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Been waiting for you...

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I've been seeing lonely people in crowded rooms

Covering their old heartbreaks with new tattoos

It's all about smoke screens and cigarettes

Looking through low lights at silhouettes

But all I see is lonely people in crowded rooms

This city's gonna break my heart

This city's gonna love me then leave me alone

This city's got me chasing stars

It's been a couple months since I felt like I'm home

Am I getting closer to knowing where I belong?

This city's gonna break my heart

She's always gonna break your heart, oh

(Christen - “This City” by Sam Fischer)

Dragon tales and the "water is wide"

Pirate's sail and lost boys fly

Fish bite moonbeams every night

And I love you

Godspeed, little [girl]

Sweet dreams, little [girl]

Oh my love will fly to you each night on angels wings


Sweet dreams

The rocket racer's all tuckered out

Superman's in pajamas on the couch

Goodnight moon, will find the mouse

And I love you

(Tobin - “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)” by The Chicks) 


As the pulsing bass of the too-loud music echoed around whatever shitty club she’d stumbled into, as she sat perched on a barstool and surveyed the sweaty, dancing crowd, Christen Press knew three things for certain. 

One, she looked hot in the short, skin-tight black dress she wore. It looked painted on the way it hugged her, showing just a little more leg and cleavage than ‘club appropriate.’ She didn’t need the confirmation from the charged and interested looks she’d gotten from her fellow club patrons. She looked hot and she knew it.

Two, the whiskey sour she’d gotten from the exhausted bartender was not the best one to ever grace her tongue. It had a little too much lemon juice for her taste, making the drink too tart to chug down the way she usually would have. On a typical night, nights that had become far more routine than they should be, she’d be quite a few whiskey sours in by now. But not tonight. Tonight she suffered through a poor drink, thinking that if she’d wanted a lemon-flavored drink, she’d have ordered a lemon drop. 

And three she needed to get laid. She needed to get laid like, yesterday. Even if she’d actually gotten laid yesterday, thanks to an achingly beautiful woman who’d picked her up at a bar in Midtown, she needed to get laid tonight. She needed to get laid to forget herself and her life and the fact that her job was in jeopardy and that her life was unfair in the cruelest way possible. She just needed to forget.

Sipping the whiskey sour and cringing at the tart taste, Christen let her eyes scope out the space for whoever would help her take care of that third thing. Someone she could go home with, not bother learning the name of, and sneak away from in the early hours of the morning.

There was an attractive redhead bopping around with her friends near the DJ who kept shyly throwing Christen looks. “Too young and too...energetic,” Christen thought, moving on. 

Then there was a stunning blonde lounging, alone, at one of the tables near the back corner. She confidently smirked in Christen’s direction and lifted her drink in a silent greeting. Feeling intrigued, Christen readied herself to walk over-

“Pressy, you with me?” 

Christen bit back a frustrated huff, looking away from the blonde. She turned to glare at Kelley, her best friend and current party-pooper, who sat in the barstool next to her. 

“Unfortunately,” Christen replied, moving to take another sip of her drink, thinking better of it, and setting it down on the bar. 

“Have you been listening to me at all? It’s almost 11:00, and you have to be at the stadium early tomorrow. Let’s just get out of here,” Kelley sighed, her tone slightly pleading. She downed the rest of her beer and signaling to the bartender that she was ready to pay. 

“I never listen to you, Kel,” Christen teased. “But I think I’m gonna stay…” she trailed off, her eyes moving back to the blonde across the club.

“Are you serious? Amanda’s gonna kill you if you’re late,” Kelley warned. 

“Then I just won’t be late,” Christen shrugged, sparing Kelley a quick look. 

“It isn’t a practice or a fitness session. You’re meeting with the part-owner and manager of the whole fucking club,” Kelley reminded Christen, unsure of how drunk Christen was or how drunk she was planning to get as soon as she left. 

“Will you just stop worrying about me? I don’t need a babysitter instead of my best friend,” Christen shot back, irritation swirling around within her.

“Text me when you get home at least?” Kelley asked, holding herself back from snapping something hurtful back at Christen. 

Christen resisted the urge to roll her eyes and gave Kelley a tight nod. It still sounded like something an overprotective babysitter would say, but Christen was done with this conversation and the edge of judgement she could hear in Kelley’s words. She also couldn’t sit here any longer and see the pity and concern in Kelley’s eyes. She hated those more than the overprotective babysitting.

“Don’t I always?” Christen sighed.

“No,” Kelley grumbled, standing up from her barstool and grabbing her wallet. She tossed a few bills on the bar and turned to leave. 

Christen grabbed onto Kelley’s arm to stop her for a second. “I’ll text you,” she said gently.

“I’ll pick you up at 8:30,” Kelley said, pulling her arm away from Christen and slipping through the crowded club. 

With Kelley gone, taking with her the stifling presence of sympathy and worry, Christen finally relaxed. 

It had been six months and still, Kelley treated her with kid gloves, always walking on eggshells around her. It was like she was worried Christen was going to shatter and crumble under the weight of it all. Kelley, who was usually chaotic and silly and the most unserious person ever, stopped acting that way around her in moments like these. At trainings or in the locker room, she’d spray water on her or try to jump on her back and tackle her to the ground and laugh, but when she came out to bars or clubs, she was withdrawn and worried. 

If only Kelley knew she’d already shattered, already crumbled, and wasn’t in any hurry to piece herself back together. Maybe she’d stop laughing at practice too.

“Took her long enough,” the blonde woman practically purred, leaning against the bar next to Christen. She’d been watching all night, waiting for Kelley to disappear before getting up to talk to Christen. 

“I couldn’t agree more. Can I buy you a drink?” Christen asked, letting her green eyes trail up and down the other woman, liking what she found and letting the charged energy between them carry her away from thoughts of Kelley or why she was in this bar in the first place.  

“A cosmo, please,” she nodded, sliding onto the barstool next to Christen. 

Christen nodded and signaled the bartender, her eyes never leaving the blonde’s. “Did you know that everyone’s go-to drink says something about them?” Christen asked, her lips quirked up in a teasing smirk.

“Oh, really? And what does mine say?” the blonde asked, a teasing grin on her face. 

“A cosmo says…” Christen trailed off, wetting her lower lip with her tongue slowly. “You’re classy. Sophisticated enough to drink out of those martini glasses, but not pretentious. And you ordered an upscale drink in a club that is anything but I’d also say you’re also not planning on staying long.”

The blonde smirked as Christen spoke, her eyes narrowing with each word. “You’re good. I wasn’t planning on staying for the drink, actually.”

Christen stood up from the barstool and grabbed her purse. “Me neither.”

As she walked through the East Village, stepping off of the sidewalk to avoid tourists and restaurant hosts, as she breathed through the stifling heat and humidity of New York City in early May and dodged the dripping AC units from apartments above, Tobin Heath knew three things for certain. 

One, she was absolutely finished trying to go on dates with people who didn’t know about Scottie beforehand. Abby, her old college friend, had been wrong about only mentioning her daughter on the first date and not before. It was the third time she’d been ditched before ordering dinner, and she wasn’t about to experience it for a fourth time. The pitying looks from the waiters and other patrons had been pretty sobering on this date, proving that most people her age really weren’t looking for a serious commitment to a woman with a seven-year-old. 

Two, she really didn’t want to have to knock on Abby and Glennon’s door at 10:30PM when they’d told her to stay out as long as she wanted, even offering to let Scottie stay the night. She thought about just going home, about pretending like she had a wild night with the gallery owner she’d met a week ago, but then she thought about stepping into her silent apartment, or worse waking up alone in that silent apartment the next day. 

Three, she still had 14 more blocks to walk: 9 more until Abby and Glennon tried to give her a pep talk and then 5 more with 50 pounds of dead weight in her arms. 

Tobin sucked in a deep breath when she got to Abby and Glennon’s Greenwich brownstone, ringing the doorbell and praying that Abby was too distracted by a basketball or soccer game to question her about the date or even realize what time it was. She just wanted Abby to hand her the kid and ask nothing. 

“When did she bail this time?” Glennon asked with a small chuckle after opening the front door, a sympathetic look on her face.

Tobin let her forehead fall against the door frame, blowing out a long sigh. “We had drinks but hadn’t ordered dinner when she claimed to have an emergency. I’m pretty sure the last three dates I’ve been on ended with someone’s dog having to be rushed to the vet.”

“You’re a godsend for the health of dogs all over the city then,” Glennon replied, reaching out to pat Tobin’s cheek affectionately. “Come on in, sweetie. I’ll get you some cake.”

Tobin rolled her eyes but couldn’t help the way her lips twitched up into a smile at the teasing. She stepped into the brownstone, immediately feeling at home in her best friends’ house. She and Scottie were over here every other week for what they fondly called ‘Chosen Family Dinner,’ and Abby and Glennon brought their kids over to Tobin’s house for ‘Sunday Soccer’ when it rained or they couldn’t get to an outdoor field. 

“Please tell me Scottie didn’t eat any cake,” Tobin groaned, knowing her seven-year-old most certainly had and was probably still awake. 

“Uh…” Glennon trailed off, throwing a sheepish look over her shoulder as they walked into the living room.

“Is she still bouncing off the walls?” Tobin asked, following after Glennon. 

“MOMMY!” Scottie shrieked, vaulting over the back of the couch and running right for Tobin, the remnants of chocolate icing on her face.

Tobin caught her with sure hands, lifting her up and propping her against her hip. “You look like a chocolate monster,” Tobin laughed, kissing Scottie’s forehead and sinking into the sweetness of her wide gray eyes. Failed dates didn’t seem to hurt quite as much when she had Scottie looking at her with so much love at the end of them. 

“You got the monster part right,” Abby grinned, getting up from her spot on the couch and shuffling over. She ruffled a hand across Scottie’s blonde hair, messing up her soft, loose curls just a bit. “Bailed before dinner, right?” Abby guessed, winking at Tobin.

“Yeah,” Tobin nodded. 

“You didn’t have dinner?” Scottie asked, her forehead wrinkling the same way Tobin’s did when she was confused or worried. 

“Oh, I had dinner,” Tobin said, squeezing Scottie’s sides and making her giggle. 

“I did too! Glenny and Abbs made tacos and let me add a lot of cheese,” Scottie replied almost proudly. 

“Yummy!” Tobin grinned, letting Scottie slip out of her arms and run across the room to the sectional where Glennon and Abby’s daughters were sitting. 

“Bedtime Wambach-Doyle crew,” Glennon called out, moving to Abby’s side and wrapping her arm around her wife’s waist. 

“But mom!” the girls protested.

“Did you just but mom her?” Abby asked, raising her eyebrows at their daughters, receiving sheepish looks in response. 

“Where’s the cake?” Tobin asked, feeling her shoulders slump a little at the way her night had ended. 

“Counter. Feel free to take a few pieces, you look like you need it,” Glennon replied, jerking her head in the direction of the kitchen.  

Leaving Glennon and Abby to their bedtime ritual, Tobin took a slice and sat on the edge of the counter, letting the chocolate icing melt in her mouth. 

“Mommy, can I have another slice?” Scottie asked, poking her head into the kitchen. 

Tobin shook her head no but slipped off the counter and let Scottie take a bite from her fork. 

“I just want to eat cake for the rest of my life,” Scottie grinned, wiping the back of her mouth with her hand and getting chocolate icing on that part of her as well.

“You and me both, dude,” Tobin sighed, putting her plate and fork into the dishwasher. 

“Are you sad, Mommy?” Scottie asked, intelligent gray eyes trained on Tobin as she tilted her head to the side.

Tobin’s heart ached for a second. There was no way she was going to tell Scottie that sometimes she felt sad, that sometimes she felt lonely. “How could I be sad when I have the chocolate monster standing in front of me?” Tobin asked, her smile growing at Scottie’s sweet face. 

“GRRRR!” Scottie growled, holding her hands up in the air and pretending to be said chocolate monster. She bared her teeth and stomped over toward Tobin, who couldn’t help but laugh just a little.

Tobin scooped her up off the floor and set her on the edge of the counter, standing right in front of her, so that she wouldn’t fall. She wet a paper towel and set about cleaning off Scottie’s mouth and chin and her nose, which had also somehow gotten chocolate on it. She finished cleaning her up by scrubbing Scottie’s hands under the sink and drying her off with a dishtowel. 

“Bye, bye chocolate monster,” Scottie pouted, looking down at her clean hands, missing the chocolate already.

“WOOOAAAAH!” Tobin said, her eyes growing huge. “The chocolate monster was my daughter this whole time?” 

Scottie giggled, loud and warm and infectious. She lit up the room with that laugh. 

“Of course it’s me, Mommy!” Scottie said, still giggling. 

Tobin leaned forward and blew a raspberry on Scottie’s now clean cheek, sending her into another fit of giggles. 

“Are you ready to go home and get some sleep?” Tobin asked. “We’re up way past our bedtimes.”

“I don’t have a bedtime, it’s summer!”

“Well, I’m up way past my bedtime, and you know that I have trouble sleeping without a cuddle buddy,” Tobin said, not really wanting to be bossy and remind Scottie that even in the summertime she had to be in bed before 9:00. 

Scottie let out a big yawn at the mention of sleeping, her eyes blinking a little as they suddenly grew heavy. 

“Okay. Home now?” Scottie asked quietly.

“Yep,” Tobin nodded. “You should thank Glenny and Abbs for the tacos and cake.” 

“GLENNY! ABBS!” Scottie yelled, momentarily forgetting about her sleep.

“Shhh…” Tobin chastised, trying to keep her laugh in her chest. “It’s bedtime here too.” Tobin reached out and lifted Scottie off the counter, letting her walk into the living room to thank their friends. 

“Thank you,” Scottie mumbled into Glennon’s stomach, giving her a big hug. She then gave Abby a hug as well before returning to Tobin’s side.

“Thanks for watching her, and thanks for the pity cake,” Tobin said, taking one of Scottie’s hands in her own. 

“Anytime, Heath,” Abby replied with a warm smile. “My wife makes the best pity cake in the city, so you always know where to come next time your date ditches you.”

“I don’t think there will be much dating anytime soon. I’ll see you guys on Sunday,” Tobin said, leading Scottie to the door. 

“Get home safe! Love you!” Glennon called out with a wave.

“Love you!” Scottie yelled.

“Love you guys!” Tobin answered over her shoulder. She pushed the front door open and helped Scottie down the stairs, offering Abby another wave when she saw her locking the door. 

“What’s a titty cake?” Scottie asked, rubbing her eyes tiredly with her free hand.

Tobin couldn’t stop that laugh from slipping from her lips. “I think you mean a pity cake, little bit.” 

“Okay, what’s a pity cake?” Scottie yawned, leaning into Tobin’s side.

“Well, when you pity someone, you feel bad for them. Pity cakes are supposed to make someone who’s sad feel better,” Tobin explained. 

“So you were sad?” Scottie observed thoughtfully, looking up at Tobin when they came to a stop at the crosswalk and waited for the signal to turn.

“Shit,” Tobin thought, backtracking quickly in her head. “Glennon just thought I might be sad because I didn’t get any dessert at dinner, so she made some for me to have when I came to get you.”

“Dinner without dessert is the saddest thing ever. Okay, maybe not sadder than that puppy commercial, but still really sad.”

“It is pretty sad, but I’m not sad tonight because I got dessert with my chocolate monster,” Tobin explained, stepping into the street when the crosswalk signaled for her to go. 

“Mommy, my legs are tired,” Scottie mumbled halfway across the street.

“You’ve got sleepy legs?” Tobin asked. She knew this was coming. Scottie was up way past her bedtime, and she was bound to be sleepy and grumpy. She bent down and lifted her up, reminding herself that at some point she wouldn’t be able to carry Scottie like this anymore. 

“I’ve got sleepy everything,” Scottie mumbled, burying her face in Tobin’s neck. Her little arms were wrapped loosely around Tobin’s shoulders.

“You better sleep in tomorrow. Your first practice is at noon,” Tobin reminded Scottie, knowing that she was more than excited about getting to practice at the Gotham FC training facilities. 

“Will you watch?” came Scottie’s sleepy question.

“I have a meeting, but I think I’ll be able to watch you at the very end,” Tobin whispered, wishing she could have rescheduled the meeting. 

“I like when you watch me play,” Scottie yawned against Tobin’s neck.

“I love watching you play. You’ll probably be exhausted after practice, but maybe we can go to our place afterward,” Tobin offered. 

Scottie just nodded and started to breathe a little slower, slipping toward sleep.

“Where the hell is it?” Christen hissed under her breath. She’d managed to find her underwear, her dress, and her heels, but the bra was nowhere to be found and it was nearing 7 AM. Christen checked under a pile of clothes on the hardwood floor, striking out again. She was about to check under the bed when she heard the rustling of sheets.

Christen looked toward the bed, momentarily terrified that...this blonde woman whose name she couldn’t remember was going to wake up. Which it seemed like she was about to do, so Christen quickly slipped the dress back over her head.

“You’re an early riser,” the blonde husked in a sleepy voice. 

“Got somewhere to be,” Christen replied, sliding her heels on and taking a small step away from the bed and toward the door. She could always buy a new bra.

“Last night was fun,” the blonde hummed, her eyes heavy and blinking slowly. 

“Totally,” Christen agreed, smiling tightly at the blonde who was now sitting up in bed.

“We should do it again sometime,” she added, wanting Christen to give her her number or something. 

“I don’t really do that,” Christen replied with an apologetic shrug, taking another small step toward the bedroom door. “But thanks, this was great.”

“You want breakfast or something before you go?” 

“I don’t really do that either,” Christen chuckled, dropping a hand to the handle of the bedroom door.

“Well, maybe I’ll see you around then,” the blonde shrugged, rolling over in bed. 

“Not likely,” Christen thought to herself, slipping out of the bedroom. She grabbed her purse from the counter and left the apartment. 

The sun was just peeking through the tall buildings around her as Christen started her walk down the empty sidewalk, quickly orienting herself with wherever this blonde woman lived. Thankfully, she was in the bottom-most part of Midtown, only a few blocks from her place in Chelsea. Ignoring the few yellow taxis that ambled down the streets, Christen decided to walk, using the cool summer morning to clear her head.

“Looking good,” a man working construction muttered as Christen walked past, sending his buddies into a chorus of catcalls and whistles. 

“Go fuck yourself,” Christen breezily, continuing down the sidewalk and not sparing the construction workers a second glance.

“Daaaamn,” one of the workers burst out laughing, smacking the original catcaller in the arm. 

“Shut up,” he muttered, turning back to his work. 

