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Unaltered

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As she sits in the holding room with the other athletes filling out paperwork and release forms, Christen can’t help but take a look around at these perfect humans surrounding her. All are slim, muscular, beautiful women; no doubt they are as genetically clean as they come. She tries to focus on her papers, biting her nails anxiously as she skims through liability clauses and so on.

 

Her mind wanders to how many coaches might show up to this open try-out. She knows several of the west coast teams are looking to fill multiple positions for midfielders and outside backs, but there are only a few coveted forward spots that remain unfilled. Christen knows this tryout might be the only one for the remainder of the season barring a catastrophic slew of injuries, but even then, this try out is essential in order to get her name out there and show the coaches and managers her best. Christen lets out an anxious sigh in an attempt to quell her nerves and gets back to her paperwork.

Several moments later, she sees someone sit a seat away from her out of the corner of her eye. The woman hunches over her paperwork, tapping her pen on the clipboard and shaking her leg nervously, causing the whole bench to shake beneath it. Christen turns her head to more fully regard the woman and watches her face. Her brows furrow in concentration and she gnaws on the inside of her cheek. The woman seems to sense that she’s being watched and meets Christen’s gaze, looking apologetic.

“Sorry, nervous habit.” She says as she places a hand to her knee to stop it’s wiggling.

“No that’s ok. I’m a nail biter.” Christen says, holding her hand up as evidence.

This elicits a small laugh from the brunette as her gaze returns to her paperwork. “So, you here for tryouts?” She asks as she scribbles something onto her paper.

Christen nods, “Yeah, it’s my first time. You?”

The woman bobs her head. “It’s not so bad, don’t worry.”

“You’ve done it before?” Christen asks quizzically

“Twice. I’m hoping third time’s a charm.” The woman answers with a determined smirk on her lips.

“Well good luck.” Christen says kindly.

“Thanks, I’ll need it.”

There’s beat of silence as they both return to their paperwork. The scribble of pens and echos of whistles fill the silence as Christen tries to concentrate on holding her pen in her sweaty hand.

“So which league are you trying out for?” The woman asks, cutting through the silence.

“Tier three” Christen answers simply.

The woman lets out a chuckle and clicks her tongue. “Ah, I should have guessed.”

“Why?” Christen asks suspiciously, wondering if she’s about to be insulted.

“You just have the look of an alt. Healthy, athletic, attractive; the perfect human specimen. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to be a compliment.” The woman waves dismissively into the air.

Christen relaxes her brow, but doesn’t quite know how to take this woman’s observation. She opts not to acknowledge it and moves on. “What about you? What league are you here for?”

“Same as you, tier three” she says with a wry smile, finally looking over to make eye contact with Christen. “Well don’t look so surprised. I may not look like your typical alt, but I’ve got some secrets up my sleeves, or I guess, pant legs.” She says with a laugh.

Again, Christen looks at the woman with confusion until the brunette lifts her pant leg up to reveal a mechanical ankle and calf whirring beneath. “I get alt status on a technicality. Bionics are kind of a gray area in alt law, so I figured I’d use it to my advantage and try out with the best of the best.” She reveals with a wry smile.

Christen tries to hide her intrigue, but the fact that she’s never met anyone with bionics was tickling her curiosity. “So how does that work?” She questions.

The woman sets down her clipboard and takes in a deep breath, obviously preparing for a lesson she’s given on numerous occasions. “Well, I’m not considered tier one unaltered because, clearly...”she motions toward her legs “...and bionics aren’t really performance enhancing drugs to be considered for tier two, which places me in tier three since I’ve permanently altered my biomechanics. Not exactly by choice but....” She  trails off toward the end.

**


Since congenital selective gene therapy had become common practice for most industrialized countries, parents everywhere have been working with “family planners” to help pick and choose which genetics they’d like to pass down to their children in order to optimize the child’s life outcome. Genes for increased motor functioning, muscle development, cognitive efficiency, and physical attributes are all preselected by parents to make the perfect child in their image. 

 

Although this procedure decreased genetic disorders and increased immunity to disease for the individual, there were obvious societal setbacks. Though many parents use it, genetic planning is still an expensive treatment that not all families can afford. Because of this, the gap between the haves and have-nots widened and civil unrest threatened the country. Eventually, the government had to instate anti-discrimination laws preventing employers from hiring alts over non-alts. As a result, a person’s alt status isn’t displayed on any identification document other than a birth certificate in order to prevent discrimination. This seemed to work for the most part, but there were still exceptions.

Sports leagues dodged this law, stating alts had an unfair advantage physically, and so a tiered system was put into place to “level the playing field.” Though they couldn’t explicitly exclude a player from competing in tiers based on genetics alone, it was generally understood that natural unaltered genetics falls into tier one, unaltered genetics with the use of performance enhancing drugs falls into tier two, and tier three included the best of the best: impressive genetics resulting from altered status. 

 

While this system appeared to level the playing field physically, it didn’t have the same outcome financially. Tier three alt leagues quickly took over due to stronger, faster play, and air-time and sponsorship soon followed. Unaltered leagues quickly took a back seat and became less desirable to play for due to poor funding, and many unaltered players soon tried sneaking their way onto tier three teams. 

 

Many unaltered players could beat the physical examination and fitness tests due to their trained athleticism, but could not beat the blood testing which looked at genetics. Some tried to trick the tests by switching out their blood for altered blood samples bought on the black market, but this rarely worked and athletes that were caught were barred from playing the sport in any tier as a result, and sometimes even jailed. 

 

While there’s technically no law preventing a genetically impressive unaltered from playing in tier three leagues, it’s generally frowned upon, and there are ways the league can retaliate if they feel inclined to do so. 

 

There are a lucky few unaltereds who manage to trick the genetics testing, not with blood-swapping, but due to naturally clean genetics. This breed of unaltered was rare, and unbeknownst to her, was what had enabled Christen to sit in the holding room for tier three tryouts now. 

 

While she’s never had her genetics formally tested, she knows she’s unaltered, and the impending  genetics testing is what has her nails bitten down to bloody stumps. Despite this, she’s got to at least give it a shot or she’ll forever wonder if she could have made it or not. 

 

**

Christen wanted to question the woman further, but as she opens her mouth to speak, a chime sounds and a voice calls for tier three athletes to report to the field.

“That’s us.” The woman says toward Christen as she moves to get up from her spot.

Christen watches as the woman confidently takes her first steps toward the field exit, but she stops suddenly in her tracks, looking down at her feet in a state of panic.

“No no, shit shit shit.” The woman curses, bending down to lift up her pant leg and inspect her mechanical leg.

Sensing her distress, Christen rushes over to her side, “What’s wrong? Are you ok?”

“Yeah I’m fine, it’s these stupid hydraulics.” The woman says through gritted teeth, smacking the metal in frustration. “I bought ‘em used and the stupid left calf gets stuck sometimes.”

“Can you fix it?” Christen asks, still unfamiliar with this type of situation.

“Yeah but I didn’t bring any grease with me. Shit, why didn’t I think of that.” She spits out, hitting her leg more forcefully this time.

Christen looks around the room, seeing most of the athletes turning in their paperwork and heading for the field. She doesn’t want to leave her new acquaintance, but she doesn’t know what more she can do for the woman. She doesn’t want to miss what could be her only chance at reaching her dream. 

 

Suddenly, a lightbulb goes off in her head and she starts rummaging through her bag. “I don’t have grease but would chapstick work?”

“I don’t know, but I’m willing to try anything.” The woman responds frantically.

She takes to tube from Christen, rubbing up and down a cylinder along the back of her calf and gives it a wiggle. The hydraulic shudders momentarily, but compresses, and the brunette lets out a laugh of relief. “Oh my god, I can’t believe that worked! Thank you thank you thank you!”

She stands up pulling Christen into an unexpected bear hug, lifting her up off the ground. “It’s no big deal, really.” Christen manages to get out in a somewhat strangled response.

“No, I owe you big time. How can I pay you back?” The woman asks genuinely as they start jogging over toward the field.

“How about going easy on me in tryouts?” Christen suggests, only half kidding.

“Not a chance, but let me buy you lunch or something after this is all over.” She says after handing over her paperwork to one of the officials.

“Yeah ok.” Christen responds, stepping onto the field together. “How about you tell me your name too.”

“Tobin”

“Christen”

A wide grin takes over Tobin’s lips as their hands meet in a strong shake.

“Good luck Christen.”

“Good luck Tobin.”

****

The try out starts off simply enough. The athletes are divided into groups and sent to different stations to assess their skills. Christen easily goes through familiar dribbling drills and stumbles a bit through some one on one defending. But when she gets to the shooting drills, her confidence swells, knowing this is where she’ll shine. She shoots ball after ball, placing balls precisely in the corners with such pace, the back of the net is left rippling. This gains her some dirty looks from other athletes, but this only serves to bolster her confidence, knowing that she had intimidated them.

Once ball skills are assessed, it’s on to fitness. The athlete’s speed, agility, strength, endurance, reflexes, and balance are all individually assessed and by the end of the session, Christen’s body is crying out for rest. However, there’s one final test the athletes are to be put through, the one Christen has been dreading.

Christen is ushered into a sterile-looking room and sits down on the cushioned table covered in paper. A nurse joins her with a tray of needles and empty glass vials.

“Hello dear, I’m Marsha. We’re just gonna have a look at your vitals and nip some blood from ya for the genetics testing.” She says in a cheery British accent.

Christen swallows audibly and nods her head in understanding.

“Nothing to be worried about dear. Just try to relax. Wouldn’t want your blood pressure results looking high!” She says with a chuckle, wrapping up Christen’s arm to take her vitals.

After a few moments, Marsha jots down some numbers in what Christen assumes is her file and removes the cuff from her arm. She takes a quick listen through a stethoscope on Christen’s chest and hums lightheartedly. “Ok, so far so good. Your heart sounds healthy as they come. Now this is the part everybody hates. Part of the process though, unavoidable really. If you could just stick out your arm and we’ll get this over with as quickly as we can.”

Christen remains silent but does as she’s told, holding out her arm to receive the needle she knows is coming.  She feels a light prick and the empty vials quickly fill with blood. Christen closes her eyes and says a silent prayer, hoping the blood in those vials won’t betray her and reveal what she’s tried so hard to hide.

“All done my dear. They should be calling you with results in the next several days, so try not to fret too much about it love. Now, if you would, the exit is right through this door here, down the corridor to your left. Hope to be seeing you again!”

“Thank you.” Christen manages to squeak out before she disappears behind the door.

In the long empty hallway, she lets out a deep breath and runs her hands over her face. She says a silent payer to whatever astral being might be listening, praying that her genetics are good enough to keep her in the running. 

 

Her footsteps echo through the dimly lit hall until she reaches the exit to the building where she’s blinded by sunlight once more. As her eyes adjust to the light, she notices a familiar face.

“Hey, how’d it go?” Tobin asks

“Hey. It was alright.” Christen responds vaguely, unsure as to how much she should reveal.

“See, I told you it wasn’t so bad. So what do you say, you wanna go get something to eat and let me repay you for earlier?” Tobin asks.

“Sure, I could eat.”

Tobin claps her hands together. “Alright, I know the perfect place, it’s right around the block. Follow me.”

The somewhat brooding sarcasm that the brunette seemed to have earlier has all but disappeared, and Christen notices that Tobin is in much better spirits as she whistles along to the pep in her step.

Christen has to jog a little to catch up with Tobin’s enthusiastic pace “So how did it go for you? You think third time was a charm?”

Tobin nods confidently “Oh definitely. One of the coaches from LAFC was there and I know he’s been scouting me all season in Europe. He’s really open minded so I think I have a pretty good shot this year.”

“Oh, did you play in Europe?” Christen asks, taken aback by all the new information that seems to be pouring out of the brunette.

“Yeah, for a few years. Their professional league isn’t divided into tiers like ours. It’s performance-based so alts and unalts play together. Granted, there are still more alts generally, but it at least gives a chance for unalts to reach the same level of success and it makes my situation a non-issue. Plus, you don’t have to get you blood drawn to get your GPI and shit.” She says with a shiver. “I hate needles.”

Christen laughs at her display of disgust “Yeah me too. Wait...GPI? What’s that? I knew they tested for genetics, is that part of it?”

Tobin lets out a scoff as she opens the door to the sandwich shop and ushers Christen inside. “It stands for ‘genetic potential index’.” She explains with sarcastic air quotes. “It’s bullshit if you ask me. It’s just a way to keep unalts out of the top tier.”

She pauses to place her order and lets Christen do the same. They find a booth to sit in and wait for their food to be delivered.

“What’s it supposed to do?” Christen asks, trying to keep all this jargon straight “Sorry, I’m new to all this stuff.”

“No it’s totally fine. Most people don’t know about the GPI testing process, and I don’t think the leagues really wants people to know about it either.” Tobin takes a sip of her drink before continuing. 

 

“Supposedly the GPI testing maps out an athlete’s genetics so you can see what their athletic potential is and then predict if they’re injury prone, or if they’ll be able to maintain muscle mass, or endurance, or whatever. It calculates it into a nice clean number out of ten. Mine generally hovers around a seven. Not bad for an unaltered, but most alts are mid to high nines and I’ve seen a few tens out there. Perfect specimens.”

Their food arrives and Christen takes a big bite of her sandwich, chewing as she mulls over this information. She swallows her bite before continuing the discussion. “But genetics isn’t the only thing that makes a good player.”

Tobin lets out a knowing chuckle and nods along. “And there in lies the debate. Sports clubs are run like a business and any business owner will tell you it’s all about making smart investments. The idea is that an alt’s performance and growth is more predictable because of their genetics and therefore, easier to track and manage. Unalts are too unreliable in their eyes, aka, not a good investment, so we don’t get picked up too often. Too much of a liability.”

“Well you seem to be doing ok for yourself.” Christen motions toward Tobin.

“Yeah, I’m kind of a special case I guess.” Tobin looks down at her remaining food, pushing it around her plate before eventually changing the subject. “So this’ll be the first time you get your GPI right.”

 

Christen shrugs, “Yeah I guess.”

 

“Nervous?” Tobin asks, popping a chip into her mouth.

 

“Kinda.” Christen says with another shrug.

 

“Don’t be, you’re good. You could have a GPI as low as mine and I bet they’d take you in a second. I saw you during the shooting drill. That’s got nothing to do with genetics, that’s talent. Where’d you learn to shoot like that?” Tobin inquires eagerly.

 

“Just lots of practice. I’ve always wanted to score goals so I just practice my shot all the time.”

 

“Oh you’ll score plenty of goals, I’m pretty sure of that.” Tobin says confidently, pushing her empty plate away from her and leaning back in the booth. 

 

Christen smiles graciously and wipes her hands before tossing the balled up napkin onto her plate. “I’m stuffed. Thanks, that was great.”

 

“Yeah, of course. Hey, maybe we’ll get drafted to the same team so this can be a regular thing.” Tobin adds.

 

“Oh, so would that mean I’ll be getting free lunches from you the whole season then?” Christen asks with a cheeky grin.

 

“Ha, nice try. We’re still female athletes. The pay isn’t that great.” They share a bitter laugh and roll their eyes together at the injustice. 

 

As they exit the restaurant, Tobin pulls out her phone. “But seriously, let me know how the draft goes and where you end up. It’ll be nice to have someone to talk soccer with that speaks decent English finally.”

 

“Yeah definitely. And let me know how yours turns out when you know.” Christen types her number into Tobin’s contact list, handing it back to Tobin. 

 

“Yeah definitely.” Tobin inspects the new contact and locks her phone to slide it into her pocket. “I’ll talk to you later. Good luck.”

 

“You too.” Christen shouts to the woman who had already made it halfway across the parking lot. 

 

Christen smiles to herself as she makes her way to her own vehicle, excited at the prospect of what the future might hold for her. 

 

****

 

The next several days go by at a painstakingly slow pace. Christen tries to occupy her mind every way she knows how, but she can’t help it from wandering to the anxious thoughts of what might come from the tryouts. Then, as she’s stress-cleaning the dust from the forgotten corners of her house, her phone vibrates in her pocket, causing her to jump. 

 

She answers “Hello?” 

 

“Hi Christen? I’m Julie with the tier three NWSL gaming commission. Do you have a few minutes to chat?”

 

Christen sets down her cleaning supplies and takes a seat in the nearest arm chair. “Yeah, of course. Is everything ok?”

 

She hears a chuckle from the other end. “Actually, that’s why I’m calling. Your results from tryouts have been processed and I’d say everything looks more than ok. I think the coaches agree with me too.”

 

Christen remains silent, confused by what Julie’s getting at. She continues “I’ve just emailed you your results too, but I wanted to speak to you personally and get a sense of what you’re thinking.”

 

Christen nods absentmindedly against the phone. “Ok...”

 

“So as far as your genetics testing goes, your GPI is decent, a 9.2. A little lower than what we’re used to seeing for a tier three athlete, but still impressive. Good propensity for muscle fatigue recovery and resistance to injury which, as you know, is very important in this league if you want to stay relevant.”

 

“Also good fast-twitch muscle fiber development and maintenance- a plus for a forward like you- and excellent symmetry in skeletal and muscular development. You’re a regular Kentucky Derby racehorse I’d say.” The woman lets out a chuckle on the other end as Christen tries to sort through this information and determine what it means. 

 

“But that’s not what caught the eye of the coaches. Your fitness testing was fantastic. Excellent reflexes, speed, and agility, but your ball skills are what the coaches are most intrigued by. They’re very interested in how their clubs could benefit from your shooting strength and accuracy.”

 

Christen finally interjects “I’m sorry, you keep saying ‘coaches’. Did I..did I get drafted?”

 

Another knowing laugh comes through the other end of the phone. “Oh, ha, actually we have a bit of a bidding war happening over you, which is why I’m calling. This doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, we like to hear the athlete’s thoughts or preferences for teams. We want to make our future stars as happy as possible.”

 

“Future stars...” Christen mutters under her breath. 

 

Julie continues “So currently, Utah, Portland, and LA are very interested in picking you up. All three are great clubs, very good atmospheres. And I’m sure you know, Portland’s coming off a championship year so they’re looking to increase their firepower up top to keep that going. And Utah and LA are both up and coming programs as well. Lots of exciting talent there. You really can’t go wrong with any of these teams.”

 

“Uh huh...” Christen says weakly.

 

“Well, I’m sure you’re a little overwhelmed with all this information. I’ll give you the day to mull it over, but let us know by tomorrow if you have a preference for where you end up. We’re finalizing trades and draft picks in the next few days and we want to make sure you’re in the right place. My number is in the email I sent you, so feel free to contact me with any questions or decisions.”

 

“Ok, thank you.”

 

“I look forward to hearing from you. Oh, and welcome to the NWSL.”

 

The line goes dead and Christen slides the phone from her ear into her lap, overwhelmed with the rather one-sided conversation. And then, as it all dawns on her at once, she shoots from her chair, bouncing around her living room, beaming.

 

“Yes Yes Yes YEEEEESSSS!” She shouts into her empty living room. She spins in place, unsure what to do with pure joy pouring from her. She’d done it, she made it. Her dream was finally realized. She’s never felt this sense of relief and elation. 

 

But now what?

 

Three teams in the league want her. Christen wasn’t prepared to have to make a decision about where she plays. Most players get picked up and ship off to wherever they’re told, just happy to be playing at all. Christen doesn’t know what to do in these circumstances. She goes through her internal rolodex of people or past teammates she could call to consult, but the person she lands on isn’t her oldest, most trusted confidant. She needs someone with experience in this realm. 

 

“Hello?” 

 

Christen hears Tobin croak out her greeting. “Sorry, did I wake you up?” 

 

“No, I mean, yeah kinda. I was just napping. What’s up?”

 

But before Christen has a chance to answer, Tobin’s brain clicks into action. “Oh shit, did you get it? Did you you get drafted?”

 

“I’m—yeah, kinda. Actually I kinda need your advice. I haven’t talked to anyone else but I figured you might be able to help. Three teams want to draft me and—“

 

“Three teams!! Christen holy shit! Oh my god! Which teams?” She shouts excitedly over the phone. 

 

“Uh, Portland, Utah, and LA.” Christen divulges.

 

“Oh wow. Wow, that’s awesome. They’re all really good teams. Super professional, good fan bases. Oh my gosh. What are you going to do? Do you just get to pick?” Tobin asks in disbelief.

 

“I don’t know. Julie made it sound like I at least have a say in it.”

 

“Julie, as in commissioner Julie Foudy? Christen, I don’t think you understand how big this is is you have the commissioner calling a first-time rookie. They must have big plans for you. I mean, I don’t blame them, but still. Wow.”

 

Christen’s glad Tobin can’t see the blush creeping onto her cheeks at the sound of Tobin gushing. She clears her throat “Yeah I mean, that’s kinda why I need your advice. Seems like you have a pretty good idea about the inner-working of the league. I just know what I see on tv and social media, but I figured you may have some insight.”

 

There’s a pause on the line and just when Christen thinks she lost Tobin, she starts in. “Well, they’re all really good teams. They play completely different styles, but by the sound of it, seems like they’re willing to change their style based on your play.”

 

She continues “I don’t know. I’ve heard the coach in Portland can play favorites which is great if you’re the favorite, but if you’re not, it can be tough. Utah is young, so lots of potential there, but the owner can be erratic. He’s known to trade players mid-season and sometimes micromanages and doesn’t let the coach do their job. And LA. Personally, I love the LA team. Their philosophy and playing style is really laid back and all the players there always have great things to say about the coaching staff and the atmosphere there. That’s where I’m hoping to end up, but we’ll see.”

 

Her tone becomes melancholic as she finishes her train of thought. Christen picks up on this and frowns to herself. “Don’t worry, Julie said they’re finalizing trades and draft selections in the next few days. You still have time. I’m sure you’ll get picked up.”

 

“Yeah, lets hope so.” She says with a quiet resolve. “So tell me what you’re thinking. Any teams you’re leaning toward?”

 

Christen pauses, trying to capture her thoughts and put them into words. “Well, I know Portland is kind of the place to be right now, but I kind of like the idea of building up with a team. Less pressure you know?”

 

“Yeah that makes sense. So Utah or LA then?” Tobin questions.

 

“Yeah I guess. I don’t know, you make LA sound pretty great. Seems like a good team.”

 

“And who knows, maybe I’ll be there too.” Tobin teases.

 

Christen smiles at this. “Yeah, I really hope so.”

 

Silence falls between them as neither are quite sure what to say. Finally, Tobin clears her throat to relieve the tension. “Well, sounds like you have a lot to think about. I’ll let you go. I’m sure you have other people you want to talk to about this.”

 

“Oh, uh yeah I guess I should call my family and stuff.” Christen reasons.

 

This earns a chuckle from Tobin “You haven’t called you’re family?” She asks in disbelief.

 

“What?” Christen whines defensively. “They don’t know shit about the league. I had questions I needed answered.”

 

Tobin laughs again “Alright, well glad to be of service then.”

 

Christen smiles against the phone. “Yeah, thank you. And let me know when you get drafted so we can go celebrate.” She emphasizes.

 

“Yeah ok. Good luck superstar. Make good decisions!” Tobin teases.

 

“Ok bye.” Christen hangs up, still chuckling.

 

***

 

Later that night, Christen gets a text message as she’s laying awake in bed ruminating about her looming decision.

 

Tobin: I didn’t get a phone call from the commissioner, but I got the email! LAFC here I come!

 

Christen squints at the bright screen and smiles widely as she types out her response.

 

Christen: Congratulations!!!! See, I knew you’d make it. 

 

Tobin: Thanks! So will I have a familiar face to look for on the team?

 

Christen: I don’t know, guess you’ll have to wait and see...

 

Tobin: I promise to send you the most beautiful crosses you’ve ever seen if you come to LA.

 

Christen: Tempting offer.

 

Tobin: Sleep on it and keep me posted. I need to know if I should start preparing to play with you or against you. 

 

Christen: Ok I will. Night

 

Tobin: Night

 

Christen locks her phone and rests it on her chest, happy that she has someone to share this nerve wracking experience with. She closes her eyes briefly, but knows that sleep won’t find her until she bites the bullet and makes a decision. She picks up her phone and goes to her emails to respond to Julie, giving her decision of where she’d like to play. It feels impulsive to make such an important decision at 1:00 am, but once the email is sent, a weight lifts from her chest and Christen is finally able to drift off to sleep.

 

The next morning, Christen’s woken abruptly by her phone violently vibrating on her nightstand over and over. Still in a sleepy haze, Christen rubs her eyes and picks up her phone to silence the alarm she doesn’t remember setting. But when she looks at her screen, text after text keeps rolling in along with a slew of missed calls. She opens her phone to sift through this mess and try to figure out what could have caused all this commotion. She opens a text from her mom first 

 

Mom: Congratulations honey! Im so proud of you! And you’ll be close to home!

 

Christen scrolls through several other texts from friends and family members before coming to the conclusion that her selection must have been finalized earlier this morning. 

 

As she clicks through links sent to her, sure enough, her face is plastered across women’s soccer websites. She seems to be the talk of the draft this year. 

 

“Stand out rookie, Christen Press, stunned coaches and owners alike with her impressive genetic profile and even more impressive ball skills. Press is predicted to be a key attacking force for LA this year, who was lucky enough to pick her up for her debut season...”

 

She shakes her head at the absurdity of it all. 

 

Christen spends most of the morning responding to texts and calling back family members to answer their questions as best as she can. Later that afternoon, she smiles as she gets another text from her newest friend and teammate.

 

Tobin: So did you dream of putting away perfect crosses all night? Is that what sealed the deal for ya?

 

Christen: Might have swayed me a little. 

 

Tobin: Could I sway you into going out for a celebratory drink tonight?

 

Christen bites her lip, her fingers hovering over the keyboard of her phone as she weighs her options. She really should go and get to know her new teammate, but after answering texts and making phone calls all day, she’s not sure she’s up for it. Before she can offer an excuse to get her out of it, her phone vibrates again with a new text.

 

Tobin: You’re the one who said we should celebrate ;)

 

Christen smiles and rolls her eyes, caving to Tobin’s goading.

 

Christen: I did say that didn’t I? Ok what did you have in mind?

 

Tobin: I haven’t actually gotten that far, but I’ll send you the place once I figure it out.

 

Christen. Ok, let me know. I’ll see you tonight.

 

***

 

Several more hours of answering emails and conference calls with coaches and front office staff, Christen is as exhausted as she predicted. She feels like she couldn’t possibly absorb any more information, and her throat is starting to feel scratchy from answering questions all afternoon. 

 

Just as she falls into the couch and closes her eyes to rest, her phone goes off yet again. She lets out a frustrated groan and pulls her phone from her pocket, expecting yet another phone call from training staff. 

 

She lets out a relieved sigh as she sees Tobin’s name on the caller ID instead and answers immediately.

 

“You have no idea how happy I am you aren’t another front office person calling to ask for my social security number again.” Christen sighs.

 

Tobin laughs on the other end. “Lucky you! No, my questions are more fun than that.”

 

“What are your questions?” Christen asks playfully.”

 

“Well, for starters, are you still up for that drink?”

 

“I could use a couple actually.” Christen laughs despite herself.

 

Christen can hear Tobin smiling into the phone as she responds. “Ok, well there’s this place I had in mind. I’ve only been there a couple times, but it’s pretty chill. Good beer, strong mixed drinks. I don’t know if you’re more of a beer or liquor kind of girl...”

 

“I’ll take either at this point.” Christen remarks dryly.

