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Learning Is Fun

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Since that night ten days ago, Christen and Tobin have grown even closer. Their makeout sessions have now included some hands under the bra action and last a bit longer. Without speaking about it, both are definitely planning on the Seattle trip to finally seal the deal.

They’ve continued their routine, dining at each other’s homes, playing soccer once a week together, Tobin playing pick up on Thursday nights, discussing menus for the week on Sunday nights and recipes to try. They’ve become a bit domestic, enjoying the quiet time together spent reading on the swing in the yard, sitting on the couch or at the kitchen table catching up on work, napping together and taking the dogs for walks or to the dog beach. They still dress up for their Friday or Saturday night dates or going out with their friends, wanting to impress each other and each time the night ends with them struggling not to shed their clothes in a fit of passion.

Seattle can’t come soon enough.

Christen has joined the group to play soccer a few times, enjoying being able to hit the ball around and play again. Their friends have stopped teasing them about how cute they are, although they still get comments, just not bombarded like before. Both were happy to hear Ali and Ashlyn gushing about their dates, while Emily and Kelley are still doing a slightly strange little dance between themselves. It involves lots of flirting and teasing, yet both aren’t willing to commit to an actual date yet that they know of. They both try to be casual about the group getting together and checking who would be there.

It’s slightly comical, but Tobin and Christen are just about the only ones who aren’t pushing them together. They both feel that each woman has been hurt in the past and are still eying another up, using their flirting and teasing to cover up their fear of being hurt again, unwilling to risk hurt feelings just yet. So, they’ve kind of double dated, in a weird casual way, Tobin and Emily just happening to get coffee the same place Christen and Kelley are, or browsing through Powell’s bookstore and running into them there. After it happened for the third time, with Christen’s precision timing and planning, Tobin discovers the hints that Kelley is giving her for when it was okay for her and Christen to awkwardly excuse themselves and wander off from the two.

When she explained it to Christen, she just smiled, nodding her head and promising to watch for it and see if she could recognize it as well. Once she did, things got less awkward.
It’s been raining on and off today, the skies filled with angry clouds and the air hot. Christen is cooking dinner at Tobin’s house while Tobin is in her laundry room changing a load of clothes. Most nights when it’s Christen’s turn to cook, she comes to Tobin’s house, citing that she likes her kitchen better than the one in her apartment and her backyard to let the dogs roam. Tobin happily agrees, loving having her over.

“Tobin!” Christen yells, holding her phone in her hand, turning the flame to low under the skillet, “Tobin!”

“Yeah?” Tobin replies from the laundry room, alarmed when she hears the fear in Christen’s voice. “What’s wrong?” she calls as she trots down the hallway.

Christen is looking at her phone.

“Chris, what’s wrong?” Tobin repeats, worry in her voice.

She looks up, “We’re in a tornado watch!” she exclaims, her eyes wide and fearful.

“Okay,” Tobin nods.

“Tobin, what do we do?” Christen asks, “Where do we go?”

“Chris, it’s fine,” she assures her, “we just have to stay aware of the weather,”

“But there’s a tornado coming!” She says loudly, looking at her frantically.

“Chris,” Tobin starts.

“Tobin, I don’t know what to do!” She yells.

Tobin nods, approaching her, reaching out to hug her but she flinches away. “Not now, Tobin!” she says harshly, “I should get the dogs, I should go home,”

“Chris, wait a second,” Tobin says, it’s slowly dawning on her that maybe Christen has never experienced weather like this, not growing up in California. “The safest thing to do is stay here,” she says evenly, “we need to just be aware of the weather,” she explains patiently, “a watch means that the conditions are good for a tornado to occur. Unless it changes to a warning, we just need to be mindful of the skies.”

“You’re positive?” Christen asks, wiping away a tear.

“Yes,” Tobin says softly, “we’ll be fine,”

“I’m sorry,” Christen sniffs, walking to her and hugging her hard, “I’m scared,” She feels Tobin hold her tight, rocking slightly, “I understand,” she says sweetly, kissing the side of her head, “please don’t be scared,”

“I didn’t know you get tornados here,” Christen sniffs, resting her head against Tobin’s chest.

“We don’t get them a lot,” Tobin states, “but it can happen sometimes,” she pulls back to see her face, “I’m going to turn on the Weather Channel, we’ll keep it on until this passes,” she nods at her, releasing her when Christen nods with her.

