turning back to the show. Kelley continued to prod Tobin to reveal the surprise and Christen walked into the kitchen and picked up the house phone. The light indicated there was a voicemail, so she dialed 1 and typed in the password.

"You have one new message and four saved messages."

"New message."

"Hi, this is Leanne from the office at Manhattan Beach Middle School. I was calling to check on Matilde. She wasn't in school today, and we didn't get a message on the absentee line. Make sure she comes in with a note tomorrow explaining she was sick, and I hope she feels better!"

Christen heard the machine click and thought there must've been a mistake. She replayed the message and felt a sinking feeling in her stomach, but tried not to panic. She exited the kitchen, walking past Tobin and Kelley's argument, which Mal had now joined.

"Babe, what's going on?" Tobin asked, concerned.

Christen held up one finger for her to wait, then ran upstairs. Seconds later, she reappeared halfway down the stairs. "Tobin, Mattie's gone."

Tobin frowned. "What do you mean she's gone? She's at school."

Christen shook her head and looked at her with a blank expression. "They called to say she wasn't there today."

Tobin swallowed and looked around. "Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe her homeroom teacher missed her."

Christen grabbed her arm and forced Tobin to look at her. "Tobin. Her shoebox is gone."

Chapter Text

Tobin launched herself up the stairs past her.

Christen followed as she stormed into Mattie and Mal's room, scanning the dresser, the closet, the bed, before flattening herself to the ground and looking underneath. There were two Nike boxes, but they were both for the shoes Mattie had gotten from the pro shop.

"That's where she normally keeps it," Christen said, trying to stay calm. "I know it was there a few days ago when I vacuumed...I just don't think it's a coincidence."

Tobin began to move everything out from under Mattie's bed, and when she found nothing, she started pulling apart the pillows and comforters. A folded piece of paper fluttered to the ground in her fury. Tobin picked it up and read it quickly before handing it to Christen.

"I'm going to kill her," Tobin said through a clenched jaw. "I'm going to kill her, then I'm gonna bring her back to life and ground her until she's 25. I fucking swear."

Christen looked at the paper, a piece of loose leaf that looked like it was torn from a binder covered with a scratchy scrawl she recognized as Mattie's. Tobin and Christen, it read:

If you're finding this, you probably know I didn't show up to school. If not, I ditched today.

I'm sorry I didn't say goodbye, but I'm leaving. I really wanted to thank you for everything you've done for me and Sam. I couldn't have imagined the past few weeks in my wildest dreams. It has been so cool. You guys took such good care of us, and I wouldn't be leaving if I didn't know you will take good care of Sam and make sure he gets placed somewhere nice.

That's why I'm leaving actually. I'm really sorry that you guys spent all that time getting our cases linked, but I don't think that's best for Sam anymore. You will have a much easier time placing him without me, and you need to do it soon so you can focus on France.

Seriously, thank you. Tell Sammy I love him and try to let him know that's why I'm doing this.

Mattie

P.S. Tell Mal thanks for letting me share her room! Hopefully I'll see her in 5 years when I play for the Sunrise :P

"Oh my God," Christen whispered. Her brain went into overdrive immediately. She started by thinking about how stupid they had been not to talk to Mattie more about their plans, but quickly realized dwelling on that wouldn't bring her home. She looked at Tobin, whose face was pained. Christen couldn't tell if she was going to start sobbing or screaming. "Tobs, look at me," she said. Tobin looked at her and her eyes filled to the brim. Christen stepped forward and pulled Tobin into her. "Babe, we need to focus." She felt, more than heard, the muffled sobs in her shoulder.

"She's gone."

"Hey," Christen said sternly, pulling Tobin back to look at her. "We're gonna bring her home, okay? We just need to make a plan." Christen looked at her watch and Tobin rested her forehead on her shoulder, taking deep breaths in order to slow her tears.

"Okay, one of us needs to go get Sam. I'll go, and why don't you stay here and make a list of everywhere Mattie could possibly be, okay?" She felt Tobin nod. "Anywhere you can think of. C'mon," she said, leading them downstairs. "You can get Mal to help you."

Kelley and Mal stood in the same spots as if they had been frozen in place. "What happened?" Mal asked, worried.

"Mattie ran away," Christen explained. "She...she thought Sam would have a better chance of being adopted without her."

"By you guys?" Kelley asked.

"No, by someone else," Christen said, dumping a forlorn looking Tobin into the armchair and rubbing her temples. "It's like she never even thought we might adopt her." Mal looked scared and Kelley clenched her jaw. "Can you guys help Tobin make a list of places Mattie might go? I'm going to go pick up Sam."

"I'll come. Let me drive you," Kelley said.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, Mal can stay with Tobin. I don't want you driving like this."

Christen looked at Kelley and nodded. "Yeah, okay. What time do you have practice?"

Kelley shook her head. "I'm not leaving you guys alone until you find her. I'll text Cap—she'll understand. This is a family emergency."

Christen took a deep breath. "Alright, let's go. Mal, are you okay to stay with Tobs?"

"We'll start working on the list," Mal said, nodding.

***

Christen and Kelley drove silently, Christen only speaking to direct Kelley toward the preschool. "She couldn't have gotten far, right?" Kelley asked quietly.

Christen shook her head. "I don't know. I keep telling myself that, but she's pretty good at running away. Last time, when we found her, she had been missing for—" Christen stopped as her voice caught in her throat.

"Last time, she didn't have you and Tobin and your army of reinforcements looking for her. If you wanted, you guys could have her picture everywhere and half the city looking for her."

"Yeah, and then social services would know she ran away. That would really help our adoption case. I'm not even sure we'll be allowed to foster her anymore. Or Sam," she said with a shaky breath. "Turn left here."

Kelley turned and they parked in front of the school, which had parents mingling in front of it but no kids yet. She reached for Christen's hand and squeezed."Chris, it'll be ok—" She stopped talking and squeezed her hand again, awkwardly like she was feeling for lumps, then brought it up to her face.

"What's this?" she asked with a smile that told Christen she already knew the answer. Christen started laughing, chuckling at first, and slowly worked herself up into a hysterical fit. "Was this Tobin's surprise?"

Christen nodded, her laughter fading into a desolate expression. "We were gonna go get married today."

"Today?" Kelley asked, frowning.

"Not like—just, like, the paperwork part. Like we just need to be legally married to make the adoption easier, but we'll have an actual wedding with everyone later."

Kelley laughed. "Your parents are gonna love that."

"We weren't gonna tell them until we're married 'again.' In the meantime, we could just tell people we got engaged. It's technically true. Besides, it'd be for Mattie and Sam. They'd understand."

Kelley looked at her seriously."Press, the state people would be crazy to take Mattie and Sam away from you. No matter what."

Christen swallowed and nodded, looking out the window to see if the kids had been dismissed yet. Kelley changed the subject.

"So you guys are just going to go down to the courthouse and find a judge or something?"

"Yeah. I mean, we're definitely not going until we find Mattie, but yeah."

"Can I marry you guys then?"

Christen felt herself smirk. "Kelley O'Hara, I didn't know you felt that way about us. I'm game, but I don't know if Tobin—"

"Oh, shut up, Press. You know what I meant," she shot back, rolling her eyes, though she seemed happy that Christen was joking with her. "I can get ordained online in like 10 minutes. My brother's friend did it when one of their buddies had a quickie wedding."

"Quickie wedding?" Christen said with a deep sigh.

"What do you want to call it? Your practice wedding? Paperwork wedding?"

Christen laughed humorlessly and looked out the window where the teachers were starting to let kids filter out. She opened the door and climbed out before turning back. "If we find Mattie in time to do it this weekend, you can marry us. But I don't want to hear you say the words 'quickie wedding' in front of Sam. Or wedding at all because he can't keep a secret for his life. And don't mention Mattie being missing. I don't want to scare him."

Kelley smiled and shot her a thumbs up. Christen walked down to the door of the preschool. Sam's teacher waved at her and motioned to him inside. He appeared at the door before running to Christen. "Guess what?" he said.

Christen smiled at him, happy and irrationally surprised that the day's events had left him unscathed. "What?" she asked, soaking in the normalcy of his mood as they walked toward the car.

"I get to be line leader next week!"

"Woah, seriously?" He nodded. "Well, I have a guess what for you, too."

"What is it?"

"Guess who's in the car?"

"Toes?" Sam asked, confused.

"Nope, Toes is still at home. Guess again."

Sam frowned. "Mal? Mattie?" Christen shook her head again, trying not to wince at the mention of his sister. "I give up," he said.

"Look," Christen said as she opened the door and Sam climbed up into his car seat.

He looked up at the driver and gasped. "Auntie Kelley!" Kelley laughed and Christen rolled her eyes as she buckled Sam in. "Oops!" he whispered to Kelley. "I forgot that was supposed to be your secret code name."

Christen buckled his chest strap and straightened out his shirt. "It's okay, Sammy. She's your auntie, you can call her that."

Kelley's eyes lit up and she reached back to fist bump Sam as Christen got into the front seat. Kelley started the car and began to pull out of the spot.

"Auntie Kelly," Sam called. "Guess what?"

***

When they returned to the house, Tobin was in somewhat better shape, and she and Mal had a pretty long list if places to check. As Tobin greeted Sam with nearly all of her usual cheeriness, Christen pulled Kelley back out into the entryway. "Hey, Kel, listen—"

"Mal and I will watch Sam while you guys look."

Christen breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you. Seriously." Christen pulled her into a hug and Kelley squeezed her tightly.

"You're gonna bring her home, Chris."

***

"What'd you guys come up with?" Christen asked Tobin quietly as they got in the car.

"Well, for a minute I was freaking out that she could be in Baja or something by now, but Mal brought up a good point. Mattie would never leave LA. Just on principle."

Christen smiled grimly and nodded. "I don't think she would stray too far from Sam either."

"And we figured she's probably gonna start busking again, so we should check the piers and boardwalks. Also, she might be looking for another equipment shed, so we made a list of fields and checked some of them for sheds on Google Maps."

"That was a really good idea."

Tobin gave her a tired smile. "And to think you once said Mal and I wouldn't turn on our brains unless it was soccer related."

"Are you ever gonna let that go?" Christen asked as she pulled out of the driveway.

Tobin exaggerated a pout. "It was very hurtful," she joked.

"You guys put the cheese mix in before you drained the macaroni. I don't know what you want from me." Tobin let out a small giggle. "And you were looking up soccer fields. It was soccer related."

Christen watched her huff overdramatically and roll her eyes as they paused at a stop sign. "Babe." Tobin looked at her. "I know you turn your brain on for Mattie. It was a really good idea."

Tobin swallowed and nodded and Christen resumed driving. "Are we going to the school?" she asked, confused.

"Yeah, it gets out in 5 minutes. I want to see if she talked to Sophie or Isabella before she left."

She parked in her normal spot in the pickup line as the kids started to trickle by.

"I think I see..." Tobin said. "That's them, right?"

Christen stretched to look down the sidewalk toward the school. She spotted the two girls chatting as they walked toward them. Upon recognizing Christen's car, they frowned in confusion. Tobin rolled down the window. "Hi girls," Christen waved.

"Hey, what are you guys doing here?" Isabella asked. "I thought Mattie was out today?"

"Yeah, did she tell you guys she was gonna miss school?" Christen asked.

Sophie shook her head. "She said Tobin was coming home for a day, though, so we thought she might've skipped to hang out with you." Christen and Tobin shared a pained look.

"What's going on?" Isabella asked worriedly.

Tobin looked at Christen for permission, and she nodded. "Mattie ran...away," she said hoarsely. "She thought—I don't really know what she thought, but she left and we were wondering if she told you guys anything that could help us find her."

Both girls just stared at them with scared expressions. "Like ran away, ran away?" Sophie asked quietly.

Christen nodded. "We finally got her and Sam linked to the same case, but now she thinks that her being around will make it harder for him to get placed with a good family."

"Will it?" Isabella asked.

"I mean, I'd like to think we're a pretty good family, but who knows," Tobin said bitterly.

Sophie frowned thoughtfully. "You guys are going to adopt them," she said, more a statement than a question.

Neither of them responded for a moment. "We're trying," Christen said.

"Did you tell Mattie?"

Christen shook her head. "We were waiting until the state approved us in case there were any issues. We're almost there, though."

"Mattie had no idea," Isabella explained. "Me and Soph kinda thought—any time we suggested it, she would laugh or roll her eyes."

Tobin let her head fall back against the headrest, closing her eyes and frowning in an expression Christen recognized as one of prayer. She swallowed and looked at Mattie's friends. "So she didn't tell you guys anything that might give us a clue as to where she went?"

They shook their heads. "Are you going looking for her?" Isabella asked. "Can we help?"

Christen gave her a small smile. "Yeah, we are, but actually—were you guys just going home?" They both nodded. "Could you just hang at your houses? They're both on our list of places she might go, so if you're there you can keep an eye out for us. Here," she said, handing her phone over Tobin and out the window. "Put your numbers in and I'll text you mine. If you hear from her at all, you can let us know."

"Will you let us know when you find her, too?" Sophie asked nervously.

Christen tried to look reassuring, for the girls' sake and for her and Tobin's. "I'll text you as soon as she's home."

***

They checked a few of the fields on Tobin's list, but soon realized they were all in use for after school practices and Mattie probably wouldn't be breaking into any equipment sheds in broad daylight. Instead, they drove down to the pier in Redondo and started working their way up the coast, parking in every other parking lot and walking along the boardwalks. Tobin began asking other performers they saw if they had noticed a girl juggling, but none of them said yes. They made it up to Santa Monica before the sun started to set.

"Do you want to keep going north or start looking at fields?" she asked as they walked through the parking lot back to the car.

"We need to set a cutoff time, Tobin."

"Cutoff for what?"

"What time we call Claire. And the police."

Tobin swallowed. "What happens then?"

Christen shook her head and shrugged. "I really don't know."

"What time?"

"Honestly, I'd say we have another hour, maybe two."

Tobin nodded. "Let's go check a few fields then. I think we should look at the one where we found her. And maybe the diner."

Christen frowned. "You really think she'd go back there? She has to know we'd check those places."

Tobin bit her lip and kicked at a tiny pebble on the pavement. "I'd like to think she, like...misses us at least a little bit."

She nodded and took Tobin's elbow, rubbing circles above it as she led her back to the car. They traveled inland, looking for signs of life at soccer fields in the vicinity on the list. The diner was completely empty, though the same waitress from their last trip was cleaning the tables when they looked through the window. They drove by Randy's Donuts and the group home where they first met Sam.

Fifteen minutes before their agreed-upon cutoff time of 8 o'clock, they arrived at the field where they had first found Mattie. Christen parked in the same spot as last time, but both of them got out. There were still a few kids playing catch on the baseball diamond; otherwise, it was deserted. They walked over to the shed that Mattie used to stay in and Tobin tried the lock. It appeared that whoever managed the park had replaced it. Tobin peered in the window and Christen shined her phone's flashlight in. The shed was empty. The tarp Mattie once used as a blanket was folded neatly in the corner, and the ball bag was nowhere to be found.

"Fuck," Tobin swore, resting her head against the cool glass. She felt a bitter taste rise to her mouth. "I really...for some reason I thought she was going to be here." She felt Christen put a hand on her shoulder and run her thumb over the back of her neck. Her throat constricted further. "I just—Chris. How could she do this? We should've...I really thought she was gonna be here."

Christen pulled Tobin into her chest, rubbing her back. "C'mon, let's go back to the car."

They sat silently in the front seat. The clock on the dash read 7:49.

"Should we call now?" Tobin asked.

"Want to try one more place?"

"This was my one more place." Tobin threw her head back against the seat. "I can't believe she didn't even say goodbye."

She felt Christen look her over. "I've got one more place. Then we can call."

Tobin stared at the visor as they drove, reading the warning about air bags causing death or serious injury to children 12 and under over and over until the words stopped looking like English. She looked up when Christen parked the car sometime later, and the clock read 8:09.

"We already checked here, Chris. And I don't think she'd come back at night."

"Let's just look around."

Tobin followed her out of the car, walking out of the parking lot and up the boardwalk. There were some kids smoking near the beach wall, and a man who had to be at least 60 flew past them on rollerblades. Only one of the stalls on the stretch they walked along, advertising pizza, was open, and there were shouts from a few blocks up that sounded like two drunk men arguing.

"Where did you actually meet her?" Christen asked.

Tobin looked around, spotting the surf shop and gauging the distance from the skate park. "Probably like right here," she said, walking a few feet down the wall and thinking back to the day she met the girl who flipped their life upside down and was now nowhere to be found. Christen stood to her right, looking out over the water. "C'mon, babe. It's past our deadline and she's not here."

Christen bit her lip and climbed over the beach wall. "This isn't my one last place yet." Tobin followed her down onto the sand and past one of the lifeguard stands. Christen walked until they reached the next outpost, about 20 feet in from where the tide was creeping up the beach. She hopped up on the back of the stand to peer in the window.

"Why didn't you check the last one?" Tobin asked as she climbed down. "Want me to go back—" Christen shook her head and pointed to the big "17" painted on the side of the shack.

They heard motion on the other side of the building and the familiar sound of a soccer ball hitting the sand. "Shit," a voice whispered.
Tobin and Christen looked at each other with wide eyes, as if to verify that their own brains hadn't fabricated the noises out of pure hope. They ran to the front of the structure, where Mattie stood guiltily zipping her backpack on the porch. She dropped the bag next to her ball onto the ground and slid under the railing onto the sand.

Tobin blinked her eyes to be sure she wasn't seeing things, looking between Mattie and Christen. A dozen emotions fought in her chest and her blood pounded in her ears.

"Why are you guys here?" Mattie opened, a defeated expression on her face.

All of Tobin's feelings left her but anger. "Are you fucking kidding me?" she hissed through clenched teeth. "Let's go. Get in the car." She started walking back up the beach. Mattie was so surprised, she just looked between Christen and Tobin, but Tobin heard two sets of footsteps follow her to the parking lot.

***

Tobin silently asked for the keys when they got to the car. Christen internally questioned whether she was too upset to be driving, but she was just so relieved to have Mattie back that she tossed them over and got in the passenger side. Mattie slumped into the back seat grumpily. They drove home in tense silence, the reunion much less cheerful than Christen had pictured it.

She considered starting a conversation several times but Mattie's arms crossed tightly across her chest and Tobin's white knuckles on the steering wheel stopped her. Tobin put the car in park in the driveway and sighed, but before anyone said anything Mattie skulked out of the car and toward the front door.

Tobin and Christen followed her inside to the living room, where Sam was watching TV in his pajamas with Kelley and Mal. "Mattie!" Sam called as she walked in. "Why were you at school for so long?" He ran over to hug her before she came up with an answer.

Kelley and Mal both wore relieved smiles and came over to hug Mattie as well. "I'm glad you're back," Mal said. Mattie gave her a forced grin.

"Okay," Tobin cut in, guiding Mattie toward the stairs, "Well, Sammy, we're gonna go talk to Mattie upstairs, so you can watch a few more minutes of TV but then it's time for bed."

"But I want to stay up late! Auntie Kelley is here!" Sam protested.

"Would you rather go to bed now?" Tobin asked, and Sam shook his head quickly, pulling Kelley back to the couch with him. "Upstairs. Now," she hissed to Mattie, who looked like she might protest but rolled her eyes and headed up to her room.

Christen was the last one to enter the room and closed the door behind herself. Tobin stood with her hands on her hips in the middle of the room, glaring at a spot on the rug. Mattie sat on her bed, backpack still on, arms still crossed.

"What the hell were you thinking?" Tobin started.

Mattie looked almost offended. "What are you talking about what was I thinking?"

"You ran away! You skipped school! You went to Venice alone, at night! Do you know how many crazy people on drugs are in Venice at night?" Tobin answered, waving her hands wildly.

"Please, I was fine," she retorted. "And I was just doing what was best for Sam!"

"You don't get to decide what's best for Sam—we do!" Tobin bit harshly.

Christen moved between them and tried to de-escalate the conversation. "Guys—"

"And for that matter," Tobin continued, "we decide what's best for you as well!"

"Tobin—" Christen cut in.

"No, you don't. You're not my mom, Tobin!" Mattie shot back, eyes brimming with tears.

"Mattie—"

"I'm damn well trying to be!" Tobin yelled incredulously, throwing her hands up to the ceiling.

"That's enough," Christen said sharply, her voice cutting through the tension in the room. They both finally looked up at her with watery eyes and admonished expressions. She took a deep breath. "We're not having this conversation like this. Sit down, Tobin," she said, motioning next to Mattie on the bed. "Mattie, take off your backpack, you aren't going anywhere."

Tobin slumped onto the bed next to Mattie, resting her face in her hands and her elbows on her knees. Mattie slid her arms out of her backpack somewhat sheepishly. Christen took it and placed it at the foot of her bed, sitting down next to her.

She took in their frustrated, defeated postures. "Who wants to talk first?" When neither of them said anything, she tried again. "How about you both apologize for yelling at each other?"

"Sorry," Mattie whispered, voice cracking.

Tobin lifted her head. Her face was already splotchy from crying. "I'm sorry for yelling, too, Mat," she said hoarsely. "I just...do you realize how scared we were? We thought we might never see you again."

Mattie swallowed. "I'm sorry, I really am, it's just...I want to make sure Sam gets the life he deserves—with the BB-8 sheets and the pajamas and all the toys and his own room and all that stuff."

"So do we," Tobin said frowning. "Is there something wrong with what we've been doing?"

"No, no," Mattie said quickly, shaking her head. "I know you guys want that for him, and I appreciate you trying to give it to him while he's here. I appreciate you acting like our moms and everything, and, like, buying us all this stuff, I really do. But when we leave, he's not going to live like this anywhere else, especially not if I'm with him."

Christen felt her heart clench in her chest, wanting Mattie to know they never had to leave. "He doesn't need to get it anywhere else," Tobin stated plainly, taking the words out of her mouth.

Mattie rolled her eyes. "What? Is he just gonna live here forever?" she asked incredulously.

Tobin sent Christen a dumbfounded look before turning back to Mattie. "I mean, that's the plan."

Mattie glanced between them, asking Christen, "Is she serious? You guys are thinking about keeping Sam permanently?"

She smiled. "Well, yeah, but now that you guys are a joint case, we can't keep him without you."

Mattie's eyes widened and she began shaking her head. "We can get it switched back somehow I swear. There's gotta be some way—"

"No, Mattie," Tobin interrupted, smiling and nudging her, "we don't want to switch it back."

"No, please," she begged, "there has to be some way. He loves it here and he loves you guys—"

Tobin groaned and flopped back on the bed. "Tob, stop," Christen admonished. "Mat, come here." She put a pillow against the wall and motioned for Mattie to scoot back. Christen turned and looked her in the eye, giving her a reassuring smile. "Sam's not going anywhere. We're doing everything we can to make sure he stays here forever."

Mattie's eyes lit up and she launched herself at Christen, throwing her arms around her neck and burying her face in her shirt. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she said into Christen's shoulder. Christen squeezed her briefly, relief washing over her at the feeling of Mattie safe in her arms. "He's gonna be so happy and you're gonna take such good care of him—"

"Mattie," she said gently, pulling her back so she could see her face. She watched the fear creep back into Mattie's expression at the interruption, the vulnerability that she had only seen there a few times. She wanted to be as clear as possible, really wishing at that moment they had started this conversation weeks ago, despite the insecurity of their situation. "We're going to adopt both of you."

"What?" she breathed out. "How—? What?"

"We've been working on it since we got back from SheBelieves. We wanted to tell you so bad," Tobin explained, "but we weren't supposed to until we were approved first. And honestly we didn't want you getting jerked around by the process—to keep getting excited, then frustrated, then excited, then frustrated every day, which is what we've been doing for the past few weeks. It seemed like every meeting and phone call we had, we thought we'd get to come home and tell you, but there was always one more step or one more thing to wait for."

Mattie frowned as she caught up. "Wait—you mean like adopt, adopt us? Me and Sam?"

Christen took in Mattie's bewilderment. She and Tobin had been working so hard to stay on the same page, to do whatever they needed to for Mattie and Sam to be their family. It had consumed most of her waking and sleeping thoughts for the past month, and yet Mattie looked as if the idea had never even occurred to her. Christen looked at Tobin, as she sat up on the other side of Mattie with her legs crossed, and could see she felt just as guilty about Mattie's insecurity. She turned back at Mattie and tried to broach the subject gently. "Is that something you'd want?"

"To live with you guys and Sam? Here? Forever?" she said with a blank expression.

Tobin smirked. "Well, I don't know if we'll live here forever, we might move at some point—"

"Babe," Christen complained softly.

Tobin fidgeted and took a deep breath. "Mat," she said, taking her hand and furrowing her brow. "When I found out you were missing, I was so, so mad—and not at you, at myself. We should've told you the truth sooner, and we were trying to protect you, but you ended up even less safe. It was the worst feeling in the whole world, knowing you were out there on your own and knowing I could've stopped it." Her voice creaked and she couldn't seem to find her next sentence.

"It was like someone ripped my heart out of my chest," Christen added quietly, remembering the fear she felt, hours ago, in this same room as she read Mattie's letter.

Tobin nodded in agreement and swallowed. "I know things have been a little crazy since we met, and I don't think we can promise there won't be a few more hiccups. But I just feel like...God wouldn't have brought you and Sam into our life right now if He didn't think we could make it work. And I know, I just know that you guys are our family and that we're supposed to make it work."

Mattie continued to stare straight ahead blankly, eyes watering. "That is, if you want us to be your family," Christen said cautiously. "If you want us to be your moms..."

Christen let out an "oomph" as Mattie barrelled back into her. She felt the girl nod into her chest, tears starting to fall into her shirt. Christen took in a shaky breath, swallowing a lump in her throat. The warm relief returned to her body with this girl—her daughter, she thought with another wave of warmth—in her arms.

Tobin smiled peacefully at them with damp cheeks of her own. After a minute of sitting silently, finally feeling reunited, she coughed. "In that case, in our first act as moms, you're grounded for a week."

They both laughed, but Tobin just gave her a challenging look. "Wait, are you serious?" Mattie asked.

"Yep. Home and school only for 7 days," Tobin said matter-of-factly.

"But there's a Sunrise game tomorrow night. I can still go, right?" She looked up at Christen for affirmation.

Christen looked at Tobin, who was giving Mattie with the sternest expression Christen had ever seen on her face, one that gave her a number of feelings she would have to revisit later. Tobin met her gaze, asking for backup. "Sorry, bud", Christen replied sympathetically. "You skipped school and you ran away. You can't do that. Also, from now on, no going to Venice without one of us, it's dangerous."

Mattie pouted but snuggled back into Christen. "I've been there like a million times by myself. I'm not a baby, I don't need you to protect me."

"Too bad," Christen said, resting her chin on the top of Mattie's head. "Protecting you is our job."

Tobin reached over to wipe some of the tears off the girl's face. "And don't ever think you and Sammy aren't our babies. The stork just got a little turned around on the way here." Mattie giggled. "Speaking of Samuel, I think this little family meeting is missing someone." She winked and slid off the bed. "I'm gonna go see if he wants to join."

Christen leaned back and felt Mattie grip her shirt tighter and sigh. There was already a damp spot on her chest where Mattie's silent tears had gathered, but as she sat, rubbing her back, Christen heard Mattie start to sob gently. She squeezed her tighter, but the crying only got louder.

"Hey, look at me," Christen said, pulling Mattie back. "What's wrong?"

Mattie shook her head and looked anywhere but Christen. "I almost messed it all up," she said, hiccuping. "You guys were doing all this stuff to make us a family and I just ran and if you hadn't found me it would've ruined—"

"No," Christen interrupted, shaking her head. "We should have made sure you were on the same page." She tucked a curl behind Mattie's ear. "We don't totally know how to do this yet, so you might have to be patient with us. We've never been parents before." She smiled and Mattie returned her soft grin. "But we were gonna find you no matter what, okay? Whatever it took, we were going to bring you home."

Mattie nodded and relaxed back against her. After a few minutes, she tilted her head up slightly. "Am I really grounded?"

Christen laughed. "Yeah, sorry babe."

"That's okay, I guess," Mattie conceded, sighing loudly. "I wouldn't want to go anywhere else anyway."

She smirked. "Has Tobin been teaching you her lines? You still can't go to the game tomorrow. Or I guess if you wanted you could miss next week's game instead, but I think someone might be a little upset about that..."

"Fine, fine. I'll miss this week," she grumbled. "Would it be okay if Sophie and Isabella still went, though?"

"Shoot," Christen said, sitting up and reaching for her phone in her pocket.

"What?"

"We went to talk to them to see if they knew where you were. I forgot to text them to say we found you." She quickly opened her messages and fired one off to the thread she had sent a text of just her name to earlier.

"You gave them your number?" Mattie questioned skeptically.

Christen scoffed. "What, now that I'm your mom I'm lame and can't text your friends? That was quick."

Mattie laughed. "No, more like I can't wait until every 12-year-old soccer player in southern Califonia has your phone number."

"Sophie and Izzie wouldn't do that, they're your friends." Mattie shrugged against her. "Seriously, they were really worried about you." As she said it, her phone lit up with new messages.

Sophie: Thank god!!!

Isabella: That was so scary. Tell Mattie she can never do that again!

"See," she said, showing her the texts, "they'll understand why you're grounded. They didn't want you to run away either."

Mattie grumbled into Christen's shirt and was quiet for a moment.

"Christen?"

"Yeah?"

"Grounded or not, I really promise I'm never gonna leave again," she said quietly.

Christen kissed the top of her head. "Like we would ever let you go."

They looked up when they heard the door creep open. Sam's head appeared at the height of the doorknob and Tobin's a few feet above it. "Can we come in?" she asked in a loud whisper.

Christen smiled widely at them and nodded. Sam bounded up onto the bed and sat back on his feet. "Toes says there's a surprise."

Tobin came to sit next to Christen on the end of the bed and pulled Sam onto her lap. "Yeah, we want to ask you something, buddy," Christen explained.

Sam frowned and glanced between them. "Me?"

Tobin nodded. "It's kind of a big deal. Remember in Texas, when you asked us if we were your moms?"

Sam looked confused and nodded.

"And we told you we were gonna work on getting you a good answer?" Christen followed excitedly.

He nodded again.

Tobin shook him and grinned. "Well, we've been working on it, and if you want us to be...we're almost all the way to being officially your moms!"

He looked between them suspiciously. "But you're already my moms."

They all stared at him, puzzled. "Sammy, who told you that?" Mattie asked.

Sam shrugged. "Everyone calls you my moms all the time—my teachers, all my friends at school, Luke, the lady at the food store who gives out the free cookies." He looked concerned. "Was that supposed to be another secret? Like calling Harry and Kelley and Alex aunties?"

They laughed at the guilty look on his face. "No, bud, it's not a secret, it was just kind of complicated," Tobin said as she brushed his hair back. "I'm sorry it took us so long to get you an answer. That must've confused you."

He made a face. "No. I just figured you were but forgot to say."

Tobin and Christen's eyes widened in concern and Mattie laughed. "We would never forget about that, Sammy," Christen explained. "Being your moms is so important to us—the most important thing. We just wanted to make sure we were allowed to adopt you before we told you."

"Are you allowed now?"

"Pretty much, bud. We had a meeting today about it, and we're gonna fix things so we can start the paperwork."

"What happens when we get adopted?" Sam asked, frowning.

"It means you get to live with us forever and we're a family and no one can take you away."

"So we can get took away before that?" he asked worriedly.

Christen shook her head quickly. "No, no. We wouldn't let that happen."

"Oh, okay," Sam said, sitting back, satisfied. "Can I go watch more Power Rangers then?"

"Sammy," Mattie tried to explain. "This is a big thing. This means we're gonna be a family. Like, forever. They're gonna be like our for-real moms."

"Shh! Mattie!" he whispered sternly. "Don't hurt their feelings. They are our real moms."

They all laughed and Christen met Tobin's eyes, grinning at the sentiment. Tobin hugged Sam to her chest and winked at Mattie. "Yeah, you're right, buddy."

"I know," Sam yawned, closing his eyes and snuggling further into Tobin. "Can I watch my show now?"

Tobin picked him up with both arms and scooted off the bed. "I think it might be time for bed."

"No," Sam protested, only managing to open his eyes halfway.

"Yeah, buddy. It's a school night. Say goodnight to Chris and Mattie."

Sam rubbed his eye with his fist. "Night Mattie." He giggled sleepily and leaned up to whisper in Tobin's ear. She grinned conspiratorially and nodded at him. "Goodnight Mommy," he said, smiling a little shyly.

Christen's breath caught in her throat. "Stop, Sammy, I'm gonna start crying."

Sam opened his eyes in horror. "No, don't cry. I'm sorry, I won't call you mommy anymore." He squirmed against Tobin to get down but she held onto him, instead walking him back over to the bed.

"No, that's not what I mean, baby," Christen said, laughing as she wiped tears from her eyes. "You're just so cute and I can't handle it cause I love you so much."

Sam squirmed until Tobin moved him close enough to kiss her on the cheek. "I love you too, Mommy."

***

Tobin went to put Sam to bed and Mattie and Christen sat peacefully, both drained but happy from the eventful day. They were talking about nothing when Mattie's stomach let out a grumble. "Mattie," Christen admonished. "Did you skip dinner?"

"No," Mattie said guiltily.

"Did you have a poptart again?"

"No." She smirked sheepishly. "I stole some protein bars from the cabinet this morning."

Christen sighed. "Well, I guess that's a little better, but still. You need to eat dinner. Come on," she said and ushered Mattie up off the bed, "Tobin and I haven't eaten either, and I'm sure once the adrenaline wears off she'll be hungry and grumpy."

As they headed downstairs, Christen stuck her head in Sam's room. Sam was almost asleep, cuddled into Tobin, who was sitting against the headboard reading to him. "We're gonna go make dinner, okay?"

"Okay, Mommy," Tobin teased.

Sam mimicked her. "Okay, Mommy."

Christen narrowed her eyes in a challenge. "Just wait til you get Mommed there, Mama Toes."

Sam giggled and Christen smirked at her victory. "Mama Toes," he said through his laughter.

"Oh, you think that's funny?" Tobin asked, starting to tickle his feet. "I'll show you Mama Toes." His giggles intensified until he was laughing too hard to make noise, although he tried to say 'Mama Toes' over and over.

"Hey, no coming downstairs until he's asleep," Christen warned. "Don't go winding him up when you're already halfway through the bedtime story."

"That's fine," Tobin said, though she stopped her tickle-torture. "We'll just stay up forever and make blanket forts."

"Yeah," Sam agreed, but he had already assumed his previous fetal position cuddled into her leg.

***

It took Tobin two more chapters of Frog and Toad before Sam gave in to the sleep that was overtaking him. She sat next to him for a few minutes even after he was out, running her hands over the curls she had missed so much. It had been just over 24 hours since she got home, but she felt like the events of the day had spanned several weeks. It was still a little unbelievable that she had proposed to her girlfriend earlier that day. At the same time, it seemed like she had barely seen Sam, besides breakfast, which they normally ate together anyway. So she tried to shore up on Sam time for the upcoming week apart. Eventually, her stomach reminded her she hadn't eaten since before their Social Services meeting, though, and the smell of whatever Christen was cooking was wafting upstairs. She shifted off the bed, careful not to wake the little boy—my little boy, she thought—and leaned down to kiss his forehead.

"Night, Sammy."

"Night, Mama," he mumbled, almost too quiet for her to hear.

Tobin's heart stopped as she watched Sam slip back into sleep, blissfully unaware of the effect his words had.

She practically floated down the stairs and into the kitchen, where Mal was sitting at the island with Mattie, showing her some video that they found hilarious, and Kelley was 'helping' Christen make dinner, mostly by stealing pieces of broccoli out of the pan while she wasn't looking.

Tobin walked over to steal one of her own but Christen swatted her hand away. "It's almost ready, you can wait another minute."

"But—" Tobin protested.

"No buts, babe, go set the table."

Kelley silently pointed and laughed at her. Tobin just narrowed her eyes at her and fulfilled Christen's request. They sat down to eat soon after, all tired after the insanity of the day. The table was quiet as they dug in.

"Shit, this is good," Kelley commented with her mouth full. "You gotta tell me your secret."

"Well you have to reduce the sauce on really low heat—" Christen started.

"No, not you, Tobin. How in the world did you lock down this cooking?"

Mattie and Mal laughed as Tobin rolled her eyes. "I set the table when she asks," she shot back and accepted a kiss from Christen to a chorus of groans from the table. Kelley made a coughing sound that resembled the word 'whipped.'

"Tobin's a catch Kel, leave her alone," Christen admonished, rubbing her back.

Kelley scoffed. "Well, she must be if she was able to put a ring on it."

Tobin and Christen smiled goofily at each other but Mal looked up in confusion. "Wait, what?" Mal asked, wide eyed. "Ring?!"

"You didn't tell her?" Tobin asked, surprised.

Christen laughed. "Wow, Kel. I'm surprised you managed to keep a secret that long."

Kelley held up her hands. "Well, I wasn't supposed to tell Sam, and we were with him all afternoon. Sorry, Mal." Mal just looked at them excitedly.

"What are you guys talking about?" Mattie asked, confused.

Tobin realized that even with all the news they broke to Mattie tonight, they still hadn't told her about this afternoon. "You know how we had a meeting this afternoon?"

She nodded. "Wasn't it with Claire?"

"No, it was actually with the state's Social Services," Christen explained, "because they finally got the adoption case onto a desk over there."

"Except then, that lady said I'm actually an Oregon resident, not Californian, and that it was gonna mess everything up and the adoption was going to take years."

"There's nothing they can do?" Kelley asked, concerned.

"Well, they said I could adopt them solo and have Tobin adopt them separately after, but we weren't going to do that," Christen said, squeezing Tobin's knee.

Mattie looked at Christen worriedly. "What's gonna happen then? Is it a big deal if it takes longer? We can wait, right?"

"Well, Claire says the further we are in the adoption process, the easier it'll be to get cleared for France," she answered.

"France?!" Mattie exclaimed. "As in where the World Cup is happening? As in I'm going to the World Cup?"

Tobin laughed. "Where else are you supposed to go while we're there?"

Mattie sat there in shock. "Look, I know you guys becoming my moms is supposed to be the best thing that happened to me today, and it still is, but this is a very, very close second." The table laughed.

"You may have to come late, though," Christen warned. "We still have to talk to your teachers, and you're gonna need to be totally up to speed in every one of your classes if you want to miss any school at all."

Mattie held up her hands. "I swear. I'll do nothing but homework between now and then if it means I can go."

"Wait, so what are you going to do about the adoption, though?" Mal cut in.

Christen held out her hand for Mattie and Mal to see. "Tobin and I are getting married. Once we do, she can qualify as a California resident and it's not a problem anymore."

"It's beautiful," Mal said, then frowned. "How are you guys going to get married in time for June?"

"We're not doing the whole wedding thing before then," Christen explained. "Just the paperwork part. And that's need to know information—I don't want to go 10 rounds with everyone who's mad about not being there, so we'll just tell people we're engaged and have a real wedding at some point after France."

"That means the only people who are gonna know about this are at this table right now," Tobin added, shooting Kelley a pointed look.

"Hey, don't worry about me!" she protested. "You've got officiant-client privilege where I'm concerned."

"Officiant?" Tobin asked.

Christen ran a hand across her lower back and gave her a sheepish look. "Sorry, I forgot about that. I told her she could perform the ceremony if we got Mattie home before the weekend."

"Well, at least we won't have to find a judge then," she conceded. "Do you think we can go tomorrow morning?"

Christen pursed her lips. "We need to book your flight, and then we'll see what time the place opens."

"Do I get to come?" Mattie and Mal asked in unison.

Tobin pretended to consider it. "Hmm, well Mal can come, but Mattie, you already missed today, I'm not sure if you can skip any more school..."

Mattie looked crestfallen and Christen elbowed her. "Don't tease her, Tobin. Mat, of course, you and Sam are coming."

"So you're gonna tell Sam then?" Kelley asked.

Tobin scrunched up her nose. "I'm not sure that's the best idea...maybe we can just tell him it's how you get officially engaged. It's not gonna look like a wedding."

They all laughed. "How many years until you think it'll take before he realizes there's no such thing as an official engagement and you lied to him?" Mal asked.

Christen shook her head. "Hopefully not before we have an actual wedding."

***

Kelley left soon after dinner, seeing as they all had a game (or school, in Mattie's case) tomorrow, but not before she had been legally ordained online by the Universal Life Church and had excitedly printed her certificate. They agreed to pick her up from her hotel in the morning for the trip to the courthouse.

Mattie and Mal went to bed soon after, Mal wanting to rest up for the home opener and Mattie exhausted from her whirlwind day.

Tobin lay in bed with Christen's laptop, looking at flights.

"What times are there?" Christen asked from the dresser as she put on her pajamas.

"There's a Delta at 8:45, a United at 10:00..."

"Those are too early. The courthouse doesn't open until 8:30."

"There's a Jet Blue at 11:05?" she suggested.

Christen nodded as she dug around in her drawer. "That'll be close, but it should work. What time did you tell Mark you'd be in Houston?"

Tobin laughed. "He said as long as I was there by kickoff, he didn't care. I don't think he expected me to make the game at all after I called him earlier. He's just glad Mattie's home and I'm gonna be able to make it."

Christen smiled and climbed in on the other side of the bed. "So am I." She leaned over to give Tobin a kiss. "I have something for you."

"Oh, you do?" Tobin asked, waggling her eyebrows and starting to close the laptop.

Christen laughed. "Not that, Tobs. You still have to book your flight and we have to apply for our marriage certificate."

Tobin pouted, but her face fell into surprise when Christen held out a small box. "You had a ring too?" she asked, meeting her eyes.

Christen smiled and opened the box. "Gran gave it to me," she explained, taking the band out of the setting. Tobin held out her hand and looked at the silver-ish looking band with a round diamond as Christen slipped it on her finger.

"It's beautiful, babe. Is it hers?"

Christen nodded. "It was my great-grandmother's, and then she gave it to my grandpa to give to Gran. She was supposed to give it to my dad for mom, but he bought her a ring and proposed before she could." Tobin swallowed nervously at the idea of wearing this ornate antique ring for the rest of her life without breaking it.

"After that," Christen continued, adjusting the ring, "she decided to give it to one of his sons to give to another future Mrs. Press." Tobin looked up at her. "When my dad had three girls, she was thinking about giving it to one of my cousins. But after I came out to her, she said I should give it to my future Mrs. Press."

Tobin's eyes widened. "Are you sure she wants me to have it? It looks...delicate."

She laughed and nodded. "I'm sure. She asks me every time I talk to her if I've given you your ring yet."

Tobin swallowed and looked at her hand again. "My ring, huh?"

Christen smiled. "Well, I can't have my fiancee walking around without everyone knowing she's mine, can I?"

Tobin leaned in to kiss her and smiled. "I guess not," she said, smiling against her lips. She started to turn to get closer to Christen when the computer slid off her lap and into the middle of the bed.

"C'mon," Christen said, putting a hand against Tobin's shoulder and pushing her back. "We have to take care of the boring stuff first."

Tobin shook her head and leaned forward again. "I'll buy a ticket at the airport."

Christen held firm. "We need to fill out our marriage stuff, babe."

"Fine," Tobin grumbled and reopened the laptop. She clicked to book the flight and picked the first open seat she saw, typing in her password and hitting confirm. "Done. How do we do the certificate thing?"

"Just google 'marriage certificate LA,'" she said, leaning across the bed and resting her head on Tobin's shoulder. "I looked at the website earlier when I was checking the hours...Yep, that one." She pointed at one of the results.

Tobin clicked the link and then the big button that said 'Apply for a Marriage License.' She half-read a few screens of information, clicking until she came to a form that asked for one of the parties' information. She filled in her name and her place and date of birth before she got stuck. "What's my social security number?"

Christen looked up at her reproachfully. "I thought you told me you were going to memorize it."

Tobin lifted the computer and handed it to her. "You should probably be the one filling this out."

She took the computer and put it on her lap, but continued to scold her. "Seriously, Tobin, it's important. You're 30 years old, you should know it by now."

Tobin raised her eyebrows and smiled sweetly as she cuddled into Christen's side, forcing her to awkwardly snake her arm around her head in order to type.

"Or, plan B," Tobin retorted, "I could just find a really hot, really smart girl who remembers everything and somehow trick her into marrying me. Then she can just tell me what it is whenever I need it." Christen rolled her eyes and shook her head as she continued to fill out the form. "Hey, look at that!" Tobin said with a wide smile, pointing at the screen. "My plan worked!"

"What do you do when I'm not around?"

Tobin lifted her head to look up at Christen. "I'm completely useless without you, babe. You should know that by now."

"You're a dork," she said, pressing a kiss to Tobin's forehead.

"Your dork. For life."

Christen hummed contentedly and continued to fill out pages of the form. "We need to pick our names, my dork."

"Now?"

Christen scanned the instructions. "Yeah, looks like we won't really be able to change them later. So, what are you thinking? Do you want to hyphenate?"

"Ugh, no. No hyphen please," Tobin said, making a face.

Christen laughed. "Why not?"

"I don't like it. It doesn't like...flow. It's too formal. It won't look good."

She laughed harder. "You want to pick our names based on...what looks cool?"

"How else would we pick?" Tobin asked incredulously, twisting so she could look at Christen more comfortably. They smiled stupidly at each other.

"Maybe we should ask Mattie and Sam for their opinions," Christen suggested.

Tobin giggled. "Yeah, right. Mattie will want her whole name to be 'I'm Christen Press's kid' and Sammy will pick 'Skywalker' for all of us."

Christen joined her laughter. "That's probably not far off."

Tobin stared as her almost-wife as she laughed, her eyes bright and her smile wide. She thought about the rest of their life, about how she thought she'd be happy as long as she could see that smile every day. "Babe," Tobin said softly.

Christen's giggles quieted and she met Tobin's gaze. "Yeah?"

"I thought this ring was for a Mrs. Press," she said, putting her left hand on Christen's sternum.

"I—" Christen furrowed her brow and searched her face. "Are you sure?"

Tobin grinned and nodded into her boob. Christen craned her neck to bring their lips together. She turned back to the computer and typed quickly. "How's that?"

Tobin looked at the screen, which had two sections for 'Marriage Party 1' and 'Marriage Party 2.' She had filled them out identically, so they both had 'Heath' in the section for new middle name and 'Press' in the section for new last name. "Perfect," Tobin said, resting her head back on Christen's chest as Christen continued to fill out the form. "I think I'm gonna have to keep Heath on my jersey, though. People might get a little confused."

Christen laughed. "Yeah, probably. Can you imagine if we told them we were both gonna wear 'Heath Press' though? And we told the media people we wanted them to call the game like that?"

"The poor announcers," Tobin giggled.

Christen filled out the last page, the payment section, and closed the laptop. Tobin shifted back to her pillow so that she could turn off the light. Christen settled back into the middle of the bed, so they were both at the middle edges of their respective pillows, parallel and a few inches apart.

Tobin looked at the sliver of Christen's face that was illuminated by the light that came through the gaps of the curtains. "Chris? Are you nervous at all? To be married?"

Christen frowned and shook her head. "No, not really. Why? Are you?"

"No. I was just wondering."

Christen pursed her lips in thought. "I think I feel...this isn't going to sound very romantic, but I think I mostly just feel relieved."

"What do you mean?"

"Like...I don't know. It's like when we brought Mattie home today...seeing her back in her room, hugging her—I was happy, but I was more relieved than anything else. It was like none of the other drama or anything mattered because she was home."

She paused in thought and Tobin smiled warmly, waiting for her to continue.

"Marrying you, it feels like that. It's a weight off my chest. Like I can breathe a little deeper now, because no matter what I'm still gonna be married to you." She furrowed her brow. "I feel like I'm walking in the door after a really long trip and dropping my bags on the floor. Even if you're leaving again tomorrow; marrying you feels like coming home."

Tobin smiled wider and leaned forward to kiss her. "I thought you said that wasn't going to sound romantic?"

***

The next morning was blissfully routine, even with what they were about to do. Tobin and Sam ate their cereal at the counter while Christen made sure they had all the paperwork they needed for the courthouse (including a second printout of Kelley's ordination papers).

"Mattie!" she called upstairs. "Hurry up, we're going to be late!"

Mattie came bounding down the stairs, dropping her backpack on the kitchen floor and striding over to Christen, almost tackling her in a hug. Christen tried to pull her back so she could see her face, but Mattie just held tighter. She reciprocated the embrace instead, stroking the girl's hair. "What's this for?"

"When I woke up, I thought last night was a dream, so I wanted to be sure you were real."