 

“Alright cool. I’ll text you the bar’s address and I’ll meet you there, say, in an hour?” Tobin proposes.

 

Christen nods to herself. “Yeah that sounds good. I’ll see you in a bit.”

 

“Ok cool. See you soon.” 

 

“Bye.” Christen says, hanging up.

 

She breathes out deep sigh as she mentally prepares herself for the night. Ok, I need to shower, then hair and makeup. I wonder how nice this place is. She said it’s laid back so probably not super fancy. Maybe I can wear that new top I just got. That would be cute with those distressed jeans. I hope I don’t say something embarrassing or run out of things to talk about. She’s pretty easy to talk to though, and the alcohol will help....

 

Forty five minutes later, Christen sits in the back of her uber on her way to the address Tobin sent her. It’s only about ten minutes from her apartment, so it isn’t long before the car stops in front of an unassuming building that looks more like somebody’s house than a bar. She slides out of the back seat and walks up toward the front door, somewhat apprehensively. 

 

When she enters, she sees that she must be in the right place. There’s a long bar to her left with beer taps lining the wall and plenty of booths and tables littering the rest of the open floor plan. As she looks around, she sees no sign of Tobin yet, so she makes her way to the bar to order a drink and kill a few minutes before Tobin gets there. 

 

Sipping her beer at the bar, she watches a group of women around her age outside on the back patio area playing horseshoes and other games in the yard. She sees the flash of a glowing smile and locks eyes with the brunette as she watches the look of familiarity wash over Tobin’s face. Tobin turns to another woman to tell her something and heads into the bar, making her way over toward Christen.

 

“Superstar! What’s up?” Tobin asks, pulling Christen into a crushing hug.

 

Christen stumbles a bit, unprepared for this show of affection. “Uh, good. I just got here. Have you been here long?” She questions, smelling the alcohol lingering on Tobin’s breath.

 

“Oh, I came a little early with some of the girls. You don’t have too much catching up to do.” She winks toward Christen. “Come on, we’re out back. I’ll introduce you.” Tobin takes Christen’s hand, pulling her toward the exit outside.

 

Christen’s heart sinks a little, having thought it would be just her and Tobin going out for drinks. She attempts to give herself a pep talk in the brief walk through the bar. This is fine, it’s probably good that you’re meeting other teammates. She can’t be your only friend on the team. She thinks briefly about how sweaty her hand is in Tobin’s and hopes the woman doesn’t notice. Tobin’s grasp is firm and she can feel the callouses on her palm, no doubt from hours in the weight room.  

 

“Hey guys, this is Christen. Christen, this Lindsey, Kelley, and Sonnett.” 

 

The women wave at her with a smattering of “Heys” and “Sups”.

 

“Oh! Are you the Christen?”

 

Christen’s brow furrows in confusion as she opens her mouth to respond, but before she can, Tobin cuts her off. 

 

“Yeah! You guys should have seen her in tryouts. Killer shot.” Tobin says, offering Christen a smile.

 

“Nice! Golden child!” Sonnet exclaims.

 

“Oh, I don’t know...” Christen starts, but is quickly interrupted.

 

“Yeah I read somewhere they’re gonna try and make you the new face of the franchise or something. No pressure right?” Kelley interjects.

 

Lindsey gestures toward Christen, “I mean, it’s a good face. Look at her, what are you, like, a perfect ten GPI? I bet that’s what’s got them creaming their pants.”

 

The rapid fire questioning has Christen’s mind swirling, trying to keep up with the inquisition occurring before her. Luckily Tobin steps in to offer some relief from the interrogation.

 

Tobin throws a protective arm around her shoulder. “Guys, chill out. She just got here. Let her drink in peace.” She offers Christen a squeeze of reassurance on her arm for which Christen is thankful.

 

The women grumble but grant Tobin’s request, and they go back to their game of horseshoes, resigned to draw this information out of Christen at some later date.

 

Tobin shakes her head to herself, watching her friends briefly before turning back to Christen. “Sorry. They can be intense sometimes but they’re actually really nice, I promise. I think they’re all just a little excited.”

 

“No, it’s fine. I still have lots of questions too.” Christen jokes.

 

“You wanna go sit?” Tobin points toward an open table under the patio awning.

 

“Sure.” Christen shrugs, following Tobin as they go to sit several yards away from Christen’s new acquaintances. 

 

“So, how long have you been in LA?” Tobin asks. 

 

Christen guesses this is an attempt to divert the conversation away from soccer, which she gladly goes along with. “I actually grew up right outside of LA and went to school at Stanford, but moved into LA proper a few years ago after I graduated. I can’t bring myself to leave California you know?” She explains. “What about you?”

 

“I actually grew up on the east coast but I got sick of the brutal winters, so once I graduated high school, I packed up everything I owned and drove to LA to see if I could make it onto any of the west coast teams.” Tobin sips her beer, her eyes darting over sporadically toward the horse shoe game nearby.

 

“How’d that go?” Christen asks, taking a gulp of beer.

 

Tobin shrugs. “Clearly not how I intended it.” She says with a bitter laugh. “No one wanted me because I wasn’t a true alt. I’d make it onto practice teams, but never the full team. A couple years of shuffling around different organizations, I got an offer to play in Europe and I took it. I needed the money and I was sick of not getting playing time.” 

 

They both wince as Kelley barely dodges out of the way from an errant horseshoe launched in by Sonnett. Christen turns her attention back to Tobin as she continues. “Europe was good for me. I finally got playing time and started having fun again.”

 

“So why’d you move back?” Christen inquires.

 

“Actually the coach from LA contacted me and convinced me to give try outs one last shot. So I came back, and here we are.” She says definitively.

 

“Was it hard to leave?” Christen asks sympathetically.

 

“Yeah, of course. I met some good people over there. I’m definitely going to miss them, but luckily I have some good friends here too. We all met playing for practice teams and they ended up getting called up while I was in Europe.” Tobin motions toward the group. “It’s crazy how it all worked out.”

 

Christen nods along as they both sip on their beers in silence. More people mill around the patio area and Christen watches idly as several moments quietly pass between them. 

 

The moment is suddenly broken when a man somewhere around their age approaches their table. “Hey, I’m Brett. I don’t want to intrude, but me and my buddy over there were wondering if you wanted to join us for a drink.”

 

Christen regards the guy. He’s casually dressed and his smile seems genuine as he looks between the women, waiting for their answer. Tobin looks to Christen, asking for for her response with a raise of her brows. 

 

Christen takes the signal to respond. “Uh, that’s ok, we’re actually here with a group of friends, but thanks for asking though. Enjoy those drinks.” She rambles out, hoping she’d read Tobin’s cues correctly and given the right response. 

 

The guy takes the hint gracefully and moves on, going back to his friend a few tables over.

 

“Not your type?” Tobin asks once he’s out of earshot.

 

“No, not really...” Christen responds vaguely, unsure how much to divulge about her romantic preferences to her new teammate. 

 

“Yeah me neither.” Tobin says, finishing off her beer with a slight chuckle to herself. “He’s got one too many Y chromosomes if you know what I mean.” She says with a wry grin.

 

Christen lets out a laugh of relief, glad to know she’s in like-minded company, letting Tobin know as much. “Oh thank god I’m not the only one.”

 

“No shit?” Tobin looks genuinely surprised. “You’re just full of surprises Press”

 

Christen could have sworn she saw Tobin’s eyes wander down the length of her body at that comment, but she can’t be sure. Still, she lets herself feel the slight boost of confidence from the brunettes eyes sweeping over her, regardless of their intentions. 

 

“Well it sounds like we need to cheers to a couple of things. Wait here, I’ll be right back.” Tobin quickly shoots up from the table and darts inside, leaving Christen to her own devices.

 

She takes out her phone that had been buzzing with notifications during her conversation with Tobin. She had ignored it while she was getting to know her new teammate, but now that she was alone for a few minutes, she takes the opportunity to sift through the texts. 

 

Suddenly her stomach drops and the blood seems to leave her limbs as her eyes land on a message from the one person she thought she’d left behind for good.

 

Unknown Number: Do they know what you are?

 

“Hey, you ok? You look like you’re gonna throw up or something.” Tobin asks, standing beside her with shots in hand.

 

Christen shakes her head as if to physically wipe away the thoughts from her head. “Yeah, yeah I’m fine. It’s just a lot to take in you know? I’m not used to this.”

 

Tobin sits down, sliding a glass toward Christen. “I know. It’s weird suddenly having all this attention on you. That’s why you’ve gotta keep the friends you can trust close.”

 

Christen nods at Tobin’s sage advice. “Can I trust you?” She asks, only half-joking.

 

Tobin’s demeanor shifts and becomes more serious. She adjusts in her seat, making sure to make eye contact with Christen. “I’ll never let anything or anyone hurt you, ok? You can count on that.”

 

Christen nods in understanding, smiling weakly at Tobin. 

 

Tobin shifts again, quickly reverting back to her lighthearted mood. “Now lets make a toast.” She lifts her glass, gesturing for Christen to lift hers as well. “To conquering the league and then then the world!”

 

“Here here!” Christen says with a laugh, clinking her glass to Tobin’s.

 

They both tilt their heads back, letting the liquor burn down their throats into their stomach where it dulls to a slight warming. 

 

Just as the shudder down her back subsides, Kelley, Sonnett, and Lindsay approach the table with a look of betrayal in their eyes.

 

“You did a toast without us! What the fuck!” Sonnett cries at the injustice.

 

“Sorry Sonny.” Tobin says half-heartedly. “You can always get us more shots and do your own toast.” 

 

“Yeah, I think I will!” Sonnett storms off dramatically to retrieve more shots.

 

“What are we toasting to?” Kelley asks, forcing her way onto the chair with Tobin.

 

“Our new superstar.” Tobin answers, looking right at Christen with a cheeky grin.

 

“How about to new teammates?” Christen suggests, trying to divert attention away from herself. 

 

“How about finally beating Portland in the playoffs.” Lindsey offers sarcastically.

 

Sonnett returns to the table with a collection of shots on her hands. “How about to getting lucky this season.”

 

“Gross Sonnett. We don’t want to hear about your sex life!” Lindsey snickers

 

“I didn’t mean it like that smart-ass. Someone must have their mind in the gutter.” She shoots back.

 

Tobin interjects to break up the bickering. “No, I like that. To getting lucky, in whatever capacity that means for you.” 

 

This seems to appease everyone and they raise their glasses together, “To getting lucky!” They chant in unison, shooting back the alcohol together in an act of solidarity.

 

***

 

They eventually pull up more chairs to the table as the bar continues to get more crowded. Christen starts feeling more relaxed as she listens to her new teammates talk and poke fun at each other. She gets to know them through little snippets here and there, and learns that Sonnett’s first name is actually Emily. By the time Christen feels her body tingling from the alcohol coursing through her, the bartender shouts last call over the noise, effectively wrapping up everyone’s night.

 

The group gets up and settle their individual tabs at the bar, congregating in the parking lot outside to say their final farewells to each other. Sonnett and Kelley leave together in Kelley’s car, and Lindsey had smartly ordered her uber while waiting to close her tab, so her ride is waiting outside as they exit the bar. This leaves Tobin and Christen alone together once more.

 

Christen turns toward Tobin. “Thanks for inviting me out. I’m glad I got to meet some of the other girls and get to know them a little bit.” 

 

“What, you weren’t glad to get to know me a little better?” Tobin pokes sarcastically.

 

Christen rolls her eyes with a smile “And I’m very glad I got to know you better too.” She says dramatically 

 

This seems to appease Tobin and she smiles, looking out into the parking lot with her hands in her pockets. “Did you drive here?” Tobin asks.

 

“No, I still need to order a ride actually.” Christen pulls out her phone to find the app.

 

“Where do you live? I could drive you if it’s close.” 

 

Christen points vaguely down the road. “Regency Park. It’s apartments like ten minutes away—“

 

Tobin cuts her off in her excitement “You live at Regency? I live at Regency too!”

 

Christen narrows her eyes skeptically “Ok, you’re fucking with me right?”

 

Tobin shakes her head. “No, I promise. I’m in building 12.”

 

“19” Christen states, still not entirely sure Tobin isn’t pulling her leg

 

Tobin chuckles in disbelief “That’s crazy. Well come on, I’ll drive you back neighbor.”

 

Christen follows Tobin to her car, sliding in and buckling her seatbelt. “You sure you’re ok to drive?”

 

Tobin shifts the car into drive and turns out of the parking lot. “Yeah I’m fine. I didn’t drink as much as you and Sonnett. She tends to go overboard, especially when she’s trying to impress Kelley.”

 

“Oh, are they, like, a thing?” Christen asks curiously.

 

“You didn’t hear it from me, but rumor has it they’ve hooked up a few times and Sonnett wants to actually date Kelley, but Kelley’s dragging her feet. I told her she needs to make a decision one way or another. She can’t just keep leading Sonny on, it’s not fair.” Tobin explains, her eyes focused on the road.

 

“Huh.” It’s all Christen can get out before Tobin starts up again 

 

“You must be able to hold your liquor better than Sonnett. You don’t seem very drunk.”

 

“Yeah, I’ve always kinda had a high tolerance. It’s great sometimes, but sucks when I actually want to get drunk.” Christen remarks.

 

“Must be those great genetics of yours.” Tobin comments flippantly. “Speaking of which, did you find out your GPI?”

 

“Yeah, it’s a 9.2.” Christen says 

 

Tobin just hums in response.

 

“What, is that bad or something?” Christen asks, unable to read Tobin’s response.

 

“No, no it’s not bad. I just would have expected yours was higher. I was sure you were a perfect ten.” Tobin breaks her gaze from the road to look over at Christen. For the second time that night, Christen can’t decipher if the glimmer of flirtation in Tobin’s gaze is all in her head or not.

 

Christen decides against reading too much into it and breaks their gaze to look out through the windshield as their apartment complex comes into view.

 

“I’m in building 19.” 

 

Christen watches from the corner of her eye as Tobin’s gaze returns back to the road “I know, I remember.” 

 

They weave through the apartment complex until they come upon Christen’s building. Tobin pulls up alongside it and throws the car into park. “Here we are superstar.”

 

“Are you going to call me that all season?” Christen asks with feigned annoyance.

 

“Depends on if you live up to it or not.” Tobin jabs playfully. 

 

Christen slides out of the car, leaning against the open door. “Well thanks for the ride. I guess we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other, neighbor.”

 

“I hope so. I’ll be around if you ever need some sugar.” Christen looks at her, her lips parting in a mischievous smirk. “For baking. Calm down Press” Tobin says with a laugh.

 

Christen scoffs, trying to hide the blush creeping up her neck. “See you at practice.”

 

She shuts the door and heads up to her apartment. Tobin toots the horn, bidding her farewell, and drives off to her own apartment several buildings down.

Chapter Text

The first day of practice is daunting to say the least. Christen meets her coach before practice so she can officially welcome her to the team and give Christen a tour of the facilities. Christen’s eyes scan the locker room, training room, weight room, each one more impressive than the next. She’d never been in a place like this, let alone been part of an organization that provided it to her. College was the closest reference she had, but it pales in comparison.  

 

Alone in the locker room, she runs her fingers over the freshly printed jersey hanging in her locker, feeling the fabric between her fingers. She ponders to herself, still in disbelief, about how she got here. What divine power had allowed her to beat the odds and make it this far. How had she seemingly fooled everyone into thinking she’s something more than she is. 

 

The echo of a door closing reverberates somewhere behind Christen, and her solitary reflection is broken. Startled from her thoughts, she starts sorting through her gear in an attempt to look casual, hoping it will appear that she belongs there.

 

“How was the tour superstar?” Tobin’s familiar voice rings through the locker room.

 

Christen turns to face her, a little relieved she doesn’t have to start introductions to her new teammates quite yet. “Hey! Oh it was great! This place is amazing.” Christen marvels.

 

“I know right?! I got my official tour yesterday. I’d actually seen it before when I snuck in here with Kelley a few years back, but it still gives me chills. I can’t believe this is where I work now.” Tobin says with a smile.

 

Christen ignores the confession of breaking and entering and simply nods in agreement, happy to have someone to share this moment with.

 

“So you ready for your first practice?” Tobin asks, going over to her locker to change into her practice gear.

 

Christen turns back to her locker to do the same, keeping her eyes fixed on the clothing in front of her, very aware of the brunette undressing next to her. “Uh, yeah I mean, I’m a little nervous I guess.” 

 

Tobin pulls her shirt off and replaces it with a practice jersey as she speaks, her voice somewhat muffled by the fabric over her head. “Don’t be.” She says, tugging the jersey down over her head. “Just do what you did in tryouts and you’ll be fine.” 

 

“You’re not nervous?” Christen asks incredulously.

 

Tobin shrugs. “No, not really. More excited than nervous. Those butterflies in your stomach, just think of it as excited energy instead of nervous energy. Does the trick for me.”

 

“Thanks for the tip.” Christen sits on the bench lacing her shoes.

 

Tobin grabs her cleats and brings them over to sit beside Christen on the bench. “You’re first one’s a freebie, I start charging after that.”

 

Christen lets out a chuckle. “Oh man, how am I ever going to repay you for your infinite wisdom?” 

 

As she turns to face Tobin, she notices how close their faces are as they both hunch over to tie their cleats. Their eyes meet in a silent moment between them. Christen watches the playful smile on Tobin’s lips falter just slightly and sees her throat clench in a tight swallow before standing up abruptly. The moment passes.

 

“Uh, just put away those crosses I send you and we’ll call it square.” Tobin says with a weak laugh.

 

The double doors down the short hallway crash open as more players enter the locker room. Their bursts of laughter and raucous conversations fill the room with new energy.

 

Christen stands up to meet her teammates, running her fingers through her ponytail compulsively. She looks over toward Tobin who seems to pick up on her nerves.

 

“Remember, excited, not nervous.” She says with a wink.

 

Christen nods in understanding and tries her best to channel this energy and put on her friendliest smile. 

 

Practice is surprisingly lighthearted. When Christen thought of tier three practices in her youth, she’d always imagined machine-like drills, perfectly synchronized. Brutal. Serious. Instead, the coaches facilitate some team-building so the new players can feel more comfortable and assimilate into the team. Drills are competitive but fun, and Christen finds herself laughing more than she ever has on a soccer pitch. 

 

Christen comes away from practice feeling a great weight off her chest. All the nerves she had built up about this day had completely dissipated, and she finds that her initial anxiety had indeed turned into excitement.

 

As she’s packing up her gear to head home, Kelley approaches her. “Hey Press, some of the girls are coming over to my place to grill and swim. You should come!”

 

Christen swings her duffel bag over her shoulder, smiling at Kelley’s friendly invitation. “Yeah sure! What time?”

 

Kelley starts out toward the parking lot and Christen follows to continue their conversation. “I don’t know, like five-ish?—Yo Heath! You coming?” She stops mid sentence to yell across the parking lot.

 

Christen follows the direction of Kelley’s shouting and watches as Tobin gives a thumbs up from fifty yards away.

 

“Dope. Hey, you and Tobin can ride together.” 

 

Before Christen can question how Kelley knows they live within spitting distance of each other, she continues “She told me you guys live in the same complex. How weird is that?”

 

This is clearly a rhetorical question as Kelley leaves no pause for a response as she unlocks her car and hops in “Alright, I’ll see you in a bit!”

 

“Is there anything I can bring? Like food or drinks or something?” Christen manages to squeeze in before Kelley drives off.

 

“No I got it, just make sure Tobin actually comes. She’s so anti-social sometimes.” Kelley turns her key in the ignition and her car roars to life. “Alright see you soon.” With that, Kelley waves goodbye and drives off, leaving Christen to search for her own car several rows away.

 

As Christen drives home she thinks of Kelley’s comment. What does she mean Tobin’s anti-social? She seems to get along with everyone.

 

When she gets home, Christen spends some time on her own in her apartment. The past few days hadn’t allowed her much time to just sit and relax, so she takes this opportunity to crack open the book that’s been neglected on her nightstand and disappears into another world for a while. With the advent of virtual reality, reading physical books had become somewhat of a lost art, but Christen enjoys the experience of it; the weight of the book in her hands, the smell of the paper. The ritual of it was almost meditative and allowed Christen to retreat and relax her mind. 

 

Time seemed to fly by and when she finally closes the book and returns it to her bedside table, the clock sitting next to it reminds her that she should start getting ready for Kelley’s. 

 

She quickly changes into her bathing suit and throws on some shorts and a tank top over it. She grabs a fresh towel from her hallway closet and stuffs it into a beach bag with a baseball hat, sunblock, and sunglasses and heads for the door. She pauses with her hand on the door knob, realizing Kelley hadn’t actually given her the address and their previous conversation comes flooding back to her. She pulls her phone out to call Tobin.

 

“Hey, what’s up?” Tobin answers.

 

“Hey, have you left for Kelley’s yet? I was wondering if I could catch a ride with you. I don’t know where she lives.”

 

There’s a long pause before Tobin finally responds “Uh, I don’t know if I’m gonna go actually.”

 

“What? Why? I don’t think it’s gonna be some huge thing. It sounds fun.” Christen tries to rationalize.

 

“I just—I have a lot of stuff to do... I’m not much of a swimmer...” 

 

Christen can hear the disingenuous tone of Tobin’s voice as she tries to give half-hearted excuses to get her out of going. 

 

“Oh come on, you don’t even have to swim. You can be grill master, I’ll keep you company.” Christen says as sweetly as she can.

 

There’s another long pause on the other end as Tobin weighs her options. She sighs audibly, admitting defeat. “Fine. I’ll be there in five minutes to pick you up.”

 

Christen lets out a small squeal of excitement. “Yay! Ok, I’ll be ready.”

 

She hangs up and sure enough, she sees Tobin pull up not five minutes later in front of her building. Christen grabs her bag and locks the door behind her before bounding over to the car in an exceedingly chipper mood. 

 

“Thanks for coming and giving me a ride.” Christen says as she climbs into the car.

 

“Yeah, no problem.” Tobin responds less enthusiastically. 

 

Christen picks up in this. “Are you sure you want to go? I didn’t mean to force you into doing something if you really don’t want to do it.”

 

Tobin gives a disgruntled sigh. “No, it’s ok. I need to go. I just—water and I don’t really mix.”

 

Christen looks at her, confused. “Why?”

 

“Bionic legs kind of become bionic anchors in water.” Tobin responds dryly.

 

“Oh.” Christen suddenly realizes. Her stomach drops, worried her previous goading was insensitive or made Tobin feel bad. 

 

Before she has time to dwell on it, Tobin quickly reassured her. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not something I expect people to think about. Some people have water-graded bionics that are more buoyant, but I can’t really afford those. They’re pretty expensive.”

 

“Tobin, I’m really sorry. I don’t mean to—“

 

“It’s ok, you didn’t know. Just don’t push me in alright? I’m really hard to rescue.” She says with a chuckle to try and lighten the mood.

 

Christen smiles, thankful for the comic relief. “Deal. I’m not a super strong swimmer so you’d definitely be out of luck. I do know CPR though.” She boasts playfully.

 

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Tobin chuckles 

 

They pull up to a house and park on the street alongside several other cars that Christen assumes are her teammates’. 

 

“Aw Kelley’s house is...cute.” Christen says apprehensively. The house is older with some of the paint chipping off the wooden slats, and the overgrown landscaping could use some work. There’s a row of old recliners and arm chairs lining the front porch that look like they might have been pulled from a dumpster somewhere. 

 

“I don’t know if ‘cute’ is the right word for it. It’s more like a frat house. Kelley bought it as an ‘investment’ when she first got called up and said she’d fix it up, but she hasn’t quite gotten around to it.” Tobin explains as the go around the back of the house through a wooden gate. “It’s kinda the unofficial party house for the team, so it works out.”

 

As they enter the backyard, Christen sees that Kelley’s taken better care of this area. There’s a covered wooden deck leading to a clean blue pool that’s already full of people swimming in it. 

 

Tobin leads them over to a group of women listening to a story being dramatically told by Kelley. 

 

“Hey Kel.” Tobin says from outside the circle, grabbing Kelley’s attention.

 

“Tobin Heath, I don’t believe it.” Kelley turns her attention toward Christen. “How did you get her out here?” 

 

“She asked nicely. You should try it sometime.” Tobin retorts.

 

Kelley shoots her a glare, but it’s soon replaced with a smile as she wrestles Tobin into an overbearing hug. “Toby, I’m so glad you came. Best day ever!” She exclaims.

 

Tobin wiggles free from Kelley’s grasp and pushes her back. “Alright alright. You need any help with the grill or anything?”

 

“Yeah sure. I have hamburgers and hotdogs in the fridge if you wanna get that going. Press, supervise her. She cooks the hamburgers too long. I like a little pink in the middle.”

 

“Yeah you do!” Sonnett calls from the pool.

 

“Shut the fuck up!” Kelley yells back, launching herself into the pool to wrestle the blonde underwater.

 

Christen giggles watching the two wrestle, splashing half the water out of the pool in the process.

 

“You wanna help me get the meat and stuff?” Tobin asks

 

Christen nods and follows Tobin around the pool and into the house. They find themselves in the kitchen and head straight for the refrigerator. It’s mostly full of beer and condiments, but a few trays of hamburger meat and bags of hotdogs are shoved in there too. 

 

“I’ll grab the meat, you wanna get us a couple beers?” Tobin asks, pulling out the contents of the fridge. 

 

“Sure.” Christen grabs two cans and closes the fridge behind them, following Tobin back out of the house toward the grill. “So I’m guessing Kelley knows you don’t swim.”

 

“Yeah. She found out the hard way. She pushed me in a pool when we first met and I sank straight to the bottom. Luckily she was a lifeguard in high school and fished me out before anything bad happened. She was just trying to be funny, but she still feels really bad about it.” Tobin explains as she lights the grill. 

 

“Wow. I would have been so pissed.” Christen says.

 

“I was at the time. But what are you gonna do?” Tobin sits in a chair nearby and cracks open her beer, her eyes scanning the backyard aimlessly. 

 

Christen goes to sit by her in the adjacent chair. “Can I ask you something?” 

 

“Sure.”

 

Christen hesitates, hoping she phrases her question correctly. “What happened to—why did your legs—uh..”

 

Tobin cuts her off. “Why are my legs fucked up?” She says curtly before continuing. “My parents really wanted an alt baby. I mean, with the politics going on at the time and discrimination lawsuits and all that, they thought that was the best option to make sure I wasn’t considered a second class citizen. I don’t blame them, it was bad back then. But they didn’t have the money to go to one of the nice genetic planning centers though, so they had to go to like, kind of a black market family planner. Long story short, when they were messing with my genetics, they inadvertently fucked up a gene for my lower leg development so when I was born, my legs were pretty fucked from my calf down. They couldn’t repair it with stem cell therapy since the underlying genetic code was all messed up, so the only option was to leave me a cripple or fix it with bionics.”

 

She takes up sip of beer before continuing. “Not many people get bionics anymore since it’s kind of outdated technology, so parts can be hard to come by and they’re pretty expensive. I try to make it work to my advantage, but it doesn’t always.”

 

Christen blinks, her mouth hanging slightly open. “Wow, I had no idea. That’s incredible. You’re incredible for dealing with all that!” Christen marvels.

 

Tobin shrugs as if it was no big deal. “It’s not so bad. I don’t get to swim and I’m the only person I know who requires regular oil changes, but other than that, it’s chill.”

 

They share a much needed laugh.

 

“And look where you are now, a tier three professional soccer player.” Christen says.

 

“Yeah, Mom and Dad would be proud.” Tobin scoffs sarcastically.