“Sorry, I lost it,” Christen apologizes, “I didn’t mean to yell at to you,”

“You were scared,” Tobin says understandingly, “I didn’t know,”

Christen kisses her softly, “Thanks for being so great,”

Tobin smiles and nods at her, “Is dinner close?”

“We’re going to eat?” she questions, surprised.

“Yeah, we’ll watch the TV, it’s okay,” Tobin says reassuringly, “oh, I know, come on.” She grabs her hand and leads her to the door to the basement. “Here’s where we should go if the weather gets bad,” she explains, opening the door and flicking on the light.

She leads Christen down into the unfinished basement. Christen looks around, noting the treadmill, squat rack, weight bench located in a corner. Dumbbell racks and plate racks line the wall. A mirror is affixed to the wall behind it. The rest of the area is clean, cement walls with drop lights illuminating the area. There’s an older table and chairs in the corner, a workbench up against the wall with a light over it. Christen likes how neat and organized everything is down here.

Tobin leads her around the stairs and stops before a door. “This is my safe room for weather,” she explains, opening the door, “this is where we take shelter,” she clicks on a light, steps in and gestures for Christen to follow. The room is small, maybe fitting five people, the walls made of cinderblock, two lows of shelves on the bottom of each one lined with carefully marked boxes of Christmas decorations. A few foldup chairs are stacked leaning against the back wall. She spies a case of water on the shelf, a few boxes, a full backpack, a first aid kit, flashlights and what she thinks is a toolbox.

“If you’re ever here while I’m not and the weather makes you nervous, you come down here, okay?” Tobin looks at her, rubbing Christen’s upper arm.

“Okay,” Christen nods shyly, “I’m going to finish making dinner, it’s almost ready,” she says. She feels a little foolish for her reaction, but honestly, she couldn’t control the fear and panic that coursed through her. Then she realizes the comment about being here when Tobin isn’t and she feels a little pang in her chest at the idea of being here and having dinner ready for her when she walks through the door from work.

“Okay,” Tobin says as they exit, breaking Christen from her reverie. Tobin clicks off the light and leaves the door open. They trot up the stairs, Tobin switching on the TV and finding the weather station, watching the radar for a minute and then leaving the kitchen to go to the yard. She looks up at the sky and throws a tennis ball around for Morena to fetch and bring back to her.

The sky is still threatening, but it’s not raining and the winds are calm. She enters the house just as Christen is pulling out the plates.

“Dinner ready?” Tobin questions, bumping her shoulder as she uses the sink to wash her hands.

“Yep,” Christen nods, glancing outside, still uneasy about the weather.

“Thanks for cooking,” Tobin says, leaning in and kissing her softly. Christen smiles at her, “You’re welcome,”

“What can I do?” she asks.

“Um, make the plates?” Christen asks, “I’ll get drinks, you want water or?”

“Uh, I’ll have milk, please,” Tobin replies, lifting a plate and looking over what Christen has made for them to eat. “This looks great, babe,” Tobin comments as she begins to plate the meals.

Christen smiles at her, studying her as she works. Amused at how her tongue pokes out as she slowly lifts the chicken breast, being careful not to spill the juices.

“You called me babe,” Christen grins at her.

Tobin smiles, “That’s ‘cause you are a babe,” she says cheekily, giving her an exaggerated wink. “Go sit, I’ll bring this to you,” she says.

They watch the weather report as they eat, Christen growing a bit nervous as she sees the storm front coming in. The amount of red and yellow on the radar makes her tense up.
“You didn’t get much storms where you lived, huh?” Tobin speaks before taking another bite of her meal.

“No,” Christen says quietly, “I mean, we had rains and winds and stuff but not…tornadoes.”

“It’s very unusual for it to happen here,” Tobin says reassuringly, laying a hand on Christen’s knee and squeezing it gently, “a lot of things have to fall in place for it to happen,”

“Were you ever in one?” Christen questions.

“Ah, not really,” Tobin says, “I was super young when one came through Portland, I think I was like five or something,”

“Do you remember it?” Christen asks, intrigued.

Tobin frowns, “I remember being scared,” she says, “I remember my Mom having toys in the basement we could play with,” she scrunches up her mouth, “I think it’s one of the reasons I made sure any house I bought had a basement,”

“Huh,” Christen comments, “it stuck with you?”