Christen chuckled. "I'm definitely still real, and Tobs and I are definitely still really your moms, and we're definitely all going to be really late if you don't eat your breakfast," she said, kissing Mattie's hair.

***

They picked up Kelley and made it to the courthouse near the airport by 8:28, despite Christen's concerns. Tobin held Sam's hand as they rode the elevator up to the sixth floor and fiddled with the rings she and Christen had taken off this morning in her pocket.

They followed Christen, who followed the signs pointing to the County Clerk's office. The six of them spilled into the small room where a woman who looked to be in her early sixties sat behind a tall desk. "Can I help you?" she asked, seeming a little overwhelmed at the large group entering minutes after they opened.

"We're here to pick up a marriage license," Christen said assertively.

"All of you?" The woman asked.

"Just me and her," Tobin offered. "They're just here to help."

The woman, whose nameplate identified her as Judy, asked for their names and identification and squinted at her computer, typing slowly. "Are you going to get married today?" she asked.

They shared a look, and Tobin covered Sam's ears, bending down over his back and making faces upside down to distract him.

"Yes," Christen said, smiling at her. "She's actually going to marry us," she said, pointed at Kelley, who grinned and waved. "Tobin has a flight at 11, so we're pretty much going to do it immediately."

"That's quick," Judy said, surprised.

Tobin sighed, thinking that it really wasn't, and swung a giggling Sam onto her hip. "It's a very long story."

Judy softened. "Is this your son?"

Christen smiled. "Yep, that's Sam and this is our daughter Mattie." She pulled a furiously blushing Mattie into her side.

"You have a very cute family," Judy said, clicking something on her computer that caused the printer on the other side of the room to awaken with loud grinding noises. Judy walked over to the printer. "Do you want to just use the chapel room next door?" she offered.

Christen frowned. "I thought that was only for if you had the judge marry you?"

Judy waved her hand and smiled. "We don't have anything booked until 10, so you're welcome to it. And that way you can just give me the certificate right after, and you'll be all set."

"Really?" Christen asked gratefully. "I thought we had to bring it to the other office..."

"Shh..." Judy winked, whispering conspiratorily. "Normally you do, but I can work some magic."

Christen and Tobin both gave her their biggest smiles. "Thank you so much."

She ushered them through a door into a room with a podium and a few chairs. Kelley immediately claimed her place at the pulpit, taking a stack of folded papers out of her back pocket and laying them out. "Are you gonna do a procession?" she asked Christen and Tobin, clearly enjoying her position of authority.

Christen gave her a look and stood on the far side of the podium, motioning for Tobin to stand across from her.

"No, Kel. Tobin's got a flight in two hours and we need to get Mattie to school." Kelley made a face.

Mattie and Mal took seats directly in front of the makeshift alter, and Tobin let Sam down out of her arms. "Hey, bud," she said, kneeling next to him and reaching into her pocket. "Can you do me a really important favor?"

Sam nodded and looked at her expectantly.

"I need you to be our best man," she said.

Sam gave her a confused look. "What's that?"

Tobin fished the rings out of her pocket. "It means you hold me and Mommy's rings and keep them safe until Auntie Kelley says that we need them. Can you do that?"

Sam gave her a solemn nod and held out both his hands. Tobin placed one ring in each of his palms and he made a fist over them, before running over to sit next to Mattie with locked elbows and closed hands.

"All set?" Kelley asked as Tobin stood up. She and Christen both nodded. "Alright. Dearly beloved—"

"Kel—school, flight, remember? Can we just skip to the end?"

Kelley huffed. "Can I at least read my speech?"

"You wrote a speech? When?" Tobin asked disbelievingly.

"Last night when I got back. I take my duties as an official minister very seriously, you know."

Tobin and Christen looked at each other and grinned. "Go ahead, Kel," Christen said.

Kelley smiled and smoothed out the piece of paper in front of her, clearing her throat.

"I remember the first time you two met." She looked up at Mattie and Mal. "It was actually the second time they met," she clarified. "I was there for the first time, too, but the story's better if I--"

"Kel?" Christen prompted.

"Right. Anyway, the first time you two met, I was just about to introduce you, but Tobin got so nervous when she saw you that she ran into the ocean." Tobin gave Kelley a pointed look, wondering why she chose this story.

"The funniest part is that Christen had told me the day before that she was nervous to meet you because she thought you were cute, and she kept trying to get me to tell her if you liked girls."

Tobin smiled and looked at Christen. They were both slightly blushing at Kelley's confessions, even so many years later.

"Sometimes I wonder if I should've just set you up right there on that beach and avoided the next awkward, and at some points painful, decade of wing-manning you nerds through our twenties. I mean, it got pretty ugly at points. Basically all of that spring semester--" Christen glared at her. "--which I won't talk about, or about Germany--" Tobin coughed.

"Anyway, the point is, even with everything that happened between then and now, I'm not sure it would've worked if you two started right then on that beach. The good, the bad, the really, really ugly, it all led to this moment, to you two getting married, to Mattie and Sam."

"I'm not sure I know any two people, barring my blood relatives, that I saw grow up more, or that saw me grow up more than the two of you. If you asked me back then how I'd feel at either of your weddings, I'd probably say it was the end of an era or something. But standing here now, it doesn't feel like the end of anything. It feels like the beginning, or at least a new start. I'm really happy for you guys, and I'm really, really proud of you." Tobin felt the pressure in her eyes start to build and could see Christen swallow a lump in her throat.

She looked up from her paper and glanced between them. "Also, I'm kind of relieved because both of you are horrible at being single." They laughed. "Honestly, promise me you'll never break up because you're probably the most difficult people to wingman in the world. Really, you deserve each other."

"The point is, even if this is a quickie...official engagement, and you're gonna do the whole thing over with everyone else, I'm glad I got to be here for another little bit of your crazy love story, because every chapter I've seen so far has been great, and I'm sure every one from now on will be great too."

Christen cleared her throat and Tobin wiped her eye. Even Mal was tearing up.

Kelley looked satisfied with the reaction her speech had gotten. "Okay, I'm done. Sammy, can we get the rings?"

Sam clamored out of his chair, excited that it was his part of the ceremony. He opened his hands dramatically, handing a ring to each of them and earning a kiss on his cheek from both in return. He scampered back onto his chair, excited for them to continue.

"Do you guys have vows?" Kelley asked.

Fear shot through Tobin's chest as she looked at Christen with wide eyes, but found her smiling back. "Not for this wedding, we'll do that later. I've just got a question."

Tobin relaxed and looked at her expectantly. They stared at each other with small smiles.

"Can we do forever, one day at a time?" Christen asked quietly.

Tobin smiled widely and leaned in to kiss her. "Forever, one day at a time," she agreed.

Kelley huffed from her podium as they kissed tenderly. "You guys are supposed to wait until I tell you to kiss."

Tobin bit her lip and smiled, face still nearly touching Christen's. "Sorry, Kel, we got excited."

"Okay, fine, put your rings on, by the power vested in me by the internet, I now pronounce you Mrs. and Mrs. Press," Kelley said, rolling her eyes in Tobin's peripheral vision.

Tobin and Christen slipped the rings onto each other's fingers and kissed again.

"Yay!" Mattie and Mal cheered. They all clapped (Kelley and Sam trying to be the loudest) until Christen and Tobin broke apart.

Sam continued clapping. "This was fun. You guys should get engaged all the time."

***

Mal and Kelley offered to do laps with the car in the departures loop so that Christen and the kids could walk Tobin into the airport. They stood to the side of one of the ticketing kiosks, just inside the automatic doors.

"How many days this time?" Sam asked sadly.

"It's another week, buddy," Tobin said, crouching down. "So, seven."

Sam pouted, but raised his eyebrows. "That's less than last time, right?"

She nodded. "We already did the longest trip of the season, okay? You're gonna see me next weekend, and the next weekend, and the whole week after that."

Sam tilted his head to ponder this, then nodded. "That sounds pretty good, I guess."

Tobin laughed and pulled him into a hug. "It sounds pretty good to me, too."

"I love you, Mama."

"I love you too, Sammy."

After his extended hug, Sam dutifully moved to Tobin's side so his sister could say goodbye. Mattie buried her face in Tobin's hoody.

"Are you gonna be good?" she asked quietly next to Mattie's ear.

Mattie nodded.

"Are you gonna do all your homework?"

Mattie nodded again.

"Are you gonna be home when I get back?"

Mattie tightened her fists in Tobin's sweatshirt and nodded a third time.

"Good, cause I really need you to be. I love you, Mattie."

Mattie whisper-mumbled something into her shoulder that sounded suspiciously like 'I love you too,' but Tobin decided not to ask her to repeat it and just gave her one last squeeze.

Finally, Christen shuffled forward, tilting her head and biting the bottom lip of her smile as she leaned in for a kiss. "You're cute. You married?" she whispered, tucking a loose strand of Tobin's hair behind her ear.

Tobin kissed her twice before snaking both arms around her waist and pulling her into a hug, trying to breathe in enough of Christen's smell to last her the week. "Kinda, but my wife and I haven't consummated it yet, so I don't really know if it counts..."

Christen laughed. "We could put Mattie and Sam in the car with Kel. I'm sure there's a bathroom with a lock around here somewhere."

Tobin smiled into her neck. Christen pulled her back to look at her. "Come home soon, okay?"

Tobin's reply was a soft smile and one last kiss.

***

That night, after the Sunrise beat Sky Blue 2-1 and the Thorns beat the Dash 1-0, and after dinner at the seafood place with the kids and an assortment of Sunrise and Sky Blue players, and after she put the kids to bed and locked up the house, Christen finally lay down in bed and called Tobin.

"Hi Mrs. Press," she answered cheekily.

"Hi, Mrs. Press." Christen smiled. "I heard your team won."

"I heard the same about yours. Even saw a clip of that sweet little move you put on Kerr."

"Did you recognize it from all the times I practiced it on you?"

Tobin laughed and Christen chewed her lip nervously.

"What is it?" Tobin asked.

"What is what?"

"I can tell when there's something you want to tell me but you don't think I'm going to like it, babe. We're married now, remember? My new wife powers come with extra mind reading skills."

Christen laughed and sighed. "I caved and let Mattie come to the game," she confessed guiltily.

Tobin started cracking up on the other end of the line. "How'd she wear you down? I'm gonna start asking that girl for tricks."

"She didn't, actually. She was really good all afternoon and didn't even ask to come. I just couldn't leave her here."

"Jeez, babe. If you can't be the bad cop, who's gonna do it? They're gonna walk all over us," Tobin said, still laughing.

"You aren't mad?" Christen asked. "I know you were the one who really grounded her, and I didn't want to undermine you—"

"No, babe. I'm not mad. I think Mattie learned her lesson. Honestly, as long as she's home, that's all I really care about."

Chapter Text

"How many people did you tell? My phone hasn't stopped since last night."

Tobin assessed the display case in front of her. "Actually, besides calling my parents and putting it in the sibling group chat, only one. But it was Allie, so it might as well have been the whole team."

Christen's resigned sigh came through the speaker. "I don't know if I'm annoyed or relieved that everyone knows. I'm glad I told my parents and my sisters in person because I put my phone on silent."

"Same. I kinda wish we just waited until camp, but you know Allie and Alex would've been pissed."

"And we'd be relying on Kelley and Mal to keep a secret for that long. I think it was better to just rip the band-aid off, phones blowing up and all."

"True. Speaking of phones..." Tobin started, trying to ease into the topic.

She could hear the suspicion in Christen's voice as she answered. "Yeah...."

She took a deep breath. "Well, I've been thinking about it, and I know normally I just iMessage Mattie on her broken phone to talk to her, but like last night after the game I kind of wanted to talk to her and she can't update to get skype to work, so she had to get the house phone, and I can't text her when she doesn't have wifi, like I was watching the end of your game last night and I--"

"Tobin," Christen interrupted. "Slow down. What are asking?"

Tobin swallowed. "How would you feel about getting Mattie a phone? I know twelve seems young, but Sophie and Isabella have phones and they're her age, plus I don't know--I don't get to talk--"

"Babe, that's a great idea."

"Really?" she asked, letting out a breath she didn't know she was holding.

"Yeah, I'd feel more comfortable having a way to contact her at all times, especially after what happened the other day. I want her on Find My iPhone. Plus, that crack in her screen is always making me nervous she's gonna cut her finger."

Tobin smiled and looked at the phones in the display of the airport kiosk and smiled at the employee to get her attention. "So it's okay if I get her one, then?"

"What are you, at the store now?"

"Well, I was waiting for my flight, and I saw the booth, so I just figured I'd come over and look."

Christen laughed and then paused. "Are you just gonna add her to your plan?"

"Yeah, that was what I was thinking. Why?" The attendant came over and Tobin motioned to the phone and mouthed 'Sorry'. She pointed to the model she wanted and asked, "Can I get one of these?" The woman nodded and walked to the locked case to get her the phone.

"I'm just thinking we should probably get a family plan."

Tobin's grin grew so wide and goofy that the phone kiosk employee looked at her with a slightly fearful expression. "Why am I more flustered now than when you said we should get married?"

Christen laughed. "Probably because you're a huge dork, there, Mrs. Press. I'll take that as a yes, though?"

Tobin picked out a case for Mattie's phone and handed it to the lady, who was clearly amused by the half of their phone conversation that she could hear. "Yeah, I'll put Mat on mine and then we can add you to it as well."

She heard Christen sigh.

"What? Does that not work?"

"No, it does, it just made me realize all of the logistical marriage stuff we haven't done yet."

Tobin handed the kiosk employee her card. "Like the wedding planning? I thought we were leaving that til after France. Not that telling my sisters or Allie and Alex that gets them to stop texting me links to shit."

"Yeah, I know what you mean. But I was talking about more boring stuff like money and bills and property and stuff."

Tobin made a face. "Yeah, that does sound boring."

"I'm shocked that you would say that," she said, and Tobin laughed. "Really, I'm baffled that you don't want to talk about paperwork."

"You were the one who said it was boring first!"

She could feel Christen's teasing smile through the phone as she accepted the bag the kiosk lady gave her and said thank you.

"There's gonna be a lot of boring stuff while we get this all sorted out, babe."

Tobin smiled softly as she ventured back down the terminal. "None of it will be boring if it's with you."

"I'm glad to see you're still using your lines even now that we're old and married. I was afraid you might lose your touch."

She smirked. "I'd be happy to show you just how much of my touch I haven't lost."

"Hmm, I'd give that one a B. But I appreciate that you're still swinging at those pitches."

"Well, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

"If I continue to mix the metaphor, then, I'm not sure chucking up hail marys is your best game plan."

"As long as I stay above .500."

"I'll admit your play on the road is surprisingly strong."

"I just want to be sure you know I'm 90-minute fit."

That finally got her to laugh. "I wish we could celebrate your homecoming sooner."

Tobin arrived at her gate and sat down, nodding to a few of her sleepy teammates in the chairs and staring at the large "PDX" displayed on the monitor behind the gate attendant. She sighed. "Me too."

***

Christen and the kids watched a replay of Tobin's game, which they had only seen clips of the night before. Sam passed out against Christen's side shortly after the second half started. Mattie sat with her legs stretched on the couch between them, engrossed in the matchup.

Christen made a discontented noise as Tobin slid Sinclair the ball on the end line but it was forced out for a corner.

"What?" Mattie asked.

"Oh, nothing. Just--she should've waited like one more second on that run because Allie would've either pulled Roccaro over or been open at the top of the box, but either way, it probably would've been a goal."

Mattie grabbed the remote and rewound to see the play again, recognizing the positioning Christen mentioned. "How do you see that stuff?" she asked with awe in her voice.

Christen laughed. "I've been playing this game for a pretty long time, you know." Mattie rolled her eyes. "It takes practice." They watched as Tobin served the ball into the box and Allie sent it over the crossbar for a goal kick. "Mat?"

Mattie hummed in acknowledgment but continued to watch the game.

"When are we gonna sign you up for a team?"

Mattie looked at her and shrugged one shoulder. "What do you mean?"

"You want to play, right? Like with Isabella and Sophie?"

She shrugged again. "I dunno. I haven't really thought about it."

Christen raised an eyebrow and grinned. "You? Haven't thought about playing soccer? Are you feeling alright? Do you have a fever?" She leaned over to feel Mattie's forehead but Mattie swatted her hand away, smiling reluctantly. "Why haven't you thought about it?"

"I dunno. I guess until the other day, I just thought I was leaving soon, so it didn't really seem like an option."

"And now?" Christen asked, putting a hand on her shin. "That you're never--ever--leaving ever again?"

Mattie gave her a small smile before her face became unsure. "I mean, the season's almost half over. I don't think they'll let me play now."

"I'm sure we can talk to someone and explain the situation. We call their coach or whoever runs the league and see if you can join late."

"Are you gonna call them or are you gonna call them?"

Christen gave her an amused look and paused the recording. "What does that mean?"

"Like is are you gonna call them and say 'Hi this is Christen Press, can you let..'" Mattie trailed off.

"Can you let my daughter play soccer?" Christen finished and Mattie blushed at the address.

"Yeah."

Christen frowned. "Do you not want me to?"

Mattie shrugged. "I mean--I just don't want to get special treatment because you and Tobin are--cause you're gonna be--"

She gave her a small smile. "It's okay to call us your moms, Mattie. If you want to."

Mattie blushed further and sat up, crossing her legs on the middle cushion of the couch. "It's still really weird," she said, looking down and picking at her shorts.

"Bad weird?"

"No!" she replied quickly, meeting her gaze. She searched Christen's face nervously as if to be sure she hadn't offended her.

"Mattie," Christen started, and Mattie looked back down. "I want you to be able to tell me how you're feeling. I know everything's been...intense. Your life has been changing really quickly and some of it has to be scary."

Mattie gave a tough guy shrug like it wasn't a big deal, but Christen could see the truth on her face.

"But I want you to feel safe here. I want you to feel at home. And if you don't feel that way, or you're upset about something or happy or whatever you're feeling, I want you to talk to me about it and know that I'm gonna love you no matter what."

Mattie looked at her with big brown eyes and an expression that reminded her of Tobin's puppy dog look, except that she didn't know she was doing it. Christen reached out and squeezed her hand.

"Talk to me."

"I--" Mattie started, but her voice got caught in her throat. She leaned forward and crawled into Christen, who couldn't move much because Sam was asleep on her, burying her face in her shoulder blade and wrapping her arms around her middle. "I love you, too," she mumbled.

"Aww, babe," Christen said, extracting her arm from Mattie's hug so she could wrap it around her back. Mattie rested her head on Christen's shoulder and she kissed the top of her hair.

"I love you so much, and Tobin loves you so much, okay? And if you feel weird or uncomfortable about anything that's going on or something's too fast, we want to know so that we can fix it, alright?"

Mattie nodded against her shoulder. "It's not that I feel uncomfortable, it's just weird like...sometimes I feel like I'm dreaming, you know? Like I'm still asleep in the shed by the field and my brain made up this story where I met Tobin at the beach and you guys brought me and Sam home. And it's just hard not to feel like at some point I'm gonna wake up."

Christen reached down and pinched Mattie on the knee.

"Ow, what was that for!" Mattie looked up at her through narrowed eyes.

She smirked. "You're not dreaming."

"Very funny," Mattie grumbled, cuddling back into her shoulder.

Christen ran a hand up and down her arm. "Sometimes I feel like that too. Like there are moments where I feel like we've had you guys forever and this is just our normal life, and then something will happen just to remind me that we're complete rookies at this."

"It's a good thing you were Rookie of the Year, then."

Christen laughed. "How do you know that? You must've been--" she paused to do the math "--four when I was a rookie."

Mattie flipped over so her head lay on Christen's leg and she could look up and properly give her an eye roll. "There's this thing called Wikipedia, you know, you can, like, look things up--"

"Alright, little miss sass. So you've read my Wikipedia page?"

"You know I have. You were my favorite player for a long time."

Christen raised her eyebrows. "I was your favorite?"

"Well, you being my favorite doesn't really count anymore. Now you have to be."

"Does that mean Tobin's your favorite now, too?"

Mattie huffed. "Yeah, I guess. But you can't tell her that."

Christen laughed and rolled her eyes. "The two of you." She shook her head at the smile that snuck across Mattie's face. Her phone rang from the coffee table and Tobin's goofy grin popped up on the screen. "Speaking of our other favorite..."

Mattie sat up to let her answer the phone. "Hey, babe, I thought you didn't land for another hour. Is everything okay?"

She could hear Tobin fumbling with something on the other end. "Yeah, I switched my flight, so I have a layover."

"Oh, okay, why did you--" She was cut off by the sound of the front door opening, and she and Mattie turned toward the entrance to the living room. A smiling Tobin appeared in the doorway with the phone still to her ear.

"Why did I what?" she asked cheekily, her voice echoing through the air and the phone speaker. Christen could feel Mattie looking between them curiously, wondering if Christen was in on the surprise. She dropped the hand holding her phone to her ear and felt a growing smile split her face in two. Confusion and elation kept her equally frozen in place as she looked at Tobin.

"What are you doing here?" Mattie asked, equally as smiley and equally as shocked as Christen.

Tobin came over to the couch and slid off her backpack. "What? I can't come home for my day off?" She gave Mattie a tight hug and looked at Sam, still curled into Christen's side on the cushion next to her, hair askew. She smiled wider and leaned over to give Christen a kiss. "Hi, Mrs. Press," she greeted in a low tone.

Christen hummed against her lips. "Hi, Mrs. Press. Welcome home."

They held each other's gaze and smiled for a few seconds longer than Mattie thought was socially acceptable. "Ugh, gross. You guys are so mushy."

Tobin smiled wider and leaned in for another kiss before hopping over Mattie and onto the couch next to her. "What are we watching, then? Ugh, who's that asshole?" she said, looking at the TV where the paused game showed her own face in closeup.

"Tobin," Christen admonished as she reached for the remote to unpause the recording.

Tobin just threw her arm across the back of the couch and ran her thumb over Christen's shoulder, causing her to look up and meet her soft gaze.

Christen shook her head. "I can't believe you came home for a layover, you dork."

"Well, it's a 31-hour layover. I don't fly out until tomorrow night." She looked between Christen, Mattie and a sleeping Sam. "But, for the record, it would be worth it for a 31-minute layover."

"Plus," she said, winking at Christen. "I come bearing gifts." She reached down into her backpack and looked back up at Christen, asking a silent question. Christen looked at her hand in her bag and realized what she was talking about. She nodded. Tobin pulled out a box wrapped in a clean red Thorns jersey. Christen laughed.

"What?" Tobin protested. "When was I supposed to wrap it?" She handed the bundle to Mattie. "Happy...happy first 12 birthdays, I guess."

Mattie looked confusedly between Tobin, the shirt, and Christen, who nodded for her to unwrap it. Mattie reached through the neck of the shirt to grab the box and pulled it out, her jaw dropping open when she saw the white packaging. "Are you being serious? There's not like something else inside the box?"

Tobin laughed. "No, but that would've been a good one."

"Why--? How--? Why--?" Mattie asked, gobsmacked, as she pulled off the top of the box with slight difficulty.

Christen watched Tobin's eyes nervously read Mattie's face. "I wanna be able to text you and call you when I was away, and Chris and I would feel safer if we knew we could reach you at all times. If you don't like it--oof!" Tobin was cut off by Mattie throwing her arms around her middle and burying her head in her chest. She laughed and rubbed Mattie's back. "So you do like it?"

Mattie nodded against her. "Thank you," she mumbled, before turning to Christen and doing the same. Christen shifted back at the force of Mattie's hug, and she felt the head against her leg move, and a tiny hand reach out and rest on her knee.

"Uh oh, somebody's waking up," Christen said, running a hand through Sam's hair. His head was warm and sweaty from his nap. Sam lifted his head up sleepily and surveyed the room, his eyes landing on Tobin.

"Toes," he mumbled, and crawled across Mattie and Christen to her lap, laying against her chest and promptly falling back asleep.

Tobin put one arm on the back of the couch again and wrapped the other around Sam's back. She smiled at Mattie and Christen. "Totally worth it."

***

They finished watching the Thorns game before Sam woke up. Mal finally returned from one of the team houses where she had crashed after they celebrated last night's win. When she walked into the kitchen and saw Tobin, she looked thoroughly unsurprised. After lunch, Kelley came over before her flight out and they all headed down to the beach for the afternoon. Tobin felt warm the whole time; she wasn't sure if it was the LA springtime sun or the sight of Sam laughing as he splashed Kelley. Or maybe it was the feeling of Christen's hands on her shoulders as she made her reapply sunscreen after a few hours or the sound of Mattie's laughter as she taught Mal one of her more contrived freestyling tricks. Later, back at home, she still felt it, the way sunkissed skin radiates heat for hours after nightfall.

Christen had opened a movie night invitation to her team this morning before Tobin had surprised them with her visit.

"I wish I had known you were gonna come home," she said as she brushed her hair at their dresser. "I wouldn't have had them over tonight."

"Was it supposed to be like an official team bonding event? I can stay up here or something--"

"No," Christen said, laughing. "Only a few of the girls are coming.The kids' house can get a little crazy, so I want them to feel like there's a more...relaxed place they can hang out."

Tobin rolled her eyes and smirked. "Do you pack their lunches, too? Pick them up from the bus?"

She shot her a glare. "I'm not momming them. They're just really young."

"I just want to ask them if it's gotten better or worse since you got kids of your own."

Christen frowned into the mirror and said nothing.

"Ha! That face means it's gotten worse!" Tobin laughed.

There was a commotion downstairs as Sunrise players arrived. "Can you go make sure everyone's behaving?"

Tobin bit her lip. "Sure, I'll go supervise the children."

"Don't start anything!" Christen called after her.

Tobin walked down the stairs to see Katie Cousins and the Flores twins in the entryway to the house, discussing possible movie choices for the night with an excited Sam, who had greeted them.

"Sam, let them come in and take their shoes off first," she chastised.

The three girls looked up at her with slightly intimidated expressions. "Tobin He--" Katie coughed. "We didn't know you were gonna be here. Home. I thought you guys played in Houston last night."

Tobin grinned and looked at Monica and Sabrina to see if they found Katie's reaction as funny as she did, but both of their faces still displayed mild fear. "Hey, Cousins. Flores 1. Flores 2. Yeah, I came home for the weekend. Got in this morning."

They all nodded with wide eyes.

"Mama, can we watch Moana?" Sam asked, oblivious to the younger players apprehension.

Tobin looked down at him with raised eyebrows. "Why don't you ask our guests what they want to watch? C'mon in guys," she said as she shuffled Sam in front of her into the living room.

Sam looked back at the girls. "Do you guys want to watch Moana for the movie?"

Tobin laughed as they agreed enthusiastically. Sam's ability to wrap the Sunrise players around his finger never ceased to amaze her.

Mal and Mattie looked up from their spots on the couch and nodded at the new arrivals.

"Is anyone else coming or are you guys the whole crew?" Tobin asked.

"Gibby and the Germans should be here soon," Sabrina answered.

"Cool. Do you guys want something to drink or anything?"

"I could use a beer," Mal answered cheekily.

"You know where they are," Tobin shot back.

"I want a beer!" Sam said happily.

Everyone laughed and Tobin gave Mal an annoyed look. "Sammy, beer is gross you don't want any," Mal tried to explain.

"You like it," he argued.

"I'm just gonna grab some Gatorades and waters for everyone," Tobin said to avoid a debate.

She walked into the kitchen and started pulling bottles out of the fridge. She walked back to the living room but paused when she heard the girls in the other room talking in low voices.

"I don't understand why you're so scared of her," she heard Mattie say.

"Like you weren't intimidated when you first met her."

"Nah, Mattie nutmegged her the first time they met," Mal corrected. "She's ice cold."

"I mean she's Tobin fu--freaking Heath."

"You're a professional soccer player."

"She just has a crush on her."

"What? I do not--"

"Everyone has a crush on her."

"Ew, stop," Mattie said, groaning.

"Who does everyone have a crush on?" Christen asked as she entered the room.

Tobin took that as her cue to return as well, moving to put the drinks on the coffee table.

"No one," Sabrina said, looking nonchalant.

Christen narrowed her eyes. "Fine, don't let me in on the gossip."

"It's Maro," Monica offered. Mal and Tobin made eye contact. Tobin blushed and Mal smirked at having caught her eavesdropping.

"Is she coming?" Christen asked.

"Gibby says they'll be here in like 10 minutes."

"Alright. Well did you guys decide on a movie?"

"Sam wants to watch Moana."

"Sam, did you ask everyone else what they wanted to watch?"

"They said I could pick," he said, a little too sweetly not to know he was being catered to.

Christen looked at her teammates and sighed. "I'm sure they did."

***

The next morning, they went to Christen's sister's house for brunch. Christen watched as Mattie kneeled and Sam stood a few yards apart on the grass, both trying to get their cousin, who was precariously standing halfway in between them, to walk toward them instead of their sibling.

"Chris? Are you listening?" Tyler asked, pulling her attention back to their conversation on the porch.

"Huh?"

"When are you guys planning on having the wedding?" Channing repeated.

Tobin answered for her as she clicked back into the conversation. "We're not doing any planning until after France. It's too crazy."

Tyler frowned. "Why'd you get engaged now?"

"Why not?" Christen challenged.

Christen saw Channing look between her and Tyler as they glared at each other. "I mean, come on, Chris. It was kind of random. You two can't tell me either of you planned it."

She looked at Tobin, who was shrinking back in her chair like she didn't want to get involved in the intra-sisterly debate. "It was spontaneous."

"Was it that the mood was perfect on the drive back from the social worker's office?"

Christen frowned at her and Tobin sat up to try to help. "It didn't make sense for us to get married before. Like, logistically. Now it does."

"So what you're saying is you only want to marry my sister now that you've knocked her up?"

Tobin sat back in her chair with wide eyes that expressed her regret at entering the conversation. Christen glared at her sister. "Tyler."

"Sorry. I just want to make sure you guys are doing this for the right reasons."

"And making our kids' adoption easier isn't the right reason?" Christen asked.

Channing frowned. "Is that what they told you at the meeting?"

"It's kinda complicated. It's not really because we're not married. It's because we don't technically live in the same state."

"So you're getting married?" Tyler asked incredulously. "That seems...dramatic."

"You know, when you invited us to brunch I didn't know the bagels were gonna be served with a side of judgment."

Tyler shrugged. "I'm your older sister. It's my job to look out for you."

"Why are you acting like this is a mistake? You tease us about getting married all the time."

She shook her head. "I didn't say it was a mistake at all. You guys have just made a lot of really big life decisions really quickly lately. I don't think any of them have even been bad decisions. It's not really the decisions themselves, it's how you're making them."

"What does that mean?"

She raised her eyebrows. "Like--have you guys decided if you're going public?"

Christen and Tobin looked at each other and Tobin answered, still holding her gaze. "Not...before France. There's too much media we have to do, it's the only thing anyone would ask anyone about."

Tyler looked between them. "Okay, fair. But don't you think people will just figure it out? You don't think people will ask questions either way?"

Christen shrugged. "People can think whatever they want. The reporters know better. They leave us alone."

"They've mostly left you alone before now. There weren't kids and rings before now."

Christen unconsciously fiddled her engagement ring.

"Plus, what are you gonna do when the Today Show or Good Housekeeping wants to do a piece about the moms on the team?" Channing added. "Pretend you don't have kids?"

They looked at each other and Tobin hooked her foot around Christen's ankle. "We're figuring things out one day at a time," Christen answered.

Tyler and Channing looked at each other and looked resigned. "Alright," Tyler said. "As long as you're figuring it out."

***

Tobin dug her missing sneaker out from under the bed.

"Do you want this one?" Christen asked, holding up a t-shirt.

Tobin stood up and assessed it. "Uhh, nah, I'm good."

"Well, pick out something. The clothes from your bag are still in the wash, so you've got to replace them with something."

"I mean, I have enough at the apartment. I'm only going back up for three days. I just wanted these cause one of the heels on my other ones is starting to go," she said, waving the shoe in her hand.

Christen folded the shirt and put it back in the drawer. "Well, if you didn't step on them--"

"I don't have time to tie them every time!"

Christen rolled her eyes. "What--do we need to get you velcro shoes to match Sam? Where are you going that you're in such a rush?"

Tobin grinned lazily and walked around the bed toward her. "Well, I've got a wife and kids to come home and see. I've got to hurry."

Christen laughed. Tobin snaked her arms around the back of her neck and they held each other's gaze. After a moment, Christen furrowed her brow and chewed on her bottom lip.

"What?"

"You don't think we're moving too fast, do you?"

"For this?" Tobin leaned in to kiss her. "No, I'm fine with kissing after the thousandth date."

Christen smiled against her lips and they broke apart. She swallowed. "I'm serious."

Tobin took a deep breath. "Do you think it's too fast?"

"No," Christen said quickly. "I just wanted to make sure you didn't."

"Oh, no. I don't."

"Cool."

"Cool," Tobin said, and shoved her feet into her sneakers, ready for her flight.

***

Monday morning, before either of them had practice, Tobin and Christen got on a three-way call with Claire to recount their meeting with the state and subsequent decision to get married and to figure out a plan for the paperwork moving forward.

"You guys did what?" Claire said when Christen told her about their quick engagement and wedding.

"I mean, now we won't have to do all the paperwork separately, right?" Tobin said, sounding nervous. "It'll be simpler."

"I guess, but do you think there might have been a less extreme solution? Like adding you on the deed to her house or getting a joint bank account?"

Christen felt herself blush. "Well--I mean--sure. But isn't this easier for us, and for you, and for Mattie and Sam?"

Claire sighed. "I'm going to have to switch some of your paperwork over, but once I do, yeah. It'll be simpler. We just normally don't recommend people get married for adoption reasons. We try to make it as easy as possible for unmarried couples so that kids aren't thrown into rapidly changing situations."

"So you're saying we shouldn't have done it?" Christen swallowed the lump of worry that had formed in her throat.

Claire was quiet for a moment. "I don't know what's best for you and Tobin specifically, I'm just telling you we don't recommend getting married in the middle of the adoption process. Since you did, I would just recommend making sure you talk to Mattie and Sam through the things that are going on so they don't feel like everything is changing all at once."

Christen took a deep breath. "I don't know if this fits that plan, but we didn't tell Sam we were actually getting married. We told him it was our official engagement. Only Mattie, Mal and our friend Kelley--and I guess now you--know that we actually got married. We told our families that we got engaged, but we're going to have our actual wedding after the World Cup and the season are over. When things are calmer."

There was more silence on the other end. "You two just can't do make anything simple can you?" She laughed and sighed.

Christen heard Tobin cough. "Did we really fuck up?"

"No, no," Claire said reassuringly. "Honestly, you guys have done almost nothing in a way I'd normally advise, which can be less than ideal. But my most important piece of advice, and at the day, the only one that really matters, is to fight for the kid's well-being, and you two have certainly done that. I'll admit some of your methods have been unconventional, but you guys actually love them and no advice I've ever given has been able to force that."

Christen and Tobin were both silent. "You're sure?" Tobin asked, her voice sounding small.

"Look; why don't we finish some of the more basic things you guys skipped along the way? I'll break out the official department checklist with all of the suggested steps, and we can do some of the ones you missed."

"Like what?" Christen asked, frowning in concern. "What haven't we done?"

"Well, you guys haven't met with Mattie and Sam's teachers. I normally set up a parent teacher conference in the first month or two of a placement, to make sure the child is settled in. We can try to set one up for this week or next week?"

"I'm coming home on Thursday cause we play LA Friday night, so we could do Friday. Or I can probably fly in Wednesday night if Thursday's easier."

"Alright! Sounds good. I'll bring you a copy of the checklists, too. They have some exercises and things you can do with Mattie and Sam to help them settle in. Some of them you might have progressed past, but who knows, maybe you'll find something useful."

***

Mattie sat in the back of history with her agenda open and tried to think. Her eyes scanned over the week and ignored the Ben Franklin quote about procrastination that mocked her from the upper margin of the page. There was the vocab quiz tomorrow, the life science test on Wednesday, and the math homework due on Thursday, which she really had to get 100 on because she was pretty sure had bombed the test they had before lunch.

She took a deep breath and flipped forward to the first week of June in the book, looking at the tenth day, where she had doodled soccer balls and American flags. She'd had the American opening World Cup game marked in her planner since well before she knew she was going to have a chance to attend it. The school year was supposed to end later that week, on the 13th, which she now had marked as well. Mattie had no idea how she was going to get caught up before then, but the thought of missing any of the games seemed insane, so she was going to try regardless.

She flipped back to the current week before looking up at the board. Ms. Bennett was finishing up talking about the effects of the industrial revolution. Mattie stared at the list of names and dates projected on the board and almost groaned aloud. It had been so long since she had tried in school that she had forgotten how much you had to remember.

"And if you need any extra help on your Country project, I'll be here during lunch and after school all week. We're going to open the multipurpose room on Thursday morning if you need to bring your display board in early, but make sure you have it up there before homeroom Friday, because we're going to bring classes through all day, starting A block."

Mattie's eyes flicked between her teacher at the front of the room and Friday in her agenda. The only thing she had written there was "PTFC @ LAFC !!!."

"Wait, that's this Friday?" someone asked. Ms. Bennett gave him a stern look and a few people giggled at the confusion on their classmate's face. Mattie was among the students who seemed to share his shock that this deadline had crept up on them like that. She felt the dread rise in her throat as she wrote "Country Project" in the history row of the Friday column in her planner, and she wracked her brain to remember where she'd put the project instructions.

"Yes, and it's 20% of your semester grade, so be sure to read the rubric so you don't lose points on anything silly."

***

Christen sighed as the phone rang. There were a few parents milling around in front of the preschool, but she had at least 5 minutes before the kids were let out.

"Hello, this is Greg."

"Hi, Greg, this is Christen. I sent you an email the other day about signing my daughter up for U14s late, but I didn't hear back. I got your number from Melissa? Sanchez? Isabella's mom? She told me to just call you directly?"

"Ahh, actually, yes. I saw her yesterday and she told me you were gonna call. Hold on, let me just pull up my mail."

Christen waited, less nervous now that she knew she wasn't just cold calling this man.

"Wait," he said, sounding confused. "Christen as in Christen Press?"

"Umm...yes?" she answered, nerves returning.

"As in..."

"Yes."

"Ohhh..." he said, realization creeping into his voice. "Melissa said...okay." He laughed. "I'm sorry, I've got to be honest, I thought your emails were some of the kids' idea of a prank."

Christen breathed a sigh of relief and laughed as well. "It's no problem. I should have put more context in my email."

"No, I understand. We can definitely try to get...Mattie on a team. We always have a couple of kids who quit after the first game or two, so there are some teams with open slots. How much experience does she have?"

Christen looked back at the school to see if any kids had emerged yet. "She...she's played a lot of soccer, but maybe one or two seasons on an organized team. And that was a couple years ago."

"Alright, well, maybe she'd be comfortable if she knew someone on the team. Isabella's team has an open spot, would that work? Sophie Phillips's dad is actually the coach."

"Definitely," Christen said, nodding. "That would be perfect."

"Okay, then, I'll pencil her in for team 6, and I'll send you an email to fill out the registration. While I have you on the phone, is there any way I can get you to talk to the U14 girls or something?"

She laughed. "I think Mattie would be mortified. She just wants to play football, you know? Without all the extra attention."

"My daughter would probably do the same. I had to try, though."

"Yeah, sorry. How about I see we have any more openings in the Sunrise mascot schedule?"

"That would be great! I know one of the U8 teams is already signed up for a game, but maybe we could make it a prize for whichever team wins one of the older leagues."

"Awesome! I'll look into it then. Thanks, Greg."

"Thanks, Christen!"

She hung up the phone and breathed a sigh of relief at getting at least one victory this week.

***

"How bad was it?"

Mattie handed her the test and sat down, sighing.

"What the hell, Mattie?" Isabella said incredulously. "A 55? You know Stevens gives you half credit just for trying the problem right."

Mattie gave her a disdainful look and let her head fall onto her arms on the table.

Sophie patted Mattie's shoulder. "Stop, Iz. Not everyone gets this stuff as easily as you do."

"Oh, come on. It's not that she doesn't get it. She fucks off in class and doesn't do the homework."

"You don't do the homework!" Sophie protested.

"I don't need to--it's basic geometry. I got 100!"

"Then don't judge Mattie for not doing well. Everyone learns differently."

Mattie could feel Isabella rolling her eyes even though her head was still on the table. "I'm not judging her. I'm saying she should've asked us for help if she didn't get it. Mattie," she said, nudging her. "Sit up."

Mattie picked her head up, feeling tired. "What?"

"What are you gonna do about math?"

Mattie shrugged. "We have that homework due, I'll just have to do well on that."

"Are you gonna tell Tobin and Christen?" Sophie asked gently.

Mattie bit her lip. "I want to be caught up before I tell them any of my grades are bad. Or have some good news to tell them."

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Sophie prodded.

"Well, what if I tell them and then I can't play soccer? Christen just got me signed up!"

Isabella took a bite of her sandwich. "I'm seconding that this is a bad idea, but I see your point."

Sophie seemed to concede at that, and Mattie opened up her own lunch bag. "Okay, fine. But let us know if you need help, okay?"

"Yeah, I can teach you how to do math and Soph can teach you how to color code your flashcards," Isabella quipped, and Sophie shot her a dirty look.

Mattie looked at both of them, Isabella still taunting Sophie with her smirk. "Thanks, guys. Seriously."

Isabella grinned. "Well, we can't have you getting kicked off our team before you even play, right? We've got to protect our ringer!"

***

Tobin got in late Wednesday night, dropping her bags as soon as she walked in the door.

"Babe, is that you?" Christen called from the kitchen.

"Yeah," Tobin called back, walking to the kitchen doorway and leaning against the frame. "Hey."

Christen put down the dish she was drying and walked toward her. "Hey, you're early. Why didn't you call? I would've come and picked you up."

Tobin met her halfway, in the middle of the kitchen. "I didn't want to interrupt Sam's bedtime."

"Good call," she conceded, resting her arms on Tobin's shoulders as Tobin put her arms around her waist. "He probably would've gotten overly excited and tried to stay up for another few hours."

Tobin closed her eyes and rested her forehead against Christen's. She reached her lips out, barely brushing them against her wife's. "I've only really been gone for a few days. I'm sure he barely noticed I was gone."

Christen laughed softly, her breath tickling Tobin's lips. "You could be gone for a few hours and he'd miss you." She let her elbows bend so she could play with the hairs loose from Tobin's ponytail at the base of her neck, pulling her in closer. She kissed her lazily. "I know I do."

Tobin hummed against Christen's lips and ran her hands along her lower back, slipping one under her shirt. Christen guided her backward until she could feel the cool stone of the island counter through her shirt. Tobin went to move her mouth to Christen's neck when they were interrupted.

"How are you like this all of the time?" Mal asked as she and Mattie entered the kitchen.

"We're not like this all of the time," Christen answered, annoyed.

Mattie laughed and raised her eyebrows as she went to the pantry and pulled out a packet of popcorn. "Okay."

"We did get married less than a week ago," Tobin argued. "Shouldn't we get some sort of honeymoon pass?"

Mal put her hand on her chin and tapped her finger as if she was seriously deliberating this as the popcorn started to pop in the microwave. "That's fair, but I think you should only get one honeymoon pass. So you can either use it now or on your honeymoon after your real wedding."

Christen gave her an amused look. "Why do I need a pass to make out with my own wife in my own kitchen?"

"Yeah," Tobin added. "She should only need a pass to make out with someone else's wife."

"I'm just saying," Mal said, trying and failing to keep a straight face. "What are you gonna say a few years from now when you walk in the kitchen and find Mattie with some kid's hand that far up her shirt?"

Mattie laughed and Tobin glared at Mal. "Mallory."

"Guy or girl's hand," Mal addended.

Tobin glared more. "Not what I meant."

"Many, many years from now?" she tried.

Tobin rolled her eyes. "Mattie, no making out in the kitchen."

Mattie put on an innocent look. "So only upstairs in my room then?"

Mal laughed and gave her a high five.

"Okay, guys," Christen chided. "Leave Tobin alone. Mattie, no making out in the house. That's what cars are for."

Mal and Mattie cracked up and Tobin made a noise to protest. "Babe," she whined. "Don't encourage this."

Christen tried to look clueless but was grinning. "What do you mean? She'll have to be 16 to make out with anyone." She tilted her head and made a face. "Or, I guess, dating a 16-year-old."

"Baabbbe. You're such a bad influence," she grumbled.

Christen scoffed. "I'm not a bad influence. I'm a fun influence."

Tobin rolled her eyes but joined in everyone's laughter. She caught Christen's eyes as they sparkled and even after three days, felt happier than ever to be home.

***

Mattie spotted Sophie and Isabella next to the steps in the courtyard where they normally met before school.

"Hey," she grunted, still not feeling fully awake.

Isabella just nodded at her, also looking tired. Sophie greeted her with slightly more energy.

"Did you guys do the math?"

Sophie nodded.

"Nah," Isabella said. "I have French second though, so I can just do it then."

Sophie rolled her eyes. "Why didn't you just do it last night?"

"I wasn't doing nothing--I was working on my country project all night!" she protested.

"Wow, Izzie, I'm impressed," Mattie cut in, joking. "You started a project two whole days before it was due?"

"It's a semester long project. Even I'm not dumb enough to try to do it all in one night."

Mattie's smile dropped.

Sophie narrowed her eyes at her. "Mattie...you've started your country project, right?"

"No," she said defiantly. "I spent all week doing stuff for all my other classes, and I'm finally caught up. But it's the only thing I have due tomorrow!"

Isabella gave her an uncharacteristically serious look. "Dude, like, you haven't started at all? What country are you doing?"

"Uhh.."

"Mattie, we had to pick our country like two months ago!"

She held up her hands. "I wasn't even here yet! Ms. Bennett just told me I could pick whatever country I wanted since I started it late."

"So you don't even have any sources?" Sophie asked, sympathetic but wincing.

Mattie looked between their worried expressions. "Am I completely screwed?"

They looked at each other.

"Even I've been working on this thing all week, and I'm not done," Isabella said gently.

Mattie furrowed her brow. "Maybe I should just fake sick tomorrow."

"I don't see how that's gonna work," Sophie said. "There's no way Ms. Bennett won't take points off for you being late."

"Well, she'll probably take off more points if I bring in half a project."

Isabella scrunched up her face. "Again, Mat, don't think this is a great plan, but I hope it works."

***

Tobin sat across the table from the empty chair, her knee bouncing.

The secretary had said she would be there in a minute and had shown Tobin, Christen, and Claire into the conference room to wait. Christen reached over for the third time and placed a hand on her knee.

"You're shaking the table."

"Sorry," Tobin said, pausing her knee for a moment, only for the other one to start up a few seconds later.

Finally, a middle-aged woman with short brown hair and a large--and what looked to Tobin to be forced--smile walked in carrying a stack of file folders. "Hi, I'm Rebecca," she opened.

"Hi," Christen said brightly, smiling and standing to shake her hand. Claire stood to greet her as well, so Tobin followed their lead.

Once they had all settled back into their chairs, Rebecca opened one of her folders in front of her, seemingly forcing her smile wider.

"First of all," she started, "I just want to say that I think what you guys are trying to do is great."

Tobin could feel Christen stiffen slightly next to her, but when she looked over at her face, Christen had her features fixed into a smile. "Sorry?" she asked. Fer voice sounded cheery but Tobin could hear a little tightness in it.

Rebecca smiled back. "I just mean, taking in these kids, with your jobs...I've read Mattie's file. You two sure like a challenge, huh?" She laughed. "But I suppose you have to if you want to be a professional athlete."

Tobin was very confused about how passive aggressive this woman was being, but Christen seemed to roll with it. "We're definitely willing to do whatever it takes to make sure Mattie can do well here," she said, holding the counselor's gaze.

Rebecca narrowed her eyes slightly and looked down at the file. "I'm glad. I talked to Mattie's teachers yesterday and this morning, and it seems like there's some work to do."

Christen's face fell slightly for the first time in the meeting. "What do you mean?"

She handed each of them a folder. Tobin opened hers immediately and scanned the first page.

Language Arts: "Mattie hasn't passed in most of her homeworks, which was okay when she was catching up, but is becoming a problem."

Math: "Mattie scored a 55% on our last test and has passed in one homework in the past few weeks. I'm recommending she sees a tutor."

History: "Mattie is still a little behind, but as long as her countries project goes well, she should be almost caught up."

Tobin looked over at Christen, who was also scanning the page, her jaw jumping. "Why did no one tell us about this?" she asked, no longer smiling at Rebecca.

"Has Mattie not been telling you about her classes?" the woman asked impassively.