 

“They’re not?” Christen asks

 

“The missing leg genes were dealt with, but the missing heterosexual genes were not. Although, they would argue I could fix that too if I wanted.” She shakes her head to herself.

 

Christen looks at her despairingly. “Oh, Tobin. I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be. I mourned that loss a long time ago and now I have a new family that I got to choose.” She says, looking out toward the pool. “What about you? You close to your parents?”

 

Christen nods lightly. “Yeah, I am. I’m lucky.”

 

“What did they say when you told them you made the team?” Tobin asks.

 

“They were really happy for me. My dad was excited because of the soccer aspect of it—he’s so competitive, that’s where I get it—and I think my mom was just happy that I’d be living so close.” She smiles, reminiscing about the conversations she’d had with her parents over course of the last week. “They were really supportive of my soccer career when I was growing up and I’m really grateful for that.”

 

“They sound like nice people.” Tobin remarks.

 

“They are.” Christen says simply.

 

The two sit together sipping their beers in silently for a few moments, taking in all they had just learned about each other. Christen watches as some of the girls chicken fight in the middle of the pool, while Emily and Kelley have conveniently floated off to the side to have a very close conversation with their heads just bobbing above the water. Christen smiles at this and turns to grab Tobin’s attention to show her, but the brunette was already out of her seat, standing over the grill with tongs in hand. 

 

Rather than getting up to join her, she lets Tobin continue her solitary work and opts to grab her another beer from the kitchen instead. 

 

Standing in front of the open fridge, a dripping wet Kelley comes to stand next to her. “Need help with your beer selection?” Kelley asks.

 

“Oh, no I was just looking for what I was drinking earlier.” She responds, grabbing two cans from the fridge.

 

“So I’m guessing Tobin told you why she doesn’t swim?” Kelley asks, grabbing a beer and cracking it open immediately.

 

“Yeah. It’s a bummer.” Christen responds.

 

“Yeah. Did she tell you I threw her in the pool once?” Kelley asks.

 

“Yeah, she told me about that too.” Christen replies.

 

“I still feel bad about it. I just didn’t know!” Kelley defends herself.

 

“No, I know. She didn’t seem upset about it.” Christen reassures her, leaning against the fridge.

 

Kelley just nods. “You’re not bionic, right?” 

 

Christen shakes her head. “Nope. No replaceable parts unfortunately.”

 

“So you won’t mind if we throw you in the pool!” 

 

With that, Kelley pulls Christen in, pinning her arms to her sides while Sonnett jumps from behind a doorway and grabs her legs. Christen writhes and yells for them to put her down, but the two just laugh and haul her across the patio to the edge of the pool. 

 

“Count of three.” Kelley calls out, swinging Christen’s helpless body side to side. “One. Two. Three!” 

 

They release her and Christen can feel her body flying briefly through the air before smacking into the cold water. Completely submerged, she feels heavy in her clothes and sneakers and has to fight a little harder to make her way to the surface where she gasps for her first breath. When she emerges, she sweeps the hair from her face and rubs her eyes dry. 

 

Her teammates all clap and cheer for her when she swims over to the ladder and gets out. She bows dramatically to the applause of her teammates and chases down Sonnett to give her a wet hug and let her know there are no hard feelings.

 

Eventually she finds herself back over by the grill where she had left her towel. 

 

“Nice belly flop. I give it an 8.” Tobin teases, rolling hotdogs across the grill.

 

“Thanks. I’ve been working on that one.” Christen responds, tousling her hair with her towel.

 

“You’d think Kelley would have learned her lesson about throwing people in the pool by now.” Tobin jokes.

 

“To be fair, she did ask if I was bionic before she grabbed me”

 

Tobin hums to herself and goes back to the grill.

 

Tired of being in her soaking clothes, Christen strips them off and hangs them across the chair to let them air dry as much as possible. Standing in her bikini, she may be somewhat aware of the fact that Tobin’s not paying attention to the grill anymore, but she pretends not to notice and just lets Tobin look. She kind of likes the feeling of it. 

 

Tobin clears her throat before calling out to her teammates “Food’s ready.”

 

She doles out hamburgers and hotdogs to the girls but holds onto Christen’s plate as she grabs it. “Hope you like a little pink.” She says with a cheeky wink.

 

Rather than offering a response, Christen just shakes her head with a smile and pulls the plate from Tobin’s hand. She goes to sit next to Kelley and Lindsay, who are having an animated discussion, and Christen just listens to them bicker, content to sit back and listen to the entertaining commentary.

 

Before she knows it, Christen looks around and notices that the pack of women in the backyard had thinned out significantly. She checks her phone for the time, realizing how late it had gotten, and goes to find Tobin who’s inside the house playing VR games with Sonnett. 

 

“Tobin—Hey, Tobin?” Christen taps the woman lightly on the shoulder causing her to jump.

 

“Shit!” She pulls off the goggles looking panicked. “Jesus, you scared the shit out of me.” She says clutching her chest.

 

Christen chuckles “Sorry, I didn’t mean to.”

 

Tobin sets down the goggles on a nearby end table. “No it’s ok. We were playing this zombie hunting game and I thought a zombie had gotten me.” She laughs at herself, mimicking a zombie attack.

 

Christen chuckles at this display. “Well speaking of zombies, I’m getting pretty tired so I’m just gonna order a ride to take me home. I wanted to come tell you so you wouldn’t—” She begins to explain.

 

“What? No, I can take you back. Hold on, let me just tell Kelley bye.” Tobin walks around the couch toward the door.

 

“No really, if you wanted to stay and hang out, I can get home. I didn’t mean to ruin your fun.” Christen says.

 

“Stop, you’re not ruining anything. I need to get home anyway.” Tobin reasons. “Just hold on a sec and I’ll be right back, then we can go, ok?”

 

Christen nods her head as Tobin exits out the back in search of Kelley. Christen turns back and locks eyes with Sonnett who has a mischievous smirk on her face. 

 

“What?” Christen asks.

 

“Somebody has a crush.” Sonnett mocks

 

“Who, me?!” Christen points to herself in disbelief.

 

Sonnett just snickers.

 

“Well you’re one to talk. Pot calling the kettle black don’t you think?” Christen retorts with a challenging smirk.

 

Sonnett raises her hands up in defense “I just call ‘em like I see ’em.” She says, turning back to her game and pulling the VR goggles over her head once more.

 

Before Christen can say any more, Tobin returns and gives Sonnett a pat on the back to let her know they were leaving.

 

 

The drive back is filled with the drone of the radio as both women are exhausted from the day. After a short ride, Tobin drops Christen off in front of her building.

 

“You want me to come pick you up for practice tomorrow?” Tobin offers.

 

“Yeah if it’s not too much trouble.” Christen says

 

“It’s not.” Tobin responds simply. “So what do you think about the team? Think you made the right choice.”

 

Christen smiles genuinely. “Yeah, I think I’m gonna like it here.”

 

“Good.” Tobin says, looking somewhat bashful. “Ok, well I guess I’ll see you tomorrow. Same time?” She asks

 

“Sure. See you then. Have a good night.” Christen says, sliding out of the passenger seat.

 

“You too.”

 

Christen hurries into her apartment and waves to Tobin as she unlocks the front door, giving her the signal that she got inside safely. She watches Tobin drive off toward her own building before shutting the door and deadbolting it behind her. 

 

She tosses her bag onto the couch and takes a seat, exhausted from the day. As she unlocks her phone to check her emails, she notices a text from an unknown number waiting for her. But as soon as she reads it, she knows who it’s from and a familiar knot tightens in her stomach.

 

Unknown: “What will they do when they find out?”

 

She throws her phone across to couch and sinks deeper into the cushions, hoping she’ll disappear beneath the pillows, never to be seen again. She doesn’t know how he got her phone number. She doesn’t even know what he wants. She briefly thinks about texting back with these questions, but second guesses herself, and reasons that maybe if she ignores him, he’ll give up and leave her be. It’s been years since she last saw him. What could he possibly want from her now?

 

Her phone vibrates again with a new incoming message. Christen cringes as she picks it up, turning her head away as if her phone will detonate the minute she unlocks it. This time however, the message is from a familiar number.

 

Tobin: Do you like breakfast tacos?

 

Christen lets out a sigh of relief, smiling at Tobin’s impeccable timing.

 

Christen: We just ate dinner and you’re already thinking about breakfast?

 

Tobin: What? It’s the most important meal of the day. Just planning ahead. You want me to bring you tacos or not?

 

Christen: Sure. Who can say no to tacos?

 

Tobin: I could make a dirty joke, but I’ll spare you. See you tomorrow superstar.

 

Christen smiles to herself and tosses her phone back onto the couch. This time however, the knot in her stomach isn’t from anxious energy; it’s excitement.

 

***

 

By the end of preseason, Christen feels good about her place on the team. She’s making good connections with her teammates on and off the field, and she’s fine-tuning her touch and off-ball movement. 

 

In the final practice before their season opener, the entire team takes the field for a full field scrimmage to get them prepared for the speed of gameplay in the coming match that weekend. Christen smiles when she sees Tobin on her side of the field, excited to show off their growing chemistry. 

 

When the coach blows the whistle, Christen takes off, hounding defenders for the ball, immediately putting pressure on the back line. In her excitement, she’s called out by a coach for being a little overzealous, and given the order to back off a little to save her legs for the game in two days. 

 

Even though she’s playing at about three-quarters’ speed, it’s still an intense game. Passes are tight and teammates put in extra work to muscle each other off the ball. About fifteen minutes in, Christen brings down a direct ball and outpaces the defender next to her, slotting one home for her team. It doesn’t matter that it’s just a scrimmage, she can feel her confidence increasing with every perfect first touch and beaten defender. 

 

At one point, she watches as Tobin falls to the ground after an aerial challenge. Hunched over on the ground, she clutches her lower leg, hitting it in frustration. With the help of a trainer, she hops off the field and heads into the training room, giving Christen a brief thumbs up to indicate she isn’t hurt. Christen lets out a sigh of relief and continues the game.

 

Right before the coach whistles for halftime, Christen’s team wins a corner kick and they get ready for a set piece. Christen takes her place near the goalkeeper to act as a human shield. As the ball is flighted in, Christen steps out and sees the ball coming straight for her. She takes a step and leaps up into the air, closing her eyes as her head connects with the ball. Except Christen has never felt a ball knock this hard against her head. As she comes back down to land, the impact on her head radiates pain all throughout her skull and she slumps to the ground, hands covering herself protectively.

 

“Press—Press, you ok?” The goalkeeper hunches down next to her rubbing her back. “I didn’t mean too, I was just trying to punch the ball out. I’m so sorry.”

 

Christen winces as she sees the trainer rush over to her to assess the damage.

 

“Christen, you ok? Can you stand up?” He asks.

 

Christen winces and gingerly gets to her feet. “I’m ok. It’s ok, I’m fine.”

 

“We need to take you inside to check you out ok?” The trainer guides her off the field toward the training room.

 

“Did I at least score?” Christen asks as they walk of the field, unaware of how the play ended.

 

The trainer just laughs. “Uh, no you completely missed and ran into a pair of fists instead.”

 

Christen rubs her head again. “Sounds about right.”

 

They walk into the training room and Christen sees Tobin sitting on one of the tables with the padding on her leg removed and opened up for repairs. 

 

“What happened to you?” Tobin asks.

 

“My head got into a fist fight with the goalie.” Christen jokes.

 

Tobin winces. “Yikes. You ok?” 

 

“Guess I’ll find out in a minute.”

 

The trainer interjects “Press, I’m gonna go get the concussion protocol cap, Heath, I still need to reconnect your padding so just hang tight a second. I’ll be right back.”

 

Tobin and Christen both watch as he walks down the hall and enters another room to retrieve supplies.

 

“Ever had a concussion before?” Tobin asks, reaching out to stroke Christen’s head.

 

“No. I really think I’m ok though. I mean it hurt, but I’m not dizzy or anything.” Christen says. She may not be dizzy from the punch to the back of the head, but the way Tobin’s fingers are running through her hair are certainly making her a little light headed.

 

Much to Christen’s dismay, Tobin removes her hand from her hair and uses it to adjust herself to fully face Christen. “Well lets test you. I’m gonna ask you some questions to make sure you’re coherent and making sense and stuff. It’s standard concussion protocol.” 

 

“Ok, shoot.” Christen says with a smile, happy to play along.

 

“Alright. What’s your full name?”

 

“Christen Annemarie Press.”

 

“Annemarie? Cute, I like it.” Tobin says.

 

“It’s a family name.” Christen says simply 

 

Tobin just hums in response before moving on to another question. “What day of the week is it?”

 

“Thursday” 

 

“What did you eat for breakfast?”

 

“A banana and some oatmeal.”

 

“When’s your birthday?”

 

“December 29th”

 

“Yikes, four days after Christmas?” Tobin cringes. “That must have been rough growing up.”

 

Christen chuckles a little. “Yeah it was always ‘Happy Birthday/Merry Christmas! I only got you one present but it’s extra special’.”

 

“What a cop-out!” Tobin exclaims.

 

“I know! I was so under-appreciated.” Christen laments dramatically for effect. 

 

Tobin laughs. “Well what was your favorite birthday/Christmas present you ever got?” She asks.

 

Christen takes a second, charting back through the years. “Hmm, probably the time my mom took me for a spa day when I was like, fourteen or something.”

 

Tobin chuckles. “Oh yeah? You like the pampered life? Should I start calling you Pampered Press?” 

 

Christen rolls her eyes. “I think I’ll take superstar over that.” She continues “Besides, it wasn’t even necessarily about the spa stuff that I liked so much. I mean, yeah, it was awesome to get my nails done, a facial, a massage—but I really just liked that I got to spend the day with my mom, just the two of us. It was really special. She worked a lot when I was growing up, so we didn’t get to spend a lot of time together usually.”

 

Tobin smiles lightly. “That’s really sweet.”

 

Christen shrugs. “My mom’s pretty great. You’d want to hang out with her too if you knew her.”

 

“Well I hope I get to meet her someday.” Tobin says earnestly.

 

“Yeah, me too. She’d like you.”

 

Their conversation is interrupted when the trainer comes back into the room with a screwdriver in one hand, and a strange contraption in the other. 

 

“Ok Press, let me fit you with this so we can get a good reading.” 

 

He puts what looks like a swimmers cap with wires sticking out of it on Christen’s head and presses a button on the tablet he’s holding. 

 

“Sit tight and we’ll have a reading in a minute.” He turns his attention back to Tobin. “Alright, let’s see that leg.”

 

Tobin hoists her leg up onto the table and the trainer quickly screws shut the protective padding around Tobin’s metal calf. “Alright, move your leg around and bend your ankle. See if that’s tight enough.”

 

Tobin obliges and rolls her ankle around in the air before hopping off the table to walk and jump around the room. “Feels good Doc.” She says.

 

“Alright, you’re all set then.” he says to Tobin before turning his attention back to Christen. “Alright, lets see how hard you got your bell rung Press.”

 

He takes the cap off her head and Christen quickly runs her fingers through her hair to tame the messy locks.

 

“Aw I liked the bald look. Very G.I. Jane.” Tobin teases, grinning widely.

 

Before Christen can get out a rebuttal, the trainer starts reading her information off the tablet. “Well, it doesn’t look like there’s any trauma actually, so that’s the good news, but I’m afraid you’re gonna have to sit out for the game as a precaution.”

 

“What?! No! It’s opening day! It’s my first match! I’m fine, I swear!” Christen exclaims in disbelief.

 

“Sorry Press, concussion protocol. They really cracked down on head injury treatment in the past few years, so we have to be extra careful. You’ll be back next week, don’t worry.”

 

Christen’s mouth hangs open, but no words come out. She looks over at Tobin, hoping she can somehow change this outcome, but she stands idly by looking just as shocked. 

 

“I suggest you go home and get some rest. Try to do something relaxing—no action movies or video games. Too much stimulation can slow down the healing process or make your symptoms worse.” He gives her a pat on the back and helps her off the training table. “And let me know if you start getting dizzy or have headaches tonight. We don’t want you permanently brain damaged.” He says, trying to lighten the mood.

 

But Christen isn’t in the mood for jokes. Instead, she sulks out of the training room to go to her locker and pack up her gear. She shoves her clean clothes back in her bag, opting to skip a shower so she can just go straight home. She doesn’t want to face her teammates and the pitied expressions they’d inevitably give her, like she was some poor sick puppy. She needs some time alone to sulk on her own. 

 

“Chris?” Tobin calls gently from behind her. 

 

Christen sighs and continues to pack her things without turning around. “What do you want?”

 

She can hear Tobin take a few steps toward her. “I’m sorry this happened. It really sucks.”

 

“Yeah, well at least the stadium has nice box seats. Guess I can watch the first game from there.” She says sarcastically.

 

“Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?” Tobin asks.

 

“Yeah, you could hook me up with a bionic brain? That way I could just switch it out when it breaks.” Christen scoffs.

 

A tense silence fills the room when Tobin doesn’t respond to Christen’s crude comment.

 

Christen shakes her head at herself and turns around to finally face Tobin. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I’m just upset—I shouldn’t take it out on you.”

 

Tobin shrugs. “I get it. It’s fine.”

 

Another silence falls between them. 

 

Christen lets out a long sigh. “Actually, there is something that would make me feel better.” Christen says 

 

“What?”

 

“Could you—can I have a hug?” Christen asks sheepishly.

 

Tobin laughs lightly at Christen’s child-like request. “Yeah, you can have as many hugs as you need.”

 

Christen steps into Tobin, sweaty and smelly with her hair matted to the side of her head, but she doesn’t care. She wraps her arms tightly around Tobin’s frame, holding onto her for dear life. She sinks into the feeling of Tobin’s chest against her chest, her breath cooling the back of her sweat-stained neck. Christen closes her eyes and takes in the safety of being protected in somebody’s arms. 

 

It’s too soon when Tobin steps away and unravels herself from Christen. “Better?” She asks.

 

Christen nods, though she wishes it could have lasted longer. “Thanks. Sometimes I just need that.”

 

“I get that. Me too.” Tobin agrees. “I better get back to practice. Can I call you tonight? To check in and stuff?” 

 

Christen nods again. “Sure, that’s really sweet of you.” Christen reaches out, grabbing Tobin’s hand to give it a light squeeze.

 

Tobin shrugs “Yeah, well.” She rubs the back of her neck. “I’ll talk to you later. Hope you feel better.”

 

She gives Christen one last smile before turning around to head back to the pitch, leaving Christen alone once more to finish packing her bag. This time, the anger in her chest has disappeared and is replaced by a warm excitement and a soft smile on her lips.

 

***

 

At home, Christen tries to take the trainer’s advice to relax, but as she mills around her house with the blinds drawn and tv off, she can’t overcome the feeling of boredom setting in. She cooks an early dinner, just to give her something to do, but once she’s polished off her dinner for one, she sits at her kitchen table, tapping her fingers impatiently, trying to come up with something to pass the time. 

 

Just as she’s contemplating pulling out her hair for fun, her phone buzzes against the countertop. She smiles when she reads the name lightning up the screen and quickly answers.

 

“Oh my god, I’m so glad you called. I’m so bored! ” She confesses.

 

Tobin chuckles on the other end. “I told you I would. I wanted to check in and see how you’re doing.”

 

“Other than bored out of my mind, I feel fine. I still don’t understand why I’m being ruled out over a stupid bump on the head.” Christen pouts.

 

“I know. Hazard of the trade unfortunately. You’ll be back next week though.” Tobin offers in consolation. “So there’s actually another reason I was calling.”

 

“Yeah?” Christen wonders curiously.

 

“So if you’re bored, I was thinking you could come over to my place. I have something I think might cheer you up.” Tobin says.

 

“What is it?” Christen asks suspiciously 

 

“Come over and find out for yourself.” Tobin teases.

 

“Is it a puppy?” Christen asks, only half joking.

 

Tobin laughs. “Just come over. I’m in 1215. I’ll see you in a few minutes.”

 

Christen hangs up with a smile plastered on her face. She immediately goes to her bathroom to make sure her hair isn’t a mess, and puts on a clean set of clothes, careful to select a tank top that clings to her just a little tighter than it should in the hopes that Tobin will look at her in that way that makes her stomach do somersaults. She grabs her keys and phone, and makes the short trek over to Tobin’s apartment and knocks gently on the door.

 

When Tobin swings the door open, she notices the conspiratorial grin painted across Tobin’s face, looking like she’s up to something. 

 

“What’s so funny? What’s going on?” Christen asks.

 

“Welcome to the Heath Spa and Salon!” She says, stepping aside to let Christen into her apartment.

 

Christen lets out a confused laugh, but as she steps inside and looks around, she sees Tobin’s apartment dimly lit by candles that had been sporadically placed on window sills and countertops. The only furnishings in the room are a couch covered in a white sheet, and a coffee table with a bowl of suspicious brown goop and a selection of nail polishes sitting on top of it. 

 

“I thought you might need some cheering up. Plus, spas are relaxing, so it’s good for your head too. Win win!” Tobin explains, coming to stand next to Christen.

 

Christen’s cheeks ache with how much she’s smiling, overcome with gratitude. “Tobin—I...this is so nice. You didn’t have to do this.”

 

Tobin swats the air dismissively “It’s no big deal. I wanted to do it.”

 

“Well, it’s really sweet. Thank you.” Christen says. She grabs Tobin’s arm and gives it an affectionate squeeze, letting her hand linger there just a moment. This seems to catch Tobin off guard and she suddenly fumbles for words. 

 

“I uh—here sit down.” She offers Christen the couch. “Lets take care of those nails!” She jokes, sounding more like herself again.

 

Christen laughs and relaxes onto the couch, letting Tobin take care of her. 

 

“I also made this homemade face mask. I found the recipe online. It’s a combination of oatmeal, honey, and some other stuff.” She holds out the bowl toward Christen. “Here, smell it. It smells really good.”

 

Christen hesitantly inhales the aroma of the mystery paste in front of her and laughs. “Did you use apple cinnamon instant oatmeal for this?”

 

“Cinnamon spice thank you very much!” Tobin retorts playfully.

 

Christen dips her finger in it, licking the glob off her finger. “Not bad, but I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to use flavored oatmeal on your face.”

 

“Fine, don’t have luminous skin and clear pores.” Tobin pouts dramatically as she places the bowl back on the table. 

 

“You can still do my nails.” Christen offers, sticking her hands out in front of Tobin.

 

“Fine, but I get to choose the color.” Tobin compromises. 

 

“Deal.”

 

They talk and laugh as Tobin meticulously works on Christen’s nails. She isn’t the most accurate painter, but Christen doesn’t mind that she’ll have some paint on the surrounding skin to peel off later. She likes the attention she’s getting with her hand in Tobin’s as she paints and blows the nails dry.

 

Once her masterpiece is completed, Tobin allows Christen to paint her nails too, insisting on black nail polish because it matches her jersey and looks tough. Comparing notes, they decide Christen’s paint job is a little neater, but Tobin shows promise as a nail artist nonetheless.

 

“Ok I have one more spa treatment for you but we have to go in my room.” Tobin says. 

 

Eager to see what Tobin’s next surprise is, Christen follows her into the nearby bedroom. It’s also dimly lit by candlelight, with only a bed and dresser furnishing the sparse room.

 

“Ok lay down on your stomach.” Tobin instructs.

 

Christen’s brows knit together, questioning Tobin’s intentions.

 

“For a massage...” Tobin clarifies. “I’m not going to like, tie you to the bed or anything.”

 

Christen smirks and shrugs her shoulders. “Hm, too bad.”

 

She walks over to the bed and goes to lie down, enjoying the way Tobin squirms at this comment. When she looks back over her shoulder toward Tobin, she can definitely make out the color in her cheeks, even in the dim candlelight.

 

Christen feels the mattress give as Tobin comes to sit on the edge of the bed. “Ok, you ready?” She asks.

 

“Mmhmm” 

 

Tobin places her hands gingerly at the top of Christen’s shoulders and squeezes them lightly. “Is this ok?”

 

“Yeah, feels good.” Christen answers honestly.

 

Tobin’s hands remain on her upper back for a few minutes, rubbing and kneading the knots that had accumulated in Christen’s shoulders from stress and overuse. Tobin’s hands eventually wander lower to the middle of her back, and then her lower back, finding their way beneath the hem of Christen’s shirt. Her hands are warm and strong as they rub the taught skin around Christen’s lower back and hips, paying special attention to the dimples right above her shorts. 

 

“Tell me if it hurts or tickles or anything ok?” Tobin checks in.

 

“No, this is perfect.” 

 

Christen’s lulled into a state of utter bliss as Tobin’s hands run up and down her back beneath her shirt, feeling the curve of her ribcage down to her hips. She almost forgets  where she is as she lets out a satisfied moan. 

 

This seems to startle Tobin, and her hands quickly retract from beneath her shirt, and move back up to her shoulders again, giving them a friendly squeeze over the fabric before releasing her completely.

 

“All done, how do you feel superstar?” Tobin asks, her words coming out slightly clenched.

 

Christen lets out a content sigh into the comforter as she lay sprawled out on Tobin’s bed, reluctant to get up. “Mmm that was amazing.” 

 

“Yeah, no problem. Any time.” Tobin says, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed to sit with her arms propping her up at her sides in a permanent shrug.

 

“I might take you up on that.” Christen responds as she readjusts to sit next to Tobin in a similar fashion. 

 

As Christen shifts, she scoots her hand over just slightly until it grazes Tobin’s. Although Tobin flinches at first, she doesn’t pull her hand away, and Christen takes this as a cue to wrap her fingers around the top of Tobin’s hand, rubbing the back of her hand idly with her thumb. 

 

When she looks over at Tobin, her eyes are closed and Christen can just make out the smallest of smiles forming on her lips. In the silence, Christen scans Tobin’s profile, her cutting jawline, her pillowy lips that were parted just slightly. 

 

Christen subconsciously runs her tongue along her lips, bringing the bottom one between her teeth as if holding it back from what she’s thinking of doing. But she can’t restrain herself and before she knows it, she’s leaning into Tobin. She places a feather-light kiss near the corner of Tobin’s lips, asking for permission to kiss her fully.  

 

With the slightest turn of her head, Tobin moves mere millimeters into Christen, and that’s all it take before Christen brings her other hand up to Tobin’s jaw, guiding her lips toward her own until they connect. 

 

Their lips touch just so, resting lightly against each other for the briefest moment. But before Christen has time to fully take in what’s happening, Tobin retreats and stands up from the bed.

 

Begrudgingly, Christen opens her eyes slowly, afraid of what she might see. She watches as Tobin’s pupils dilate as her eyes adjust to the light, looking worried, almost fearful. 

 

“I should uh—you’re probably tired. I should let you get some sleep.” Tobin says anxiously.

 

Christen runs her hands through her hair in frustration. “I’m sorry— I thought...I don’t know what I was doing.” Christen apologizes, embarrassed and defeated.

 

Tobin doesn’t make eye contact, instead her eyes wander around the room, looking at everything except Christen. “It’s ok. Maybe you hit your head harder than you thought. Concussions...” Tobin offers as a lame and vague excuse for Christen to grab onto. 

 

Christen lets out a sigh, plastering on the most convincing smile she can muster and plays along. “Yeah, you’re probably right. I’m feeling pretty out of it. I should probably go home and rest.” Christen says, grabbing her head for good measure.

 

“Yeah, totally. You need me to walk you back to your apartment?” Tobin asks.

 

“No, it’s ok. It’s just a few buildings over. I’ll be fine.” Christen answers dismissively, wanting to get away from this embarrassing situation as quickly as possible.