Christen smirked to herself slightly and hung a left, nearing her brick apartment building. She climbed the steps up to her building, nodding at one of her neighbors as she made her way inside and toward the elevator. She’d taken barely two steps inside of her spacious studio loft before she was scared shitless by a voice coming from her kitchen.

“Really?” Kelley scoffed, setting her cup of coffee down on the counter and looking at Christen in the same outfit from the night before. 

“Like you have any place to talk,” Christen grumbled, walking straight over to the coffee maker and pouring herself a big, heaping cup. 

“They could literally be firing you today, and you stayed at some girl’s house last night,” Kelley said, choosing to ignore Christen’s comeback. 

“Then at least I’ll have gotten a good fuck before I’m unemployed,” Christen shot back, glaring at Kelley over the rim of the mug.

“Who are you right now?!” Kelley fumed, her exasperation finally getting the best of her. “I get you’ve got shit going on. I get that you’re a mess. But I’m trying to be here for you and be your friend. You used to track my phone to make sure I wasn’t messing up my life, and now I feel like I need a toddler leash for you.”

Christen took a sip of her coffee, feeling beyond chastised. She ignored the slight tears pricking the corners of her eyes and backtracked. “I...I’m sorry,” she mumbled, her eyes falling to the floor, unable to stomach looking at Kelley any longer.

“I’m just worried about you because I love you,” Kelley sighed.

“I- I’m worried about me too,” Christen whispered with a small shrug, her under-caffeinated self being far too candid. 

“That’s actually a relief to hear,” Kelley said, her forehead unfurrowing a little.

Christen squeezed her eyes shut as the looming tears threatened to fall again. She was worried about herself. How could she not be? She’d been in a self-destructive, downward spiral, littered with alcohol-induced one night stands, ever since- 

No. She couldn’t go down that path right now. She couldn’t think about that right now. She couldn’t. Instead, she cleared her throat and then took another sip of coffee. “Do I have time to shower?” Christen asked, wiping at the corner of her right eye where a single tear had fallen.

“Make it a quick one. I’ll make breakfast,” Kelley nodded, stepping forward to wrap Christen in a hug. 

“I’m good, Kel,” Christen said quickly, dodging the hug. She moved around Kelley and out of the kitchen, headed for the bathroom.

“I’m making you breakfast, and you’re gonna eat it!” Kelley called, already making noise in the kitchen with a couple of pots and pans. 

Christen made a noncommittal noise in response, shutting the bathroom door behind her. She set her coffee down on the counter, turned on the sink, and then sank to the floor, her back against the door and her knees pulled to her chest. She buried her face in her crossed arms and finally let the tears fall, hoping Kelley wouldn’t be able to hear her over the noise in the kitchen.

“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” Scottie chanted, bouncing on the foot of Tobin’s bed. 

Tobin peeled her eyes open, a smile already spreading across her lips at the way Scottie was jumping around in her old, light blue UNC jersey. It swallowed Scottie whole, ending at her knees, but she insisted that wearing the jersey was good luck. She’d asked to sleep in it when they’d gotten home late last night, mumbling sleepily while Tobin pulled it over her head and falling asleep in Tobin’s bed, the two of them curled up together. 

“Scottie, Scottie, Scottie,” Tobin mumbled in a sleepy voice. 

“It’s my first day of Academy today!” Scottie cheered, jumping up the bed and landing half on top of Tobin’s chest. 

“Ooof,” Tobin wheezed, tickling Scottie’s sides and making her laugh. It was Tobin’s favorite sound to wake up to. “I guess we better make some breakfast and build those big muscles then.” 

“French toast sticks?” Scottie asked with hope shining in her eyes.

“How about one french toast stick and some scrambled eggs?” Tobin suggested. 

“ I get orange juice too?” Scottie asked, narrowing her eyes.

“Orange juice and a fruit cup,” Tobin nodded. 

“You’ve got yourself a deal,” Scottie nodded, holding out her hand for a shake.

Tobin grinned at Scottie and shook her hand, loving that she copied some of the things she heard Tobin say to other people around them. It also reminded her that Scottie was always listening, that she absorbed everything around her, and Tobin wanted everything to be good. 

“Let’s go, then!” Tobin cheered, picking Scottie up off the bed and zooming her to the kitchen, already feeling time slip through her fingers when she thought about how much more difficult it was to fly Scottie around their house the bigger she got. 

“So what’s a Gotham?” Scottie asked Tobin through a mouthful of scrambled eggs once they’d settled around the kitchen table. “I didn’t like being a Tiger last year, tigers are scary.”

“Gotham’s the city that Batman’s from,” Tobin said, taking a sip of her coffee. 

“Batman lives here?!” Scottie asked with wide eyes.

“He’s supposed to,” Tobin grinned. “But, I don’t know if we’ll ever meet him. He’s pretty private about his life.”

“Cool,” Scottie grinned, scooping another forkful of eggs into her mouth.

“You excited about getting a new soccer jersey today? No more orange tiger jerseys,” Tobin asked before taking a bite of her breakfast. 

“Maybe they’ll let me wear yours, Mommy,” Scottie replied. “I haven’t decided if I want to be a Gotham this summer yet.”

“You can definitely wear it to the stadium. I don’t know if they’ll let you wear it all day, though. Teams usually like everyone in the same gear,” Tobin said, her heart melting at Scottie wanting to wear her old college jersey to practice. 

Scottie nodded as she chewed. “Maybe if I ask nicely they will let me?”

“You can always ask, little bit,” Tobin said. “The worst they’ll say is no.” 

“Did you play with any of the Gotham players, Mommy?” Scottie wondered, her attention turning to her french toast sticks. She had two instead of one, thanks to her irresistible pout.

“Abby retired from Gotham, and she and I played in college for a year, but you know that. She’s told you too many stories about that,” Tobin cringed, thinking about her time as a freshman for Abby’s fifth year at UNC. “Auntie Moe Moe and I played at UNC too, and she plays for Gotham,” Tobin answered. 

Scottie brightened. “When can we see Moe Moe? I want to beat her at Go Fish again!”

“You want to text her and ask?” Tobin suggested, sliding her phone across the table to Scottie. She pulled up Morgan Brian’s contact and let Scottie take over from there. 

Scottie set about composing the text, her tongue poked out of the corner of her mouth as she touched the screen.

Tobin sat up from her chair and reached for her camera, grabbing it from the counter and snapping a few pictures of Scottie. She liked the candid moments, the moments in pajamas with messy hair. There were dozens of memory cards devoted to Scottie in moments like these, but Tobin couldn’t get enough. 

“No paparazzi!” Scottie giggled, jumping down from her chair and running away, Tobin’s phone still in her hand.

Tobin rolled her eyes at the phrase that Abby had probably taught her, racing up the stairs to catch up with Scottie. 

“Just a few more! You’re too cute!” Tobin called, making Scottie laugh even harder. 

Christen looked at the three people sitting with her in the conference room: Amanda Jones, her head coach, Collin Haloe, Gotham FC’s general manager, and Jane Reynolds, part-owner of the team. Amanda had a solemn expression on her face, compassion shining in her eyes. Jane also looked relatively sympathetic, albeit a bit strained. But Collin was frustrated, all red in the face and sweating as he spoke.  

“I think we’ve been pretty clear about how we want Gotham to appear. Images are important. No, images are vital, and if we want to fill those seats with lots of people, we need fans to want to bring their parents and their kids and their nieces and nephews,” Collin said, flipping through his briefcase in search of something. “It’s not just you. We had to have this same meeting with ARod two seasons ago, and we cut Solo for the shit she pulled.”

Christen cringed, remembering how stealing the team van, getting pulled over by the cops, and arrested for a DUI had effectively forced Gotham FC’s hand when it came to Solo. But she hadn’t done anything to that degree.

Collin finally found what he was looking for and pulled the folder out of his briefcase. He opened the folder and pulled out the cut-out articles and pictures from magazines he’d been collecting for the past months, each of them showing Christen with a new girl or a new alcoholic beverage in differing degrees of drunkenness.

“You understand that this is not the image we need people to have of our star forward, of the player gracing our banners outside the stadium.” 

Christen’s jaw tightened at the sight of the pictures and the articles. So she liked to go out and party, so she enjoyed the company of a lot of different women. It wasn’t her fault the media was a sexist, racist machine intent on dragging her name through the mud for simply coping in the ways she needed to cope. 

“I understand that if I was a white guy, you’d be thrilled with all the attention I was getting and the free publicity I was giving the club,” Christen said coolly.

“Unfortunately, the world sees women differently,” Jane sighed from her seat. “And while it’s fucked up- pardon my language, this kind of stuff from our star player is bad publicity for Gotham. It could tank us.”

“Exactly,” Collin nodded. “Our publicity team thinks you should be benched. Honestly, a few members of the executive team thought firing you would be the best option-”

“But, obviously that’s not what’s happening here,” Amanda interrupted, rolling her eyes a little at Collin’s threat. 

Christen blew out a shaky breath and looked between the other three people in the conference room. 

“Look, I really appreciate everything this club has done for me. Especially after...everything. But if you think firing me or benching me is the right call, I’d respectfully disagree,” Christen replied, sending a tight grimace of gratitude in Amanda’s direction. “I know I’m not the same rookie you signed six years ago, but I score more goals than anyone else on this team. I’ve won a World Cup and an Olympic Gold medal for this country. Firing me would be a mistake.”

“We agree,” Jane said softly.

“But we’ve come up with something you can do to help not just the club, but yourself too,” Amanda said, smiling at Christen. “We did the same thing for Kelley, and she loved our solution so much she’s come back the last two summers to volunteer.”

Christen narrowed her eyes, looking over at Jane. “Why is she smiling at me like that?” she asked.

“I’m sure you know about our Development Academy program,” Jane said, sliding one of the parent flyers toward Christen. 

Christen grabbed the sheet of paper and appraised it. “What does this have to do with me? I don’t have kids.”

“You do now,” Collin laughed. 

“Excuse me?” Christen deadpanned, dropping the paper back to the conference table.

“We always have a few players coach the younger kids,” Amanda clarified. “This year, Kelley and Becky volunteered to help, and you’re going to join them. So, clear your schedule. You train them Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Unless it conflicts with our game schedule, then it’s on Fridays.”

“The Academy goes until August. You won’t be working with the high-school kids, they have year-round coaches we keep on staff. This is more of like a fun summer camp for kids under 10,” Collin continued.

“How does this solve anything? Wouldn’t it be better just to do an interview or something? Kiss some babies, show off my key to the city, that sort of thing?” Christen asked, her tone slightly pleading. She didn’t want to coach the Development Academy. She didn’t really like kids. They were messy and sticky and always sick or asking wildly inappropriate questions. The last thing she wanted to do right now was be stuck with a group of them three times a week.

“Coaching the kids will give you, and us here at Gotham, some good publicity,” Collin said. 

Christen crossed her arms over her chest. “What’s behind door number two if I say no to this one?”

Collin, Jane, and Amanda stared back at her, letting the silence speak for itself. 

Christen sighed and ran a hand through her curls. “When do I start?” she asked dejectedly.

“This afternoon. The kids get here at noon, so you’ll need to be on the field at 11:30 to help sign everyone in. Becky can help get you situated,” Amanda said, pulling a t-shirt out of her lap and tossing it across the table to Christen. 

Christen caught it, looking down at it. It had the Gotham FC logo on the front and read “COACH CHRISTEN” across the back.

“Thank you all so much for this amazing opportunity,” Christen said with a bite of sarcasm in her voice. She got up from the table and walked out, the t-shirt wrinkling in her tight grip.

Chapter Text

The sweetest devotion

Hit me like an explosion

All of my life I've been frozen

The sweetest devotion I know

I'll forever be whatever

You want me to be

I'd go under and all over

For your clarity

When you wonder

If I'm gonna lose my way home just remember

That come whatever I'll be yours all along

I wasn't ready then

I'm ready now

I'm heading straight for you

You will only be eternally

The one that I belong to

(Tobin - “Sweetest Devotion” by Adele)


My past has tasted bitter for years now

So I weild an iron fist

Grace is just weakness

Or so I've been told

I've been cold, I've been merciless

But the blood on my hands scares me to death

Maybe I'm waking up today

I'll be good, I'll be good

And I'll love the world, like I should

I'll be good, I'll be good

(I'll be good, I'll be good)

For all of the light that I've shout out

For all of the innocent things that I've doubt

For all of the bruises that I've caused in the tears

For all of the things that I've done all these years, for all

Yeah, for all the sparks that I've stomped out

For all of the perfect things that I've doubt

(Christen - “I’ll Be Good” by Jaymes Young)


“Hey, that’s a pretty sick jersey you got there, sport!” Kelley grinned, beckoning Tobin and Scottie over to the check-in table where she was sitting.

“Thanks! It’s Mommy’s,” Scottie said, keeping her arms around Tobin’s waist and her cheek pressed against Tobin’s side. 

“You played for the Tar Heels?” Kelley asked, her eyebrows rising as she looked up at Tobin. 

“Yeah, a long time ago,” Tobin nodded, taking a clipboard of paperwork from Kelley and filling it out with Scottie’s emergency contact information and a signed consent form. 

“I played at Stanford, we might have met on the field many moons ago,” Kelley laughed. She grabbed two jerseys from the box next to her. “Okay, Scottie - number 17 or number 23? Your choice.”

“17!” Scottie cheered. 

“Let me guess, Mommy’s number?” Kelley arched a brow at Tobin, handing the #17 Gotham FC Academy jersey over to Tobin in exchange for the clipboard and paperwork.

Scottie turned around to show Kelley the back of the UNC jersey and the big number 17. 

“Way to stick to a brand, sport,” Kelley said, winking at Scottie and earning herself a giggle. “Do you guys have any questions or anything?

“Do we get a snack?” Scottie asked, bouncing on the balls of her feet. 

Kelley sat back in her chair, mock-offended by the question. “Do we- pfft, of course! Orange slices and pretzels halfway through!”

“Am I allowed to leave and come back?” Tobin asked. “Normally I’d watch, but I have a meeting in Manhattan.”

“Sure thing…” Kelley checked the clipboard, “Tobin. Normally parents don’t really stick around anyway, but you’re welcome to watch if you make it back from your meeting in time.”

“Mommy likes to watch,” Scottie grinned, wrinkling her nose at Tobin. 

“It’s probably because you’re so talented,” Kelley replied, tapping her temple. “I’ve got an eye for talent and you, sport, are definitely a killer on the field.”

Tobin rolled her eyes at Kelley, knowing she’d likely said that to every hover-parent and soccer kid that day. 

“No, silly! She just likes to watch me have fun,” Scottie laughed, trying to jump up and get her soccer ball out of the bag Tobin was holding. 

Kelley melted, a genuine smile making its way onto her face. “Well fun is the most important thing. You ready to go have some fun, Mini Tar Heel?”

“Yes, Coach Kelley!” Scottie cheered. 

“Head on over to Coach Becky, we’re going to start once our third coach gets here.”

Tobin thanked Kelley and stepped aside for the next parent to get their kid signed in, handing the soccer bag to Scottie. 

“Have so much fun, little bit,” Tobin said, squatting down to wrap her arms around Scottie. 

Scottie hugged Tobin tightly back and then pulled away, her hand held over her heart. “Bye, Mommy. I’ll miss you. My heartstring is gonna stretch so far,” she said, moving her hand from her heart to Tobin’s chest, right where her heart was too.

Tobin’s heart grew five sizes every time Scottie mentioned their heartstrings. Her mom, Cindy, had given Tobin a children’s book all about secure attachment, and the book had described healthy attachment as heartstrings that connect kids and parents, no matter where they were in the world. 

“My heartstring is gonna be stretching too,” Tobin nodded, moving her own hand between her heart and Scottie’s. “I can’t wait to come back here and watch.”

“Have a good meeting!” Scottie replied, kissing Tobin’s cheek messily and then rushing off, her soccer bag bouncing around on her back as she ran over to join the other kids sitting in the grass.

Tobin waited for a second, watching Becky greet Scottie with a smile and a few words that Tobin couldn’t hear. Tobin checked her watch and turned around quickly, hoping that traffic wouldn’t be too bad on the way back to the city but bracing herself for the worst. In her haste to get to her car, Tobin had spun directly into someone, dark hair from a swinging ponytail obscuring her vision for a second before they both stepped back. 

“Fuck- I mean, shit. I mean- watch it,” Christen grumbled, wiping the coffee that had sloshed out of her travel mug onto her Gotham FC shorts. She didn’t even look up at the woman who’d run into her. She didn’t have the time. She was a minute from being late to her first Academy training and the last thing she needed was for Becky or Kelley to report back that she hadn’t shown up on time. 

“Uh...sorry?” Tobin said, completely confused about how this profanity-spewing woman had become a children’s coach. 

“Apology accepted,” Christen replied tersely, finally looking up at whoever had run into her. She ignored the way her heart seemed to jump into her throat at the beauty of the woman, instead choosing to let out a soft snort at the sight of the impeccably tailored suit and expensive watch. Of course, she’d run into one of those moms, if her outfit was anything to go by. The ones with a brownstone on the Upper West Side and a nanny who did all the dirty work. Just her luck.

“You should probably watch the language with all the kids,” Tobin suggested, now slightly worried about leaving Scottie with a coach who seemed to have the biggest chip on her shoulder. 

“Don’t see any kids around right now,” Christen said with a shrug. “And you should probably watch where you're going. Excuse me,” she added, moving by the other woman and walking toward the field. She also decided to ignore the scents of sandalwood and something kind of floral that she caught as she passed the brunette. She chose not to dwell on the way they seemed to invade her senses and begged her to rush back and apologize. She simply hurried out onto the field.

Tobin let the interaction roll off of her back and looked back at the field one more time, catching Scottie’s eye. She waved and blew a kiss to her, which Scottie quickly returned. Tobin then jogged over to her car and tried to mentally prepare herself for the meeting she was about to have. 

Becky clapped her hands together and faced the group of about 40 or so girls all under the age of ten. “Welcome to Gotham FC’s Development Academy Summer Session! I’m Coach Becky, over here on my left is Coach Kelley-”

“Sup, sports!” Kelley greeted with a smile.

Becky shook her head in amusement and then continued. “-and on my right is Coach Christen.”

“Whoa, are you Christen Press?” a curly-haired girl sitting in the front of the group asked, her wide eyes trained on Christen. 

Christen gulped and offered the girl a weak smile. “Last time I checked,” she quipped, earning her a long-suffering sigh from Kelley and a slight chuckle from Becky.

A blonde-haired, stormy gray-eyed little girl near the back of the group sat up on her knees, her eyes fixed on Christen and her lips sitting in an easy smile. Christen nodded slightly at the girl who wouldn’t stop smiling at her and then dropped her attention back to her coffee.