"We talk about all of her classes, pretty much every day. We know she's had some trouble catching up, but she said it was getting better."

"We've talked to her teachers, too. They haven't told us about a lot of the problems they list here."

Claire sat forward to interject. "Well, it seems like most of these say that Mattie has been catching up but is taking too long. They might not email you if it's sort of an ongoing problem, but it seems like she's still making progress."

"I think the larger problem is that she's not handing in homework in a lot of these classes," Rebecca cut in. "That's not related to her having to catch up. Normally, in cases like that, we look at the accountability system at home."

Tobin bristled, her annoyance at this woman's tone starting to spill over. "We check that she does her homework. Every night," she said in a hard voice.

"Do you check her actual homework? Every night? To be sure that she's done it." Rebecca challenged.

"No. We take her at her word," Christen said defensively.

"Well, from what I've seen of her file, that may not be the best idea."

"What file?" Tobin bit out exasperatedly.

"They haven't had their files," Claire corrected. "The state just officially approved them to start the adoption process yesterday. They weren't authorized to have the full files until then because of the custody arrangement."

Rebecca softened slightly. "Well, regardless, you need to start checking her homework, because she's apparently not been doing it. She's in danger of failing math and Spanish."

Tobin frowned. "She speaks fluent Spanish. How could she be failing?"

The guidance counselor shrugged. "She hasn't been doing the work. She does alright on the tests, but she doesn't participate in class and she doesn't pass in her homework."

Christen turned to look at Tobin, chin resting on her hand. "I'm more concerned with the fact that she's been lying to us."

Tobin shook her head. "I keep thinking we're past this."

"You didn't really think you could just adopt these kids and their issues would magically disappear, did you? That just because you're these rich, famous professional athletes, you could swoop in and be the heroes?"

Christen sat up straighter and Tobin put a hand on her knee under the table, but when she spoke it was with an even tone. "We didn't plan this."

"You don't say," Rebecca shot back. "And yet, I'm sure you'll get a nice little media boost out of this. Right before your big tournament, too. And I'm sure the Today Show won't care if the kids are better off."

Tobin started laughing, hard. By the time she settled down, the other three woman were staring at her with confused expressions. "I'm sorry, but that's what your problem is? You think this is a publicity stunt?" When Rebecca didn't answer, she started laughing again.

Christen covered Tobin's hand with her own and squeezed. "I can assure you, Rebecca, that's not the case. Not that it matters, but we'd prefer to keep our family life as private as possible. When I said we didn't plan this, I meant that we know we don't have a lot of experience at this, but we're trying our best because we love Mattie and Sam. We didn't plan on meeting Mattie, but once we did, we definitely only wanted to help her, and to help Sam, whatever that meant. And we may not have figured out exactly the best ways to help them yet, but we will because they're our kids."

Rebecca finally looked slightly admonished. "Well, in that case, I hope you do figure it out," she said, begrudgingly genuine. "And you can talk to my office if you need any help, or if you need to set up a meeting with any of Mattie's teachers."

She and Christen both stood and shook hands. Rebecca nodded at Tobin and Claire and exited the conference room, leaving the three of them with the folders open on the table.

Tobin sat back in her chair. "I think that went well."

***

Tobin and Christen said goodbye to Claire for the moment, before returning home to get Sam ready for school. They walked into the living room to find Mal and Sam on the couch watching cartoons, a bag of Doritos between them that they were both snacking from.

Christen gave Mal a look. "Really, Cool Ranch for breakfast?"

Mal stopped chewing mid-chip and swallowed. "Well, he was hungry but he didn't want to eat breakfast without Tobin."

Christen took a deep breath and Tobin walked over and grabbed a chip out of the bag. "Tobs," she complained.

"I'm making sure they're fresh," Tobin said with her mouth full.

Sam reached both hands (covered in Cool Ranch dust) up toward her. "Mama, up. I want breakfast."

Tobin licked the flavoring off her thumb and looked down at him. "Can you ask nicely?"

"Pleeassee..." he whined, wiggling his fingers. She picked him up and carried him toward the kitchen.

"Tobin, wash his hands please," Christen called after them.

"Got it!"

Christen appraised Mallory, still on the couch, wearing a guilty expression.

"Sorry," she said.

"It's fine," Christen said. "Thanks for watching him. " She sighed. "We just had a bit of a rough meeting, that's all."

"What happened?"

She shook her head. "The guidance counselor had basically decided we were unqualified before she walked into the meeting. She thinks we're adopting them for...publicity? I don't know."

Mal frowned. "Jeez, seriously? What a bitch."

Christen grimaced and reached for a Dorito. "Yeah, I don't know. Mattie's really not doing well in her classes."

"For what it's worth, I think you're good parents. And you're always on Mattie to do her work. Mattie's way better off here than pretty much anywhere else."

She smiled. "Thanks, Mal." She ate the chip and made a face. "Ugh, why did you guys want to eat these first thing in the morning. This is gross."

***

An hour later, Tobin, Christen, and Sam met Claire in the parking lot of the preschool. Christen unbuckled Sam's seatbelt and held his hand as they walked toward the door. "Hi, Claire!" Sam greeted, smiling when he saw her.

"Hey, Sammy," she said, waving back. "Are you excited for school today?"

Sam nodded. "We're learning about the planets!"

"The planets?" Claire asked with wide eyes.

"Yeah. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars." He paused. "Mommy what's next?" he asked, looking up at Christen.

"Jupiter..." she helped.

"Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus!" he finished.

Claire gave him an impressed look. "Wow, that's pretty good!"

"You forgot Tatooine," Tobin said with a straight face.

"No, Mama," Sam said, rolling his eyes so hard he rolled his whole head back. "Tatooine isn't real!"

"How do you know?" she challenged.

"Cause it's in a story!"

"So that means it's not real?"

Sam's confused look caused all the adults to laugh as they entered the school. Sam's teacher, Mrs. S, met them at the door. They left Sam in one of the other classrooms, where another teacher was supervising some of the kids for before school daycare. Sam spotted two of his friends playing with the blocks and quickly said goodbye. Mrs. S lead them down the hall to the office.

"Hey, remind me to give you guys their files after this," Claire said to Christen and Tobin. "I got my boss to sign off when I went back to the office, so I can give you copies of them."

"Sam's teacher's not gonna have any crazy background knowledge that we don't like the guidance counselor did, right?" Tobin joked.

"Uhhh..."

Christen's eyes widened. "What!"

They walked into the room and the teacher motioned to some chairs they could sit in. "We can talk about it later," Clarie reassured.

Christen was reassured when Mrs. S only looked over two stapled pages on the table. "Okay," she started. "I guess we'll get right into the assessment. I know you guys are busy."

"On the whole, Sam is doing well. He's very social, and he's friends with pretty much everyone in the class. He has a lot of energy, which is great and is totally normal at four, although I have observed he has trouble maintaining task focus. He needs breaks pretty frequently, and he has trouble sitting still."

Christen smirked. "Sounds like you, babe," she whispered to Tobin.

Tobin looked nervous. "Those aren't habits he might have picked up, right? Like copying...an adult?"

The teacher shook her head. "It's unlikely. It could just be a phase, or it could be part of his adjustment to a new environment, but I think if it continues you should talk to his pediatrician about getting a referral to have him tested for ADHD."

"Is there anything you can recommend we do in the meantime?" Christen asked.

She tilted her head to the side. "I think the best thing would just be to pay attention to how long he's able to focus for or sit still. What situations does he struggle with? That kind of thing."

Christen nodded and started taking notes on her phone.

"Also, he has trouble with fine motor skills: tying his shoes, buttoning buttons, holding a pencil. We have a formal assessment we do, and he only passed 4 of the 10 tests. We can give you some exercises, and we can get him a pencil grip, but you may want to consider occupational therapy to improve it."

Christen nodded again, peppering the teacher with questions about areas where Sam struggled and ways they could help. By the time they walked out, Tobin's arms were laden with packets for tracking Sam's behavior at home, informational brochures and even a few pieces of Sam's artwork for the fridge. They poked their heads into the other classroom to say goodbye to Sam. Claire led them to her car where she picked two fat folders off of her back seat. She held them out for Christen to take.

"There is background knowledge you don't have on Sam. I couldn't give you access to his--or Mattie's--complete medical history before, although now that you have a higher clearance with the state I can give you it provisionally. Sam was born addicted to meth," she said as Christen flipped open the file to see medical records. "You guys know that Mattie's biological mother was a drug addict. She was a meth user. Whether she or one of her cohorts gave birth to Sam, she must've realized that using during the pregnancy had passed the addiction on to him, and that's why she brought him to their grandmother. To get him to the hospital."

Christen looked up from the file. "What do you mean, one of her cohorts?"

Claire bit her lip. "Well, part of the reason it was so difficult to link Mattie and Sam as siblings in our records was that we have no proof that Marisol was Sam's mother. We can't randomly submit kids in the system to DNA testing, and there were no other guardians outside to approve it, so whether she is Sam's biological mother or not, we don't know."

Tobin frowned. "Does Mattie know that?"

Claire shook her head. "I didn't see the use in telling her."

Tobin drove home as Christen sat in the passenger seat with the files closed in her lap. "Are you gonna look at them?" Tobin asked.

"I think we should go through them together," she answered, chewing on her lip and looking at Tobin's profile.

Tobin reached for Christen's hand and squeezed it when she gave it to her. "What time do you have practice?"

"In like an hour. I'll get Sam on the way back and we can go over them after?"

She shook her head. "We must have practice right after you guys. I was gonna say I could pick up Sam, but I'll be at the field before it's time to get Mattie."

Christen sighed. "I guess we can wait til after you get home."

"Was it dumb of me to have thought these meetings were gonna make me feel better?"

She laughed. "No, I don't think so. Or else it was dumb of both of us."

"Do you feel like we're in over our heads?"

Christen thought for a second. "Yes," she answered honestly.

Tobin looked at her out of the corner of her eye. "You think we did things too fast? That we made a mistake?"

"I didn't say that."

Tobin peeked at her face. "What do you mean?"

Christen took a deep breath. "Obviously, we went from zero to Moms really quickly. Obviously, getting married was a quick decision. Things have changed really, really fast. Remember the day we brought Sam home? We had no idea what we were doing."

"Yeah, we did," Tobin said quietly.

Christen thought back to the feeling in the pit of her stomach as they talked in the kitchen and exhaled. "Yeah, maybe we did."

***

Once they got home, Christen had to get ready for practice, so they left the files for later, but they agreed to have a conversation with Mattie after Tobin got back from practice about her grades and her lying.

Tobin was bored once Christen and Mal left, so she went through the notes they'd gotten from Mrs. S and Rebecca at the meetings. Once she'd read them each three times, she went through the DVR to see if there were any games she hadn't watched yet. When there weren't, she settled on rewatching an old Barça game that was still saved. She only half paid attention, watching the screen mostly so she had something to look at.

It was hard for her to figure out what she was feeling. She was definitely overwhelmed by this morning's events. To an extent, at least in her mind, they had been cruising along, really settling into the new realities of their life. The meetings had shown them how far they still had left to go. She also hadn't thought much about Mattie and Sam's previous life before now, at least in a really non-abstract way. Mattie talked so little about their mother--or possibly her mother--that Tobin hadn't spared her or the ways she might still be affecting their lives much thought. Not that they'd had a lot of time to process thing like that, but hearing about their life before made Tobin sad and jealous and guilty all at once.

And then there was Mattie's academic performance and her dishonesty. Tobin was hurt that Mattie had gone to such lengths to deceive them, and saddened that she felt she couldn't come to them for help, especially with what they had been talking about lately. Even if she wouldn't tell Christen so, sometimes it felt like they had gotten into this too fast.

***

"What's going on?" Mattie asked. She sat down at the island after being summoned to the kitchen. Tobin and Christen stood next to the sink. Tobin had her arms crossed across her chest and was leaning against the counter. She had worked herself into a lather on the ride home from practice over Mattie lying to them about school.

"We had a meeting with your guidance counselor today," Christen opened.

Mattie's face dropped. "Oh."

"Oh?" Tobin countered, standing up. "That's what you have to say?"

Her eyes widened. "I'm fixing everything I swear. I'm gonna have my grades up soon."

"The grades aren't the problem, Mattie," Tobin said harshly. Christen made a face. "Okay, maybe they're a little bit of the problem. But the bigger issue is you lying to us. Again."

Mattie grew more distressed. "I didn't mean to, I swear!"

Christen shook her head. "You've been telling me you've been doing your homework. You've said your tests have been going well. Those haven't been accidents."

Tears started to pool in Mattie's eyes, and she started pleading. "I really--I didn't." She put her face in her hands. "I just wanted to fix everything first."

Tobin felt her shoulders slump and she sighed. She unfolded her arms. "Mattie," she said and felt herself folding. Just when she thought she couldn't hold tough any longer, Christen walked around the island and pulled her into a hug. Tobin moved to her other side as Mattie started to sob, shaking her head and repeating "I'm sorry" into Christen's shirt. She rubbed Mattie's back and made eye contact with Christen, who looked as defeated as she felt.

"Mat," Tobin said softly once Mattie had relaxed somewhat. "Look at me." She turned her tear-stained face to look at Tobin. "The reason we're frustrated is that we don't like seeing you this worked up. We want to help you with this stuff, but you have to let us." Mattie looked down and nodded solemnly. Tobin smirked and nodded her chin at Christen. "This one over here is pretty smart. She even went to a nerd college to prove it."

Mattie giggled and Christen frowned. "You know we're ahead of you guys in overall sports rankings, right?"

"Yes, but we've won more at women's soccer and men's basketball, therefore we win."

"You can't just pick your two best sports. What was the football team's record last season?"

By now, Mattie was laughing at them. Tobin smiled at her. "Do you promise to be honest with us from now on?"

Mattie nodded. "Promise."

"Alright, good." Tobin reached across the island and grabbed the folder from their meeting and pulled it toward herself. "Ms. Bennett said your countries project is due tomorrow. How's that going?"

Mattie froze and her face turned red.

"I'm going to assume that means not very well?" Christen said gently.

She looked at her hands in her lap. "I was going to fake sick tomorrow because I haven't started it."

Christen frowned. "Why can't we do it tonight? It's not even four o'clock yet."

"Yeah, but Sophie says she's been working on it all semester and it's taken her a ton of work. Even Isabella has been working on it every day this week, and she never starts anything until the day before it's due."

"What do you have to do that's so much work?" Tobin asked.

"Like a lot of stuff."

"Well, is there a rubric?" Christen questioned.

Mattie nodded.

"Go get it, and let's start there."

Mattie slipped off the chair and past Christen to get the rubric from her room. Christen looked at Tobin with a slightly overwhelmed expression.

"At least she told us the truth," Tobin offered.

"At least you knew about this project."

"Yeah, I was going through the notes again earlier and I saw it."

"I suppose she didn't have to tell us she was going to fake sick," Christen said and started to laugh.

Tobin rolled her eyes. "Really, she gave that right up."

Christen took a deep breath. "What's this project?"

"I don't know but it was in her history teacher's notes because I think it's a lot of her grade and it'll determine whether or not she gets caught up."

Mattie returned to the kitchen, still looking defeated, and handed Christen a thin packet of papers stapled together.

"Okay," Christen said as she scanned the page. "Students will be assigned a country to research. They will then create a display board and write a 3 page paper about it. Students must use at least 3 primary sources and 8 secondary sources, except for the following countries which require 5 primary sources: Great Britan, France, Germany, China...blah, blah, blah. You must summarize what you think are this country's three largest contributions to world history and why, and recount the history in each of the 5 major periods we studied...Jesus Christ...Your poster board (but not your paper) should also showcase your country's culture in each of the 6 areas listed...whew. Paper must be written in 12pt Times New Roman, double spaced...blah, blah, blah."

Christen continued to read the paper in silence with her eyebrows raised. Mattie stared straight ahead with wide eyes.

"Maybe I should make some coffee," Tobin offered. "Also I can go to Staples to get the supplies."

"Yeah, and were going to have to go to the library because two of the sources have to be books," Christen said, nodding.

"Okay, I can do that because you're going to be more useful on the paper stuff and the primary sources."

Mattie looked between them disbelievingly. "Why are you guys acting like this is possible? It's so much work."

"Yeah, but you have a lot of help," Tobin stated.

"You guys can't help me, that's cheating."

"We can give you advice," Christen said reassuringly. "And we can help with the poster board. I don't think your teacher cares if you can cut up construction paper and paste it to a piece of cardboard. She wants you to learn the material."

"Yeah, and what's your country? We've been lots of places. Maybe we know stuff about the culture or whatever."

Mattie shook her head. "Ms. Bennett said I could pick because I came in after they were assigned, but I haven't even done that yet."

Tobin could hear the defeated tone in Mattie's voice and as she made eye contact with Christen, she could see that she did, too. Christen clapped her hands together. "Alright. Well, let's start there. Do you have any ideas?"

She shrugged.

"Well," Christen encouraged. "How about France since we're going there this summer? Plus, you have two primary sources here that have lived there and can help with the culture." She gestured at Tobin.

Mattie shook her head. "Yeah, but France is one of the countries that needs two extra primary sources! How are we supposed to find 3, nevermind 5."

Christen looked at the paper. "All of those countries are the ones with the most primary sources, that's why she did that."

"How do you know that?"

"For one, they're the biggest and most notable in world history. For another, that's just how teachers make these assignments to make it fair. Plus, I can think of like three primary sources for France off the top of my head. That part is easy."

Tobin rolled her eyes. "No, you can't."

"Really?" Christen challenged. She counted off on her fingers. "Declaration of the Rights of Man, something Voltaire wrote." She paused, thinking. "And that painting of lady liberty with the flag and her boob out."

"There's no way anything with a boob can be considered a primary source," Tobin argued.

"Of course it can! It's European History, Tobin. All of the primary sources involve boobs."

Mattie laughed at them. "Okay, we can do France, then, I guess. I still don't know how I'm going to get this done by tomorrow."

"Teamwork," Tobin said, standing. "You can make a list of what you need at the store and I'll go get it while you figure out your paper."

Mattie sighed.

"Come on," Christen urged. "The sooner you start the sooner you'll finish."

"Okay."

***

By midnight, they had made progress. Sam was in bed and the leftover pizza from dinner was consolidated in the fridge. There were half a dozen books on French history strewn about the living room. Two sections of the trifold board and most of the paper were done. Tobin was on the floor cutting out paragraphs to go on the board and Mattie was dictating quotes from one of her sources for Christen to type.

"I don't know, do you think this is right?" Mattie asked.

Christen shook her head. "It doesn't if you're right, it just matters if you can argue it."

"I still think you should make crepes one of the contributions," Mal aruged from the armchair as she scrolled through her phone. "Crepes are much more important than art."

"Don't you have to go to bed?" Tobin needled. "You have a game tomorrow."

"So do you."

"Yes, but I'm being useful."

"Okay," Christen interrupted. "Mal, you are released. You've been a lot of help."

Mal smiled and stuck her tongue out at Tobin as she went upstairs.

"Is art the last contribution?" Tobin asked.

"Yeah, then I just have to write the conclusion and make bullets of them to go on the board," Mattie answered.

"And the annotations for your bibliography," Christen added.

Mattie groaned and threw her head back.

"C'mon, Mat, we're almost there. Remember when you didn't think you were going to finish at all?"

***

Two hours later, after they had sent Mattie up to bed, Christen walked into the kitchen with the last of the leftover paper scraps from the floor. Tobin was at the sink washing residual glue off her hands.

"Are you gonna head back to the hotel then?" Christen asked, grinning and opening the trash drawer.

Tobin turned off the faucet and grabbed a towel to dry her hands. "Yeah, I'm just gonna leave my stuff here though, cause I'll come back for dropoff tomorrow."

Christen's smile faltered. "Tob, I was kidding. You don't have to go back to the hotel. It's late."

"Well, someone has to abide by the rules. Jeez, if I knew all it took to get you to break the rules was some glue sticks and picture matting I would've taken up scrapbooking much sooner."

She rolled her eyes. "There are extenuating circumstances."

"You'll be mad at me in the morning if I let you give in in a moment of weakness," Tobin said, leaning in to kiss her. "I will come get them ready and out the door, though. Mat's gonna be a gem in the morning."

Christen laughed. "You don't have to. You can sleep in."

"You can sleep in," Tobin challenged, smiling. "I'll be here at 6:30."

She groaned. "Okay, that's definitely against the rules."

"What?"

"You can't be all cute and shit when it's technically gameday." She pointed to the clock, which read 2:03.

Tobin smiled wider. "Sorry, babe. Can't turn it off."

***

Tobin returned home from dropping off Sam and immediately slunk up the stairs into her bedroom. Christen was going through her duffel bag, checking to make sure it was game day ready. Tobin flopped onto the bed as soon as she walked in the door with a dramatic sigh.

"I need a nap."

Christen yawned in agreement. "I know. I used to be able to pull all-nighters in college but now one night with four hours sleep and I'm garbage."

"Come take a nap with me," Tobin said, putting on her best pout and reaching a hand out to Christen.

She smirked. "Hmm...that sounds like a violation of the rules."

"No it's not. I slept at the hotel last night. This is just a nap."

Christen's grin spread wider. "A gameday nap. By the spirit of the rules, that's even worse."

Tobin frowned in concentration. "Buuuuttt. But. Part of the reason for the rules is..sportsmanship, right?"

Christen nodded, her expression asking where Tobin was going with this as she took a step closer to the bed.

"Okay, well, if you think about it, we both got pretty much the same amount of sleep last night, which was not enough."

Christen gave her an expectant look and took another step.

"So, wouldn't the fairest thing, for both teams, and for the overall quality of the game, be for both of us to be equally well rested?"

"Sure..." she said, clearly amused.

She was now close enough for Tobin to reach out and grab her hand, which she did and pulled her closer ."In that case, the best solution is for us to take a nap together. That way we both get more sleep for the same amount of time. If you think about it, this is really a sportsmanship nap."

Christen laughed and rolled her eyes, climbing into the bed. "Okay, fine. For fairness then." She set alarms on her phone to wake them in time to get Sam and settled under the blanket Tobin pulled up. Tobin wrapped an arm around her waist and kissed her shoulder. "Are we cuddling for sportsmanship too?"

Tobin smiled into her shirt and hummed in affirmation. "For the love of the game, babe."

***

The game was a battle from the start. Both teams were fast, so even with the handful of highly technical players on each side, there were a lot of balls right over the middle. Portland scored first in the 23rd minute on a corner that Tobin served onto Allie's head. With less than 10 minutes left in the first half, Gibby caught Maro on the run in transition and she bent it past a diving Franch from 25 yards to equalize.

The second half started much the same way, neither team able to settle the ball in their attacking third. In the 65th minute, it looked like Portland was going to score again when Tobin slipped Raso a pass off the wing, but Sheridan was able to get a hand on the shot and it ricocheted off a Thorn for a goal kick.

Sheridan sent everyone and let a punt fly. Christen tracked the ball in the air, feeling a player on her back and using her elbows and butt to box out as she went up. She twisted in the air to get a head on the ball, making contact with both the head of the player behind her and the ball, which skipped off her head and bouncing down the sideline. The referee's loud whistle as she landed let her know the ball had gone out and the loud but familiar "Oww..." from behind her let her know she had just headbutted Tobin.

"Sorry, babe," she said, turning toward her. Tobin was grimacing with her arm across her chest.

She frowned at Christen as they jogged toward the play. "You elbowed my boob."

Christen gave her an innocent expression. "I'm sorry. You want me to kiss it better?"

Tobin narrowed her eyes. "I hope the camera caught you saying that."

"I hope they caught you whining about your boob."

She pouted and ran back into position. "I didn't say no to that offer, by the way."

Christen smiled and shook her head as she cut to get open for the throw in.

***

In the end, neither team was able to convert another opportunity. Christen had a few really quality chances and finished the game frustrated. She and Maro, as the lone Sunrise goalscorer, had to do stand-up interviews on the field. She didn't really mind, but she really just wanted to collect Mattie and Sam, who were being entertained by a mix of Thorns and Sunrise players near one bench, and get home. After a few questions about the game and the Thorns as an opponent, she saw an assistant with a headset hold up a finger to indicate one more question.

"Obviously, everyone's always talking about how you guys have a very young team and there were points tonight where I think that showed a little. What are you as a captain and Mia as a coach doing to integrate these players into the team and into the league as a whole?"

Christen licked the sweat off her bottom lip. "Well, y'know, we have a lot of youth, but we have a lot of players who are very smart and very...mature for their age. Like, Gibby plays like she's 30. And Mal's the youngest players on the team, but she's also someone with a lot of experience on an international level. So, we're really not teaching anyone the basics, right. And we have lots of different kinds of experience, so it really isn't just me and Mia mentoring people. It's really a team effort. But we try to make sure everyone feels like they can ask questions, on and off the field. Even if it's not soccer related. "

"Alright, well. Thank you, Christen. Back to you Jenn."

"We're clear."

Christen felt her posture relax as the cameraman let the camera droop on his shoulder and turned to talk to one of the production assistants.

Rachel dropped her microphone to her side. "You look like this one took something out of you."

Christen smiled tiredly and shook her head. "Nah, it's...a long story, but my sleep schedule just got--ooph!" She felt a small mass collide with her body and little arms wrap around her legs.

"Mommy, Emmy said we were getting ice cream," Sam said with wide eyes and an excited grin.

Christen turned to look where Sonnett and Mal appeared to be having an argument, mediated by Mattie. "She did?"

She turned back to Sam around her legs and Rachel looking at her with her eyebrows halfway up her forehead. Christen peeked back at the cameraman to see if the camera was at all pointed to them. She gave Rachel a small smile. "Like I said, it's a long story."

***

"Whose do you want to look at first? Mattie's or Sam's?"

Tobin frowned at the folders Christen placed on the bed in front of them. "Mattie's. No, Sam's. No--"

"Here, just take whichever's closer," she said, grabbing the one in front of her. "We're gonna read them both anyway."

Tobin opened Sam's folder. The first page was a birth certificate that looked half complete. She scanned it and turned to the next page, which appeared to be medical records from when they first brought Sam to the hospital. The notes described his sleep schedule and how it was affected by the meth withdrawals he experienced. She felt her stomach drop out when she realized the numbers in one of the tables "2, 3, 2, 3, 5, 2" were recording how much sleep he was getting a night. The file got better for a few pages, showing the progress Sam made as he got healthier. Then came the foster care records, describing his behavioral issues and hyperactivity. There were a few checklists like the one Sam's teacher had given them, but they were half-completed. One of his old preschool teachers just wrote "ADHD and poor fine motor skills consistent w/meth" as his assessment.

She took a deep breath.

"That bad?" Christen asked.

Tobin ran through the highlights. "How's yours?"

"She's been to six schools since the beginning of last school year, Tobin. No wonder she's behind. She hasn't even been getting bad grades because it's just all incompletes."

"When Sam was born he was only getting two hours of sleep a night," she replied in a small voice.

"How naive were we not to think that they didn't have issues like these?"

Tobin furrowed her brow and looked at Christen quickly. "What do you mean?"

"I mean we should've been on top of this from the beginning." She sighed. "Maybe my sisters were right."

"You think we're going too fast?"

"I mean, I don't think we should be going slower. Do you?"

"I don't really see how we could. But--like--I also feel like I have no idea what I'm doing because we're moving too quickly."

Christen nodded. "Taking things one day at a time...I guess it's been working? But what if it doesn't and we just don't know that?"

Tobin smiled at her softly. "Honestly, I'm kind of glad you said that. I felt bad cause I've been overwhelmed. But not, like, in a bad way, y'know?"

She laughed. "Maybe we shouldn't be so hard on Mattie about not sharing her feelings."

Tobin shook her head. "Maybe not. Or at least we should be better about sharing ours." She paused. "Want to go first?"

Christen smiled. "Okay, fine." She took a deep breath. "I feel...okay. So I love you, and Mattie, and Sam a lot obviously. So I want what's best for our family as a whole and for each of you individually." Tobin nodded in agreement. "And I think that the best thing for all of us is to be together, to be a family...as fast as possible, I guess."

"But you don't know if that's being selfish?" Tobin asked. Christen met her gaze and nodded. "Yeah, I'm there, too." She forced out a breath. "Why did this all have to happen now? Why couldn't we have met Mattie in like December?"

"I don't know, but we didn't."

Tobin hummed in agreement.

"What about you? What are you feeling?"

She shrugged. "I don't know, a lot of the same stuff I guess. It's weird because, like, even though a lot of this has been overwhelming and...scary? I guess, I'm also like really, really happy, and it's hard not to just hide in that."

Christen hummed. "Okay, how about this? When it's just us, we agree to talk about being overwhelmed and how we're going to handle everything. When it's all four of us, we can agree to enjoy it, and it doesn't have to be hiding or anything, it's just...gathering the rosebuds or making lemonade out of lemons or something like that."

Tobin nodded in agreement but frowned. "Does that mean we're just going to be overwhelmed all the time when we're alone? I don't like that."

She shook her head. "No, not like that. Just, if that's how you're feeling, you tell me."

"Okay, yeah then. Deal."

Christen smiled and lay back against the headboard. "Good. I think I feel better now."

"Me too. I just wanted to make sure I could still gather your lemons."

***

Christen walked bleary-eyed into the kitchen and came to an immediate halt. "What's going on?" she asked. Sam was sitting on the counter with a backward baseball cap on, making a mess as he ate a blackberry. Tobin was chastising Mal about something she was trying to do with the frying pan at the stove. There was what looked to be pancake batter on one of the cabinets and in Tobin's hair.

"We're making quapes," Sam answered.

"Crepes," Tobin clarified. "Mal was inspired by Mattie's project to show off some of her skills."

Christen laughed. "Mal, do your skills involve coating the kitchen in batter?"

"That was Tobin," she answered.

Tobin scoffed and was about to defend herself when Mattie entered the kitchen. "Are we having pancakes?"

"Crepes," everyone answered.

Mattie groaned. "I'm calling mine pancakes."

They laughed. "C'mon, Mattie, you've got to get pumped for the summer," Mal encouraged.

She shook her head. "I'll be ready then, but it's too soon."

"Mattie, Mattie, Mattie," Tobin said, shaking her head. She winked at Christen and popped one of the blackberries off the counter and into her mouth. "Don' you know when the fruit is ripe, you've got to make crepes?"

Chapter Text

"What about Swedish Fish?"

"No. They'll get stuck in their teeth. The dentist said we have to be extra careful about chewy candy."

"Okay, but I can still get the Sour Patch Kids, right?"

Christen's laugh rang through the phone speaker. "Okay, fine. But a small pack, babe! Don't get like a five-pound bag."

"I don't think that much would fit in the baskets. Especially not with everything else I got. But they're bunny shaped, Chris," Tobin said, holding up one of the packages as if Christen could see her.

She sighed. "Please tell me it's not all candy. Sam's gonna be off the walls."

"It's not! I mean, I got them each a chocolate bunny and eggs, plus I got some of the plastic ones to put jelly beans in. You said the AFC sweatshirt should be here tomorrow for Mat and I made her some shin guards. You're bringing the fidget spinners. Plus, I got that Lego Star Wars kit you said...what else?"

"I think you've got it covered. At this rate, if you get them anything else we're going to have to leave it in Portland or ship it home."

"I know, I know. It's just–it's our first holiday all together as, like, a family. I want it to be good."

Christen paused and Tobin looked at the rainbow of peeps displayed in front of her. "It will be; you've got everything covered. What did you get for Cole and Sebastian?"

"Katie's bringing them presents but I have baskets and more than enough candy and I got them some Thorns gear. And then the extra fidget spinners."

"Okay. Don't go too overboard for them, though. They've got enough to handle hauling two toddlers across the country. They don't need to add an extra suitcase full of toys."

"Yeah, I just did sweatshirts 'cause I figured they were easy to pack. I mean...Sam has gotten pretty good at flying, but I can't imagine taking two little kids on a plane for six hours. And for like three days. I don't know why she wanted to come visit so bad."

"Babe, she wants the kids to get to know each other."

"It's not like I'm not happy to see them! But we'll be in New York in like a month."

"Yeah, but Mattie won't be there, and she wants Sam to be comfortable if he goes to stay with them," Christen explained in an obvious tone.

Tobin frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Tobs, you're in the group chat where we talked about this. Katie offered to take Sam during media week so we don't have to worry about dragging him around? At least on the busier days?"

"Oh. So that's why she's really coming out here?"

"I mean, and they haven't brought the kids out to Portland yet. Why did you think she was coming?"

"I thought my mom sent her to check on my parenting skills."

Christen laughed. "Tobin! She wouldn't do that!"

"Have you met my mother?"

"She trusts you, babe."

"Maybe for some things. I'm just not sure that extends to raising her grandchildren yet."

Her wife sighed. "Well, I can't see inside your mom's head, so I can't guarantee that she does, but I trust your parenting skills, and I'd bet she does too."

Tobin was silent for a moment. She had moved down the aisle until she was face to face with a large cardboard bunny on the endcap that was part of a Lindt display. She looked away from the beady eyes that seemed to follow her judgingly.

"Tob?"

"I know you do. Thanks, babe."

"Speaking of your parenting, Mattie checked with her coach and they only have an optional practice on Saturday next week."

Tobin's mood lifted. "Really? And we'd be back by then anyway."

"Yeah, I think a lot of people go away the week of vacation, so they don't have any games this weekend or next weekend or practice on Tuesday."

"So she wants to come stay then?"

"I think she wanted to spend break with you either way."

"I guess. I wouldn't want her to have to miss practice, though."

"I'm sure she will have no shortage of footy while she's in Portland."

"Yeah, but she hasn't really played on a team...and she's joining mid season. I don't want her to miss out. How did last night go?"

"Oh, it was fine. She told me she was kind of afraid people might have spread rumors about her, or y'know, us. But of course, Isabella had already, and I quote, 'conducted a dramatic retelling of her life story at the end of last practice', so they were all just asking her if she'd met their favorite players and whether they could get an autograph. And they all want to know if they can meet Mal."

Tobin chuckled. "I'm not surprised. Maybe we can get her to do pick up one of these days and they'll all freak out."

Christen joined her laughter. "Only if I can film their reactions."

"Did anyone ask you for a picture or anything last night?"

"No, Sam was having his dinner-time meltdown at the end of practice, so I was trying to get him to relax and I don't think they wanted to experience that. Plus, according to Mattie, Izzie told everyone they had to 'be chill.'"

Tobin grinned and laughed as she pushed her cart toward the front of the store. "Thank God for Izzie. I'm glad Mattie didn't get put on a random team. I want her to enjoy this."

"I know; me too. Maybe we should do something for the team, though. Or at least talk to Mat about it. I feel bad not at least offering."

"Like a skills thing or...?"

"I don't know. Maybe just tickets or gear or something. I don't know if she's comfortable enough yet on the team to have us doing coaching-type stuff."

Tobin got in line behind a middle aged man who only had bargain DVDs and cat food in his cart. "Yeah, we should talk to her about it. Maybe they can come to Carson."

"That's a good idea, I'll look into it."

"'Kay, cool. I'm next in line, so I gotta go. Call me before bed?"

"Alright, I'll talk to you then. Love you."

"Love you too. Bye, babe."

Tobin hung up the phone and loaded her cart onto the checkout belt as the cat food man paid. He gathered his bags and the cashier, a friendly looking older woman, turned to Tobin with a smile.

"Getting ready for Easter?"

***

"You know, we have all the books on Kindle you didn't need to lug that up with you." Mattie looked up from her book, which was laid out the tray table. Christen was giving her a teasing grin. "Do you like reading hard copies better?"

Mattie shrugged. "I don't really mind either way, but this one is so long I like to be able to see how far into it I am."

Christen smiled. "What part are you at?"

"Harry just found out Voldemort can read his mind and now he has to take Occlumency lessons with Snape. Snape's being a jerk and won't tell Harry, like, anything about what's going on."

"I think I remember that part...that book's really long," Christen said frowning. "Plus, Snape's always being a jerk."

"And people are always annoying and refuse to tell Harry what's going on," Mattie added.

Christen laughed. "Read the books again when you're older and see if you still say that. All the adults in that story tell him way too much about what's going on and give him way too much responsibility."

"Yeah, but he always handles things better than the adults anyway. Plus, it's his brain Voldemort's invading...he deserves to know why."

She bit her lip. "Okay, ignoring the fact that it's a book–about magic–do you really think Dumbledore or Sirius or any of the adults who are supposed to take care of him couldn't have done a better job protecting him? In, like, every book Dumbledore knows he's going to do something incredibly dangerous and he lets him do it anyway."

"I don't know. Even in book one, he makes it through all the teachers' defenses and he stops Voldemort. Why shouldn't Dumbledore trust–"

"He was eleven!"

Mattie frowned. "I was eleven when I left Ms. Alice's. I could take care of myself."

Christen looked frustrated and ready to respond when Sam, who was strewn across their row, occupying the middle seat and half of each of their laps, began to stir.

"Mommy, I want juice."

Christen broke eye contact with Mattie and looked down at the boy in her lap. "Okay, bud. What do you say?" she asked, even as she reached into the pocket on the seat in front of her.

"Please," he answered dutifully.

"Here, sit up." She handed him a bottle of apple juice they had bought inside security. She looked back at Mattie and seemed to consider resuming their conversation, but just sighed. Mattie smiled at the fact that she had all but won the argument, at least for now, and turned back to her book.

***

"Excuse me, ma'am."

Tobin moved to avoid a waiter pushing a trolley of food. He smiled and brushed past her, through a door she hadn't known was behind her. She moved to the other side of the small waiting area outside of the hotel's restaurant and leaned against the wall. She continued to scroll through Instagram as waiters and guests shuffled by her, and didn't notice when a familiar group of faces descended the stairs from the main lobby.

"Auntie Tobin!"

She turned to look for the source of the noise, but not before a tiny body collided with her legs. "Hey, buddy!" she said, kneeling down to hug her nephew.

"Mommy says you got me new cousins," he said excitedly.

Tobin laughed as she picked Cole up and looked at her sister, who followed her son downstairs.

"We were explaining how Mattie and Sam came to live with you on the plane, but he wasn't really interested in anything beyond the fact that he has new cousins," she explained, transferring the small child in her arms from one hip to the other.

Tobin smiled wide and poked at the baby's belly. "Hi, Sebastian, did you miss me?" She earned a still-quite-gummy smile and a giggle before Cole decided his younger brother had gotten enough attention.

"Auntie Tobin," he said insistently, turning her head back to face him. "Are my new cousins here?"

She laughed. "Sorry buddy, they won't be here until way later. They're in Seattle right now with Christen because she has a game tonight."

"Are we gonna watch her?" he asked.

"Well, I am, but I think you're gonna stay here. I'm gonna drive up after practice and bring them back with me, so you'll get to meet Mattie and Sam tomorrow morning."

Scott returned from talking to the maitre d' and waved them in. "She said we can sit now if we're ready."

Tobin and Katie followed him into the dining room, but Cole was still focused on the conversation at hand. "Why can't I watch Auntie Christen play?"

Tobin raised her eyebrows at Katie over Cole's shoulder. "You were serious about the Auntie Christen thing."

"I mean you're engaged now," she answered, gesturing to Tobin's hand. "Congrats again, by the way. I like the ring."

"Thanks, it was her grandma's."

"To-binnn!" Cole whined.

"What bud?"

"Why can't I come to Auntie Christen's game?"

"It's a really long drive, dude. We won't get home until really late. But tomorrow you're gonna come to my game, and you get to watch with Mattie and Sam and Auntie Christen. How's that sound?"

Cole considered this as Tobin slid them into a booth opposite Scott and Katie placed Sebastian in a high chair. She shifted Cole onto the bench and he kneeled facing her as they were handed menus. "I guess that's okay. How tall is Sam?"

"Umm...I don't know exactly. He's about the same height as you I guess. He had a doctors appointment on Tuesday, though, so I can ask. Why?"

Cole held out his left hand as he explained. "Well, Mommy said he's 4, and I'm 4 so I wanted to know who was older and who was taller. I'm three feet and seventy five inches."

"Seven point five inches," Katie corrected gently.

"Hmm..." Tobin said thoughtfully. "Well, Sam is older than you, but only by a couple months. Stand up?" He followed her gesture for him to stand on the bench. "You might be a little taller than him. We can measure tomorrow."

Cole plopped back down into the booth. "Okay, good."

"Good?" Tobin asked.

"Well, yeah," Cole said, as if it were obvious, "it's good that he's older and I'm taller, cause then when we play stuff together we can win different things."

Tobin looked at him amusedly. "Like what?"

"Like I can win at basketball ‘cause I'm taller, and he can win at video games cause he's older. So if we play both, it'll be fair."

"Well what if you play video game basketball?" Tobin teased.

Cole thought about it. "Then he wins. Tallness doesn't matter in video game basketball."

"Alright, then."

"Auntie Tobin?"

"Yeah, bud?"

"How come you got big kids instead of little ones? My friend Jake has a new sister who's adopted but she's a baby. Why didn't Mattie and Sam come as babies?"

Tobin stalled and glanced at her sister and brother-in-law. Katie looked embarrassed and a little unsure of what to say. "Well, it's kind of a long story. Do you know why kids get adopted? Like Jake's sister?"

"She didn't have any moms or dads," he said nodding. "And Mom said Mattie and Sam got took care of by their Nana, but she had to go away."

"Right," Tobin said, relieved she didn't have to explain that anyone had died. "So their Nana took care of them until Mattie was ten, and Sam was two. But obviously ten and two year olds still need to have someone to take care of them, right?"

Cole frowned but nodded in agreement.

"Well, if kids don't have anyone to take care of them, sometimes they have to go live somewhere called a group home, until they get adopted. So Mattie and Sam lived there, but then we met Mattie and loved her and Sam, and wanted to make sure they could always stay together, so we asked if they could come live with us. And we...I don't know why we met Mattie and Sam now, instead of before, but I think God just decided it was time for us to be a family. Does that make sense?"

"I guess so," Cole conceded, and turned to the kids menu and crayons on the table in front of him. "God's pretty smart, so he's probably right."

"Yeah, you're right about that bud." Tobin laughed and looked up at Katie and Scott. Her sister looked at her with a unreadable expression that Tobin hoped wasn't disapproving.

"So what do you guys want to do while we have you here?"

***

Tobin tapped her thumb against the steering wheel as she waited for the traffic light to turn green. She had left for Seattle immediately after the Thorns pregame practice, but still managed to hit rush hour in both cities. Despite her original plan to pick up the kids from the hotel, she had called Christen to tell her she was going to be late and she'd meet them at the stadium. She still had almost an hour until kickoff, and she could see the Space Needle in the distance, but she told Christen she would pick up dinner for the kids that wasn't concession food.

After a running into the prepared foods section of the nearest Whole Foods and trying to pick an assortment neither Christen nor Sam would object to, she drove hurriedly through downtown Seattle traffic and finally arrived at Memorial Stadium. She parked off to the side of the main lot and snuck toward the entrance to the locker rooms, hoping not to draw much attention before she got there. Christen had texted to tell her that Mattie and Sam were hanging out on the sidelines during warmups, so Tobin texted Mattie when she arrived to meet her in the hallway.

Tobin approached the door where two stadium staffers were standing in beige polos. She was trying to think of how she was going to explain why she needed to get in the hallway when the guy facing her looked up from their conversation.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, confused.

"Uhhh..." Tobin stalled. "I've just got to go get..."

"Is Portland really this desperate to win the division?" he continued, joking but clearly still wondering why Tobin Heath was trying to walk into the Reign and Sunrise locker rooms.

The girl he had been talking to turned around. "Oh, hey, Tobin. They said to send you right in."

Tobin breathed a sigh of relief and smiled. "Awesome. Thank you." She nodded to the other staffer, who was standing there with a bemused expression, and walked through the door, propped open by a traffic cone, behind them. She looked both ways down the hallway, which she'd been to before, but felt weird in when she was wearing street clothes and wasn't about to play a game. She started walking toward the tunnel that led to the field when she heard a familiar voice shout behind her.

"Tobs!"

"Hey, Pinoe, how's it going?" she answered, giving her a low five and half a hug.

"Pretty good. You here to get Mattie and Sam?"

Tobin nodded. "They're out on the sidelines, I think. I just didn't wanna, y'know, waltz out there..."

"And start any 'Heath to LAFC' rumors?"

Tobin rolled her eyes. "Exactly. It's a good thing Chris told the girl at the door I was coming because I really didn't want to walk them through the whole story."

"You should have just said you were here delivering me food," she said, gesturing to the paper bag in Tobin's hand. "What d'you got? Anything good?"

"I picked out the healthiest food I thought Sam would possibly eat. They had their dentist and doctor's appointments at the beginning of the week and now Chris is freaking out that they haven't gotten the right nutrition before this and we have to play catch up."

Megan grinned and pinched Tobin's cheek. "Toby, Toby, Toby. And I thought how whipped you were before was cute. This is a whole new level. Are you sure you aren't already married?"

Tobin laughed, hoping it wasn't too forced. "It feels like that, huh. Here, you want a blackberry?" She pulled out the container, opening it and offering it to Megan.

"Sweet," she laughed. "I'll go get them for you." She skipped down the hallway and turned at the entrance to the tunnel, disappearing from view. Tobin took a berry for herself and placed the container back in the bag. She waited a second, but soon heard the echo of little feet running toward her. She walked to the mouth of the tunnel and was hit by Sam running full force into her legs.

"Mama!"

"Oof. Hey, buddy," she said, putting down the bag of food and kneeling to hug Sam. He threw his hands around her neck and gripped her tightly, burying his face in the collar of her t-shirt. "Is everything okay?" she asked, rubbing his back.

"Five is too much days," he mumbled.

Tobin's breath caught in her throat and she looked up to see Megan walking back down the tunnel with Mattie and laughing at something she said. She cleared her throat. "I know, babe."

***

Christen felt better after a shower, but the 1-0 loss against a physical Seattle side had taken its toll. She could feel a bruise forming on her thigh and had taken at least one elbow to the ribs. She had promised herself she wouldn't let Tobin drive home before her game tomorrow, but was seriously regretting her resolution at this point. She checked on Christina, who had gotten battered all night, and poked her head in to tell Mia she was going to head out.

"Alright. Will we see you guys back at the hotel?"

"I'm gonna run in and get our bags, but I think we'll try to get on the road pretty quick. Tobin and Sam will both be garbage tomorrow if they get to bed too late."

Mia laughed. "Get a move on then. While I'm sure the Breakers would appreciate that, the last thing either of us need is a phone call from Parsons about intradivisional sabotage."

"Thanks, I'll see you Tuesday?"

"See you then, Press."

Christen exited the locker room and looked up and down the hallway for signs of Tobin and the kids. She heard a familiar giggle and the sound of a soccer ball bouncing through one of the doorways and headed toward it. She looked inside and saw Tobin playing keeper in front of a trainer's table they were using as a makeshift goal. Mattie was encouraging Sam, trying to line him up to properly shoot the trick ball at his feet. Sam shot and Tobin dramatically dove in the opposite direction so the ball skipped over her extended leg. Sam laughed and cheered, throwing his hands up.

"Here," Mattie said, grabbing his arms and moving them toward parallel, "do what Mommy does when she scores."

Christen felt her heart skip as Sam ran toward Tobin with his arms out wide. Tobin looked up at the doorway and smiled lazily, catching Sam. Mattie blushed at being caught momming her, even if it was only to her brother.

She walked over and pulled Mattie into a one armed hug. "Sorry you didn't get to see any cellies from me tonight, babe," she said, kissing the top of her head.

Mattie shook her head and wrapped both of her arms around Christen's middle. "You played so good. The refs were terrible."

Christen laughed. "That's a very unbiased opinion, coming from you."

"No, seriously," Mattie said, looking up at her with an insistent expression. "I counted at least 3 fouls on you that should have been PKs. And that last offside call?" She made an incredulous noise.

"She was like this the whole game," Tobin said, amused by Mattie's indignation.

"C'mon, at least one of the people that went cleats up at Gibby should've gotten a card!" she insisted.

"Yeah, they went a little rough on Gibs," Christen conceded. "I just talked to her, though, and she's doing alright. Are you guys ready to head out?" she asked, directing her question at Tobin and Sam.

"Where're we going?" Sam asked. "To the hotel?"

"For a second," Christen answered, "but we're going home to Portland, remember? Mama has a game tomorrow."

Tobin stood and held Sam's hand. "Oh yeah, that's where our cousins are."

"You know I had lunch with them earlier. Cole's really excited to meet you."

They walked out of the trainer's room and toward the exit. "He is?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, well, he only had one cousin to hang out with before this, plus his brother, but they're both really little so he'll be glad to have a buddy."