 

They walk silently through the apartment until they stand at the front door. Tobin looks unsure of how to say her farewell to Christen, shuffling her feet as they stand there. “Ok, well get some sleep superstar. Let me know if you need anything.” Tobin says, trying to sound casual. 

 

Christen nods. “Ok, night Tobin.” Christen says. She has to stop herself from leaning into a hug, and instead shuffles behind the door with an awkward wave, walking back to her apartment feeling more worked up than she had all day. 

 

She tries to hold it in, but her eyes sting with salt, and tears start to roll down her cheeks. She contemplates banging her head against the wall at her own stupidity, but reasons that probably wouldn’t be a good idea given the circumstances.

 

Maybe it’s not a bad thing Tobin rejected her. It’s her first season and she has a lot riding on her performance this year. She doesn’t need any distractions. And Tobin is certainly distracting enough already.

 

***

 

Christen keeps to herself the next couple of days, resisting the temptation to text Tobin and make a fool of herself all over again. Instead, she waits until game day to crawl back out from her cave and interact with humans again. Even though she isn’t dressing for the game, Christen still reports to the locker room hours before the game just to be surrounded by the excitement of it all. This also gives her an excuse to casually see Tobin again and get a feel for where their relationship stands after the other night. 

 

When Christen gets into the locker room, her heart sinks a little, seeing her teammates donning their kits for the first time, the room buzzing with energy. 

 

She looks around the room for the lanky brunette, but is intercepted by Sonnett. “Hey, how’s the noggin?” She asks.

 

“It’s fine. Just wanted to wish everyone good luck.” Christen responds.

 

“Yeah, we’re gonna need it without our star forward.” Sonnett teases, pinching her cheeks.

 

“You guys will be fine. I’ll be cheering for you.” 

 

“Up in the box?”

 

Christen nods

 

“How are you gonna see my abs from there when I flash you?” She winks

 

“Alright, cool it Sonny. We have a game to focus on, remember?” Tobin says, pulling Sonnett back by the shoulder.

 

Sonnett takes the hint and backpedals from the pair. “No need to get all territorial Tobs, I’m just messing around.” She raises her eyebrows suggestively before turning to join another conversation nearby.

 

“I think she’s just excited for the game.” Tobin reasons.

 

Christen lets out a small chuckle, nodding along.

 

“How’s your head?” Tobin asks genuinely.

 

Christen shrugs. “It’s ok. Still wish I could be playing today, but what are you gonna do?”

 

“Yeah I know, me too.”

 

Christen shifts uncomfortably, itching to address the elephant in the room. “So, I feel like I should apologize—for the other night. I didn’t mean to make things...weird or whatever.”

 

“What? No, I don’t think things are weird. Do you think things are weird?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I guess not? I just thought...” 

 

Christen pauses, seeing the earnest look on Tobin’s face. She shakes her head at herself. If Tobin’s willing to look past it and pretend their awkward exchange never happened, Christen should count her blessings and just roll with it. 

 

“Never mind. I should let you finish getting ready. You nervous?”

 

“Not nervous, just excited.” Tobin says confidently. 

 

Christen smiles at the signature platitude “Good. Just wanted to come say good luck before I go up to the box...so...good luck.”

 

“Thanks. See you after the game?” Tobin questions.

 

“Yeah, I’ll come find you.”

 

Tobin gives her a quick thumbs up and returns to the huddle of teammates. 

 

Christen makes her way up to the box and finds a lone seat along the railing so she has a good vantage point. It’s not where she had hoped she’d be on opening day, but it’s the closest she’s ever been, and she reminds herself to be grateful for that. 

 

Fully accepting her current situation, Christen focuses on the game, determined to get something out of this less-than-ideal circumstance. She watches like a hawk as the game progresses, jotting down notes in her phone as she studies the run of play. She remains focused for the most part, but has to remind herself on several occasions that there are other players on the field besides Tobin. She tries to convince herself that the woman’s movements would be mesmerizing to anyone because she’s so skilled on the ball. 

 

When the final whistle blows, it’s a zero-zero draw; a disappointing finish for opening day. By the time Christen makes her way through security and onto the locker room, it seems the team had already been given the post-game speech from the coach, and the players were left to their own devices to shower and pack up. 

 

Christen offers pats on the back and words of encouragement to players who will accept them, and eventually finds her way to Tobin.

 

“Hey, good game.” She offers.

 

Tobin finishes zipping up her over-stuffed duffel bag before standing up to acknowledge Christen. “Thanks. Not really how I wanted to start the season, but we’ll get ‘em next time I guess.” Tobin says, trying to remain positive. “And next game, we’ll have you.”

 

“Yeah definitely. As long as no one goes punching me in the head again.” Christen jokes.

 

“I’ll try to resist the urge.” Tobin jokes back.

 

There’s a lull between them as Christen watches her teammates shuffle through the locker room in an organized chaos.

 

“Do you need a ride back or something?” Tobin asks simply.

 

“Oh—no, I just...I wanted to come congratulate you on your first game...congratulate everyone I mean.” Christen fumbles out, still trying to manage her nerves around the woman. 

 

Tobin just bobs her head at this and swings her bag over her shoulder. “Well, thanks for the sentiment. Hopefully next game we’ll have more to celebrate.”

 

“Definitely.” Christen agrees.

 

“You going out to your car? I’ll walk with you.” Tobin offers, pointing toward the exit. 

 

“Yeah, lead the way.”

 

Christen follows Tobin to the parking lot and they reach Christen’s car first. “You don’t want to stay and shower or anything?” Christen asks, trying to strike up conversation.

 

“You trying to tell me I stink?” Tobin teases with a laugh.

 

“What?! No! No, you just seemed ready to get out of there.” Christen recovers.

 

“Nah, I just didn’t want to make you wait around for me to shower before I walked you out.” 

 

“I don’t need you to walk me out, I’m fine. The parking lot’s pretty well lit.” Christen chuckles. 

 

“I know, but maybe I just wanted to walk with you, ok?” Tobin says with a crooked smile.

 

Christen has to bite her lip to hold back the bashful smile on her lips. 

 

“Think you can take it from here? I know where you live so if you don’t make it home, I’ll know.” Tobin jabs playfully.

 

“I think I’ll make it. Thanks.” Christen teases back.

 

She unlocks the car and slides in behind the wheel. Tobin leans on the door, propping it open. “Alright, drive safe. I’ll see you later superstar.”

 

Christen starts the car and offers Tobin a smile. “Night Tobs.”

 

Tobin smiles back and closes the door for Christen, waving as Christen pulls out of the parking lot and drives off back to her apartment. 

 

Chapter Text

Christen keeps to herself the next couple of days, resisting the temptation to text Tobin and make a fool of herself all over again. Instead, she waits until game day to crawl back out from her cave and interact with humans again. Even though she isn’t dressing for the game, Christen still reports to the locker room hours before the game just to be surrounded by the excitement of it all. This also gives her an excuse to casually see Tobin again and get a feel for where their relationship stands after the other night. 

 

When Christen gets into the locker room, her heart sinks a little, seeing her teammates donning their kits for the first time, the room buzzing with energy. 

 

She looks around the room for the lanky brunette, but is intercepted by Sonnett. “Hey, how’s the noggin?” She asks.

 

“It’s fine. Just wanted to wish everyone good luck.” Christen responds.

 

“Yeah, we’re gonna need it without our star forward.” Sonnett teases, pinching her cheeks.

 

“You guys will be fine. I’ll be cheering for you.” 

 

“Up in the box?”

 

Christen nods

 

“How are you gonna see my abs from there when I flash you?” She winks

 

“Alright, cool it Sonny. We have a game to focus on, remember?” Tobin says, pulling Sonnett back by the shoulder.

 

Sonnett takes the hint and backpedals from the pair. “No need to get all territorial Tobs, I’m just messing around.” She raises her eyebrows suggestively before turning to join another conversation nearby.

 

“I think she’s just excited for the game.” Tobin reasons.

 

Christen lets out a small chuckle, nodding along.

 

“How’s your head?” Tobin asks genuinely.

 

Christen shrugs. “It’s ok. Still wish I could be playing today, but what are you gonna do?”

 

“Yeah I know, me too.”

 

Christen shifts uncomfortably, itching to address the elephant in the room. “So, I feel like I should apologize—for the other night. I didn’t mean to make things...weird or whatever.”

 

“What? No, I don’t think things are weird. Do you think things are weird?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I guess not? I just thought...” 

 

Christen pauses, seeing the earnest look on Tobin’s face. She shakes her head at herself. If Tobin’s willing to look past it and pretend their awkward exchange never happened, Christen should count her blessings and just roll with it. 

 

“Never mind. I should let you finish getting ready. You nervous?”

 

“Not nervous, just excited.” Tobin says confidently. 

 

Christen smiles at the signature platitude “Good. Just wanted to come say good luck before I go up to the box...so...good luck.”

 

“Thanks. See you after the game?” Tobin questions.

 

“Yeah, I’ll come find you.”

 

Tobin gives her a quick thumbs up and returns to the huddle of teammates. 

 

Christen makes her way up to the box and finds a lone seat along the railing so she has a good vantage point. It’s not where she had hoped she’d be on opening day, but it’s the closest she’s ever been, and she reminds herself to be grateful for that. 

 

Fully accepting her current situation, Christen focuses on the game, determined to get something out of this less-than-ideal circumstance. She watches like a hawk as the game progresses, jotting down notes in her phone as she studies the run of play. She remains focused for the most part, but has to remind herself on several occasions that there are other players on the field besides Tobin. She tries to convince herself that the woman’s movements would be mesmerizing to anyone because she’s so skilled on the ball. 

 

When the final whistle blows, it’s a zero-zero draw; a disappointing finish for opening day. By the time Christen makes her way through security and onto the locker room, it seems the team had already been given the post-game speech from the coach, and the players were left to their own devices to shower and pack up. 

 

Christen offers pats on the back and words of encouragement to players who will accept them, and eventually finds her way to Tobin.

 

“Hey, good game.” She offers.

 

Tobin finishes zipping up her over-stuffed duffel bag before standing up to acknowledge Christen. “Thanks. Not really how I wanted to start the season, but we’ll get ‘em next time I guess.” Tobin says, trying to remain positive. “And next game, we’ll have you.”

 

“Yeah definitely. As long as no one goes punching me in the head again.” Christen jokes.

 

“I’ll try to resist the urge.” Tobin jokes back.

 

There’s a lull between them as Christen watches her teammates shuffle through the locker room in an organized chaos.

 

“Do you need a ride back or something?” Tobin asks simply.

 

“Oh—no, I just...I wanted to come congratulate you on your first game...congratulate everyone I mean.” Christen fumbles out, still trying to manage her nerves around the woman. 

 

Tobin just bobs her head at this and swings her bag over her shoulder. “Well, thanks for the sentiment. Hopefully next game we’ll have more to celebrate.”

 

“Definitely.” Christen agrees.

 

“You going out to your car? I’ll walk with you.” Tobin offers, pointing toward the exit. 

 

“Yeah, lead the way.”

 

Christen follows Tobin to the parking lot and they reach Christen’s car first. “You don’t want to stay and shower or anything?” Christen asks, trying to strike up conversation.

 

“You trying to tell me I stink?” Tobin teases with a laugh.

 

“What?! No! No, you just seemed ready to get out of there.” Christen recovers.

 

“Nah, I just didn’t want to make you wait around for me to shower before I walked you out.” 

 

“I don’t need you to walk me out, I’m fine. The parking lot’s pretty well lit.” Christen chuckles. 

 

“I know, but maybe I just wanted to walk with you, ok?” Tobin says with a crooked smile.

 

Christen has to bite her lip to hold back the bashful smile on her lips. 

 

“Think you can take it from here? I know where you live so if you don’t make it home, I’ll know.” Tobin jabs playfully.

 

“I think I’ll make it. Thanks.” Christen teases back.

 

She unlocks the car and slides in behind the wheel. Tobin leans on the door, propping it open. “Alright, drive safe. I’ll see you later superstar.”

 

Christen starts the car and offers Tobin a smile. “Night Tobs.”

 

Tobin smiles back and closes the door for Christen, waving as Christen pulls out of the parking lot and drives off back to her apartment. 

 

***

 

The week goes on in similar fashion. Christen comes back into the fold the following week after her precautionary benching. As expected, practices no longer include icebreakers in favor of more serious drills. The mood remains light though, and Christen tries to focus on learning her teammates tendencies and working on building chemistry. Unsurprisingly, she and Tobin quickly develop a good give and take on the field, which doesn’t go unnoticed by the coaching staff. 

 

As Christen sits in her apartment on game day, she gets an email from the coach with a starting 11 and brief notes about strategy for the upcoming game that night. 

 

Christen scans the starting lineup and smiles widely when she sees her own name as the central forward for her first game. She shouldn’t be surprised, but the excitement of her first professional match is hard to resist. She looks through the rest of the lineup and is happy to see that Tobin’s on the list too. Overcome with joy, she picks up her phone to share her excitement.

 

“Hey did you get the email?” Tobin asks immediately upon answering.

 

“Yes! I’m so excited!” Christen tries to contain the squeal in her throat.

 

Tobin chuckles “Save some of that energy for the game would ya?”

 

“Sorry, I’m just so happy and anxious and—oh my gosh, I don’t know how I’m going to make it til tonight!” Christen says.

 

“Why don’t you come over to my place and we can chill and get ready for the game together. Might pass the time a little quicker if we’re distracting each other.” Tobin offers

 

Christen’s glad Tobin can’t see the suggestive smile on her lips at Tobin’s innocent proposition. “Yeah ok. Let me just pack my bag and I’ll be over in a bit.” She says.

 

“Ok, see you soon.”

 

Half an hour later, Christen stands in front of Tobin’s apartment again. The door swings open and Tobin’s friendly gaze quickly shifts from Christen’s eyes down to the bag beside her.

 

“Were you planning on moving in? It’s only a one bedroom but I guess we can make it work.” Tobin teases, pointing toward Christen’s overstuffed bag.

 

“I like being prepared!” Christen defends herself.

 

Tobin just laughs and steps aside, letting Christen enter her apartment. Stepping in, Christen looks around and notices how empty the apartment is. She had noticed this the last time she was here, but she thought it was just a part of the “spa” thing she had going on. Before she can ask about it, Tobin explains.

 

“I haven’t had a chance to buy a lot of furniture yet. I’ve been a little busy.” 

 

“I just thought you were a minimalist.” Christen jokes, scanning the living room filled only with a sectional couch, coffee table, and a tv propped up on a large plastic container. 

 

“Well I have the essentials at least: couch, bed, and Netflix.” Tobin says, plopping on the couch. 

 

Christen hums in agreement and comes around the couch to sit next to Tobin. “So what’s your game day ritual?” She asks, changing the subject

 

“Well I just finished my game day nap, so now I usually watch a movie or something to distract myself from how much water I have to drink.” Tobin says, holding up a Nalgene bottle.

 

“Smart. You’re lucky you can nap. I’m usually too amped up to fall asleep. I can’t get my brain to turn off.” Christen explains.

 

“I get that. How about a movie then?” Tobin offers.

 

“Yeah sure. Pick whatever you want. I’m easy.”

 

Tobin smiles and gives her a knowing look.

 

“Oh stop, you know what I meant.” Christen swats Tobin on the arm.

 

Tobin lets out a chuckle and relaxes into the couch, suddenly very interested in the Netflix selection. 

 

Eventually Tobin puts on a movie that Christen thinks she might have seen before, but she doesn’t say anything and instead tries to follow Tobin’s lead and just relax. About halfway into the movie, Christen’s eyes start getting heavy and yawns start escaping from her. 

 

“You want a blanket?” Tobin asks, noticing Christen’s sleepy state.

 

Christen nods and Tobin reaches behind her, tugging the blanket from the back off the couch. She drapes it across Christen’s body, effectively tucking her in. 

 

“Thanks.” Christen says weakly.

 

“Yeah, of course. You can lay down if you want.” Tobin suggests, her attention still on the tv.

 

“Ok.” Christen scoots over a bit toward Tobin, stretching out her legs and resting her head on her lap. “Is this ok?”

 

“Uh, yeah.” Had Christen been able to see, she would have noticed Tobin’s hesitant hands searching for the right place to land on Christen’s body. Eventually, Tobin gingerly brushes the hair from Christen’s face and continues to gently run her fingers through her dark locks. A content sigh escapes Christen’s lips, indicating she was definitely ok with this. 

 

Christen soon loses interest in the movie in favor of attending to the feeling of Tobin’s fingers running through her hair, massaging her scalp. Goosebumps form on her skin despite the warmth of the blanket covering her, and she soon drifts into a light sleep.

 

She doesn’t know how much time has passed, but as she becomes aware of her surroundings again, she can hear the quiet whisper of Tobin as she gently rouses her back to consciousness. “Hey Chris? Chris, I think we should start getting ready soon.” 

 

Tobin’s voice is hushed and the hand lightly running up and down the length of her arm almost puts Christen right back to sleep. As tempting as it is to stay in this twilight forever, Christen lets out a disgruntled groan and slowly shifts until she’s sitting upright next to Tobin.

 

“How long was I out?” Christen asks, stifling a yawn and rubbing her eyes.

 

“Couple hours. So much for not being able to nap.” Tobin jokes. “You got—uh” Tobin looks at Christen, bringing her hand to her own mouth, dabbing it a little.

 

Christen takes the hint and swipes her hand across her mouth, feeling the wet drool that had accumulated on the corner of her lip. “Oh my gosh—this is so embarrassing.”

 

Tobin smiles at her “No, it’s cute.” She says genuinely.

 

Christen laughs lightly despite herself, looking away to hide the blush creeping onto her cheeks. “So uh, do you usually get ready here or the locker room?” Christen asks in an attempt to divert attention away from her.

 

“I mean all my gear is at the stadium, so there I guess.” Tobin responds, looking a little confused.

 

Christen explains herself further “No I mean like do your hair and stuff. Do you do that there or at home?” 

 

“I just put it up before the game, so I guess—there?” Tobin seems to be getting more confused as the questioning continues. 

 

Christen smiles at Tobin’s lack of understanding and just shakes her head. “Ok well I’m going to go straighten my hair and put on my game face so to speak. Some of us take a little more work to look as good as you.” She winks.

 

“Oh...Oh! You mean make-up and stuff? Yeah I don’t really bother with that. Sorry” Tobin says, almost embarrassed, finally catching on. 

 

“Don’t be. You don’t need it.” Christen says with a smile

 

“Neither do you...” Tobin smiles back, her tone lighter and more gentle.

 

They stand in the living room regarding each other silently for a moment before Christen snaps from her daze and picks up her bag. “So the bathroom is...” Christen asks

 

“Oh, back that way. Can’t miss it.” Tobin gestures. 

 

“Ok. How much time do I have?” Christen asks.

 

Tobin looks at her phone. “Twenty minutes or so.”

 

“Alright. I can make that work. I’ll be right back.” 

 

Christen heads off to the bathroom, shutting the door behind her to offer a little privacy. She takes a moment to smile to herself, thinking about Tobin’s fingers in her hair and the way she looked at her so endearingly. She definitely didn’t mind spending game days like this. 

 

She tries to calm the butterflies in her stomach as she unpacks her makeup bag and shifts her focus to the game ahead. She knows she needs to put on a good performance to live up to the hype and secure endorsements. Not to mention, a good game would quell any rousing suspicions and further solidify her place as an alt athlete. 

 

She hadn’t read any articles questioning her genetics yet, but poor performances by athletes tend to be followed by a more thorough assessment of genetic profiles. She had seen many athletes rise to stardom, only to be torn down after a poor performance. Clubs and fans alike will demand genetics testing as an effort to account for the athlete’s lackluster games, and even fire them after exposing some small imperfection deemed “too risky” to keep the athlete on the payroll. It’s mostly bullshit and is used as a PR stunt, but many athletes end up blacklisted as a result and never return to the sport. 

 

Christen knows her GPI is already on the low end for a typical tier three athlete, so she’d rather not have someone digging deeper into her profile and discovering she isn’t a true alt at all. That would surely ruin her career and may even cause legal issues. She doesn’t know for sure, but she’d rather not find out the hard way. 

 

Her thoughts are interrupted by a soft rap on the door. “Two minute warning. You almost ready?”

 

Christen looks to the mirror in a panic. She was so lost in thought, she had barely started straightening her hair, and she hasn’t even touched the makeup in bag. “Uh—I’ll be done in a sec.” She calls through the door.

 

She quickly scrambles to put on a little eye liner and mascara, abandoning any hope of applying anything more. She looks despairingly at her hair and quickly tries to run the straightener through the remaining curly locks. She gets it just smooth enough to put it into a quick bun to disguise the uneven curls left in her hair.

 

She swings open the bathroom door and rushes into the living room to find Tobin pacing near the back wall with her phone crammed against her ear, talking in a hushed but intense tone. Christen can’t quite decipher what she’s saying, but judging by her facial expression, Christen can see it’s clearly not an enjoyable conversation.

 

After a few seconds, Tobin looks up and notices Christen standing idly across the room. She quickly ends the call and slides her phone back in her pocket. “Sorry. You ready to go?” 

 

Her tone relaxes a little, but Christen can tell she’s still wound up from the phone call.

 

“Yeah. You ok?” Christen asks, putting her makeup away and slinging her bag over shoulder. 

 

“Fine. Just—contract shit.” Tobin says dismissively, grabbing the keys from the countertop.

 

Christen decides not to push it and silently follows Tobin to her car. The music in the car seems to relax Tobin a little and by the time they pull up to the stadium, both women are singing along to the radio. They laugh at their skills, deciding they’re better athletes than singers.

 

The locker room is busy as they walk in. Everyone is involved in their own pregame ritual. Some sit alone in their lockers, deep in concentration, while others look outward to amp themselves up, dancing around to loud music with each other. 

 

Christen takes this time to carefully put on her gear, making sure to wrap her shin guards on tightly and lace her shoes with the perfect tension. By the time she finishes, the coach is calling over the players for last minute strategic tweaks and reminders.

 

As they stand in the tunnel together all lined up, Christen’s perfectly in the zone. She’s so focused she doesn’t even realize that Tobin’s standing right in front of her until the woman turns to offer some last minute words of encouragement.

 

“Remember, excited not anxious.” 

 

Christen merely nods, a determined look on her face as the team begins their walk out onto the field. 

 

Christen tries to stay present in the game, but as the ball gets pushed into the defensive end, she can’t help but look up at the cheering crowd, taking in the sounds of their chants and cheers. It’s a bit surreal but Christen only allows herself to bask in it a few moments before she turns her focus back onto the game. 

 

The game moves faster than she’d ever experienced, but she quickly adjusts and is able to make several quick passes to ease her into it’s rhythm. Her chances are somewhat limited throughout the game with most of the action playing out in the midfield, but after a takeaway in the defensive end, Christen darts up the center of the field matching pace with Tobin as she takes it up the flank. Tobin make it to the end line, shaking the defender with a little trickery, and sends in the perfect cross to Christen’s near-post run. All Christen has to do is stick out her boot to redirect it and before she knows it, her teammates are cheering and piling on top of her, celebrating her first goal.

 

It proves to be the only goal of the tough match, and the team takes their first win of the season. When the whistle blows, she celebrates briefly with her team and goes around to shake hands with her opponents.

 

 Exhausted and desperate for water, Christen grabs a bottle on the bench and nearly drains half the bottle in one gulp. She only stops drinking when she hears her name being called from the stands. When she locates where the voices are coming from, she sees a group of young girls with posters, calling desperately for her to come over and sign it. 

 

Christen looks around in disbelief.

 

“It’s unreal isn’t it.” Tobin says as she comes to stand next to her, grabbing her own water bottle. “Well, you gonna leave them hanging or what?” Tobin smiles, giving Christen a push of encouragement toward the group of girls.

 

Christen smiles and makes her way over to the girls, taking pictures and answering their eager questions. Once they all get their shirts and posters signed, they run up the stadium steps toward their waiting parents, giggling excitedly at meeting Christen. 

 

Christen watches them, laughing at their enthusiasm and turns back to head to the center of the field toward her teammates. 

 

“So you’ll sign their stuff but not mine?”

 

A chill runs down Christen’s overheated body and the acid in her stomach churns. It can’t be...

 

Christen slowly turns and locks eyes with the one person she thought she’d never lay eyes on again. 

 

“Well don’t look so happy to see me.” He mocks.

 

Christen’s mouth is dry and her throat scratches “Michael, what are you—how did you...”

 

“Oh it wasn’t that hard to find you. You’re face is practically plastered all over every soccer website. Thought I’d come see it for myself. ‘LA’s star rookie’. Such a cute story they have about you. It’d be a shame if they found out you don’t deserve to be in this league. Might even be a better story.” He looks at her smugly.

 

“What do you want? You’re the one who said you never wanted to see me again. You broke up with me, remember?” Christen says bitterly, taking a few steps closer to keep their conversation private. 

 

“You think I want you back? Please. If I wanted to date a half-breed I’d go find one on the drag. No, I want something more worth my while.” He sneers

 

“I don’t understand. What do you want?” Christen asks, her patience wearing thin.

 

He lets out a sarcastic scoff, picking lint from his shirt with a smug grin. “I’m not sure why, but everyone seems to be drooling over you. I’d bet you’ve got some pretty substantial endorsements coming your way.” He leans in over the railing until the two are face to face. “I want a piece. You give me, let’s say, 20 percent of all your endorsement deals and I keep quiet about your actual genetic history.” He leans back with a greasy smirk.

 

Christen scoffs, crossing her arms in front of herself. “How am I supposed to do that? The league keeps track of all my earnings. How am I supposed to explain 20 percent of that mysteriously disappearing every month?” 

 

He shrugs “Maybe you develop a gambling problem or start collecting purses. I don’t give a shit. You’ll figure it out.” 

 

He stands back upright, looking down at Christen once more. “I look forward to hearing about all the contracts you’ll be signing. You have my number. See you later Christen.”

 

He turns toward the exit, heading up the stairs and out of the stadium without so much as a glance behind him. 

 

Christen’s knuckles turn white by her side and her jaw aches from how hard she’s clenching it. “Motherfucker.” She spits out under her breath.

 

“Hey, you ok? Was that guy bothering you?” Tobin comes over having noticed Christen’s stiff body language.

 

“Yeah. Ex-boyfriend. He’s an asshole.” Christen’s body relaxes a bit in the presence of Tobin, and the blood returns to her hands.

 

“Guess that’s why he’s an ex-boyfriend, huh?” Tobin says, unsure how to approach this situation. 

 

“Yeah.” Christen says only half paying attention, still caught up in the previous conversation.

 

“Everybody’s heading into the locker room. You ready?” She asks.

 

“Yeah, Sorry. I’m coming.” Christen responds, following Tobin as the last players to leave the field, shaking off the exchange and putting it out of her mind for now.

 

Once inside the locker room, Christen’s immediately welcomed by the cheers of her teammates and the spray of water from their water bottles. She laughs, trying and failing to protect her body from getting soaked.

 

The coach eventually quiets everyone and presents Christen with the game ball. “In honor of her first game, first goal, and first win, Press, I’d say you’ve earned this ball. Congratulations!”

 

The team erupts in whistles and cheers and by the time they finally calm down, Christen’s cheeks hurt from smiling so much.

 

Walking out to the car with Tobin, ball in hand, Christen can’t believe the rollercoaster of emotions she’s experienced tonight. Although she’d always dreamed of playing in her first professional game, it’s now forever tainted by the unfortunate arrival of her degenerate ex-boyfriend. She’s thankful that Tobin’s there to take her mind off of it. 