Tobin looks over at her, shrugging, “Maybe? Like, it was just a storm, we didn’t see a thing, we could hear the wind, but it was like a really bad storm.” She pauses a moment, “What about you?”

Christen shakes her head, “Just the high winds and thunderstorms,” she says.

“Well,” Tobin smiles reassuringly at her, “we’ll be fine,” she says with all the confidence she can muster, wanting Christen to feel at ease.

They hang out on the couch for a little bit, eventually getting up and doing the dishes. Tobin goes back to her laundry, while Christen scans the channels on TV. Thunder is beginning to rumble, although it hasn’t started to rain yet.

Tobin and Christen’s phones go off, a weather alert appearing on their screens. Christen picks up her phone, her eyes widening.

“Tobin!” she yells, “We’re in a tornado warning!”

“Okay, we need to go to the basement,” Tobin says calmly, “Get your shoes on.”

Tobin spreads open the front drapes, “Woah,” she utters upon seeing the greenish sky.

A loud crack of thunder makes both of them jump and the sound for rain pelting the roof and windows can be heard.

“The dogs!” Christen cries, launching off the couch and running to the kitchen door. “Morena! Khaleesi! Come!”

A heavy rain begins to fall, lightning flaring in the sky, thunder rolling ominously. Morena bolts for the door, running full speed from the far corner of the yard to the door and into the house, her legs skittering and sliding on the floor. The rain is coming down in sheets. The winds are picking up and the temperature has dropped. The sky is tinted a weird greenish color which is alarming.

“Khaleesi!” Christen yells. Tobin brushes past her, “I’ll get her,” she says, running into the yard, calling for her. She finds her huddled under the swing near the pond, slightly shaking.

“Come on, girl,” Tobin says softly, getting on her knees and gently pulling her out. The dog is scared, whimpering in fear. Swiftly Tobin picks her up and carries her as she trots to the house, rain pelting her and the animal.

“Basement,” she orders, ushering them to the door. “I’ll be just a second,” Tobin says, stripping her shirt off, running to her room and throwing on another shirt and grabbing her backpack and Christen’s purse, pausing to think if she should grab anything else. She runs to the kitchen, grabbing two bowls for the dogs. She trots to the front door, seeing how the sky has turned an even deeper shade of green. The rain stops and the air grows still, making Tobin feel scared. She grabs the dog leashes and runs for the basement.

“Tobin!” Christen yells from downstairs.

“Coming!” she yells back as the sound of the tornado siren fills the air.

“Tobin!” Christen screams, her fear so evident that Tobin nearly slips in her haste to get down the stairs.

“Come on,” Tobin instructs, speed walking to the corner of the basement and ushering them in. She shuts the door behind herself, breathing a little heavy. She drops her backpack and Christen’s purse on the floor, while Christen is kneeling on the floor, wiping Morena’s paws. Khaleesi is whimpering and Tobin strokes her head, “It’s okay, girl,” she coos.

Tobin slicks back her wet hair, looks around the finds the radio, fiddling with it until the sound of voices fills the little room. It’s KEX 1190 on, listing neighborhoods that should be on the lookout for the approaching weather. The male voice is excitedly explaining a funnel cloud has been spotted in the southwest section of the city. Tobin’s eyes widen when he mentions the area around the Japanese Gardens should take shelter immediately. She latches the door and looks over to Christen and sees she’s visibly upset, tears streaking down her face. Tobin lowers herself to the floor, beckoning her closer. She wraps her arms her, holding her tightly. “We’ll be okay,” she says, “we’re safe down here.” Both dogs attempt to sit on their laps.

They both look up when they hear a loud boom that shakes the house, Christen emitting a cry. The lights go out and the small room is plunged into darkness. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” Tobin assures as she lets her hand run along the lower shelf, her fingers surrounding one of the flashlights she keeps in here. She clicks it on, shining it around to locate the small lantern she has in here. “A transformer must have blown,” she comments. “Chris,” she says, nudging her, Christen lifting her head up, “can you grab that lantern next to you?”
Christen turns, not leaving Tobin’s side, to pick up the lantern. She flinches with another clap of thunder that shakes the house. Tobin turns on the lantern, setting it on the low shelf to illuminate the area. She brings her hand around Christen, rubbing her back. Khaleesi settles on her side, whimpering and lying half on Tobin’s leg. Morena is in Christen’s lap.