"That's my cousin, too," he said, as if he was informing Tobin of the fact.

"Yep, that's right. Do you know their names?"

Sam thought hard. "Sebastian!"

Tobin nodded. "That's Cole's brother. Do you know who your guys' other cousin is?"

"Etta?" he questioned.

"Well, she's your cousin, but she's not Cole's first cousin, she's his second cousin."

Sam frowned in confusion. "Who's my first cousin?"

"They both are."

"They're both first?"

Christen and Tobin laughed. "Tobs, that's not how second cousins work."

"It's not?"

Christen frowned and second-guessed herself. "People are second cousins if...their parents are first cousins."

"What's first cousins?" Sam asked.

"Your first cousin is someone whose mom or dad is your mom or dad's brother or sister. So Harriet is your first cousin because her mom is my sister, and Cole is your first cousin because his mom is Mama's sister. But Etta and Cole aren't cousins because Auntie Tyler and Auntie Katie aren't sisters. Make sense?"

Sam, Mattie and Tobin all looked a little confused. "So what's your cousin's cousin?" Mattie asked. "Is that what once removed is?"

"No, once removed is like what you are to one of my cousins. If they're my first cousin, then you're one generation removed from that, so they're your first cousin once removed."

Tobin scrunched up her face as she turned to hit her back against the bar on the exit from the stadium hallway to the side parking lot. "I always forget how that works. Normally at that point I just start calling everyone my cousin."

"Yeah, that works," Christen agreed, guiding Mattie out the door in front of her.

"So Etta and Cole are first cousins?"

"Still not first cousins, buddy," Tobin said gently "Just, like, regular cousins."

"But who's Cole's other first cousin?" Christen asked, continuing to quiz him.

"Umm..."

"You know this, Sammy," Mattie encouraged. "We talked about it at breakfast the other day."

Sam still looked stumped.

"Do you remember Mama's brother's and sisters' names?"

Sam nodded cautiously. "Auntie Katie, Auntie Perry and Uncle Jeff." He counted each name off on his fingers.

"Good job, bud," Tobin said, kissing him on the cheek, which made him smile bashfully. "And you know who Auntie Katie's kids are..."

"Sebastian and Cole."

"Nice, Sam!" Christen added as they got to the car.

Christen went to put her bag in the trunk and Tobin to put Sam in his carseat. "And how many kids do Auntie Perry and Uncle Jeff have?"

"I don't think Uncle Jeff has any kids," Sam said, correcting Tobin.

"You're right. Trick question. What about Perry? How many kids does she have?"

"One. It's Tucker."

"See, you do know all your cousins!" Tobin said brightly as she pulled the harness of his car seat out from behind him. "Tucker is Cole's first cousin."

"And me?"

"And you. They're both your first cousin."

"Tob. Keys?" Christen asked as she passed the door on the way back. She held out her hand.

"You want to drive?" Tobin asked, finishing buckling Sam in before closing the door and turning to face her.

"I was planning on it."

Tobin frowned. "You just played a whole game. You must be exhausted. I'll drive."

Christen gave her a stern look. "You drove all the way up here, like, three hours ago and you have a game tomorrow." She held out her hand further. "I'm driving."

Tobin looked like she wanted to argue, but thought better of it and fished into her pocket for the keys. "Fine." She went to hand them over when she stopped and pulled back. "Wait. Let me drive to the hotel. You have to get out and get the bags, so it'll be easier if I can just drop you."

Christen raised her eyebrows and scanned Tobin's face to see if this was a trick. "Tobin, if we have to have this conversation again at the hotel, I swear I'm actually gonna be pissed at you." Tobin grinned. "I'm not kidding, babe, I will."

Tobin leaned forward to kiss her. "I know. I'll be good."

Christen felt the tension she had carried since the game start to melt as she fell into the kiss. It wasn't until Tobin moved a hand to her side to pull her closer and brushed the sore spot on her ribs that she pulled back, letting out a small gasp of pain.

"Shit, my bad. That's where you took that elbow, huh."

She nodded once and winced. "Sorry. It's not that bad; I just forgot it was there."

Tobin ran her thumb lightly over the spot and bent down to brush her lips over it. "Better?"

Christen grinned. "Yes, much better. Thank you, baby."

"You know, I'm really okay to drive. I'll let you if you want, but I don't want you to feel like you have to."

"I want to," Christen assured. "I've been planning on it all day."

"Okay," Tobin conceded, pressing a kiss to the corner of her mouth. "Thank you for being sweet and taking care of me."

Christen tilted forward to meet her lips. "Thank you coming to get us even though you have a game tomorrow."

"You couldn't keep me away." Tobin kissed her again.

After a second, Christen pulled back very slightly. "And you're right about the hotel. It makes more sense for you to drive there." She fell back into Tobin.

"Look at us," Tobin whispered against her lips. "Compromising like real grown up married people." Christen giggled. "Was this our first fight since the wedding?"

Christen's eyelashes fluttered in exasperation. "Babe, this wasn't a fight. It was barely an argument."

Tobin smirked. "Why?" She kissed from her jaw to her earlobe. "Because you knew you were gonna get your way?"

Christen laughed and shook her head. "Is that how you expect our fights to go? Because if so this whole marriage thing is gonna be easier than I thought."

Tobin returned her lips to Christen's. "Good. That means I'm doing a good job being your wife."

Christen closed her eyes and breathed deeply. "I missed you so much this week. It wasn't even really that long, but it felt like forever. I swear being married makes it harder."

"I know. I hate not waking up nex–" Tobin interrupted herself with a yawn.

"C'mon," Christen said, moving her hands to rest on Tobin's hips, "we've got to get you home."

Tobin sighed and stepped back. "I'm surprised Mattie hasn't yelled at us to get moving yet."

"She's probably reading her book," Christen said as she moved around the front of the car. "She didn't take her head out of it the entire flight up and I caught her reading under the covers last night."

Christen got in the front seat and turned around, discovering she was wrong. Mattie was sitting in the middle seat, instead of her usual spot on the right side. She had balled her sweatshirt up and placed it on the arm of Sam's car seat so she could rest her head there. Sam, for his part, had taken it upon himself to
stroke her hair, which he did awkwardly with a flat palm and his fingers splayed out. Mattie's eyes were closed contentedly.

She made eye contact with Tobin as she slid into the driver's seat and Tobin looked back at the scene. They looked at each and Tobin leaned into join their soft smiles together.

"I didn't think she'd be the first one to crash out of you three," Christen said quietly.

"I'm not asleep," Mattie grunted.

Tobin raised her eyebrows and smirked, turning to start the car. Christen giggled. "Sleep if you're tired, babe. What time did you actually go to bed last night?"

Mattie shrugged and snuggled further into her sweatshirt. Tobin started the car and turned it around to leave the parking lot. It didn't take long to get to the hotel. She pulled into the driveway under the overhang. A bellhop approached the passenger side of the car and Christen rolled down the window.

"I just have to run and get my bags from the desk. Can she wait here?" Christen asked.

The man nodded. "I can get your bags for you, ma'am."

Christen thanked him and followed him into the lobby. After she had given the concierge her name and key, the bellhop re-emerged from the luggage room with two suitcases. Christen tipped the concierge and followed the bellhop back out to the car. Tobin hopped out of the car and handed the man a bill. "Thanks, dude, I got it."

"You sure?" he asked, confused.

Tobin nodded and clapped him on the arm, grabbing the bags. Christen walked over to where Tobin stood with a hand on the rear hatch. "Really feeling the urge to lift some luggage?" she teased.

Tobin looked toward the front of the car and then back to her. "I realized we hadn't really talked about–I just–are we doing the Easter bunny?"

Christen frowned. "Huh?"

"Like, are we telling Sam that the Easter bunny brings him presents?"

"Oh. I guess I figured we would...unless there's a reason you don't want to?"

Tobin shook her head. "I figured we would too. But I just brought it up with him and I realized..."

"He didn't know what you were talking about," Christen realized.

"Yeah," Tobin said, laughing uneasily. "And I didn't want to just...y'know...decide to tell him..."

"No, yeah, I'm on team Easter bunny."

"Cool," Tobin said, smiling and opening the hatch. She dumped the bags into the back seat and looked for Sam's eyes in the rearview mirror, but they were on Mattie next to him. After she had closed the trunk she went to walk back to the driver's side before realizing what she agreed to earlier. "Right, your turn." She walked back around to get to the passenger side but Christen grabbed her wrist, bringing her knuckles to her lips and kissing them.

"Thank you," she said, and Tobin smiled goofily in response.

"Mommy, guess what?" Sam said as Christen buckled in.

"What bud?"

"The Easter bunny is coming."

"Only if you're good, babe."

She saw Sam's eyes widen in the mirror. "I'm good!"

Tobin laughed. "Are you excited to hunt for Easter eggs?"

Sam frowned. "What's a Easter egg?"

Christen started the car as Tobin continued to explain. "Well, when the Easter bunny comes, he gives you a basket, but then he takes a bunch of the eggs and hides them around the house–"

"Why does he hide eggs?"

"They're like eggs filled with candy. But he hides them all around and you have to go find them to get them."

"Why?"

"'Cause it's fun. We're gonna wake up and go to church with your cousins and then come home and have breakfast and hunt for Easter eggs."

"Okay."

"Have you ever been to church, Sammy?" Christen asked.

Sam raised one arm in a shrug. "Where is it?"

"It's not one place. There are lots of churches. Like, in lots of different places around the world."

"Like McDonald's?"

Christen could see Tobin wince and try not to laugh. "Umm...sort of. It's a little different. Remember how we talked about Jesus?"

Sam nodded.

"So a church is a place you go to think about Jesus and talk to him."

He frowned. "I thought you said I could talk to him whenever I want."

"Right. You can. Church is just a place where everyone can talk to him together. Where we can celebrate him."

"Like a party?"

Tobin furrowed her brow. "Yeah, sort of like a party. 'Cause Easter is, like, a special day."

"How come?"

"Well, Jesus di–umm...Easter is the day Jesus rose. After he died to save us."

"He died?"

Christen could see Mattie was awake and trying not to laugh as Tobin stumbled through an explanation.

"Yeah, he gave his life to save everyone. Does that make sense?"

Sam paused in thought. "Yeah. It's just like Obi Wan Kenobi dies so Luke and everyone can escape."

Christen and Mattie both snorted as they stifled their laughter. Tobin looked conflicted. "Ummm..." she said in a high voice, "yeah, I guess that's...the same general idea..."

"He must be really nice then."

Tobin looked at Christen and she tried to give her a sympathetic look. Tobin nodded to Sam with grateful resignation. "Jesus is, like, the nicest. He loves everyone."

"Not bad guys, though."

Tobin nodded. "Yeah, even bad guys. He wants them to be good, but he loves everyone no matter what. Like the way me and Mommy love you and Mattie no matter what."

Sam smiled. "Like I love you and Mattie and Mommy!"

Tobin and Christen both bit their bottom lips as they grinned and Tobin reached back to grab Sam's foot. "Exactly, buddy."

***

Christen checked the backseat occasionally as they cruised down I-5. Sam fell asleep somewhere around Olympia and Mattie was drifting in and out. Tobin had been running a thumb over her hand on the center console for the last hour.

"You can take a nap, babe."

Tobin hummed and threaded their fingers together. "I'm not tired yet."

"I can see you when you yawn, you know."

She saw Tobin smirk at being caught out of the corner of her eye.

"I see that smile, too."

Tobin turned her head so Christen couldn't see her face.

"Ugh, you're such a brat," she said, grinning.

They smiled to themselves in silence until Tobin spoke up. "Everything I told Sam earlier was okay, right?"

"Yeah," Christen said, glancing at her. "I think you did a good job explaining."

"No, I mean..." Tobin looked down at their hands, "we said–before, we said we would let our kids make their own decisions about religion."

"That doesn't mean you can't tell him what you believe." Christen squeezed her hand. "Besides, it's our job to teach them about unconditional love. Jesus is a good way to teach that, even if they decide not to...worship him."

Tobin smiled. "Has anyone ever told you that you're pretty smart?"

"Once or twice."

"Honestly, as long as what he gets from that conversation isn't that he should worship Obi Wan..."

Christen started to giggle, and Tobin caught it.

"I think my mother would faint if he said that in front of her," she wheezed.

Soon, they were alternating between cracking up and shushing each other in hopes of keeping the kids in the back seat asleep.

"What's so funny?" Mattie groaned when they failed to be quiet.

"Nothin', babe. Just that we almost forgot to tell Sam about the easter bunny."

"You know you're gonna need to do Christmas, too, right?"

Tobin furrowed her brow. "Yeah, but he probably knows the basics there. Like, presents and Santa and stuff."

"He might, but honestly probably not. I wasn't there last Christmas, but the one before that they just put Christmas movies on the tv in the living room. They didn't really do a tree or presents or anything like that. I really doubt he remembers anything before that, but Abuela let me decorate a tree and arrange the nativity and she made us go to mass. He was probably too little to even know what was going on with any of the Jesus-y stuff, though."

Tobin looked a little taken aback by the new information. Christen looked back at Mattie in the rearview mirror. "Well, we're gonna have to make this Christmas really special, then, huh?"

Tobin swallowed and smiled at Mattie. "Perfect. Sound like a plan?"

***

Christen was almost asleep, her head on Tobin's shoulder and her arm across her stomach, when Tobin whispered. "Babe."

She groaned in response.

"Babe."

Christen hummed.

"How are we gonna make Christmas special enough to be worth 3 Christmases?"

She tilted her head to look at Tobin. "I don't think we can." Tobin looked defeated. "I just mean, let's focus on making one Christmas special first. Or one Easter." She sighed. "I'm just hoping someone already hasn't ruined Santa for him."

Tobin frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I dunno, I was just thinking about what Mattie said and I realized that if she wasn't there at Christmas, some older kid could have easily told him that Santa wasn't real."

Tobin looked up at the ceiling. "I knew that Mattie was going to have her own opinions on things and her own experiences, but Sam..."

Christen kissed her collarbone. "You thought all the traditions would be new for him because he's so little."

She exhaled. "Yeah."

"Yeah, me too."

"I just want them to still get to be kids, Chris. They should get Santa and the Easter bunny and all the rest of it."

Christen finally leaned up so she could actually look Tobin in the eye. "We can still give them all of those things, babe."

***

"Is there any dragons there?"

Christen turned around in the passenger seat to face Sam."Not really. There are chameleons, though."

"What's that?"

"They're a type of lizard, and they can change their skin to blend into their surroundings, so they're almost invisible."

"Woah," Sam said with wide eyes. He gave Christen an inquisitive look. "What's Cole's favorite animal?"

Christen looked at Tobin, who shrugged. "I don't know, bud. Why?"

"I wanna know if we have the same favorite."

"Well, you'll have to ask him what it is. What's yours?"

Sam's expression grew very pensive and he looked out the window very seriously. "I don't know. I have to see them all first."

She looked at Mattie, who smiled. "I like the elephants, Sammy. I can't wait to see them."

"You know there's a baby elephant?" Tobin added from the driver's seat. "She was born a few months ago."

"There is?" Mattie asked excitedly.

Tobin looked at her in the rearview mirror. "Yeah, we watched her be born on Facebook Live."

Mattie made a face. "Was it gross?"

Tobin giggled. "Yeah it was–" she stopped when Christen shot her a disapproving look. "No, it was..." she watched her wife's face for approval, "beautiful and natural?"

Christen raised her eyebrows. "It was educational. There were zookeepers narrating what was happening, and what would happen if they were in the wild."

"Can she walk?" Sam asked.

Christen nodded. "Yeah, she was walking a few hours after she was born. She was a little wobbly, but she could stand and move around."

"How? Etta can't walk yet and she's been alive for lots of hours."

She shrugged. "I think it's harder for humans to walk because our heads are bigger, but I don't know, bud. We'll have to ask the zookeeper."

"Do elephants have small heads?"

"Not smaller than yours, but they're smaller compared to their body."

Tobin pulled the car up to where they were meeting Katie and Scott for breakfast to let Christen and the kids out. "Katie says they're here," Tobin said, looking at her phone. "They're just looking for a spot."

"Okay, I'll get a table," Christen said as she unbuckled Sam and helped him down from the car seat.

Once she closed the door and met Mattie at the entrance to the restaurant, Tobin put the car in drive and pulled around the block looking for a parking spot. She smiled when she saw an empty stretch of curb in front of an SUV from which her brother-in-law was exiting the driver's side door.

"Auntie Tobin!" she heard from the sidewalk on the other side of the rental.

"Cole, don't go out into the street!" Katie called.

"But Auntie Tobin is here!"

Tobin walked around the front of the car. "I'm right here buddy."

Cole was on the sidewalk next to the car, bouncing on his toes and peering around her. "Are they here?"

Tobin gave Katie an amused look.

"Auntie Christen and Mattie and Sam. Are they here yet?"

She looked at him sternly. "Are you not excited enough to see me?"

"I seed you yesterday," he said matter-of-factly.

Katie and Scott both laughed at the offended expression Tobin wore. "Well, I guess I'll just go back home then since we already hung out enough."

"No!" Cole protested. "I want to hang out with you and them."

"Okay..." Tobin grinned. "They're inside saving us a table."

Cole jumped to grab Tobin's hand, starting to pull her in the wrong direction.

"It's that way, bud."

He turned on a dime and pulled her toward the restaurant as Katie finished extracting Sebastian from the car.

"Hold up, Cole," Tobin said, slowing the pace she allowed him to pull her at. "We're gonna get there soon."

Once Katie and Scott had gathered themselves and Sebastian, Tobin allowed Cole to lead her down the sidewalk. They crossed the street and Tobin pointed to the door of the breakfast place. They walked under the awning and into the pub, which was already buzzing with patrons at this hour. The dark wood around dining room made it feel smaller, in a cozy way. Tobin nodded to the bartender-slash-hostess, who recognized her.

"Tobin! Welcome back. You guys ready for the game today?" The older woman looked her over as if she could assess her fitness, and the Thorns chances, on sight.

"Hey, Marge." Tobin smiled. "Yep. Just grabbing some family breakfast first. These guys are in town for Easter." She indicated to Katie who the waitress visibly recognized as being her sister.

"Alright then. Christen said you guys had some guests, so I put you at the long table next to your regular spot."

"Thanks!"

"Good luck today. Get us a win!"

"Will do, Marge."

Tobin led them, Cole still in hand, around the tables in the center of the restaurant and through an entryway into a smaller room that was half separated from the main dining area. Christen, Mattie, and Sam looked up as they entered. Christen smiled and got up to hug the familiar figures. Mattie followed her nervously but was swept into hugs from Katie and Scott. Sam, on the other hand, slunk down off his booster seat and onto the bench below, so he was just peering over the edge of the table, eyes full of fear and curiosity. Tobin turned to Cole to introduce the two, hoping to ease Sam into meeting his cousins, but he was hiding, too, behind her leg and peeking out at Sam from behind her.

"Oh, come on. You guys were so excited to hang out and now you're doing this?" Tobin led Cole over to the table. "Here, you can sit next to each other." She grabbed the other booster seat, intended for Cole, from the opposite side of the table and placed it next to Sam's on the bench. "Mat, I'm moving you down one, okay?"

She looked at Mattie, who was now holding Sebastian and tickling him. "You can put me at the other end," she said, indicating to the side of the table where Sebastian's high chair was parked. Tobin rolled her eyes and moved Mattie's phone and jacket to the end of the bench, and helped Cole into the booster next to Sam. The boys still didn't look at each other except to sneak glances when they thought the other wasn't looking.

Tobin laughed and moved around the table to sit across from them. "You guys are being silly. Did you already decide what you want for breakfast, Sammy?"

Sam shrugged. "What is there?"

"If you could have anything, what would you want? They probably have it."

He thought. "I want a Eggo."

"Me too," Cole agreed.

Tobin looked at the menu. "You're both in luck. They have Belgian waffles."

Cole made a face. "Is that Eggos?"

"It's like Eggos but better," she assured.

They both looked at her suspiciously.

"Just trust me, okay?"

Christen settled into her chair next to Tobin and the rest of the table shuffled into their spots. "What are you getting, babe?"

"I think I'm just gonna have eggs and toast and fruit. I don't want to eat anything heavy before the game."

Christen put a hand on her knee. "Are you sure you want to go? We can drop you at home if you want to stay off your feet."

She shook her head. "No, I wanna go." Christen looked ready to argue but let it go.

"Cole, did you decide what you want?" Katie asked across the table.

He nodded. "Sammy and me are getting...what's it called?" he asked Sam. Sam just blushed and looked at Tobin for help.

"They want waffles," she answered to Katie.

Tobin only half participated in the adult conversation at the other end of the table, except when Mattie took a break from entertaining her baby cousin to excitedly compare every feature of the pub to The Leaky Cauldron, which she had decided she liked better than The Three Broomsticks or The Hog's Head, the new pub had been introduced to a few hundred pages ago. Mostly, though, Tobin watched as Sam and Cole slowly warmed up to each other.

"Do you like animals?" Sam asked when the waitress came to take the table's orders and it seemed like the attention wasn't near them.

Cole nodded. "My mom says they have lions at the zoo."

Sam looked impressed. "Can they roar? Like in Lion King?"

Cole frowned and shrugged. "I think so. I hope they do."

"My mama said they have an elephant that's a baby and she walked when she was three hours," Sam said in an impressed tone.

Cole looked at him with wide eyes. "My baby brother Seb couldn't walk until he was like a gazillion hours."

From there they delved into all the animals they hoped to see at the zoo, half of which weren't even real, but Tobin grinned as they babbled to each other excitedly.

"Tob?" Christen asked, interrupting her spying. "Did you hear Katie?"

"Huh?"

"Mom wants to know around when you're gonna have the wedding. I know you don't have a date, but do you have a month?"

Tobin looked between her sister and wife, pulling a face. "Why are you asking me?"

Christen glared at her warningly.

She smiled sweetly. "I just meant that Christen is better at that stuff. Also, we're not planning anything until after France. We want to focus on making it through June."

"I know, but you don't have like, a season you're thinking?" Katie asked.

"The off season?" Tobin offered.

Scott and Mattie both tried to stifle their laughter. Christen smirked and shook her head, turning to Katie. "It'll probably be some point this winter, but we've got to figure out where we can fit it with all of our stuff and the kids' stuff."

"Okay, well keep us in the loop, and Mom still has all the planning stuff from me and Perry so let her know if you need any of it. And Tobin?"

"Yeah?"

"You know you have to help with this, right? It's your wedding, too."

Tobin rolled her eyes. "Ugh, I will, I just–"

Christen put a hand on her knee. "She's been a very helpful fiancee, Katie. We just really haven't started planning at all." She kissed Tobin's cheek and Tobin smiled at the compliment.

"Alright. Be sure it says that way, Tobs."

***

They got to the zoo as it opened, by which time Sam and Cole were thick as thieves and twice as much trouble. They had to be reminded once a minute that they were supposed to keep one hand on either side of Sebastian's stroller unless they were holding hands with an adult. Their favorite animal changed with each exhibit they visited. Sam liked the bald eagles, Cole liked the black bear, then they both decided they liked the river otters more.

After they had blown through half the zoo without stopping to look at an exhibit for more than 30 seconds, Christen and Katie convinced the boys to slow down and listen to some of the voiceovers that played about the animals. Christen got them to listen to her read them facts from a sign about polar bears.

"Wow, when they're born, the babies are only one pound and are the size of a rat."

"How big is that?"

Christen held out her hands to show them. "That's way smaller than a human baby even though grown up polar bears are bigger than grown up humans."

"Cole: when you were born you were 8 pounds, 2 ounces," Katie explained. "So that was eight times bigger than a baby polar bear."

"Mom, do you know how big I was when I was born?" Sam asked.

Christen paused and fiddled with her earlobe. "The first time they weighed you in the hospital, you were a little over 6 pounds."

Sam frowned. "Is that little?"

"It's still bigger than a polar bear baby," she answered.

After the arctic animals, they moved on to the primates. A woman in an official zoo polo embroidered with the name 'Rebecca' stood between the orangutans and the chimpanzees to narrate the exhibits.

"...are some of the most intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom, and have complicated social structures. Like lots of the smartest animals that we study here at the zoo, orangutans and chimps can do things we used to think only humans did. For example, different groups of chimps pass down different ways of grooming themselves, which scientists like to think of the same way we might think of humans passing down cultural traditions. And when chimps move between groups, they adopt the traditions of the new group. So for example, last year, we got a new chimp named Craig. He's back there next to the biggest tree, can you see him?"

The zookeeper pointed into the enclosure and all of the visitors listening to her speech peered through the exhibit, including Sam and Cole, who stood with their hands against the glass.

"Craig came here from Cincinnati, and when the chimps there groom each other, they hold the other chimp by the wrist." She demonstrated by grabbing both of her own wrists. "Here, when our chimps are grooming one another, they use a palm to palm embrace." She held up her hands with her fingers intertwined. "When Craig first got here, he tried to hold the other chimps wrists when they groomed. After a week or two, he learned to use the palm to palm embrace, even when he was the one to initiate grooming."

They continued to move along the looping path they were on, passing through the snake room and entering the elephant habitat. They could see one of the adult bulls across the small meadow flapping its ears to cool off.

"Woah," Sam said. "It's huge!"

They made their way along the path and could see a slightly smaller bull eating some grass. A large crowd of visitors was gathered at part of the fence where a zookeeper stood gesturing to a group of elephants close by. Christen walked beside Mattie as their group approached the zookeeper, who was dismissing the other visitors so they could walk down the fence to get a better look at the baby elephant.

"Hey, guys! Is it your first time visiting our zoo?" he greeted.

"For most of us," Katie volunteered.

"Great! How do you like it so far?" He directed this question at Sam and Cole.

"The bears were really cool," Cole answered. Sam nodded in agreement.

"Alright, well do you want to learn about elephants, too?" the man, whose polo identified him as 'Brian', asked.

They nodded more enthusiastically.

"Okay, well, we have Asian elephants here which means they're native to..." Christen started to tune out his spiel, though the boys were eating it up. She looked at Mattie next to her, who seemed interested, too, but kept peeking around Brian to try to see the herd.

"Now, if you look out here," Brian said, and pointed out to the herd, "you can see our youngest elephant, River. She was born the week before Christmas last year, so she's only four months old. She's still dependent on her mom for pretty much everything." He turned back to Sam and Cole. "I don't know how much you guys know about elephants, but they're really, really smart, and they're famous for having really good memories. The thing is, just like humans, when elephants are born they know pretty much nothing. They're blank slates. So, like humans, they have to learn everything from scratch, mostly from their mom and the other elephants in their herd. It takes elephants until they're anywhere from 10 to 14 until they're fully grown adults."

"Hmm..." Mattie said, elbowing Christen, "See, 12-year-old elephants are fully grown adults. Why can't humans mature that fast?" she teased.

Christen gave her an unimpressed look. "Are you gonna start swatting flies with your tail, too?"

Brian continued his lecture. "Once an elephant is matured, the male elephants, which we call bulls, will leave the herd to live by themselves or with other bulls. With Asian elephants like these, you can tell which are the bulls because they have really long tusks. The female elephants, which are called cows, will normally live with their mother's herd for their whole lives..."

"Ha!" Christen whispered, nudging Mattie back. "You want to be like an elephant, it won't matter when you're an adult." She threw her arm around Mattie. "You've got to live with me and Tobin forever!"

Mattie pouted as her joke backfired. "Whatever. Elephants are dumb."

Brian started explaining the family dynamics of elephant herds. He explained how the teenaged cows helped to 'babysit' the younger elephants, after which Christen elbowed Mattie and whispered, "Yep, you're an elephant".

He continued to go on about how elephants slept and ate and protected the herd from predators. "Elephants can actually tell by a human's voice if it's a kid or a grown up, what language is being spoken and if it's a man or a woman talking to determine if the person is a threat, so some of the cows might make their calves stay away from the fence depending on who they hear talking over here."

Mattie shot Christen a smirk.

"Chendra out there, for example, won't let any of the male zookeepers nearby if River's around because she doesn't trust them."

"Oh look, that one's you," Mattie said under her breath.

Once Brian had wrapped up his lesson, they moved down the enclosure to see the herd better. Sam and Cole pulled them along when they saw the largest bull, with an impressive set of tusks, further down the meadow. They soon reached the end of the elephant path, which dumped them out in front of the lion exhibit.

"Look, Mama, that one's a baby!" Sam said as he dragged Tobin toward the glass.

He was pointing to a lion cub who was crouching near the glass, stalking what looked like a worse for wear stuffed hippo. As they watched, another cub bounded toward the glass and tacked the stalking cub. The lions began to roll across the grass and the boys laughed at the display.

"Read that," Christen said, pointing out one of the display signs to Mattie. "When the cubs play-fight with the other lions in their pride, they think they can take on any of the adults even though they're tiny. Maybe you're not like an elephant, you're like a lion." She smirked.

Mattie just rolled her eyes and walked over to Sebastian to talk to him about the cubs, but Christen could see her trying not to laugh.

The python room was bathed in green light that Christen found kind of eerie. It didn't help when Mattie began recounting the chapter of Harry Potter where the snake escaped from its cage at the zoo, which Sam had read with her. Soon, Sam and Cole were on the verge of full on meltdowns at the idea of the snake escaping when Christen proposed a game to distract them.

"Hey, how about you guys find out one fact about each animal to tell me, okay? Maybe they won't be as scary if you're learning about them." Sam and Cole agreed, if only because they found the verbalized suggestion that they were scared of the snakes to be insulting.

Luckily, the first fact they discovered was that pythons were non-venomous (and when Tobin read them the placard about it, she left out that they didn't need venom because they swallowed their prey whole and suffocated it), so they became less concerned about the threat the snake posed and more concerned with who could learn their fact and announce it first.

"Auntie Christen, rhinos can run 30 miles a hour! Also, they look like triceratops."

"Mom, guess what? Hippos are the most aggressive animal they have at the zoo!"

"That turtle can live to be 150!" "They said it wasn't a turtle. It's a tortoise!" "That tortoise can live to be 150!"

"Auntie Chris, did you know giraffes sleep standing up?" "They eat 75 pounds every day."

The crocodiles presented another possible fear hurdle, but by the time they got there, the boys were too caught up in the game to be scared of the animals. ("Their jaw muscles are the strongest of all animals, but only when they close them, so the zoo people can just hold their mouth shut with one hand.")

They made it through the flamingos and fruit bats, and onto the insect room, which Katie and Christen decided to skip.

"Mommy, the bugs aren't scary," Sam insisted when Christen said she'd stay outside with Katie, who was rocking a sleeping Sebastian in his stroller. "They're in their cages and they can't get out." Tobin and Mattie watched her gleefully for a response to Sam's challenge.

"I know they're not scary, bud. They're just kind of...gross." She made a face.

"C'mon, Sammy," Tobin said, visibly trying not to laugh at Christen's squeamishness. "We can go in and get some facts to bring back to Mommy." Sam agreed and they followed Scott and Cole into the exhibit.

"That game was a really good idea," Katie said gratefully.

"I just didn't want every animal for the rest of the path to turn into a scene."

"Sam seems like he really likes learning this stuff. Is he adjusting to school well?"

Christen sighed. "Did Tobin tell you that we got their full medical records last week?"

Katie frowned. "I think she mentioned something about it, but she generally doesn't tell me things unless I bug her enough."

Christen laughed and paused. "Yeah...now that we're further along in the adoption process, we got access to more information about their history, and it was...illuminating."

"Why?"

"Well, basically, Sam wasn't born in a hospital, which we knew."

Recognition flashed across Katie's face. "That's why you didn't know his birth weight."

"Exactly, but what we also didn't know his birth mother used meth while she was pregnant with him, and he was born addicted. So now we're trying to figure out what he's going to need extra help with because of the effects on his brain development."

"Oh my God," Katie said. "I can't believe they wouldn't tell you that."

"Yeah, I wish we had known earlier because he has ADHD, which we need to figure out the best way to treat, and he needs occupational therapy because he has trouble with fine motor skills, so we could have started that stuff earlier if we had known. But the child services has to protect the kids' privacy, so there wasn't much they could do."

Katie shook her head. "I still can't imagine finding that out after they'd already been living with you so long. It seems like something the state would tell you upfront."

"Yeah, I mean, if we hadn't rushed things, they probably would have told us earlier in their placement. At least we know now."

"How much help is he going to need? Is it going to be hard to manage?"

Christen shrugged. "I mean, the educational stuff isn't that bad. He gets OT at school, and his fine motor skills should improve after enough of that, and with his ADHD we're gonna have to decide whether to medicate him and everything, but that's still manageable. And stuff like this is good for him, where he can move around and learn at the same time."

"That makes sense. It just seems overwhelming to deal with all at once."

"The hard part for us is more just...knowing, sort of? Like knowing the stuff they had to deal with and knowing no matter what we do it's never going to not have happened?" She laughed humorlessly. "Last night, Tobin woke me up to ask how we were going to make Christmas good enough to make up for them basically missing the last two."

Katie looked at her with sympathy and concern. "Is she doing okay? With all this."

"No, yeah, she's fine," Christen answered, trying to be reassuring. Katie continued to look at her skeptically. "Really, she's okay."

"Okay. I'm sorry, she's just my little sister, you know? It's hard not to see her as the wandering 23-year-old kid who would show up at my apartment with five minutes notice to crash on the couch."

Christen smiled. "That's fair."

"What about you? How are you handling all of it?"

"I'm...good," she said, surprised at how true it sounded. "I mean we're still trying to figure out how to make everything work..." She looked over to where Tobin led a laughing Sam and Cole out of the insect house. "But I'm good."

Tobin let Sam and Cole walk a little ahead with Mattie and sidled up to Christen as they followed the path toward the leopards and tigers. "You okay?" she asked.

"Yeah," Christen said, smiling. "Why?"

"I don't know, you and Katie just looked really serious when we came out of the bug house."

"I was just telling her about Sam and the meth stuff."

"Oh." Tobin was quiet and they paused outside of the area where a zoo keeper was teaching the group, mostly teaching Sam and Cole, about the big cats. "How did she take it?"

"She wanted to know how we were handling it."

"What'd you say?"

Christen smiled softly. "I said we were okay."

"Okay," Tobin said, nodding, and ran a hand up Christen's arm. "Cool."

"Tigers can make lots of different sounds. Do you guys know any of them?" the zookeeper, whose polo read 'Julie,' was asking Sam and Cole.

"Roar!" they shouted.

"Right! Tigers can roar really loud. We've recorded our tigers' roars as far as two kilometers away. Do you know how far two kilometers is?"

"Like to California?" Sam asked.

Julie laughed. "Not quite to California. Are you guys soccer fans? Do you like the Timbers?"

Sam shrugged. "I like the Thorns better. That's my mama's team."

"Oh, your mom likes the Thorns? That's cool that she taught you to like them better. I think they're cooler, too." She grinned at Katie as if Sam were talking about her.

Katie laughed. "Not me," she shook her head and pointed to Tobin and Christen in the doorway.

Julie the zookeeper looked puzzled before realization crossed over her face. "Oh, you really meant your mama's team."

"Yeah, we're going to her game tonight."

"So you know where Providence Park is then?"

Sam nodded.

"From here to there is how far a tiger can roar. You probably won't be able to hear during the game, but if it's quiet and one of the tigers roars, you can hear it all the way over there."

Based on their walk to the MAX station and the train ride to the zoo, it would have been hard for Sam and Cole to conceptualize the distance she was talking about, but they looked impressed nonetheless.

As they moved onto the penguins, the whole group starting to tire. Christen knew they needed to get Tobin back to eat and get off her feet soon, Sebastian was starting to wake up and get crabby, and Sam and Cole were fading fast.

"Christen," Mattie whined. "Are we gonna go soon? This was fun but there are games on soon."

Christen laughed. "I think we have like one more exhibit, okay? We have to go soon anyway so Tobin can eat before the game."

The last exhibit was a sheltered cove that housed harbor seals and sea otters. Sam and Cole, and even a still sleepy Sebastian laughed at the seals barking. They thought the otters swimming around on their backs holding hands were very cute and asked the teenaged looking zoo attendant, whose polo just read 'Volunteer', to teach them things about otters.

"Well, see that little otter there? The one playing with the ball?" The boys nodded. "That's Cody, he came to the zoo last year. They found him all alone on a beach near Santa Cruz in California, because somehow he got separated from his mom."

Christen and Mattie both glanced at each other but looked away when they made eye contact.

"Anyway, they brought him up here because he couldn't take care of himself, and at the beginning, the zookeepers took care of him. But after a few days, one of our older otters, Juno, started to take care of him instead. She would bring him food and help him swim, and basically started taking care of him as if he was one of her own pups."

Sam and Cole listened intently as the kid continued to tell them about each of the otters. Christen shuffled over to stand next to Mattie. She cautiously placed a hand on her shoulder and ran her thumb along the back of Mattie's collar. She was relieved when Mattie moved closer to her. Christen moved her arm across her daughter's chest to pull her in and rested her chin on Mattie's head. Mattie sighed as they watched Sam and Cole watch the otters splash and play.

***

Even as the evening grew nearer, the weather outside remained nice for April, so Mattie found the walk to the stadium pleasant. As they walked, they passed the last of the fans straggling from the bars to one of the main gates. Tobin had left them a few hours earlier to head over, so they headed right to the side entrance and up to the suite. Bati and a man Mattie thought was Lindsey's boyfriend, but hadn't met, were already there. Sam ran excitedly to greet Bati.

"Hey, Sammy! I heard you guys went to the zoo!"

"Yeah, they had elephants and tigers there. It was so cool! Uncle Bati, this is my cousins, Cole and Sebastian." He pulled a shy Cole over to introduce them. "Cole, this is my Uncle Bati. He's not my uncle like your dad, but he's still my first uncle." The adults all laughed at Sam's explanation and Bati just maintained a slightly bemused grin. "I don't know if he's your uncle. I don't think he's your first uncle, but he might just be like your regular uncle." The adults laughed again as Cole accepted both Sam's version of their relation and the high five Bati offered.

"We might have to redo that family tree lesson at some point," Christen whispered to Mattie.

"I mean, it seems like he gets the concept?" Mattie offered. "It's just the details he needs help on."

The noise in the stadium grew as the sun started to dip in the sky and kickoff grew closer. After the national anthem, everyone took their seats but Sam and Cole, and to some extent, Sebastian, who took turns playing with Sam and Cole running around the suite behind the seats and sitting with Katie or Mattie. Mattie sat on the end of the row next to Christen. By the time the whistle blew and the game started, the temperature had dropped significantly. The seats closest to the suite on the overhang were somewhat protected from the wind, but Mattie couldn't help but shiver as a gust blew through the stadium.

"There's a sweatshirt in my bag, babe," Christen said, pointing to her backpack behind them.

"I'm not that cold."

"I heard your teeth chatter."

Mattie softened.

"Don't worry, it's not, like, a Thorns sweatshirt, it's just a US Soccer one."

"Fine. But only because it's not Thorns gear," Mattie said, smirking.

Christen smiled. "You know I wouldn't do that to you."

Once she was no longer shivering, Mattie became more absorbed in the game. Boston wasn't dominating possession, but still seemed to be winning the 0-0 game on physicality alone. Portland's backfield would play the ball up but the Breakers' defense outmuscled them for the ball before it got to the final third. Despite that, the Thorns' defense managed to keep it scoreless until the final minute before stoppage time in the first half, when Rose got her left foot on the ball at the top of the box and sent it across the goal into the bottom corner. A.D. got the tips of her fingers on it, but it wasn't enough of a deflection to keep the ball out of the back of the net. The noise in the stadium deflated slightly as the whistle to end the half blew minutes later and both teams headed into the locker rooms.

"It's like the whole base of their offense is off," Mattie commented to Christen.

She shook her head and chewed her lip.

"What? You don't think that's it?"

Christen took a drink from her water bottle. "No, it's not that. I just shouldn't have let Tobin come get us last night. She's tired."

"You think?"

"Did you see two plays before the goal? She'd normally beat those two but her feet...she's just moving slower."

Mattie had thought the same thing when it happened but didn't expect Christen to agree. "You don't think she just misjudged it that time? I mean, that happens to everyone, right?"

Christen looked at her with slight surprise. "Oh, yeah, totally. On any one play whatever you're trying might not work. I don't think–I wasn't really just talking about that play. That was the first one I thought of, but I was just worried that if I let her come get us last night, she wouldn't get enough rest, and she just looks a little more gassed than she normally would at this point in the game."

"For what it's worth, I don't think you could have stopped her from coming to Seattle yesterday."

Christen smiled softly at Mattie. "I know, probably not." She patted Mattie's hand on their shared armrest. "Don't worry about my worrying. I just don't like watching when she's losing."

Mattie laughed. "Me neither. As much as I'd love to see Portland lose, she'll probably be all sad and grumpy if they do."

"The pouting," Christen said, smirking and shaking her head. "It's insufferable. Knowing them, they'll probably equalize five minutes into the half anyway."

Christen's prediction was only off by about a half an hour. It took until the 79th minute for a corner Tobin served into the box to bounce around off of half a dozen feet, pop up, bounce off Allie's head, and cross the goal line. The energy of the fans in the stadium lifted considerably, but the Thorns seemed more relieved that they were getting out of this with a point than anything else. Both teams made half-hearted efforts to get the winning goal but at the end of stoppage time, neither of them had seen a good chance.

***

After the game, Christen herded the group back to the apartment to wait for Tobin, who would be busy for longer than Sam, Cole or Sebastian could survive without a serving of Star Wars mac and cheese. Christen sent Tobin a text asking how tired she was and if she needed Christen to come pick her up.

Halfway through their bowls Sam and Cole started whispering to each other conspiratorial. Katie and Christen exchanged suspicious glances.

"Mom, can we go play in my room?" Sam asked.

"Yeah..." she said slowly. "Let me wash your hands first, though."

She helped each of them up to the sink and let them run off to Sam's room.

"What do you think they're up to?" Katie asked Mattie.

She shrugged. "They haven't told me yet."

"They probably want to have a sleepover," Scott said.

Katie nodded. "That's Cole's new thing since we had Jeff watch him and we told him it was a sleepover instead of babysitting."

"Are they old enough for sleepovers?" Christen asked.

"I mean, until that he'd only stayed at my mom's, so I don't know if he's actually ready for a real sleepover, but he'll think it's a good idea a few hours before bedtime."

Christen's phone buzzed on the island.

Tobs: I'm fine. I don't want to make you come back to get me. I'm gonna head out in like 5

"Hey, will you guys be okay here if I go pick up Tobin real quick? She's pretty beat."

Katie nodded. "Yeah, we can hold down the fort."

"Awesome, thanks. Mat, you'll be okay?"

Mattie frowned and gave her a puzzled look. "Yeah? Why wouldn't I be? It's like two minutes away."

Christen and Katie exchanged amused looks. "Okay, I was just checking."

Christen headed out to get the car and drove it down the street to the players' lot. The guy at the gate was a little puzzled as to why a car with a Thorns sticker was arriving after the game, but Christen just nodded at him and said, "I'm just picking up," and he waved her through.

She had only been scrolling through her phone for a few minutes when the passenger door opened and Tobin appeared. "I could've walked, you know. Or gotten a ride with someone else."

"You would've walked."

Tobin didn't argue.

Christen smiled at her. "Maybe I just missed you."

Tobin rolled her eyes but smiled reluctantly. She sighed. "I feel bad Katie and them came all the way here to see us tie."

"They didn't come here for your game, they came for Easter. And to get to know Mattie and Sam. Speaking of which, Sam and Cole are angling for a sleepover."

Tobin laughed and shook her head, letting it fall back against the headrest as her face was illuminated by the last rays of sunlight and the brake lights of the cars lined up to exit the lot. "I'm glad they're getting along."

"Yeah, he'll be begging to go over there during media week."

Tobin smiled and said nothing as Christen started the car and pulled into the line of cars. She looked content but exhausted.

"I should have made you pick between Seattle last night and the zoo today. You're tired."

"I'm fine. You don't have to worry about me."

"I know I don't, but I do anyway. It's a long season, you can't do this before every game. We can't do this before every game." Tobin shrugged. "You should go to bed early tonight."

"What about hiding the eggs?"

"Nope. No Easter bunny duties for you tonight."

"Oh come on, it's–I was gonna say it was baby's first Easter but it's really not. It's just mommies' first Easter. I wanna hide the eggs."

"If you actually go to sleep early, I will save some eggs for you to hide in the morning. And look, this way, you can help look for the ones you didn't hide without cheating."

Tobin sighed as they inched to the front of the exit line. "Fine. I'm keeping some of the ones I find that you hid, though. I put some good candy in there."

***

Mattie awoke sandwiched between two extremely sweaty four-year-olds. In fairness, she was pretty sweaty herself, what with the toddler-sized furnaces on either side of her and the haphazard structure of blankets they had built and persuaded her to have a sleepover in. It wasn't until she had removed the 'roof' of their fort that she realized what had woken her up.

Tobin stood at the door with wet hair and a cup of coffee and smiled at her. "Morning. How did you sleep? That seems very...cozy."

Mattie rolled her eyes and extracted herself from the pile. "I sweat so much I think I need Gatorade."

Tobin laughed. "Alright, you might wanna hop in the shower, then. Katie's gonna bring over Cole's church clothes in like 15 minutes and we're gonna head over pretty soon."

Mattie groaned and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. "Do you always go to church this early?"

"No, but it's Easter. If you go later, it gets packed and there's nowhere to sit."

***

It wasn't completely dissimilar to the churches Mattie had been in before, although the large balcony above them made it feel slightly more like a stadium than she was used to. She filed into the pew Tobin pointed to and sat between her and Christen. For the number of people milling about, it was relatively quiet, though Mattie thought the early start time of this service might be the cause of that because most of the attendees looked like they had rolled out of bed and forced themselves under a shower just like her.

The first floor continued to fill, and after a few minutes, the choir filed out and an organ note rang through the chamber. The priest–Mattie wasn't sure what they were called here, but they were dressed like a priest–walked out in front of the altar. Mattie was surprised to see it was a woman, even though she knew non-Catholic priests didn't have to be men. Reverend Dow, as she introduced herself, wished everyone happy Easter and made a bunch of announcements about upcoming events before moving to the side of the altar, and the music started again.

Mattie was able to follow most of the service, as it wasn't much different than the masses her Abuela took her to, although she couldn't predict when people were going to sit or stand, and there didn't appear to be any kneeling involved in this. At some point, a young woman dressed in pastels called all the children to the front of the church, and Sam and Cole helped Sebastian as they scrambled over the adults to hurry up the aisle.

"You gonna go up?" Tobin asked, half-teasing. Mattie just rolled her eyes.

There was more singing, and more reading, and while the details were different, the familiar setting reminded her of all the ways she used to pass time during mass, counting the panes in the stained glass windows or finding which other church goers were trying not to fall asleep. She was trying to count and trace all of the organ pipes back to the relatively small instrument above the altar when the reverend started speaking in a tone that snapped Mattie out of the daze of routine.

"That's kinda wild to think about, huh? 'While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.'. That's one of those lines you read and wonder if Luke laughed to himself as he wrote it and thought, 'I wonder how many of them will take this literally.'" She laughed herself. "You know, in many ways, Luke's gospel is the least reassuring and the most skeptical retelling of Christ's resurrection. Matthew and Mark say that the angels comforted Mary Magdalene, told her, 'Do not be afraid,' but Luke says they instructed her: 'Remember.' In every version, we hear of the apostles' doubts upon hearing that their teacher had risen. Only Luke outright says that Peter considered the news, 'an idle tale.'"

Mattie raised her eyebrows and looked to see if Tobin was upset about Reverend being flippant, but she was listening intently.

"Maybe it's because we don't need comfort in the face of God's mystery, but we need someone to see our doubt. The last time we read Luke was 2016. It was a time when we knew change was imminent and many of us feared what was to come. Today, we can see change on the horizon again, and many of us are wondering if we may just have license to hope, instead of to fear, for the future. Maybe even more of us are wondering if we haven't already hoped enough, if our weary souls can withstand another trial, another trek through the desert, one where we might ultimately end up nailed to the cross either way."

Mattie glanced again between the pulpit and the faces in her pew, looking for reactions, but everyone was obediently paying attention to the sermon.

"But why else do we celebrate Easter, if not to remind ourselves that Jesus's divinity, and really, his love, will triumph? In the ways Luke acknowledges our doubt, he challenges us to have faith. We read his gospel, knowing the story, knowing the mystery behind it, and we are asked to redouble our trust in Christ. Not only in our somewhat abstract belief that the story of Jesus's death and resurrection are literal truth, but our trust that He wants us to hope, and to love. "

"Because resurrection is not just a long-past historical event we study in the Bible. It happens to each of us, and not just in the way that we are born and live and die and rejoin God's kingdom, but in tangible struggle throughout the course of our lives. Most of us can think of a time when we fell. When we doubted. When we thought we weren't going to make it through. And yet, each of us is still here."