 

“I just knew where your run was going. You opened up perfectly and then, wham! Oh man, what a goal!” She says, bouncing next to Christen in excitement. 

 

“Yeah, it was pretty great.” Christen says, unable to match Tobin’s enthusiasm.

 

“Are you sure you’re ok? I know how seeing your ex out of the blue like that can just ruin a night.” She says empathetically. “What did he want anyway?”

 

Christen shakes her head, looking at her feet. “Nothing. Just wanted to remind me how pathetic I am.”

 

“Well he’s dead wrong about that. You were incredible tonight!” Tobin slings her arm around Christen’s shoulder.

 

“You think?” Christen asks incredulously.

 

“Yeah, obviously. If he can’t see how incredible you are, he’s an idiot and never deserved you.” Tobin gives Christen’s shoulder a sympathetic squeeze, and Christen gladly leans into Tobin’s embrace. 

 

“Thanks.” Christen says quietly as they get to the car and detach.

 

“For the self-esteem boost or the beautiful assist to your first goal?” Tobin teases.

 

Christen chuckles, thankful for the lighthearted comment. “Both.” Christen chuckles, buckling her seatbelt. She lets out a yawn, sinking into the passenger seat. “Can we go home? It’s been a long day.”

 

“What, you didn’t get enough sleep during your nap?” Tobin jabs.

 

“I just played a full ninety, give me a break!” Christen defends herself.

 

Tobin laughs at this and shifts into drive, heading out of the parking lot. “Alright, fair. I’ll go easy on you this time.”

 

“Thanks, I appreciate it.” Christen says, placing her hand on top of Tobin’s as it rests on the shifter.

 

Christen almost moves it, but Tobin doesn’t try to pull her hand away, and Christen notices the small smile that doesn’t leave her lips the whole drive home. 

Chapter Text

With the season in full swing, Christen is busier than she’s ever been. Not only does she have to manage her practice and recovery sessions, she’s also accumulated a fair amount of endorsement deals which all require interviews, photo shoots, social media posts, etcetera. And to top it all off, she’s somehow managed to find a way to cover her 20 percent “Michael fee” every month by “donating” to an animal shelter nearby. Much to Christen’s chagrin, she can’t actually afford to give them any money, but she offered her likeness to help support them and they seemed pleased enough with that. 

 

What they don’t know won’t hurt them. That seems to be her her mantra these days.

 

Things with her teammates have progressed too.  She’d developed a good relationship with most of the girls and their chemistry was really starting to gel. Well, except for her chemistry with Tobin, that seems to have fizzled a little. 

 

Shortly after their first match, Lindsey insisted on setting Tobin up on a blind date. Two months later, her new girlfriend has taken Christen’s spot on the couch during their pregame movie ritual.

 

“I need to fill up my water bottle. Anybody need anything in the kitchen?” Tobin asks, gently lifting her girlfriend’s head from her lap to shimmy from beneath her. 

 

“Alex—babe I gotta get up!” She laughs, as her girlfriend wraps her arms around Tobin’s hips and starts pulling her back onto the couch.

 

“But you’re so comfy.” She whines

 

“I’ll be right back, I promise.” Tobin kisses her temple and gets up from the couch.

 

“Chris? Water?” Tobin asks.

 

“No I’m good.” She says curtly, lifting her mostly full bottle into the air, keeping her eyes straight ahead on the television. 

 

Alex sits up from her spot, raking her hand through her hair to smooth it. Christen can see the woman looking at her from the corner of her eye. “Ugh, I cant get into this movie. I’m not super into documentaries.” She says.

 

“I like it.” Christen responds without breaking her gaze on the tv. 

 

“I’m glad Tobin at least has someone to nerd out with so I don’t have to pretend to like this stuff.” She says with a chuckle.

 

Christen just hums in response, still focused on the tv.

 

Christen feels bad for her coldness toward the woman, but she can’t help that she’s a little territorial about her closest friend. She just has high standards for Tobin and who she dates. Sure, Alex may be nice and has a good job, not to mention she’s a total babe, but Christen can’t figure out what the two women actually have in common. What on earth could they possibly have to talk about? 

 

And maybe she’s a little jealous of Alex for taking Tobin off the market, but she should just be happy that Tobin’s happy. She had her chance and Tobin made her choice. Christen has to respect that. It’s not worth losing their friendship over. Crushes come and go, but friendships last a lifetime. At least, that’s what she’s been trying to convince herself of.

 

“Hey we should probably head to the stadium soon.” Tobin says from behind the couch. 

 

Christen looks at her phone to confirm this. “Ok, I just need to pee and I’ll be ready to go.” 

 

Christen hops up from her spot and heads into the bathroom to take care of business.

 

Standing at the sink washing her hands, she notices the second toothbrush sitting in the cup by the faucet, and a collection of black hair ties that she knows aren’t Tobin’s; she prefers multicolored ones to match her mood for the day. Christen shakes her head and sighs, aware that she should be happy for her friend, but she just can’t quite make herself feel it. A dull ache still burns in her stomach.

 

Walking back into the living room, she sees Tobin and Alex standing face to face, wrapped up in each other’s arms. They smile and kiss and murmur things to one another in what looks like a private moment. The ache in Christen’s stomach burns hotter.

 

She loudly clears her throat to announce her presence and watches as the two separate.

 

“Ready.” Christen declares picking up her bag and slinging it over her shoulder. 

 

“Ok cool.” Tobin says. She turns her attention back to Alex, giving her a soft peck on the lips. “Bye babe. I’ll be back later tonight ok?”

 

“Ok. Bye guys, good luck!” Alex says, waving them off and out the door.

 

The car ride is silent the first few minutes of the drive, but Christen can’t help herself and finally interjects. “So, is Alex like, living with you now?”

 

Tobin briefly looks over at Christen, obviously a bit thrown off by her question, but quickly returns her eyes to the road. “No. She just stays over sometimes.”

 

“Even when you’re not there?” Christen questions.

 

“I mean, yeah. She’s my girlfriend. She’s not gonna like, steal shit.” Tobin chuckles. “What’s your beef with her anyway?” 

 

“What beef? I have no beef!” Christen defends.

 

“You have beef.” Tobin reiterates. 

 

“I just—I don’t know. She just seems kinda...blah. Like, what do you guys even have in common?”

 

“Lots of stuff!”

 

“Like?”

 

“We both like pizza and good beer and those candies that start out hard and then turn into gum.”

 

“Those are food preferences, not similar interests.” Christen dead pans. “Also, ew, those candies are disgusting.”

 

Tobin takes her eyes off the road to give her a brief admonishing glare. “She’s nice, and easy to be with. She understands my schedule and and doesn’t get needy when I’m not around. Plus she’s good in bed...”

 

Christen slaps her hands over her ears “la la la, don’t want to hear about it.”

 

Tobin rolls her eyes. “Look, we’re not going to solve world hunger together, but we meet each other’s needs. Can’t you just try to be happy for me?”

 

“This is me trying.” Christen says flatly.

 

“Well try harder.”

 

Christen lets out a sigh and slouches in her seat, fixing her gaze on the familiar road in front of her. A beat of silence passes before Tobin changes the subject. “So you ready for the game?”

 

***

 

As the final whistle blows, Christen sinks to her knees, totally drained emotionally and physically. She hunches over, running her hands through her hair and letting out a frustrated groan. She feels a pat on her back.

 

“It’s alright, Press. We’ll get ‘em next time. Shake it off.” Kelley says before moving on to    their other teammates.

 

Christen tries, but can’t shake off the feelings of guilt she has for missing all those scoring chances, losing challenges, misplacing passes. She even picked up a yellow for fouling another player in frustration after being picked off on the dribble. She can’t help but feel this loss is her fault.

 

“Come on superstar, lets get outta here.” Tobin says, extending her hand to help Christen up.

 

“I’m not a superstar.” Christen says, ignoring Tobin’s extended hand.

 

“Hey, even the brightest stars flicker sometimes. It’s not the end of the world. We all had a rough game.”

 

“You didn’t miss an open net.” Christen grumbles.

 

When Christen shows no sign of getting up, Tobin squats down to her level. “No, but I passed it right to the other team in our own half and they scored off it. Plus, your shot was a tough angle. There are only a few girls in the whole league who would have even put that as close to frame as you.” 

 

Christen looks up finally, giving Tobin a weak smile, which Tobin returns twofold. “Come on. I heard Kelley talking about going to the bar after this. We can drink until we don’t remember how bad we played.”

 

Tobin stands up, offering her hand to Christen again. This time, Christen takes it and lets Tobin pull her up off the grass. “I’ll drink to that.”

 

After a shower and a quick drive, Christen and her teammates end up at a nearby dive bar, one they know won’t be full of fans to recognize them and judge them for their drinking habits. 

 

Upon their arrival, Christen gladly takes a shot when offered by Lindsey, and another when Sonnett offers her one in exchange for a dance. She downs another few mixed drinks in quick succession and starts to feel her buzz setting in. 

 

She spends some time chatting and venting about the game with the others. She’s happy to know that everyone else on the team feels equally responsible for their loss, and the feeling of guilt that was clenching her chest begins to loosen it’s grip.

 

While dancing with a few teammates she catches a glance at Tobin from across the bar. She’d been missing in action all night, texting in the corner. This time when Christen sees her, she has her phone jammed to the side of her head and a finger in her ear to block out the noise. She watches a disgruntled-looking Tobin exit out the back door into the alleyway, presumably to escape the noise for her phone conversation. 

 

“I’ll be right back” she shouts into Kelley’s ear as she squeezes through the crowd to follow Tobin. 

 

Christen stumbles out the back door, pushing it open forcefully enough to cause a loud crash which reverberates down the ally. She swivels her head around looking for the brunette. Squinting, she makes out her lanky figure near the end of the ally, leaning up against the brick building. She makes her way over to the woman and as she gets closer, she picks up snippets of her phone conversation. 

 

“No, I said I’ll be back later....yes she’s here, the whole team is here....well what do you want me to do? I can’t force her to leave, that’s not my job....Yeah, I know.... I said I know! I heard you the first time....Yeah, I’ll update you if anything changes. I gotta go, bye.” Tobin quickly hangs up the phone and lets out a frustrated groan. 

 

“Hey.” Christen says, grabbing Tobin’s attention.

 

Tobin looks over, letting out a deep sigh. “Hey.”

 

“Girlfriend trouble?” Christen asks.

 

Tobin’s brows knit together in confusion. “What?” 

 

Christen point toward Tobin’s phone. “Your conversation. Was that Alex? Is she pissed you went out?”

 

Tobin’s eyes light up in understanding “Oh—was that— yeah, Alex. Yeah, she uh, she wanted me to come home straight after the game, but I told her I needed the night out with the girls. You know, team bonding and stuff.” Tobin shrugs.

 

Christen looks at her suspiciously. “She’s mad you’re here with the whole team?”

 

Tobin shrugs. “I don’t know. I’m not really sure what she’s mad at.” She says dismissively.

 

Christen pries further. “Is she mad you’re here with a specific person?”

 

“I don’t think so. Who could she even be mad at?” Tobin questions.

 

Christen shrugs “I don’t know...me?” 

 

Tobin scoffs, unconvinced. “What? Come on, you’re my best friend on the team, why would she be mad at you?”

 

Christen breathes in deeply, taking a step closer to Tobin. “I don’t know. Maybe she thinks I’m a threat or something. Like I’ll make a move on you.” 

 

Christen’s eyes fix on her shoes, unable to look Tobin in the eyes as she gathers the courage to divulge what she’s been keeping inside her since they met. 

 

“Maybe she’s not wrong to think that.”

 

When she drags her eyes back up from the pavement, Tobin looks at her, perplexed; as if she’d been betrayed by Christen’s confession. “Chris, don’t.”

 

“Why?” Christen looks at her, her eyes longing and desperate.

 

“I can’t.” Tobin says just above a whisper. 

 

“I know there’s something between us. I know I’m not imagining it.” 

 

Tobin sighs but doesn’t deny it.

 

“Why?” Christen asks again, pleading for a different response.

 

“I just—it’s too complicated. I don’t want to lose you.”

 

“How could you lose me? You’re what I want.” She confesses, the weight of it dropping in her stomach. 

 

She feels as if she’s free-falling as she steps into Tobin, bringing her hand up to cradle her cutting jaw. They lock eyes and Christen can see the tears forming in her brown orbs, threatening to fall.

 

Tobin blinks, but before the tears can escape her lids, she pulls away from Christen. “I’m sorry.”

 

She walks away, brushing past Christen and back toward the bar. Christen watches as she almost jogs back to the door to the bar that’s being propped open by Kelley. Tobin strides past her without a word and out of sight. Kelley watches Tobin with confusion and then looks back to Christen, the gears turning in her head. 

 

“Press.” Kelley calls, motioning with her head to come back inside the bar.

 

Christen obliges and trudges back toward Kelley who remains in the doorway. Stepping by Kelley, they exchange looks, and an understanding passes between them. 

 

“Sorry buddy.” Kelley says, giving Christen an empathetic squeeze on her arm.

 

Christen shrugs. “It’s ok. I brought it on myself.”

 

“You know, not every bad thing that happens to you in life is your fault. Sometimes the stars just don’t align and it’s nobody’s fault. Don’t beat yourself up, alright?”

 

Christen nods silently in understanding. 

 

“And sometimes you need a few drinks to just forget you even have problems.” Kelley says with a little more levity. “Come on, it’s on me.”

 

Christen follows Kelley up to the bar and sits beside her, accepting her words of wisdom and drowning her sorrows. 

 

Kelley gets the bartenders attention “Hey, she’s with me. Put her on my tab.” 

 

The bartender gives her a thumbs up and pours Christen another shot. 

 

“Have as many of those as it takes to forget tonight and then come join me on the dance floor.” Kelley gives her a rough pat on the back, leaving Christen to it. 

 

Once her teammate is out of earshot, Christen lets out a long sigh. “Kelley’s gonna regret this.” Christen says to herserself, downing the amber liquid in a burning gulp.

 

30 minutes later, Christen’s lost count of how many times the bartender has come over to fill her up. He inevitably leaves her the bottle, unable to tend to her every time she needs a refill. 

 

Kelley comes back over to check on her when she realizes Christen hasn’t left her bar stool. “Hey—woah, Chris.” She exclaims, seeing the mostly empty bottle on the bar top. “Hey, maybe you should slow down. I don’t think we need to add a hospital visit to my tab tonight.” 

 

Christen looks over at her and smiles. “I’m fine.”

 

“Chris, you almost polished off a fifth of whiskey by yourself.” Kelley raises the bottle to inspect it more closely. “Actually, going to the hospital might not be a bad idea.” She says, trying to stand Christen up from her seat. 

 

“Seriously, I’m fine. Look.” Christen hops up from her seat performing a loose rendition of a sobriety test. She wobbles just a bit, but doesn’t immediately fall over like she should be with that much alcohol in her system. 

 

Kelley looks at her with disbelief. “Jeez. What the hell kind of tolerance do you have?”

 

Christen shrugs, sitting back down on the stool next to Kelley. “I don’t know, I’ve always been able to drink a lot. Actually, it’s kind of hard for me to get drunk. This takes a lot of work.” Christen points to herself to call attention to her tipsy state. “I don’t really get hangovers though. I don’t think I’ve ever had one.” Christen ponders aloud. 

 

She stifles a hiccup before continuing her stream of consciousness. “I mean. I’ve never even really been sick now that I think about it...” Christen peters out. Even though she isn’t plastered, she still feels the alcohol affecting her inhibitions. 

 

“So are you trying to break that hangover-free streak tonight or what?” Kelley jokes. 

 

“Wait, did you say you’ve never been sick before?” Kelley asks, finally digesting all that Christen had just revealed.

 

Christen shrugs. “Yeah I guess”

 

“Not even like a cough or a cold or something?” Kelley asks skeptically. 

 

Christen shakes her head “Nope.”

 

Kelley sits back, the gears turning in her head once more. 

 

“What? Is that weird?” Christen asks when she’s met with Kelley’s silent stare.

 

“No, I mean, lots of alts have like, bolstered immune systems or whatever, but even alts get colds. You’d think they would have found a cure for the common cold by now but...”

 

Kelley leans in again, propping her elbow up on the bar, clearly gaining interest in this conversation. “Ok, what about injuries? Broken bones, sprained ankles. Anything?” 

 

Had Christen been more sober, she might have thought Kelley’s incessant questioning regarding her medical history was odd or invasive, but in Christen’s stupor, she merely goes along with it and answers Kelley dutifully.

 

“I got in a car accident when I was eleven and broke my leg, but it was better in like...I don’t know, a week and a half. My mom used to joke that the car took longer to repair than I did.” She snorts, laughing at the joke that reminds her of her childhood. 

 

Kelley, however, isn’t laughing. She looks over the green eyed woman with a combination of skepticism and wonder. “Chris, what was your GPI?” Her tone more serious now. 

 

Christen blows out. “Pffft, I don’t know, like a 9.2. I know, I know, it’s probably the lowest on the team. Well, except for Tobin, but she has bionic legs so, whatever.” 

 

Kelley remains quiet a few moments as she silently mulls over this information until Christen interjects, oblivious to Kelley’s deep concentration. “Hey Kelley, can I get a ride home with you? I think Tobin left without me.”

 

Her serious face cracks and a small smile forms on Kelley’s lips, sympathizing with the heartbroken woman in front of her. “Of course. You ready to go home now?”

 

Christen nods, suddenly overcome with exhaustion as she lays her head on the bar. 

 

“Ok, let me just close out and we can go.”

 

Kelley gets her bill and after a brief argument with the bartender about the price of Christen’s drained bottle of liquor, Christen walks with Kelley out to her car, accepting the arm around her waist for support and a little bit of comfort. 

 

When they pull up to Christen’s apartment, Kelley grabs Christen’s wrist before she slides out of the passenger seat. “Hey, will you call me when you wake up in the morning? I want to make sure you don’t die on me in the middle of the night.”

 

Christen looks at her sweetly, feeling somewhat more sober than when they’d left the bar. “Aw, you’re such a good captain, looking out for your teammates.”

 

Kelley grins “No, I’m just the last person to be seen with you and I don’t want to be a suspect in a murder case. If anyone on the team asks, I lectured you on the importance of taking care of your body, and maintaining hydration, and yadda yadda.” 

 

Christen smirks, giving her a small nod. “Thanks Kel.”

 

“Sure thing. And seriously, call me in the morning. I want to meet up and talk about, you know, shit from tonight. We can go get coffee or something.”

 

Christen nods faintly, having almost forgotten about her incident with Tobin. “Yeah ok. I’ll call you tomorrow. Night.” 

 

Christen shuts the car door and shuffles to her apartment. She lets herself in and heads straight for the shower, hoping the warm water and steam will wash away the memories of tonight: the game, Tobin, the bar tab she’ll undoubtedly be repaying for the rest of the season. 

 

She puts on her comfiest pajama shirt and underwear and slips into bed, wishing she still felt drunk so she could numbly drift to sleep. 

 

***

 

Christen wakes up, hangover free, and calls Kelley once she thinks it’s a decent enough hour. 

 

“Press, it’s 8:30. Why are you awake?” Kelley groans into the phone.

 

“You said call when I wake up!” She retorts defensively.  “I’ve actually been up for an hour but I wanted to wait til a little later to call. Some people like to have time to themselves in the morning to help them wake up.” She says in a much too chipper voice.

 

“The only time I need to myself is two more hours staring at the inside of my eyelids. Why are you so happy? You should be miserable. You drank as much as everyone on the team combined.” Kelley groans.

 

“I don’t know, I just don’t ever get hangovers.”

 

“Right. Lucky you.” Kelley croaks sarcastically and lets out a long groan. “Well I’m awake now. Why don’t we meet at the coffee shop on fifth in like, an hour. They have the strongest coffee I know of. 

 

“Ok, see you in a bit!” 

 

Christen’s enthusiasm is met with a discontented grunt from Kelley before the line goes dead. 

 

“Yeah, strong coffee is a good idea.” She says aloud to her darkened phone.

 

Christen meets Kelley at the coffee shop, careful to get there a few minutes early so she can buy Kelley’s coffee for her and have it waiting. 

 

A few minutes after sitting down with their order, Christen sees Kelley walk in looking a little worse for wear. Her hair is pulled up into a messy bun with no attempt to tame the flyaways, and a pair of sunglasses cover her eyes, undoubtedly masking the dark circles beneath them. 

 

“Good morning!” Christen greets Kelley as she sits down across from her.

 

“I don’t know about the ‘good’ part, but it certainly is morning. Is it always this bright in here? Jeez.” She says, wincing as she removes her sunglasses. 

 

“I already ordered us some coffee, I wanted to repay you for last night.” Christen explains, pushing the cup across the table.

 

“I’d say it’ll take a few more cups of coffee to repay me for that. I haven’t had a bar tab that high since college. Did you know what he was pouring you? What dive bar uses Makers Mark as their well?”

 

Christen looks at her with an apologetic cringe. “Sorry.”

 

“It’s alright. I didn’t actually drag you out for coffee just to berate you. There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about.”

 

“Yeah, I figured.” Christen says, feeling the pang of rejection all over again. “About Tobin?”

 

Kelley’s brows knit together “About—Tobin? What? No, I don’t give a shit about who you’re sleeping with. Not my business. No, I’m talking about what you told me last night while we were talking at the bar—before we left.”

 

“About my broken leg?” Christen questions.

 

“Yeah! I...have a story I think you might find interesting.” She explains vaguely.

 

Christen shrugs “Ok, what is it?”

 

Kelley takes a sip of her coffee, organizing her thoughts before she begins. “A few years back, before I got called up to the full tier three team, there was this girl named Sydney on the team who was like, the golden child. She was on the cover of VR games, everyone had her jersey, she was part of the biggest sponsorship deal ever given to a female athlete. It was incredible, and she deserved every ounce of that fame. She was amazing to watch. Fast, strong, deadly striker but also could tackle the shit out of you.”

 

“How come I’ve never heard of her? Does she still play?” Christen asks innocently 

 

“I’m getting to that, hold on.” Kelley reprimands. “So her last season, she starts out in typical Syd fashion. She scores or assists in nearly every game and the team looks destined for the playoffs. But, there’s this stretch of like, four or five games where she’s just not herself. I don’t know if she just gets a mental block or what, but they start losing and management needs someone to blame it on. They call her in one day after practice and subject her to more comprehensive genetic testing claiming it was to ‘see if there was anything they could do to help her get back on her game.’”

 

“Well, turns out they can’t find a single alteration in her code because she wasn’t a real alt! She just had naturally impressive genetics that was picked up by the GPI testing, but those tests don’t actually scan your DNA for synthetic alterations, so no one ever questioned her alt status since most unaltereds max out at a seven and a half, eight.”

 

Christen can feel her hands getting sweaty and her heart rate thumps in her ears. Fuck, what does Kelley know? How did she find out?

 

Kelley continues. “They threatened to sue her, claiming they’d be liable for injuries if they knowingly put an unaltered athlete in competition with alts. They said it was unsafe. So she spilled her guts to them to avoid legal action and obviously, they fired her immediately. It was all over the news.”

 

Christen looks up at Kelley, fearful now. “Kel, I—“

 

Kelley interjects “Hold on Press, this is where it gets really interesting. So it turns out Syd had parents who were altered. Both were perfect tens, as genetically pure as you can get. Even though they didn’t alter Sydney as like, a political statement or something, she still came out with some impressive genetics. Funny thing is, when two perfect tens have children, the chance of mutation actually increases, because the DNA replicates and repairs itself too efficiently. At least, that’s the working theory. And everyone knows that alterations repair mutated genes, so had Syd been an alt baby, she wouldn’t have had the mutations to make her so strong and fast.”

 

“Mutations? Kelley I’m not following.” Christen says, utterly lost.

 

“Just bare with me. It’ll make sense in a minute.” She says, sipping her coffee. “So last night at the bar, you were telling me about how you’ve never been sick, and you never get hurt, and the one time you did, you recovered in a crazy-short amount of time. It got me thinking, what if you were like Sydney. What if you had a mutation too. But instead of being super strong or fast, you could recover from illness and injury—like super healing abilities. So after a quick google search, I found out your parents are pretty impressive: an Olympic track and field star for a dad and an award-winning biogenetic engineer for a mom? Sounds like some perfect tens if you ask me. Now, I’ll never get a hold of your birth certificate to actually confirm it, but I’d say I have you pegged pretty good don’t I?”

 

“Kelley, how do you know all this stuff? You sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist.” Christen says, trying to laugh it off, hoping this will mask the panic overcoming her. 

 

Kelley leans in with a look of concern on her face. “Christen, no. I’m not telling you this to scare you or blackmail you or anything like that. I’m telling you because I know what you are. I know all this stuff because I’m like Sydney. I’m like you.”

 

Christen’s brain short circuits and her mouth hangs open. “Wait—you...what?”

 

“I’m unaltered too. I have perfect ten parents and they didn’t alter me. I got the mutation to make me stronger, just like Syd.” Kelley explains in simpler terms. “I don’t want to rat you out, I want to protect you, protect us. If they find out about you, well, you’ll end up like Syd.”

 

“Blacklisted?” Christen guesses.

 

“Oh, if only.” Kelley takes a brief look around the coffee shop to make sure no one’s listening in on their conversation. Her voice lowers to just above a whisper. “The government took her when they found out she had the mutation.”

 

Christen scoffs “Oh come on, now you really sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist.” 

 

“I’m being serious!” Kelley exclaims. “The team let her go, saying she was going to play overseas, and then no one ever heard from her again. If you don’t believe me, try to look her up. They erased her from every stat sheet, every article about the team. It’s like she never existed.”

 

“How do you know it was the government and it wasn’t like, her parents paying to expunge her from the Internet. There are companies that do that!” Christen reasons.

 

“Because she had a tracker, just like I had a tracker, and you probably have one too.” 

 

“Ok, a tracker? What the fuck is that?” Christen asks incredulously.

 

“Someone hired by the government to keep track of you and like, write down what you do, how you act, sleep patterns, eating patterns, athletic performance, how quickly you recover from shattering a femur...” 

 

Kelley looks at Christen pointedly. “Yeah, that was on the Internet too. Who are you, Wolverine?” 

 

“Kel, this sounds crazy. Why would the government pay someone to follow you around when they could just do genetic testing like they did to Syd and ship you out to Area 51 or wherever the fuck.”

 

“Genetics testing like that is an invasion of privacy. It’s illegal to test you without probable cause. They got Syd on a loop hole, saying it was ‘for her own protection.’”

 

“Ok, that still doesn’t explain why you’d need someone to follow us around.”

 

“It’s like field research instead of having you in a lab. Plus, they want to keep an eye on you to see if you slip up so they can properly test you and take you away.” Kelley leans back in her chair, crossing her arms in front of her.

 

“So you have a tracker?” Christen asks

 

Had a tracker. I got rid of her.” Kelley says.

 

“Wait ‘got rid of her’? Kelley, did you—“

 

“I didn’t murder her! Jesus Press, I’m not a lunatic. I just, stopped giving them a reason to track me.” 

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“So there was this girl, Lou. She was in my dorm freshman year of college and played on the soccer team with me. We got really close and she was my best friend all throughout college. We did practically everything together. Then one night senior year when we were studying for finals, she fell asleep in the library and I borrowed her laptop for something. I was trying to check my email, but as I was signing out of her account, I noticed she had a lot of correspondences with a government email address, so I had to look at them. Turns out, she had been tracking me this whole time and reporting back to this government agency or whoever the fuck, talking about my fitness and strength—stuff she’d tracked during weight training and fitness tests and shit.”