They can hear the rain pelting the basement windows, coming in gusts, each one stronger than the next.

Then they both hear it change into a rumble above them, then glass shattering and a loud thump that shakes the house, making them both scream. The rumble turns into a deafening roar, making Christen turn and bury her head into Tobin’s chest, gripping her shoulder painfully tight. She feels Tobin’s hand on her head, pulling her close to her chest. The flashlights and other items on the shelves bounce around, they can hear the cracking of tree branches and the screeching sound of bending metal.

“Tobin!” Christen cries in terror. It truly sounds like a fast moving train is speeding past them outside.

“It’s okay! We’re okay!” Tobin exclaims over the noise, trying to reassure her, but she can hear her own panic in her voice. Tobin is terrified but she needs to be calm for Christen right now. She holds her tight, worriedly looking up the ceiling of the room as if she’s waiting for it to be pulled off any minute. She clamps her eyes shut as the sounds get louder, dropping her head to nuzzle against Christen’s.

Christen holds her tight, feeling how Tobin’s breathing is speeding up, how tense she is as she holds her. How her grip is tight on her, it’s so tight, it’s near painful. She can hear Tobin speaking, catching bits and pieces of what she figures out is a prayer. She hears her name being said and the thought of Tobin praying for her settles her. A strange calmness comes over her, she’s still terrified, yet she’s not panicked now. She realizes they have to sit and wait it out, wincing as she hears a thump and more glass shattering.

The roar, that she thought must have lasted twenty minutes, is lessening, getting quieter and then a loud clap of thunder makes her jolt up, her head smacking against Tobin’s so hard, she hears it thump against the wall. Tobin makes a strangled noise, flinching from the impact.

Christen pulls away from her, “Oh my gosh, are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Tobin says, lifting her hand and rubbing the back of her head, “I’m good,” she pants, swallowing hard.

“Is it over?” she questions.

“I think it is,” Tobin says, her voice shaky, moving slowly to retrieve the radio that had fallen on the ground. She tunes it in back to the station, then shifts her hips and pulls her phone out. With a shaky hand, she pulls up her weather app, grateful she still has internet access.

“Here’s the radar,” she turns the phone so Christen can see. “It’s passed,” Tobin states. “There’s still some rain coming,” she says and then pauses, “We should go check and see if I have a house left.”

There’s something in Tobin’s somber tone that sobers Christen’s thoughts. Here she was terrified for her and Tobin, for her dogs, and now that it has passed, the realization of the damage left behind leaves her reeling. The thought of how Tobin had told her she was smitten with her house and now the possibility that it could be destroyed tears at her heart.
Slowly they get up, Tobin grabbing the flashlight and the crow bar, apprehensively taking the few steps to the door. She unlatches the door, turns the knob and slowly opens it, flashing the light around. Light is filtering through the few windows, the reflection of glass on the cement floor. They both look to see a tree branch coming through one of the small windows.

Tobin turns to her, “Maybe we should keep the dogs in here until we see how it is?” she questions. “There might be glass all over,”

“Good idea,” Christen says, “it’s okay girls,” she says before shutting the door behind them. She shines her flashlight around, walking behind Tobin who is moving slowly, dragging her feet as if she’s dreading going up the stairs. Christen reaches out and places her hand on Tobin’s back, wanting to touch her in hopes it helps reassure her.

The door to the upstairs is shut, leaving them to walk up in the darkness, their flashlights leading the way. Tobin cautiously turns the knob, then pushes it open. She takes another step up to poke her head in the hallway before walking up the remaining couple of stairs and looks around. She moves down the hallway to her bedroom, shining the light on the walls and ceiling, checking out the bathroom for damage. Nothing. They move without speaking to the guest room, then the hallway bathroom, approaching the kitchen.

The kitchen’s backdoor has blown open, the screen door hanging on by one hinge. The metal screen door itself is twisted and dented. There’s rainwater and leaves and small branches on the floor, but the windows are intact. A bushy tree branch is filling half of the living room having broken through where the large window once was. Glass litters the floor mixed with leaves and wetness reflects from the beams of the flashlights.

“Oh my God,” Tobin utters and Christen feels her stomach drop.

It’s only five thirty, but the sky is still dark and overcast.

Tobin let’s out a shaky breath and Christen slips her arm around her waist. Tobin’s mouth is open as she stares at the tree in her living room. She runs a hand over her face, holding her chin as she as looks with disbelief at the tree. Then she shakes her head and clears her throat.