"God calls us to trust Him in those moments, to remember the joy that we practice when we celebrate Easter. To find Christ's love and divinity in the things that help to resurrect us. If you can think of one of those moments, those low moments, I wonder if you can remember: how did you get out? Was it with the help of someone you love? Was it with His help? Resurrection is most often a collective endeavor. We find it in relationship. We see it in our relationships to each other, and in our relationship to Jesus."

"Easter is a time to celebrate Christ and his sacrifice for us, but it's also a time to celebrate the people in our lives who help us through our own, everyday resurrections. God asks us to help each other through these times, and he grants us the strength not only to help one another in times of need, but to allow ourselves to accept that help when we need it, and to allow ourselves to believe that God's love will win out in the end."

"Join me as we pray for that strength."

The Reverend held up her hands and Mattie saw Tobin bow her head, so she copied her. Reverend Dow finished her prayer and everyone held hands and said Our Father. After, there was a break in the action while the people bringing up the gifts got ready.

Christen leaned over and whispered to her. "It's kinda different, huh?"

"Yeah, it's..."

"A little less formal."

Mattie nodded in agreement as the music started again. The people carrying the gifts processed down the aisle and the Reverend began preparing the altar.

"Hey," Mattie whispered to Christen, "are you supposed to go up for Communion if you don't go here?"

"Do you not want to?"

Mattie shrugged. "I dunno. Do you?"

"When I've been here, yeah. Everyone kinda goes up, even little kids. They don't have, like, First Communion in non-Catholic churches. Also, it's all grape juice, not wine."

"Hmm, boring," Mattie joked. Christen just smirked and shook her head, looking back to the front of the church.

After communion, there was one more prayer, and then the Reverend smiled. "Alright. I'll let you go enjoy Easter with your families, I'm sure a lot of you haven't done your egg hunting yet, and I wouldn't want to stand in the way of that."

***

When they returned to the apartment, the boys were simultaneously off-the-wall after sitting still for an hour and melting because they hadn't eaten breakfast yet. Katie had given Sebastian an apple juice pouch, which he was happy with for the moment, but Tobin was trying to get Sam and Cole to agree on a breakfast choice.

"I want better Eggos."

"Me too."

"Okay, well we don't have a waffle iron, so do you want regular Eggos?"

"No! Better Eggos!"

Tobin sighed. "What if I make pancakes?"

Sam and Cole looked at each other and both pulled a face.

"What if I make chocolate chip pancakes?" she suggested, smiling.

Sam looked between Cole and Tobin and thought. He whispered something to Cole, who nodded.

"Okay," Sam agreed. "But they have to be banana chocolate chip pancakes."

Tobin looked in her fruit bowl and thankfully saw a few bananas. She clapped. "Alright, banana chocolate chip it is!"

***

After breakfast, each of the kids, including Mattie, despite her half-hearted resistance, was given one of the small bags Tobin had gotten at Target and told the rules.

"Okay, the Easter bunny hid the eggs all over the big room, plus in Mattie's room because no one slept there last night," Christen explained. "There's no fighting over an egg, and you can't open them until after they're all found because the candy will get everywhere. Okay?"

Sam and Cole yelled and ran to start looking for plastic eggs. Sebastian looked somewhat confused until Mattie walked over and held out her hand. "C'mon, you can help me. We'll be a team."

Tobin began 'helping', which involved putting every other egg she helped find into the pocket of her own sweatpants. At some point, Allie and Bati showed up and picked opposite 'teams' to help until most of the adults were involved. They would all intermittently glance at Christen to see if her face would give them a hint as to where the eggs were, but she wouldn't budge.

"Babe, next time, let me hide more of the eggs," Tobin whispered when she removed herself from the action and sidled up behind Christen.

"Why? Didn't I do a good job?"

"A little too good," she replied. "I don't think Sam and Cole are gonna make it much longer, so you're gonna have to start giving hints."

Christen narrowed her eyes. "Are you sure you're not just fishing for hints for whatever team you're currently helping?"

"No." Tobin smiled sweetly and batted her eyelashes. "Maybe a little."

"That's what I thought." She frowned. "They still have to do baskets, though. And we're gonna have to start on the food if we're gonna eat at 2."

Tobin clapped and rejoined the hunt. With Christen's help, they were able to find the rest of the eggs in about 10 minutes, at which point the kids (and Tobin) wanted to open them.

"One egg before your baskets," Katie insisted.

Tobin ate one with a tiny Kit-Kat and then ran to her bedroom where the baskets were hidden. Once there, she snuck another egg full of Sour Patch Kids.

"Did you really come hide to eat that?" Christen asked.

She stopped mid chew. "No," she said, trying to swallow the gummy candy. "I'm just getting the baskets. And I didn't want to set a bad example."

They carried out the baskets and distributed them to each of the kids. The boys' eyes widened at the candy, though they were soon distracted by the brightly colored fidget spinners they had each gotten.

Mattie let out a shout when she found her sweatshirt with a large cannon and "Gunners" printed across the front.

She looked at Tobin next to her on the couch. "Did she tell you I liked Arsenal?"

Tobin smiled. "Yeah, but that one was all her. She just had it shipped here."

Mattie ran to hug Christen before continuing to go through her basket. Tobin waited for her to find the small package wrapped in tissue paper. She pulled it out and had a slightly confused look until she pulled away the top piece of tissue.

"Did you make these?" she said, looking up at Tobin.

"I mean, I painted them. Yeah."

"They're really cool," Mattie said quietly as she pulled both shin guards out to examine them side by side. Tobin's eyes looked from the blue paint to her daughter's expression.

"It's uhh...it's supposed to be the beach? From–"

"The day I met you there," Mattie finished. "Yeah, it's really good. The sky looked just like that."

She turned and pulled Tobin into a tight hug. "Thank you."

***

After dinner, with the few hours, before the Parkers had to leave for the airport, Sam and Cole (and Scott) worked on assembling the Lego X-Wing that Sam had gotten in his basket.

"Sam, look at me," Tobin had warned beforehand. "You too, double trouble." She indicated to Cole. "Every single one of these pieces needs to stay on the island, okay? If you drop one Lego, especially a really small one, Sebastian could put it in his mouth and he would choke. Got it?"

Mattie opted to teach Sebastian how to kick one of the trick balls lying around Tobin's apartment.

"Woah, look at that," Tobin said cheekily. "Do we have a men's team prospect on our hands?"

"Please. He's playing tennis. You have your own son to force your sport onto. He can be the soccer star."

"Sam," Tobin called over. "Do you wanna be a soccer star?"

"I don't know," Sam said, making a face. "Maybe. If I feel like it."

Katie looked at Tobin and laughed, shaking her head. "Well, he's definitely your son. That can't be nature and I'm not sure how it's nuture, but it must be something else."

***

Tobin and her sister sat quietly in the front seat of her car under the overhang of the hotel waiting for Scott to come back out with their bags.

"Hey, Tobs," Katie opened.

Tobin looked suspiciously at her sister, whose tone of voice she recognized as meaning there's something I want to talk about. "Yeah..."

"Why does Sam call you guys Mama and Mom but Mattie calls you by your names?"

She was a little surprised, having half expected her sister to start lecturing her on something. "I don't know. I guess she's just not ready yet. I think it's easier for Sam. He just kinda goes with the flow."

"Do you guys want her to call you mom?"

"Yeah, of course," Tobin insisted. "I mean, assuming she wants to."

"But even when you talk about each other with Mattie, you say Tobin or Christen," she said, more curious than argumentative. "Like with Sam, you'll say that Mom wants him to do something."

Tobin frowned and shrugged one shoulder. "I don't know. I think we talk to Sam like that because he's a little kid? And that's how you talk to little kids? But we can't talk to Mattie like she's a kid."

"She's 12."

She sighed. "I know, but I think she's still adjusting to all of this, and talking to her like she doesn't know what's going on isn't gonna help her do that."

"You know, Mom kinda wanted me to check on you while we were out here. I mean, she primarily wanted me to check on her grandkids, but I think she wanted to see how you were handling parenthood a few months in."

"I knew it," Tobin said grumpily.

"I'm gonna tell her you're doing an amazing job."

Tobin looked at her disbelievingly, waiting for the punch line.

"I'm dead serious," she insisted.

Tobin blushed. "I'm not really doing that much of anything," she mumbled.

Katie shook her head. "Yes, you are. I knew Christen would be..." she paused. "Christen was very responsible before all of this started, and it's not like being a mom is ever easy, but...it was easier to see how she would adjust to this. And it's not like I didn't think you were gonna be a great mom because Mom and Perry and I could see how you were with Cole and the babies. But even how you are with them is different–" She turned to face Tobin fully. "Like, this morning, with the waffles and the pancakes and how quickly you convinced them to switch without a scene or a meltdown or anything."

Tobin raised her eyebrows. "So you now think I'm qualified to parent because I can win an argument against a couple of four-year-olds?"

Katie laughed. "Well, it's not just that. But let me tell you–smarter women than you or I have tried and failed."

Tobin rolled her eyes and joined in her sister's laughter. They could see Scott walking toward the hotel doors with a rolling suitcase and a duffle.

"Hey, Tobs."

"Yeah?"

"Talk to Mattie, or at least Chris, about the mom thing, yeah? You might just have to work up to using it with her. And maybe she just needs you to tell her you want her to call you that."

***

When they returned to the apartment, Sam and Cole started to melt. They had been warned the goodbye was coming, but once Katie and Scott got back, ready to head to the airport, they realized it was actually happening. There were tears, cries of "I don't wanna go!" and "You can't leave!", and tight, over dramatic hugs that seemed to go on indefinitely.

"Sam, you'll see Cole when we go to New York, okay?" Tobin tried.

"How many days is that?"

"It's like a month from now."

"That's like a gazillion days!"

"How about we Facetime with Cole like we do with Mama?" Christen suggested.

Sam wiped at a few of the tears on his face. "Like for breakfast?"

"Well, we'll still call Mama for breakfast, but how about after school we can call Cole?"

Sam looked at his cousin seriously. "Do you have Facetime?"

Cole turned to Katie, who nodded. "Yeah, I do."

"Okay, good," Sam agreed. "This is a good plan."

***

Monday, Christen convinced Tobin they should relax after the busy weekend, which Tobin agreed to mostly because it was pouring rain out.

Sam wanted to move his tiny pillow fort into the living room, so they turned the couch around and reconstructed the structure of blankets. Christen suggested a movie marathon and Tobin was surprised when she suggested Toy Story and neither Mattie nor Sam had seen any of the movies.

"Come on, those are classics! Okay, we have to watch those then."

After the movies occupied most of their day, Christen started to pack up her and Sam's things to get ready to go to the airport. Even though they had been telling him for the past week, Sam was having a hard time understanding that Mattie wasn't coming with them.

"For how long?"

"It's only four days this time, bud," Tobin explained. "You and Mommy are gonna hang out in California and it's gonna go by so fast. And then me and Mattie are gonna fly down and we'll be together for two weeks."

"Why can't she come with us?"

"It's not that I can't come, Sammy. It's just that I don't have school, so I'm gonna hang out up here with Mama."

For a second it looked like Sam might have a full on meltdown, but he nodded instead and looked from Tobin to Mattie. "Good. I don't like Mama being here all alone."

***

Tuesday, they fell more or less into their familiar routine. Tobin woke, slightly later than usual, and Facetimed Christen for breakfast with Sam.

"Hey, are you excited to go back to school today?" Tobin asked as they dug into their "regular" Eggos.

"Yeah, I want to show Jack B. and Jack M. my fidget spinner."

"Are you allowed to bring toys to school?"

"Yeah, Aiden F brought in his Spiderman action figure last week."

"Okay, cool."

"Are you excited for practice today?" Sam asked, in a tone similar to how she had asked him about school.

Tobin laughed and she could hear Christen laughing in the background. "Yeah, I'm excited. Mattie gets to come with me."

"Are you allowed to bring Mattie to practice?" he asked sternly.

She grinned. "Yeah, bud. I talked to Coach Mark about it."

"Okay, I'm just checking," he said authoritatively. "Are you done with your food?"

"Yeah, are you?"

"Yep. And I have to get ready for school but I wanted to make sure you ate your whole breakfast first."

Tobin just stared at him, amused. She heard Christen's voice in the background. "Can I talk to Mama when you're gone?"

"Okay, but we have to leave in 23 minutes," he replied.

"Sam," Tobin could hear from the background. "It's 9:21 and we have to leave at 10:10."

"So 17 minutes?" he asked.

"No, 49."

"Alright," he said as though he were humoring her. "As long as we're not late!"

"What's with him?" Tobin asked after Sam slid down from the counter and Christen appeared on the screen.

"I don't know, but he showed up in our room in the middle of the night wanting to sleep in there."

Tobin frowned. "Does he normally do that when I'm not there?"

"Sometimes, but it's usually after you've been gone for a few days. I think he misses Mattie already."

"I would get her on to talk to him but she'll probably be mad if she doesn't get to sleep in on vacation. We can have her call later."

"Okay. What are you guys doing today?"

Tobin shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't asked her what she wants to do. I might show her some more of the city but she'll probably want to read or play footy all day anyway."

Christen grinned. "Oh no. Harry Potter and footy. I'm sure you're not looking forward to that at all."

Tobin laughed. "What are you guys doing?"

"I don't know. We'll have to see what kind of mood he's in after school."

***

After practice, which was mostly a film session, Christen stood outside the preschool waiting for Sam to be dismissed. He emerged at the usual time and waved goodbye to the same friends he normally did, but as they got in the car she thought he seemed quiet.

"Hey, are you tired? Do you wanna go home or do you wanna you and me go do something?"

"Like what?"

Christen looked at him in the mirror. "I don't know. You wanna go down to the pier and see the fish and get some ice cream?"

Sam raised his eyebrows like he was thinking about it, but his expression betrayed that he was interested in the idea.

"I'll take that as a yes."

Once they had toured the aquarium and gotten their ice cream, Christen and Sam sat on a picnic bench facing out toward the ocean.

"How was school?" she asked.

"Good. Everyone really liked my fidget spinner. Ava G. got a cool puzzle for Easter but she couldn't bring it because it had too many pieces, so she drew me a picture to show me, and I drew a picture of my X-wing to show her because it's with Mama."

"That's cool," Christen said as she wiped a drip of ice cream off his chin. "Did a lot of people talk about what they got at Easter?"

He nodded. "Yeah, some people. But not everyone has Easter. Mrs. S says everyone's families has different days, and the Easter bunny comes to different kids because he only comes if your family has Easter and asks him to."

"Ahh, that makes sense."

"Mommy?"

"Yeah, babe."

"Our family has Christmas, right? Mrs. S says that's one of the days for people who have Jesus, so I thought since we had Easter, we might have Christmas, too."

She nodded quickly to him. "Absolutely. One hundred percent. Mama and I were actually just talking about how excited we are to have our first Christmas with you and Mat."

Sam looked out to the ocean and back to her with a shy expression. "Are you gonna ask Santa to come bring us presents? Mrs. S says even if your moms or dads ask, you still have to be good, but if I'm good, do you think you can get him to come?"

"Yeah, totally. I'm gonna make sure he visits."

He smiled. "Great. Because Emma K. and Jack M. got puppies from Santa last year and I think I wanna ask him for a puppy."

Christen bit her lip. "Mama and I are gonna have to talk to Santa about that one. A puppy is a lot of responsibility."

Sam furrowed his brows in thought. "Well. Christmas is like really long from now, right? So I can just be really good for all that time and it will be like a lot of good all together. Maybe that will help."

She swallowed and smiled softly at him. "I'm not saying Santa definitely won't bring one, but it's not really a question of whether or not you're good, okay? He has to make sure Mama and I can take care of it first because a puppy's not a toy. You remember at the zoo how they taught us about all the things they have to do for the animals?"

Sam frowned and nodded.

"A puppy is like that. It has to be taken care of all the time."

He nodded again, more glumly.

"But look at me." She waited until Sam looked back up at her. "Mama and I talked to Santa and we know he missed you for a few Christmases because you were moving around. I'm not sure if one of your presents will be a puppy, but Mama and Santa and I are gonna make sure Christmas is special this year because we know you have a few years of being good saved up, okay?"

"Okay. But you know, Santa came to Ms. Alice's last year."

"He did?"

"Yeah, we wrote him letters of what we wanted and he brought us toys, but he couldn't get me mine."

"Why? What did you ask for?"

Sam scooped another spoonful of ice cream. "I wanted him to bring Mattie back."

Christen swallowed down a lump in her throat. "I'm sorry, bud. It stinks that you didn't get to spend Christmas together."

He shrugged sadly. "Mattie told me she had to go away, so I knew he couldn't."

She put down her ice cream and ran her hand up and down his back. "I know she wishes she could have been there. Even Mama and I wish we could've spent last Christmas with you."

Sam gave her a puzzled look. "Mom. You didn't even know me then."

"Doesn't matter. I want to spend all my Christmases with you and Mattie."

"Me too. How about you can spend all your Christmases from now on with me?"

Christen smiled. "I like that. Sounds good." She kept rubbing his back for a minute before pausing. "Baby? Do you miss Mattie?"

Sam sighed dramatically. "Yeah. But I know Mama misses her too, so I have to share her."

She smiled wider and pulled him closer so she could kiss the top of his head. "You're very sweet, Sammy, you know that? You keep this up and you're gonna end up at the very top of Santa's nice list."

***

By the time Mattie woke up on Wednesday morning, it was 10 o'clock and Tobin had already had breakfast with Sam, cleaned the living room, and done an hour of recovery; she was starting to get bored.

"What do you want to do today?" she asked as Mattie ate her cereal.

"What time do you have practice?"

"We have to be there at 3? I think?"

Mattie thought. "Can we go somewhere and play beforehand? Like is there a park with an open field somewhere?"

Tobin grinned. "Yeah, I know a park we can go to."

Half an hour later, Tobin was dragging a bag of balls onto the side of the pitch at Providence Park.

"You know I meant like a normal park, right? Like one outside a school?"

Tobin shrugged. "This is the closest park. It's the most convenient."

"How is it open right now?"

She leaned down to open the top of the ball bag. "Well, the boys had a shake out this morning, because they're away this weekend and they already flew out, and there's nothing else before our session at 3."

Mattie looked around at the empty stadium. "Do you ever just stop and think about how cool your life is?"

Tobin smiled. "Yeah, pretty much every day. I guess at some point it gets more...normal, but it never really gets less cool."

"I don't know if I could ever think this is normal."

Tobin took one of the balls out of the bag and volleyed it to her. "Well, this is pretty much your life too, now, so I guess we'll find out if you do."

***

After practice, Tobin was on the couch, half reading her book, half texting Christen when she heard Mattie clear her throat and looked up. "Hey, do you have any–I need, umm–" she paused and looked at the ceiling above Tobin's head. "I think I just got my period?"

Tobin was slow to process the information. "Oh. Oh! Okay, yeah." She dropped her phone and book and stood up quickly. "Umm...okay. Let's go look in the cabinet." She walked into her bathroom and Mattie followed awkwardly behind. When she opened the cabinet, she looked at the half box of Tampax and handful of panty liners and tried to think. "So I don't think...I'm not sure if you can use a tampon for your first period? I don't really...Okay," she said, grabbing a panty liner and handing it to Mattie behind her. "So, here, put this on for now and I'm gonna go to the store and get some pads."

Mattie looked at the small square in her hand. "Umm..okay."

"I'll be right back, I promise," she said, exiting the bathroom and grabbing her phone, keys, and wallet. "Do you know how to..." She motioned sticking the panty liner to Mattie.

"Uhh...I think.."

"You just open it there," she pointed to the tab. "And then peel off the paper and stick it–"

"Yeah, I can figure it out."

"Okay, cool." Tobin nodded and took a deep breath. "I'll be right back."

She walked out of her apartment and as soon as closed the door behind her, opened her phone and called Christen. "Pick up, pick up, pick up," she repeated as she walked quickly to the stairwell.

"Hey, what's up?"

"I need help."

"What's wrong?"

"Mattie just got her period."

"Okay...what do you need help with?"

"Just like!" Tobin gestured wildly as she descended the stairs even though Christen couldn't see her. "I don't know what to say!"

"About what? Is she upset?" Christen asked, sounding more concerned.

"No. She's fine. I'm just–do I have to explain things to her? I don't even know what things to explain."

"Like what? Is she asking to use a tampon?"

"I didn't think you could use a tampon until you had your period for like a year."

"No, she can use one if she wants. It's just easier to start with a pad."

"Well, we didn't have any, so I'm going to the store to get some now."

"Okay, well get some of the plastic tampons too. They'll be easier for her to learn with."

"What if–how do you teach someone to use a tampon?"

"Who taught you?"

"Well, like, my mom explained it, but I was too scared to try so I just used pads. Then, one time, I was at a youth camp and we were gonna sneak into the hotel pool and Kelley peer pressured me into using one so I could go swimming with her."

Christen barked out a laugh. "Teenage Kelley taught you how to put a tampon in?"

"I really don't think I should use the language she did to explain it with Mattie. Or the hand gestures."

"Oh God, probably not."

"I had only known her for, like, two days, too. It was terrifying."

Christen laughed. "You know there's like a diagram on the side of the box, right? You can just show her that."

"Wait, there is?"

"I mean, all the boxes might not have it, but look for one that does."

"Ugh, the diagrams are even worse though. Did you have that American Girl book? That was traumatizing."

She giggled. "No, it wasn't! I thought it was helpful."

"Are you serious? I was scared of vaginas for years after that book. Why do you think it took me so long to figure out I was gay?" She could feel Christen's eye roll through the phone and she smirked to herself.

"I really don't think it was that," she answered sympathetically.

"Yeah, probably not, but I was so terrified of that book that I pretty much blocked out all the information from it. And from the lecture my mom gave me, so I don't really know what to tell Mattie."

"Tobin. When did you get your period?"

"I dunno, like two weeks ago I think? Can't you just check on your app to see–"

"No, I mean your first period. How old were you?"

"Oh. Like thirteen, maybe?"

"So you've had 17 years worth of periods then."

"Yeah, I guess."

"You're more than qualified to handle this, then. You don't have to give her a lecture, just make sure she feels like she can ask you questions if she needs to. When you guys get home the three of us can have a...more comprehensive puberty talk."

"Ooh, fun."

"Don't sass. If you pay attention, you might actually learn something."

"I feel twelve years old again," she grumbled.

Christen was silent for a moment. "Tob?"

"Yeah?"

"You can do this, alright? I'm one hundred percent sure you're gonna handle this fine."

Tobin took a deep breath. "Yeah, okay. I guess so."

"Okay. Tell Mattie she can call me if she wants to, but otherwise, I'll talk to her tomorrow."

"Will do."

"Alright. Love you."

"Love you, too."

***

Around the twelfth time Tobin asked Mattie if she needed Advil, or anything else, she received a look that indicated she should definitely stop asking. Instead, she settled into the other side of the couch, grabbing her book and reading alongside Mattie. She tried not to sneak concerned glances at the girl, but she was caught after the third or fourth one.

"Tobin, I'm fine," Mattie complained, not taking her eyes off the page.

"I know, I know." Tobin resumed her novel and tried to focus on the words in front of her. She resisted the urge to turn her head, actually getting into the book for half an hour or so. Then, she heard a sniffle. At first, she tried to ignore it, trying to give Mattie her space, but the second and third sniff came quickly after. Her resolve broke and she looked over to see Mattie's puffy eyes and tears streaming down her face.

"Oh. Hey," she said softly, dropping her book on the floor and sitting up to scoot toward her. Mattie looked up at her and started to shake her head. "C'mon," Tobin protested, cutting her off. "If you're crying I should be allowed to be a little concerned." She paused, regretting her word choice. "Not that there's anything concerning about crying when you get your first period!" she corrected. "I did! My mom told me she did too! It's totally normal, you know. You're getting older, your body's changing–"

Mattie started to laugh. "Tobin."

"What?"

"I'm just crying because...Sirius died. In the book." She lifted the large volume in her hands.

"Oh. Okay then."

"You cried when you got your period?" Mattie asked, somewhat amused.

"Yeah. So what?" she said, somewhat defensively.

"How old were you?"

Tobin scrunched up her face in thought. "Thirteen, I think. I had been working on some stuff, juggling, in the backyard and I came inside to go to the bathroom."

"And you just started crying?"

"No, I think..." She tried to remember. "I went and told my mom and she started giving me this talk about it and, like, growing up and whatever, and I kinda freaked out."

Mattie raised her eyebrows. "Are you gonna give me a talk about growing up that's gonna freak me out?"

Tobin threw her arm behind Mattie's head along the top of the couch. "Do you want one?"

"Not really."

"Then, no. You, me and Christen are probably going to sit down and have some sort of talk talk at some point, but to be honest, I'm a little afraid I'll explain something wrong, so we'll wait to do that with her." She gave her a sheepish smile.

Mattie laughed. "You know I've lived in group homes with lots of older girls, right? You sort of figure out all of the growing up stuff after a month or two of that."

"Yeah...somehow I don't think Christen is gonna think that's a satisfactory way for you to learn this stuff." Mattie laughed and Tobin was impressed with how cavalierly she was handling this, even as she realized that these were probably the least complicated circumstances in which Mattie would get her first period. "Jeez, what were you even gonna do if this happened while you were living in the shed?"

She shrugged. "I guess I just would've had to buy stuff with my juggling money. I would've figured it out."

Tobin shook her head and exhaled. "You know it still scares the hell out of me when you say stuff like that, right?"

Mattie twisted her head to look up at her. "Why? Don't you feel better knowing I can take care of myself?"

"It scares me to think you'd ever have to."

"I don't know...I'm glad I know that stuff. It makes it easier to tell when adults are full of it." Tobin didn't completely agree, but she didn't voice her opinion. Mattie smiled wistfully. "I'm sure Abuelita would have some wild way of explaining all of this that would somehow just meant me going to extra masses."

"When you were telling us about how you guys used to do Santa and holidays and stuff, it sounded like you didn't really believe in a lot of that stuff that she told you about."

"I guess...I kind of just thought she was using Jesus and stuff to get me to do what she said." She swallowed and looked at her hands in her lap. "I should have listened to her more."

Tobin brushed Mattie's hair back with her hand. "What about now? What do you believe?" She tried to keep her tone as open and accepting as possible, but she saw Mattie stiffen slightly. "I'm just wondering," she clarified. "You don't have to believe the same things as me. I'm gonna love you no matter what..."

Mattie shook her head. "I don't really know, really. I thought about it a little–when I was on my own. 'Cause before, I would ask her, you know, how she could keep saying that Jesus loved us with the stuff that was happening. And she'd just say, '¡Feliz el hombre que soporta la prueba!'"

"Happy..." Tobin frowned as she tried to translate. "Oh yeah, that's...that's James. 'Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial.' It's like you can only see the true beauty of God's plan if you trust it when it's hard to."

Mattie nodded solemnly. "After she got taken away, I thought, y'know, maybe. So I actually prayed. But when it didn't work, when we got the news..." She shook her head. "After that, every time I thought about it...I just couldn't understand how God could be all the things she said He was and let that happen to her."

Tobin searched for the right thing to say in response. "I didn't know your Abuela but I know she loved you. I know she would want you to be safe and loved, and while I think she would have rather kept you that way herself, I'd bet she's probably looking down right now happy that you aren't living by yourself in an equipment shed."

Mattie smirked softly. "Yeah, she wouldn't have liked that very much." She chuckled once. "She probably likes that one of my new moms is so crazy about Jesus, though."

Tobin's stomach swooped at the word 'mom.' Mattie looked up at her when she didn't respond and she gave her a small smile. Tobin wrapped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her daughter into her. "I really hope she does, Mattie."

***

"How's she doing?"

Tobin reached over and grabbed her charger off the nightstand, plugging the phone in and lying back as she answered. "Good. We had a good talk. I think."

"About...menstruation?"

"Not exactly. More about...God's plans for all of us."

"Well, that's okay. Stick to your strengths."

"I told her we would have an actual talk with you there though. You can explain, like, all the parts and stuff."

"All the parts and stuff?"

"You know what I mean."

"I do know. Do you? Are we going to have to call in reinforcements for you during this talk? Will dirty uncle Kelley and her hand gestures be substitute teaching?"

Tobin scoffed and adjusted her elbow to rest behind her head. "How could Kelley possibly be better at this than me?"

"Well, you made it sound like she had a...descriptive knowledge of the female anatomy."

Tobin made a face. "You've never complained about my knowledge of the female anatomy before."

Christen tutted. "No, but being a good driver doesn't mean you understand how a car works."

"You don't have to know the names of all the parts to get how it works."

"You're admitting you don't know the names of the parts?"

"I know the important ones!" she whined.

"You should know all of them. Don't worry, you and Mattie will each get a test at the end of the lecture. I'll print out a diagram for you to label."

"Can't my test be more...hands on?"

"Maybe you can earn some extra credit." Tobin grinned before she added, "I have a feeling you might need it."

***

Tobin woke up and turned over to grab her phone, watching the time change from 5:59 to 6:00 and her alarm light up the screen. She shut it off, stretched, and rolled out of bed. Just as she was pouring her Mini Wheats, Christen appeared in a facetime request, adjusting the phone in front of her on the kitchen counter. Tobin accepted the call and Christen moved out of the frame and behind Sam to adjust his high chair.

"Good morning, Sammy."

"Morning, mama. Guess what?"

"What?" she answered, stirring her cereal.

He held up two fingers. "Only this many days til you and Mattie come home!"

"Actually bud it's pretty much this many," she said, holding up her index finger, "if you only count sleeps. We're coming home tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?"

"Yeah, bud."

"Mommy did you hear that!" he called to Christen over the top of the camera.

"Yeah, babe. Remember I told you they were coming home Friday?" Christen put a bowl of Cheerios in front of him.

Sam nodded.

"Yeah, that's tomorrow, buddy."

At the end of their call, Christen reminded Tobin to take it easy before her game that night, to which Tobin rolled her eyes. But as soon as she had hung up the Facetime, she found herself sitting on the couch, trying to follow her wife's instructions to relax. She made it a few more chapters into her book before she got ansty and looked at the clock. It was almost 10:30, well past when Mattie had been waking up this week, so she stood and walked to her daughter's room and knocked softly on the door.

"Yeah," Mattie answered.

Tobin entered and saw Mattie sitting up in bed, turned to the last pages of her book. "Hey, I thought you were gonna sleep til noon. I didn't know you were up."

"I fell asleep reading last night, so I thought I'd just finish the chapter when I woke up, but then there was only one more chapter after that, so..."

"Got ya," Tobin said, moving to her bed and pulling her foot under her as she sat on the edge.

"How are you feeling? Any cramps? Headache?"

Mattie shrugged. "Nope. I was just gonna go get a new pad when I finished this."

"Okay. Did you bring the sixth one?"

Mattie shook her head. "I wasn't really sure if I'd finish this and I figured you had the ebook."

"Yeah, you can use my Kindle if you want, but I thought we could go to Powell's for an hour or two before the game, so you could get a hard copy there if you want one."

"What's Powell's?"

"It's the big bookstore. We've driven past it a bunch of times."

Mattie made a face. "You want to spend an hour in a bookstore? What do you want to do?"

"Well, you've never been there before. Just walking around will take like an hour."

"How big is it?"

"It takes up a whole block. It's the biggest bookstore in the world."

"No it's not, you just made that up."

Tobin's eyes widened defensively. "I didn't, I swear! Look it up."

"You just wanna go there all day then?"

"Well, I figured that was a pretty chill activity, and I was reminded this morning over breakfast that I have a game today and that I should take it easy."

Mattie giggled. "I'm sure it was a gentle reminder."

Tobin shook her head and smiled. "Also–" She paused, realizing she was about to say Christen's name and remembering her conversation with Katie over Easter. "Also, Mom says she wants to call you later and check in." She was impressed with how casual she managed to make her delivery of the title.

Mattie frowned. "Is she, like, freaking out about this?"

"Actually, no. I was way more freaked out than she was. I think she just wants to make sure you don't have any questions and to tell you she loves you and all that."

She let out an exaggerated sigh. "I guess that's okay," she joked. "It's not like I'm not gonna see her in like 24 hours, though."

"I know, but she's gone almost a week without you now. Cut her some slack, she misses you."

 

***

Tobin could tell Mattie was impressed by the store, despite her initial skepticism. They elected to start on the top level of the store and work their way down as they browsed. Mattie wasn't particularly interested in the more academic history and philosophy sections on the third floor, so they soon found themselves in the room containing the children's and young adult books.

Mattie found the Harry Potter section quickly, and started to look at some of the books on the end caps. Tobin wandered through the aisles and spotted the parenting section, which she almost laughed out loud at after realizing it now contained advice for her. She looked at the back of a view of the advice books, but most of them seemed a little hokey, and when she flipped through the ones that didn't, she didn't really feel like any of them had advice that applied to the parenting situation she found herself in.

She continued through the children's room, and actually did let out a snort of laughter when she saw a familiar cover on one of the shelves under 'Children's Health.' She picked up a copy of "The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book by American Girl" and tentatively opened it. She scanned through the sections about personal hygiene, which were less traumatic than she remembered. Eventually, she got to the section on periods, which still made her face redden slightly even 20 years later, but as she looked at the tampon instructional, she admitted to herself that it was a much gentler and more informative introduction than she had gotten from Kelley.

"Hey, you wanna go downstairs?" Mattie asked. "I think I'm done in this room."

Tobin looked down at the book in her hands and closed it. "Yeah, sure."

"Cool. Can we get these for Sam?" She held out two thin books with 'Star Wars' and friendly cartoons on the cover.

"Yeah, for sure." Tobin looked at the back cover and scanned it. "This is cool, where'd you find it?"

Mattie gestured vaguely to the other side of the room. "Over with the rest of the kids' books." She tilted her head to look at the book Tobin was holding. "What's that?"

Tobin took a second to realize what she was talking about. "Oh, this? It's, uhh..." She bit her lip and resolved herself to any awkwardness that was to follow. "It's a book about, like, periods and puberty and stuff."

Mattie rolled her eyes.

"Hey. Look," Tobin said, "My mom gave me this book when I was a kid, probably younger than you, and I, uhh...well, I didn't really like it because I wasn't really interested in learning this stuff."

Mattie giggled.

"But I was just looking through it, and there's actually some good stuff in here, so I'm going to get it, and you can read it if you want–but," she said, interrupting Mattie's next disdainful expression. "I'm mainly getting it because last night–" she bit her tongue when she almost said Christen "last night, Mom and I were talking about this book and she was teasing me about hating it, so I think she'd get a kick out of it."

She thought she saw a look of surprise flash across Mattie's face when she called Christen Mom, but it quickly changed to one of amusement, so she couldn't be sure. "Okay, fine, whatever. But you guys are weird for thinking that's funny."

Tobin grinned lazily and threw an arm over Mattie's shoulder as they walked toward the stairs. "Maybe when you're older, you'll understand," she teased.

***

Mattie went with Tobin to the stadium a few hours before the game, in part because Tobin "didn't want her walking through a hoard of drunk people alone", and also because she had been deputized as a ball girl for the match, which she had agreed to despite the fact that she had to wear a shirt with a Thorns logo on it. As a result, she was hanging out in the Thorns locker room starting the next Harry Potter book when Christen texted her.

Christen: Is it okay if I call you now? I just want to check in.

Mattie sighed and felt the heat rise in her cheeks at having to have another conversation about her period, but she also missed Christen after a week where she saw her much less than usual, so she tapped on her contact and hit call. Knowing that this conversation probably wasn't one she wanted to have in front of Emily and Lindsey, who would be back from the trainer's room any minute, she headed out into the hallway and towards the tunnel, which was pretty quiet at the moment.

"Hey, babe," Christen answered, picking up after the first ring.

"Hi. Did you guys already have practice?"

"Yep. Sammy came to hang out because we were in the afternoon today."

"Oh no. Did he distract everyone?"

"He was very well behaved, but Maro did get in trouble for making faces at him during our meeting."

Mattie laughed. "You guys should make him a ball kid. He wouldn't be able to help much, but he'd probably distract the other team pretty well."

"Yeah, and I'd spend the entire game hoping he doesn't get hit in the head with the ball, so I wouldn't be much help either."

"That's probably true."

There was a pause, and Mattie could feel the more serious conversation starting.

"How's your period going?" she asked outright.

Mattie was a little surprised by her bluntness. "Umm...it's not like fun, or anything."

Christen laughed. "Yeah, I don't think anyone claims it is. But you're doing okay? Are you achy or in any pain?"

"I guess a litte? It's not bad. Pads are kind of annoying, though."

"Okay, well we can get you started with tampons. You can ask Tobin if you want, or we can wait til you guys get home then."

Mattie smirked. "I kinda wanna ask her just to see how awkward she gets."

"Was she weird about it last night?"

"A little. At first. She's just asked if I was okay like a million times."

"Yeah, well. It's kind of a big deal. In olden days it meant you were becoming a woman."

"Does that mean I'm an adult now?" she quipped.

"Maybe if it were like the middle ages. Are you ready to be married off yet?"

She made a face. "What? No."

"Well, then, you're out of luck. You're still a kid."

***

"Hey, what's with the ball kid nepotism?"

Mattie felt a tug on her shirt and turned around to see Megan pulling on the back of it where it said "BALL KID" in bold letters.

"Hi, Pinoe."

"Hey, kid. You their ringer? Gonna pull some of your crazy tricks and help tip the scale toward the Thorns?"

She rolled her eyes. "Maybe if the Sunrise were playing. I'd rather you both lose so they can get back to the top of the division." She smiled. "But I hope everyone has fun."

Megan laughed. "You're loyal, huh? Alright. We'll try to put on a fun one for ya then."

***

Mattie wasn't sure if it was just being this close to the field, or it was because the stadium was packed for the rivalry game, but Pinoe's promise came true. She thought it might have been the best NWSL game she'd been to yet, and in the past few months, she'd been to quite a few. The Reign took an early lead when Naho scored off a cross from Fishlock, but Tobin got fouled (rather badly) in the box a few minutes later and Nadia converted the PK. She imagined Christen was complaining loudly as she watched the game from LA because Tobin was getting battered pretty good. Even Mattie found herself wincing as the game went on.

Just before the 40th minute, Allie slipped a pass to Lindsey, who drilled a shot from 20 yards deep that was buried upper ninety and sent the Riveters going crazy. The rest of the half was chippy, but neither team got another result.

The second half started just as aggressively, with each team earning a card in the first two minutes (Lindsey was booked for the Thorns and Fishlock for the Reign). Megan and Tobin were playing just as physical as much as any of their teammates, but their technicality seemed to escalate along with the violence. The game only got more intense when Megan bent a shot across the box in the 72nd minute for the equalizer.

Mattie was on the touchline where the Thorns were attacking in this half, so Tobin spent much of the run of play directly in front of her. At one point, when Mattie thought the game must be getting close to ending, she beat three Reign defenders on the endline, splitting two and nutmegging one before slotting a pass to Sinc, whose shot was pushed up over the bar. Tobin ran toward her and grinned when she looked up for the ball on the corner. Mattie tossed it to her and received a wink in return, along with an expression that she could tell meant Tobin was impressed with herself. To be fair, so was Mattie.

As she adjusted the ball on the painted line, she titled her head up at Mattie and said, just loud enough for her to hear, "Watch this."

She turned around, walking back and looking into the box and waiting before she raised her arm and started her approach. Mattie could see her smirking a little, and she watched with the whole stadium as the ball sailed over Kopmeyer's hands at the near post and curved back into the net. Tobin pumped her fist and let out a yell as the stadium exploded. The Thorns ran over and mobbed Tobin, and Mattie stood watching in amazement, before the field manager called her name and held up a new ball she was about to throw her now that she had given the one she had away. She caught the ball and turned back around in time for Tobin to extract herself from the celebration.

She looked at Mattie with a crooked smile. "Can you believe you're the Thorns good luck charm?"

****

Once Christen got the text that they had gotten off the plane, she re-started the car and pulled out of the cell phone lot. The arrivals lane was busy, so Mattie and Tobin beat her to the curb. They both got goofy grins on their faces the second they saw the car. Christen felt a smile growing on her own face at the sight of them. She put the car in park and couldn't help herself but get out to give Mattie a hug.

After she had squeezed Mattie tightly for almost half a minute, Tobin became impatient and cleared her throat. "Umm, hi. I would also like a hug. Remember me? Your beautiful and loving w-i-f-e?"

Mattie giggled from her place, still in Christen's arms. "You don't have to spell, you know. Sam's not here."

"I'm just being s-a-f-e, M-a-t-t-i-e."

Christen laughed and released Mattie, moving to hug Tobin. "Were you two like this all week?"

After they had loaded back into the car and navigated out of the airport, Christen peeked into the rearview mirror. "You guys wanna do something fun? We've still got a few hours before it's time to get Sam."

She saw Tobin glance into the back seat in her peripheral vision, and could see a smirk forming on Mattie's face. "Don't you have to relax?" she asked. "You have a game tonight, you should stay off your feet."

Tobin joined in, almost gleefully. "Yeah, babe. You don't want to overtax yourself. You've got to take it easy."

"Are you both done?" she asked in an unamused tone. They both looked very pleased with themselves. "In that case, because you're actually right, and apparently you both need someone to set a good example for you, we will be going home and watching a movie, and neither of you can complain about whatever I pick." She smiled.

They both groaned that their teasing had backfired.

"Keep whining and it will be a very educational documentary." She saw Tobin starting to speak. "And not one about sports!"

***

"I can't believe you were on the field for that," Sophie said with awe in her voice. They were sitting in the back row of the Press family suite at the Sunrise game and Mattie was recounting her week in Portland, culminating with her brief foray as a ball girl.

"I think I would have run onto the field," Isabella agreed.

"I was mostly just in shock because someone," she leaned forward in her seat so that she knew Tobin, who was sitting in front of them, could hear, "was being so cocky about it, she basically told me she was going to score."

"You know, Tobs, she's right," Cody joined from the other end of the front row. "We gotta work on your poker face. I could see you smirkin' on the stream and the camera wasn't even on you. You keep that up and people will see that play from a mile away."

Everyone laughed and Tobin grinned. "Hey, maybe I'll just smirk on every corner now."

The stadium cheered and the occupants of the box turned their attention back to the field. Maro had just served a cross into the box that looked promising, but it was cleared for a throw in. This game wasn't nearly as exciting as the one from the night before, but Mattie preferred that Sunrise games were boring, as long as the came with 3-0 leads and a brace for Christen like this one did.

"What'd we miss?" Tyler asked as she returned from bringing Etta to the bathroom.

Sam looked up briefly from the fidget spinner he was playing with on Tobin's lap. "We hafta work on Mama's poker face," he answered.

The suite rang with laughter again and Tyler just gave an amused nod of her head. "Alright. Sounds like a plan."

***

Christen slid out of bed and grabbed her sleep shorts off the floor. "You're getting dressed?"

"Yeah, you should too."

"Why?" Tobin whined.

"Because Sam has wandered in here in the middle of the night every night this week. Do you really wanna be naked if he does it again?"

"Mattie and I are back. I doubt he's gonna come in tonight," she said, even as she slid on her underwear and looked around for a shirt.

Once she was decent again, Christen climbed back in bed and scooted over to Tobin's side. "Did I tell you what he wants from Santa?"

Tobin frowned. "No. You talked about Santa?"

"Yeah, I didn't tell you this?"

She shook her head.

"In school this week, they talked about Easter and Santa and how different people's families celebrate different holidays, blah, blah, blah. And so he asked me if Santa would visit this year, because last year he came, but he didn't bring Sam what he wanted."

"Santa visited them at the group home? What did he ask for?"

"For Mattie to come back."

Tobin looked at her sympathetically. "Stop."

"Yeah, right? But anyway, the kids in his class were talking about what they got for Christmas, and a few of them got dogs for Christmas, so now he wants to ask for a puppy."

Tobin grinned excitedly. "We're getting a puppy?"

Christen lifted her head from her shoulder. "How are we supposed to take care of a puppy? Don't we have enough going on?"

"I can't believe you're the one saying no to a dog."

She sighed. "I'm not saying–I'm just saying we're going to have to figure this out and I don't really know how we're going to handle that. It's not like we can say no, though."

"How come?"

"Because it's our first Christmas and it's supposed to be three Christmases and last year Mattie wasn't there and–" she let out a groan and dropped her head back to Tobin's shoulder. "We have to figure out how to get him a puppy."

Tobin rubbed her wife's back. "Hey. Christmas is a long ways off. We have plenty of time to figure this out."

"I know. I'm just afraid of disappointing him."

She hummed in agreement. "You know, I guess I always figured we'd get a dog first."

"First?"

"Like, before kids. So we'd already have one before they were born or adopted."

"I guess I didn't totally think about it like that, but I would've guessed that too."

"You never thought about, like, our little baby taking a nap curled up with our big fluffy dog?"

Christen shifted to look at her again. "Did you want it to happen like that? Are you disappointed it didn't?"

"I mean, it's definitely still cute to think about a big dog and a tiny kid, but it's at least as cute to think about a little puppy playing with Sam when he's however old he'll be in December." She smiled softly. "Probably cuter."

Christen's expression changed to a deep frown of discontent.

"What. What's wrong?" Tobin asked, concerned.

"Now I'm thinking about how cute Sam would be with a puppy and I'm sad we don't have one."

Tobin laughed. "He'll be cute for a while. We've got plenty more time of him being a kid."

"You mean as opposed to our already almost teenaged daughter who recently "entered womanhood""?

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, sure. As opposed to her."

Christen sighed.

"Speaking of out almost teenaged daughter..."

"Yes..."

"Katie sort of called us out on something."

Tobin could see Christen frown with her head on her chest. "Called us out? Were you right about the parenting checkup?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, I was. But she actually said we're doing fine, so that wasn't really the callout. She more just brought up that Mattie calls us by our names."

"Oh. Yeah. I don't know, I just kind of figured she'd switch when she's ready."

"Me, too. But Katie pointed out that we call each other by our names to her, so I've sort of started..."

"Calling me Mom instead of Christen to her?"

"Yeah, you know. Just so she knows it's okay if she wants to."

"Okay. That's a good idea, I'll do that, too."

"Mom?" Sam's voice whispered as the door creaked open.

"Yeah, bud?"

"I had a bad dream."

The both sat up to look at him as he hung onto the door handle. "Do you want me to come tuck you back in?" Christen asked.

"Can I just sleep in here?"

"Baby, there's not a lot of room now that Mama's back."

"Yeah, but I'm little," he said in a tired voice.

Christen looked at Tobin for help, but Tobin just shrugged because she didn't know how to argue with that. "Okay, c'mon, then."

Sam climbed up into the middle of the bed and snuggled in between them. Tobin smirked at Christen.

"What?" she mouthed.

"We are so getting that p-u-p-p-y!"

Chapter Text

"What did you do with your passport?"

"Why do I need my passport?"

"Please tell me you didn't leave it in Portland."

"I didn't."

"Really?"

"I didn't! It's in the zip pocket of my suitcase."

Christen reached into the front of the bag Tobin was pointing to. She found the small book and put it on the bed in one of her existing piles. She turned back to the clothes she was packing into another suitcase.

"Why do I need my passport?" Tobin repeated from where she lay across her side of the bed.

"They're doing the official eligibility checks this week, so they need everyone to show their passport to the FIFA people. Did you see that email?"

Tobin scrunched up her face. "I skimmed it? I figured it was gonna be the same shit it always is."

"We had to do this last time too."

She smirked. "Exactly, that's why I brought my passport."

She rolled her eyes. "Can you pull up the email and look at it? My mom offered to take Sam or Mattie this week if we need it and I'm not sure when we're busiest. We made a plan for them to pick the kids up Saturday morning so we don't have to worry about getting them to San Diego."

"Sweet, sounds good."

"What sounds good?"

Tobin gestured noncommittally. "The plan you just said. With your parents."

"I said I don't have a plan yet. We need to come up with one."

"For what?"

"What do you mean for what?" she asked animatedly. "For this week. Camp is going to be crazy with the promotional stuff, plus we've gotta get the kids to school every day—which reminds me I'm still trying to figure out when Mattie can leave for France. We also have to make sure to finish any of the paperwork for Mattie and Sam to come at all, because this is the last time we're both gonna be here during the week before we have to leave, not to mention staying on top of the rest of their adoption shit, which we won't be able to do anything about for like 2 months. And that's before we get to the you and me stuff, or worrying about football at all!"