 

“I didn’t want to rouse any suspicion, so I started faking fitness tests. Any time we were in the weight room, doing sprints, beep tests, I held back enough to look more average. It was really hard to do, especially during games, but I didn’t know what would happen if I kept getting tracked. I was scared.”

 

“I still was able to get drafted after spending a couple years in the development league, and by that time, Lou had moved away, saying she got a job somewhere in Texas. Haven’t heard from her since.”

 

“Wasn’t that hard?” Christen asks sympathetically.

 

“Fuck yes. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Knowing all this shit but having to act like everything was all fine and dandy, like our friendship wasn’t a lie. It was awful. Not to mention, I had no one to talk to about it. You’re the first person I've ever told.”

 

“I’m sorry Kelley, that sucks.” Christen says earnestly.

 

“It’s alright. It was just like—when all that stuff started going down with Syd, I thought for sure I’d never be able to talk about it. I was so scared. I didn’t think I’d ever find someone else like me.” Kelley says with a kilt of hope in her voice. 

 

Christen sits silently a moment taking in all that Kelley had just divulged. “Kel, you don’t think I have a tracker, do you?” She asks tentatively.

 

Kelley shrugs. “I don’t know Press. Is there anyone you’ve gotten particularly close with recently?”

 

Tobin briefly crosses her mind, but with their recent falling out, Christen dismisses the thought.

 

“I feel like I’ve gotten pretty close to you in the past hour.” Christen jokes. “Wait, are you my tracker? Trying to get me to confess!” She exclaims sarcastically.

 

“Ha ha, very funny. You’re lucky I’m a nice person and not using this to blackmail you or something.” Kelley says.

 

Christen’s face falls “Actually, there is someone who might know more than he should.”

 

Christen proceeds to explain the situation with Michael “We dated briefly in college, but one night I told him I wasn’t an alt and he freaked out. He’s one of those alt elitists that think unaltereds are basically the scum of the earth. He broke up with me and I hadn’t talked to him since until he showed up at the game a couple months ago.”

 

Kelley swirls the remaining coffee in her cup, deep in thought. “Wait, I thought you were gay.”

 

Christen rolls her eyes. “I might be in mortal peril and that’s what you’re worried about?!”

 

“What? I just want to get my facts straight—well...” she says with a crooked grin.

 

“Ugh” Christen sighs in frustration. “Yes, for the record, I’m gay now. Happy?”

 

“Very. Always happy to add to the team.” Kelley says smugly. “But seriously, sounds like this guy is dumb as shit. Let me handle it.”

 

Christen gives her a pointed look.

 

“For the second time, I’m not going to murder anyone, Jesus.” Kelley exclaims. “I got this, just trust me.”

 

Christen relents and nods her head in understanding.

 

Kelley drains the last of her coffee and stands up, fitting her sunglasses over her eyes once more. “Good, now how about another coffee for the road, I got shit to do today.”

Chapter Text

For the next couple days, Christen avoids Tobin like the plague. She can’t even look at the woman without feeling that sting of embarrassment that makes her squirm. 

 

During practices, she looks for any excuse to be with a different partner or in a separate drill group, but she can’t fight it forever. When they do eventually get paired up, it’s immediately obvious how off their chemistry is. Tobin sends a cross near post, but Christen’s running far post. Christen asks for the ball at her feet, but Tobin sends it into space. They’re so off, the coaches eventually separate them to have them work with other teammates so as not to make things any worse. 

 

One particular day after practice, as Christen drives back into her apartment complex, she passes by Tobin’s building and sees the brunette leaning into the trunk of her car, struggling to pull something out of it. She briefly considers driving past and ignoring the situation, but knows that something needs to be said to smooth over things between them. She can’t afford to let their strained personal relationship impact their performance on the pitch. After her conversation with Kelley, she has even more reason to play her best to avoid more testing.

 

Christen pulls into a parking spot nearby and walks over to the struggling Tobin.

 

“Hey, need a hand?” She asks, standing behind Tobin.

 

Tobin jumps, hitting her head on the top of the trunk before slinking out from under the hood with her hand rubbing her head. 

 

Christen winces “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

 

Tobin turns to face her, her hand still rubbing the back of her head. “No it’s ok. I just can’t get this stupid painting out of my car.”

 

“Want some help?” Christen asks 

 

“Have at it.” Tobin motions toward the car, looking disgruntled.

 

Christen leans in and grabs hold of the painting. She shimmies it this way and that, and eventually pries it loose.

 

“Guess it just needed the magic touch.” Tobin says ruefully. “Thanks.”

 

“Yeah, don’t mention it.” Christen says, watching Tobin lock up her car and pick up the painting. “Speaking of not mentioning things, I was kinda hoping we could talk...about the other night and like, clear the air I guess.”

 

“Yeah ok, why don’t we go inside.” Tobin says, somewhat distracted by the large painting in her arms. “Could you get the door?” Tobin says, jingling the keys in her hand to motion for Christen to grab them for her.

 

Christen gets them inside the apartment and immediately notices a change from her minimalist furnishings. “I see you’ve been decorating. That was quick.”

 

“Yeah, I had some stuff delivered earlier and had to go pick this up from the framers. Thought I’d stop living like a bachelor—guess I spoke too early.” She says off handedly. 

 

“What do you mean? Did something happen with Alex?” Christen asks.

 

“Yes and no. It was kind of the fact that nothing was happening with Alex.”

 

Christen’s brows furrow remorsfully, “I’m sorry. If this is cus of me, because of the other night, I...”

 

Tobin cuts her off. “It’s not, it was me. We weren’t progressing the way she wanted us to and I didn’t want to commit, so we just decided it was best to go our separate ways. She just picked up her stuff this morning actually. I’ve been pretty busy redecorating.” She lets out a bitter laugh.

 

There’s a brief pause between them as Christen digests this information.

 

“I feel like I should apologize anyway.” Christen says, her eyes focused on the floor. “I shouldn’t have said that stuff and put you in that situation. I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t want things to be awkward between us.”

 

She looks up and meets Tobin’s eyes who looks to be carefully selecting her next few words. “Don’t worry about it. I think we both had our own shit to work out that night. I’m willing to erase it from my memory if you are.”

 

Tobin sticks out her hand and Christen gladly takes it, shaking it with a smile. “Deal.”

 

Tobin lets out a sigh. “Yeah, I don’t really blame you for finding me irresistibly charming.” she boasts with a wry smile.

 

“I thought we were forgetting it!” Christen reprimands, swatting her across the arm.

 

Tobin laughs. “Sorry, I had to give you a little shit for it. I’m done, I’m done. I promise. Strictly professional now.” 

 

Christen just rolls her eyes and watches Tobin bring the painting to the back wall of the living room. “What do you think. Does this look like a good spot for this?”

 

Christen helps Tobin arrange some of her new furnishings, and it starts to feel like things are getting back to normal. They put together a new kitchen table and Christen heckles Tobin while she hangs paintings and shelves, making plenty of jokes about the pictures being “straight”.

 

“Hey peanut gallery, you think you could do something useful for a change and go grab the screwdriver in the kitchen drawer for me? It’s the one by the fridge.” Tobin asks with both hands occupied putting up a shelf.

 

Christen lets out a dramatic sigh. “I guess. Hold on.” 

 

Smiling at their rekindled friendship, Christen goes to the kitchen and finds the junk drawer filled with a collection of stamps, batteries, rubber bands, and scraps of paper. As she’s digging through the drawer, she picks up a small card and inspects it. As she looks at it more closely, she realizes it displays a government seal on it.

 

“Agent Dean Wallace: Bureau of Alteration Law and Investigation.” She reads aloud under her breath. 

 

She inspects it further, noting the government email address and an office number listed in the corner of the card. 

 

Before she can scrutinize it further, Tobin calls from the bedroom. “Chris hurry up, my arms are giving out!”

 

Christen hastily puts the card back amongst the papers and grabs the screwdriver, sliding the drawer shut. Christen’s mind races as she tries to reason why Tobin could possibly have the card of a government official, specifically an Alt Law official. 

 

Her feet take her back to Tobin on autopilot as she ruminates on this information. 

 

“Chris? You ok?” Tobin asks, turning back from the secured shelves.

 

“Huh?” Christen’s pulled from her daze

 

“You look—I don’t know, like you’re somewhere else.” Tobin observes, coming to sit next to her on the bed.

 

Christen tries to shake it off. “Oh, no I was just thinking about what to get my mom for her birthday. Your interior decorating inspired me.” She deflects, hoping Tobin will go along with her lame excuse.

 

Tobin doesn’t seem totally convinced, but lets it go and moves on. “Okay...well I was thinking, would you want to order some pizza and hang out tonight? To repay you for helping with all this stuff?”

 

“Ah, I would, but I actually have some stuff to catch up on. You know, emails and stuff.” She offers unconvincingly.

 

Tobin looks at her suspiciously. “Chris, if you don’t want to hang out, you can just tell me. I won’t be offended.” Tobin says earnestly with a chuckle.

 

“No it’s not that, I promise. I really do have stuff I’ve been putting off that I need to take care of. Rain check though?” Christen smiles, hoping this will convince her.

 

Tobin relents, putting her hands up in surrender. “Alright, suit yourself. I’ll just have to eat pizza all by myself.”

 

Christen smiles at this “You poor thing.”

 

“It’s a rough life I lead.” Tobin says playfully 

 

“I’ll leave you to it. See you at practice?” Christen and asks as she heads for the door.

 

Tobin nods. “Yeah. Have a good night. Don’t get carpal tunnel answering all those emails.”

 

“Don’t get heartburn eating all that pizza.” Christen says before stepping outside of the apartment.

 

Walking back to her apartment, her smile quickly fades as she remembers the card in Tobin’s drawer. The moment she steps into her apartment, she dials Kelley’s number.

 

The words pour from her as soon as Kelley answers the phone “It’s her, she’s my tracker. Kel, she’s my tracker!”

 

“Woah woah, Press. Calm down. Who? Who are you talking about?” Kelley tries to slow down Christen’s racing thoughts.

 

“Tobin! Tobin’s my tracker!” Christen clarifies, trying to catcher breath in a panic.

 

“Tobin? The same Tobin who still puts her cleats on the wrong foot sometimes. The same Tobin who thought there was an East and West Carolina?” Kelley asks incredulously.

 

“Yes, I’m serious Kelley!” Christen says, trying to convince her friend.

 

Kelley lets out a sigh. “Why Tobin? What happened?” 

 

“I was looking in a drawer in her kitchen and I found this business card for an agent in the Alteration Law and Investigation branch. Dean Wallace I think...She must be reporting back to him or something.” Christen explains.

 

Kelley hums while she thinks. “How do you know that she isn’t in contact with them because of her own situation? Maybe she needed special clearance to play in the tier three league because of her legs.”

 

That idea hadn’t dawned on her and she deflates a little. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

 

“I’m sure that’s what it is. I’ve known Tobin for a while now. She’s not the undercover detective type—she’s too bad at keeping secrets. She’s a terrible liar.” Kelley says with a chuckle.

 

Christen breathes a sigh of relief, letting Kelley’s words of reassurance sink in. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Sorry, I was just freaking out.”

 

“I noticed.” Kelley laughs. “You’re alright Press. I know the last 24 hours have been kinda crazy, but try to relax. I’m not gonna let anything bad happen to you alright?” 

 

Christen nods against the phone, accepting Kelley’s reassurance. “Thanks Kel. I’ll let you go.”

 

“See you at practice Press.”

 

Christen tries to take Kelley’s advice and relax. She wouldn’t want to rouse suspicion by acting weird anyway. 

 

Walking into the kitchen, she opens her fridge and takes out a beer. She knows the abysmal alcohol content will do nothing for her to take the edge off, but she pops it open nonetheless and sits idly on the couch, breathing a deep sigh in an attempt to release all the tension that had built up over the past 24 hours. She’ll just have to trust that her friends are trying to look out for her and try to not be so paranoid. 

 

***

 


Another two months had blown by in a whirlwind, and things seemed to be running in perfect lock-step for Christen. The team was doing great and are projected to make playoffs, Christen’s playing some of the best soccer of her career, and things with Tobin are better than ever. It’s still hard not to look at Tobin without the pang of wanting more, but her friendship is slowly starting to be good enough. She just has to keep reminding herself that friendships can be just as fulfilling. After all, friends still get to hang out all the time, and cook dinner for each other, and cuddle on the couch while watching movies. 

“So are you and Tobin officially together?” Kelley asks between bites of noodles.

“What? No, we’re just friends. Why do you say that?” Christen asks, looking curiously across the booth at Kelley as they sit in their favorite Chinese restaurant. Where it lacks in AC and ambiance, it makes up for in portions sizes and college-student pricing.

Kelley shrugs. “I don’t know. Could have fooled me. You spend so much time together and you guys are so touchy-feely on each other.”

“Whatever, we’re friends. We’re just close.” Christen says dismissively as she scrapes the remaining rice from her bowl

“You don’t cuddle with me on the couch like that.” Kelley points out.

“Because you’re always too busy trying to play footsie with Sonny. How’s that going anyway?” Christen asks.

Kelley shrugs. “Same as it’s always been. She takes an interest, but I’m too busy to date. Then I get attached and she’s seeing someone else. It’s always this back and forth with her. We never seem to sync up—like our feelings, not our periods.”

“Thanks for the clarification.” Christen deadpans before her tone softens. “Sorry Kel. I know that can be frustrating.”

“Yeah, it is frustrating. We haven’t had sex in like two weeks.”

Christen’s brows furrow in confusion. “I thought you said you guys weren’t together?”

Kelley laughs. “Oh Press this is why I love you—so pure, so innocent. You know, people can still hook up when they aren’t together. Ever heard of friends with benefits?”

Christen scoffs. “Yes, I’ve heard of friends with benefits. I’m not a prude. I just like to have a relationship with the person I’m sleeping with.”

“Which is why you still haven’t gotten any this season.” Kelley states, pointing her chopsticks at Christen.

“Whatever. Things are finally back to normal with Tobin. I don’t need to go messing that up again by confusing the situation with sex. She wants to be just friends, so we’re just friends”

“But you would hit it if she was into it.” Kelley asks sophomorically.

Christen just rolls her eyes. “I’m trying this new thing where I don’t set expectations and just let things be as they are.”

“Alright Buda, good luck with that.” Kelley says as she pushes her empty plate from her. “Hey, speaking of previous romantic interests, I just wanted to let you know that stuff with Michael is all worked out. You wont need to be paying him off anymore.”

“Ok, I just have to ask, for the record, did you ki—“

Kelley springs forward, slapping her hand over Christen’s mouth to silence her. “Can you not?! I know this place is probably a front for a drug cartel or something, but can you stop casually asking me about murdering people every time I say I took care of something?”

Kelley removes her hand from Christen’s face. She scowls back at Kelley. “Sorry, jeez. I wasn’t even going to say that! I was going to ask if you kicked his ass?”

Kelley smirks. “Nope, even better. I did some digging and found out he’s been partaking in some pretty discriminatory hiring practices that the government probably would like to know about. It would completely ruin his business and he’d probably get sued out of house and home if that information happened to slip out.”

“So you’re keeping him from blackmailing me, by blackmailing him?” Christen asks, unconvinced by Kelley’s tactics.

Kelley sighs and relents. “Ok, and I also may have told him I’d kill him if he ever ratted you out. Happy?”

Christen just laughs. “Thanks Kel, I owe you big time.”

“I know. And if you ever want to repay me with sexual favors, I’m totally ok with friends with benefits.” She says with a wink.

“How about I pay for lunch?” Christen compromises.

“I guess I’ll take what I can get.”

***

It’s the final game of the regular season and Christen and her team are twenty minutes away from securing their spot in the playoffs, if they can just hold on a little longer. Christen and Tobin have been on fire all night, dominating the left side of the field.

During a throw in, Christen rushes in to trap the incoming ball from Tobin. She feels in hit her feet, but as she goes to turn past the defender on her back, another player comes sliding in, taking Christen out.

She goes down, immediately clutching her ankle as pain radiates throughout the length of her leg. The trainers rush over to do on-field treatment, but quickly determine that Christen’s night is done. They walk her to the sideline and into the training room to be assessed more thoroughly. It all happens so fast that Christen doesn’t even have a chance to protest.

A trainer helps her up onto the padded table and runs her through a series of tests, each one more painful than the last as she can see her ankle starting to swell.

“It’s pretty swollen right now so I can’t really assess the extent of the damage, but I’d say it’s safe to assume that you at least sprained your ankle pretty good. We’ll take you to the hospital for x-rays in the morning once the swelling has gone down a little, but we won’t have the whole picture util then. I’m sorry Press. I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear.”

The white hot pain in her ankle was just a dull ache compared to the ball of anger and disappointment inside her chest. “What does that mean? Will I be able to play in the semis?” She asks, trying to fight back tears.

The trainer looks at her despairingly. “I don’t want to get your hopes up. It doesn’t look good.”

Christen sighs, wiping tears from her cheeks, trying to keep some semblance of composure. “So what do I do? How do I make it better?”

“Take some ibuprofen for the pain and swelling, ice it, keep it elevated. We’ll reassess in the morning.” He offers her a friendly pat on the back. “If it’s any consolation, you played great tonight. I’m gonna grab you some crutches so you can at least get around.”

Christen watches as he exits through the double doors, but almost gets plowed over by a seething Tobin. She pushes past him, marching straight over to Christen when she sees her on the table.

“Tobin? What happened? The game can’t be over yet, there was at least like, fifteen or twenty minutes left.”

“I got sent off.” She says gruffly.

“What? Why?”

“I spiked the ball and called the ref a fucking idiot cus he didn’t red card that girl for her awful tackle.” Tobin says, trying to tamper her anger.

“Tobin...” Christen wants to admonish the woman, but she can’t say it doesn’t make her feel the slightest bit special to have Tobin defending her like that.

“I know, I know. I should have kept my cool, but it was such an obvious call! It was clearly malicious!” Tobin sighs, softening a bit. “Sorry—how are you? What’s the prognosis?”

Just as she asks, the trainer comes in with crutches and hands them to Christen. “You’ll probably need these for the next week at minimum. I don’t want you putting any pressure on that ankle got it? If you have any hopes of coming back for the finals, you’ll need to be diligent about your recovery, alright?” He looks over at Tobin, confused. “Heath, what are you doing here?”

“Red card. Dissent.” She says simply  

He gives her an understanding nod. “I don’t blame you, that was an awful call.”

“See.” Tobin says, looking at Christen to prove her point.

The trainer turns back to Christen. “Alright, let’s wrap this up and send you home to rest. I’ll pull the team van around.”

“Actually, I can take her if that’s alright. We live in the same apartment complex.” Tobin offers.

“Sure. Just make sure you help her set up for the night. Ice and elevation. We need the swelling to go down as much as possible so we can get good x-rays tomorrow.”

Tobin nods along. “Yeah, whatever she needs.”

After a talking to from the coach, Tobin helps Christen pack up her gear and carries her stuff to the car. They don’t say much as they drive, letting the gravity of the situation sink in.

Once inside her apartment, Tobin does her best to “crutch-proof” the apartment by moving furniture and creating clear paths across the floor, while Christen struggles to take a very unsatisfying shower on one leg.

When she emerges from the shower with wet hair and clean pajamas, she smiles at Tobin’s effort to take care of her.

“So I put a sheet and blanket on the couch in case you want to watch tv out here, and I got all the pillows I could find to prop your leg up. There’s bags of ice in the freezer, so all you have to do is just grab one when you need a new one. Oh, and I put some snacks on the coffee table in case you get hungry so you don’t have to go to the kitchen.”

All the pain and frustration from the night seems to slide away as Christen sees all Tobin has done for her, wanting nothing in return.

She smiles sweetly at Tobin and catches her gaze. “Tobin, I don’t know what to say. Thank you. You’re too good to me.” Christen says genuinely, crutching over to the couch to sit down.

“It kind of reminds me of that time we did spa day at your place.” Christen chuckles.

“Ha, yeah but no oatmeal face masks this time. Sorry, I know that was your favorite part.” Tobin teases.

Christen lies back on the couch, shifting her leg to prop it up on the pillows. “It’s kind of nice being pampered like this. Maybe I should bust my ankle more often.”

“As much as I enjoy being your personal butler, I think I’d rather play with you on the pitch.” Tobin concedes. “You gonna be ok superstar?”

Christen nods, looking at Tobin affectionately. “As long as I have you, I think I’ll be alright.”

Tobin smiles weakly, her eyes darting away as if to avoid the intimate moment between them. “Alright, well I better get going and let you get some rest. Let me know how everything goes tomorrow ok?”

Christen nods. “I will. Thanks again, for everything. You always have a way of making me feel better.”

Tobin smiles simply at this. “Night Press. Talk to you tomorrow.”

With that, Christen hears Tobin’s footsteps fade and the door open and close, signaling her departure. Even though her foot was throbbing and there’s a good chance her season is over, getting taken care of by Tobin is the small consolation in this otherwise unsatisfactory circumstance. This leaves the faintest of smiles on her lips as she drifts off to sleep.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, the swelling in Christen’s ankle is all but deflated, and all that remains is a mild ache and some lingering stiffness. Still, she doesn’t want to chance anything and uses the crutches to get to the team van when the trainer pulls in front of her apartment to take her to the hospital for X-rays.

When results come back, Christen isn’t surprised to hear that nothing is broken, and the sprain is minor, based on the doctor’s observations. The trainer that had treated her the night before, however, is flabbergasted. He remarks on the quick reduction of swelling and swears up and down he thought it would be so much worse. Christen tries to minimize her remarkable overnight recovery by chalking it up to good injury treatment and trainer know-how.

Despite the positive prognosis, the doctor still recommends more rest and prescribes a short round of pain meds just in case. He orders her to stay off her ankle the next few days, and come back in a week to reassess, and determine a physical therapy program to get her back on the field. All in all, the doctor guesses three weeks minimum to get back on the field.

Christen just nods along with the trainer at her side, knowing the recovery timeline likely won’t apply to her, but she keeps this to herself.

Once she’s back in her apartment, she texts Tobin to give her a brief injury report, and Tobin offers to come make dinner for her in return, an offer Christen gladly accepts.

The mention of dinner reminds Christen she hadn’t eaten all day, so she hobbles into the kitchen to peruse her rather pathetic looking fridge. While trying to decide between string cheese and takeout from two nights ago, her phone buzzes on the counter.

“Hi Kelley.” Christen greets her

“Hey how you feeling?” She asks hesitantly. Christen hadn’t told anyone else the extent of the damage, and apparently, no one on the staff had either.

“I’m fine, really. They said it was a light sprain and I should be back in three week, but we both know I’ll be better way before then.” She says smugly looking down at her feet. “I mean, I’m already walking around on it.”

“Chris, you can’t get better before your three weeks.” Kelley says seriously.

“What do you mean? The semis are next weekend, I’m not missing that.” Christen scoffs, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Chris, I heard the training staff talking about your ankle after the game. They thought for sure you’d snapped it in half. You can’t make a miraculous recovery. It’s too risky. You have to follow the timeline, even if you feel fine, you’re gonna have to fake it for a few weeks.”

“But Kel...” Christen starts to argue, but she knows Kelley’s right. The hope she had earlier this morning dissipates as she considers that she might not get to play again until next season.

“I’m sorry Press. All the girls are upset too. Getting to the finals is gonna be a hell of a lot more difficult without you. Utah’s backline is damn near impenetrable, and without you...well...” Kelley trails off. Christen guesses this is an attempt to empathize with her or cheer her up, but she can hear the sadness and hopelessness in Kelley’s voice.

“Just promise you’ll beat them. Beat Utah and I might be able to play in the finals. Please. I don’t want last night to be my last game of the season, I didn’t even score.” Christen adds, hoping to bring some levity to the conversation again.

She can hear Kelley chuckle on the other end. “Yeah ok. We’ll just have to get Tobin as fired up as she was last night and no one will want to get in her way.”

Christen smiles at this, thinking of Tobin playing for her as a way of exacting revenge or something. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah she was out for blood. I’m surprised they managed to get her off the field. We just gotta figure out how to harness that and we’re good.” Kelley says.

Christen just hums in response, too caught up in picturing Tobin yelling passionately on the pitch to offer any additional insight.

“Ok, well I’ll let you get some rest, even though I know you hardly need it.” Kelley scoffs playfully. “Let me know if you need any company. Even a fake recovery can still be lonely.”

“Oh, Tobin said she’d help me cook dinner tonight.” Christen adds.

“Of course she is. I’ll talk to you later. Bye Press.” Christen can hear the smirk on Kelley’s lips before she hangs up.

***

Later that evening, Christen’s stomach growls as she lays on the couch, taking in the aroma of a home-cooked meal. Tobin splits her time, coming into the living room to check on Christen every few minutes as she cooks for them. Christen laughs a little at how attentive Tobin is being, but then again, she doesn’t mind the way Tobin looks down at her from behind the couch, running her finger through her messy hair or squeezing her shoulders briefly before turning back to the kitchen. She can’t help the way her eyes flutter closed with every touch, smiling at the brief, but much-desired contact.

“So I was thinking.” Tobin calls from the kitchen.

“Oh that’s where the burning smell is coming from.” Christen teases.

Tobin steps into the living room to give a pointed look at Christen. “Ha Ha. So funny.” She says sarcastically. “But seriously, do you think we should go to a lone striker up top, or keep the 4-3-3? Utah’s pretty good at breaking up play and we might want to try direct balls to stretch their back line...”

Christen cuts her off. “Tobin, I’m serious too. What’s that burning smell?”

They both pause to sniff the air and just as they do, the fire alarm blares loudly through the house. Christen slaps her hands over her ears, wincing at the noise.

“Shit the garlic bread!” Tobin yells over the noise, bolting back into the kitchen.

Desperate to silence the screaming alarm, Christen jumps up and races over to the nearby wall, taking a magazine to fan away the smoke and deactivate it. Finally, the beeping stops and Christen takes a deep breath and sighs audibly. When she turns around to ask Tobin if everything’s ok, she sees Tobin regarding her with her brows furrowed.

“I’m probably not the expert on what a sprained ankle feels like, but I’m pretty sure you should be in so much pain right now.”

Panic strikes. Christen’s eyes dart down to her ankle and back up to Tobin, wide with fear. “I, Uh— it must be all those pain meds I’m on. I can’t really feel anything.” She fumbles for an excuse and tries to laugh convincingly, but Tobin still looks at her with suspicion.

“So is dinner ready?” Christen asks, attempting to change the subject.

Tobin looks as if she wants to question Christen further, but shakes her head to herself and answers Christen instead. “Yeah." She walks over to Christen to offer her support. "Here, I’ll help you back to the couch and I’ll bring you a plate.”

Christen slings her arm around Tobin’s shoulder as Tobin helps her hobble back into the living room. They carefully make their way over to the couch and Tobin guides Christen back to her previous spot so she can get herself situated once more.

“I’ll be right back.” Tobin says as she drifts into the kitchen. 

 

Christen’s heart is racing, she's physically shaking from fear. Flashbacks of the business card she’d found at Tobin’s house come flooding into her mind. What if she’s calling him right now to tell him about my ankle?

 

Before she has a chance to spiral too far, Tobin returns with two plates in hand, balancing water bottles under her arms and napkins in her mouth. 

 

“Hrrrr, grrr” she mumbles as best as she can between the napkins in her closed teeth. 