“I need to check outside and then on the neighbors,” Tobin informs her. “I’m going to put some jeans on and change my shoes,” she says, “you want to bring the puppies up and put them my room or something?”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Christen nods.

They walk back towards the hallway, “If you want to change clothes, please just help yourself, okay?”

“Okay,” Christen nods, kissing her a quick kiss.

Once they’ve changed their clothes and have the dogs safely in Tobin’s room, Christen follows Tobin out the back door. Thankfully, the barn is standing, Tobin’s roof is fine. The trees in the backyard are fine, a few branches down but nothing major. The gutter on the front of house is torn down, most likely pulled down from the huge tree that was across the street that had fallen into her front yard and driveway. It blocks the road, nearly taking out Christen’s car and just missing going through Tobin’s roof and taking out the corner of her house by a couple of feet.

Christen is taking photos with her phone, knowing Tobin isn’t thinking of it, her focus on checking if everything is in good order. Once they’ve established that her house needs to have the tree branch removed from the front window and driveway, her screen door removed and the basement window replaced, Tobin tells her she needs to make sure her neighbors are okay.

They go back into the house for Tobin to pick up the flashlight and crowbar and leave again. Christen tells her she’ll start cleaning up inside and not to worry.

 

Before she enters the house, Christen takes photos of the yard, it’s littered with branches and leaves cover the grass. She takes photos of the living room and kitchen, thinking Tobin may need them for insurance purposes. Then she sets to cleaning up as best she can. She can hear shouting as she carefully sweeps the kitchen floor. She pokes her head out the front door, seeing Tobin gesturing and giving a thumbs up to someone out of her view. She sees other people milling around, looking shell shocked, wearing the same expression on their faces that Tobin hasn’t lost yet.

Her phone is vibrating in her pocket so she takes it out, seeing multiple texts and missed calls. She texts Kelley back, letting her know they’re okay but Tobin’s house was hit, sending a photo of the tree in the living room.

Once she gets the kitchen cleaned, she stands in the living room, deciding on how to attack it. She pushes the sofa and wing chairs back near the kitchen, then sweeps the glass, the small branches and leaves up, dumping it in the garbage. She remembers that Tobin has a low shelving unit under the large window, so she moves the coffee table out of the way, pushing it to the side. She finds a bag of rags in Tobin’s laundry area, bringing it out to the kitchen and using the few to wipe down her leather couch. Then she slowly pulls the shelving unit out from under the tree. She sees how the branch is resting on the windowsill, so she carefully pulls the unit out, making sure to take off the little items Tobin has on it. It’s mostly candles and keepsakes from her travels. She spreads a couple of towels on the coffee table and sets the broken items on it, wanting to show Tobin so she could decide to throw them away or keep them.

The tree is wet from the rain and every time Christen brushes against it, it sends new drops of water down onto the old hard wood floor. She frowns, not wanting the floor to get ruined. She snaps her fingers as an idea comes to mind, trotting back down the stairs into the basement to retrieve Tobin’s backpack and her purse. She fishes her keys out and heads outside to her car.

The size of the tree lying horizontally across Tobin’s front lawn is amazing. Christen’s eyes follow the trunk to across the street to where the trunk has lifted the ground up around it by at least ten feet. At its base, the tree is about three or four feet in diameter. There are two more large trees blocking the road, a few neighbors standing near one talking. Christen inspects her car, shaking her head in disbelief to find it perfectly fine except for the leaves covering it. She retrieves two old blankets from the trunk, using them for the dogs. She trots back into the house, using the rags to wipe up the living room floor and spreading the blankets out beneath the tree.

Satisfied she’s done all she can in the house, she checks on the dogs, glad to find them napping in the dark bedroom. She opens the drapes to let some light in before leaving to find Tobin. She quickly finds her in the barn, Tobin had rolled open the large doors to let light in. She’s standing by a table pouring gas into a chainsaw.

“Sweetie?” Christen calls as she enters the barn.

“Hey,” Tobin turns to see her, “you okay?”

“Yes,” Christen says as she comes closer, “are your neighbors okay?” she asks fearfully.

Tobin nods her head, “Gary next door,” she jerks her thumb to the left, “he’s got a tree on his roof, but that’s the worst of it, except for some broken windows.”