Tobin froze. "Uhh...okay, that's a lot."

Christen gave her a look.

"Well," she started, trying to diffuse the situation, "if we're in practice or whatever, the babysitters can do dropoff and pickup, we just have to give them a car seat for Sam. And then like before for Mattie's school or whatever, I can just drop her off."

She could see Christen soften slightly, and she dropped the t-shirt she was folding onto the top of the pile. "I didn't...you don't have to bring Mattie every day; we can switch off or something. I just meant we have to figure it out."

Tobin grinned, rolling over and swinging her feet off the edge of the bed, so she was leaning against it next to Christen's packing station. She tugged on the side of her t-shirt. "We could go together and have a little date in the morning."

She smiled back and leaned over to give Tobin a kiss. "As nice as that sounds, one of us has to stay with Sam or we're gonna have to get him ready by seven too. And you know how fun that'll be."

"Okay, so we switch off," she shrugged. "What about the rest of the stuff?"

"We're gonna have to find time to do all of our errand stuff next week."

Tobin flopped back on the bed and looked up at the ceiling. "What errand stuff? I thought we just had the shrinky-dink meeting."

"Don't call it that."

"Sorry. 'Social Services' meeting. Besides that, what else?"

"Well, I'm not sure if we're gonna have to talk to Mattie's teachers about France, but if I do, Claire probably has to be there. Also, if we decide to set up a joint account, we should do that before we leave."

"Okay, cool."

"'Okay cool,' like...you want to set up a joint account?"

Tobin tried not to look as confused as she felt. "Uhh...if you do?"

Christen looked like she was going to say something but thought better of it. "I do because I think we should get Mattie a card on the account. Even if we don't get a joint one we need to put her on one of ours."

Tobin scrunched up her nose. "She's 12. What does she need a credit card for?"

"Well, we're leaving her with my parents for at least a week, then once we're in France and my mom or your mom or whoever is watching them, I don't want them buying her everything, even though they'll try, and I don't want her feeling awkward if she has to ask for something. I mean, we'll give her cash, but I'd just feel more comfortable if she had that as a backup, you know?"

Tobin raised her eyebrows and nodded. "Yeah, I didn't really...think about that, but I guess."

"Well, then we're gonna have to look at the options and pick a bank and open the account. You know, in all the free time we'll have this week."

"I mean I can probably to that," Tobin offered.

"Really?" Christen asked, pleasantly surprised.

Tobin nodded and shrugged. "If you want."

Christen smiled and looked at her softly. "Did you see your new license? It came in the mail."

"Where is it?" Tobin said, standing up. "I feel like we should celebrate me becoming an official California resident."

"On the dresser," Christen gestured. "Make sure to pack it, we'll have to bring it for Claire to scan."

Tobin giggled when she picked up the envelope.

"What?"

"It came to 'Tobin Press'. It just looks funny."

"Lemme see?"

Tobin showed her the mail.

Christen laughed. "I didn't even notice that. Take it out, let's see it."

Tobin ripped open the top and pulled out the enclosed piece of paper with a card attached. Christen looked at her picture under a hologram of the seal of California and "PRESS" written in large letters with "TOBIN HEATH" written directly below in slightly smaller font. Tobin slowly peeled the paper off the back of the card with a dazed look on her face.

"Wow, we're really married, huh?"

"Yeah, babe."

***

Tobin loaded the car a half hour before they were supposed to leave, so Christen was able to wrangle Mattie and Sam out the door and into the car on schedule. When they arrived, most of the team wasn't at the hotel yet, so only one of the USSF staffers was sitting in the lobby with a clipboard. They checked in quickly and headed to their floor.

"Sam, walk, please. No running!"

"Auntie Kelley!" he called, taking off.

Kelley crouched down to meet Sam's approach. "Oof! How much did you grow since I saw you last? A foot?"

Sam shook his head and held up 4 fingers. "I'm four-two foots."

"Four foot two?" Kelley asked.

"Forty-two inches, bud," Tobin helped. "Three feet six inches."

Sam nodded and pointed to Tobin. "Four-two."

"Wow. You're gonna be as tall as me soon!" Kelley said, grinning.

"No, I'm not!" Sam rolled his eyes and shook his head, falling into her shoulder.

"Did you get in alright?" Christen asked as she handed Tobin the key to their room.

"Yeah, the flight was fine. Where's Mattie?"

Mattie dragged behind the group, pulling her suitcase with one hand and texting with the other.

"Wow," Kelley said dramatically. "My own godchild, ignoring me for a phone."

Tobin rolled her eyes.

"Hi, Kelley," Mattie said without looking up.

"Mattie," Christen warned.

"Hi," Mattie repeated, storing her phone in her pocket and smiling at Kelley.

"How much longer til summer vacation?" Kelley asked.

Mattie shrugged. "It depends when they let me leave for France."

"Gotcha. You guys see anyone else yet?" she asked, following Mattie into the room.

"Just Dan from logistics downstairs."

"What about Mal?"

"She was gonna meet up with Rose and Lindsey, so she's heading over later."

Kelley sighed and flopped onto one of the beds. "So there's no one to hang out with."

"What are we?" Christen asked, offended.

"Boring!" Kelley said dramatically.

Christen rolled her eyes. "Whatever."

"Ooh, guess what?" Kelley asked.

"What."

"I heard Justin Timberlake was coming to the LA friendly."

Tobin frowned. "I heard it was Justin Bieber."

"Really?" Kelley deflated. "Whatever, that's still pretty cool."

"Yeah, but he's Canadian," Mattie pointed out. "So I'm pretty sure he'll be rooting for them."

"Mal told me Ariana Grande was gonna be there," Christen chimed in.

"See, that's pretty cool!" Kelley said like she was trying to convince Mattie.

"I guess," Mattie said, shrugging.

Tobin smiled knowingly. "You'd be better off telling her what games Mbappe's gonna come to in France."

"Wait what?" Mattie said expectantly.

Tobin and Kelley laughed.

"I see what the deal is," Kelley said, smiling.

"Tobin, is he really gonna be at the games?" Mattie asked.

Tobin felt bad for teasing her. "I don't know, dude. He'll be around though. We'll see if we can't get you a selfie or something."

Mattie seemed to realize how obvious she was being. "Yeah, I mean it's whatever. I was just wondering."

"Okay, well I mean, I want to meet him if I can, so if you wanted to tag along, you can."

Mattie brightened again. "Yeah, sure!"

***

Camp started with an all team meeting. Christen had a little trouble convincing Sam to stay with the babysitter before school, so she came into the room after most of the team was already seated and grabbed a spot next to Lindsey and Mal in the back row.

"Hey, birthday girl. Happy 21st."

Mal grinned. "Thanks! Where'd Sam go?"

"He's with the sitter, which he was not happy about." Christen laughed. "What did you think, he was going to come to the meetings today?"

"Why not, they let Mal come," Lindsey said.

Mal rolled her eyes. "I don't know. I thought this was just going to be about the schedule so it wouldn't matter."

"Have you seen the schedule?" Christen asked. "This is supposed to last until 11:30."

Lindsey and Mal both groaned.

The chatter started to die down and Laura and Dawn walked through the doors near the front of the room.

"Good morning," Laura opened. "I hear we have a birthday today..."

***

Laura gave a short introduction of the schedule for camp, then Dawn got into an outline of the training plan, followed by a powerpoint by two of the ops guys about travel logistics for the trips and what they'd have to do to prepare. By the time the nutritionist and the communications person had given their presentations, even Christen was starting to get a little antsy.

"Alright," Laura said, standing up after they were done. "We're almost finished. I know this was a long morning, and your faces give me a pretty good idea of how bored you all are. So."

Christen saw Tobin dump the contents of her hood onto Allie in annoyance.

"...In light of that, I'll try to wrap this up quickly." She pressed a key on his laptop and the projector advanced to a slide that read 'Bubble' in a large font.

"Those of you who have been through this before know that things are about to get pretty crazy," she started. "Those of us that haven't, myself included, are in for an interesting few months. The roster is gonna be released at the end of this camp and the circus is going to start. We're going to have some extra media at these last friendlies. Some pretty famous people are gonna come shake your hands. I want you to enjoy this experience because you earned it and you deserve it." She paused.

"But we're here to do a job, and that job is going to consume pretty much all of your lives before the end of this. I know I don't have to tell you what this team means, or what you represent, or that you represent that whether you're wearing a shirt with the crest on it or not. But I want you to remember that when the lights come on, and remember the job you're doing, and let that put some distance between the people in this room and the people outside of it. From here on out, I want you to picture a bubble around this team that separates us from all of the expectations, and the commentary, and the attention. We're gonna have to interact with people outside of the bubble from time to time, but while we're together and we're focused on our jobs, we maintain the bubble. No one pops the bubble. Got it?"

***

Isabella dropped her tray onto their table across from Sophie and slid onto the bench.

"You had Stevens this morning right?" Mattie asked, looking up.

"Yeah, why?"

"We drop math today but she wants to know if he gave out the rubric for the final project," Sophie answered for her.

"No, sorry. He said we were going over it tomorrow."

Mattie sighed. "Christen says it's the only rubric left on her list before she'll tell me when I can leave for France."

Isabella's eyes widened. "Shit, really? That's the only thing you have to finish?"

"No, I'm not, like, done with everything else, but she has this whole schedule for me to follow so I'm done in time." She rolled her eyes. "Mrs. Donner gave her all the English stuff right away, so that's what we started with and I'm almost done with it. Then I have to read and write a paper for history and do some stuff about water for Ms. Horowitz and then whatever Stevens gives us."

"Jeez, that sounds like a lot of work."

Mattie shrugged. "It's mostly just reading a few chapters a night and then I had to write a paper the other day."

"What books do we have for the rest of the year?"

Isabella rolled her eyes. "Ugh, only you would care what books, Sophie. Do you know when you get to ditch?"

Mattie gave Isabella a look. "We're reading The Giver and then a free reading book so I'm gonna pick a Harry Potter. And I don't know when my last day will be. I think guidance said I could leave May 29th if I don't miss any school and I'll still pass, but I have to pass all my classes."

"I'm so jealous," Isabella said dramatically. "The world cup is gonna be sooo coollllll..."

"Are you gonna get to come on the science center trip?" Sophie asked.

Mattie frowned. "Did Horowitz announce when it was yet?"

"No, but my mom said my brother's was at the end of May."

"Huh. I'm not sure. I probably won't leave before then."

"Dude, you have to come," Isabella insisted. "Jeff Martinez's mom is one of the chaperones, and he said that she told him that we're gonna get to go to Crave."

"That place with the ice cream sandwiches?" Sophie asked.

"No, they have the giant milkshakes with the candy and toppings."

"Oh. Is that where all the instagram people have been going?"

Isabella nodded excitedly. "I heard they have a new shake with boba in the ice cream!"

Sophie looked skeptical. "How does that even work?"

"I don't know, but I'm gonna try it!"

Sophie shook her head. "Mat, guess what? My dad said he's gonna bring the extra jerseys to practice tomorrow so you can pick one."

"Really?"

"Yeah, well you need it before the game, so."

Isabella sighed like she remembered something incredibly inconvenient. "Ugh, I forgot we're playing the Ginellis this weekend."

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

"I hate playing the Ginellis."

"No, you don't. They're like your favorite team to play."

Isabella pouted. "Yeah, but I always end up with so many bruises after we play them."

"They can't be that bad, Izzie," Mattie insisted.

"They are! Sophie, tell her."

Sophie hedged. "I mean, they are pretty physical. And it doesn't help that they're like, a foot taller than everyone else. But Iz, you provoke them."

"I do not!" she insisted. "That play in U12 when I was playing defense?"

"Okay, yeah, that one was pretty bad," Sophie admitted. "Don't worry, though, Mattie. If you don't start fights with them like Izzie does, you should be fine."

Mattie looked between them skeptically.

Isabella grinned. "Mattie Garcia, are you nervous?" she teased.

"No! Why would I be nervous?"

"You are! You're nervous for your first game. Wow, even the stars get butterflies."

"Iz, leave her alone."

"I'm not nervous, Izzie."

The bell rang for the end of lunch and Isabella just looked smug.

"I'm not!"

***

That night at dinner, Christen sat in the function room with Mattie and Sam on either side of her, and Tobin on the other side of Mattie. After they ate, Kelley and Lindsey brought out a cake for Mal and they all sang Happy Birthday.

"Sammy, come help me blow out the candles!" Mal insisted.

Sam climbed down out of his chair and ran over. Mal lifted him up so he was high enough to reach. He inhaled comically and blew out the biggest breath of air he could, which was enough to get 2-3 of the candles. Mal blew at the same time and got the rest out.

"I didn't know we were gonna get Sam slobber with our cake," Tobin joked to Christen.

"Only the best for Mal."

Mal released Sam so he could sit back down to eat his cake, but didn't start cutting it before announcing, "Okay, everyone! We're playing Kingdom in Lindsey and Sonnett's room tonight. Anyone who wants to join should come by at 8."

"Can I play?" Sam asked excitedly.

"Sam, you can be on my team," Lindsey offered.

"Yes!" he celebrated.

Christen made eye contact with Tobin. "Well, this is gonna make bedtime fun."

***

The next morning, Christen smoothed the comforter on her bed and leaned over to pick up one of Sam's sneakers from the floor next to the wall. She looked at the nightstand where Tobin's phone sat, still charging, and sighed. She hustled out of the room, flipping the deadbolt to prop the door open and turning the corner to the elevator bank.

"Tob?" she called, hoping to have caught her wife before her midfielders' meeting. Tobin wasn't anywhere to be seen in the hallway, but Christen heard a familiar wail coming out of a half ajar door on the other side of the elevators.

She poked her head into the lounge where the nannies were set up to hang out with Sam while he wasn't at school. Julia, the nanny for the morning, was leaning against a desk, watching Sam scream bloody murder and cling to Tobin, who was trying to calm him down.

What's wrong? Christen mouthed to Tobin over Sam's head.

Tobin shrugged and shook her head. He didn't want me to leave.

"Sammy?" Christen tried. "Mama has to leave for a meeting..." she looked at Tobin's phone in her hand, "...two minutes ago."

Sam lifted his head from Tobin's collar and turned to look at her. His eyes were bloodshot and his face was covered in a mix of tears and snot.

"C'mere," Christen motioned, getting him to unlatch from Tobin's shirt. "You gotta go," she said to Tobin, trading her her phone for Sam. He was passed between his mothers willingly, immediately digging his fists into Christen's sweatshirt once in her arms.

"Thanks," Tobin said, still looking a little overwhelmed. "Are you sure you've got—"

"We'll be fine. Go ahead, you're gonna be late."

Tobin nodded and headed out the door to the left, toward the stairs instead of the elevators.

"Hi, you must be Julia," Christen said, taking a hand away from rubbing circles on Sam's back to greet her, "Kerrie told us you were going to be here this morning. Hopefully, she told you Sam's normally much friendlier."

Julia smiled sympathetically. "It seems like he's having a rough morning. Are goodbyes usually this hard for him?"

"Not unless he's really into a game he's playing or something. He did this yesterday for Kerrie but not with quite as many tears."

"Maybe he's just having a bad day."

"It was Mal's birthday yesterday, so he stayed up a little later than usual. He might just be tired." Christen leaned her head to look at her son. "Sam, can you tell me what's wrong?"

He had calmed down slightly, but tears were still running down his cheeks and he hiccuped as he spoke. "I want—hic—to stay with you and Mama. I don't want you to—hic—leave."

She brushed back his curls with her hand. "We're just going downstairs for some meetings, babe."

"Why can't I—hic—come?"

Christen smiled softly. "Well, for one thing, they'd be boring. You have to sit and be quiet the whole time. And also, you've got school, buddy."

"I don't wanna go to school!"

She frowned. "You love school."

"No! I hate it!"

"Really? You hate it?"

Sam threw his head onto her shoulder and nodded.

"So you never want to go back?"

He nodded again.

"You do want to go back?"

He shook his head.

"Should I tell Mrs. S and the Jacks and Ava you won't be seeing them again?"

Sam paused and turned his head so it was still resting on her shoulder, but he could frown at her.

Christen raised her eyebrows. "You just told me you didn't want to go back and you hated it there."

He buried his face back in her shirt and started crying again. "I just wanna stay with you and Mama," he wailed.

"Alright, it's okay," she said, rubbing his back and sending Julia an apologetic look. She picked up Sam's backpack which Tobin had left and moved to sit on the couch in the middle of the room. "Okay, listen, how about this." She moved him off her lap and onto the couch so he would look at her. "You and Julia are going to hang out here for," she looked at the clock under the TV, "one hour, and then you're gonna go to school."

Sam started to shake his head.

"Wait," Christen warned. "When you get home from school, me and Mama are going to be eating lunch, so you can come see us and have lunch with us. Then we have to go to practice, but if you stay here with Julia then, you guys can go get Mattie at school, and then you can hang out with Mattie. How does that sound?"

He crossed his arms and gave her a grumpy look.

"And you and Julia can play Switch or watch Clone Wars," she tried.

He softened slightly, but still looked skeptical.

"And," she said, looking at him seriously, "And—today is Tuesday, right? If you're good for Julia today, and you're good tomorrow, which is Wednesday, and the day after, which is...?"

"Thursday," he grumbled automatically.

"Right. So if you're good today and tomorrow and Thursday, you can skip school on Friday and you can hang out with me and Mama, like, almost the whole day."

He considered the offer. "Can we get ice cream?"

She laughed. "We can get you ice cream."

Sam uncrossed his arms so they flopped to his sides. "So I don't get to see you for three days?"

Christen bit her lip. "No, honey, we just have to work during the day. Like yesterday, right? We have meetings and practice until dinnertime and then we get to see you."

He rubbed his eyes. "I don't like meetings."

She sighed. "I know, bud."

Fifteen minutes later, Christen had Sam cleaned up and parked in front of his show and had gotten ready for her meeting in ten minutes, which meant she had planned on arriving five minutes ago. She walked back toward the elevators, crossing the open space to peak into the lounge before heading down. Sam was where she left him, watching TV, though he had apparently warmed up enough to Julia in the time Christen was gone to begin filling her in on everything that was happening on screen and how that related to everything else in Star Wars. She smiled and listened to him babble for a few seconds before backing away from the door silently, not wanting to chance him noticing her and the peace being re-disrupted. She returned to the elevators, pressing the button and getting surprised when it dinged and the doors opened almost instantly. She stepped in and pressed the button for the floors with the meeting rooms, resting her head against the back wall and chewing her bottom lip.

I don't like meetings.

***

At practice that afternoon, Tobin was dragging. She shuffled her way through the seven v seven, pausing occasionally to try to crack her ankle. The temperature was in the 90s and even though everyone was feeling it, she somehow felt like she was the only one running in slow motion.

The scrimmage was a mess, and no one was connecting. After Tobin missed a wide-open run from Christen and sent the ball out for a goal kick, Laura looked like she'd had enough.

"Alright. Blue team, get some water! Red team, sub on."

Tobin was both frustrated and relieved. She jogged over to the coolers to grab a water, getting in line behind Christen. When Christen turned around with a bottle for each of them, Tobin knew her bad mood was showing on her face, because Christen was looking at her with a very soft expression.

"It's okay," she said, handing Tobin the water and tapping her on the side. "We'll get the next one."

***

By the end of the day, Christen was exhausted. She could feel her body adjusting to the pace of camp, the dull soreness settling into her muscles over the burn of the day's torn fibers and the leftover chill of the recovery ice bath. She had volunteered to pick Mattie up from practice, in part because Tobin and Sam seemed absorbed in the game they were playing, but mostly because the hotel was beginning to feel much too small and much too loud.

She pulled into the first open spot in the parking lot at the field, looking over to see a familiar face a few spaces down. Isabella's dad, Dan, smiled and waved to her before going back to the crossword he had on the steering wheel. Christen turned to look at the field, where Mattie and Isabella were surrounded by teammates and trying to muscle each other off the ball.

Mattie managed to free the ball and pass to another girl, whose name Christen thought might be Grace, but maybe-Grace got the ball stripped away by Sophie who passed to a girl Christen couldn't see, who scored. Sophie and the other girl ran to the sidelines and the keeper retrieved the ball from the goal and punted it 20 yards upfield. Mattie and Isabella ran back to fight for it.

Mattie and maybe-Grace scored next, then Isabella's team, then two teams more until one duo remained and was eliminated. They all started back on the field again, this time with Mattie's team scoring first until another team of girls Christen didn't know was taken out of the competition as well. In the next round, both Isabella and Mattie's teams fell to the last two, with Mattie's team narrowly escaping defeat. One more team was eliminated until only Mattie and Sophie's teams were left.

Mattie beat Sophie's partner, who Christen thought was Jenna, to the ball. She beat maybe-Jenna with a crossover and made it just inside the 18 before she shot, but Sophie came over and got her foot on the ball, deflecting it up and over toward the corner. Mattie and Sophie both chased after it, but maybe-Grace got to it first, sending it back into the box over their heads. The switched directions, scrambling back to the front of the goal as the keeper tried to decide what to do. Mattie tried to head the ball but missed, and it hit the ground right at the 6, where Sophie was able to get a foot on it and send it into the bottom corner of the net. Maybe-Jenna threw up her hands and ran to celebrate with Sophie, while Mattie and maybe-Grace shared a commiserating low five.

Everyone but Sophie and maybe-Jenna went to pick up the cones and pinnies, dropping them into an equipment bag on the sidelines. The girls all got water and stretched while Coach Phillips talked to them for a few minutes. Christen was scrolling through Instagram when they finally finished and got up, so she locked her phone, but the coach called Mattie over and talked to her for another minute, finally pulling something out of the bag of gear and handing it to her. She thanked him and said goodbye to Sophie who was waiting for him to pack up before turning and spotting Christen's car and running toward it.

Mattie climbed in the front seat, sweaty and smiling. "Hey."

"Hey, you looked great out there. Soph got lucky on that bounce."

"I know. I almost had it. I thought Izzie was gonna beat me on the round two before that, though. That shot was ridiculous but I thought it was going in."

"Yeah, I didn't have a good angle so I couldn't tell how it came off her foot."

She laughed. "It was just a one-touch prayer, but she gets those to fall sometimes."

Christen turned the car on and put it in reverse, looking in the mirror and waiting for a gap in the line of parents filing out of the parking lot. "What country were you and...Grace?" Christen asked, guessing her teammate's name.

"Germany."

"Trying to be like Maro? I'll have to tell her that."

"No," Mattie shot back. Christen could see the grin she was hiding out of the corner of her eye. "I wanted to be Australia so I could be like the Sam Kerr out there, but Sophie picked them first."

"Sam Kerr, huh?"

"Yeah, she's, like, really good. Maybe the best forward in the world." She could barely contain her giggles at this point.

Christen gasped, feigning betrayal. "I knew this day would come, but I didn't think it would be so soon..."

Mattie laughed. "I'm kidding. No one is allowed to be the US."

"What! Why not?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. I guess there was an 'incident' last season involving Izzie almost fighting some girl who's still in U12s? Even though Izzie wasn't trying to be the US? I'm not really sure. But Coach banned it as a team and now we all have to pick different countries."

Christen laughed. "Okay. Why did he call you over after practice?"

"Oh! To give me my jersey. For Sunday."

Christen grinned. "C'mon, let's see it."

Mattie rolled her eyes but smiled, leaning down to reach into her bag and pull out the shirt. As they pulled up to a red light, she held it up so Christen could see the front. It was dark blue with white stripes on the shoulders. The right breast was emblazoned with the league logo and the left breast had 17 in big white letters.

"Oh my god, Mattie—"

"You can't tell her."

"What do you mean I can't tell her?"

"You can't tell Tobin I got her number."

"But it's so cute..."

Mattie huffed. "He only had, like, 2, 14, and this one left. It's not like I had a lot of options."

Christen smirked. "Couldn't pick your favorite player's number then?"

"Yeah, they didn't have 20, so I couldn't be like Sam—"

"Oh! Ouch!" Christen said, clutching her chest as they both laughed.

"But they really didn't have 23. I don't think our numbers even go up that high."

"Well, whoever gets to wear the same number as you is pretty lucky, so I won't tell Mom if you don't want me to, but I think she's gonna be pretty psyched."

***

"Mama?"

Tobin wasn't totally sure if she was really hearing Sam's voice or it was a dream.

"Mama?" he repeated.

She cracked open her eyes and looked between a pouting Sam and the clock on the nightstand, which read 2:27. "What's up bud?" she croaked out, her voice filled with sleep.

"I had a bad dream."

Tobin knew he wanted to sleep in their bed, but also knew she wasn't supposed to let him make this a habit. "About what?"

"I couldn't find you," he whined.

Tobin smiled reassuringly. "I'm right here, Sammy."

"Oh. Yeah."

She sat up. "Want me to come tuck you back in?"

Sam looked slightly crestfallen but nodded.

Tobin stood up and followed him through the doorway connecting their rooms. He climbed back into his bed and she pulled the covers up to his chin.

"We're just in there, okay? No need to worry."

He nodded and she leaned over to kiss his forehead. "Goodnight."

"Goodnight."

"I love you."

"I love you too, Mama."

***

She felt like she had just fallen back asleep when she heard the voice again.

"Mama?"

"Yeah, bud," she answered without opening her eyes.

"I can't sleep."

She opened her eyes and looked at the clock again. It read 3:15. She sighed. "Do you wanna sleep in here?"

"Yeah," he said in a small voice.

"Okay, hop up. Try not to wake Mommy up." She helped him up and over her so he could lay in the middle of the bed. "Better?"

He nodded and rested his head against her shoulder.

"Goodnight, Sammy," she whispered.

"Goodnight," he said sleepily.

She laughed when his breathing evened out almost instantly before she felt her own exhaustion overtake her.

***

When she woke up, Tobin could feel two tiny feet jammed into her lower back.

"Honey, why didn't you sleep in your bed?" she heard Christen ask.

"Mama tried to tuck me back in but it didn't work."

Tobin flipped over to look at Christen. She frowned but looked at him softly. "We were doing so good, babe. You slept in there the whole night this week. Why do you think it didn't work?"

"I had a bad dream."

"What happened in it?"

"I was lost and I couldn't find you or Mama."

Christen met Tobin's eyes and they shared a concerned look. "Okay, well that sounds scary so I understand." She kissed his forehead and got up to take Mattie to school.

***

Tobin was tired for the rest of Thursday. She wasn't visibly yawning or anything, but she felt a step slower than usual and it was just a little harder to concentrate on everything. Sam had thrown another tantrum when it was time to leave, so she was late to her first meeting again. Allie kept having to elbow her to pay attention to the scouting report on Brazil the assistant coach was showing.

At lunch, she sat at the end of one of the tables, hoping to get 20 minutes of peace and quiet. Christen came and sat next to her, and for a second she thought those hopes were dashed, but besides a small smile when she came over, Christen barely acknowledged her. They ate in silence until Tobin's plate was almost clear and something occurred to her.

"Hey, babe? Where's Sam?"

"Kerrie said he was really tired, so she's letting him take a quick nap. She's gonna bring him down at the end of lunch."

"Oh, okay."

They were silent again for a moment.

"Oh, have you decided on a bank?" Christen asked.

Tobin stopped the bite of chicken that was halfway to her mouth. "Uhh...I haven't, but I we have tomorrow morning off, so I'll just look at everything then."

"I can help if you—"

"Nope!" Tobin said quickly. "I said I would do it, I'm gonna do it."

Christen looked amused. "Okay, whatever you say babe."

***

After an hour of reading the features of a dozen different possible bank accounts, Tobin wasn't sure why she had insisted on trying to pick one. She was sitting in the lounge where they kept the equipment with Christen's laptop and a notepad in front of her when Kelley wandered in.

"Are you taking notes?" she asked.

"Huh?"

"Are you taking—"

"Yeah."

Kelley laughed. "Why?"

"I'm picking a bank account."

"Do you not, like, already have one?" she joked.

Tobin rolled her eyes. "One for me and Chris."

"Oooh," Kelley said, her tone still teasing, "That's a pretty big step, huh?"

She rolled her eyes harder this time. "You were there for the big step. You've babysat our big steps. This is just..." she sighed. "A step above my pay grade."

Kelley looked at her more closely. "Why? What's up?"

"There's just like a million options! I started off just comparing the banks side by side, but then I realized I can't just compare the banks because I need to compare the accounts, but I don't know how to do that fairly, because obviously all the banks say there's is the best, so then I found this website where people can review the accounts, but I clicked a link and now I'm in this forum and this lady is explaining how giving your kid a credit card will make them a drug addict."

"Is it really...uh..." Kelley looked like she was trying not to laugh. "Is it really that big of a deal? There can't be that much of a difference."

Tobin let her head fall back against the couch and sighed loudly. "I don't know. Christen was really stressed about this, so I offered to do it because I thought it was gonna be easy, but now there's so much information and I don't know what to do with any of it." Now Kelley actually laughed, and Tobin started to tell her to fuck off. "Okay, relax," she said, sitting down on the other side of the couch. "I'll help."

"How are you gonna help? Do you know stuff about banks?"

"No, but that's not your problem. Just explain all the pros and cons to me and you'll be able to tell which one you want."

Tobin frowned. "Okay, fine. I guess that's not like the worst idea."

***

A half an hour later, they were still in the lounge, but Tobin had started to juggle one of the balls from the equipment pile in way of pacing.

"I still don't get why you can't pick the super checking."

"They have those international fees."

"Shit, right. What about the first one. It had everything you wanted right?"

"Yeah, but it has monthly fees."

"How much are they?"

"Twelve bucks."

Kelley rolled her eyes. "Just get that one then. That would be less than any of the ones with international fees."

"Yeah but it feels like a ripoff! There are so many free ones."

"You're not being logical about this, Tobs."

"Yeah but—"

"Mama, can we get ice cream yet?" Sam interrupted as he ran into the room and into Tobin.

"Sam, we're getting ice cream later," Christen said as she followed him into the room. "Don't try to trick Mama."

"I meant later," he lied.

"Sure," Christen said. She looked up at Kelley, Tobin, and her now abandoned laptop with Tobin's notes next to it. "How goes the bank research?"

"Good!" Tobin answered quickly. Kelley laughed into her hand. "I'm close to deciding I'm just making sure I'm not missing one."

She frowned at Tobin's awkwardness. "Okay...good. I have to go do my junket thing for the league stuff, so I'm gonna leave Sam with you."

"You're leaving?" Sam asked.

Christen and Tobin's eyes both widened and they both started talking at once.

"I'll be just downstairs, baby."

"Do you want to do something fun, bud?"

"It's not gonna be for that long."

Sam still looked confused and Tobin wasn't sure they had completely avoided a tantrum.

"Sammy, will you play a game with me?" Kelley asked.

He looked up and looked between Christen and Tobin before shrugging. "Okay, sure."

Tobin and Christen both sighed in relief.

I'm gonna go, Christen mouthed and pointed to the door. Tobin gave her a thumbs up as she slowly backed away.

Tobin looked back at Sam, glad to find that he was now fully distracted by something Kelley was showing him on her phone.

They kept him entertained for another twenty minutes before he seemingly remembered he wanted to be upset about Christen leaving.

"How much longer til Mommy comes back?" he asked.

"Not that long, buddy," Tobin answered.

"I want to see her," he whined.

"She's working."

"I thought today we got to hang out all day," he protested. "It's Friday."

Tobin looked at Kelley, who seemed somewhere between amused and sympathetic. "I didn't want to teach him days of the week, you know. But Christen insisted."

"Mom!" Sam said, slapping her knee and trying to regain her attention.

"Hey!" Tobin said sternly, turning back to him. "We don't hit. What do you say?"

He looked down. "Sorry."

"I will text Mom and ask her if we can come visit, but she might be busy, okay?"

He smiled innocently and nodded, as Tobin didn't know he had almost just thrown a fit. Tobin opened her phone.

hey how much longer do you have? can we come visit

Christen: yeah! mia is here and she wants to see him

Tobin was actually a little annoyed that Sam got his way, but that faded when she saw how excited he was that the answer was yes.

"There's someone else who wants to see you, too."

"Who?!" Sam asked, confused after Tobin gathered the computer and her notes and the three of them made their way downstairs.

"It's a surprise."

"Who is it!"

"Guess!"

He sighed dramatically. "I don't know."

They walked around the corner and into the conference room that was set up to do hair and makeup.

"Hey, look who it is," Alex said, announcing their entrance. The group turned around to look and Sam scanned their faces.

"Coach Mia!" he said excitedly when he recognized her. He ran to give her a hug. "I haven't see'd you in, like, forever."

"You saw her last week," Christen teased from the chair she was getting her hair curled in.

"I know, but it feeled like forever," he said dramatically.

"He's right," Mia said. "We had afternoon practice the other day and there was no one to help me pick the teams for the scrimmage."

Sam looked concerned. "What did you do?"

"Dzen and Gibby were black and gold captains and they picked people for their teams."

"Gibby was on gold?" he asked incredulously.

"Yeah, is that wrong?"

"Coach!" he said, slapping his palm to his forehead and causing all the adults around him to laugh. He turned to give Mia a curious look. "How come you're here? This is national team camp. Coach Laura is the coach here."

There was more laughter. "I know," Mia answered, "But I was here talking to my friend Julie for a TV interview for tomorrow." She indicated to Julie behind her.

"Hi, Sam," Foudy greeted, waving to him, "I've heard a lot about you."

Sam put his hand up to wave but moved to where Christen was sitting and shyly hugged her leg.

"Can you say hi, bud?" Christen prodded.

"Hi," he said, picking up the collar of his shirt to chew on it.

"How old are you now? Six?" she asked, smiling, as Christen pulled his shirt and hand away from his mouth.

He shook his head and held up four fingers.

"Use your words, bud," Christen encouraged.

"I'm only four and three-quarters," he answered.

"Woah! You're pretty sharp for four and three-quarters."

Sam blushed and buried his face back in his mother's leg. "Sorry, he's a little shy," she explained.

"Don't be, he's very cute."

"Sammy! Are you gonna interview me?" Alex teased.

Sam made a face and shook his head. "Nuh uh."

"No? Why not?"

He rolled his eyes and his head back dramatically. "Cause I don't know how!"

"Here, I'll show you." She walked over to where he stood and held out her arms so he let her pick him up. She carried him to one of the empty makeup chairs and sat him in one chair and herself in the other. "Okay, now look serious and ask me something about the World Cup."

Sam frowned. "Like what?"

"Like if I'm excited."

He made a face. "Why would I ask that? Of course, you're excited."

The adults laughed again at the incredulous look on Sam's face.

"Good point. You better watch out Julie, he's already better than most of the people we get. He might be coming for your job next."

She laughed. "He's welcome to it."

"I'm supposed to do a video later, Sammy. You can interview me," Kelley joked.

"Okay," Sam agreed.

Christen smiled but Tobin thought it looked forced. "That may interfere with your ice cream plans, bud."

"Oh." He frowned. "Sorry, Auntie Kelley. I can't, I'm busy."

Kelley laughed. "That's alright Sammy."

Tobin looked at Christen and smiled at Sam. "C'mon buddy. Let's get out of here."

***

That night, they had a team meeting where Laura goes over the game plan. By 7, Tobin was tired and therefore cranky.

She walked in through the back of the room, spotted Christen on the side of the third row, and made a beeline toward her. They made eye contact, and Tobin silently asked to sit next to her. Christen searched her face and shifted over one chair.

Laura went deep into the gameplan, going back through the scouting report, matchups, and position by position goals. By the time they started going over situational analysis in film, Tobin was having trouble keeping her eyes open.

***

"Sammy, c'mon, give me your feet," Tobin pleaded.

"No!" He shoved his feet, which were underneath the pillows on his bed, further into the crack between the mattress and the headboard.

"Tobs, they're here," Christen called from the other room.

"Sam, let's go," she said, more firmly this time. He shook his head, which was still buried facedown in the comforter, so she picked him up around the middle and hugged him to her chest, carrying his shoes in her other hand.

He resumed his wailing, which she had gotten him to stop for 5 minutes in favor of silent pouting, but he did it into her shirt with his arms thrown around her neck, so Tobin was at least grateful he made it easier for her to carry him.

She grabbed his backpack off Mattie's bed and walked into the other room where Christen and Mattie were waiting. Christen took the backpack and shoes out of her hand and they left the room and headed to the elevators. Once inside, Christen grabbed each of Sam's feet and shoved them into his shoes while he continued to cry on Tobin's shoulder, albeit more quietly than before.

"Sammy, we're going to have fun today," Mattie tried, resting a hand on his shoulder.

"I want to have fun with Mommy and Mama," he cried.

"You don't want to have fun with me?" she asked.

"With you and Mommy and Mama," he said, wiggling his face deeper into Tobin's shirt.

The elevator doors opened and they unloaded into the lobby.

"Mattie!" a booming voice called out.

"Hi, Cody," she said, hurrying over to give him a hug.

"Uh-uh, what did I say about that?"

"Hi, Grandpa," she corrected, but not without rolling her eyes.

"Well, now you just sound like you're saying it to call me old."

Mattie moved to hug Stacy and Christen hugged both of her parents. "You are old, Dad," Christen teased.

"The two of you!" he cried, clutching his chest like he was hurt. "Where's my little man? He won't make fun of me like this."

Sam turned his head to peek at Cody, then whipped his face back around to hide it in Tobin's neck again, but she could see him grinning.

Cody grinned at Tobin then looked around the room, pretending he couldn't see Sam anywhere. "Where is Sam the man? Is he not coming? Did he get lost?"

Sam started to giggle.

"Honey," he continued, turning to his wife, "It looks like we'll have to eat all that ice cream without Sam, he's not coming!"

"Grandpa, I'm right here!" Sam said, finally lifting his head and throwing up his hands.

"Oh, Sammy, I didn't see you there!"

Sam giggled harder. "I was here the whole time, silly."

"You were? Are you gonna come hang out with me and Grandma today?"

Sam smiled and nodded enthusiastically, reaching out for his grandfather from Tobin's arms.

"We should've called you an hour ago," Tobin said in relief as she handed him over, shaking out the wet spot Sam's tears had left in her shirt. "Could've saved like a gallon of salt water."

"And my ears," Mattie grumbled under her breath.

"Aww, Sammy, you didn't wanna come hang out with us?" Cody asked.

"No, I do," Sam said matter-of-factly. "Mommy and Mama have to get ready for their game at Sandego and then we're gonna go watch."

Christen and Tobin shared looks that were equal parts relieved and exasperated.

"Yeah, and we wanted to show you some cool stuff in San Diego before the game, and maybe get some ice cream," Stacy offered. "How does that sound?"

"Ice cream?" Sam asked grinning. He nodded enthusiastically in approval.

***

Mattie followed Sam and Christen's parents into the row where their seats were. She felt weirdly nervous in the time leading up to kickoff, but she couldn't place why. Tobin and Christen were both starting, which she thought would make her feel better but it didn't.

Once the game started, the US take control and for a few minutes, she thinks her feelings were misguided. They get a few good chances, and at one point Tobin sets Christen up and it looks like she's about to score she passes it right to Monica. Brazil was able to counter and Camila scored.

"Oh no," Sam said while the three of them were quiet. "We're losing."

Play resumed and to an extent, it looked like the Americans didn't lose much momentum. They maintained possession for most of the rest of the half, but the ball kept getting stuck in the midfield. Mattie could see Christen was starting to get frustrated because she kept checking further and further back into the midfield for the ball.

On one of those plays, she received the ball from Lindsey and turned, looking like she had some room to run. Mattie thought they were finally going to catch a break when Camila came charging in from further up the pitch and slid in to tackle the ball out. She got part of the ball, but her top leg was high and caught the back of Christen's right calf.

Mattie and Christen's parents stood up as she went down, and they weren't the only ones. The whole stadium gasped at the tackle and held its breath while Christen lay on the grass.

"C'mon! What was that!" her dad yelled.

After a few seconds, Christen rolled into a sitting position, visibly wincing and holding her sock where she had been hit. Tobin and Kelley had run over to check on her, and Camila was standing a few feet away looking guilty. When they arrived, she pulled her hand away to show them her leg, and Mattie could see a tear in the sock and a red spot forming on the white around it. Tobin motioned for the medical staff, but Christen pushed herself up and started to limp off the field. Tobin and Kelley clearly tried to convince her to wait, but eventually, they just helped her to the touchline.

The ref walked over to Camila and took out her book, holding up a yellow card.

"A yellow? What the hell!" Mattie yelled, before looking to the adults next to her to see if she was in trouble.

"No, you're right," Cody agreed. "This is ridiculous."

Mattie could see Alex up at midfield, and after a few more moments of confusion she checked in at the scorer's table. Mattie strained to see where Christen was, but she seemed to have gone back to the locker room.

Laura had walked out onto the pitch and was screaming at the fourth official who had been next to the play. She was trying to calm her down but was clearly not succeeding. The head referee came over and said something to Laura which Mattie assumed was something along the lines of 'do you want to be thrown out' because it got her to retreat to their bench.

"Oh, god," Stacy said, "I saw blood."

"Mattie," Sam whispered. "Is Mommy hurt?"

Mattie tried to smile reassuringly. "She'll be okay, bud."

When play resumed, the game became chaotic.

At halftime, Mattie got a text from Tobin.

"She says, 'She's okay. One stitch,'" she read aloud.

"A stitch?" Stacy said, alarmed.

"At least it's only one?" Cody tried. "It sounds like it's just a flesh wound."

Christen's mother did not seem assuaged by that, but she didn't comment further other than to shake her head.

The second half was even more of a mess than the first if that were possible. Kelley, Alex, Tobin, and Marta all earned yellows.

Mattie kept thinking the chaos would open the game up, but the teams spent too much time fighting to do much scoring. By the time the ref blew the whistle, even with the score still 1-0 to Brazil, everyone was pretty much just glad no one else got hurt.

***

Christen picked up her phone after the trainer finished redressing her leg.

Mom: The parking lot is a zoo. Want to just meet back in MB? At the hotel?

Christen sighed and looked around for Tobin but she was still in the shower.

Yeah, that sounds good but do you want to just meet at the restaurant? The place by the pier, right?

Mom: Sure, hon! Sounds good!

How's Sam doing?

Mom: He's alright. We had an almost meltdown at halftime but he'll be fine for a few more hours.

She bit her lip in hesitation. Okay. We'll meet you there then

***

The bus ride was quiet, everyone frustrated after the loss. By the time they got to the restaurant, half the team had decided to follow them and called ahead to get tables. Tobin was ahead of Christen as they walked through the dining room, and she was the first out the door to the back deck. Sam spotted her immediately and jumped up from the table where he sat with Mattie and most of Christen's family, sprinting and nearly tripping on the uneven boards before he wrapped his arms around her legs.

"Up."

"Can you say hi to Mommy first?" Tobin challenged.

Sam shifted to see behind her, where Christen stood.

"Hey, bud." She smiled softly at him.

He darted over to hug her. "Hi, Mommy." He held his hands above his head. "Up, please."

"Okay, but only because you said please."

"Sammy, be gentle. Mommy got hurt at the game."

"I'm okay, Tobs." She picked him up, groaning slightly at the regular postgame soreness in her limbs and only slightly more for the pain in her calf. "Did you have fun with Grandma and Grandpa?"

He lay his head on her shoulder. "Yeah, but I missed you and Mama."

"What did you guys do today?" Tobin asked.

"We seed the lions."

Christen and Tobin shared a puzzled look. "Oh, you mean the sea lions?"

He nodded against her neck. "They sound funny."

"Were they really loud?" Tobin asked.

He nodded again. "At first, it was scary but Grandpa said they were just barking like dogs."

They approached the table in the corner and Christen's dad stood up to greet them. "I thought you said they didn't sound like dogs, Sammy?" he asked.

"Yeah, because dogs are like 'Woof, woof' and seal lions are like 'Arf, Arf.'" The group, including their teammates who trailed behind them, laughed at his impression.

They squeezed onto the picnic table with the Press family and Kelley directed their teammates to drag over a couple of nearby tables so they sat in one long line.

"God, it's so nice out," Allie said after they had ordered their food. "We should go to the beach tomorrow."

"Yeah I'm down," Kelley agreed.

"Same," Alex said.

"Har? Chris?"

"Nah, superstar over here's got a big day tomorrow," Tobin said, winking at Mattie. "It's her first game with her new team."

Everyone at the table seemed to start talking at once.

"Nevermind the beach—I didn't know there was a football game to watch!"

"Christen, why didn't you tell us? I want her schedule for the fridge."

"What's the over/under on how many goals she scores? Can we start a pool?"

Christen looked at Mattie next to her on the bench. She seemed incredibly overwhelmed and looked up at Christen quickly.

"Uhh...I have to go to the bathroom," she announced.

The table quieted slightly, watching her retreat with puzzled expressions. Christen and Tobin made eye contact over the table and Christen mouthed, I'll go.

She followed Mattie into the restaurant and past the big wooden sign for 'The Head', toward the front door.

"Mattie!" she called, trying to stop her before she got to the exit.

Mattie turned and saw her, still making her way to the door but slowing down enough so Christen could fight through the tide of patrons waiting for tables and holding styrofoam boxes to catch her. "I'm not going anywhere," she explained. "I just needed some air."

"You know we were just sitting outside, right?" Christen teased.

Mattie rolled her eyes but smiled. "Okay, Tobin."

Christen grinned and slid an arm over Mattie's shoulders. "What's up? Was that too much excitement?"

She looked down and kicked at the thin layer of sand that covered the sidewalk. "Do you think they're all really gonna come tomorrow?"

"Do you want them to?"

She shrugged. "I just—I don't know. I don't really..."

Christen dug into her sweatshirt pocket and pulled out her phone. "I'll text Mama right now and tell her to call them off."

Mattie finally made eye contact with her, just for a second. She nodded once.

Christen typed.

Hey, only me and you are gonna go watch her game tomorrow okay?

Three dots appeared quickly.

Tobin: k u sure?

Yeah. Make sure they don't give her a hard time when we come back.

She received a shaka sign emoji in response and closed her phone. "All set."

"Really?" Mattie asked cautiously.

"Me and Mom are coming, but no one else."

"And Sam?"

"And Sammy."

Mattie leaned into the side hug. "Thanks."

***

Since Mattie's game was at two, they started recovery an hour early so they could all get there in time for warmups. Sophie and Isabella's moms recognized them and waved them over to where they were setting up their chairs under the shade of a large tree on the sideline. Christen lay out the beach blanket they brought onto the grass.

"Mama, ball," Sam said, reaching for the mini ball they brought for him to play with.

"What do you say?"

"Please."

Tobin went to hand him the ball but held it back to get his attention. "Sam. See that tree? Not past there."

Sam complied, kicking the ball and chasing it until he was at the edge of the boundary she set. Tobin took a spot on the blanket so she could listen to the conversation Christen was having and watch him at the same time.

"So they all have to play pretty much the same amount of time," Isabella's mom was explaining. "I don't know the exact ratio but normally Josh does subs every 15 or 20 minutes or so."

"How long is each half?" Christen asked.

"Is it still 30, Beth?"

"I think this year is 35," Sophie's mom answered.

Melissa gave a non-committal gesture. "The whole thing still takes like an hour and a half start to finish."

The girls were matched up doing one-on-one drills to warm up. Mattie was in a pinnie, defending Sophie, who was trying to dribble around her between two rows of cones. Tobin looked over at the team warming up on the opposite half.

"How come they seem so much bigger?"

"The girls' team is pretty young," Melissa explained. "Most of them just moved up from U12 this year. We're playing the Ginelli team—do you know them? The twins? They live off of Hermosa?" Tobin and Christen gave her blank looks. "Right. Well, they're the grade above the girls, and their mom coaches the team."

"I'm surprised they even played this season," Beth added. "I heard one of them—I think it was Becca?—made ODP this winter, and the other one switched clubs to get more exposure."

Melissa gave her a look. "You know it's only because Ronda is on the board for the region. If Rachel makes it next year, she'll probably resign."

"Do you guys have, like, connections to get Mattie a midyear tryout? Josh has been raving about her. From what he's said, they might just be calling you."

Tobin saw Christen hesitate, so she answered. "Mattie needs to get settled in at school and everything before she worries about any of that."

Beth nodded. "We told Sophie no clubs bigger than Flyers until high school." She looked worried. "We're hoping that won't hurt her chances for college, but I just don't want her traveling all over yet. What do you guys think? You've been through the whole system."

"It's changing a lot," Christen said, shrugging. "There are more strong programs than when we went through, which is hopefully good."

"It's still crazy," Tobin added. "I mean I did all of it, but the amount of money and travel involved is nuts."

They all nodded in agreement, and the conversation stilled as the referee called for the teams to line up to start the game. Mattie stayed on the sideline with Isabella and the rest of the players in pinnies, so only Sophie started.