“Today we’re going to be separating you into groups and evaluating your skills. How does that sound?” Becky asked, grinning at the girls.

“Awesome,” one of the older, more confident girls said from the front row. 

“Okay if your last name is between letters A and H, go with Coach Christen. I through R, go with Coach Kelley, and I’ll take the rest!”

Christen shot Kelley and Becky one last, long ‘I hate it here’ look before shuffling over a few feet and waiting for her group of girls to join her. She ended up with about 12 of them, all of them looking far too eager and energetic for her liking. The smallest girl in the group, the same girl with the gray eyes who’d smiled at her, stood close by her side.

“So, um, hi,” Christen greeted, looking around the semi-circle of girls. “I’m Christen, or Coach Christen, or whatever.” 

“Hey, Whatever,” one of the snarky ten-year-olds snorted from across the circle. 

Christen arched a brow in this girl’s direction. “And what should I call you?”

“Joni,” she said, looking a little less cocky now that Christen’s eyes were on her. 

“All right, Joni. Give me ten push-ups for the sass you just showed. Anyone else want to join her?” Christen asked, looking around at the girls. Everyone else stood silent, most of them glancing down at their soccer cleats. 

“Good. Now when I was your age I started every practice with 100 juggles. So that’s what we’re going to do. Everyone got a ball?” Christen said, sipping her coffee and feeling an intense desire to just leave and not look back. 

“Shouldn’t we- uhh… Shouldn’t we learn names first?” 

Christen looked down at the gray-eyed girl still standing super close to her, the one who’d asked the question. 

“Huh. Sure, fine. Go around the circle and introduce yourself. Say your name and...your favorite pizza topping or something,” Christen sighed, already mentally tuning out. She didn’t do well with names, and had little hope of remembering these girls’ names. “You first,” she nodded at the girl who’d asked her the question.

“Oh…” the girl blushed a little. “I’m Scottie.”

“Scottie’s a boy’s name,” Joni replied, earning her a few laughs from the group. 

Christen caught the way Scottie’s face fell at the comment and narrowed her eyes in Joni’s direction. “Ten more push-ups, Joni,” she instructed, turning back to Scottie and offering her a small half-smile. 

“And I like pineapple on my pizza,” Scottie mumbled. 

“Gross, kid. Next,” Christen said, looking to the next girl in the group. Everyone introduced themselves and every name flew right over Christen’s head except for Scottie’s. There was just something about the girl that stuck with her. 

Once they were done, Christen sent them out to start on their 100 juggles. She walked around, watching some of the girls struggle to get above fifteen. She brusquely corrected their form and moved on. When she reached Scottie, she felt her brows lift high on her forehead at the way the smallest girl on the field managed to deftly juggle the ball with both feet.

“What are you at, Scottie?” Christen called out.

“I accidentally lost count after 60,” Scottie shrugged with a smile. 

“Did you accidentally misplace your Gotham Academy jersey too?” Christen asked, noting the UNC jersey the girl still wore.

“No,” Scottie shook her head, trying to talk and keep the ball up at the same time. “It’s in my bag. This is Mommy’s jersey.”

Christen walked around and looked at the back of the jersey, taking in the name “HEATH” stitched on the back. 

“Well Scottie Heath, you can’t wear that anymore. Change after you hit 100,” Christen replied.

“Coach Kelley thought it was cool,” Scottie said, her eyebrows furrowing a little. 

“I’m not Coach Kelley,” Christen huffed, moving away from Scottie to pay attention to the rest of her group. 

Thankfully, Becky and Kelley brought all the groups together shortly thereafter for some passing drills. Time seemed to fly by, which surprised Christen since she had thought this would be like slow torture. The girls caught onto the drills quickly and were actually pretty good, especially Scottie. Even if she was the smallest, she had a deft touch on the ball and a zeal for the game that was plain as day. 

Before Christen knew it, they had finished their drills and their snack break, coming back together for a game of Sharks and Minnows as their first practice wound down. As Christen watched the girls run around the field, the “Sharks” trying to pull the pinnies out from where the “Minnows” tucked them into the band of their shorts, Christen felt herself smiling just a bit. If anyone asked, she wouldn’t say she was having fun, but she wasn’t actively hating it either. It was hard to hate it when Scottie easily dodged Joni’s many attempts at stealing her pinny, sending Joni tripping over herself and falling to the grass a few times.

“Yo Brunn, does that look like a smile on Pressy’s face to you?” Kelley asked, slinging an arm across Christen’s shoulders. 

Christen rolled her eyes and shrugged Kelley’s arm off of her. “It’s not. I think you're losing your eyesight in your old age, Kel,” Christen quipped.

"I'm 28, same as you," Kelley scoffed.

“Well, that definitely looked like a smile to me,” Becky chuckled. “Are they worming their way into your heart?” 

“Definitely not,” Christen protested.

“I don’t know…” Kelley trailed off. “Mini Tar Heel is pretty adorable over there,” she said, pointing to number 17. 

“Her name’s Scottie,” Christen replied without thinking. Once she realized she had, she sighed, knowing Kelley was going to give her shit, and probably Becky too. She’d let her ‘I hate it here’ attitude slip up for just a moment and she was about to pay the price. “She needs to work on her technique. She can’t kick a driven ball for the life of her.”

“She’s seven,” Kelley deadpanned.

“And that’s what she’s here to work on,” Becky offered with a smile.

“I can’t believe you’re on a first-name basis with Mini Tar Heel. I think she has a favorite,” Kelley teased, not willing to let that go just yet. 

“Whatever, let’s have the kids do some shots on goal to finish this out,” Christen said, shoving Kelley’s arm.

“Solid idea, Coach Christen,” Becky laughed, stepping away to call for all the kids’ attention. 

“I think this is a great space for it,” Tobin nodded, looking at the bare room in the museum and imagining her collection on the walls. “The lighting is perfect.”

“Great,” the museum director, Kyle, beamed. He was an older gentleman with a perfectly trimmed white beard and spectacles sitting on his nose. “We’ve had some tricky artists to work with. Everyone has their own vision, and sometimes that means traveling to room after room before deciding that the first one was perfect.”

Tobin smiled softly, glad to have taken a load off of the museum staff. “I’m just really flattered that you want to hang my stuff in the museum,” she said honestly, glancing down at her watch one more time. She’d need to leave soon if she was going to get to see Scottie play at all. 

“You really mean that don’t you?” Kyle replied, a soft smile on his face.

“Are you kidding me? My mom used to take me to MoMA when I was a little kid, and I fell in love,” Tobin gushed. 

“And now you’ll have your art here, featured in our local artist summer exhibit. That’s quite the full-circle moment, Ms. Heath,” he chuckled.

“I’m definitely excited to bring my mom and daughter to see it,” Tobin smiled. 

“I’ll set aside some tickets for you,” Kyle said, jotting a note for himself down in his notebook.

“That would be great. Can I get back to you on a specific number? I have a couple of friends who might want to come too,” Tobin asked. 

“I can set aside anywhere from 5 to 50, so just let me know,” he said, holding out his hand for Tobin to shake. “It was a pleasure showing you the space, and I’m excited for your collection to grace these walls.”

“Thank you,” Tobin grinned, reaching out to shake his hand. “I’ll see you in a couple weeks for set-up. I should get going now, though. I have a soccer practice to watch.” 

Tobin hurried down the hall and into the elevator, thankful that MoMA had reserved a parking spot for her so that she didn’t have to race around Midtown to find a random street corner where she’d left her car. She knew she’d make the end of practice, but she was dying to get there as soon as possible and watch Scottie have a great first day. 

When she got to the soccer field in New Jersey, she had to squint through her windshield to see Scottie, since she was now in the Academy jersey. Tobin leaned against her steering wheel and watched Scottie wait in line to take a shot on goal. She laughed to herself at the way Scottie seemed jittery and excited, just dying to take a shot. 

When Scottie finally stepped up to the ball, Tobin watched her plant her left foot and swing her right leg, something that Tobin had taught her a while ago. The shot was a little wonky since Scottie got a little too much of her toe on the ball, but it still swished into the back of the net. Tobin pumped her fist by her side, wishing that she could cheer for Scottie and make her laugh the way they did at home. 

She watched as the angry coach from that morning pulled Scottie aside and bent down to talk to her, touching Scottie’s foot. Tobin was glad to see the coach giving Scottie some pointers and was just about to chalk the morning up to a lack of sleep or just waking up on the wrong side of the bed when Scottie’s shoulders slumped. Scottie dragged her feet as she walked to the back of the line, no longer quite so energized or excited. 

Tobin immediately pulled her keys out of the ignition and stepped out of her car, leaning back against the hood. She didn’t want to be one of those hover moms who ran onto the field and fought her daughter’s battles for her, but she wasn’t about to stay in the car if the coach had hurt Scottie’s feelings or discouraged her. 

She waited for the end of practice, watching other moms and dads in their giant, sparkling SUVs pull up in the parking lot around her. She always felt lost in parent groups like this. She was almost always a decade younger than the majority of them, and they definitely all took notice. 

When practice ended, Scottie ran straight toward Tobin without saying any goodbyes. Tobin could see the tears on her cheeks as Scottie got closer, and Tobin’s heart clenched tightly in her chest when Scottie threw herself against her stomach, taking deep, shaky breaths. 

“Hey, whoa, what’s wrong, little bit?” Tobin asked, bending down to be eye-to-eye with Scottie. 

“Can we go?” Scottie sniffled, her chin tucked to her chest.

“As soon as you tell me what’s wrong,” Tobin said. 

Scottie shook her head once, a quick, sharp movement. Tobin sighed, led Scottie to the car, and opened the back door for her, lifting her into her booster seat. “What’s going on, buddy?” Tobin asked, her voice soft and her hands softer against Scottie’s forehead. 

“Coach Christen,” Scottie choked out, a fresh wave of tears overcoming her.

“What did she do?” Tobin asked, reaching into her pants pocket for a handkerchief and offering it to Scottie. 

Scottie started to cry harder, throwing her arms around Tobin’s neck, her hot tears soaking into the material of Tobin’s button-up.

“She- she- she said-” Scottie hiccuped, unable to finish the sentence.

Tobin’s jaw clenched. She should have stayed. She’d seen the coach that morning, had seen the chip on her shoulder and her grumpy attitude. She should have stayed

“Can you practice your juggling on the field while I go talk to her?” Tobin asked, glancing over her shoulder to see Becky and Kelley talking to parents and this Coach Christen person stacking up cones on the field. 

Scottie nodded softly and wiped at her face with Tobin’s handkerchief. Tobin picked Scottie up and placed her on her feet on the grass. She tossed her the soccer ball, and together they walked down, Tobin getting angrier and angrier with each step and each sniffle from Scottie. 

Christen caught sight of that same mom from this morning approaching her, the one who still looked far too overdressed to be walking on the field. With a sigh, Christen dropped the stack of cones to the grass and stood up. “If you want to run into me again, I should go find some coffee for you to spill,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest.

“What is your problem?” Tobin seethed, staring directly into the greenest eyes she’d ever seen. 

Christen recoiled slightly, the hardness in the words catching her off guard. This morning, the woman had been soft-spoken, her voice a little rough yet sweet. But her voice was cold and biting. 

“I beg your pardon?” Christen retorted, her defenses going up at the sight of the angry expression on this woman’s face.

“This is a kids’ team. It isn’t the National Team. There’s absolutely no reason to say something that’ll make a kid cry,” Tobin huffed. 

“I didn’t,” Christen defended, her brow furrowing in confusion. “And who the hell do you think you are? Coming out here, telling me how to coach?”

“The mother of the kid you made cry,” Tobin said, pointing over at where Scottie was sitting on the field, still holding Tobin’s handkerchief and trying to juggle the ball. 

Christen looked over to where the woman was pointing and saw Scottie. Her brow further furrowed as her stomach dropped. “I didn’t- I mean, I don’t- wait, you’re Scottie’s mom?” Christen asked, her eyes jumping back to the brunette.  

“Yes,” Tobin grumbled, hating the way everyone was surprised that she was her mom. It was either her age or the fact that Scottie didn’t look a ton like her, but something always made people question their relationship.

“Huh, I can see that,” Christen replied distractedly, her eyes moving back to Scottie. “Look, I have no idea what I could have said-”

“Yeah, I’m sure," Tobin snapped. "You dropped two curse words this morning without realizing it,” she added, ready to take Scottie home and leave this conversation. 

“I didn’t swear at your kid,” Christen retorted.

“All I’m saying is clearly you don’t think before speaking,” Tobin said, clenching her jaw tighter. 

Christen felt anger claw its way up her chest, making her face harden and her green eyes darken. “And you clearly don’t think before you blindly accuse,” Christen growled.

Before Tobin could respond, she felt Scottie’s small body, bump into hers. She swallowed the angry retort that had been sitting on her tongue, instead, glancing down at Scottie’s wide eyes. 

“Ready to go home, buddy?” Tobin asked, trying to keep her voice calm and neutral. 

Scottie nodded, tucking herself into Tobin’s side and tactfully avoiding looking over at Christen at all. Christen felt her anger seep out of her at the sight of the girl who hadn’t stopped smiling all day looking so down and dejected, all because of something she’d apparently done. 

“Wait, I-” Christen tried to say, but whatever else she was going to say died on her lips at the glare she received. 

Tobin spun on her heel and led Scottie to the car, only stopping to retrieve her soccer ball. She loaded her into her booster seat and pulled away from the parking lot as quickly as she could. 

Christen threw the last bag of balls into the equipment shed, feeling a tiredness settle behind her eyes. 

“That it?” she asked, looking over at Becky and Kelley.

“Yeah. You want to get dinner?” Kelley asked, looking between both of her co-coaches. 

“I’m going to work out,” Christen replied with a shake of her head. She was still wrestling with those feelings of guilt and anger and something else she hadn’t been able to untangle, something that was there because of that woman. She needed to work through them, and the best way she knew how was a nice, long run.

“Ooookay,” Kelley said, locking the equipment shed and putting her arm around Becky. “I guess it’s just you and me.”

“Sweet,” Becky hummed. “Let us know if you get done early and want to join. We’ll see you at training tomorrow morning.”

Christen nodded at Becky and Kelley and then trudged away from the fields, across the large parking lot, and into the stadium. She let herself into the locker room, changing into one of the many clean training outfits she kept in her locker. She then grabbed her cleats from the shoe wall and headed back out to the fields. 

She decided to just do some laps around the outside of the field, sprinting the length of the sidelines and recovering as she jogged the length of the end lines. But as she started her run, the Gotham FC crest on her chest felt a bit heavier right now than it usually did, and the feelings of guilt and anger she’d been carrying around from that interaction with Scottie’s mom only compounded the problem. 

Christen was no stranger to guilt and anger, they’d been her constant companions for a while now. She used to never feel stuff like that, preferring to focus on gratitude and peace, but then life had dealt her cruel hand.

Her parents had always supported her decision to play for Gotham FC. Even if teams like Portland or Utah were closer to home, and even if ACFC was the closest to home, Christen had wanted to try someplace new after graduating from Stanford. So, she’d gone across the pond. Her six months in Sweden post-grad ended with an offer to return to the U.S. and play for the newest team in the NWSL, Gotham FC, and Christen had jumped at the opportunity.

Six years ago, she’d gotten the chance to be a part of the very first group to put on the Gotham jerseys, alongside her U.S. teammate Abby Wambach and so many others. For six years, she’d worn it with pride. For six years, she’d led the team and the league in goals. For six years, her parents never missed a single game, watching live from California or traveling to catch a game in person...until one day, they did. 

Six years ago, Christen had joined Gotham FC. Six months ago, her parents were killed in a car accident. And sixty minutes ago, she’d been rude to a complete stranger, and apparently her kid, two things her parents definitely would have been disappointed about. 

Letting out a groan of frustration, Christen stopped running, dropping her hands to her knees as she sucked air into her lungs. She might be broken beyond repair, a shell of her former self, but that didn’t give her an excuse to make a kid cry. Especially a kid who'd been the only good thing about her day.

This coaching gig was about more than just cleaning up the reckless, party girl image she’d carelessly crafted while trying to push down her grief and sadness. It was about being the kind of role model these girls and Scottie, deserved. She needed to do that for them, she needed to try at least.

Christen flopped down into the grass, laying down and turning her gaze to the cloudless blue sky, her mind wrestling with her thoughts as her broken heart struggled with her emotions. 

While she might be irritated with this mom, she was going to make it up to Scottie. The kid had been the one bright spot of her day, running around the field with a love for the game and a lightness Christen had been missing for about six months now. With a bone-deep sigh, Christen decided that she was going to do whatever it took to bring that light back...but she was going to do everything in her power to avoid Scottie’s mom in the process.

Tobin closed the Harry Potter book she and Scottie were working on and tucked the bedsheets around Scottie’s body. She put Herbie, Scottie’s stuffed bear, right next to Scottie and leaned down to kiss her forehead. 

“Um, Mommy?” Scottie whispered, her lower lip jutting out a little bit.

“What’s up?” Tobin asked, keeping her voice quiet and calm to encourage Scottie to fall asleep. 

“You didn’t have to yell at Coach Christen,” Scottie replied.

“I wasn’t yelling,” Tobin sighed, wishing she could forget the encounter entirely. “I was just talking with emphasis.”

Scottie gave Tobin a look, one that effectively told Tobin that she didn’t believe her. “That was yelling,” Scottie shook her head.

“Okay, okay. Maybe I went into Mama Bear mode,” Tobin admitted, brushing the baby hairs off of Scottie’s forehead. 

“You didn’t have to…” Scottie said, pulling Herbie tighter to her chest.

“What does that mean? What did Coach Christen actually say to you?” Tobin asked, her stomach growing tight in anticipation. 

“She just told me that I was kicking with the wrong part of my foot, and then she showed me which part of my foot I should be kicking with,” Scottie mumbled. “And I got frustrated because I couldn’t do it.”

Tobin sighed, dropping her head in her hands for a second. She’d yelled at a coach for coaching, something she never expected to do. She’d had shitty coaches before, but she hadn’t complained. She’d just pushed through it, and now she was one of those helicopter moms who yelled at the first sign of criticism. Scottie's coach hadn't deserved that, and Tobin was suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of embarrassment and guilt. 

“Sounds like I have to be really nice to Coach Christen when I see her next practice,” Tobin mumbled, secretly wishing she didn’t have to be a good role model for Scottie and act like a real adult. 

“You should because she’s the nicest, coolest person ever,” Scottie gushed, her typical toothy grin back on her face.

“Cooler than me?” Tobin asked, making her eyes look wide and shocked. 

Scottie rolled her eyes and giggled. “Don’t be silly; nobody is cooler than you!”

“I think you’re cooler than me,” Tobin whispered. 