“Everyone is okay?” she questions, stepping in to wrap an arm around Tobin’s waist. She needs to feel her. Tobin must sense it because she places an arm around her as well, “Everyone is fine. Rattled, but fine.”

Christen assesses her, Tobin is pale and her hand that’s resting on the chainsaw is slightly shaking. Christen envelops her in a hug, holding her as she lightly rubs her back. “Are you okay?” she asks gently, seeing how Tobin looks completely overwhelmed.

“I, ye-,” Tobin pauses, “I don’t know,” she answers truthfully, “I’m just so grateful nobody is hurt,” she says, “there’s so much to do, I don’t know where to start,”

“We should probably start with removing the tree from the living room,” Christen says gently, “do you think you have something to cover the window?”

“I have some tarps, maybe some plywood in here,” Tobin replies, looking around the barn.

“Do you have those scissor things to trim tree branches?” she asks her.

Tobin nods, “Yeah, I do,” she says distractedly, her mind spinning.

“I thought I’d start trimming the tree inside to make it easier to get out,” Christen offers.

“That would be great, thanks,” Tobin says, “Are you sure you want to stick around? I understand if you want to go home,”

“Tobin,” she states, “I’m not leaving until we have this place cleaned up,” she says sternly, leaving no room for argument.

“Okay,” Tobin nods, leaning close and kissing her, “thank you.”

“So, what should we do with the wood?” Christen questions, wanting to have a game plan.

Tobin scrunches up her mouth, furrowing her forehead as she thinks, “Maybe bring it back here in the yard to burn it?”

“Do you have a wagon or something to transport it?”

Tobin smiles, “I do,” she says, “thanks for thinking of it,” she says, running a hand through her hair, “my mind is going in a million directions right now,”

Christen rubs Tobin’s back, “I know,” she says, “so, I should cut the branches one size, right?”

“Yeah,” Tobin nods, “I’ll cut the big stuff into pieces we can roll away or carry,” she looks out at the driveway, “that tree is huge.”

“We’ll get it, honey,” Christen encourages, “but you need your wrist brace,” she reminds her, “I’ll go get it,”

“Thanks,” Tobin says and turns her attention back to preparing her chainsaw.

When Christen returns, Tobin has gloves and safety glasses laid out for her. Two different trimmers are on the table and Tobin is drinking from a water bottle, offering it to her. Christen takes a drink and nods at her.

In the house, they work together clipping branches with the hand trimmers, making small stacks to carry out to the flat trolley Tobin pulled along and left on the driveway up against the house. If you turn sideways, you can make it through the branches covering the drive.

“Okay,” Tobin says, from outside the front window, “here’s what I’m thinking,” she stands closer to the broken window, “If you hold onto the branch in here,” she looks at Christen, “I’ll cut it about two feet from window and then we can slide it out,”

Christen looks over the branch, then nods at her, “Works for me,”

“Okay,” Tobin says, “just yell and I’ll stop if something happens,” She exits the house and soon the roar of her chainsaw joins the other ones being used nearby. They get the branch out onto the lawn without incident, high fiving each other through the opening left by the offensive tree.

“Should we try to cover the window in case more rain comes?” Christen questions.

“Yeah,” Tobin agrees, “I think I have some plywood big enough in the barn.”

“Tobin!” a voice calls out. It’s Alex jogging up with Servando, Allie, Bati and HAO. Servando and Bati have a chainsaws and gas cans and Allie and HAO are carrying branch trimmers.

“Hey,” Tobin says, looking perplexed, “what’s going on?”

“Are you guys okay?” Allie asks with wide eyes, glancing at the massive tree.

“Yeah, we were lucky,” Tobin replies as Alex rushes to her, hugging her tightly.

“We’re here to help,” HAO states, “put us to work.”

“Put us to work, too!” Emily yells as she comes out, Kelley and Ashlyn in tow. The last two are carrying chainsaws and gas cans.

Tobin is nearly overcome with emotion as she looks at her friends, “Guys,” she says, her voice cracking. Christen rubs her back, “Okay, this tree is going into the backyard.” Christen states, “These branches on the wagon get stacked up by the firepit. Cut everything the same size, thin stuff, about four feet.” She organizes them quickly and efficiently, giving Tobin time to compose herself.