The other team asserted their size advantage early, and the game quickly got physical. The Ginelli twins were easy to pick out because they were identical, and a head taller than every player on Mattie's team, and most of those on their own. One of them (Melissa thought it was Rachel) earned a corner a few minutes into the game and her twin scored off a header to capitalize on it. After winning back a clearance on what Tobin thought was a rather rough challenge, they scored again and the girls' team was down 2-0.

"He should have started Izzie," Beth said, shaking her head. "He knows how this team is."

"Does she score a lot of goals?" Christen asked. "I thought Sophie was the forward and she was the midfielder."

"Izzie has a tendency to be a bit of...an enforcer," Melissa explained, slightly bashful. "The Ginelli's team is always this physical, but she would at least...keep them honest in midfield."

Tobin laughed. "Alright. Go Iz."

"Looks like he heard you," Christen said, nodding to the bench area, where Mattie and Isabella were jogging up and down the sideline.

"Mom, when's Mattie gonna play?" Sam asked from where he sat a few yards away, picking blades of grass.

"She might be going in now, bud. Come watch." He picked up his ball and ran over, jumping on Tobin's lap and causing her to groan.

Sure enough, not a minute later, the girls checked in at the midline, and when one of the twins forced the ball out over the touchline, they entered the game for two of their team's midfielders. Their small cheering squad yelled out as they ran into position. Mattie turned her back to them to face the throw in, and Tobin froze.

"Babe, did you hear that? Look," Christen said, nudging to get her attention. "Tobin."

"Huh?"

"Did you hear me?"

"She's number 17," Tobin said dumbly.

Christen smiled. "She told me not to tell you. I think she wanted it to be a surprise."

Tobin felt what must have been a goofy looking grin spread over her face.

"Did you hear me, though?"

"What?"

"My mom and dad are here. Over on the other team's half."

Tobin craned her neck. "I can't see them."

"They're next to the guy standing in the green polo."

Tobin looked and saw Cody and Stacy in camp chairs. "Dang. How did you even see them?"

Christen rolled her eyes. "I could hear my dad's voice when she subbed in." She pulled out her phone.

"What are you doing?"

"If we've already spotted them, they might as well come sit with us," she explained. "Mattie's gonna be pissed, though."

Tobin squirmed. "I told everyone not to come."

Christen turned to look at her suspiciously. "How did they know when and where it was, then?"

"Well, they asked before you sent me that text! I didn't know I was gonna have to un-invite them."

"Yeah, she's gonna be pissed."

They turned back to the game, which had resumed its previous physicality and increased its pace with the new substitutions. The Ginelli twin Isabella was marked up against was already visibly annoyed by her presence, and Mattie was swarming the ball at every chance, though she hadn't gotten a touch yet.

"Go Mattie!" Sam yelled.

Even with the shift in momentum, the opposing team got the ball back into their end and settled it. They were on their second corner in a row when Cody and Stacy walked behind them, carrying their chairs.

"Good morning, team. Fancy seeing you here," Cody opened.

Christen sent him a look that Tobin interpreted as, Don't push it. We're talking about this later.

"Melissa, Beth, these are my parents, Cody and Stacy," Christen introduced. "Mom, Dad, this is Melissa, Isabella's mom, and Beth, Sophie's mom."

They waved and exchanged pleasantries as the Presses set up their chairs. Sam climbed off of Tobin's lap and went to stand in front of his grandfather after he sat down and stood shyly in front of him.

"Would you like to sit with me?" he asked, smiling.

Sam nodded and Cody picked him up, turning Sam almost upside down in doing so and getting him to giggle.

"Dad, please be careful."

"He's fine. Right, big man?" He tickled Sam until he was laughing too hard to answer. Christen just shook her head. Tobin grabbed her hand and squeezed it. She felt Christen squeeze back.

Isabella had muscled one of the Ginelli twins (Becca, maybe? Tobin kept forgetting their numbers) out on the end line and earned them a goal kick. Their goalie passed it to one of their defenders, who turned and booted it to midfield, where Isabella won a header despite the fact that she and the twin marking her both had their elbows in each other's shoulders. The ball skipped over toward the touchline, where Mattie and the other twin raced after it. Mattie got there first, but the older girl had her trapped, looming over her as she closed out. Tobin thought she could see Mattie smirk, though she might have been imagining it. She faked toward midfield before pulling a little elastico and taking off down the sideline. Tobin saw her frown at the way the ball came off her foot, but the Ginelli guarding her bit so hard that the little skip the ball took over her foot didn't matter. The only players between Mattie and goal were Sophie, who made a run as she moved the ball down, and her defender, who was so confused about who to mark that she just sort of stood halfway in between Mattie and Sophie. Mattie crossed the ball into the box and Sophie tapped it past the keeper, who hadn't seen a shot all game.

The parents from Mattie's team were hooting and hollering, and even the other team's parents had gasped at Mattie's trick. Their small section was making plenty of noise, but not so much that Tobin couldn't hear another loud group of supporters standing outside the short fence behind the other goal line. She nudged Christen and nodded toward Mal, Sonnett, and a hooded figure that looked suspiciously like Lindsey.

She sighed. "When I said 'Tell everyone not to come' did you maybe get that confused and do the opposite?"

Tobin frowned. "They were at the other table! I don't even think they heard us talking about it."

"Well, if she's gonna be mad, she might as well be mad at everyone."

"Yeah right. Like Mal is gonna get any of the blowback from this. Mattie probably invited her."

When the game reset, both teams seemed to play even rougher than before. They played out the last few minutes of the first half, and Tobin wasn't sure if the zero minutes of stoppage time were just the rules of the league, or if the high schooler reffing the game was just tired of calling fouls every thirty seconds.

"God, I want Josh to tell them to stop playing like this but I don't want them getting pushed around."

Christen shook her head. "I'm not even sure I want them to score again because it'll just get worse."

"Maybe if they tie it up, it'll force them all to start playing soccer and stop playing...this," Tobin suggested.

"Yeah, is that how you normally react to losing a lead?" Christen teased.

***

Much to Tobin's chagrin (but not to her surprise), Christen was right.

Not ten minutes had passed when Mattie won the ball on a bad clearance from the opposing team's goalie and went straight at the backline. One of the centerbacks slid over to cut off her path to goal and the other, who was marking Sophie and clearly remembered what happened the last time Mattie had the ball, stayed home. Mattie leaned slightly to her right, got the girl to lean back, and crossed over. She was just at the 18 when she let the ball fly across the goal off of her left foot. The goalie dove, but not far enough, and she punched the ground when she saw the ball in the back of the net. One of the twins ran back into the goal to retrieve it and hustled back to restart. Just for a second, Tobin thought her prediction of a clean game might come true; then play resumed.

One of the Ginelli twins (not the one Mattie had dusted, Tobin thought) had started the second half on the bench was subbing in for her sister, who had played the whole game so far. The opposing team's fan section clapped as she went off, apparently thinking she was done for the day. The substitute twin took her place in the center circle, waited for the whistle, and kicked the ball to her teammate. Josh was yelling for them to push up, knowing he only had a few more minutes to play the core group that had been scoring before many of them had to be subbed out.

Mattie was marking the new Ginelli tightly, bumping into her and tugging on her jersey, and it was clearly starting to annoy her. They were near the center of the pitch, but the ball hadn't made it out of the defensive third yet. Though the Ginelli team defenders looked overwhelmed by the pressure, they managed to keep possession well enough to move the ball around. One of their outside backs got enough room to tee the ball up and punted it to midfield.

Mattie and the Ginelli jockeyed for position, Mattie trying to get around the taller girl before they went up. As the ball neared them, the twin went up with her elbows out just as Mattie started to jump. She turned her shoulders as she went up—whether to ward of Mattie or to get closer to the ball, Tobin couldn't be sure—and her elbow smashed into the side of Mattie's face. Mattie's hands flew up to grab where she was hit, but she was so tangled up with the other girl, they both went down in a pile.

Tobin and Christen, and most of their section of the sideline stood up and silently held their breath. The ref was close to the collision and immediately went over to check on the girls on the ground, but in her concern, forgot to stop play. One of the Ginelli team midfielders noticed and played on, which led a furious Isabella to all but deck her and take the ball back, starting a scrum 10 yards away from the injury.

"C'mon, ref, blow the damn whistle!" a familiar hoarse voice yelled.

Tobin barely had the capacity to register Alex announcing her presence to the whole field, or the fight that was happening, as the ref blew her whistle a dozen times to try and restore order. The coaches ran onto the field to break up the fight, and the Ginelli twin that went down rolled over and gingerly got to her feet, but everyone else kept their focus on Mattie.

She felt herself exhale, and Christen squeezed her hand, as Mattie sat up, still holding one side of her face. The ref was asking her questions, and she was shaking her head and answering her. The ref stood and held out a hand to help her up, and the sideline clapped politely as she stood. Christen dropped Tobin's hand to rub her face in relief, and Mattie rubbed her eye one more time before dropping her hand and running toward where the fight was, where the ball still sat.

"What the fuck is she doing?" Tobin heard herself ask. Mattie picked up the ball and started jogging back toward the spot of the foul. The referee waved the coaches and bench players back off the field and they hesitantly complied. She then held up her yellow card and booked the twin. Mattie settled the ball where she had gone down and set up for a free kick as the rest of the players, still a little confused, shuffled back into position. The referee looked around and picked up her whistle to resume play.

"Woah! Hey!" Christen yelled. "Absolutely not! Mattie!"

Mattie turned and gave her a petulant look.

"Josh!" Beth yelled. "Take her off!"

Mattie held her hands out and looked at Tobin in an appeal.

"You got beaned, Mattie!" she called, shaking her head and pointing to the bench. "Off!"

Josh had one of her teammates up at midfield as a sub, and the ref looked confused but gestured for Mattie to come off.

"God, don't they have a concussion protocol?" Christen asked.

"Melissa will look at her. She's an NP," she explained to their confused expressions. "Josh will send her around."

Play had restarted on the field and Beth had to wait for the ball, and surrounding mess of players, to move into the opposing team's attacking third before she could wave to get his attention. "Josh!" She motioned for him to send Mattie over.

Her husband nodded and walked over to Mattie, who was sitting on the bench with her elbows on her knees. He said something and gestured over to them. Mattie waved him off and her reply seemed to stymie him. He looked back at where Tobin and Christen stood, and Mattie's eyes followed in what Tobin thought was supposed to be a subtle motion.

Josh looked unsure and seemed to wait for direction. Mattie held her body in the postural equivalent of an eye roll. Tobin had enough.

She whistled—not very well—but loud enough that Mattie made eye contact with her.

She raised her eyebrows. Either you come over here, or I go over there. she mimed.

Mattie actually rolled her eyes at that point, but stood and started making her way over.

"I think if she drags her feet a little more she might leave a path," Christen said under her breath.

Mattie got to the end of the pitch and spotted Mal and company at the opposite corner. Mal waved and Mattie nodded morosely in return. As she turned the corner to their sideline, the three of them hopped over the short fence and jogged to catch her. Mal put a hand on her shoulder.

"Let me see," Christen said, walking over and touching Mattie's temple, where a bruise was already forming. Tobin moved closer to get a better look.

"I'm fine."

"Well, Mrs. Sanchez is gonna check to see if you have a concussion. Sit down." She guided Mattie to the camp chair her mom had just vacated.

"I don't have a concussion," Mattie insisted as she sat.

"Are you a trained medical professional now?" Christen got an eye roll. "Well, then, you're gonna get your head checked by one."

Melissa walked over with a small pouch Tobin had seen her take out of her purse.

"This won't take that long," she said, offering her a smile.

As she took out a pen flashlight and started testing her, Tobin looked around. Everyone who had come to see her play—which Tobin now realized included Alex, Allie, Kelley, Mal, Sonnett, Lindsey, and her grandparents—was mingling around their seating area.

"Is it bad to hope she's so pissed about being subbed off that she doesn't care that everyone came to watch?" Tobin whispered to Christen, who shook her head.

"Alright," Melissa said, standing up straight. "Her pupil responses and speech are both normal. I would get a doctor to test her again in a few hours just to be sure, but I don't think she has a concussion."

"Does that mean I can go back in?"

"No," Tobin and Christen said in unison.

"Why not?"

"Concussions don't always show symptoms right away, and you took a pretty hard hit. This isn't something we mess around with," Christen explained.

"Whatever." Mattie rolled her eyes.

"We'll have you do the test they give us on the computer back at the hotel," Tobin suggested. "As long as you pass that one, you'll be fine." As she said it, one of the forwards on the Ginelli team chipped a shot past Mattie's team's keeper.

Mattie threw herself back in the chair and folded her arms angrily.

***

"How many more of these stupid things do I have to do?" Mattie complained.

Christen looked up from her laptop. Mattie was still in her uniform, unshowered, sitting on the treatment table in the hotel utility room that served as the ad hoc trainers' office. Christen had gotten her stitch checked on, then stationed herself at the folding table a few feet away as the trainer had put Mattie through a series of concussion checks all afternoon. They had come back after dinner for one more round of testing. "She said this is the last one if you pass."

She groaned. "No, she said I was fine but she could have me retake these few if it made you feel better."

"Mattie. Finish the test."

Mattie continued to grumble but resumed her swiping on the tablet.

After a few minutes, she put it down again and looked up. "Okay. I'm done. For real this time."

"Let me see."

Mattie hopped off the table and handed over the tablet, which displayed a results screen with a column of green checkmarks. Christen swiped through the complete results, but they all pointed to the same thing: no concussion.

"Alright," she conceded. "We can go upstairs. You need to ice your egg anyway."

"It's fine. It's barely a bump," Mattie replied, grabbing her cleats off the floor.

"You got elbowed in the face, Mat. And you went down hard. It was scary."

Mattie rolled her eyes. "It wasn't, like, a big deal. You and Tobin were the only ones freaking out."

"That's not true. Everyone was really worried."

"Well then maybe they shouldn't have come."

"Mattie. I explained to you—"

"Yeah. Whatever."

"Don't whatever me. I know we talked about it and I said—"

"It's fine. I don't care. They're the ones that had to come watch us lose anyway."

"Is that why you're mad? Because you lost?"

"I'm not mad."

"Well then, what's this attitude?"

"It's not attitude. I just wanted to play."

"Head injuries are seri—"

"Yeah, I know. You've told me like a million times."

"Mattie!"

"Hey, shh," Tobin said, putting her finger to her lips. "He's asleep in there." She motioned toward the other hotel room.

"Mattie!" Christen said more quietly.

"I'm not mad! she said and walked straight through the half-ajar door that connected the rooms, and Christen followed her. Tobin stood up to stand in the doorway and see what was going on. The lights were off and Sam was asleep in one of the beds. She walked into the bathroom and flipped the light on.

"Okay, fine, but that doesn't mean—" Christen argued.

Mattie looked up with the door of her hand. "Mom, I'm fine! Just freaking leave me alone!" she whisper-yelled and closed the door. It wasn't quite a slam, but it was loud enough that Christen and Tobin both looked at Sam, who remained asleep despite the noise.

Christen stared at the closed bathroom door, dumbfounded. The sound of the shower turning on came from behind it. Tobin grabbed her hand and pulled her back into the other room and closed the door.

She ran a hand through her hair and blew out a deep breath. "I don't even know when she got that mad. She was a little grumpy in the training room but..."

Tobin pulled her down onto the bed and ran a hand across her back. "She's had a long day. Just let her sleep it off...Mom."

"Huh? What's that grin for?"

"Did you hear what she called you?"

Christen replayed the argument in her mind and laughed when she realized, letting her head fall into her hands.

"She'll be fine in the morning," Tobin reassured.

***

Tobin was eating her words the next morning.

"She's ignoring me."

Tobin groaned into her pillow. "She's not ignoring you. It's just 6:30 in the morning."

"She's definitely ignoring me. She turns away every time I try to talk to her."

"Want me to try?"

Christen sat back against the headboard and motioned to the other room as if to say, Go ahead.

Tobin pushed herself up out of bed and shuffled into the adjoining room.

"Mat. Let's go," she said, poking the pile of blankets where Mattie's legs were covered with her foot.

A loud groan was the only response she got.

"C'mon, it's six-thir—" She looked at the clock. "It's six-forty! You're gonna be late."

"I don't want to go," the pile mumbled.

"Does your head still hurt?"

"No!"

"Then get up. If you're ready to go before 6:55, we can get smoothies on the way."

Mattie sat part of the way up at that and looked at her suspiciously. "You're gonna drive me? You drove me on Friday."

"You want Mom to drive you or me?"

She let her head fall back to her pillow.

"Come on. You want a smoothie or not?"

Mattie slid out of bed and trudged to the bathroom. Tobin returned to the other room.

"You got her up?"

"I bribed her."

Christen looked at her questioningly.

"And...she might be ignoring you just a little."

***

Christen was organizing her suitcase on their now-made bed when Tobin got back.

"Did you see Laura's email?" she asked without looking up.

"No, what was it?" Tobin asked, moving around the first bed.

She stayed focused on the t-shirt she was folding. "We're not doing film today. Just regular practice."

"Yikes. You think the film is that rough? Maybe she's trying to save morale."

She thought she could see a smile twitch at Christen's lips, even with though she was facing away from her. "Maybe. Or maybe she's gonna make us run."

Tobin laughed. "Or that. Here, I got the Acai one you like," she said, grabbing the smoothie in question from the travel tray she was carrying. Christen finally turned to face her, seemingly a little surprised and looked between the drink and Tobin. Tobin could see the rims of her eyes were slightly red. She frowned and felt a lump form in her throat. Before she could say anything, Christen gave her a soft smile and took the smoothie.

"Thank you, Tobs," she said, but her face said, Please don't ask if I'm okay.

Tobin frowned deeper and wanted to protest but took the hint. "No problem," she said. She leaned into Christen, putting a hand on her hip and kissing the corner of her mouth. "I'll go see if I can get Sam up."

***

Laura ran them all day, but Tobin was glad for it. By the time they had done recovery and showered and she was waiting for Christen to finish getting her leg checked out, she felt like Saturday's loss and the stress of the past week had melted away.

"Ready?" she asked as Christen emerged from the trainer's room.

Christen nodded.

"What did they say?"

"It's healing well. They should be able to take the stitch out in a day or two."

"Awesome."

They made their way to the vans without talking again. When they got there, a nearly full van was getting ready to go.

"Tobs, you want to drive?" Rose asked.

Tobin shrugged and nodded, taking the keys from her. She put a hand on Christen's shoulder and squeezed before walking around to the driver's side. Christen climbed into the back row.

Everyone in the van was physically wiped, so the ride back was quiet. When Tobin parked at the hotel and exited the van, Christen was the last to get out. They walked in silence to the elevators, then to the lounge, where Kerrie was going to meet them with the kids.

"Hey, guys," she greeted.

"Mommy! Mama!" Sam said excitedly. He abandoned his coloring supplies to give them a hug. Tobin saw Christen scan the room quickly.

"Where's Mat?" Tobin asked.

"We left her in the room reading," Kerrie explained. "I think she has a lot of homework tonight, so I let her have the peace and quiet."

When they got back to the room and Tobin poked her head through the connecting door, she found Mattie right where Kerrie left her, headphones on and a book in her lap. Tobin waved at her, hoping she was in a better mood than she had been that morning, thinking maybe if Christen and Mattie made up, they could enjoy a pleasant evening as a family. The look Tobin received told her Mattie was not open to that idea, so she sighed and returned to the other room.

"How is she?" Christen asked.

"Still grumpy."

"Did she say anything?"

"She didn't have to."

Christen started toward the dividing door. "Maybe I should try."

"I think we're better off waiting her out, babe."

Christen frowned and looked at her, visibly frustrated. "Fine, but she can't keep doing this."

"I know," Tobin said sympathetically. "Let's just try giving her space first."

"What's wrong with Mattie?" Sam asked.

Tobin and Christen shared a tired look. "Nothing, bud," Tobin reassured him. "Don't worry about it. She's fine."

***

Christen had set her alarm early so she could meet Alex and a few of the other girls to do yoga before the day started. She woke up right before it was supposed to go off and found Sam had snuck into their bed again in the middle of the night. She slipped out of the covers and quietly started to get ready as he and Tobin slept. She was almost totally ready and had just come out of the bathroom when Sam woke up.

"Where're you going?" he asked.

"I'm going to do yoga."

"Why?" he asked, tired and confused.

She sighed. "It's good for my muscles. And it helps me relax."

"Is it work?" he asked.

"Not really. It just helps with work."

"Do you have to go, then?"

Christen could see they were in dangerous territory from the way Sam's bottom lip it was balanced on the verge of pouting. "It'll only take like an hour, bud," she tried. "If you go back to sleep now, it'll be like I never left."

The lip started to go. "I just want you to never leave," he whined.

"Hey, c'mon," she said, walking over to pick him up. Once he was in her arms, the tears properly started. "Sammy, it's okay. I'll come right back, I promise."

"No!" he wailed.

Christen looked at Tobin, who seemed to be burrowing her head further into her pillow at the sound of Sam crying.

"Sam, please."

It took another 15 minutes before he was pacified. Tobin only started to stir once Christen had gotten his tears under control.

"Sammy, come cuddle with me," she tried, her voice thick with sleep.

"No," he whined.

"Please?" Tobin pouted. "Why not? Do you not love me?"

Sam looked exasperated but crawled away from where he sat with Christen to snuggle into Tobin.

"What?" Tobin said when she saw how Christen was looking at her.

She laughed in frustration. "I don't know, you couldn't have done that 10 minutes ago?"

"I was asleep."

Christen rolled her eyes disbelievingly.

"I wasn't fully awake yet."

She sighed. "I've got to run. I'm late."

"Chris.." Tobin protested.

"It's fine," she said, giving her a tight smile. "I just said I would be there already."

She heard Tobin sigh as she grabbed her mat and closed the door quietly behind her, before turning left instead of right to head toward the stairs. She really was late.

***

After Christen left, Tobin felt bad for not helping with Sam. As an attempt to smooth things over, she got both kids up and ready to go, and was waiting to take Mattie to school when Christen got back.

"I'm gonna take her," she offered as Christen entered the room and put her things down.

Christen gives her an unreadable look. "Okay. Thank you."

"Mattie, let's go!" Tobin called. Mattie emerged from the other room with her headphones on and her attention engrossed in her phone. She didn't acknowledge either of them. Tobin gave Christen a tight smile and two thumbs up and received an exasperated but sympathetic laugh in return.

In the car, Tobin let Mattie ignore her for half the drive to school. "You know," she finally spoke up. "You're gonna have to make up with her eventually." Mattie pulled one earbud out but didn't acknowledge her.

"She's your mom. You can't stay mad at her forever."

Mattie frowned and turned so her body was completely facing the window.

"Okay, fine. Will you at least tell me what's wrong?"

She didn't respond.

Tobin sighed. "How's school then? Can I at least get a one-word response?"

"It's fine," Mattie replied, voice full of attitude.

"Anything exciting happen?"

Mattie turned back to sit normally in the seat and Tobin could spot her slightly glassy eyes in her peripheral vision. "We're gonna have a field trip in a few weeks. I think I'm still gonna be at school for it."

"Oh, that sounds fun. Where're you going?"

"The science museum."

Tobin furrowed her brow. "The one near where Mom plays?"

Mattie grunted affirmatively in response.

"Wow, that should be cool."

"Yeah, they're gonna give out the permission slips by the end of the week, so I'll know when it is. Also..." her voice got quieter, "...it costs $20, and Ms. Horowitz said we need a check. Is that okay?"

Tobin smirked and glanced at her. "You're asking for a check for twenty bucks?"

"Yeah. I mean I have cash, I just don't have, like, a checkbook—"

"Mattie. I will write you a check for twenty dollars. Even if it didn't need to be check, you don't have to pay for your own field trips."

"Okay," she said, still quiet, but looking less bashful.

"You have to remind me or ask Mom if you need it this week, though, because mine's at the house. I didn't bring it over."

She shook her head. "We won't need it until next week anyway."

"And that would involve you talking to Mom, huh?"

Other than a mumbled goodbye before she closed the door, Mattie ignored her for the rest of the ride.

***

After breakfast, they had the beep test. Christen stress-sprinted the whole thing and ended up setting a personal record. Laura looked impressed when she finished. She was in a much better mood when they went back to the hotel after to shower and eat, meeting Sam in the lobby on the way to lunch.

She and Tobin sat on either side of him in the makeshift dining room. They made small talk with him about school and he animatedly told them about his morning.

"How was Mattie on the way to school?" she eventually asked Tobin, not sure if she wanted the answer.

"Good," Tobin answered, swallowing her food. "They're going on a field trip "

"We can give her one from the new bank account. You know, when you pick one," she joked, hoping to earn a smile.

Guilt flashed across Tobin's face.

"I was just kidd—" Christen started.

"I'm gonna—" she answered at the same time.

They sat awkwardly for a moment, Sam between them, luckily distracted by his lunch.

"I am picking one," Tobin insisted.

"I know," Christen said, smiling. "If I had known it was gonna take this long, I would've helped."

Tobin didn't smile back. "I can do it."

"I'm not—I know. I believe you."

"Thank you."

"Though if at any point, you just want to close your eyes and point—"

"Christen. I said I've got it. You're the one who wanted this done right."

"Alright." Christen turned back to her food, sighing and wondering why her good moods never seemed to last very long.

***

They finally watched the game film after lunch. Laura started positively, pointing out some of the good things they did during the first few minutes of the game. She didn't say anything about Christen's errant cross to Monica, but Tobin saw her give Christen a look with raised eyebrows. Tobin (along with everyone else in the room) winced at Camila's tackle on Christen. Tobin had barely seen it on the field because she was on the opposite side of the pitch, and she hadn't watched any replays. She glanced at Christen, who was sitting on the other side of the room from her next to Becky. She wore an indifferent expression at the image of herself in pain that was projected on the wall.

Laura fast-forwarded through Alex subbing in and her screaming at the refs, resuming the tape at the time the game did. From there, she proceeded to pause the game every 30 seconds (or at least that's how it felt to Tobin) to nitpick their performance. It seemed like everyone who had played got a turn.

"Heath, what's this bush league shite?" she asked when they got to the tackle on Camila that earned Tobin a yellow.

Tobin was resting her mouth on her fist, both embarrassed at being called out and trying not to laugh.

"You want to go play American football? Go ahead. You want to play ref? I'm sure PRO is hiring. But what you're not gonna do is run around tackling people like that, risking hurting someone, or hurting yourself, or getting chucked from my games just because your girlfriend took a knock."

Tobin's ears turned red and she could see Christen was blushing too. She wanted to point out that half of the team had done the exact same thing, and Laura herself had almost been ejected for screaming at the official, but she bit her tongue. It didn't help that the tackle was admittedly pretty reckless, and Laura had paused the tape on a frame of Tobin standing over Camila looking furious.

"They're engaged," someone said from the back of the room.

"What?" Laura said, turning to face them. Tobin turned too.

"They're engaged now, Coach. Remember?" Sonnett said with her face trained to an innocent expression. "So technically it's her fiancee who took a knock."

Laura looked at her like she had three heads. "Thank you for that, Emily."

"No problem. Just helping out."

The room hung in tense silence for six seconds; Tobin counted as she breathed through her nose. Finally, someone cracked. Tobin turned and saw it was Becky, laughing into her hand and repeating "I'm sorry," over and over, but by then it was too late. The laughter spread throughout the room until half of them had tears in their eyes. Tobin had held out until Laura had broken, holding the bridge of her nose and shaking her head.

Eventually, they settled down until Rose's hiccups and a few last chuckles were the only sounds in the room. Laura flipped the lights on and hit the off button on the projector. "Well, I don't think I can top that one." The room laughed again. "There's not much more of that film that would be productive to watch. I could keep going through and pointing out everything you all did wrong, but honestly: you know what you did wrong. Every single one of you is a better footballer than how you played on that tape. I know I know that, and I think each of you knows that, but we need to figure out how to remember that as a team before France. Unless you guys think it would be helpful to keep going through this."

A chorus of voices answered her. "No!" "Nope!" "No way."

She laughed. "Okay, then. Take care of yourselves tonight. Try to get two more forms of recovery in before you go to bed. Otherwise, I'll see you in the morning."

"Thanks, Coach," the room answered.

"Tobin," Laura called as they filtered out of the room. Tobin turned and walked to where Laura was packing up her things. "Sorry about laying into you a bit there."

She shrugged. "It's cool, that was a pretty bad tackle."

Laura nodded. "And sorry for bringing Christen into it, and mislabeling her as your girlfriend or whatever."

Tobin laughed. "I should be glad actually. If Sonnett hadn't thrown off your rhythm, we would've had to watch that terrible pass I made a few minutes after that and that other bad tackle trying to get it back."

"Yeah, I remember that one now that you say it," Laura said, shaking her head. "We weren't gonna make it that far anyway," she whispered conspiratorially. "I only had a minute or two of material left before I was gonna let you go. I think a few of you that played probably got off scot-free because of when the most egregious plays were, but it wasn't worth it."

"Careful, Coach," Tobin wised. "Someone might think you've gone soft."

She raised her eyebrows. "You want to add that 70th minute play to the agenda at tomorrows meeting?"

"Nope, I'm good."

"Alright then. See you tomorrow, Tobin."

"See you tomorrow, Coach."

***

Despite it being pretty much the last thing any of them wanted, Tobin and Christen had agreed to guest coach Mattie's practice that night. Becky and JJ had offered to watch Sam while they went, which of course started a meltdown until Sam learned that Becky had figured out how to hook up her Switch to her TV.

Tobin, Mattie, and Christen were quiet on the ride to the field. Christen drove and kept peeking in the rearview mirror to try to gauge Mattie's mood. The fifth time she did it, Mattie caught her and looked away quickly, but not before a miserable expression flashed across her face.

When they got to the field, Christen parked in the same spot she had when she picked Mattie up last week, which felt like months ago. "Ready?" she asked in a tone that all but begged for them all to be pleasant to each other for an hour.

Sophie's dad, Josh, had them warm up and then split the team into groups to do more specific drills. Christen and Tobin each took one of the small groups, offering instruction as they saw fit.

Christen started at the shooting drill station, which Mattie's group ended up coming to first. They lined up at the 18 and tried to hit the corners while the team's keepers took turns in goal. She tried to give each of them a piece of advice as they cycled through.

On Mattie's turn, she tried to hit the upper left corner, but the ball hung in the air and didn't curve back the way she seemingly wanted it to, and ultimately hit the fence behind the goal.

"Good job on your follow through," Christen offered. "You just need to turn your foot a little more so you hit it a little further off your laces."

"I know," Mattie grumbled without looking up at her.

Christen felt the tips of her ears warm and bit back a retort. She didn't give Mattie any more advice on her turns, though she buried the rest of her shots in the bottom two corners without much pizazz, so there wasn't much to say.

Soon after, the groups rotated anyway and Christen got the group that had been with Josh.

At one point, she looked over to where Tobin was instructing Mattie's group. Tobin watched Mattie's pass come off her foot slightly wrong and said something instructive to her about it. Mattie laughed and rolled her eyes but repeated the motion the way Tobin had shown her. She bit her lip and turned back to give Isabella shooting pointers.

After each group had cycled through each station, Josh blew the whistle and called them all to the middle of the field. "Alright, we're gonna play 7v7. Tobin, Christen, do you want to pick the teams?"

Christen looked at Tobin and then at Mattie. "How about we pick captains and they pick the teams?" she suggested.

"Izzie and Sophie," Tobin said, pointing. "Isabella, you're with me, Soph, you're with Chris. We can flip for who picks first."

"Wow," Josh said, as he fished around in his pocket for a coin and Isabella and Sophie went to stand next to their respective coaches. "Splitting up the dynamic duo and not getting a single complaint. Maybe you guys should guest coach more often." He took out a quarter and flipped it. Isabella called tails in the air and won.

"This is, like, reverse nepotism," Sophie complained. Isabella picked Mattie first. Sophie picked Jenna Irons, and from there they divvied up the rest of the girls.

Tobin's team won, mostly because Mattie scored six goals despite ignoring every instruction Tobin gave her.

Josh let everyone get water after. "Okay, we have time for one more drill," he announced. "I figure I'd let our guest coaches pick."

"Let's do crossing," Tobin suggested, squirting water into her mouth.

"Alright," Josh said, clapping his hands. "Crossing it is."

Tobin and Christen spent the next 15 minutes alternating between sending crosses into the box and instructing the wingers on how to better their form. Mattie was in Christen's winger line and Christen was relieved that none of her crosses were off target, so she didn't have to give much more instruction than, "Nice ball, Mat."

After they finished, the team did a cheer and Josh went over the schedule, which included their game Saturday morning and the USWNT game Saturday night, which Christen's parents had invited them to sit in their regular Banc of California box for.

The three of them said goodbye to the team and walked back to the car. Christen grabbed the keys out of her bag and walked toward the driver's side.

"I can drive if you want," Tobin offered.

"That's okay. I'm good."

Tobin frowned. "Are you sure? You seem tired."

"I'm not," Christen said, giving her a tight smile and getting in the car.

Tobin got in on the passenger side. "Is something else wrong?"

"Nope." She checked that Mattie and Tobin were buckled and turned the car on.

"Would you tell me if something was?"

"Yes," Christen said, trying not to clench her teeth.

"Okay, well. Let me know if there's anything I can do to fix it."

"Alright. Have you picked a bank yet?" she asked with faux sweetness.

"Wait—this is still about the bank?"

"It's not—" Christen laughed humorlessly. "Nothing would be 'still' about the bank if you had picked one. If I had known it would take so long—"

"If I had known you were gonna be such a bitch about it—"

"Oh my god," Mattie interjected from the backseat. "Shut up, Tobin."

"Hey!" Christen said sharply, glancing into the rearview mirror. "You don't talk to her like that."

Mattie rolled her eyes and crossed her arms, turning to look out the window.

"Don't yell at her because you're mad at me," Tobin scoffed.

"I'm not yelling at her!" Christen insisted. "And I'm not mad at you either."

"Yes, you are! You're pissed about this stupid bank thing!"

"Amy I annoyed you can't ever just make a decision? Yes. But I'm not mad!"

"What do you mean I can't just make a decision? That's bullshit."

"You know what? You're right," Christen said, pursing her lips. "You picked that crossing drill really quickly."

Tobin was incredulous. "You're mad about that?"

"I told you! I'm not mad!"

Tobin rolled her eyes and made a noise in protest.

"I just don't understand why, whenever it comes to something serious, you can't just make a choice!"

"I'm just trying to make the right decision for the right reasons. I don't need you second guessing whatever I pick."

"When have I done that?"

"You don't say it. You just think it."

"Tobin. That's fucking ridiculous."

"See? I say something and it's ridiculous."

"Tobin!"

"I don't understand why we even need to pick a bank so quickly. What's the rush? Why can't I just look at all the options and pick the right one? It's only been a week since you decided we need to do this!"

"Because we have too much to do, and we have the fucking world cup in a month. How can you look at our life right now and not understand why you need to make decisions quickly?"

"I decided to marry you and get kids pretty fucking quickly," she spat.

"Well, I'm not sure you were ready for that, so maybe you're right to doubt yourself." Christen heard herself saying the words like she wasn't in control of her mouth, and instantly wished she could take them back. Tobin's face. which looked like she had been slapped, only made it worse.

No one said anything at the last red light before the hotel driveway, and only the faint sounds of the pop radio station, which Christen hadn't even noticed was on, played in the car.

Christen pulled into the hotel lot, parked the car and kept both hands on the wheel. "Tob—"

"Just don't. Not right now."

The three of them walked into the hotel and made their way up to the team floor in silence. When the doors opened, Mattie went left toward their room while Tobin and Christen went right to get Sam from Julie and Becky's. Tobin kept her hood up and her hands in her sweatshirt pocket. Christen stepped forward to knock on the door.

"Hey," Julie answered. "How was it?"

Christen tried to smile without showing any fatigue. "Good! Her team is a great group of girls so..."

"That's awesome," she smiled. "They're coming to the game right?"

"Yep!" Christen answered. Tobin smiled at Julie and waved to Becky but yawned in lieu of saying anything. Becky paused the race she and Sam were playing.

"Aww, man," Sam said. "I was gonna beat you."

Becky raised her eyebrows at him. "You think so?"

"Yeah!"

She smiled. "You're probably right. But you already beat me so many times, I didn't want to lose again."

"Wow, you let him win?" Christen asked.

"I didn't let him! He's good."

"He actually like, legitimately beat me a bunch of times," Julie admitted.

"Wow, Sammy. I'm impressed." Sam basked in the praise. "C'mon bud. We've got to get you ready for bed."

He started to protest, but cut himself off with a yawn.

"C'mon, Sam," Tobin spoke up. He finally relented and slid off the bed, walking over to Tobin and holding his arms out to be picked up. Tobin groaned but lifted him and he rested his head on her shoulder.

"Goodnight, guys," Christen said, waving. "Thank you again. This was a huge help."

"Anytime."

"It was fun."

They walked back down the hallway to their room without saying anything. Mattie was in the shower when they got back. Tobin started getting Sam ready for bed, and Christen jumped in the shower and put her pajamas on before taking over getting Sam ready so Tobin could shower. She had him tucked in before Mattie emerged from the bathroom, though she suspected she was hiding until Christen was back on the other side of the door.

When she returned to their room, Tobin was turning down the covers.

Christen took a deep breath. "Do you want to talk?" she asked quietly.

Tobin looked up at her with an exhausted expression. "Honestly, I kind of just want to go to bed. Can we talk tomorrow?"

She tried to quell the mix of hurt and guilt she felt at that answer but nodded. "Sure. Sleep will probably help anyway."

They had barely both climbed into bed and turned off the lights when the connecting door opened a crack and a tiny body moved through it.

"Can I sleep here tonight?" Sam asked.

Christen sighed and turned to look at Tobin in the faint light coming through the opening in the door. She shrugged.

"Sure, bud."

***

Tobin woke up with a stiffness in her back that didn't feel like they came from yesterday's training sessions. She craned her neck to look at the other side of her bed, but Christen had already gotten up and only Sam was sprawled out on the other side. Tobin turned back over to look at the clock and sighed, realizing she should probably still be the one to drop off Mattie after last night.

She stuck her head into Mattie and Sam's room to wake her, but found Mattie already up, dressed, and brushing her hair. She gave Tobin a look of exhausted disdain, which Tobin took as her cue to wait in the other room. Christen returned to the room, yoga mat in hand, just as Mattie walked through the inner door, armed with her backpack on one shoulder. They all stood silently for a moment, each wondering what to do next or how to break the tension. Finally, Tobin walked to the dresser and grabbed the car keys, giving Christen what she hoped was an apologetic look. "C'mon, Mattie, let's get going."

They had separate meetings early in the morning, so it wasn't until the lifting session that Tobin saw her again. They were in opposite groups, but Tobin thought she could feel Christen watching her as they moved through the workout. Whenever she couldn't feel her gaze, she would glance over to try and gauge Christen's mood. She looked tense; maybe the night's sleep hadn't gone as far as they'd hoped in restoring the balance.

Even in her brooding state, she could see Kelley and Becky, who she was lifting with, exchange confused glances. At one point they seemed to be arguing with each other until finally, Becky whispered furiously.

"Okay. What is going on with you two?"

Tobin frowned at being caught. "Me?" she asked, trying to play dumb.

"You keep looking over at her," Becky explained.

"And not like. The way you normally do," Kelley added. "More like a kicked puppy."

Tobin shrugged noncommittally. "It's nothing."

Kelley laughed. "Did you fuck up?"

"It's nothing, Kelley."

"Jeez. What did you do?" Kelley asked.

"Nothing!" she protested.

Becky looked at her skeptically.

"I didn't! We just got in a dumb argument is all."

Kelley smirked as she finished her last squat in the set and placed the barbell back on the rig. "How is that not your fault?"

Tobin ignored her and ducked under the bar to set up for her lift. She took more time than she really needed to set her feet, and Becky took the opportunity to prod a little further.

"It's not necessarily anyone's fault," she offered. "But you guys are really off right now. It's kinda weirding everyone out."

Tobin glanced around the room. "It's not weirding everyone out." She started her set and tried to ignore them.

Kelley nodded across the room. "See? Lindsey and Mal keep whispering to each other and looking at the two of you."

She rolled her eyes without looking. "They could be talking about anything."

"Look," Becky interrupted. "It doesn't actually matter if people can tell something's off. We just wanted to know if you wanted to talk about it."

Tobin huffed. "I didn't pick a bank."

"A bank?"

"Yeah, I was supposed to pick a bank and an account and they all looked the same and it didn't matter so I couldn't pick one. And now apparently that makes me unfit to parent," she spat bitterly.

"Woah," Becky said, raising her eyebrows.

Tobin shook her head. "I know. I should've just picked the one you said, Kel. Or just picked a random fucking one. There were 2 or 3 that looked good but I didn't know enough to tell the difference." She moved out from under the bar so Kelley could move in.

"I don't think she's really that mad about the bank, Tobs," Becky said gently.

"Maybe, but I've got no idea what it is about, then."

"Well, what else did she say?"

"I don't know. She was just mad that I picked the passing drill for Mattie's team but couldn't pick a bank."

Kelley set the bar back on the hooks. "See, Tobin, the thing you don't understand about women is..." Tobin and Becky exchanged amused glances. "...sometimes they need you to take charge."

"Here we go."

Kelley put on a faux thoughtful expression and rested her elbow on Tobin's shoulder. "I know that's not always your natural instinct, and I'm sure that..." she gestured to the air with her hand, "...works for you guys, but she shouldn't have to make all of the decisions." She clapped Tobin's chest. "Sometimes, you gotta pick the restaurant."

Tobin looked at Becky to share an eye roll but got nothing.

"That's actually not terrible advice." She sipped her water. "Although I'm assuming she actually means pick the restaurant. If that's a euphemism for something—"

"In this case, it's not," Kelley assured.

Becky shrugged and moved to start her squats. "Then I agree. Not about the taking charge part so much as the not making her make all the decisions."

Tobin put her hands on her hips and looked around the weight room. "So I should pick a bank and tell her which one?"

Kelley shook her head. "You gotta pick the bank, then tell her you're taking her out to dinner, pick the restaurant, and once you're there, tell her you already opened the account and it's all set."

"What if she doesn't like the one I pick?"

Kelley gave her an exasperated look. "She already told you she wanted you to pick. You're just showing initiative."

Tobin waited for Becky to finish her set. "What do you think?"

"It's a very...Kelley plan, but it's not a bad idea. The dinner part especially."

She laughed. "Okay, I'll play. When am I supposed to take her to dinner?"

Kelley shrugged. "Tonight?"

"I don't want to ask Kerrie or Julia to stay late. Plus Sam is having these tantrums..."

"I'll watch them," Kelley said nonchalantly.

"You want to babysit an angry Mattie and a clingy Sam?"

"Mattie's not angry with me. And Sam will hang out."

Tobin sighed.

"She'll have help Tobs," Becky reassured her.

"Ugh, fine," Tobin conceded, moving to start her next set.

"Don't be mad, it'll be fun!" Kelley insisted.

Tobin looked at her in the mirror. "Yeah, but now thanks to you, I have to pick a bank account, and a restaurant."

***

"Tobin is staring at you," Alex said as Christen swung the kettlebell. "And not in the usual way."

Christen sighed and finished her set. "Yeah," was the only explanation she offered.

She handed Alex the kettlebell and could tell she was trying to be polite and trying not to pry, but losing the battle.

"You can ask."

Alex finished all 12 swings before looking at her. "Is everything okay?" she asked gently.

Christen grabbed the weight from her, holding it at her side before she started her next set. "Yeah, I just...I fucked up."

"What happened?"

She talked as she swang. "It's just been a long week. Sam is throwing tantrums any time either of us leaves the room and I don't know why. Mattie is furious with me either because I told her none of you guys were coming to her game, or because we pulled her out and she didn't have a concussion, I'm not sure. But she's apparently fine with Tobin! And then Tobin and I got in a fight last night and I was...kind of a bitch to her."

Alex gave her a sympathetic smile. "I'm sure she deserved it?" she offered hopefully.

Christen shook her head and put the kettlebell down. "She didn't."

"I don't know. You seem biased and Kelley seems to be lecturing her," she said, nodding to the squat racks.

"She didn't deserve it," Christen insisted.

Alex shrugged. "Okay, then. Tell her that."

***

They finished lifting and were released for a lunch break. Tobin headed straight to the side lobby, where she knew Sam was going to come in on his way back from school. She needed a few minutes with him before returning to adulthood. She turned the corner and was surprised to see her wife sitting on the bench near the door. Tobin walked over to where Christen sat. She looked distracted, so Tobin cleared her throat. Christen looked up.

"Hey."

"Hey."

"I was just gonna wait out here for Sam where it's quieter," Tobin explained.

Christen smiled tiredly. "Great minds." She shifted over on the settee to make room for Tobin, who gladly accepted the peace offering.

"I really just needed a Sam hug before lunch," Tobin admitted, leaning back into the seat. "His hugs make days like this go faster."

Christen smiled and shifted in the chair, leaning over to rest her head against Tobin like she forgot the slight distance they had been maintaining. She stiffened when she realized, but Tobin quickly slid an arm into the space between her back and the chair so she would relax back into her. "He really does give the best hugs," she agreed.

They sat in silence for a moment before Tobin decided to take Kelley and Becky's advice. "Hey."

"Hey, what?"

"Go on a date with me tonight. I've already got a sitter lined up."

Christen sat up so she could make eye contact with Tobin and gave her a puzzled look. "A date? Tonight?"

"Yeah. We'll go to that sushi place in WeHo you like."

She paused, looked her up and down as if surprised, and rested back against Tobin. "Okay. If we have time that sounds good."

"We have time," Tobin insisted. As Christen seemed to relax more into her body, Tobin smiled and held in a fist pump.

They sat silently again, Tobin feeling more relaxed than she had in a week until the door opened and Julia and Sam entered from the sunny outdoors. Sam spotted his mothers right away and ran toward them with his arms out.

"Mommies!"

"Oof. Hey, bud," Christen greeted as he crashed into her knees. "How was school?"

Sam climbed onto both of their laps. "Good, but I missed you."

"Hey, Julia," Christen greeted. "How was he?"

She smiled. "Good, but very excited to see you."

Tobin turned to accept her Sam hug, which was exactly what she needed and hoped that he wouldn't be upset about their leaving him with Kelley tonight.

***

They were both much more relaxed after the conversation and lunch. Tobin felt like she played better in practice than she had since before the Brazil game, but still got caught daydreaming more than once. By the time they finished their recovery work, she was full on giddy about the prospect of their date.

She waited outside the door to the ice baths for Christen to finish. When she emerged, she seemed almost surprised to see Tobin, but her face quickly relaxed into a soft smile.

"Hey."

"Hey."

"Is Sam in the lounge?"

Tobin shrugged one shoulder. "I think so but I haven't checked yet. I was waiting for you."

Christen smiled and took her hand as they walked to the elevator. "I'm excited for our date tonight."

"Me too."

"You said you already got a sitter."

"Kelley actually offered her services."

Christen raised her eyebrows. "She did?"

"She's gonna have plenty of help. It'll be fine."

"I know!"

Tobin gave her a questioning look.

"I have complete faith in her! I'm just glad because I'm hoping 'Sam, hang out with Auntie Kelley for a few hours,' is an easier sell than 'hang out with a babysitter you don't really know.'"

"I think it will."

***

There was a moment while they were getting ready to leave that Tobin thought they may have been overly optimistic. They talked to Sam (and Mattie) about having a playdate with Kelley earlier in the afternoon, and he was excited about it, but he soon started to realize that meant Tobin and Christen wouldn't be there. They were on the verge of another meltdown when Kelley, Alex, and Allie knocked on the door.

"Auntie Kelley!" Sam called, near tears forgotten.

"Hey buddy, you ready to have fun without the lame moms?"

Tobin and Christen shared an eye roll.

"Harry, that's what you're wearing for your big date?"

"I—"

"Yeah Tobs, I think you can do better than sweatpants."

"Okay," Tobin said defensively. "This isn't what I'm wearing—we're just—"

"I thought you guys were leaving soon?" Kelley added.

Tobin looked to Christen for assistance, and for a second it seemed like she was going to join in the teasing. "We've still got to change," she relented. "We just had a slight speed bump."

"Alright, well clean yourself up, Har," Allie jibed.

"Okay, will do," Tobin said, rolling her eyes.

"Sammy, you ready?"

"Have fun," Sam replied, tugging on Alex's hand.

"Bye Mat!" she said as Mattie skulked from the dividing door to the hallway door.

"Bye!" Christen added.