“Cuz I am,” Scottie grinned.

“All right, cool stuff. You need good sleep if you’re gonna learn how to kick a soccer ball like Coach Christen. I love you. I’ll see you in the morning. Sweet dreams,” Tobin said, hugging Scottie tightly before she turned off the bedroom light, leaving Scottie with only her small nightlight. 

“I love you, Mommy! You’re the best mommy in the whole wide world, good night!” Scottie called out, sinking back into her pillows with a sleepy smile.

“I love you! You're the best kid in the whole wide world! Good night,” Tobin called from the hall before she climbed down the stairs to the kitchen. She set about cleaning the kitchen, making sure that all of the crumbs from dinner were cleaned off the kitchen table. She put all the dishes in the dishwasher and wiped down the counters.

She hadn’t been home since the morning, so the laundry she’d planned to do over the weekend was still piled up near the washer on the opposite side of the open-concept kitchen and living room space. The refrigerator was getting a little bare, begging Tobin to go to the grocery store. She hadn’t even managed to go through the mail that morning, instead, tossing it into her bag and carrying it around with her throughout the day. 

Now though, with Scottie asleep and the dishwasher humming softly, Tobin flopped down on the couch and flipped through the mail, sorting it into two piles: one for important mail and one that was going straight to the trash. When she got to the bottom of the stack, she couldn’t stop herself from rolling her eyes. A postcard from Fiji stared at her, mocking her, basically picking at a wound that had long since closed up. 

Tobin flipped the postcard over, scanning it for any emergency information. It was the same kind of postcard she got every month. It updated her on Roni’s life, detailing what kind of adventure she was going on and what kind of food she was eating. Only at the end of the postcard did Roni ask about Scottie and Tobin. 

Tobin stood up from the couch and opened the closet door where the washing machine was hidden. She reached up to the top shelf and pulled down the old shoebox she kept there. She tossed the postcard on top of the dozens of similar cards and letters and placed the box back in its spot. A part of her hated that she kept them, but even if Scottie didn’t really know Roni, she couldn't bring herself to take away Scottie’s choice to someday know her. She couldn’t, not when Roni’s name was also on the adoption papers, sitting right next to her own. 

Christen felt like she blinked and it was already Tuesday, already time for her to see Scottie and the rest of the Development Academy kids, already time for her to try to bring that light back in Scottie’s eyes. It was odd how guilty she still felt, after only meeting the kid once. But there was something about Scottie Heath that made her want to be better. Even if her mom was a piece of work, she still wanted to make the kid happy.

It had been a tough weekend of training, especially with their game against Orlando FC coming up in a week and a half. But as Christen made her way over to the training facilities from the locker room, freshly showered after their morning fitness session, she felt a small pep in her step. A pep that hadn’t been there in a while. 

She was the first one to the fields, so she took it upon herself to get all of the equipment out of the shed. She had been fighting the old, rusty lock for two minutes now, and no amount of gentle pleading or not-so-gentle yanking on the lock was working.

“Coach Christen!” Scottie yelled, dropping her soccer bag and racing across the field. 

Christen jerked at the sound of Scottie’s voice, her arm yanking down on the lock and somehow doing the trick to get it open. She turned to look over her shoulder as she opened up the shed. 

“Scottie Heath, you’re early,” Christen replied hesitantly when she caught sight of Scottie’s mom hanging just behind the girl.

“Mommy wanted to stop for coffee,” Scottie shrugged. “Can I help?” 

Christen looked inside the shed and decided the stack of cones was probably the easiest thing for the kid to carry. She grabbed it and walked it over to Scottie, avoiding the mom at all costs.

“Want to take these over for me?” Christen said, inclining her head in the direction of the fields they’d be playing on today. She smiled at the girl, happy to see that Scottie didn't turn away from her or avoid eye contact.

“Yes, please,” Scottie beamed, grabbing the cones and heading in the direction Christen had motioned toward. 

Christen watched Scottie for a few seconds, making sure she wasn’t struggling with the cones before turning her attention to Scottie’s mom, which was a mistake since the woman was already looking at her...and she looked so different than she had a few days ago.

This time she sported a pair of gray joggers and Air Jordans, a plain white t-shirt and large, chunky black-framed glasses. Her hair was in loose waves around her face, tucked under a royal blue beanie that had Christen wondering what time of year it was. Nobody wore a beanie in the muggy May weather of the Tri-State area.

Christen couldn’t even fathom how this was the same woman who had yelled at her, who had looked uptight and anal and annoying in a power pantsuit the other day. 

Tobin felt extremely awkward under Christen’s gaze, knowing that she was the one who needed to apologize. She’d never been rude to someone like this. She’d never really had to do awkward apologies with perfect strangers, and now that she was faced with one, she was searching for the right words to say.

Christen quickly looked away and cleared her throat, spinning on her heel to walk back to the equipment shed. She needed some kind of distraction from the tension in the air and she was hoping to find it in the soccer equipment she needed to carry.

“I’m really sorry,” Tobin finally forced herself to blurt out, deciding to just rip the Band-Aid off. 

Christen tensed, her hand wrapped around the straps of the two ball bags. She swallowed thickly and threw the bags over her shoulder before turning around.

“No biggie, she seems to be doing a lot better today which is good,” Christen replied, her voice tight.

“I shouldn’t have assumed that you did something egregious. I definitely went into protective mom mode when I saw her cry, and that’s on me,” Tobin continued, knowing that Christen was just trying to get her to leave with the ‘no biggie’ response.

“It’s...fine,” Christen offered, readjusting the bags on her back. 

“I didn’t know how you take your coffee, so it’s black, but I brought some creamer packets. I promise not to walk into you and spill it this time,” Tobin said, holding out one of the coffee cups. 

Christen looked down at the coffee cup between them and then back up to meet the woman’s eyes. They looked different today too, warm and honeyed and soft. They were just a little mesmerizing and Christen felt them stir something deep within her she didn’t even know existed.

“I don’t accept coffee from women I don’t know the name of,” Christen found herself saying, her eyes widening just a bit at the friendly tone in her voice. It was as if one look at those warm brown eyes had erased the memories of the terse comments and the anger.

“You’re right. I have the advantage with the t-shirt,” Tobin smiled, nodding to the shirt Christen had to wear with her name on it. “That and my kid can’t stop talking about you. I’m Tobin.”

“Nice to meet you, Tobin,” Christen said, feeling a small half-smile of her own tug at her lips. The woman's name tasted sweet on her tongue and had that strange feeling inside of her multiplying. “And you really didn’t have to get me coffee," she added with a shrug. 

“I didn’t want the apology to seem hollow,” Tobin shrugged. 

“And coffee renders it not hollow?” Christen replied, her brow arching slightly in amusement.

“You must not like coffee as much as I do,” Tobin chuckled. 

“I never said that,” Christen quipped, deciding not to turn down the free coffee and swiping the cup from Tobin’s hand. "Thanks," she said, lifting up the cup a bit in Tobin's direction.

“Creamer?” Tobin asked, reaching into her pocket and holding out a few small creamer packets. 

“Uh,” Christen paused, looking between her hands full of the coffee cup and the bags of balls. “You can just set them on top of the cup, I guess.”

“I can take a bag and let you doctor the coffee if you want,” Tobin offered. 

Christen hesitated for a moment and then conceded, slinging one of the bags of balls off her shoulder and dropping it onto the ground between them. Tobin leaned down and picked up the bag, putting it on her own shoulder and nodding to the field where Scottie was now spinning in small circles. 

“That one?” 

Christen nodded, accepting the packets of creamer from Tobin and then leading the way over to the field. As they approached the field, Christen caught sight of Kelley and Becky walking in from the parking lot. 

“Tar Heel!” Kelley greeted with a big wave.

“Cardinal!” Tobin yelled back with a wide smile. 

“You two know each other?” Christen asked, her eyes traveling between the familiar smiles on her best friend’s face and the face of a woman who she’d only just formally met a few moments ago.

“Coach Kelley signed me in!” Scottie said, dancing closer to Christen with a sweet smile on her face. “I told you she liked Mommy’s jersey.”

“Right, Mommy’s jersey,” Christen nodded, filing away that piece of information. So Tobin had played soccer in college and not just at any college, at the University of North Carolina. Christen wasn’t impressed or anything, but she was curious. Just curious. “You played?” she asked Tobin, setting the ball bag down and starting to add creamer to her coffee.

“Mommy was the best!” Scottie supplied before Tobin could even get her mouth open to answer. 

“I did play,” Tobin nodded, wrapping her arms around Scottie to keep her still. She had been dancing a little too close to Christen’s coffee cup, and she really didn’t need another member of the Heath family to knock it over. 

“Do you still play?” Christen wondered, unsure why she kept asking questions, unsure why she wanted to. It was those damn brown eyes and that lopsided grin. They were like a siren call she was powerless to resist.

Tobin shrugged softly. She couldn’t tell someone she just met that she gave things up for a girl who turned out to not really care about her that much. 

“Nope. Injury, and then life happened,” Tobin said. 

“I’m guessing she’s life?” Christen asked, nodding at the girl in Tobin’s arms.

“The best part of it,” Tobin nodded, ruffling Scottie’s hair. 

Christen felt a smile make its way onto her face and she didn’t have time to hide it before Kelley and Becky finally joined them.

“I know that’s definitely a smile from Pretty Pressy. Can’t tell me otherwise!” Kelley laughed, snagging the coffee cup from Christen’s hand and taking a sip.

“Who’s Pretty Pressy?” Scottie asked, looking up at Tobin for an answer. 

“No one,” Christen quickly said, narrowing her eyes at Kelley and stealing her coffee cup back.

“Pretty Pressy,” Scottie mumbled under her breath, her eyebrows scrunching together in thought. 

“Uh...I should probably go and find a place to sit,” Tobin said, letting go of Scottie. 

“You can chill over here if you want,” Kelley offered, checking with Becky and getting a shrug in response. “But only if you bring me coffee next time too.”

“Who says I brought anyone coffee?” Tobin teased, sending a grin in Kelley’s direction. 

“But you did Mommy. Coach Christen is holding it,” Scottie replied, like it was obvious, having completely missed the joking tone in Tobin’s voice.

“Little bit, we have got to work on your sneaky skills,” Tobin laughed. 

“Since the cat’s out of the bag, and the offer’s on the table, I like white chocolate mochas,” Becky winked, grabbing the cones and heading out to the field to start setting up some drills.

“Noted,” Tobin nodded, making her way over to the bench that Kelley had pointed her toward. 

“I love caramel macchiatos, thanks Tar Heel!” Kelley grinned, knocking her fist into Tobin’s shoulder and following Becky out onto the field.

Christen took one more sip of her coffee and set it down on the bench next to Tobin, a faux serious expression on her face. 

“Watch that like a hawk, Kel steals,” Christen said.

“You have my word,” Tobin laughed, reaching out and moving the cup closer to herself. 

Christen’s lips twitched up into her fourth or fifth smile of the morning, the expression feeling a bit foreign on her face. She quickly shook herself out of it and grabbed a ball from the bag.

“Want to pass the ball, kid?” Christen asked Scottie, hoping for a distraction from the brown eyes and lopsided grin.

“With you?” Scottie asked, her voice raising an octave in excitement. 

Christen looked around, pretending like she was searching for anybody else on the field with them. “If you want?” Christen replied, her chest warming at the sight of the light back in Scottie’s gray eyes.

“Yes, please!” Scottie cheered, focusing her eyes on Christen and the ball in her hands. 

Christen set the ball down and juggled it, the size 4 ball feeling weird for a few moments since it was a full size smaller than the one she used. But she quickly got acquainted with it and sent a soft pass across the grass to Scottie.

“Sorry if I hurt your feelings last time,” Christen said, her hands on her hips as she watched Scottie trap the ball flawlessly.

“Sometimes I take things too seriously,” Scottie said. 

“Me too, kid,” Christen chuckled, watching with surprise as Scottie sent a hard pass back to her. She trapped it with the inside of her foot and passed it back to Scottie.

“Mommy says if I get too frustrated I forget to have fun,” Scottie continued, her talkative self enjoying the way Christen had opened up the lines of communication. 

“You shouldn’t forget that,” Christen agreed.

“Sorry if I got you in trouble,” Scottie said, squinting in the sunshine. 

“Just with your mom, but I think she’s forgiven me,” Christen teased, kicking the ball up and juggling it a few times, showing off just a bit for Scottie. Just for Scottie, not for Tobin who was sitting a few yards away, watching them with keen interest.

“She doesn’t stay mad long. When I make big messes, she still forgives me really fast,” Scottie said, watching Christen juggle intently. 

Christen sent a soft volley in Scottie’s direction, which Scottie trapped easily. “Does she clean them up for you?” Christen asked. She found it easy to talk to this kid, who was just shy of 8, she’d checked the registration papers. She wondered why it was easier to talk to Scottie than it was to talk to a lot of other people in her life. Maybe it was because Scottie didn’t expect anything from her.

“No, but she always helps,” Scottie said. “You should have seen the last time I tried to help in her studio.”

“Studio?” Christen parroted, her brow furrowing.

“I spilled paint everywhere, and Mommy wasn’t super happy, but she helped me clean it up,” Scottie said, plowing right through Christen’s confusion. 

“Paint and a she’s an artist of some kind,” Christen thought, filing away that piece of information about Tobin as well. She watched Scottie try to pull a few tricks with the soccer ball, laughing a bit when they failed and letting out surprised huffs when they worked. 

“Mommy!” Scottie yelled, making sure that Tobin was paying attention. “Look, Coach Christen. Mommy taught me this.” Scottie stepped forward and flicked the ball over her shoulder in a perfect rainbow. 

Christen’s eyebrows shot up. She shouldn’t even let herself be shocked anymore with what that kid could do with a soccer ball. Scottie Heath was full of surprises.

“It took me five months to learn it, and I broke two of Mommy’s lamps,” Scottie grinned. 

Christen laughed and looked over at Tobin who confirmed it with a nod and a smile. 

“Well it’s super impressive, so I think it was worth it,” Christen replied, walking over to give Scottie a high-five. 

“Mommy said they were ugly lamps anyway,” Scottie shrugged. “Are we taking shots on goal today?” 

Christen scratched at her jaw. “Um, we can if you want to. But we don’t have to…”

“I promise not to cry and let you show me how,” Scottie said, looking up at Christen with wide, pleading eyes. 

“Well if you promise that, then I promise to let you show me how to rainbow when training is over,” Christen said, crouching down to Scottie’s eye level.

“You’ve got yourself a deal!” Scottie said, reaching her hand out to shake Christen’s. 

Christen looked over at Tobin as if to say, Is she for real with this? She just got a deep, raspy laugh in response, a laugh that hit her right in the chest. Clearing her throat, Christen turned back to Scottie and took Scottie’s hand with her own, giving it a shake.

“You gotta seal the deal with a fist bump too, it’s the rules,” Christen said, taking her hand out of the short handshake. She smiled at Scottie, holding her hand up for a fist bump.

Scottie quickly knocked her fist against Christen’s before shaking her hand in a shaka sign and dancing away from Christen. She ran over to a group of girls who had just arrived, already fast friends with many of them.

Christen chuckled and walked over to the bench, making sure to keep a good bit of space between her and Tobin as she sat down. “Thanks for protecting it,” Christen said, grabbing the coffee cup from the bench.

“Anytime,” Tobin nodded, stretching her legs out in front of her and keeping her eyes on Scottie across the field. 

“You got a good kid, Tobin,” Christen commented, slyly looking down at where Tobin’s left hand was curled around the edge of the bench. She noted the bare ring finger, filing that away as well. Just because she was curious. Just curious.

“Thank you,” Tobin said, smiling at the dorky way Scottie was telling a story to one of the other girls. “She came that way.”

Christen was desperate to ask what that meant, suddenly wanting to know more, a lot more, possibly everything. It scared her, how quickly the desire to know things about this woman seated next to her came on. Especially since the last time they’d interacted, it had been clipped and tense. Especially since this mom and her kid seemed to exude light and joy, and Christen wasn’t in a light or joyful place in life. So instead of asking, she quickly got to her feet, forgetting her coffee on the bench.

“I should go get things ready,” Christen blurted, running a hand over her hair and down her ponytail.

“Have a fun practice,” Tobin said, looking directly at Christen and smiling softly. “Don’t worry, I’ll watch the coffee.” 

Christen smiled weakly and quickly walked off. “What are you doing? She’s the mom of a kid you’re coaching because you almost trashed the image of your professional team. Get it together,” Christen chastised herself, hurrying over to where the girls were gathering so she could get practice started.

Tobin couldn’t help but watch Christen walk across the field to the group of kids. She was only human. For that matter, she was a gloriously gay human, and she could see that Christen was an attractive woman. No, Christen was more than that. She was a beautiful woman. A woman that made you stop in your tracks, that made your heart race, that made you want to be a little foolish.

When she’d first seen Christen, she hadn’t gotten the opportunity to really appreciate Christen’s looks, but now that they weren’t at each other’s throats, her looks and physique were captivating. There was something about the way she smiled, almost like she couldn’t help it, almost like she wasn’t used to it, that made Tobin want to make her smile as much as possible. 

Tobin quickly shook the thoughts from her mind and forced herself to pull her eyes off of Christen’s retreating form. Christen was a part of Scottie’s world, and Tobin wasn’t about to complicate things, not that a woman like Christen would give her the time of day with a 7-year-old hanging on her arm. 

Chapter Text

Look to the clock on the wall

Hands hardly moving at all

I can't stand the state that I'm in

Sometimes it feels like the walls closing in

Oh, Lord, what can I say?

I am so sad since You went away

Time, time, ticking on me

Alone is the last place I wanted to be

Lord, what can I say?

Trap all my troubles away

Drowns my sorrows the same way

Seems no matter how hard I try

It feel like there's somethings just missing inside


How many rules can I break?

How many lies can I make?

How many roles must I turn?

To find me a place where the bridge hasn't burned

(Christen - “What Can I Say” by Brandi Carlisle)


Last night had a crazy dream

You were everywhere it seemed

You were filling up my soul

Doin' everything to make me whole

Read about you in the Sunday paper

Saw your face on the evening news

When I woke everything was gone

And I remembered we were through

Don't come 'round here no more

Hey get out of my mind

Then you tell me we got things to say

You come around here looking so fine

Makes it so hard to walk away

Oh, get out of my head

Because that look there could leave me dead

(Tobin - “Get out of My Mind” by Hootie and the Blowfish)


“Is that...cinnamon?” Christen wondered, taking another sip of her latte and fixing Tobin with a curious look. This was the fourth coffee she’d gotten from the brunette over the course of a week and a half, and each one had been different. One day she’d gotten a cappuccino, one day a macchiato. And today’s was a latte with just this slight hint of spice that Christen wasn’t sure she identified right.