Tobin, Servando, Ashlyn and HAO wrangle the plywood over to a table, carefully measuring the window and boarding it up. HAO and Ashlyn then get to work on the basement window while Tobin grabs her chainsaw and begins to work in the driveway. Servando and Bati concentrate on cutting the part of the trunk that’s blocking the road. Tobin’s
neighbor, Mr. Farmer, comes out to help them. Once they get the tree cut up, they abandon the pieces, leaving them in the street, going to Gary’s house to help him get the tree off his house before it gets dark.

Christen carefully moves her car, making a three point turn in the wide driveway and backing it up close to the barn. It made it easier to bring the wood into the yard and she thinks she’ll use her headlights to light up the area when it gets dark.

After bringing another load into the yard, she takes a minute to look around, seeing everyone focused on helping out. She can hear the guys next door talking about how to cover the hole in Gary’s roof, one of them asking Tobin if she has a tarp. Tobin sets her saw down, trotting up the driveway, giving Christen a high five as she passes her. Christen pulls the flat cart down the driveway to load up another bundle. She joins Alex and Emily, talking about the storm as they pile the branches on the cart. Neither of the two were affected like this. Christen learns that a large portion of the Japanese Garden was struck by an actual tornado, although they don’t know for sure how badly. Allie and HAO are carrying the larger logs together to the yard, forming a neat stack a few yards behind the firepit in the back of the yard. Ashlyn is cutting the logs down to smaller, manageable sizes for them to move.

Dusk has fallen and a light drizzle has come with it. The low hum of an engine is heard and Tobin is jogging from the back of the house to the barn, suddenly flicking on the outdoor lights. She disappears into the barn, exiting with two light stands over to Gary’s house, returning to run an extension cord over and light up the front of his house and roof.

“You have a generator?” Christen questions as Tobin stands next to her, drinking another bottle of water. She’s sweaty from her exertions, her t-shirt sticking to her body, the humidity is awful after the storm. Tobin nods as she drinks, nearly chugging the entire bottle. She takes a deep breath when she lowers the bottle.

“You doing okay?” Christen looks at her intently.

“Yeah,” Tobin says, “what’s that?” she looks to her left, seeing flashing lights reflecting off the trees. They walk down the driveway a little to see fire trucks pulling up. The first truck stops by the final tree blocking the road, bright lights suddenly shining like daylight on the street and houses.

“I’ll be right back.” Tobin says, walking down the driveway and towards the trucks. Christen walks up the drive and jumps back in clearing the branches with Emily and Alex. HAO passes her holding a chainsaw, looking tired.

“Hey, guys,” Christen calls out, “let’s take a break and get some water,”

Everyone meanders into the barn, getting water and sitting down in the chairs scattered around. Servando and Bati return, feeling triumphant that they got the roof covered. They all watch as Tobin is walking and talking with one of the firemen, using her hands as she speaks to him. They walk past the house and out of their view. Everyone is talking quietly, just resting before making one last push to get the driveway completely cleared. Conversation stops as they see Ali and Julie coming up the driveway with bags in hands.

“Is everyone alright?” Julie asks loudly, her eyes looking around with wide eyes.

“Yeah, we’re okay,” Christen says as she stands up, giving her a loose hug. She’s feels sweaty and gross.

“We brought popsicles!” Ali proclaims, holding up her bag.

“Did you two come together?” Ashlyn questions, looking between the two, they’ve only met a few times.

“Oh, no,” Julie states as she sets her bag down and pulls out the popsicles she brought, passing the box around, “I saw the texts when I got out of class,” she explains, mentioning the text thread Kelley created corralling everyone to come and help out Tobin.

“Same,” Ali nods, offering a popsicle to Ashlyn who smiles at her as she selects one.

The group is animatedly telling the two women about what they’ve done, showing them the stacks of cut wood in Tobin’s backyard and how they helped Gary out. Tobin comes walking up the drive, greeting Ali and Julie, thanking them for stopping by. She gratefully takes a popsicle, chomping on it as she explains the fire department is going to get the cut up logs out of the street and clear the other ones as well. They’ll also take the ones that are at the end of Tobin’s driveway and take care of it for her.

She tells them how the Chief told her that some houses on the other side of the Japanese Gardens got hit worse and there were some injuries, but thankfully, no fatalities. She looks around, clearly shaken, saying how lucky they were.