They received a barely audible grunt in response.

"Thanks for this guys," Christen said.

"Yeah, for real." Tobin nodded at Kelley.

"No problem." "Anytime."

Pick the restaurant. Kelley mouthed as she turned and walked out the door.

Tobin laughed at the others' puzzled expressions and shot Kelley a thumbs up as they filed out.

The door closed and Christen sent her a bemused look.

"Ready for sushi?"

***

Mattie told Kelley she had homework to do, so Kelley set her up in her and Allie's room, across the hall from Alex's where they were entertaining Sam. She flipped the bar guard to prop the door open and let Mattie read in peace.

"So what do you want to do?" Mattie heard Kelley ask Sam through the doorway. She took another look at her book, let out a heavy sigh, and flopped back into her pillow to stare at the ceiling.

"Knock, knock," Alex's voice announced her at the door.

Mattie sat up. "Hi."

"Whatcha reading?"

"Just a book for school so I can leave early."

"For France?"

"Yeah."

Alex looked at the cover of the book Mattie had cast aside. "I had to read that in school. That's a good one."

Mattie shrugged. "It's okay, I guess."

Alex looked down at her hands. "Hey, I'm sorry we crashed your game."

She swallowed. "It's okay."

"We didn't tell either of your moms we were coming, so I wouldn't want you to be mad at them for it."

"That's not—I'm not. Mad about it."

Alex looked at her skeptically.

"I'm not!"

"Alright. I just. I know everyone is a little stressed out this week and I didn't want to add to it. We just didn't know when the next time we'd get to see you play is, so we didn't want to miss it."

Mattie felt guilt creep up her throat. "I'm not mad. I'm sorry I made such a big—"

"Don't be sorry!" Alex said, shaking her head. "Tobin said you didn't want an audience, so we shouldn't have come. I get not wanting the circus at your first game with your team."

"Thanks," Mattie said sheepishly.

Alex smirked. "Your first national team game, though—don't expect us to skip that one."

Mattie rolled her eyes. "Ha ha."

"I'm serious. There's gonna be face paint, signs, the whole deal."

Mattie flopped back on the bed. "Yeah, yeah, yeah."

Alex laughed. "Do you have a lot more homework?"

"Just to finish this chapter."

"Alright, well, what do you want to do after that?"

Mattie shrugged. "It's...it's mother's day this weekend, and I was thinking about maybe getting them something..."

"Oooh, Mother's day gifts?"

She blushed. "Yeah, I don't really know if we could go to the store, or I could make something..."

Alex grinned. "Sure! And we can all help! We can get Sammy set up making a card or something."

Mattie smiled, relaxing slightly. "Okay."

"What were you going to get? Do you need help shopping? I'm good at that."

"Maybe, but I kind of had an idea."

***

Christen surveyed the contents of her suitcase. She had switched out of her sports bra but hadn't made any further decisions on an outfit.

"What are you gonna wear?" Tobin asked. She was sprawled out on the other bed without her shirt on, bra unchanged, scrolling through her phone and apparently having given up on the getting ready process for the moment.

"Uhh...I don't know. I was thinking black jeans but I don't know what top. Why?"

"I was gonna let you pick first. Not that I can't decide myself," she joked tentatively.

Christen tried to laugh but sounded half-hearted to her ears and she could see Tobin heard it too.

"Too soon?" she cringed.

"I believe you can pick out your clothes."

"Really? You sure?"

"Tobin."

She pouted and looked away. "You just don't believe I'm ready for this."

"I know you're ready for this. That's not what I meant—"

"It's what you said."

Christen took a deep breath and walked over to sit on the edge of their bed, so they were a nightstand apart. "I know, and I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."

Tobin sat up to face her and Christen could see her eyes were glassy. "I know I've been slow on the bank thing, I just don't know what I did that made you question that I was in this all the way."

"Hey." Christen felt her stomach drop and she stood to cup Tobin's cheek. "I swear you haven't done anything. I was just frustrated—I was stressed out about everything else and I took it out on you. I shouldn't have and I'm sorry."

Tobin pouted. "I don't ever want you to feel like I've questioned this. I've felt really bad about it—"

"Tob, I've felt really bad—"

"I'm not half-assing this I swear—"

"I know you're not."

Tobin looked her dead in the eyes. "I can pick the restaurant, I promise."

Christen frowned and quirked her head, but before she could ask what the hell she was talking about, Tobin's lips were on hers and the amount of hot skin touching between their exposed bodies was making it hard to focus. Tobin pulled her bottom lip between her teeth and ran her hands up Christen's bare arms.

"What time is it?" she breathed out with an inch of space between their faces.

Tobin's eyes flicked to the clock on the nightstand. "7:10."

She leaned in and kissed Tobin's neck. "The reservation's at 8?"

Tobin swallowed and didn't answer immediately. "Yeah," she let out in a strangled voice.

Christen grinned into her skin. "So we have like 20 minutes. More if there's not traffic."

Tobin hummed distractedly in agreement.

"Think that's long enough?" Christen mumbled into her neck.

Tobin nodded and let out a small whine.

"Okay but you gotta be quick."

***

"Kelley, go with Mattie," Alex instructed.

"Where?" Kelley asked, rising from where they sat around the coffee table in the suite.

"I can go by myself," Mattie insisted.

"Kel. Go with her please."

Mattie relented and held the door open for Kelley.

"Where're we headed champ?"

"The equipment room."

"For snacks?"

Mattie shook her head. "Alex says they have extra shinguards."

"Shinguards? Why do you need—oh are you gonna decorate them like Tobin does?"

"Yeah, I mean. Tobin gave me some for Easter. And I know it's like a thing she does, but I thought if I made some..."

Kelley smiled reassuringly. "They're gonna love it."

Mal and Rose were in the equipment room grabbing food when they arrived.

"Hey," Mattie greeted, walking over to the plastic container she thought contained extra shinguards.

"Whatcha doin?" Mal asked.

"Yeah, I know we didn't play well," Rose added, "but I didn't think they were gonna call you up so soon."

"We need some arts and crafts supplies," Kelley explained for her.

"In the sock bin?" Rose asked.

"Actually...shinguards," Mattie said, emerging with two pairs.

"Ahh, shinguards," Mal said knowingly. "The traditional Heath Press family art form."

"Wait are you gonna decorate shinguards?" Rose asked, catching up.

"For mother's day," Kelley confirmed with a smile.

"Awww..."

"That's so cute!"

Mattie frowned at Kelley spilling the beans on her.

"What!" Kelley protested. "It is!"

"Whatever," Mattie said, rolling her eyes. "Bye guys."

"Bye Mat!"

"You know, you don't have to be mad about that stuff all the time," Kelley offered as they reemerged in the hallway.

"I'm not mad."

"Okay."

"About what stuff?"

"Like the family stuff. It being cute. It's nice that you wanna do this for them."

Mattie shrugged. "I guess, I just don't like when people make a big deal about it."

"Why not?"

"I don't know. It's just weird."

"Okay." Kelley looked like she wanted to push the issue, but she relented. "So, how are we gonna decorate these?"

"I was gonna try to find some sharpies."

"Sharpies?" Kelley made a face. "We can do better than that. Let's get some of those paint markers."

"From where?"

"I dunno. Target?"

"We don't have to—" Mattie started.

"C'mon! It'll be an adventure!"

***

Tobin stirred and wrinkled her nose as a familiar curly black hair tickled it.

"Shit," Christen said, the sound of her voice reverberating through Tobin's body where she lay with her face buried in her wife's neck.

"What?"

"We fell asleep."

"Mmmm."

"We're already 20 minutes late for our reservation."

Tobin grinned and rubbed her eye. "Perfect. If we leave now, we'll only be an hour late."

Christen laughed sleepily and Tobin let the vibrations pull her back into a comfortable drowse.

"We should just cancel and go get burgers," Christen whispered conspiratorially.

Tobin sat up hopefully. "Yeah?"

"Why not? Besides that Dawn would probably kill us if she knew."

Tobin waved a hand dismissively. "We just did all that extra cardio. It cancels out."

"I don't think that's how it works."

"Well then, we don't have to tell her."

***

"Is your car is still here?" Kelley asked as they pulled into the parking lot.

Mattie looked and saw Christen's SUV parked in the same place it had been since they got back from practice the night before. "Yeah..."

"Maybe they Ubered," Kelley suggested.

"Weird."

"Do you have everything?"

"Yeah, I think so."

They discussed Mattie's possible designs for the shinguards as they made their way up to the team floor. They emerged from the elevator and had barely turned the corner when Allie turned and pointed at them.

"Aha! There you are!"

Mattie and Kelley walked in to Sam still coloring at the coffee table in front of the couch, but Allie and Alex both stood with crossed arms and overly pleasant smiles.

"Hey, Sammy," Alex asked sweetly, "Can you tell us what's happening in your drawing again?"

Sam didn't look up from his coloring. "Auntie Kelley is making my moms engaged."

Mattie glanced at Kelley, who was visibly trying to keep her face neutral.

"And what are you doing in the picture?" Alex continued.

"I'm holding the rings. I'm the best man."

"The best man?"

"Yep. I hadta hold the rings and then bring them up when Auntie Kelley called me and then Mommy and Mama kissed."

Allie and Alex looked back at Kelley and Mattie. "Care to explain?"

***

Tobin and Christen sat in the parking lot with their backs to the main road. Cars rushed by out the back window and honked at the intersection a few hundred yards down. The sun had all but set and the neon light that stuck up from the cracked asphalt was starting to cast a glow. The freeway stretched out in front of them and the rush hour traffic had mostly subsided, so cars could zip easily up the on-ramp. Tobin had taken her shoes off and had her bare feet on the dashboard. Christen sat cross-legged in the driver's seat.

"Okay, I'm sorry," Tobin said as she took a bite of her burger. "I like sushi, but this is so much better."

Christen laughed and reached for a fry. "I thought you picked the restaurant. Why didn't you just pick this?"

"I just picked one I knew you would like." Tobin rolled her eyes. "Kelley's the one who told me to 'pick the restaurant,' but it's not like an actual restaurant."

Christen smirked and tilted her head in confusion, waiting for an explanation.

"Like, you were mad that I couldn't decide on a bank, so Kelley said I should take charge. Pick the restaurant or whatever."

"Okay, first of all, I wasn't mad."

Tobin looked at her with raised eyebrows.

"I wasn't that mad."

Tobin smiled. "You were pretty pissed, babe. But it's okay. I know you have a lot on your plate, and I said I would do it and I didn't."

"It's not that," Christen sighed, looking down at the burger she held in her lap.

Tobin winced. "I thought you said you didn't mean the thing about me not being ready."

Christen looked up. "I don't!" she answered quickly. "Obviously I know you're ready, I just...I hate feeling like I'm always the one who has to make the final decision on big things."

"Uhhh..."

"Like I could've just picked a bank but I wanted you to be able to have an opinion on it."

"But what if I just...didn't have one? I mean now that I had to pick, I do, but that's only because of the international policies on the underage authorized users for the cards you said."

Christen raised her eyebrows. "You picked a bank? Based on the international policies for what?"

"Like if we're in a different country than Mattie it—I don't know it's on some website I found."

"You picked a bank."

"Yeah. It was part of Kelley's whole. Y'know. 'Pick the restaurant' thing, which she was weirdly pretty right about. Also, I was close to deciding before yesterday anyway."

"I mean...wow. That's just a very specific reason to pick a bank account."

Tobin lifted her shoulders defensively. "Well, I had it down to like three and from the reviews and the features and whatever they were all basically the same, so!"

"No, I'm impressed. I probably would've just done eenie-meenie-minie-moe between the last few."

Tobin scoffed. "Then why did you think this was a big decision that I needed to have an opinion on?"

"Did you think I was gonna have super strong opinions on this?"

"Honestly? Kinda."

"Tobin. I don't care about the difference of like one fee or the other or whatever. I just don't want you to wake up in 20 years and be like 'I hate this bank. Why do I have this bank?'"

Tobin frowned. "We don't have to stay with this bank for 20 years. From what I read it's actually better—"

Christen cut her off with a look. "Tobs. The bank is not the point. That's not even what I'm—I just don't want to make all these big decisions for us without you. I want you to have opinions on them."

"What if your opinions are better?"

"They're not."

"Okay, but what if they are? What if we pick something I say and I totally screw something up?"

"Hello?! That's exactly what I'm saying! You can't leave me with all the decisions so it's all my fault when they're screwed up! Or so that when we make a decision about something for Mattie, she only blames it on me and then won't talk to me."

"Ahhh," Tobin said as it finally clicked.

"What?"

"That's what this whole thing is about."

Christen nodded once. "Yes, I want us to decide things together."

Tobin gave her a look. "No, it's because Mattie's mad at you but not me, so you're mad at me."

"I'm not—"

"—mad. I know. But you've been upset about something and I haven't been able to figure it out. But it's the Mattie stuff."

Christen looked out the window in front of them.

"Why haven't you talked to me about it? Maybe I could help."

"I tried, but you just kept saying you wanted to wait her out."

"I'm sorry, I was just trying to give her space. If I had known how much this was bothering you...and honestly if I had known she was gonna hold out this long..."

"What would you have done?"

Tobin shrugged. "I don't know. I guess just annoyed her into talking to you."

Christen laughed.

"We can talk to her tonight," Tobin offered. "Or tomorrow if she's pretending to be asleep when we get back."

She laughed again and Tobin felt better about lightening her spirits.

"This is nice. We should do it more often."

"Oh, so I'm gonna get a second date, then?"

Christen smirked as she shrugged and ate a fry. "Depends if I'm around. I've got a pretty busy schedule right now."

"You can't pencil me in?"

"I don't know, when were you thinking?"

"Like...forever?"

Christen rolled her eyes and laughed. "That was bad."

"So, yes?"

"Even for you, babe. That's just..." She trailed off and met Tobin's eye contact, still smiling wide. "...awful..."

"That's not an answer."

Christen's smile softened and she leaned in for a kiss. "Of course."

Tobin tried to deepen the kiss but Christen laughed again.

"What?"

"Does that mean you fuck before the first date? I thought you were a little more modest than that."

Tobin took the bait. "First of all, you fucked me before our real first date—"

"You started it! And that's a technicality anyway."

"That was a pretty good technicality."

Christen smiled in agreement. "Do you think you could've ever imagined that would lead to this?"

"Sex and In N Out? I mean I hoped..."

She rolled her eyes.

"Yeah," Tobin answered seriously. "100%."

"A hundred percent? I feel like this is a pretty weird—"

"Okay. A hundred percent with you and me and kids. Ninety-nine with the sex and In N Out."

Christen smiled at her softly. "You should've known that was guaranteed."

***

A half an hour later they exited the elevator into the hotel hallway. "What do you wanna bet that they're still awake?" Christen asked.

Tobin didn't answer for a second, so Christen turned to look at her. "Huh?" she asked with a dazed smile.

"What's up?"

"Nothing. You're just pretty."

Christen rolled her eyes but felt herself smile.

"And I'm happy we're not fighting anymore."

Christen laughed and leaned in to kiss her. "Me too."

They reached the door to Alex's hotel room. "What did you ask?" Tobin questioned as she knocked.

"If you think they're still gonna be awake."

Tobin made a face like the answer was obvious. "Oh for sure. Sam's probably in here jumping on the bed."

She knocked on the door and got no answer. "Hello?" She knocked again.

"I'll text them," Christen offered. where are you guys? she texted Alex.

Your room. Sam's in bed. Alex sent back.

"Wow, you lost the bet," she told Tobin.

They walked down the hall to their room and Tobin slid her keycard into the handle. She swung the door open and revealed an expectant looking Allie and Alex and a guilty looking Kelley, who all sat up from where they lay on the beds upon their entrance.

"Oh, hello," Alex greeted them.

"Hi..." Tobin said cautiously. "What's up?"

"How was your date?" Allie asked. "Did you not change?"

"Good...I didn't—we—"

"I think it's nice that you take your wife out for nice dinners," she continued. "It keeps thing fresh."

"I appreciate the encouragement, Al."

"Wife, huh? So you guys are married now?" Alex poked.

Tobin narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "I—Allie calls Chris my wife...all the time. Almost exclusively. What's going on?"

Christen just looked at Kelley, who seemed to be trying to blend into the wall.

"So you guys aren't married then?" Allie pressed.

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm just asking!"

"We got engaged like a month ago!"

"Officially engaged, you mean," Alex cut in, putting the phrase in air quotes.

"Kelley..." Christen said warningly. "What's going on?"

"Look, I left them alone with Sam for like half an hour..."

"What's Sam got to do with this?" Tobin asked, still catching up.

"He drew you a picture," Alex said, handing over the piece of printer paper.

Christen looked over Tobin's shoulder at the drawing, which wasn't very detailed but clearly depicted their courthouse wedding. She looked up at Tobin's face, which registered understanding. Tobin looked up at her and gave an almost imperceptible shrug.

"Okay, yes. We did get marri—"

"Woo!" Christen was cut off by yells and claps from Alex and Allie, as well as Allie throwing handfuls of cut-up printer paper from her sweatshirt pocket.

"Congratulations!" They got up to hug Tobin and Christen and started asking questions at once. "Why didn't you tell us?" "Do your parents know?" "I thought you said you were still gonna have a real wedding?"

"Woah, chill," Tobin protested.

"I want pictures!" Allie whined.

"We're still gonna have a whole other wedding, don't worry," Christen assured her. "But almost no one knows, so don't go blabbing."

"Wait, so why did you actually do it?" Alex asked. "Kelley wouldn't give us the whole story."

Tobin and Christen shared a look and sighed, but started to recount the story of their whirlwind engagement.

"How come you didn't tell me that story about the ring before?" Alex asked.

Allie's eyes widened. "You didn't know that? She's had that thing forever."

"I didn't even know that and I was there!" Kelley added.

"Not that I'm not happy for you," Alex started. "But wouldn't it have been...less drastic to just make Tobin a California resident some other way? Like you could have just opened a bank account or something."

Kelley and Christen started to laugh.

"Hey!" Tobin protested. "I picked one okay! It really didn't take me that long."

"I mean," Christen countered. "The bank account did take you like several orders of magnitude longer than the marriage decision."

Everyone but Tobin laughed when she got stuck on her reply.

"Yeah, well...I wasn't sure about Super Checking Plus, but I was sure about you."

Christen smiled while Kelley booed and Allie threw the pillow from behind her head at Tobin.

"I think that's our cue," Alex said, standing from the bed.

Kelley and Allie followed. "Okay, goodnight." "Night."

"Al," Christen said, nodding to the door that divided their room from the kids. "Is Mattie still up?"

Alex tilted her head to look underneath it. "I don't think so. You could see the light on earlier."

"Alright," she said, trying not to look crestfallen. "Thanks. And thanks again guys," she said to everyone.

"Seriously," Tobin added.

Christen hovered near the dividing door until Tobin put a hand on her shoulder. "C'mon, we'll talk to her in the morning."

***

"Mattie, wake up." The girl groaned but turned toward the noise with a sleepy gaze. Christen smiled down at her. "Hey. Can we talk?"

"Scooch over, I need room," Tobin said, nudging Mattie over on the bed as she balanced two cups of Starbucks. Mattie sat up in the middle of the bed so Tobin could sit on one side of her and Christen on the other. Tobin carefully reached over Mattie to hand Christen her coffee. She placed it on the nightstand on her side and turned so she was facing Mattie completely. Mattie looked at her lap and picked at the comforter.

Christen took a deep breath. "Do you think we could talk about this wee—" She was cut off by Mattie's loud sob. "Mat." She put an arm around the girl's back to comfort her and was almost knocked backward when Mattie buried her face in the collar of her sweatshirt.

She rubbed Mattie's back and shot Tobin a confused look. Tobin looked as lost as she was. "Mat? It's okay, honey. We just want to talk about it."

Mattie shook her head into the crook of Christen's neck. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to," she choked out.

"Didn't mean to what?" Christen asked. The question just set off another round of sobs. Christen resigned herself to waiting out the waterworks. She hugged Mattie closer to her chest. "It's okay."

It took a few false stops, but after five minutes or so Mattie seemed to have calmed down. Christen and Tobin looked at each other, afraid to upset the balance that had settled over the situation, but Mattie beat them to it. "I'm sorry I called you Mom in a fight," she mumbled into Christen's chest. "I didn't mean to. It just slipped out."

Christen froze. "That's the reason you haven't talked to me all week?"

"I felt so bad, and I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have—why are you laughing?"

"I'm sorry," Christen tried to stop. "It's just that I spent the whole week thinking you were pissed me for pulling you from the game and making you take all those concussion tests and I didn't know how to fix it. I'm pretty happy that you don't hate me."

Mattie started to cry again, less intensely than before. "I don't hate you. I love you."

She looked up at Tobin who was giving her a soft smile with wet eyes.

"Hey. Look at me." Christen pulled her back from her chest. Mattie's cheeks were wet and her eyes were red. Christen reached up to wipe away some of the tears. "I don't stop being your mom because we're in a fight, okay? We're gonna be your moms for the rest of your life, and this won't be the last fight we get in. I'm giving you permission now: you can call me Mom during all of them."

Mattie smiled. "I know but I didn't want the first time to be like that. I was gonna do it on Sunday."

"How come?" Christen asked.

"Well, y'know, it's Mother's Day and everything, so I thought—"

"You were waiting for Mother's Day?" Tobin asked in an amused tone.

She turned around so she could push Tobin. "Yeah, so what? Don't tease me!"

Tobin laughed as she grabbed both of Mattie's hands with one hand and bearhugged her with the other. "I'm not teasing you. It's very cute."

Mattie pouted and Christen smiled at the sight of them. "It is very sweet, Mattie. I'm glad it was so important to you, but I'm sorry you were so stressed out about it."

"I just feel like now that's always gonna be the first time I called you Mom, and that's not, like, a good memory."

Tobin grinned. "I think it's even better that you did it by accident. It means you meant it."

Christen looked her in the eye until she looked back. "I'm always gonna remember that as a good memory. Or, if you really want, we can pretend it never happened."

Mattie rolled her eyes in concession. "I guess it was kinda funny."

"When do we ever do anything according to plan anyway?"

"Never."

"Exactly." Christen's smile shrunk slightly. "Speaking about things going awry...Tobin and I wanted to apologize for fighting in front of you."

"It's okay," Mattie said shyly.

"Is there anything you want to say to Tobin about what you said?" Christen nudged.

"I'm sorry I told you to shut up."

"It's oka—"

"But you really shouldn't be calling your wife a bitch anyway."

Christen covered her mouth with her hand to muffle her laughter.

"I'm just saying..." Mattie shrugged, still leaning up against Tobin.

"You know what, you're right," Tobin conceded, laughing too. "Good job with telling me to shut up."

"I—Tobin," Christen protested, causing Mattie and Tobin to laugh at her exasperation. "How did this start with you defending me and end with you on her side?" she asked Mattie.

"I'm not on anyone's side," Mattie said, sitting up in the middle of the bed to prove her neutrality. "I just don't want to get in trouble."

"You're not in trouble."

"Well...she's a little in trouble," Tobin corrected.

Mattie frowned. "For telling you to shut up?"

"No, for the whole saga this weekend."

Mattie looked contrite. "I'm sorry I was a brat about coming off."

"That's not really what we want to talk about," Christen said gently. "And you're not in trouble. But why did you not want everyone to come to your game?"

"Oh," Mattie said, looking down and shrugging. "I just didn't want it to be a big deal, I guess."

"It was a big deal though," Christen urged. "It was your first game with your new team. And how often do you think Kelley and those guys are gonna get to watch you play?"

"Yeah, but, like...do all of them have to come like that?"

Christen studied her face, which was bashful. "Do you not like that they bring you extra attention? Is that it?"

"No, I just—I don't want them to feel like they have to come watch a dumb U14 game."

Tobin snorted.

"What," Mattie said flatly.

"Tough shit."

Christen gave her a look and Mattie picked her head up in surprise.

"What? You don't want them to come because you don't want them to waste their time?"

Mattie shrugged in affirmation.

"Yeah...that's too bad. Your grandparents, Allie, Kelley, Alex, everybody—they don't think it's a waste of time. They wanted to come watch you. They're your family, and they want to support you. Mom asked if it's too much attention because we want you to be able to enjoy football like a kid. But if your reason is that you don't want people to come because you want them to be less interested? You're gonna have to suck it up."

Mattie's face looked like she was trying to find a smart retort but getting nothing.

Christen almost laughed at the expression. "I think the response you're looking for is 'Yes, Mom.'"

"Yes, Mom," she parroted.

Tobin smiled leaned in like she was sharing a secret. "Also, just so you know, I don't think anyone who likes the game is gonna consider watching you a waste of time. You're a pretty fun footballer to watch."

Mattie blushed at the compliment, rolling her eyes and looking down at her lap. She mumbled something.

"What was that?" Christen asked.

"I said, 'I learned from the best,'" Mattie said, acting like it caused her physical pain to say it.

"Aww," Tobin in a slightly teasing tone, "That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."

"I was talking about Mom," Mattie said, hooking her thumb at Christen without missing a beat. Christen laughed.

"Oh, yeah? Is that why you picked 17 for your number?"

"Alright, hot stuff," Christen challenged, smirking at her wife. "They didn't have 23, so she couldn't pick it."

"Actually..." Mattie started.

Christen gasped in faux offense. "You told me they didn't have it!"

"They didn't. But I more wanted 17 cause like—" She played with her hands in her lap. "I figured since you changed your last name to Press..." She gestured to Tobin. "I just figured that would be me and Sammy's last name when we got adopted."

When she didn't continue, Christen prodded her. "Yeah, it will...unless you don't want it to be?"

"No I do!" she said quickly. "I just figured, you know, when I'm older, it would be cool if I could wear one of your names and one of your numbers on my jersey." She shrugged at the end of her explanation.

Christen and Tobin looked at each other over her head and smiled. "That would be way cool," Tobin offered.

Mattie lifted her head to smile at both of them when all three of them turned toward a very distressed voice in the other room.

"Mommy? Mama? Where are you?" Sam shouted.

"I've got him," Tobin said, groaning as she stood up. She turned back to Mattie before she left. "Hey. I want to be the first person with an autographed 'Mattie Press, 17' jersey, okay?" Instead of waiting for an answer, she kissed the top of Mattie's head and walked to the connecting door.

Christen looked at the clock under the TV, which read 6:38. "Okay, we gotta get moving so you're not late." She looked Mattie in the eye. "Hey, next time we fight," Mattie smiled at her, "can we maybe try to talk it out sooner? I didn't like not talking to you all week."

Mattie nodded and Christen pulled her in for a hug. "I love you."

"I love you too, Mom."

***

When they arrived at the Social Services office that afternoon, they met Claire in the parking lot.

"Look what I've got!" she greeted, pulling a small manila envelope out of her bag and handing it to Christen.

Tobin peered over as Christen slid two blue booklets out of the sleeve.

"Their passports?"

"Sweet, lemme see!" Christen handed Tobin the one on top, which she opened and immediately burst out laughing.

"What?"

"Sammy, you look like you're either gonna start laughing or crying in this."

"Lemme see!" he said, reaching for the passport. He frowned at the picture of himself. "I don't like it."

"Why not? You look cute."

"No, I look like I'm seeing a monster. I want to delete it and take a new one."

The adults laughed. "We can't, honey," Christen explained. "They take a long time to process and we need these to go to France."

Sam frowned.

"It's fine. We'll probably have to get you a new one when you get adopted and you can take a new picture then."

"Yeah, that one'll be all you guys," Claire said laughing. "Not that I'm not happy to help, but I'll be glad to let you handle the next round."

"Why? Was it hard to get them?" Christen asked.

Claire began to recount a conversation with a particularly unhelpful State Department customer service representative to Mattie and Christen when Sam pulled on Tobin's hand.

"Piggyback."

"What do you say?"

"Please!"

Tobin bent down so Sam could jump on her back.

"How come I have to get a new passport when you adopt me?"

"Well, your name is gonna change. At least I think."

"My name's not gonna be Sam?" he asked in a concerned voice.

Tobin laughed. "No. Your last name. What's your last name now?" she quizzed.

"García. G-A-R-C-I-A," Sam answered proudly.

"And what's Mommy's last name?"

"Press. P-R-E-S-S."

"Wow, you're pretty good," she said, holding up her hand at shoulder level so he could high-five it. "So, if you and Mattie want, once we finish all the paperwork, all of us will have the last name Press. How does that sound?"

"And match mommy?"

"Yeah. So then," she said, opening up the passport and showing him the front page, "instead of saying 'Samuel Anselmo García', this will say 'Samuel Anselmo Press.' Or maybe 'Samuel García Press'. Or 'Samuel Anselmo García Press.' I don't really know. We'll have to ask Mom."

Sam's eyes went wide. "I don't know if I can spell that," he said, shaking his head.

Tobin laughed.

"But what about you? You should match, too."

"I already match, bud," she said, before backtracking slightly. "Err. Well. I'm gonna match. Same as you."

Sam left her explanation unexamined and started to tell her everything that had happened at school that day.

Once they got inside, they checked in and all sat in maroon chairs with the scratchy material in the waiting room. Besides Sam's continued narration of the three hours he had been away from his mothers and Claire's occasional comment to Christen about what to expect from the meeting, the room was quiet.

After around fifteen minutes, a middle-aged woman with a bob emerged from one of the doors off the waiting room. "Press...Heath...Garcia family?" she questioned as she scanned the top page in the file she was holding.

Five heads looked up at her.

"Come with me."

They followed her into a short hallway and through a door to a small conference room. She took her place on the opposite side of the table and motioned for them to sit.

"My name is Rebecca Holcomb. I'm going to be the handling your case for the foreseeable future. I have a list of things here for us to cover today, so I'll just get started."

The woman's tone was clipped but not cold, like she was more than willing to help but being happy to do so just wouldn't be in her nature. She began by handing them a large stack of forms to fill out, including a number that Mattie would have to get signed in order to leave school early for the year, and walked them through Mattie's minimum grade and attendance requirements to go to France early.

They were almost done with the school requirements when there was a knock at the door.

"Ah, Dr. Kenner, come in," Rebecca said, motioning to a tall woman in tall heels in the doorway. She entered and smiled at the group of them.

"Hi, I'm Dr. Kenner. I'm one of the psychologists here. I'm here to talk to..." she double checked the stack of paper in her hands, "Mattie and Sam? We're just going to do a little check in with each of you to make sure you're ready to move forward. Mattie, if you'll come with me first?"

Mattie got up and followed her out of the room. Rebecca Holcomb continued to hand them paperwork that asked for every single detail about their trip and who Mattie and Sam would be with at every minute. It all started to blur for Tobin, but Christen and Claire were doing most of the talking and she was just trying to read along and sign the papers put in front of her.

After around 15 minutes, Dr. Kenner returned with Mattie and called for Sam.

"Is he okay by himself?" Tobin asked when she saw the uncomfortable look on his face.

"If you want, Claire can come with us," Dr. Kenner offered. "We're just going to the next room."

"Is that okay, Sammy?" Christen asked. He looked between his moms and then Claire's outstretched hand before nervously sliding off the chair.

Rebecca only had a few more forms for them, and after they finished she excused herself to go make them copies of the important documents and Christen continued to sign things. Mattie had been quiet since she had come back from talking to the psychologist.

"Did everything go alright with Dr. Kenner?" Tobin asked tentatively.

Mattie shrugged. "I've met with the state shrinks before. It was the usual deal. She asked if we ever fought and I was gonna lie but she didn't believe me and I ended up telling her about me and Christen's fight."

"Why were you gonna lie?"

"I mean—I don't want to mess this up by making them think you can't get me to behave or something. And everything's fine now, right? So what's the point?"

Tobin looked her in the eye. "You don't have to lie to anyone to get us to pass their test, okay? And you don't need to worry about messing this up. That's impossible."

"That's not true," she grumbled

"I'll make sure it is."

Mattie shook her head. "You can't. That's not how this works." Tobin could see genuine fear in her expression, something she had rarely, if ever, seen before.

"Maybe you're right." Mattie glanced at her. "But I'm gonna do everything I possibly can to make sure I'm legally your mom, no matter what happens. I promise."

She could see her shoulders relax slightly.

Tobin grinned. "And when they don't listen to me, Mom can come and boss them around and we'll definitely get what we want."

Mattie let out a small laugh.

"No lying, though, okay?"

Mattie sighed sarcastically. "Okay, fine."

They waited another few minutes before Sam and Claire came back with Dr. Kenner.

"Alright. Tobin, Christen, if you'll come with me?"

As they stood and started to follow her out of the room, Sam started to look confused and stressed.

"Sam, we're gonna be right back, okay?" Christen assured him.

"Sammy, why don't you come sit with me?" Mattie offered. He still looked slightly unsure but moved around the table to sit in the chair Tobin had just vacated.

Dr. Kenner led them out of the conference room and down to the end of the hall, opening the door and ushering them into her office. She sat in an armchair situated on one side of a large window, and Tobin and Christen took a seat on the couch against the opposite wall.

"Okay," she started. "Let's talk about Mattie and Sam. How do you feel things are going?"

Tobin and Christen looked at each other. "Good," Tobin answered, nodding.

"Why'd you hesitate?" Kenner asked.

She sighed. "It's been a bit of a week," Christen answered for her.

"Tobin, would you agree?"

"Yeah. We've had camp for the past two weeks, and it's been hectic just from a work standpoint. Plus, there was this whole thing with Mattie and her soccer game, and Sam has been waking us up every night and throwing tantrums every time we leave the room."

"Not in, like, a bad way," Christen added quickly. "We have it under control."

"You have what under control?" she said, writing something down.

"Well, we talked to Mattie and she's not mad anymore—she was actually never mad, but that's not really—and then the Sam stuff, we're managing I think."

"He's waking you up every night?"

"He's been sleeping in our bed," Christen explained. "But he'll wake us up to ask or say he has a bad dream."

"And the tantrums?" Kenner asked. "What happens with those? Tobin?"

"Uhhh..." she answered. "Like. When we just left him to come in here. That was almost a tantrum but Mattie distracted him. Pretty much if you tell him one of us is going somewhere, and you don't give him something else to pay attention to, he'll melt down."

She made another note. "You said they happen every time. Do they happen more when leaving him with certain people?"

Tobin and Christen looked at each other and Christen motioned for her to answer it.

"He used to get, like, kinda sad when I would go back to Portland, but it wasn't like a full blown thing. Now it's when either of us leaves to like, go to the bathroom even. Even if one of us is staying with him, he seems kinda stressed out."

"I would say it's worse with like the babysitters or something," Christen posited. "Although it really depends if he's tired, or if you can distract him."

"Yeah," Tobin agreed. "When we had to leave him with like your parents, he was fine once he saw them."

The therapist hummed and wrote a few more things down.

"Okay. That's it!" she said. "Do you have any questions for me?"

"That's it?" Christen asked, confused.

"Unless you'd like to tell me about your—what I heard was a shotgun wedding?"

"Nope, we're cool," Tobin answered.

"Alright. In that case, I think everything's going fine."

"Even with my fight with Mattie and whatever's going on with Sam?" Christen continued.

She shrugged. "With Mattie, she's just a 12-year-old girl. She's going to yell that she hates you sometimes. I would take it as a positive sign that she's already comfortable enough to do that. And as unpleasant as it may be for you, all the behaviors you've described Sam exhibiting are actually a good sign."

Tobin looked at her doubtfully and she sighed.

"Adopted children, especially those who were separated from their parents, or in Sam's case, his grandmother, at an early age, can have trouble forming attachments to new parental figures. His wanting to co-sleep is a sign that he relies on you and feels safer with you. The separation anxiety is normal, too. If he wasn't new to your family, I would maybe say he's a little old to be experiencing this level of it, but with this timeline, I'm not concerned at all. We can keep an eye on it as he's with you longer. Honestly, though, based on earlier notes in their files, it seems like there were concerns that Sam was overly reliant on Mattie, so him shifting this dependence to you is a good sign for his and for Mattie's development."

They both gave her blank stares.

"Relax!" she assured. "You're doing fine."

Christen sighed. "I just don't know how Sam getting this upset all the time can be good for him."

Kenner smiled. "I know. But it's a normal part of development. If you want to try to help lessen the tantrums, you can try to introduce more stability, whether that's a daily routine, or giving him enough heads up before you have to go somewhere. I don't know what a normal day looks like for you guys, though, so I don't know what's feasible."

Tobin smiled. "Yeah, I'm not sure we really have a normal day..."

***

Open practice the next day was even more of a zoo than usual. Everyone wanted a photo op before the team left for France, and the big names drew even more media. Christen and Alex got starry-eyed at Kamala Harris, who had stopped off her primary campaign to do a fundraiser in town and tried to get them to buy a plate, and a few of the Lakers, including Lebron, who Tobin pretended not to geek out over, and a former Xavier Musketeer, Trevon Bluiett, to whom Rose started reciting his own stats from college.

Laura pulled them together into the locker room after.

"Alright. Welcome to the circus everyone. I think that was a good introduction. I'm not sure if Alex is running for president now but—"

The team laughed and Alex rolled her eyes.

"We're not gonna do a meeting tonight, we're just gonna do dinner at the hotel. Everyone got their assignments and their scouting in the position meetings, so you should be all set. Beating the gameplan to death won't help anyone, it's all down to execution at this point, alright?"

***

Only Tobin, Christen, Sam, and Christen's parents went to Mattie's game the next morning. Partially because everyone felt bad about what happened the weekend before, but partially just because the rest of the team was getting ready for the game that night. They set up their camp chairs next to Isabella's parents, Melissa and Dan. Tobin was relieved to be introduced to the latter because she couldn't remember if they had met before and she had just forgotten.

"I hope this game isn't as rough as the last one," Christen commented as the teams finished warming up.

"It won't be," Melissa assured. "These girls are mostly in their first year of U14 too, and they aren't as...intense. This probably won't be as exciting of a game, though."

Christen laughed. "I think we're good on excitement."

Isabella started the game, with Mattie and Sophie on the bench. Tobin could immediately see what Melissa meant about the other team, who were clearly outmatched by their side. By the time Mattie subbed in at the 10-minute mark, they were already up 1-0.

Mattie's team was on defense when she came on, but Isabella stole the ball back quickly. She pushed the ball up the left flank and looked up to see Mattie flying up the right toward the opposing team's backline. Izzie booted the ball, well, and it looked like Mattie was going to get there before the defender, but when the ball came down, the defender went up for the header and Mattie moved to give her a wide berth. The second ball fell to another girl on the other team and they started to mount an attack again.

"She just needs to get a touch in," Tobin heard herself say.

Christen hummed in agreement.

In the next few minutes, Tobin thought she was wrong. Mattie got a few touches, but almost immediately gave the ball away, and shied away from making any runs on their end.

Just when Tobin heard Christen start to audibly worry, Mattie got the ball on the wing. She almost immediately dumped it off to Sophie, who had come in a minute before her, but this time she followed her pass through the middle of the pitch and Sophie layed the ball back off to her. There was one defender and a lot of open real estate between her and the goal, and Tobin could see her realize it, putting a touch on the ball like she forgot to be worried when the back of the net was available. She crossed over on the girl in front of her, leaving the poor girl looking as scared as Mattie had been a few minutes ago, and ripped a shot from the 18, spinning it off her foot so it curved into the top left corner of the goal.

Their whole little section yelled. Tobin and Christen both jumped from their seats. Mattie turned around with a huge smile on her face and found them on the sideline. Tobin sent her two thumbs up.

"Thank God," Tobin said when play resumed.

"C'mon," Christen said. "We just told her she doesn't have to score to make us happy."

"I don't care about the goal!" Tobin insisted. "I just—can you imagine the brooding that would've happened if she played the whole game that ball-shy? There aren't enough doors in the world to slam."

Christen laughed. "You're not funny."

"I'm just saying. I'm glad we avoided the angst."

Christen shook her head but smiled in agreement. Mattie's team won 4-1, and she scored another goal before it was over.

***

"Mattie, how much longer?" Sam asked.

Mattie looked at her phone and back out to where the stadium staff was getting the field ready. "Not too much longer. They should be coming out of there soon." She pointed to the tunnel from the locker rooms that the teams would emerge from. The warmup countdown clock had since stopped, so Mattie's only gauge to answer Sam's question was the official kickoff time.

Sam sighed and leaned into her, and she rested a hand on his hair. He had claimed his seat early next to hers, so Isabella and Sophie and the rest of her team sat in the rest of their row and the one behind them. Christen's parents sat directly in front of her, and Tyler and her family sat further down the row. Their box, like the rest of Banc of California, was nearly full. Mattie's teammates were pointing out celebrities in the other boxes around the stadium, though they had yet to spot either Justins Bieber or Timberlake.

"There they are!" He sat up and pointed to the US and Canadian starters filing out of the tunnel. Mattie had known Tobin and Christen were both starting since the morning, but she still got excited when they lined up and were announced. She was still somewhat nervous about the team's prospects after their performance against Brazil, but she was trying to remain positive.

Her worry only grew in the first 30 minutes of the game. Canada was dominating possession, mostly by beating the US on physicality. Isabella was enjoying yelling about all of the ref's calls (or more accurately, non-calls) that she took issue with, and Sam was mostly bored. Sophie's demeanor mostly mirrored what Mattie was feeling—that the game was starting to get away from them.

She almost turned away when Beckie played a direct ball into Sinc at the top of the box, which Sinc brought down and cut inside with, looking dangerous. Just when Mattie thought she was going to shoot, Sonnett closed her out and got the ball to squirt out onto the flank. Becky got there first, clearing the ball to the midfield line where Lindsey and Quinn went up for the header. Lindsey got higher but shanked the ball so it went nearly out of bounds before Tobin got to it. Tobin fed it up past Crystal, who took it behind the backline on the wing. Crystal crossed the ball to Christen, a little too far toward the end line to shoot, so Christen lofted a ball into Alex who one-timed it off her foot.

The stadium lit up with cheers and music started to play. Mattie stood and clapped and laughed as Sam jumped beside her in celebration. Christen's dad turned around to give everyone within reach high fives. Mattie still didn't think the US was playing their best football, but the momentum had shifted.

Her confidence grew when with a minute left in stoppage, Lindsey played a long ball from behind the midfield line to Christen just above the 18. Christen took the ball down, fluidly put it between Zadorsky's legs, and fired it into the back of the net.

"Mattie, did you see that?" Sam asked dramatically. "Mommy just went—" He imitated Christen's goal and made a bunch of noises to indicate intense action.

Mattie laughed. "Yeah, it was pretty cool, huh?"

Sam continued his admiration as the half wound down and the teams retreated to the locker room. Mattie was much more relaxed throughout the second half, especially once Tobin found Crystal for the third goal of the night. After that, Laura started to sub people off, starting with Christen.

"Honestly, I'm glad," her mom said, sighing. "She said her stitch was healed but if she took another hit..."

The score held at 3-0, despite the US continuing to knock on the door. Mattie was happy to accept another half hour of scoreless soccer for that result.

***

The mood in the locker room was light after the game. Rose and Lindsey had taken to badgering everyone who would listen that they needed to come out with them to celebrate Mal's 21st properly, despite many of them having early flights the next day.

"Why are you guys all so old!" Mal said when Alex conceded that she would maybe make an appearance for one drink. "Tobin, Christen. You guys are coming, right?"

"Nah, we brought our shit back to the house before the game", so we're going back tonight," Tobin explained. "Also, I think you've recruited all of our potential babysitters anyway."

"Ugh, boring." Mal rolled her eyes and sighed melodramatically. "I can't wait until Mattie has a fake ID so she can come party with us."

Tobin pointed sternly at her. "I know you're just trying to push my buttons, but...it's working. So stop."

Mal made eye contact with Christen behind Tobin and they started to laugh.

"Babe!" Tobin protested. "Don't encourage her!"

"I'm not!"

Tobin rolled her eyes and accepted her defeat. "Have fun tonight, Mal. Be safe."

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," Christen added.

Mal started to walk away to pester more of their teammates. "That leaves a lot of stuff!"

"I didn't say you shouldn't have fun!"

Tobin walked over and surveyed her locker. "Ready? I'm exhausted."

"Yeah, same."

"Ugh. I can't wait to finally have a morning where we can sleep in."

***

Beeep beep beep. 'Fire. Fire.'

Beeep beep beep. 'Fire. Fire.'

Christen thought the alarm was part of her dream and bolted awake in bed when she realized it wasn't.

Tobin turned over and sat up next to her, "Wha..."

"Is it coming from downstairs?"

Christen jumped out of bed and ran to Mattie's room and opened the door. She found the bed empty and unmade and turned around to find Tobin giving her a blank stare from the doorway of Sam's room. They both rushed down the stairs and followed the loud beeping all the way back into the kitchen. Christen burst into the room first and took in the scene before her. Sam was sitting on the counter with his hands over his ear and his face covered in chocolate. There was a frying pan on the stove with a half cooked pancake in it, and a pile of what she surmised was charred pancake batter on the stove. Mattie was waving a dishtowel at the smoke detector when they walked in but stopped to turn and look at them guiltily.

Tobin walked around her to open the windows, and Christen grabbed the sponge from the sink and wiped the charred batter into a paper towel to dump down the disposal. Tobin grabbed a chair from the island and climbed up on it to silence the alarm.

"Mattie..." Tobin said slowly, climbing down from the chair. "Is there a reason you needed to make pancakes this early?"

"You could've woken one of us up if you were hungry," Christen added as she began to wipe Sam's hands and face and really entire head with a wet paper towel. "I don't like you using the stove without one of us down here."

"No, you can't," Sam explained through Christen's efforts. "It's mommies' day so we have to make it and bring it to you while you're still asleep."

Christen and Tobin both turned to look at Mattie, who looked very upset that her surprise had been ruined.

"For mother's day?" Christen asked. "Mattie, you didn't have to—"

"I mean I just wanted—"

"It's really sweet. Thank you."

Tobin pulled her into a bear hug. "Thanks, Mattie!"

"Well now it's ruined," she said glumly.

Christen tried not to laugh at how sweet she found Mattie's sense of defeat.

"Go back upstairs!" Mattie demanded.

"And have to run back down when the fire alarm goes off again?" Tobin teased. "How about "

Mattie pouted.

"Hold on," Christen said, picking Sam up off the counter and handing him to Tobin. "I'll be right back."

She hustled to the stairs and started to take them two at a time until she realized how sore she was from the game. She climbed to the top more slowly, walked into her and Tobin's room, and gathered all the pillows and the comforter off their bed. She carried them downstairs and dumped them onto on side of the couch, pulled the cushions onto the floor and arranged the pillows and bedding so they could all fit. She walked back into the kitchen.

Tobin had the stove back on and was spraying the frying pan with Pam while Mattie watched.

"Okay, babe. We're not gonna help."

Tobin looked up at her questioningly and Christen motioned for her to follow into the living room. Tobin laughed when she saw the pillows and blankets. Mattie and Sam entered the room behind her.

"Are we making a fort?" Sam asked.

"Not quite a fort," Christen replied. "Just a breakfast-in-bed bed where we can still hear—and smell—everything that's going on in the kitchen."

Mattie looked over the arrangement and smiled. "This works," she said, turning back to the kitchen to return to her mission. Sam followed behind her as fast as he could manage.

Tobin smiled at her softly and moved to rest her hands on Christen's hips.

"Did you hear that?" Christen whispered. "'This works'? I feel so validated."

"Mom of the year award, for sure." Tobin grinned. She leaned in to kiss her. "C'mon." She pulled Christen over to the setup and down onto one of the cushions. They were barely settled in when Sam appeared in the doorway holding a mug with both hands.

"Sammy, what is that?"

"Your coffee."

"Do you need help?" Tobin asked, starting to stand up.

"No! You have to stay in bed!" he said, looking horrified.

"Okay, okay. I'm staying," she conceded.

Sam continued to shuffle towards them and Tobin edged to the absolute border of what could still be considered their 'bed.' Christen winced when a little of the contents of the mug spilled over the side. Finally, he was close enough for Tobin to reach out and take the coffee from him. She sipped a little off the top, then turned and gave it to Christen. Sam turned and skipped back toward the kitchen.

"Mattie," Tobin yelled. "Don't fill the next one up as much, I don't want him to spill."

"Okay!" she called back.

Sam continued to shuttle back and forth between the kitchen, bringing out the necessities for their breakfast. Eventually, Mattie emerged too, carrying a plate stacked with pancakes, and they all grabbed a plate and some food.

"Thank you, Mattie. And Sam." Christen said in between bites.

"Yeah, this is really good, guys. Thanks."

Mattie blushed. "I mean it's mother's day," she explained, clearing her throat slightly. "And, y'know, you're our moms so..."

Christen smiled at Tobin. "That we are."