“Yep,” Tobin nodded, taking a sip of her own coffee. 

“Hmm,” Christen hummed. “You’re getting warmer,” she said as she set the coffee down on the bench and grabbed the bags of pinnies from the grass. 

“Good to know,” Tobin smiled, slipping her sunglasses onto her face. 

“You could just ask me, you know,” Christen sighed, narrowing her eyes at Tobin as she put her hands on her hip. “And I’ll tell you how I like my coffee.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Tobin laughed. She couldn’t deny that she was enjoying trying to figure Christen out...well the coffee order at least. It was a fun game, and she liked seeing how Christen reacted to each new drink she brought. One thing was for certain, Christen loved coffee. She’d finished each one that Tobin had brought, even though none of them had been her preferred drink. 

Christen ignored the slight flutter in her stomach at Tobin’s question. She rolled her eyes and walked over to the field, setting down piles of green, blue, and red pinnies in their designated grids. This was safe, the pinnies and the drills and soccer. Whatever glint was hiding within those brown eyes of Tobin’s was not safe. Especially since she was coaching Tobin’s kid, especially since she had no idea if Scottie’s dad was in the picture, especially since she was a walking trainwreck and the Heaths were too good for that.

“That’s a lot of coffees,” Kelley sing-songed, knocking her hip into Christen’s. 

“You’re getting some every training too,” Christen replied, moving away from Kelley.

“Yeah, but she isn’t trying to figure out what I like to drink,” Kelley hummed. 

“Maybe because I didn’t tell her my order after rudely assuming she’d buy me one,” Christen shot back.

“Come on, Pressy,” Kelley whined. “She comes to every practice and just sits there, watching.”

“Yeah, watching her kid,” Christen shrugged, moving backward toward the small pop-up nets she had to unpack and set up still.

“Oh, trust me,” Kelley scoffed, “she is not just watching Scottie.”

“Agree to disagree, Kel!” Christen called out.

“My gaydar is on point!” Kelley yelled, her voice echoing across the field. 

“Your gaydar’s been broken since Sonny rejected your ass,” Becky quipped as she walked by, throwing the comment out so nonchalantly it made Christen laugh.

“She did not reject me. She said maybe at a later date,” Kelley corrected. 

“Let us know when that later date comes,” Christen teased, opening the bags with the pop-up nets and unfolding them. She handed a few to Becky, who walked them over to the other side of the field.

“All our adorable little kids are going to be at the game on Saturday, and Emily is going to see me interact with them, and she’s gonna have no choice but to fall in love with me. It’s science,” Kelley said, putting her hands on her hips. 

“It’s flawed,” Christen rolled her eyes. “What about Emily Sonnett screams maternal?”

“You of all people should know that women with children are irresistible. It’s MILF science, and since I don’t have a kid, I’ll borrow our Academy kids,” Kelley grinned. 

Christen’s cheeks flamed and she refocused on the task at hand, unfolding the nets. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Christen grumbled.

“Pressy, I have eyes. She’s hot. I get it,” Kelley said, nodding over to where Tobin was sitting, helping Scottie tie her cleats. 

“Nothing in life is that simple, Kel. I can’t get involved with her. With them,” Christen shook her head, her eyes holding on the Heath family on the bench. She’d been so swept up in their goodness and light for the past week and a half, and it was easy to forget that she was anything but good and light. She couldn’t get involved, she shouldn’t.

“Not with that attitude!” Kelley chirped, poking one of the balls into the now set-up net. 

“I’m going to grab some waters from the locker room for the kids,” Christen huffed, getting to her feet, needing to vacate this field. She needed to get away from Kelley’s antics and from the not-safe feelings begging for attention within her.

“Yeah, I’ll bet you’re thirsty,” Kelley mumbled. 

“Shut the fu-” Christen went to reply but bit her tongue when she saw Scottie running over.

“Coach Christen!” Scottie said, bounding up to Christen’s side. 

“Hey, kid, want to go on a field trip?” Christen asked with a smile.

“Sure! To the zoo?” Scottie asked, reaching her hand up and taking Christen’s in her own. 

“To the locker room,” Christen said, adding emphasis to her words to make it sound like someplace way cooler than the zoo. 

“Do you have a fancy locker with your name on it?” Scottie asked. 

“I do,” Christen laughed. “And I bet you’ll get to see it before the game this weekend. Right now we’re just going to the lounge for some waters and Gatorades. But we can bring it all back on a big cart, and maybe I’ll let you ride on the cart too!”

Scottie wiggled her finger at Christen to bring her down closer so that she could whisper something to her. Christen crouched down, her hand still in Scottie’s loose grip. 

“You’re my favorite,” Scottie whispered, squeezing Christen’s hand tightly in her own. 

Christen felt the shattered bits of her heart in her chest painstakingly fuse back together just a bit. She grinned over at Scottie, blinking away the burn of tears behind her eyes.

“We probably shouldn’t tell Coach Kelley or Coach Becky; they’d be jealous,” Christen replied softly.

Scottie shook her head with a serious look on her face. “No, we shouldn’t.”

“Ready to go?” Christen asked, standing back up.

“Yes,” Scottie nodded, walking quickly to keep up with Christen’s longer strides, their hands swinging between them. 

Tobin settled into her bed, having finally finished one of her commissioned pieces, and turned all the lights out in the house. Scottie was sleeping soundly in her bedroom, letting out little puffs of air when Tobin peeked into her room. She was exhausted from her Development Academy training and her fun trip to the locker room with Christen, which she couldn’t stop talking about the entire ride home. 

Tobin hadn’t given much thought to letting Scottie spend time with Christen. Christen seemed sweet, always giving Scottie pointers and supportive words. She was also clearly hardworking since she’d managed to make it as a professional soccer player. Tobin really couldn’t imagine that someone who volunteered to coach kids would be a bad role model. And then...she typed her name into Google. 

She wanted to believe that she was just being a protective mom, but deep down, she knew that she was interested in knowing just a little bit more about the beautiful, green-eyed coach who had captured her daughter’s, and maybe even her, attention. 

The first thing to pop up on Google was Gotham’s roster, nothing surprising there. The second thing to appear was the USWNT roster. Tobin paused for a second, wondering if Christen was on the USWNT poster hanging in Scottie’s room. She’d bought it, mainly as a joke because Abby was on the front, and she hadn’t looked more closely at the rest of the team members. 

The third link on Google was about New York City’s favorite party girl, and Tobin hesitated before clicking, hoping that there was another Christen Press. It was possible in a city this big. The picture proved otherwise. 

Christen’s eyes were glassy and glazed over in the picture. Her cheeks were flushed, and her dress was...well Tobin didn’t know if she’d call it a dress, since the length seemed more like a shirt. A blonde woman had her arms around Christen and her lips pressed against Christen’s neck, and Christen’s hand was raised, clearly trying to block the camera’s view. "Since when did you become such a prude?" Tobin chastised herself, shaking her head and moving on to another link. 

A few more clicks and Tobin was falling into a downward spiral of worry. There were videos of Christen stumbling and laughing down the sidewalk, singing at the top of her lungs from a roof-top bar, dancing with woman after woman after woman. Tobin didn't want to admit it, but there was an odd tightness in her chest when she looked at the pictures of each woman hanging on Christen's arm or waist. She didn't want to admit that that tightness in her chest felt a lot like jealousy. 

A few more clicks after that, and Tobin’s mouth was dry. Christen’s naked body, albeit tastefully posed, was staring back at her on the cover of ESPN’s Body Issue. She wanted to tear her eyes away, but there was something about the way Christen was staring at the camera that seemed to have Tobin frozen in place. 

“Mommy?” Scottie mumbled, rubbing at her eyes and shuffling into Tobin’s bedroom.

“Scottie Katherine Heath!” Tobin yelped, shutting her computer as quickly as she could. 

“Why’d you full name me?” Scottie yawned, crawling up onto Tobin’s bed.

“You scared me, buddy. Why aren’t you in bed asleep?” Tobin sighed, pulling up the sheets for Scottie to join her. 

“Sorry, bad dream,” Scottie replied, jumping beneath the covers and curling up against Tobin’s side.

“What was it about?” Tobin asked, turning off her bedside lamp and scooting down in bed to wrap her arm around Scottie. 

“Someone was gone and I couldn’t figure out who. I kept looking and looking, but I couldn’t find them,” Scottie mumbled, pressing her face into Tobin’s shoulder.

Tobin’s heart ached for the little girl in her arms. She often wondered if Scottie could remember a time when Roni lived with them, even though she’d left when Scottie was four. They talked about her sometimes, but she wasn’t a constant presence or a typical conversation topic.

“And then aliens came and I woke up,” Scottie added.

“That sounds pretty crazy,” Tobin whispered. “It’s a good thing you woke up and that we both have each other.”

“For forever and ever,” Scottie whispered, laying her hand on Tobin’s.

“Forever and ever,” Tobin nodded, pressing a kiss to Scottie’s forehead and preparing herself to talk to Scottie until she managed to fall asleep again. 

Christen tapped her fingers across her knee, her eyes stuck on the parking lot near the training fields, looking for a particular Audi to show up.

“I wonder who Pressy’s waiting for,” Kelley teased, tossing a few pinnies to Becky. 

Christen huffed and got up from the bench. It was silly to wait around like some schoolgirl, hoping for her crush to show up. She wasn’t a schoolgirl, and she most certainly didn’t have a crush. 

“I’m going to set up the grids,” Christen said, grabbing the cones from the ground.

“I’m sure they just hit traffic,” Becky said, trying to make Christen feel better. 

Christen ignored Becky and continued out onto the field. She went on auto-pilot, marking out four, ten by ten grids for the possession drills they’d be taking the girls through. 

“Bye, Mommy!” Scottie called, waving at Tobin before she jogged across the field to join some of the other girls who’d already arrived. 

Christen’s head shot up, Scottie’s voice carrying all the way over to her. She immediately felt the small knot of worry in her chest loosen at the sight of the metallic gray Audi in its usual parking spot. She smiled a bit as Scottie made her way onto the field and waited for Tobin to head over as well, but she didn’t. 

Christen stood in the middle of the field, a stack of cones in hand, watching as Tobin got back into the car and didn’t reappear. After a few moments, the Audi purred to life and pulled out of the parking lot. Christen ignored the flare of disappointment within her and stalked back over to the bench, setting the cones down a little more forcefully than entirely necessary. 

“Coach Christen?” Scottie asked, appearing behind Christen. 

Christen forced a smile onto her face and turned to face Scottie. “Hey, Scottie,” she replied, her voice a little tight.

“Can I tell you something and you promise not to laugh?” Scottie asked. 

Christen felt whatever disappointment she’d been feeling melt away. Any negative feelings always did whenever Scottie was around. “I’ll try my best not to laugh, okay?” Christen replied gently.

“I don’t know how to tie my shoes,” Scottie mumbled. “I mean, I do...I just am not very good at it. It’s always way too loose, and I don’t want my cleat to come off when I kick.”

Christen crouched down and gestured for Scottie to sit in the grass. “Did Tob- I mean, did your mom not tie them for you today?” Christen asked innocently, reaching out for Scottie’s right cleat.

“She did, but she forgot to double-knot them, and they came undone,” Scottie said. “We slept in and had to hurry this morning.”

Christen quickly tied the cleat, giving Scottie her requested double knot, before doing the same for the left cleat. 

“So that’s why you guys were just on time today?” 

“That...and I spilled orange juice on the floor,” Scottie shrugged. 

“That’s not where orange juice goes,” Christen teased, brushing her hands on her shorts and fixing Scottie with a small smile.

“Mommy said the same thing,” Scottie giggled. “She said another word too, but I’m not allowed to say it.”

Christen poked her tongue against her cheek, holding in her laugh at the thought of Tobin swearing in front of Scottie, especially after making such a fuss about swearing in front of children on the first day they met. 

“Probably best not to repeat it,” Christen agreed, standing up and holding out her hands for Scottie so she could help her up. “Did she not want to stay and watch today?” Christen asked, getting Scottie back on her feet.

“She did, but she said she really needed to talk to Glenny,” Scottie said, brushing grass off of her legs. “I don’t know why she doesn’t just wait for family dinner.”

“Huh, family dinner,” Christen thought, adding that to the pile of information she’d been acquiring about Tobin Heath. Christen had no idea who this Glenny person was, or how he or she was related to family dinner, but it made her heart sink just a little bit. But it wasn’t like she cared that Tobin wasn’t there, that Tobin had a Glenny, that there was family dinner. She was just curious about Tobin and nothing more. Just curious.

“I feel like you need to take about five deep breaths,” Glennon observed, eyeing Tobin from behind her square-framed glasses. She pushed the paperwork she’d been looking at away from her and sat back in her desk chair.

Tobin sank down into a chair and took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m cool. I feel completely calm and collected,” Tobin sighed. 

“Sweetie, you’re none of the above. Want some cake?” Glennon asked with a small smile.

“No, I don’t want your distraction cake,” Tobin murmured. 

“It tastes just as good as pity cake, I promise. Even has rainbow sprinkles on top,” Glennon teased, fixing Tobin with a curious look, wondering what had brought one of her best friends to her office this afternoon.

“You let Gotham FC’s ‘party girl’ volunteer to coach my kid,” Tobin said, lifting her hands up and bending two fingers into quotation marks to show that she was quoting one of the articles she’d read last night. 

Glennon raised a brow in Tobin’s direction, the judgment and slight hostility in Tobin’s words not sitting right with her. It didn't sound like the Tobin she knew and loved. “Want to try that one again?” Glennon asked stiffly.

Tobin sat up in the chair and looked at Glennon a little sheepishly. “I'm sorry. That was rude. I googled Christen Press,” she mumbled. 

“Why?” Glennon wondered. “Do you google all of your kid’s coaches?”

“Of course not. I- Don’t turn it around on me, please,” Tobin begged, knowing Glennon was going to psychoanalyze her. 

Glennon held up her hands in surrender. She removed her glasses and rubbed at the bridge of her nose. 

“This Development Academy is my fourth kid. I love this program more than anything. And while I’m aware of whatever reputation the media has disrespectfully bestowed upon her...Abby knows her. She played with Christen in Rio and Canada and swears up and down that she’s a good egg. Just a little lost right now. So I trusted my wife and let my boss tell me to bring her on as the third coach,” Glennon replied.

“Scottie loves her,” Tobin said, hating how judgy and hostile she’d sounded when she’d raced into Glennon’s office. She wasn't a judgy person, and as much as she tried to convince herself that she was doing this for Scottie, she knew she was also curious for more information about the woman who kept making her heart speed up. This was just not the way to go about it. 

“Scottie’s a good judge of character,” Glennon smiled. “And I’ve seen nothing but good things from Christen. Those tabloids never give the full picture, and I’m wondering if they’ve even gotten any bit of the picture.”

“I’m freaking out for no reason, right?” Tobin asked. “It’s not like Scottie will google her.”

“What is it that’s really bothering you?” Glennon asked, cocking her head to the side.

“Nothing,” Tobin said, gripping the edge of the chair with her hands. 

Glennon just stayed silent, her expression open and patient, as she waited out her fidgeting friend.

“I maybe think she’s kind of a cool person,” Tobin shrugged. 

“Which in Tobin speak translates to…” 

“She’s in Scottie’s world, and just because I think she’s easy to talk to and really, really nice to look at doesn’t mean that I would ever be able to do more than sit on a bench and watch her coach my kid,” Tobin blurted out. 

Glennon chuckled and slid her glasses back on. “Sounds like you’ve written the whole story out for yourself there, sweetie.”

“The person I googled last night would never date someone like me, and honestly, I don’t know if I’d bring someone who likes to party like that home to hang out with Scottie,” Tobin said, her voice soft. 

“Maybe the person you googled isn’t the person you’ve been getting to know,” Glennon observed. “Come to dinner tonight. I think Abby can give you a little more clarity on things.”

“You don’t need to tell Abby. She’ll bully me,” Tobin grumbled. 

“With love,” Glennon replied with an easy smile. “So dinner, seven o’clock?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there,” Tobin nodded. “Sorry for barging into your office and being bossy and rude.”

“It was worth it to see you blush over Christen Press,” Glennon hummed, grabbing the stack of papers she’d discarded and looking back at them. 

“I wasn’t blushing,” Tobin mumbled, standing up from the chair and walking to the door. 

“You were blushing!” Glennon yelled after her, her melodic laughter echoing around her office as Tobin left.

Christen jumped around in goal, only half-attempting to block the shots the kids were taking to finish up practice. When Scottie stepped up for her shot, Christen grinned. 

“Let’s see what you got, Scottie Heath!” Christen called out, moving her arms around at her sides playfully.

Scottie poked her tongue out of her mouth in concentration, something that Tobin did as well. She stepped back and looked toward the goal. She stepped toward the ball, planting her left foot and swinging her right leg, this time hitting it with the right part of her foot and sending it to the back of the net. 

“And she scores! What a goal!” Christen cheered, clapping and winking at Scottie as she kicked her ball back to her.

Becky blew her whistle then, signaling the end of training and sending the girls back over to their bags near their bench.

“Yeeeees coffees!” Kelley cheered, jogging across the field. 

Christen stopped grabbing the balls from the back of the net and looked over to where Kelley was running to. She was a little surprised to see Tobin there, holding a carrier with four coffees in it, a shy look on her face. Despite her desire for the coffee, Christen took her time pulling the balls out of the goal and bagging them up. If she kept looking at Tobin out of the corner of her eye, that was purely coincidental. 

“Mommy, did you see my goal?” Scottie asked, jumping up and down between Tobin and Kelley. 

“I did. It looked amazing! Coach Christen showed you how, didn’t she?” Tobin asked, sending Scottie into a story about learning how to strike the ball with the right part of her foot. 

Christen slung the ball bag over her shoulder and made her way to the bench, which was in the complete opposite direction of where Tobin, Kelley, and Scottie stood. She dropped the bag and said goodbye to the few girls that had stuck behind to say goodbye to her. She then dropped down onto the bench and bent down to unlace her cleats.

“I don’t know if I got warmer this time. I took a long shot,” Tobin said, lowering the carrier with one remaining coffee toward Christen. 

Christen looked up, squinting just a bit at the sunlight shining behind Tobin. She reached out and grabbed the coffee. 

“Didn’t think I’d be getting one of these today,” Christen observed, holding the coffee cup in her lap.

“I just had to bother a friend earlier,” Tobin shrugged, trying not to think about Glennon teasing her about having a crush. 

Christen relaxed further at the sweet smile playing on Tobin’s lips, ignoring thoughts of family dinners and this Glenny person. “You’re so good at it, I’m sure they loved you dropping by,” Christen teased, finally taking a sip of the coffee.