“So, thank you guys,” Tobin says heartfully, wiping at her eyes, “I really appreciate you coming out so much,” she says, nodding her head as she looks solemnly at them, “it really means a lot,”

Ashlyn stands up, walking to her and putting an arm around her shoulders, “Bro, you’re always there for us,” she says, “just paying it forward like you do,”

“Thanks, Ash,” Tobin says giving her a hug, then turning to everyone, “we’ll set a date and I’m having you all over for dinner one night soon, okay?”

After their break, they make one last push as the drizzle changes into a light rain and get the driveway cleared and get the lights and cords put away as a light rain comes down. Once they deemed the area cleared as best as possible, the group leaves, all still somber from participating in the aftermath of the vicious storm. Christen lets the dogs out to run around the yard, having made sure there was no glass on the sidewalks. Tobin closes up the barn and her and Christen walk hand in hand to the house.

Both of them feel so gross and sweaty they take showers, Tobin in hers and Christen in the hall bathroom. The house feels comfortably cool with the power on, the air conditioner running quietly. Christen knows she’s tired as she lets the dogs in for the night, wiping their paws with a rag. Tobin was on the couch, texting her family that she had a little damage but was lucky.

Tobin comes into the kitchen a minute later, going to the fridge to get the milk.

“You want some?” she asks her. Christen shakes her head, “I’m okay,”

Tobin sets the milk on the counter and gets a glass. Christen watches as Tobin’s hand shakes as she pours the milk. She puts the carton down, a sob escaping her lips as she grips the counter tightly.

“Oh, honey,” Christen says, engulfing her in a hug.

“I was so scared,” Tobin confesses, “it was so loud,”

“I know, I know,” Christen says holding her tight.

“And I didn’t want you to see how terrified I was,” she continues, “because you were so frightened,”

“It’s okay,” Christen assures her, “it was scary,”

“I wanted to keep you safe,” Tobin cries, “but there’s no way to do that,”

“Tobin,” Christen soothes, “it was a tornado,” she says, “it was scary and we took shelter like you said we should and we’re fine.” She steps back to look at her.

Tobin holds her by her shoulders, looking at her with wide eyes, “Chris, don’t you see?” she questions, “I was so scared something would happen to you,” she cries, her eyes wide and her cheeks tear soaked, “Chris, I you mean so much to me,” she continues, “I don’t want to lose you,” It's on the tip of her tongue to tell her she loves her, but she can't. She doesn't think it's the right time. It almost slipped out when the storm was raging and they were huddled in the basement.

Christen pulls her in, holding her as she sobs, “I’m here, I’m here,” she says in her ear, “and I’m not going anywhere,”

“I was so scared,” Tobin cries.

“So was I,” Christen admits, “but you kept me calm, I knew I was safe with you and whatever happened you would do everything you could to keep us safe.”

They stay there in the kitchen for a couple of minutes, Tobin slowly calming down, reaching for a napkin and blowing her nose. She takes off her glasses, wiping her eyes.

“Drink your milk and let’s go to bed,” Christen suggests, laying her hand on Tobin’s jaw, looking up at her.

“You’re staying the night?” Tobin questions, Christen has never stayed the night during the work week.

She nods and gives her a small smile, looking at her with concern, “You look so tired,” she says, “are you working tomorrow?”

“No, I think I’ll call in,” Tobin replies quietly, “I need to call the insurance company and stuff and call around for the windows.” In her head, she’s thinking about the sticks scattered through the yard and on her front lawn that still need to be picked up. She lifts her glass and takes a sip of milk. She winces and rubs the back of her head.

“What’s wrong?” Christen asks.

“I have a headache,” Tobin replies, “and I think I have a bump on my head,”

Christen suddenly remembers how their heads collided in the basement, “Let me check,” she says, moving behind her, separating her hair to look. There’s a bump, no blood, but definitely a small goose egg on the back of her head.

“Oh, honey,” Christen says, feeling awful, “do you want some ice?”

“I just want to take some Tylenol and go to bed,” Tobin replies rather miserably, looking at her with tired eyes.

“Okay,” Christen agrees, figuring she wasn’t concussed, she didn’t have any symptoms that would believe her to think she had a serious injury.

Tobin swallows down three pills with the last of her milk and they head to the bedroom, the dogs following them. Christen holds her and kisses her temple. She feels Tobin slowly relax, the tension leaving her body as exhaustion takes over, her head on Christen’s chest.

 

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