 

She sets the plates and water bottles carefully on the coffee table, removes the napkins from her mouth, and retrieves the remote before finding a spot on the couch. Christen moves as carefully as she can to look as though the movement is uncomfortable, and sits up to reach her plate and place it on her lap. She can feels Tobin’s eyes watching her the entire time.

 

“This looks great Tobs.” Christen says trying to mask the nerves still coursing through her.

 

“Well, it would have been better with my famous garlic bread, but this will have to do.” She looks despairingly at her plate.

 

“Guess you’ll have to cook for me again soon so I can try this ‘famous garlic bread’.” Christen teases, taking a deep breath in and out to calm herself while she waits for the woman's response.

 

Tobin lets out a little laugh before looking back over at Christen. “Yeah. I wouldn’t mind that.”

 

A beat passes and Christen’s racing heart starts running away again, but with a different kind of nerves. Excited, not anxious. 

 

As she looks into Tobin’s earnest brown eyes, all the suspicions of Tobin tracking her melt away. How could the woman before her who looks at her with such adoration and kindness be selling her secrets to the government? She shakes her head silently at the notion and a genuine smile finally falls on her lips, grateful to have someone in her life who cares for her so deeply.

 

“Bon appetite!” Tobin says before stuffing the first fork-full of pasta into her mouth.

 

“Thanks Tobs.” Christen smiles, watching the brunette laboriously chew the large bite. 

 

She tilts her head to the side, resting it on Tobin's shoulder briefly as a sign of gratitude. She feels Tobin's shoulders stiffen at the contact and Christen has to jerk her head back with how abruptly Tobin stands up from her seat on the couch.

 

"What's wrong?" Christen asks.

 

Tobin looks about as confused as Christen feels. "I uh--I need a fork."

 

Christen points at Tobin's hand. "You're holding a fork you wierdo."

 

Tobin looks down to confirm this observation and her cheeks turn a deep pink. "Oh--right." She sits back down, looking uncharacteristically shaken..

 

Christen looks at her with a confused smile. "Jeez, I don't think I've ever seen you so worked up before. You sure you're feeling ok?" She brings the back of her hand up to Tobin's forehead to feel for a fever which seems like the only reasonable explanation for Tobin's strange behavior. When she moves her hand down to her cheek, she feels the heat from her previous embarrassment radiating off her skin. She also feels the woman lean into her touch ever so slightly.

 

"I don't know if I'm ok." Tobin mutters, her voice just barely above a whisper.

 

Christen's brows furrow in concern "Oh--Is there anything I can do to help?"

 

Tobin meets her gaze with a soft, sad smile "You're kinda what's making me not ok." She lets out a long sigh. "It's hard to be around you sometimes."

 

Christen recoils, taken aback by Tobin's curt statement. "Um...sorry?" She says, unsure how to respond.

 

"No, I don't mean it like that. You're just..." Tobin hunches over, letting her face fall into her hands. "Sorry, this isn't coming out right...." Tobin takes a deep breath and sits up to Christen's level, meeting her gaze. "I mean-- you scare the shit out of me...in a good way..." She reassures. "...and it make me want to do stupid things."

 

A lightbulb goes off and Christen swallows, hoping this is going where she thinks it's going "What kind of stupid things?"

 

Tobin shrugs and looks down toward her hands as she anxiously wrings her fingers in her lap. "I dunno, like kiss you."

 

Tobin's gaze comes back up to meet Christen's, gauging her reaction. A small smile forms on Christen's lips as she leans in closer to Tobin, grabbing her nervous hands to still them in her lap. "I don't think that's stupid."

 

Tobin’s eyes close, deep in thought. Christen watches as Tobin battles with something internally, waiting patiently for the woman to come out of it. Finally Tobin lets out a heavy sigh that seems to lift away the weight from her shoulders. She opens her eyes and immediately locks them with Christen’s. 

 

“Fuck it.” Tobin says in a quiet but resolute tone.

 

Before Christen knows what’s happening, Tobin surges forward, placing her hand on Christen’s jaw to guide their lips together in a passionate kiss. Christen freezes for just a moment as her brain catches up to what her body is doing, but once she becomes fully aware of what’s happening, she can feel the rush of euphoria coursing through her. Her touch-starved body reacts significantly to Tobin’s touch as every nerve ending tingles in satisfaction, sending chills all over her body.

 

This is what it’s like to kiss Tobin Heath. This is what she’d been waiting for. 

 

Their lips move together at a frenetic pace, as if trying to learn each other all at once. Christen’s hands search up and down Tobin’s arms and torso, never resting on one area too long, as each is more exciting and satisfying than the next. Christen’s lips part to taste the desire on Tobin’s tongue and she isn’t disappointed. Tobin easily mirrors Christen’s movements, allowing the woman anything she wants. Their tongues dance together, sliding across one other, licking and tracing the outline of their pink, swollen lips.

 

She can feel Tobin’s movements become more wanting and more aggressive as they continue at this breakneck pace, as if something uncontrollable inside of her had been released. She feels the cushion of the couch dip further as Tobin scoots in closer to close the gap between them, but as Christen’s hands wander up and down the length of Tobin’s ribs, a loud crash makes them jump, breaking them apart.

 

“Fuck!” Tobin says with a chuckle, looking down at the plate of pasta now decorating the floor at Christen's feet. “Sorry. We probably should have moved that."

 

Christen laughs, brushing stray noodles from her lap. “Yeah, I was a little too busy thinking about other things to be worried about my plate placement.”  

 

This earns a smile from Tobin who lets out a small chuckle to herself. "I was hoping the feeling was mutual.”

 

Christen shrugs, her smile faltering just slightly. “It always has been. You know that.” 

 

Tobin looks down at her lap, picking at her nails. “I know.”

 

“Then what took you so damn long?” Christen asks, only half joking, thinking back to that night in Tobin's bedroom when she first acted on her attraction to the woman and every moment since then. 

 

Tobin lets out a sigh, collecting her thoughts. “I thought—I didn’t want to get involved with a teammate.”

 

“How come?” Christen asks innocently

 

“I try to learn from my past.” Tobin says, finally making eye contact. Christen offers a small nod of encouragement for Tobin to continue.

 

“I dated a girl on my team in Europe. It didn’t end well and it fucked with my game. I wasn’t focused when things were good, and I was downright terrible when things went south.”

 

“Is that why you came back to the States?” Christen asks, putting together these new pieces to the puzzle.

 

Tobin nods. “Yeah. Part of it. So when I finally made tier three, I knew couldn’t fuck it up this time. I told myself I couldn’t get involved with anyone on the team and lose my focus again.” Tobin smiles lightly at Christen. “But then you came along and fucked that all up.”

 

Christen laughs lightly at this. “Sorry.”

 

Tobin shakes her head, lifting her hand to Christen’s cheek, running her fingertips along her jaw. “Don’t be. I’m happy to be distracted by you.”

 

Christen smiles bashfully.

 

Tobin continues. “I thought dating Alex would give me an outlet for all these things I felt about you, but it didn’t. She could sense it too. That’s why she ended it, she was tired of being second best.”

 

“Sorry” Christen offers.

 

“Stop apologizing, it’s not your fault I’m so into you.” Tobin says with a chuckle, inadvertently admitting her strong feeling for Christen.

 

Christen's stomach flips excitedly in her stomach at this admission and she does her best to bite back the enormous smile threatening to take over her face. Finally--this is what she'd been searching for since they met.

 

They grin at each other and lean in to share another kiss. This time it’s slower and more thoughtful, and though it lasts only a few seconds, Christen enjoys this kiss just as much as the first. She could get used to this.

 

“So what now?” Christen asks once they break apart, her fingertips gently grazing the skin over the top of Tobin's hand.

 

“Well, I should probably clean this up before it permanently stains your rug.” Tobin jokes, looking at the mess at her feet.

 

Christen gives her a pointed look. “You know what I mean.”

 

Tobin pauses, chewing the inside of her cheek. “I don’t know. I don’t really care honestly. This is all I really want.”

 

Christen smiles and tries to hide the blush forming on her cheeks at this new romantic side of Tobin. “What about the girls on the team? Should we tell them?” Christen asks.

 

Tobin takes a long moment to ponder this question. “Maybe we should wait to tell them until after the season is over? I don’t want to mess up the balance we’ve got going.”

 

Christen nods, thinking of the teasing she’ll inevitably get from Kelley and the others once their secret’s out. “Yeah, lets enjoy this for a little while before we get them involved.”

 

“Deal.” Tobin agrees, seeming to understand what Christen was thinking. 

 

Reluctantly, Tobin stands up and places a kiss on top of Christen’s head. “For real though, I need to clean this up.” She grabs the remote from the other side of the couch and hands it to Christen. “Here, you pick out a movie while I clean.”

 

Tobin bends over to place another kiss on Christen’s cheek, hovering there to whisper in her ear. “And don’t pick anything too interesting. I wanna be distracted by you some more.”

 

The heat returns to Christen’s cheeks as she watches Tobin clear their plates and retreat back to the kitchen. 

 

Chapter Text

It’s painful for Christen to watch as her teammates gear up for the semifinal match. She joins them for film sessions and comes out to the last field practice, but seeing her teammates running through drills, scrimmaging, even just juggling the ball off to the side makes Christen unreasonably upset.  She should be out there with them. She could be if she wanted to, but Kelley’s right, she needs to lay low. That’s more important than the semis right now. 

 

The only consolation in all of this is that at the end of the day, after showers have been taken and gear put away, Christen gets to drive home with Tobin and share the evenings together. They stay up late into the night wrapped in each others arms, sharing a level of intimacy with each other that had seemed destined from the start. With all their insecurities and hesitations aside, they're finally able to fall into each other completely. It's effortless in the way they mold into one another, their spirits intertwining so easily. Every kiss, every touch, every shared story feels as if it had been there all along, just waiting to be unlocked. Even though she had been deemed broken physically, she had never felt so whole.

 

When game day finally arrives, Christen is lead up to the box seats to watch the game with a little more privacy. She carefully makes her way down several steps to the front seats and leans her crutches against the railing, her eyes scanning the field to pick out her teammates. 

 

She spots Kelley and Sonnett joking around animatedly as they pass back and forth, and Lindsey appears to be discussing tactics with one of the coaches near the bench. Her eyes inevitably fall to Tobin, who’s juggling off to the side by herself, her lips muttering something under her breath. As if she senses Christen’s gaze, her eyes lift up and easily find Christen. She offers a small wave, causing a grin to form on Christen’s lips as she waves back. They maintain eye contact for several moments until Tobin’s attention is pulled away by a distant whistle. She turns away slowly and jogs with her teammates back into the locker room and out of sight. 

 

Before Christen can feel too bad about being stuck up in the box instead of on the field, he phone vibrates in her pocket.

 

"Hi Mom." Christen says smiling into the phone.

 

"Hi sweatheart, how are you holding up?"

 

Christen sighs, taking a seat on the stadium chair. "Fine.I mean I'm sad I won't get to play, but it's ok."

 

"Wow, is this the same Christen who used to cry and throw fits when she got subbed out in middle school? You're taking this a lot better than I thought you would."

 

"Mom!" Christen accosts her.

 

Her mother chuckles heartily. "I'm just saying, for someone who would usually be inconsolable right now, you sound good--almost happy! What's gotten into you? What aren't you telling me?"

 

Christen smiles, thinking of the reason for her new found happiness. She can't help but bubble over. "You remember Tobin?"

 

"You're teammate? The one you're always going on about every time I call you? The name might ring a bell." Her mother responds playfully.

 

Christen laughs at how transparent she must have seemed. "Yeah, that's the one. We kind of-- well I guess we're kind of...more than teammates now."

 

There's a brief pause before her mother chimes in. "Well it's about time!"

 

"Mom!" Christen groans again.

 

"I'm just glad you're happy honey. She seems like a sweet girl."

 

Christen blushes bashfully, "She is"

 

The voice of the stadium announcer booms and fills the air as he starts to call out the line-ups for the teams.

 

"Hey Mom, I gotta go. The game's about to start, but I'll call you later, ok?." Christen says.

 

"Ok I'll let you go. I'm so proud of you sweat heart!"

 

"Thanks Mom, Love you."

 

"Love you too. And say hi to Tobin for me."

 

Christen rolls her eyes at her mother's teasing but smiles none the less. "Ok, Bye."

 

Christen hangs up, grinning ear to ear, shaking her head at her mother's uncanny ability to predict things in her life before Christen herself had even thought of them. Mother's intuition was an understatement. It's more like mother's clairvoyance.

 

As the players start coming out of the tunnel, Christen stands up to get a better view and cheer for her team, making sure to cheer a little louder when Tobin's name is announced. They'll need all the support they can get if they have any hope of coming out of this game on top. 

 

Just as predicted, the game is a defensive battle. Tobin pulls out every trick in her repertoire, but to no avail. The score remains tied at zero right to the very end. Then, during stoppage time, Tobin breaks down the line with the ball, dribbling into the penalty area with two defenders on her. In the congestion, Tobin releases a cross and the ball gets redirected by the hand of a Utah player. The referee immediately points to the spot and while the Utah players plead their case, Tobin takes the ball and sets it down on the spot, waiting for the whistle. With unshakable concentration, Tobin stares down the ball and when the whistle chirps, Tobin doesn’t hesitate and slots it home convincingly into the upper left corner.

 

The final whistle to signify the end of the game is drowned by the roar of the crowd and Christen jumps from her seat, arms straight up in the air as she chants along with the crowd. Everyone in the box is too busy celebrating to notice that Christen’s crutches remain an afterthought as they lean against the railing near her seat.

 

***

 

Down in the locker room, a cacophony of cheering and chanting fills Christen’s ears as she ducks below streams of water shooting through the air. It only takes a few moments for her to be in the locker room before she’s encircled into the arms of her teammates as they sing at the top of their lungs.

 

In the huddle, she catches the eyes of Tobin and watches as the woman’s smile becomes even brighter. Somehow among the sea of arms and bodies, Tobin’s hand finds it’s way over to Christen’s and squeezes it affectionately. Christen squeezes back, and they detach from the group to have a moment with each other.

 

“You did good kid.” Christen teases, wrapping her arms around Tobin in a tight embrace.

 

Tobin takes this compliment earnestly, and smiles back at Christen. “Thanks. Not the prettiest way to earn a game-winning goal, but I’ll take it.”

 

“Still proud.” Christen reiterates.

 

Tobin’s demeanor shifts and the confidence she previously exuded turns into a bashful nervousness. She looks around to see if anyone's listening to their exchange before speaking. “So...I was wondering if—maybe you’d wanna come back to my place and...celebrate or whatever.” Tobin says, eyes glued to the floor as her foot sweeps across the floor. 

 

Christen smiles sweetly at her. “You don’t want to go celebrate with the team? I think they’re expecting it since you practically won the game for them.” Christen questions.

 

Tobin looks up and shakes her head simply. “Nah, they can celebrate without me. I just want to go home with the girl I haven't been able to keep my mind off of all week.”

 

Christen tries to keep her cool demeanor, but Tobin’s making it difficult. “Ah, so this is why you won. So you could impress me with a game-winning goal and convince me to go home with you. Very clever.” Christen says coyly. 

 

“So, did it work?” Tobin asks.

Christen pretends to ponder this for several moments, but then smiles and nods. “I’d say so. Come on, let’s get out of here before they catch us.”

 

Tobin giggles, grabbing Christen’s hands as she sneaks them out to the parking lot and to Tobin’s car. As Christen’s buckling her seatbelt, Tobin leans over the console, grabbing Christen by the face and crashing their lips together. Tobin kisses her with such force, Christen wonders if her lips will bruise, but this thought is fleeting as she feels the passion radiating between them. 

 

Eventually, she has to come up for air, and they release each other, panting as they both try to catch their breath. 

 

“You better start that car or we won’t make it out of the parking lot.” Christen urges.

 

Tobin just laughs along and does as she’s told, making sure to step on the gas a little harder than she normally would.

 

When they get to the apartment, Tobin’s fingers fumbles with the keys as Christen stands behind her, tickling the skin of her hips and stomach beneath the hem of her shirt.

 

When Tobin finally manages to get the door open, the women immediately come together magnetically. Their arms tangle around one another like vines, wrapping tightly around the other. Their lips mold together, kissing ravenously, making up for all the time they’d lost by not giving into this earlier. They shuffle back toward the bedroom, giggling between kisses as they bump into Tobin’s new furnishings, remaining intertwined despite the inconvenience of it.

 

The rush of adrenaline from making it to the finals is nothing compared to what Christen is feeling now. The excitement she had felt in the locker room had carried over and been amplified tenfold as she’s backed up onto the bed with Tobin above her. 

 

“I hope this is what you had in mind when you invited me over.” Christen teases as she catches her breath.

 

“There are still a few things we haven’t gotten to yet.” Tobin teases back, attaching her lips to Christen’s neck. 

 

Christen exhales softly, feeling Tobin’s tongue swirl and lick along the sensitive skin of her neck. Her lips suck gently and she feels the sharp pressure of teeth biting down on her skin just enough to elicit a small moan. 

 

“You like that?” Tobin checks in.

 

All Christen can manage is a nod of the head, unable to form words with the tingling sensation running like electricity through her body.

 

Tobin takes this as a sign to continue and scoots them both back onto the bed. With Tobin fully straddling her, Christen wraps her arms around Tobin’s back, anchoring herself to the brunette and pulling her body closer, needing to feel the way she moves on top of her. Tobin’s hand finds its way beneath Christen’s shirt, running up and down her stomach and grazing the fabric of her bra. 

 

The touch isn’t enough for Christen, and she swiftly strips off her shirt and unhooks her bra, eager for Tobin to have full access to her chest. For the briefest of moments, Tobin freezes while she regards Christen’s bare body, but in Christen’s impatience, she grabs Tobin’s hand to guide it to her breast.

 

“Touch me, please.” Christen breaths out.

 

This snaps Tobin back and she quickly begins sweeping her fingertips across Christen’s peaking nipple. Christen throws her head back to take in the sensation of Tobin’s fingers rolling her taught bud between her fingertips, sending shots pleasure between her thighs. 

 

She writhes beneath Tobin, her hips grinding desperately against her thigh to relieve the growing tension. Again, displeased with her clothing, Christen pushes Tobin off briefly to discard her shorts and watches as Tobin takes this opportunity to discard a layer of clothes as well until she sits on her knees in her underwear. 

 

Christen watches as Tobin’s eyes scan along her body, her lip caught between her teeth, mesmerized by the woman beneath her. When Tobin’s eyes finally come back to meet Christen’s gaze, a smiles spread across both their lips. 

 

“You don’t know how much I’ve wanted this.” Tobin says, almost in disbelief.

 

Christen reaches up to grasp around Tobin’s neck, pulling her down into a heated kiss. She peppers kisses along her jawline until her lips find Tobin’s ear, tracing the rim of it slowly with her tongue. 

 

“Show me how much you wanted it.” 

 

It’s a demand that causes Tobin’s body to physically shudder with pleasure against Christen’s body, and an unmistakable groan of desire escapes Tobin’s lips. 

 

She wastes no time and quickly makes a trail of kisses down Christen’s stomach. While Christen would normally enjoy a little more build up, in this moment Christen can barely keep herself from pushing Tobin’s head down faster to where she needs her most. They’ve had months worth of foreplay, Christen needs release now.

 

Tobin’s hair tickles the inside of her thighs, but Christen barely has time to think of this before she’s thrown into a state of pure bliss. Tobin’s tongue glides slowly through her folds, licking up the wetness that had been building since the moment they left the stadium. 

 

“Fuck” Christen curses, grasping at Tobin’s hair and massaging her scalp as she circles her tongue around Christen’s pulsing clit. 

 

Christen tries to hold herself back, but her body overrides her will, and she keens into Tobin’s mouth. She can feel herself getting close and though part of her wants to prolong this feeling and bask in it just a bit longer, a more desperate part of her cries out for the release she’s been aching for for months now. 

 

Christen loses any semblance of control when she feels Tobin stick her tongue into her, and she releases a visceral moan of pleasure. 

 

“Fuck Tobin. I’m gonna come.”

 

Tobin’s tongue licks deeper with every thrust of her hips, and in an overwhelming state of pleasure, Christen comes unraveled in wave after wave of exquisite euphoria. 

 

With her mind swimming in a pool of post-orgasm bliss, she barely registers Tobin kiss her way back up Christen’s body to rest beside her with her arm draped across her stomach, tracing invisible shapes across her skin. 

 

“Wow.” Christen finally manages to get out between panting breaths.

 

“The reviews are in.” Tobin jokes dryly.

 

Christen peaks her eyes open and turns her head toward Tobin to offer an admonishing glare. “‘I’ll have a more eloquent response in a minute, I promise. I just need time to recover.” 

 

This seems to appease Tobin who laughs lightly at Christen’s state of ineptitude. 

 

She feels Tobin start to get up and immediately shoots her arm out to stop her, grabbing her by the wrist. “Where do you think you’re going?”

 

“I still haven’t showered from the game. I just want to rinse off real quick—“

 

Christen does her best to pull the woman back down onto the bed, cutting her off. “Oh no you don’t. We’re not done yet.”

 

Tobin holds herself up over Christen and leans down, kissing her sweetly. “Oh I know we’re not done.” She smirks. “I just don’t want to be all sweaty and gross our first time, you know? 

 

"What if I like you all sweaty and gross?" Christen teases

 

"We can work our way up to it.” Tobin offers.

 

Christen smile at this. “Ok, but I’m taking a shower with you. I don’t want to miss this.” She says, motioning up and down Tobin’s body with her finger.”

 

“Sounds good to me.” Tobin agrees.

 

They manage to get off the bed and into the shower, but by the time they both manage to get around to actually bathing themselves, the hot water had long since run out, and they giggle together as they rinse the shampoo from their hair and the soap from their goosebumped skin. 

 

They spend the rest of the evening in Tobin’s bed. Some time in the small hours before sunrise, they collapse in each other’s arms and drift into a deep dreamless sleep together, having already spent most of the night in a dream already. 

 

***

 

The next morning, Christen is jolted awake by a loud banging coming from the front door. Startled, it takes her several moments to remember why she hadn’t woken up in her own bed, and she quickly remembers whose sheets she’s currently occupying. She looks over to find Tobin less roused by the knocking as she rubs the sleep from her bleary eyes, causing Christen to chuckle lightly at how cute Tobin looks when she first wakes up. 

 

“Tobin, I think someone’s here. Should we go see who it is?” Christen asks. 

 

Although she had said “we” this was really a request for Tobin to get up and answer the door. It is her apartment after all. 

 

Tobin seems to pick up on this and in her groggy haze, she silently gets out of bed and searches the floor of her room for a T-shirt and shorts, throwing them on without even checking to see if they’re inside out. 

 

As Tobin leaves the room, Christen too collects her discarded shorts, pulling them on before giving up on finding her shirt that was stuffed within the tangled sheets at some point last night.

 

She searches through Tobin’s dresser and finds a shirt, bringing it to her nose and inhaling the unadulterated scent of Tobin before pulling it over her head. 

 

As she walks out of the room, she sees Tobin standing in the doorway, talking to a familiar voice.

 

“I knew it!” She hears Kelley shout.

 

Christen pauses, briefly contemplating whether she could slowly back away and try to convince Kelley she was a figment of her imagination later. Instead, Christen trudges over to stand with Tobin at the front doorway. 

 

“Hi Kel.” Christen says, having been caught.

 

Kelley just laughs. “Oh I so called it! Sonny and Linds owe me twenty bucks.”

 

“Hey, what the fuck! You were betting on us?” Tobin asks indignantly.

 

“Yeah, me Sonny and Linds.” Kelley answers like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “You should be thanking me for having so much faith in you Tobs! Sonny didn’t think it would happen til the season was over and Lindsey didn’t even think you’d get together at all. I mean, she tried to set you up with Alex. She’s such a cheater!” 

 

Tobin shakes her head and pinches the bridge of her nose in annoyance, exhaling audibly. “What the hell...” she mutters under her breath. “Ok, we’re definitely discussing this later and the many layers of how fucked up that is, but what are you doing here now? It’s—“ she glances at her phone “7:30 in the morning. You hate being up this early.”

 

“Well I wouldn’t be here if someone had slept in her own bed last night.” She looks at Christen pointedly. “You have a doctor’s appointment in an hour, remember?”

 

Christen slaps her hand to her forehead as she remembers this fact. “Oh my gosh, I forgot. I’m so sorry.” She turns to address Tobin. “Kel offered to go with me to the team doctor this morning for my ankle.”

 

Kelley interjects “And when you weren’t at your place, I figured I’d check here before filing a missing person’s report. Lo and behold.” 

 

“I’m sorry. Thanks for doing this.” Christen apologizes again.

 

“Hey, no skin off my back. I just won forty bucks.” Kelley pauses looking between the women. “So...I’ll give you a few minutes to get dressed and we can go. Ok? No funny business, we’re on a schedule.” She says, pointing between the two. “I’ll be in the car.”

 

“K, I’ll be right there.” Christen says, closing the door behind Kelley. 

 

Christen meets eyes with Tobin and before either of them can get out a word, they both burst into a fit of laughter, relieving any ounce of tension in the air. 

 

“Welp, cat’s out of the bag.” Tobin says as their laughter does down.

 

“Shoot, I kinda liked the whole, sneaking around thing. It was sexy.” Christen jokes.

 

Tobin laughs, pulling Christen in for a kiss before changing the subject. “You want me to go with you to the doctor?”

 

“Oh, no that’s ok. You should go back to sleep. You’re probably exhausted from last night.”

 

“You should be exhausted from last night too.” Tobin says, wiggling her eyebrows playfully.

 

Christen chuckles at this. “I am, trust me. I’m sore and I didn’t even play in the game last night. You’re probably dying.”

 

Tobin shrugs. “Nothing a full body massage can’t fix. Know anyone who can do that?”

 

Christen pretends to ponder this a moment “Hm, I do know of a great spa. It’s really close and I heard they’ll give you a happy ending if you pay extra.”

 

Tobin laughs at this reference and a genuine smile comes to rest on her face as they stand regrading each other in a silent moment of mutual adoration. 

 

Christen smiles and places another kiss on Tobin’s cheek before detaching from her to go get her things together. “Seriously, you should stay and rest. I’ll call you once we’re done. It shouldn’t be too long. Maybe I can bring back some donuts and coffee or something.”

 

“I like the sound of that.” Tobin says, watching Christen put her hair up into a ponytail and collect her phone, keys, and wallet. 

 

They walk back through the apartment, stopping at the front door one more time. “I had a really great time with you last night.” Christen says, her demeanor more bashful now.

 

“I had a really great time last night too.” Tobin replies softly.

 

They share another kiss, but before it can get out of hand, they hear the impatient horn of Kelley’s car outside, and break apart.

 

“I’ll call you in a bit.” Christen reiterates before stepping out of the apartment. 

 

“Ok. Good luck!” Tobin smiles before shutting the door and latching it behind Christen. 

 

Christen bounds over to the car and hops in. As she buckled her seatbelt she can feel Kelley’s eyes on her but she makes no move to meet her gaze.

 

“Sooo....” Kelley draws out.

 

Christen doesn’t say anything, but the irresistible smile that tugs at her cheeks give her away.

 

Kelley just laughs at this. “Aw, my little Pressy got some last night! I’m so proud.”

 

“Shut up...” Christen whines.

 

“So? How was it? Is Tobin into any weird shit?” 