“Oh, am I annoying you?” Tobin asked, cocking her head to the side. 

Christen couldn’t answer. She was still savoring the flavor of Chai on her tongue. She took another long sip and held back a moan. 

“How the hell did you guess this?” Christen asked, shaking her head slightly as she gazed up at Tobin.

“Was it right?” Tobin asked, her smile growing even bigger. 

“That cocky look you’ve got definitely qualifies as annoying,” Christen replied with a smile of her own, cradling the coveted coffee to her chest.

“But the cocky look comes with a free coffee, so I think it balances out,” Tobin hummed, sitting down next to Christen. “You liked the cinnamon, so I thought long and hard about spices.”

"A dirty chai tea latte is not your run-of-the-mill drink order,” Christen pointed out with a laugh.

“It was a long shot, but I like long shots,” Tobin said, her shoulders bobbing up and down with another shrug. 

Christen felt that damn fluttering in her stomach again as she looked deeply into Tobin’s warm brown eyes. She knew they were talking about coffee, but a part of her wondered if they’d left coffee behind.

“I get to see Coach Christen’s locker with her name on it tomorrow!” Scottie cheered, hopping onto the bench between Christen and Tobin. 

“Oh, really?” Tobin asked, having heard Scottie talk about this for the past few days nonstop. 

“She does,” Christen laughed when Scottie leaned into her side and shot her the biggest smile. She ruffled her hand across Scottie’s head, messing up some of the curls. 

Christen had also managed to swing one more surprise, well, two more surprises. She couldn’t help herself. Scottie had wormed her way into Christen’s heart, and she was finding it increasingly difficult not to go out of her way to do things to make the girl smile or laugh. She was falling for this kid and she knew it was a dangerous thing to do, but she couldn’t help it. She was a moth to the Heath flame, unable to stay away, even if she knew she should. 

“And she also gets to do something else pretty fun,” Christen added, looking briefly up at Tobin. 

“What’s that?” Tobin asked, watching the way Scottie got as close to Christen as possible. 

Christen looked down at Scottie and wrapped her arm around the girl’s shoulders. “How would you like to walk out with me before the game and then be a ball girl?” she asked gently, feeling her own excitement about the game tomorrow growing.

“Are you serious?!” Scottie asked. “I get to walk out with you this time?”

Christen felt her shoulders slump a little bit. This time meant Scottie had done this all before, making her surprise a little less special than she’d hoped. 

“Um...yeah! If you want to? I didn’t know you’d already done it before,” Christen replied, trying to keep her bright smile on her face.

“Abbs took me when I was tiny, so I can’t remember it. Mommy took a picture though and put it in my room. This time I’ll remember, and this time will be with my favorite player!” Scottie gushed, the excitement clearly not lost on her. 

Scottie’s energy was infectious and had Christen’s enthusiasm building up once more. She briefly wondered if this “Abbs” person was Abby Wambach, who’d been part of that inaugural group of Gotham players with her, as well as an old U.S. teammate of hers, but she didn’t want to derail the kid’s elation with questions. Instead, she just pulled Scottie closer to her.

“I- well, you’ll be walking out with me, yeah,” Christen replied, not wanting to accept the ‘favorite player’ comment completely. 

“Mommy,” Scottie said, tugging on Tobin’s sleeve to pull her down to the same level. Tobin obliged, letting Scottie whisper softly in her ear, an easy smile slipping onto her lips at whatever Scottie had asked. 

“I think we can do that,” Tobin nodded, smirking at Christen’s confused expression. 

Christen narrowed her eyes in suspicion as she looked between Tobin and Scottie. “What?” she asked with a small chuckle. 

“It’s a secret. You’ll see tomorrow!” Scottie sing-songed. 

Christen just shook her head and took a sip of coffee, a smile still on her face. As she looked between Tobin and Scottie, letting her eyes linger and hold with Tobin’s, she found that she was maybe just as excited for the game as she was for whatever secret the Heath girls were planning.

Scottie was already parading around in her PRESS jersey that she’d begged Tobin to buy her before the game. Tobin had called in a favor from Abby, who still had the pull to request jerseys from Gotham. Now, though, she wished she hadn’t gotten it, since Glennon and Abby had begun to give her shit as soon as Scottie had run through the door in the black jersey. 

“Dude, you blushed? That’s lame,” Abby snorted, sipping her beer with a shit-eating grin on her face.

“I didn’t blush. The weather’s been warm lately, and I was flushed from being outside,” Tobin grumbled. 

“That lie was even lamer,” Abby replied.

“Fine, it was a slight blush, but have you seen her?” Tobin huffed. 

Abby slid her eyes over to her wife who sat by her side. Glennon also looked at Abby, and the two burst out laughing. 

“We’re married, not blind,” Glennon said, leaning her head against Abby’s shoulder.

“Right?! She’s hot and clearly into women since I saw a dozen pictures of her with women in clubs,” Tobin sighed, running a hand through her hair. 

“Fucking reporters,” Abby grumbled, her hand tightening around her beer. “They should just leave her alone.”

“I’m sure it’s obnoxious,” Tobin nodded, taking a sip of her cider. 

“It’s intrusive and rude,” Abby corrected, her face hardening. “Nobody deserves their privacy invaded like that, especially her.”

“What do you mean, especially her?” Tobin asked, her brow furrowing a little at the way Abby was talking so protectively. 

Abby hesitated. “Um, she’s had a rough six months. She just came back to Gotham four weeks ago.” 

“What happened?” Tobin asked, her curiosity getting the best of her. 

Glennon dropped a hand to Abby’s knee and squeezed it gently. Abby took a deep breath.

“Hard to say. Nobody really knows,” Abby shrugged. “It was enough for her to pull back from soccer and spend her days in the tabloids and nights in seedy bars or clubs. I tried reaching out to her a few times, but…”

Tobin nodded softly, wondering what had hurt Christen enough to leave Gotham and avoid her teammates. She suddenly felt extremely guilty for racing into Glennon’s office and judging Christen because of a few pictures in tabloids and videos on the internet. Christen didn’t deserve that, especially not from Tobin, especially not when she was treating Scottie with so much love and care. She deserved respect and privacy, and Tobin promised herself at that moment, at Glennon and Abby’s dining table, that she’d give her that. 

Christen had expected some nerves for her first game back in the Gotham jersey. She’d expected the fluttering inside her chest and stomach, the slight clamminess of her palms. She’d expected nerves, she hadn’t expected to feel like this.

Christen forced herself to take deep breaths as she crouched down in the furthest stall in the locker room bathroom.

This wasn’t just her first game back at Gotham, this was her first game back since...everything had happened. She thought she’d be ready. She’d had a month to prepare for it, a month of hard trainings and long fitness sessions and meetings with Amanda. But right now, leaning against the cool tile of the bathroom wall, she didn’t feel prepared. She didn’t feel prepared because her parents weren’t going to be watching and she had no idea if she could handle that.

“Hey, you good?” Kelley asked, knocking softly on the stall door. 

“Yeah, I just need a sec,” Christen sighed, pressing the heels of her hands against her burning eyes, her hands trembling slightly.

“The kids are going to be here in a few minutes,” Kelley murmured, wishing she could open the stall door and take her best friend into her arms. 

“I said I just need a sec!” Christen snapped, immediately regretting her hard words and harsh tone.

“Okay, I got it,” Kelley said, stepping away from the stall and leaning over one of the sinks. 

“Kel...I’m sorry. Will you- will you have Scottie wait for me at my locker?” Christen asked, taking a deep breath. She needed to get it together. She needed to put a smile on her face and pretend like everything was okay. She didn’t just have a team counting on her, she had a little girl waiting for her to show up and be her favorite player as well.

“Sure,” Kelley sighed, leaving the bathroom and stepping into the locker room again, the music loud but not quite as explicit as it usually was. 

“Coach Kelley!” Scottie said, skipping into the locker room behind a few other ball girls. 

“Hey, Mini Tar Heel!” Kelley greeted, bending down to give Scottie a high-five.

“Where’s Coach Christen?” Scottie asked, practically vibrating with the excitement she felt to show Christen her new jersey. 

“She’s just finishing getting ready. Why don’t you come check out her locker with me?” Kelley offered after giving the other ball girls high-fives as well.

“Okay!” Scottie said, following after Kelley and climbing into Christen’s padded chair as soon as she got to the locker. 

“Is that Scottie Heath?!” Morgan Brian called from across the locker room. 

“Auntie Moe Moe!” Scottie shrieked, jumping off of Christen’s chair and sprinting over to Morgan.

“Who?” Kelley asked, turning around to look at Morgan. 

“This little peanut right here is the best Go Fish player I’ve ever met!” Morgan said, pressing a kiss to Scottie’s cheek. 

“Auntie Moe Moe taught me how to play!” Scottie grinned, holding tightly to Morgan’s waist. 

“Her mom is one of my old teammates,” Morgan explained, winking down at Scottie.

“You know Tobin?” Christen called out, walking into the locker room as she twisted her hair up into a bun. She shot Scottie a small wink.

“Coach Christen!” Scottie beamed, squirming out of Morgan’s arms and hurrying across the room to give Christen a hug. 

“I do know Tobito, and you seem to know my favorite almost 8-year-old!” Morgan laughed, dropping back down into her chair to chat with the girl who would be walking out with her for the game.

Christen prepared herself for impact and then wrapped her arms loosely around Scottie when her small body collided with her own. She blew out a short breath as she tried to maintain her grasp on whatever semblance of composure she’d found in the bathroom a few moments ago. It was all threatening to come undone with the force of the hug.

“Your uniform is so cool,” Scottie gushed, squeezing Christen’s waist. 

“Not as cool as your jersey,” Christen replied, pulling back a bit and nodding down at the black Gotham FC jersey Scottie was sporting, which matched the black snapback on her head and the black Nikes on her feet.

“Mommy got it for me,” Scottie said, letting go of Christen and turning around to show her the number 23 and PRESS on the back. 

“Of course she did,” Kelley mumbled with a teasing smile on her face.

Christen took in her last name and number on the back of the jersey and felt her chest warm at the sight. 

“You rock that,” Christen grinned, sitting down in her locker chair.

“I slept in it last night, so you should have a lucky game. Mommy told me she used to sleep in her jersey before big games,” Scottie hummed, reaching out and taking Christen’s hand in her own. 

God, this kid. Christen felt her throat tighten, her composure failing with every innocent smile and sweet word that Scottie sent her way. But with every smile and word, Scottie was also helping that ball of guilt and grief in her chest loosen just a bit. It had Christen scrambling for solid ground.

“Thank you for doing that. But you’re walking out with me; that’s the best good luck charm ever,” Christen replied, squeezing Scottie’s hand in her own.

“Speaking of, it’s time to go,” Kelley said, knocking her shoulder into Christen’s and nodding at where Becky, Morgan, and the rest of the starters were heading for the tunnel with the ball girls by their sides.

Christen nodded and reached back into her locker. She grabbed a roll of tape and a Sharpie. 

“Can I have my hand back super quick?” she asked Scottie.

“Sorry,” Scottie said, blushing a little and pulling her hand away from Christen’s. 

“No need to be sorry. Will you rip this for me?” Christen said, wrapping the tape around her left wrist and then holding it up for Scottie.

Scottie narrowed her eyes and stuck her tongue out in concentration, ripping the tape as evenly as she could. 

“Great job,” Christen grinned, dropping the tape back into her locker and uncapping the Sharpie. She began to write on the tape encircling her wrist.

“Did you hurt your wrist?” Scottie asked, never having seen her mom or her mom’s friends do that before a game. 

“No, I just- I started doing this about a month ago. It reminds me of why I’m playing. Why I’m here,” Christen replied, lifting her wrist and showing Scottie the 11-16-2020 written on the tape. She hoped Scottie wouldn’t ask too many questions, wouldn’t wonder about the date or the meaning behind it. She didn’t think she’d be able to keep it together if she started talking about that right before they walked out onto the field.

“Mommy reminds me about why I play before games too,” Scottie said softly, recognizing the seriousness in Christen’s voice. 

“Why do you?” Christen asked, waving off Kelley who beckoned them both over. She stayed rooted in the moment with Scottie, not letting anyone hurry them along.

Scottie stepped forward to where Christen was sitting in her chair and lifted both of her hands to cup Christen’s face. Christen blinked just a little and resisted the urge to pull away. She forced herself to stay put, to feel the broken bits of her heart fusing together even more at the gentle touch on her cheeks.

“Mommy does this before my games. She says we play to have fun and we play to feel free and we play because it’s easier than breathing,” Scottie grinned. “She’s silly like that sometimes,” she added with a shrug. 

Christen lifted her hands to cover Scottie’s hands on her cheeks, the image of the girl in front of her blurring just a bit as tears swam in her eyes. 

“Those are, um- those are great reasons to play,” Christen managed. She cleared her throat and forced a small smile onto her face. “I’ll try to keep those with me today. You ready to walk out there?”

“Yes,” Scottie nodded, taking her hands away from Christen’s face and stepping away. Christen snagged Scottie’s hand and walked them over to the back of the line, surreptitiously wiping at the corners of her eyes to rid them of the few tears that had gathered there.

“Pressy,” Kelley whispered, turning around to grin at Christen. 

“Yeah?” Christen whispered back, thankful Scottie was distracted with talking to the ball girl holding Kelley’s hand.

“I have great news!” Kelley grinned. 

“...What is it?” Christen asked, already cringing at the eagerness she could hear in Kelley’s voice.

“Guess who’s in the box right now with Tar Heel?” Kelley said, her voice quiet but bursting with excitement. 

“If you say Sonny’s up there, I’m revoking your title as my best friend,” Christen replied, her cheeks filling with a small blush at the mention of Tobin’s name.

“Emily’s gonna get the scoop for you! She’s gonna find out if Tar Heel’s single,” Kelley defended. 

Christen narrowed her eyes. “If Sonny so much as speaks to her-”

“She’s sitting by her,” Kelley smirked. “Operation get Pressy a MILF is in the works.”

Christen bit back the urge to drop a few expletives and felt her blush deepen. She was now extremely grateful that Scottie was distracted by her own conversation.

“So, how old are you?” Emily Sonnett asked, leaning back in her seat and eying Tobin carefully. 

“Uh...28, almost 29,” Tobin mumbled, not sure why this Emily Sonnett who she'd met moments ago was so chatty. 

“And how old is that cute kid of yours?” Emily continued, sipping whatever alcoholic fruity drink the VIP box was serving this afternoon.

“She’s seven. She’ll be eight in July,” Tobin said, watching Gotham’s team walk out onto the field and grinning when she saw Scottie stand in front of Christen. 

“Hmm...interesting,” Emily replied, turning her attention to the field. She held her fingers up to her lips and let out a long whistle. “YAS KELLEY!” she yelled down to the field, ignoring the annoyed looks she got from the other people in the box.

Tobin chuckled a bit and then turned to snap a few pictures of Scottie with her camera. She’d brought her longer lens to get a good picture from the box and loved that she could see the toothy grin on Scottie’s face through the viewfinder. 

She watched as Christen bent down and lowered her head right next to Scottie’s. She got Scottie’s attention by squeezing her shoulders and then pointed up into the stands, right to where Tobin was sitting in the box. Christen and Scottie both smiled and waved. 

Tobin’s smile grew, and she snapped a few photos, her heart fluttering without permission. There was no denying that seeing Christen being sweet to Scottie made her even more attractive, made her even harder to ignore. Tobin swallowed thickly, trying to dispel that thought. She couldn’t even think thoughts like that. Scottie came first, and Christen was Scottie’s idol right now. 

“You married, Tobin Heath?” Emily interrupted, smirking into her drink at the interaction she’d just witnessed between the woman sitting next to her and Christen.

“Excuse me?” Tobin asked, lowering her camera. 

“Can’t a girl inquire about her new acquaintance’s marital status?” Emily shrugged.

“I’m not,” Tobin said, holding her left hand up in the air before she looked back down at the field. 

“Interesting,” Emily said again, pursing her lips.

“Are you writing an article or something?” Tobin asked, huffing at Emily’s second use of the word interesting. 

“Nope, I just ask inappropriate questions at inappropriate times,” Emily grinned, practically bouncing in her seat as the players on the field walked the ball girls over to the sidelines and prepared to take the field.

“Cute, I see why Kelley likes you,” Tobin said, a bit of sarcasm in her voice. 

“She what?” Emily asked, whipping her head around, her brow furrowing.

“Oh, shit,” Tobin mumbled. 

“We’re just friends,” Emily said quickly, a little too quickly.

“Yeah, that’s what I meant. She likes you as a friend,” Tobin shrugged. 

“Good. Great. Solid,” Emily replied, taking a long gulp of her drink.

“Are you married, Emily?” Tobin asked, trying to give her new acquaintance a taste of her own medicine. 

Emily choked on her drink and laughed long and hard. She clapped Tobin on the back as she continued to laugh. 

“Oh fuck no. Marriage is not for me,” Emily replied. 

“It has its perks,” Glennon called out, joining Tobin and Emily in the front row of the VIP box. Abby followed close behind, carrying two plates of food and two beers, all of it precariously held in her arms.

“Hey, Glennon,” Tobin smiled, happy that her friends were going to save her from the inquisition Emily seemed bound and determined to put her through. 

“GlenGlen, Abbster, a pleasure as always,” Emily greeted, tipping her nonexistent hat at the two of them.

“Is one of those plates for me, Abby?” Tobin asked, grinning at her friends. 

Glennon took a plate and a beer from Abby’s hands. “Get your own wife,” Glennon teased, raising her beer in Tobin’s direction and taking a sip.

“Been there, done that,” Tobin grumbled, focusing her attention onto the field again. 

Emily choked on her drink again, her eyes widening in surprise. 

“Nice one, babe,” Abby rolled her eyes, settling down next to Glennon. 

“What? Was that inaccurate?” Glennon shrugged, diving into her nachos. “Tobin was married. Who gives a shit? That woman was the devil incarnate anyway.”

“I feel like I stumbled into a reality TV show,” Emily whispered, reaching around Tobin and snagging a chip from Glennon’s plate. 

Glennon slapped Emily’s hand away. “You can get your own, too, Sonny,” she retorted.

Emily pouted and pulled her hand back. “So rude, GlenGlen.”

Tobin quickly dissociated from this conversation, scanning the field, watching as the game got started. She spotted Scottie behind the Orlando net, a ball held in her hands. She then found Morgan and Christen easily, her eyes resting a little longer on Christen than they probably should have before she set about to actually watch the game. 

It was easier to watch the game than it was to listen to her friends and Emily or think about ‘the devil incarnate’ she’d been married to. 

Her legs were gassed and her lungs were burning, but Christen had never felt so good on the pitch before. 

Her team was up 4-1 with nine minutes left on the clock, and Christen had scored one of their goals. It wasn’t her prettiest. She’d gotten a toe on the ball during a scrum in the eighteen-yard box after a corner kick and managed to send it into the back of the net, but she’d take it. It was her first goal back and she swore she could hear Scottie’s cheering over the roar of the crowd. 

Christen looked behind Orlando’s net and saw Scottie sitting next to the ball, her wide eyes trained on the field. She looked like she was trying to solve the world’s most complicated problem. Her forehead was creased and her tongue was poking out of the corner of her mouth as she watched the ball move around the field. Christen couldn’t remember having that level of focus on the game at that young of an age.

Christen was quickly brought out of her thoughts by Morgan’s voice drifting across the field to her. 

“Pressy, in behind!”

Christen whipped her head around and saw Morgan dribbling up the middle of the field. Knowing that Orlando’s back four was playing far too high, Christen pulled off the outside back and waited for Morgan to play the ball. 

It was a beautifully chipped pass in behind the defense, an easy ball for Christen to sprint on to. With a quick move to juke out the goalkeeper, Christen slotted the ball home for her second goal of the night. 

The stadium erupted in cheers, but again, one person’s cheers seemed to break through all of that. So instead of spinning around to celebrate with her teammates, Christen ran over behind the goal, right to where Scottie was sitting on a chair. 

With a wink for the girl, Christen held out her hand in a fist bump, one Scottie eagerly gave to her. After sending her a quick smile, Christen turned back around and joined her teammates in the eighteen-yard box, celebrating the goal with hugs and pats on the back.

“Careful, the kids are gonna know who your favorite is,” Kelley teased, wrapping her arm around Christen’s shoulders. 

Christen just shrugged, not minding it one bit. Involuntarily, her eyes lifted to the box in the stands, the one where her favorite girl’s mom was sitting.

Watching from the box, Tobin’s heart was basically a melted, mushy puddle. She could see through her camera lens the giant smile on Scottie’s face, a smile that was all due to Christen Press. Tobin took a few pictures of Scottie, knowing that she’d likely print one of them to hang up in the house. This was a moment Scottie would never forget, and Tobin was not going to miss the opportunity to document it. 

“That was adorable,” Glennon whispered, resting her head against Tobin’s shoulder. 

“Look at her,” Tobin mumbled, showing Glennon the picture she’d just taken of Scottie’s blindingly bright smile. 

“That’s the Pressy I used to know,” Abby said with a soft smile, her eyes still stuck on the field.

“Well, that’s who Scottie knows,” Tobin said, keeping quiet so that only Glennon and Abby would hear her. 

“Just Scottie?” Glennon asked, winking at Tobin and then getting up. “I’m after another beer. Anyone need anything?”

“Nachos!” Emily said, sipping from her second beer. When Glennon shot her an annoyed look, though, Emily stood up from her seat and scrambled away to get her own nachos. 

Abby lovingly waved Glennon off, her eyes tracking the players as they moved around after the kick-off. Glennon pressed a kiss to the back of Abby’s head and walked off in search of nachos and beer, steering Emily in the right direction.

“You know,” Abby whispered, slipping into Glennon’s seat and leaning close to Tobin. “Glennon and I could invite Christen over for dinner sometime.”

“I’m sure she’d love to catch up with you,” Tobin said, trying to shut the idea down before Abby got too excited. 

“I meant we’d invite the both of you over,” Abby chuckled, not letting Tobin off the hook.

“I don’t know why you’d do that,” Tobin hummed. 

“You’ve got about a dozen pictures on that camera proving why,” Abby replied.

“A dinner isn’t going to make her see me as anything more than Scottie’s mom. I honestly don’t think ‘Chosen Family Dinner’ is her speed anyway,” Tobin mumbled dejectedly. 

“How would you know?” Abby shot back.

“No one my age wants to date someone with a kid,” Tobin muttered. 

“No one your age is like her. That much was true before whatever happened, and from what I can see today, it’s still true,” Abby replied thoughtfully. 

Tobin sighed and turned away from the field. She shot Abby a pained look. “I can’t take her from Scottie, and that’s what it would be like,” Tobin argued. 

Abby shook her head and clicked her tongue. “That sounds like some bullshit Roni would say.” 

“Roni left and broke Scottie’s heart. I can’t put her in that position again,” Tobin said, her voice a lot more unwavering at the mention of her ex-wife. 

“And I don’t want that for her either. Sorry, Heath. I didn’t mean to push,” Abby said with her hands held up in the air. She got up and went back to her chair, leaving the spot between them open for Glennon. 

Tobin let out another long sigh, not loving that she’d gotten frustrated at the friend who’d picked her up off the ground and helped her piece her tiny family back together after Roni had left. Abby deserved better than that, especially since she was only looking out for Tobin’s best interest. 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get upset,” Tobin said, reaching across the seat to lightly punch Abby’s arm. 

“You don’t ruffle my feathers, Heath. You never have,” Abby chuckled, patting Tobin’s hand. “Just trust your gut. If Glennon had believed no one our age wanted to date someone with kids, we never would have gotten together. I’m lucky she found me, but that doesn’t mean the same is true for you.”

“Glennon’s a rare breed,” Tobin grinned, loving her two best friends’ love for one another and for their kids. 

“That she is,” Abby sighed dreamily. “You just got to find yours now. And maybe that’s Christen and maybe it’s not. But you never know if you don’t try, dude.”

“Maybe when Scottie’s eighteen and playing for UNC or something,” Tobin laughed. 

“I don’t know...Christen might be swaying her toward Stanford. From what I hear, Christen is her favorite player,” Abby joked.

“Don’t you dare say that,” Tobin balked, her eyes widening at the thought of having to wear Stanford gear to Scottie’s college games. 

“Say what?” Emily mumbled through a full mouth of nachos. 

“Chew before you speak, Sonny,” Abby rolled her eyes, standing up to hold Glennon’s beer so she could settle in her chair without issue.

Tobin looked down at Christen again, her stomach doing another somersault like she was a teenager with a crush. She couldn’t deny that there was a sense of hopefulness she felt rise in her chest when she looked at Christen, especially when she watched Christen light up around Scottie. That being said, there was a sense of dread accompanying it as well. Whatever she decided, whatever Tobin chose to do about that hopeful flutter, could be horrible for Scottie and their tiny family that was functioning just as it was. 

“Can I have your jersey?” a teenage girl asked with a smile, her braces almost blinding in the stadium lights. 

Christen shook her head with a small smile. “It’s promised to someone else, sorry. How about a shin guard?” she asked with a laugh.

“OMG yes please!”

Christen’s laughter grew as she took her shinguard out from her sock and tossed it up to the girl in the stands. She finished signing a few more autographs and then made her way off the field and through the tunnel that led to the locker room. She’d asked one of the team managers to help Scottie find Tobin after the game, and then bring them both back to the locker room. She just hoped they’d be there, or else she gave away her shin guard for no reason.

“Coach Christen! Your goals were perfect!” Scottie called, practically dancing in place with Tobin’s arms around her shoulders, keeping her from running down the tunnel toward Christen. 

Christen let out a smile of relief when she saw Scottie and Tobin waiting behind the rope that kept the crowd from wandering to the locker room after games. She approached, nodding at the elderly security guard.

“You can let these two through,” Christen said, smiling at Elmer.

“Yes, Ms. Press,” Elmer replied dutifully, retracting the rope and letting Scottie and Tobin through. 

“It’s still just Christen,” Christen corrected with a soft smile, leading Tobin and Scottie down toward the locker room with a jerk of her head. Once they’d walked away from Elmer and his post, she crouched down in front of Scottie.

“I think you can call me Christen now too, kid. You gave me good luck, so we can drop that Coach thing,” Christen grinned.

“Cool,” Scottie mumbled, burying the side of her face in Tobin’s stomach. 

Christen scrunched her nose at the adorable response and then stood back up, smiling a bit shyly at Tobin and trying desperately not to let the beach waves and the snapback on her head that matched Scottie’s affect her.

“That was a great game,” Tobin said, offering an easy smile. She glanced down at Scottie’s face, her adoration for Christen easy to see. 

“Thanks. Did you have fun? I might have heard Sonny was going to be up there. I hope she didn’t bother you too much,” Christen said with a sheepish grimace.

“She was very curious,” Tobin chuckled, shaking her head a little at the personal questions Emily had asked. 

“But you had fun?” Christen repeated, her eyebrows lifting just a little with the question.

“I did!” Tobin nodded, maybe a little too quickly. “I haven’t been to a game in a while, and this was a great one to break that hiatus with. You played really well.”

Christen felt herself get a little lost in Tobin’s eyes for a second and had to shake herself out of it. She retreated to what she always did when Tobin stirred something within her, something she wasn’t ready to acknowledge. She retreated to Scottie.

“Scottie, I’ve got a question for you,” Christen said with a small smile, pointedly ignoring looking back up at Tobin, stopping herself from looking back up at those brown eyes that threatened to see too much of her.

“What’s that?” Scottie asked, tilting her head a little, the same way Tobin did when she was curious about something. 

“I know how much you love the jersey you’re wearing right now...but would you maybe want another one?” Christen asked, her smile growing.

Scottie’s mouth flopped open in delighted surprise. She looked up at Christen with wide eyes and a slow-building smile. 

“Are you serious?” Scottie asked, her voice reverent like a superhero was taking off her cape and giving it to her, which in a way, she was. 

Without giving it much thought, Christen dropped her hands to the hem of the jersey and pulled it over her head. It was a little sweaty and had a few grass stains, but it was a game-worn jersey and she was dying for Scottie to have it. She didn’t linger on why she wanted Scottie to have it, not letting herself unpack those complicated feelings. Instead, she just held out the jersey for Scottie to take.

“What do you say?” Tobin hummed, keeping her eyes on Scottie and hoping that it would hide her flushing cheeks. 

“Thank you, Coac- I mean, Christen!” Scottie chirped. 

Christen beamed at Scottie. “You’re welcome, kid. You did me a solid before the game, so this was the least I could do.” Christen resisted the urge to wrap her arms around her stomach, trying not to think too hard about the fact that she was standing in just her game shorts and a sports bra in front of Tobin.

“Mommy,” Scottie said, waving Tobin down to her height. She whispered into Tobin’s ear softly, glancing up at Christen every few seconds. 

“She’s probably tired after playing,” Tobin mumbled.  

She’s standing right here, so you could just ask her,” Christen replied with a chuckle, dropping her hands to her hips.

“Why don’t you ask her,” Tobin laughed, shaking her head at Christen’s teasing. 

“Will you come to our place with us?” Scottie asked, her bottom lip already poking out a little for her signature pout. 

Christen hesitated, her eyes moving from Scottie up to meet Tobin’s. She knew her face was full of questions, her confusion evident. 

“She doesn’t mean our house,” Tobin blurted out, her blush darkening, especially at the way she’d accidentally let her eyes travel over Christen’s abs. 

Christen was still a little confused and very distracted by the pretty blush in Tobin’s cheeks.

“It’s our restaurant!” Scottie grinned. “Mommy and I get dinner there a lot, and Gio lets me help him fold napkins.”

“Wow, that’s so cool,” Christen replied, preparing herself to turn down the dinner offer. She shouldn’t go out to eat with them. Outside of the world of soccer, outside of stadiums and trainings and fields, she wasn’t Christen Press, the soccer player anymore. She was Christen Press, resident of a current downward spiral and certifiable wreck. She shouldn’t go to dinner and run the risk of disappointing Scottie and Tobin with that. “But-” she tried to say, ready to let Scottie down easily, but Scottie interrupted her.

“We can get pasta and sometimes if I ask nicely enough, Mommy lets me eat Tiramisu, and I’d totally share with you if you wanted some,” Scottie continued, not taking the hint that Christen might not want to go. 

Christen felt her resolve slipping away the more Scottie talked and the more her pout grew. “Umm…” Christen trailed off, feeling every excuse on the tip of her tongue but unable to voice a single one.

“You can say no,” Tobin said, offering Christen a look that said ‘I’m sorry.’ “Scottie, you shouldn’t beg people to do things,” Tobin whispered, straightening the snapback on Scottie’s head. 

“I’m not saying no,” Christen replied quickly, surprising even herself. “I just, I need to change and get this grass and mud off of me super quick. Is that okay?”

“Of course!” Scottie smiled. “We can wait.”

“We can wait,” Tobin nodded, taking Scottie’s hand in her own. 

Christen let her eyes hold Tobin’s for a moment longer than maybe she should, feeling her fractured heart start to quicken in her chest. 

“I’ll be quick,” Christen replied, offering Scottie and then Tobin one more smile before turning back to the locker room, wondering what the hell she’d just gotten herself into. 

Chapter Text

We can talk for hours

And the line is still engaged

We're not getting any closer

You're too many miles away

And I might as well be talking backwards

Am I making any sense to you?

And the only thing that really matters

Is the one thing I can't seem to do

When the night was over

And the field was lit up bright

And I walked home with you

Nothing I said came out right

And I might as well be talking backwards

Am I making any sense to you?

And the only thing that really matters

Is the one thing I can't seem to do

(Tobin - “Talking Backwards” by Real Estate)


All of these lines across my face

Tell you the story of who I am

So many stories of where I've been

And how I got to where I am

But these stories don't mean anything

When you've got no one to tell them to, it's true

I was made for you

You see the smile that's on my mouth

It's hiding the words that don't come out

And all of our friends who think that I'm blessed

They don't know my head is a mess

No, they don't know who I really am

And they don't know what I've been through like you do

And I was made for you

(Christen - “The Story” by Brandi Carlisle)


Tobin could feel herself starting to panic, pacing back and forth at the entrance to the stadium. She’d never taken someone to the restaurant she and Scottie called their place, not even Glennon and Abby. 

Christen was beautiful and untethered and talented, and Tobin suddenly felt very aware that her shirt had a purple stain on the hem from where Scottie had accidentally bumped into her with a popsicle that afternoon. She didn’t feel confident or at ease. She felt like Christen was completely out of her league, and she was crossing a line that she couldn’t cross. 

“Do you have a painting to finish?” Scottie asked, cocking her head to the side curiously as she watched her mom pace.

“What?” Tobin asked, stopping her pacing and looking at where Scottie was standing. 

“You always do that when you’re stressed and have work to finish,” Scottie shrugged, holding Christen’s jersey around her neck like a cape.

“Sorry,” Tobin mumbled. “I’m just thinking really hard.”

“What about?” Scottie wondered, bouncing from foot to foot.

“About a painting,” Tobin lied. “What are you thinking about?” 

“Tiramisu,” Scottie giggled.

“Sounds like we better get going soon then,” Tobin grinned. 

Christen gave herself another glance in the mirror on the locker room wall, sighing at the tired look in her eyes and the less-than-stellar outfit she’d worn to the stadium today.

“Ready to go?” Kelley asked, pulling her t-shirt over her head. 

“ go ahead,” Christen replied, tucking the short-sleeve henley shirt into the front of her casual blue jeans, trying to see if a nice French tuck would elevate the outfit. 

“I gave you a ride here. We were gonna go get food with Emily. Where are you going?” Kelley asked, her eyes narrowing in Christen’s direction. 

“Out,” Christen replied casually, pulling the shirt out of the jeans and walking back over to her locker. 

“With whom?” Kelley pried, following closely behind Christen. 

Christen leveled Kelley with a look, sliding her feet into her Converse and grabbing her purse. She wasn’t going to dignify that with a response, not when the knowing look in Kelley’s eye said she already knew exactly who Christen was going out with.

Kelley gasped, reaching out and grabbing Christen’s hand. “You’re totally going out with Scottie and Tobin. I forgive you for ditching Emily and me now.”

“Like you two wouldn’t have ditched me at some point to go ‘be just friends’ back at your place,” Christen teased, choosing to focus on the Emily part and not the first part, the part about going out with Scottie and Tobin.

“I’m really happy for you,” Kelley said, a small smile creeping onto her face. 

“There’s nothing to be happy about. I’m just getting dinner with them. It’s not a big deal,” Christen shrugged, sliding her purse over her shoulder.

“It is. And Emily gave me the details. She’s 28 and single,” Kelley smirked. 

“Tell I say thanks,” Christen deadpanned.

“She was married too,” Kelley mumbled. 

Christen cleared her throat and stuck her hands into her pockets. “Of course she was married, probably to that Glenny person who hosted family dinners,” Christen thought.

“ be more specific, Emily said she had a wife at some point, but apparently Glennon called her the devil,” Kelley said, trying to remember all the details Emily had given her after the game. 

“ mean the Academy director? She knows Tobin?” Christen asked, her brow furrowing and brain racing to catch up. She was already piecing things together, making mental leaps to tie this Glenny character to Glennon.

“Yeah, apparently Tobin’s really close to Abby and Glennon,” Kelley shrugged, swinging her bag over her shoulder. “Like going over to their house regularly for ‘family dinner’ close.”

Christen felt a small relieved, chuckle leave her lips. She felt silly for not having put two and two together. She knew Abby and Glennon, she just hadn’t known that they knew Tobin. 

So Tobin was single, definitely not dating, currently married, or divorced from Glenny, aka Glennon, and the family dinners were with Glennon and Abby. Not that all of that meant anything. Not that it mattered that Tobin was single and available. Christen wasn’t allowed to be interested in Tobin like that. Christen was just curious...just curious.

“You totally have a shot,” Kelley winked. 

Christen held up a hand and shook her head. “Stop, Kel.”

“I’m just saying, you’ve won the kid over which is half the battle,” Kelley pushed. 

“And I’m just saying to lay off. It’s not like that. It can’t be,” Christen replied, her voice tightening just a bit. “I’m going to dinner because Scottie asked. That’s all. It can’t be anything more than that.” The "I can’t be anything more than that"  lingered in the air between them.

“Christen, you deserve good people like them,” Kelley whispered. 

Christen felt her jaw click shut. “I’ll see you tomorrow for recovery,” she said quietly, pushing by Kelley and ignoring the voice inside of her that screamed that Kelley was lying, that she didn’t deserve good people like them. 

Christen weaved through the hallways that lead out of the locker room, through the stadium, and then walked out of the player’s gate. She spotted Tobin and Scottie standing near the stadium entrance and felt herself relax just a bit at the sight of them. With a small smile, she approached, running her hands over the wrinkles in her shirt that had come from her throwing it into her locker carelessly before the game.

“You look really pretty,” Scottie said, looking at Christen out of soccer gear for the first time. 

“Not as pretty as you,” Christen winked, tapping the brim of Scottie’s snapback playfully.