 

“Just drive Kelley!” Christen demands

 

***

 

At the doctor’s office, Christen’s not surprised when she receives a clean bill of health and the ok to start working her way back into training. The doctor remarks on her speedy recovery, noting that she must have been extremely diligent in her treatment. Christen simply agrees and tries to act as befuddled as the doctor is while Kelley sits in the corner of the office, taking it all in. As they’re finishing up, she receives doctor’s orders to start PT with the trainer so he can help get Christen back into training again. She obliges, and as they walk through the parking lot to Kelley’s car, Kelley turns to Christen.

 

“You know this still means you need to take it easy right?”


Christen nods. “I know.”

 

“I just don’t want you getting your hopes up that you’ll play in the game ok? They’ll want to be careful with you.”

 

Christen nods again, more despairingly this time. “I know.”

 

“Maybe you can come on as a super sub and score the game winning goal.” Kelley offers in consolation.

 

Christen shrugs. “Yeah, maybe.”

 

***

 

It’s the second half of the final game and while the team had managed to come out ahead at halftime, North Carolina scored within the first two minutes of the second half, bringing LA’s momentum to a grinding halt. 

 

Now, Christen watches from the bench as her team does everything they can to keep it even. They absorb wave after wave of attack and when they finally manage to get possession, they send desperate balls into the attacking half, hoping that a forward will get on the end of it and make a miracle happen. 

 

Christen’s nails are bitten down to stumps as she watches the game clock tick on. She prays that it doesn’t end in penalty kicks. 

 

With fifteen minutes left in the game, the coach tells Christen to start warming up on the sideline and that she’d be coming in as striker the next stoppage of play. Christen nods in understanding and does her best to focus herself and calm her nerves, repeating the platitude Tobin always tells her “excited, not anxious”.

 

When the whistle blows for a throw in, Christen rushes over to the fourth official and strips off her warm up jacket, waiting impatiently to rush onto the field as her teammate jogs over to sub out. With a quick slap of hands, she sprints out to her position, relaying marching orders from the coach as she takes her place. 

Just like the rest of the second half, LA doesn’t get much of the ball, and the few touches Christen does manage to get end up going nowhere. 

 

After being stripped again near the top of the eighteen, she lets out a frustrated groan, knowing that she’s running out of time. She looks over and spots Tobin. She can tell Tobin’s running out of gas. Her jersey is drenched in sweat and the flyaways of her ponytail refuse to stick to her head. Despite this, Tobin offers her a smile and musters the energy to encourage Christen not to give up. 

Christen takes a deep breath and watches her team from midfield as they work tirelessly to keep the ball out of the back of the net. Then, off a clearance from the goalkeeper, Christen watches as the ball shoots straight toward her down the center of the field. She runs onto it, wrestling with a defender to stay on the ball. She takes a long touch to put some space between them, knowing she’s faster and has fresher legs. As she pulls away from one defender, she sees another closing in on her as she makes it into the eighteen. She fakes like she’s going endline, but instead cuts back to the middle, shaking both defenders, opening up a clear shot on goal. She swings her leg with as much power as she can, letting her muscles remember every hour spent practicing this movement. As she makes contact with the ball, all she can hear is the pounding of her heartbeat in her ears and the long exhale from her lungs, silently willing the ball to go where it needs to. 

 

It goes silent for just a moment. 

 

The next sound she hears is a roar of deafening cheers and her name ringing in her ears as her teammates surround her in celebration. In the chaos of it all, Tobin finds her and wraps her into the tightest hug she’s ever experienced. 

 

“I knew you could do it.” She yells over the cheering of her teammates.

 

They set back up on the center circle, but it’s just a formality as the referee blows her whistle signaling the end of the game soon after the ball is put in play. The rest of the team and staff storm the field, surrounding Christen again in celebration, knowing they couldn’t have won without her.

 

When they make it into the locker room, it’s covered in plastic, and a vat of champagne and beer bottles sits in the center of the room to be sprayed on each other. As expected, most of the alcohol ends up covering the walls and soaked into their jerseys, so the team decides to go out to a bar to properly celebrate their victory. 

Once at the bar, Christen is offered shot after shot for her winning goal, which she gladly shares with Tobin who won’t leave her side. 

 

“Have I told you how great you are.” Tobin slurs into Christen’s ear as they sit in a booth together to take a breather from the dance floor. 

 

“You might have once or twice.” Christen teases. 

 

Although she had drank about twice as much as Tobin, Christen remains pleasantly tipsy while she watches Tobin slip into a state of drunkenness as the night goes on. 

 

When a teammate comes around with another two shots for Christen and Tobin, Christen quickly takes both of them before Tobin can snatch one up and possibly make herself sick. 

 

“I’m like, really drunk. Aren’t you?” Tobin slurs again.

 

Christen chuckles at how handsy Tobin has become beneath the table. “Yeah I’m getting there.”

 

“Pfft. You are not! And you had waaaay more than me.” Tobin lets out a hiccup. “Maybe your liver has super healing powers too.” She laughs boisterously at her own joke.

 

Christen, however, doesn’t find it funny and she feels a sense of panic overcome her. Her stomach drops and she quickly looks for the exit to escape the anxiety brough on by Tobin's flippant, yet accurate, comment. “Um, Tobs—Maybe we should get you home. I think we’ve had enough fun tonight.”

 

Tobin closes her eyes and leans onto Christen’s shoulder. “Mmmm that sounds nice. Are you gonna stay with me and take care of me?”

 

Christen smiles weakly, still trying to cover the waver of nerves in her voice. “Sure. If that’s what you want.”

 

Tobin nods her droopy head against Christen’s shoulder. 

 

Christen kisses the top of her head and scoots them out of the booth, making sure to keep Tobin upright as they walk through the bar, hoping the woman won't remember this in the morning. 

 

She finds Kelley dancing closely with Sonnett and pulls her away by the arm. “I’m taking her home but I need to talk to you later.” She says, leaning into Kelley.

 

Kelley gives her a confused look, picking up on the distress in Christen’s voice. “Everything ok?”

 

“I don’t know. I’ll call you tomorrow.” She looks over Kelley’s shoulder at Sonnett who’s still dancing freely behind them. “Don’t worry about it tonight. Have fun with her.” Christen offers a wink, not wanting to ruin Kelley’s night due to her own paranoia.

 

Kelley gives her a knowing smile and turns her attention back to Sonnett. 

 

Christen gets a ride for them and has the uber drop them off in front of Tobin’s building. The whole ride home, Christen battles with herself, trying to calm the nagging anxiety in her chest. It was just a stupid comment. She's drunk. She doesn't mean anything by it. She would have told me by now if she knew anything.

 

Christen helps Tobin with the keys, and unlocks the door for both of them, leading her into the bedroom and plopping her down on the bed.

 

As she’s pulling Tobin’s shoes off at the end of the bed, Tobin sits up. “Are you mad at me?” She asks out of the blue.

 

Christen furrows her brow and looks up at Tobin, confused by this question. “What? No, why do you say that?”

 

“I dunno. You’ve just been really quiet since we left the bar.” Tobin explains.

 

“Oh— sorry I didn’t mean to be. I guess I’ve just kinda been thinking about stuff.” Christen offers vaguely. It’s not entirely untrue. 

 

“What have you been thinking about?” Tobin pushes further.

 

Christen wants to tell her the truth, about why she’s been so lost in thought since Tobin’s comment, but now isn’t the time to explain it all. It may never be the time. 

 

Instead, Christen deflects, pulling off her own pants and putting on a clean shirt, tossing one to Tobin as well. “I don’t know. It’s just kinda sinking in that the season’s over. I hadn’t really given much thought about how to spend the off season.”

 

Tobin sits up, watching Christen mill about the room. "Are you sure that's all?" She asks skeptically. 

 

She's surprisingly perceptive given her current drunken stupor, and it may be what spurs Christen to ask the question that had really been plaguing her tonight. She takes a deep breath to calm her nerves and sits next to Tobin on the bed. "No, I guess that's not all I've been thinking about..."

 

"Wassamatter?" Tobin slurs, leaning into Christen.

 

Christen looks down, taking a moment to collect her thoughts. "I don't want this to come off wrong, or like I'm accusing you of anything..."

 

"Ok?" Tobin says, her interest piqued.

 

Christen takes another calming breath. "Ok--So, I just want to makes sure...I want to always be honest with each other. I feel like that's important. And I want you to feel like you can tell me whatever you want, because I'd never judge you for anything, just like I know you’d never judge me..." She grits her teeth, grimacing, hoping she hadn't offended the woman.

 

Tobin doesn't look offended though. Instead, her face falls and she clenches her jaw in a hard swallow.

 

Watching this sudden shift in mood, Christen questions it. “Tobin, you ok?”

 

Tobin’s face continues to drop and contorts into a grimace as her emotions continue to become more intense. She squeezes her eyes shut, and a hiccup to hold back tears gets caught in her throat.

 

“Tobs?....” Christen asks weakly, perplexed by this response.

 

“I’m sorry, I’m—I...” but Tobin can’t get out any other words as she sits up, her body is racked with sobs, convulsing and gasping for breath. 

 

“Tobin? Breath, just...take a deep breath. What's going on? I don’t know what you’re saying.” Christen runs her hand across Tobin’s slumped back, trying to calm the woman so she can decipher her sudden shift.

 

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done it. I didn’t know—I thought they just wanted information...” Tobin tries to get out

 

Christen’s stomach drops.

 

“Who? Who wants information?” Christen asks more desperately, knowing where her questioning will lead her, but powerless to stop it. 

 

“The government—the Alt Law investigators. They wanted you. They wanted me to follow you around and tell them about you and your abilities, but I couldn’t—not when I realized how much I love you.”

 

Christen’s mouth hangs open as Tobin’s confessions poor from her mouth. Overwhelmed, she tries to sift through each bombshell.

 

“You...you’re my tracker?” Christen asks, devastated. “And you told them about me—about how I...my...”

 

“Your mutation? Yeah.” Tobin reveals with a defeated exhale.

 

“So you knew about me the whole time? That’s why you’ve been...fuck...seducing me the past 6 months!” Christen’s anger starts to boil over as she comes to understand the depth of Tobin’s betrayal, realizing the paranoia she'd felt the past few months were rooted in something real. 

 

“No! It wasn’t like that!” Tobin raises her voice to defend herself.

 

“Then what was it like?!” Christen challenges back at equal volume.

 

“I love you! I love you and I couldn’t do it anymore!” Tobin breaks down into sobbing once more, hot tears flowing from her eyes.

 

Christen watches as Tobin cries fits of tears. She’s conflicted. Should she comfort the woman she's come to care so deeply for? Is she even the same woman? Or did Christen fall in love with an act? 

 

Do I love Tobin ?

 

She takes a deep breath and releases it slowly, gathering her wits before she addresses Tobin. 

 

“Tobin? Tell me what happened. If you love me, I need to know everything.” She says more gently, knowing anger won't solve anything at this point.

 

Tobin’s tears lessen as she collects herself, taking Christen’s words to heart. She nods her head, steadying her breathing before she begins. 

 

“Before the season started, I made a deal with the Alt Law department that they would make an exception for me to play in tier three even though my genetics weren’t really up to par with where they should be for the league. But I had to do something for them in return.”

 

“I had seen you play in college, so I knew who you were immediately when they told me that they wanted me to track you. I thought it was harmless. They wanted your fitness stats and GPI; they didn’t ask for anything they couldn’t get from the coaches or staff.”

 

“Then when they put me on the same team as you, they started asking for more—They wanted me to purposely put you in danger to see what would happen to you. I couldn’t do it. I started making excuses or purposely fucking shit up because...I was falling for you.”

 

Their eyes meet and Christen gives Tobin the smallest nod of encouragement to continue, needing to hear the full story. Tobin takes a deep breath and keeps going.

 

“They tried to pull me off your case when they saw me getting too close to you, but I convinced them not to. That's why I started dating Alex.. to try and throw them off and convince them I wasn’t in love with you. But then she left and I didn’t have anything to distract me from you anymore...”

 

“That night you sprained your ankle, I should have reported it when I caught you walking around on it like it was nothing, but when I went to call the agent , I couldn’t--I couldn't do it. It was that night that made me realize my soccer career was nothing compared to what I wanted with you. The money they were throwing at me to keep me quiet was worthless if I didn’t have you."

 

The tears stream down Tobin's cheeks as she sobs, reaching out for Christen's hands. "I love you, and I know you have every reason to hate me, but please--” She can't finish her thought as her sobs rack through her chest, trapping the words in her throat.

 

Christen sits quietly a moment, taking in Tobin’s confession. She has so many thoughts and questions swirling in her head, it takes her a minute to put them all in order. 

 

“So you were my tracker..."

 

Tobin nods silently

 

"What are they going to do with all the information you gave them?"

 

Tobin shrugs. "I don't know. I didn't give them anything worthwhile, I promise" She pleads, trying to offer any kind of consolation. 

 

"And you’re not contacting them anymore?” Christen clarifies tentatively. 

 

Tobin nods, sniffling and wiping away the tears to regain enough composure to answer. “Yeah. I haven’t talked to them in three weeks.. I don’t know what’s going to happen when they find out why.”

 

“You don’t think they’d put you in jail or anything, right?” Christen asks incredulously. 

 

Tobin shrugs sadly dropping her head. “I don’t know. None of this is really legal. They could probably do anything they wanted to me at this point.”

 

Sensing Tobin's vulnerability, she scoots into Tobin wordlessly, wrapping her up in her arms. “It’ll be ok. We’ll be ok. I love you—we’ll be ok.”

 

Tobin perks up at this, tilting her head to meet Christen’s eyes. 

 

“You love me?” She questions sheepishly 

 

Christen grins at Tobin’s endearing question, nodding her head. “Yeah...I don't know why, but I do.” She answers earnestly.

 

Tobin chuckles, wiping the tears from her eyes. “That’s so rad.” She says as they both let out a laugh of relief. 

 

Through the tears and sniffling noses, they share a kiss, completely vulnerable with everything laid out on the table. It’s a bond—a promise that they are in this together, no matter the outcome. 

 

“What do we do now?” Christen asks once they release from each other.

 

Tobin shrugs and lets out a yawn. “I dunno. Can we sleep on it and figure it out in the morning when the room isn’t spinning so much?” 

 

Christen almost forgot about the amount of alcohol undoubtedly coursing through Tobin’s system right now, and is impressed with how sober she seemed as she poured out her soul to Christen moments ago. 

 

She leans over to kiss Tobin on the temple and settles in next to her. “Sure. We figured out enough for tonight.”

 

Tobin lets out a groan and quickly falls asleep. Christen, on the other hand, lies awake most of the night, unable to benefit from the effects of alcohol to put her into an artificial slumber. She drifts in and out, and sometime as the sun starts coming up, Christen’s eyes finally fall closed from pure exhaustion. 

 

***

 

When Christen’s awoken the next morning by frantic banging on the front door, she looks over to find that Tobin is already out of bed, throwing a shirt on over her bare torso. 

 

“Yeah I’m coming! Jesus...” Tobin yells from her spot near the dresser.

 

When she notices Christen sitting up on the bed, rubbing the sleep from her eyes, her scowl softens and she comes over to the edge of the bed, leaning in to kiss Christen awake. 

 

“Morning beautiful.” She says, her tone soft now.

 

“Hi.” Christen responds in a small whine.

 

“I’ll be right back, ok? I just need to tell whoever’s at the door to fuck off. Don’t move.” Tobin says grabbing her head with a wince as her hangover undoubtedly starts to set in.

 

She disappears out of the room and Christen does her best to try and get comfortable again, but curiosity gets the best of her when Tobin doesn’t come back after a few minutes. She slips out of bed and into a shirt and shorts, treading lightly out of the room to see where Tobin had disappeared to. 

 

When she gets to the living room, she sees Tobin sitting on the couch next to Kelley, both hunched over the computer screen on Kelley’s lap.

 

“Kel, you’ve gotta stop waking us up like this.” Christen jokes.

 

This catches both women’s attention as they turn to face Christen. She immediately recognizes that neither of them are smiling. In fact, they both look a little scared.

 

“Chris, come here. You need to hear this.” Tobin says, patting the empty space next to her on the couch.

 

“What’s going on?” Christen asks as she makes her way to the spot in the couch.

 

“Before you freak out, just know that I have a plan. We’re gonna be fine ok?” Tobin says gently.

 

“Tobin, what’s going on?” Christen asks, distressed now. 

 

Kelley chimes in. “I’ve been keeping an eye on that agent you told me about when you found that card in Tobin’s drawer. Emails, texts, stuff like that.”

 

Christen gives her a confused look. “Kel...how...”

 

Kelley cuts her off. “I may have a background in cyber security. I had to pay the bills somehow when I was still in the development league.”

 

“So you hacked his phone and email?” Christen clarifies.

 

“Yes, that’s not the point.” Kelley confirms. “The point is, this Dean Wallace guy was getting suspicious when you stopped reporting to him,” she looks to Tobin, “so he started reaching out to other people for info and guess who he found?”

 

“Michael...” Christen says definitively.

 

“Uh huh. I guess they offered him something better than the threat of getting murdered by me, and he told them everything he knew about you.”

 

Kelley starts to click through the computer screen. “And now, from what I can tell from these emails he’s been sending out, Wallace is getting everything ready to pick you up. They’re coming for you Press. Tonight.”

 

Fuck

 

She looks to Tobin, scared and stammering as she tries to put together a coherent thought. “What do I do?”

 

Tobin grabs her hand, rubbing it gently in her own. “You’re gonna be fine. I promise nothing’s gonna happen. No one’s gonna hurt you.”

 

She kisses Christen’s cheek, but Christen remains frozen, still trying to recover from shock.

 

Tobin begins again. “We’re getting out of here. I still have some friends in Europe who will let us stay with them until we can find our own place. We’ll lay low for a few months. It’ll be fine. They can’t get us once we’re there. It’s out of their jurisdiction.”

 

Christen nods, slowly digesting this information. “What about my family? I just have to leave them? Will I get to see them again?” 

 

Tobin looks at her, eyes full of sadness. “I don’t know. They want your genetic code pretty bad. Who knows how long they’re willing to wait for you.”

 

Kelley interjects. “But I’m going to be keeping an eye on it, and as soon as chatter dies down about you, we’re getting you back here.” 

 

“How?” Christen asks simply.

 

“I know a guy who can hook you up with forged passports, birth certificates, social security cards, you name it. You’ll be a whole new you when you come back.” Kelley states, still focused intently on the computer screen. 

 

Christen ponders what Kelley must have done in her past life to have all these skills and connections, but pushes the thought to the side so she can fully understand what’s going on presently. 

 

She looks over to Tobin, a spark of hope in her chest. “Do you think this’ll work?” 

 

Tobin shrugs “It has to.”

 

They spend the rest of the morning booking flights and packing up their essentials while Tobin calls her acquaintances in another time zone, explaining their situation in vague, broken French. While Christen shoves clothing haphazardly into her suitcase, she thinks of her parents. When will she be able to see them next, or even talk to them? How will they know she’s ok? That she’s safe? These questions go unanswered and she tries her best not to let the panic take over.

 

She pops her head back into the living room. “Do I have time to call my mom real quick?” 

 

Kelley looks at her despairingly. “Chris, I’m not sure that’s a good idea...”

 

Tobin cuts her off. “Go ahead. I’ll finish packing up our stuff.”

 

Christen watches as Kelley gives Tobin a challenging look, but they come to a silent agreement that they can spare ten minutes. Christen excuses herself to the back patio and closes the glass door behind her to give herself a little privacy. 

 

The line rings only once before her mother’s voice sings through on the other end. “Honey! I’m so glad you called! I wanted to call you last night to tell you how great you played, but your dad insisted that you were probably too busy celebrating with the team. How are you?”

 

“I’m fine mom. How are things over there?” Christen asks, trying to match her mother’s enthusiasm.

 

“Oh, you know us, boring as ever. Watching you play last night was the most fun we’ve had in weeks. We’re so proud of you honey.”

 

Christen’s eyes prickle with tears at the earnestness I her mother’s voice, wondering if that tv image will be the last they’ll ever see of their daughter. 

 

“I was actually calling cus I have something I needed to tell you.” Christen explains, fighting back tears. “Tobin and I are going to Europe for a little while. We’re taking a little break together. I just didn’t want you to worry if you can’t get a hold of me.”

 

“Oh, that sounds fantastic! I wish your dad would take me on a romantic European vacation.”

 

“Yeah... I’m not sure when we’ll be back, but I just wanted to let you know that I’m safe. We’ll be safe.” Christen tries her hardest to mask the distress in her voice, but it’s unsuccessful.

 

The line is quiet for a few moments before her mother starts in again, her tone nostalgic and soft. “I’ve always known how special you are Christen. Even when you were little. You were always so resilient. Every time you got knocked down, you always bounced right back up. You’ve always been so tough. You never got hurt, never got sick, you were our miracle baby.”

 

Christen listens, wondering in the back of her mind if her mom knows what’s going on. Wondering if her motherly instincts had tapped her on the shoulder this morning to tell her something wasn’t quite right with her daughter. 

 

Her mom continues. “I’ve always known you were special Christen. I figured someone else would find out how special you are eventually. When are they coming for you?”

 

That’s when the understanding dawns on her. “How—how do you.. ?” Christen tries to get the words out as she struggles to wrap her mind around it all.

 

“Oh honey. I’m a biogenetic engineer for goodness sakes. I had you figured you out pretty quick.” She laughs lightly into the phone. “Normal people don’t recover from a shattered femur in ten days. Not even the healthiest alt. You’re one tough cookie.”

 

Christen scowls, trying to piece together this information. “But...If you knew all this, about my—mutation—why’d you let me tryout for the alt league? You knew they might find out about me because of it...God, they did find out about me because of it! Why didn’t you tell me any of this stuff?!” Christen questions aggressively, starting to feel resentful that her mom had kept this from her all these years.

 

Another knowing chuckle comes from her mother “When have you ever done something because I told you not to, hm? You’re just like your dad. If I tell you not to do something, you just want to do it even more. And I knew how happy it would make you. You’re a smart woman, I knew you’d land on your feet.” 

 

Christen can’t deny her mother’s poignant observation. She wants to ask a million more questions to help fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle, but there isn’t time for that now.

 

Her mother continues after a brief pause. “So you’ll be with Tobin?”

 

Christen hums in affirmation. 

 

“And I’m guessing she knows about all this.” Christen mother asks.

 

Christen hums again into the phone, not wanting to get into the details of Tobin's involvement.

 

Her mother lets out a deep sigh. “Ok. Stay as long as you need to ok? Until it’s safe. I need my baby back in one piece.”

 

Christen nods against the phone, tears starting to wet the glass screen. “Ok, I will mom.”

 

“Hey, maybe I can convince your dad to take me on that romantic European vacation after all. We can come visit you if we have time to pencil you in after our tours of Tuscan vineyards.” She teases lightly.

 

Christen lets out a relieved laugh. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

 

“It’ll be ok sweety. We love you and we’ll be right here if you need anything.”

 

The tears stream freely down her cheeks now as she fights to get out words through her clenched throat. “Love you mom”

 

“I love you too sweetheart. Be safe.”

 

The line goes dead and Christen crumples to the ground, bringing her knees to her chest as she gasps for air between sobs. She never thought when she opened her eyes this morning that so much could happen in the matter of hours. She allows herself several minutes to dry her tears and compose herself, compartmentalizing these feelings to be dealt with at another time. She has too much to get done to worry about this now.

 

When she steps back into the living room, Kelley looks at her watch, closes her laptop, and rises from the couch. “Ok you two. Time to go to the airport. You wanna do one last sweep before we go?”

 

Christen looks over at Tobin and a silent agreement passes between them. They grasp each other’s hands and walk slowly into the bedroom one last time. 

 

The bed is still unmade and messy, and the closet is half empty with plastic hangers swinging back and forth on the wooden dowel. It’s quiet and smells faintly of the candle they’d lit several nights before. Christen looks around, taking it all in.

 

“It’s just a room. We’ll make our home again somewhere else. I promise.” Tobin whispers softly in her ear.

 

Tears begin to wet Christen’s eyes again. “What if we never come back?” Her voice trembles at the thought.

 

“We will. We probably won’t come back here exactly, but I know we’ll make it back eventually.” She comes to stand behind Christen, wrapping her up protectively in her arms and kisses her temple. “And we have each other. That’s the most important part, for me anyway.” 

 

The faintest of smiles graces Christen’s lips and she spins in Tobin’s arms to face her, their eyes meeting in this intimate moment. “It’s important to me too. I love you.”

 

“I love you too.”

 

Christen can taste the salt as their lips come together and she can’t tell whose tears are whose when she takes Tobin’s face between her hands. She holds them there, savoring this final kiss they’ll share in the place that started it all. The loss of innocence weighs heavy against her chest, but knowing that Tobin will be there every step of the way gives her strength and carries her out the door and into the car as she says a silent goodbye to the place where her life fully blossomed. 

 

The car ride is somber and quiet. Kelley doesn’t say anything when Tobin climbs into the back seat with Christen, knowing she needs the comfort more than Kelley needs a copilot. Christen does her best to steady her breaths, counting the seconds to inhale and exhale, but this doesn’t slow her heartbeat or the thoughts racing through her mind as her eyes fix aimlessly out the window. 

 

When they arrive at the airport, Kelley parks on the curb and helps them unload their suitcases. In any other circumstance, she probably would have made a sarcastic joke about how light they packed, but now was not the time. 

 

Standing on the curb, Tobin wraps her arms around Kelley first. “I don’t know how I’m ever going to thank you for this.” 

 

“Don’t worry about it. Just stay safe over there. Eat lots of bread, drink lots of wine. No one will ever suspect you’re professional soccer players if you get fat.” Kelley says, offering some levity to the somber moment.

 

Tobin laughs lightly and releases her. “I will. I’ll email you once we get situated.”

 

Kelley nods. “Ok dude.” She turns her attention to Christen and brings her in for a crushing hug. “Press” she whines. “What are we gonna do without you next season?”

 

“I’ll just have to cheer extra loud for you from across the ocean.” Christen plays along.

 

Kelley releases her, but keeps her grip on Christen’s shoulders, holding her at arms length, looking more serious now. “I seriously don’t know if I would have made it without you this year. I’m gonna miss you, both of you.”

 

“Kel...” Christen’s eyes start to water all over again.

 

“Just look after each other ok? We’ll get you back here before you know it. I need you guys too much to leave you over there.” Kelley reassures her. 

 

“Come with us.” Christen suggests half-heartedly.

 

Kelley just shakes her head. “Nah. I’ve finally got my own reasons for staying.”

 

“Emily?” Christen guesses in a teasing tone.

 

Kelley smiles and looks away bashfully. “What? You guys don’t get to have all the fun.” She says smugly.

 

Christen chuckles at this, and pulls Kelley in for a final hug. “I’ll miss you too. Thanks for everything.”

 

“Don’t mention it. You’ll be back before you know it.” Kelley says as she releases Christen once more. 

 

The security guard gestures for them to wrap it up and move along, spurring Kelley to jump into the car and start it back up. She rolls down the windows to shout one final farewell to the two women before she drives off into the sea of cars. 

 

Once Kelley is out of sight, Tobin and Christen step into the airport with their bags in tow.

 

Tobin turns toward Christen as they stand among the swarms of people going this way and that. “You ready?”

 

Christen shakes her head, starting to feel overwhelmed by the weight of it all. “I don’t know.”

 

Tobin smiles adoringly at her. She leans in, offering her a reassuring kiss on the lips. “Remember: excited, not anxious.”