“Is your car here? You can follow us or-” Tobin started. 

“Kel actually drove me here so...I can just Uber and meet you wherever it is we’re going,” Christen shrugged, fiddling with the strap of her purse.

“You don’t need to Uber,” Tobin grinned, noticing that Christen’s nerves seemed to match her own. 

“You can ride in The Kraken,” Scottie giggled. 

“The what now?” Christen huffed, laughing a little.

“She calls the car The Kraken,” Tobin sighed, already starting to lead the way to the Audi. “I have no idea why.”

Scottie slipped her hand into Christen’s and beamed up at her. Christen felt herself smiling back, her words slipping from her lips without thought. 

“Growing up I called my family car the Golden Chariot. It was an ugly, beat-up gold minivan. But that thing could make it from school to soccer in ten minutes flat with my Dad driving,” Christen admitted, a little surprised that she’d just willingly talked about that. 

She didn’t talk about her family, about her childhood, about anything that had to do with her personal life or her parents. But apparently that all went right out the window when it came to Scottie and Tobin.

“My parents had a really old, green Volkswagen Rabbit,” Tobin laughed. “It had no air conditioning, and road trips were miserable. But we still cried when it died for the final time.”

Christen cringed at the choice of words and quickly looked away from Tobin and down at Scottie. “What’s your favorite thing to get for dinner at this place?” she asked, praying the change in topic would grant her some reprieve from the sudden weight on her chest.

“Pasghetti and meatballs,” Scottie sighed wistfully. “Oh! And Tiramisu,” she added with a big smile. 

“Pasghetti is good,” Tobin nodded, unlocking the car and opening the back door for Scottie to climb into her booster seat. 

Christen hesitated nearby, not wanting to get in the way of the obviously well-practiced ritual of getting Scottie into the car and situated. 

“You can have shotgun,” Tobin said, looking over her shoulder at Christen. 

“Great,” Christen replied with a tight smile, waiting for Tobin to finish up with Scottie before moving to the passenger’s side door. She got settled in the passenger’s seat as Tobin got into the driver’s seat. Christen forced herself to take a few deep breaths, her eyes trained out the front windshield as she waited for the weight on her chest to alleviate.

“Mommy, can we listen to Frozen?” Scottie asked, making Tobin close her eyes and release a long breath as soon as she was buckled into her seat. Tobin knew every single word to the Frozen soundtrack but wished she didn’t.  

That adorable question and that tired sigh did the job. Christen’s chest felt lighter, and she stifled a laugh at Tobin’s reaction. “Wait...what’s Frozen?” Christen asked, feigning ignorance and turning around in her seat to look at Scottie. She forced her mouth into a frown, trying not to break.

“WHAT?!” Scottie gasped from the back seat, reaching forward to put her hands on Christen’s shoulders. 

Tobin looked over at Christen with an exhausted look, practically begging her not to encourage Scottie. She’d listen to literally anything else at this point. 

Christen caught Tobin’s pleading look and let a teasing smirk slide onto her face. “Is that the one with the green chameleon? Or wait, the one with the chicken?” she asked, her green eyes narrowing playfully.

“No, silly!” Scottie giggled. “That’s Tangled and Moana. Mommy, play it for her!” 

“Yeah, play it for me,” Christen laughed, turning back around in her seat. She winked at Scottie in the reflection of the rearview mirror.

Tobin couldn’t help the smile that crept onto her face. She secretly loved the teasing. She also not so secretly loved that Frozen made Scottie happy. 

Scottie sang the whole way, every single song. They’d had to listen to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” twice because Scottie didn’t think Christen got the full effect of it after just one listen. 

Only after making it through half of “Fixer Upper,” did they pull up in front of a three-story brick building. Tobin pressed a button on a remote in her car and pulled into the well-lit garage. She pulled the keys out of the ignition and opened her door, only hesitating when she didn’t see Christen move. 

“Oh, we’re just parking here,” Tobin said. 

“So technically, you did bring me to your place?” Christen said, her tone slightly teasing. “Unless we’re parking in the garage of someone else’s place?”

“Nope! This is our house!” Scottie said, unbuckling her own seatbelt and pushing her car door open, ready to slide out. 

“It’s hard to park in Little Italy,” Tobin shrugged, slipping from her seat and closing the door behind her.  

Christen got out of the car as well, trying not to gawk at the size of the garage.

“Can I show Christen our field?” Scottie begged, bouncing up and down on her feet. 

“You have a restaurant and a field?” Christen asked, arching a brow in Tobin’s direction.

“She calls it our restaurant, and it’s a tiny, turf field in the basement,” Tobin clarified. “I thought you were hungry and needed Tiramisu stat, little bit,” Tobin said to Scottie, nodding toward the street. 

“Oh yeah, I’m starving,” Scottie groaned dramatically. She grabbed ahold of Christen’s hand and yanked her toward the open garage door. “Let’s go, I know the way!”

Christen let herself be pulled to the street, turning back to marvel at the gorgeous building Tobin and Scottie called their home. She let out a low whistle, knowing that building definitely cost a pretty penny.

“Hold up, kid. We don’t want to lose Tobin,” Christen said, gently pulling Scottie to a stop near a tree on the sidewalk a few feet away from the garage.

Tobin finished closing the garage and pocketed her wallet and keys, jogging a little to catch up to Scottie and Christen. 

“I don’t know if you need Tiramisu,” Tobin teased. “You seem hyped up already.”

Scottie gasped, her wide, gray eyes trained on Tobin. Christen quickly swooped in, squeezing Scottie’s hand gently. 

“I was promised a chance to split a Tiramisu with Scottie here, so I hope she needs one,” Christen said, the corner of her mouth lifting up a bit.

“In that case,” Tobin sighed with a matching smile, grabbing Scottie’s other hand and walking toward the restaurant. 

The three of them made their way toward Little Italy, only stopping once they reached a small Italian restaurant with twinkly lights and a host waiting at the door. 

“Scottie!” the host called, kneeling down and opening his arms for her to run into. 

“Dommie!” Scottie replied, jumping into the host’s arms. 

Christen watched as not just the host, but every waiter, every busboy, and almost every other patron of the restaurant recognized both Scottie and Tobin, giving them enthusiastic and warm greetings. 

“You guys come here often?” Christen asked once they’d been seated at a small, round table in the back corner of the restaurant. The maroon tablecloth was soft and the small wicker basket of bread smelled heavenly.

“Almost every Saturday,” Scottie nodded. “Mommy painted Gio’s niece’s nursery, so now he gives us this table every weekend.”

“He sounds like a nice guy,” Christen commented, settling her napkin in her lap and fiddling with it slightly. She knew this wasn’t a date. This clearly wasn’t a date. But she was still a little nervous that they didn’t have soccer or the Frozen soundtrack to fill the space between the three of them.

“He’s the best!” Scottie cheered, slipping out of her seat and racing across the restaurant to where a chef had just stepped out of the kitchen to see Scottie. 

“She has a lot of fans,” Tobin mumbled, looking at a menu that she’d had memorized for the last few years. She couldn’t help that she felt jittery under Christen’s gaze, or that her hands felt clammy with Christen sitting across from her, even with Scottie acting as a sort of buffer. 

Christen just nodded and made a small, noncommittal noise, also dropping her attention to the menu in front of her, grateful for the distraction. She knew this wasn’t a good idea. Once soccer was off the table, she was just Christen Press, and she didn’t belong here. She didn’t belong sitting in this Mom and Pop Italian restaurant with a kind, gorgeous, fascinating woman and her incredible kid.

After a few beats of silence, Tobin cleared her throat softly. “Before Scottie, I used to stop here for sangrias,” Tobin said quietly, the corner of her mouth lifting into a small smile. “They’ll knock you on your ass really fast, so beware.”

“I’ve never met a drink that could do that before,” Christen chuckled, her eyes still on the menu. She winced slightly at the admission and avoided looking up at Tobin. “I mean, um, I just played a game. So I shouldn’t drink.”

“You can if you want,” Tobin said. “Sometimes I have a drink with dinner in front of Scottie.”

Christen shook her head, eyes drifting up to meet Tobin’s. “That’s okay. I’ll probably just stick with water.”

“Whatever you want. I’m buying,” Tobin replied, looking over to where Scottie was waiting by the kitchen door for Gio to come out with something. 

“I’m racking up quite the debt. With the coffees, and now dinner,” Christen observed.

“Gio never charges full price,” Tobin shrugged. “Plus, you played a good game,” she added, shooting Christen her signature lopsided grin.

“What happened? An hour ago it was a great game,” Christen teased, relaxing back in her seat a bit at the sight of the easy smile on Tobin’s face. She sank into the rapport that existed between them, not letting herself think too hard on anything. Especially not at the way her heart was responding to Tobin sitting across from her, to the look of the candlelight playing off the sharp line of her jaw and lighting up her brown eyes.

Tobin’s smile grew even more at Christen’s playful teasing. She closed her menu and matched Christen’s body language. She was immediately distracted by Christen’s deep, green eyes and soft smile. She’d never sat across from a woman this beautiful, and suddenly she felt like she was on a date, praying that Christen would stay past drinks. “I guess Frozen beat it out of me.”

“I forgot how painful some of those songs were,” Christen laughed. “Reindeers are Better Than People? Like, come on!”

“It doesn’t help that Scottie didn’t really inherit any good singing talent,” Tobin chuckled. “She makes up for it with her passion, though.”

“Can you not sing?” Christen wondered, her curiosity around how Scottie came into Tobin’s life getting the better of her. A few comments Tobin had made here and there had piqued her curiosity, and she found herself unable to deny it now.

“Well, no, but I didn’t give birth to her,” Tobin said, having not realized that Christen assumed Scottie was biologically hers. Most people took one look and asked her who Scottie belonged to. 

“Oh, you two are so alike, though,” Christen said, her nose wrinkling slightly in confusion as she filed away this bit of information as well.

“You’re the first person to think so,” Tobin sighed. “Most people think I’m her nanny.”

“You smile the same,” Christen observed, fighting off a slight blush. She cleared her throat and scratched at the corner of her jaw. “And your laughs are...identical. But I didn’t exactly figure that out until the second practice, because I didn’t get a smile or laugh out of you that first day,” she added.

“Yeah, that wasn’t the best first impression,” Tobin cringed. 

“Mine either. I am sorry, for what it’s worth,” Christen said quietly.

“Me too,” Tobin chuckled. “For spilling your coffee and yelling at you.”

Christen grabbed her water glass from the table and held it up. “To better second impressions...or tenth, whatever number we’ve hit now,” she said with a shy smile.

“Absolutely,” Tobin echoed, lifting her glass to cheers Christen’s. 

“Ta-da!” Scottie said, placing a plate of garlic bread in the middle of the table. 

“Did you ask Christen if she likes garlic bread before ordering it?” Tobin asked, unable to hide the smile on her face. 

“Who doesn’t like garlic bread?” Scottie huffed, a piece of bread midair and on its way to her mouth. 

“I’m allergic to garlic,” Christen said seriously, biting back a smile.

“Oh my god,” Tobin muttered under breath, pulling the plate away from Christen and closer to Scottie. 

“That’s sadder than the puppy commercial,” Scottie whispered to Tobin. 

Christen shook her head with a small laugh, grabbing a piece of garlic bread. “I’m teasing you, kid. I love garlic bread. I love garlic. Garlic on everything please!” she said, taking a big bite of the bread and almost moaning at how stinking good it was.

“It’s the best garlic bread in New York,” Scottie gushed, finally shoving her piece into her mouth. 

With a nod, Christen scarfed down her first piece and itched to reach out and grab a second one. It was just so buttery and garlicky and amazing. All she wanted to eat was this garlic bread for dinner. 

When Scottie giggled at her and looked away quickly, Christen narrowed her eyes playfully. “What?” she asked, lifting her napkin and wiping it against her bottom lip and around her mouth. “Did I get some of the best garlic bread in New York on my face?”

Scottie reached out and swiped her thumb along the corner of Christen’s mouth. “Don’t worry. I got it,” she said softly, wiping her hands on her napkin. 

Christen felt her chest tighten at the gesture, almost painfully so. She smiled weakly over at Scottie and finished wiping her mouth with her napkin before quickly pushing back her chair. 

“I’ll be right back,” Christen offered, avoiding Tobin’s questioning gaze as she retreated away from their table and to the small bathroom near the kitchen. She locked herself in the tiny room and walked to the sink. She tossed some cool water against her face and breathed deeply. 

“What the hell am I doing?” Christen muttered to herself, shaking her head slightly, the water droplets dripping from her chin and her nose into the sink below her. 

The way Scottie had done that, it felt too familiar. Like something a kid would do for their mom. 

It was something she’d done whenever her mom had gotten a bit of brownie batter on her chin or buttercream icing on her lip. It was a painful reminder that whatever she was doing, whatever this dinner was, it was more than just her and Tobin involved. There was Scottie too. Scottie, who looked at her like she hung the fucking moon and stars in the sky. Scottie who had already wormed her way into her fractured, tangled, tortured heart. Scottie who already mattered far too much to her. 

Whatever was going on, she had to remain objective. She couldn’t give in to the easy banter and the lopsided grin and the warm brown eyes that threatened to look right inside of her and see her for everything she wasn’t. 

As Christen patted her face with a towel, she decided to relax and have fun, but remember that nothing more than friendship could ever exist between her and Tobin. That she would never be more than Scottie’s coach, or a friend of her mom’s. Tobin deserved better than her and the amount of baggage she was carrying. So did Scottie.

Back at the table, Tobin took a bite of one of the pieces of garlic bread, trying to listen to Scottie recounting one of Christen’s goals. She tried to let Scottie’s sweet voice relax her and stop her from thinking about the woman who’d just fled the dinner table, looking like a deer in the headlights. She couldn’t help the self-deprecating thought that slipped into her mind: “At least this time you made it to the appetizer.” 

But this wasn’t a date, and Christen wasn’t someone she could go out with or think about as more than a friend, as more than Scottie’s role model. She just had to convince her fluttering heart to believe what the logical part of her brain was screaming at her. 

“Mommy, are you listening?” Scottie asked, her face covered in buttery garlic. 

“Yes, buddy. I’m listening,” Tobin whispered, taking her own napkin and wiping Scottie’s face. 

“Sorry about that. What’d I miss?” Christen asked with a smile, sitting back down at the table and putting her napkin in her lap once more. 

“Mommy was pretending to listen to me,” Scottie teased. 

“That’s grounds for no Tiramisu!” Christen replied in mock offense.

“Woah, woah, woah!” Tobin defended, holding her hands up in surrender. “Let’s not be rash here.”

“I don’t know...Scottie, what do you think? Does she deserve it?” Christen asked.

“I can forgive her, I guess,” Scottie grinned. “Especially this week.”

“This week?” Christen asked, her brow furrowing slightly.

“Tomorrow’s Mommy’s birthday, so I have to be extra sweet this week. It’s the rules,” Scottie said. 

“It’s your birthday?” Christen asked, turning her attention to Tobin. She added that information to her ever-growing file on all things Tobin and Scottie Heath.

“Tomorrow,” Tobin shrugged, picking up her water glass. She had never really been a fan of celebrating her birthdays, but it only got worse the older she got. Now, on her birthdays, she woke up to a little kid trying to celebrate the way a kid shouldn’t have to. Scottie planned adorable surprises, but Tobin always wished that she didn’t have to, that the burden didn’t fall on her alone. She secretly wished that Scottie would forget her birthday every year, but without fail, when the month of May hit, Scottie’s calendar would appear with the 29th circled. 

“You have to let me pick up dinner now. Think of it as an early birthday present. It’s the least I can do,” Christen replied, suddenly feeling almost guilty for not having known about Tobin’s birthday. Which was ridiculous, they’d just met a month ago and saw each other for a few hours every week. But even so, the slight guilt was there.

“That’s okay. I didn’t play 90 minutes today,” Tobin said, politely refusing the offer. 

Christen wasn’t going to take no for an answer, not when there was a cloudiness in Tobin’s eyes that hadn’t been there before her abrupt departure and any mention of a birthday. 

“Scottie, tell your mom she’s not paying for dinner okay? My treat for the birthday girl and her kid,” Christen said, turning her attention to the weaker link.

“Mommy, you’re not paying for dinner,” Scottie parroted, glancing up at Tobin’s face. 

Christen winked at Scottie, earning her an adorable attempt at a wink back, which was more like a double-blink.

“What’re we having tonight? I assume the usual for you two, but you’ve never brought a guest, so I have to play the waiter role,” Gio said, sliding up to the table. 

Christen looked to her left and saw a portly man standing near the table, with a large grin on his rosy-cheeked face. 

“I’m guessing you’re Gio?” Christen asked with a smile.

“I’m guessing you’re Christen?” Gio laughed. “Scottie just regaled the entire kitchen with a story about your goals in the game today.”

Christen laughed, throwing her head back a little. “The kid is too nice, it wasn’t anything too special. But it’s nice to meet you, Gio.”

Tobin couldn’t help but stare when Christen laughed like that, completely free and uninhibited. She looked absolutely beautiful. 

“Honestly, I looked through the whole menu, and I can’t decide. It all looks too good! So can you just...surprise me?” Christen asked.

“Any allergies or things you hate?” Gio asked, smiling even bigger at the chance to be a little creative in the kitchen. 

“If you serve me eggplant, I’ll be a little grumpy,” Christen replied with a chuckle.

“I’ll keep the eggplant off your plate as long as you watch out for my girls,” Gio said, winking at Christen and clearing the empty plate of garlic bread. 

Christen felt her chest tighten again at the serious implications behind the playful words. She could only nod, unable to find her voice, and handed Gio her menu.

“Thank you,” Gio said, grabbing each of the menus before he walked away. 

“You’re brave,” Scottie said, her eyes growing wide at Christen. 

Christen shook her head, knowing Scottie wasn’t making a deep observation but needing to deny it anyway.

“Just indecisive. I can never pick what I want to eat when I go out,” Christen replied, waving her hand in the air.

“What if he gives you broccoli?” Scottie asked, her nose wrinkling a little at the thought, making Tobin laugh. 

“I love broccoli almost as much as I love garlic,” Christen said with a teasing smile, taking a small sip of water. 

“That’s how she scores such great goals,” Tobin said, hoping beyond hope that Scottie would eat broccoli because her hero did. 

“You already tried that with me one time. I’m not eating it, Mommy,” Scottie rolled her eyes, making a funny face in Christen’s direction. 

“It was worth a shot,” Tobin sighed. 

Christen was surprised at how fast dinner moved after that. Their food came out quickly, and Gio proudly set down a bowl of homemade gnocchi with pesto sauce in front of her, assuring her that it was his best dish on the menu. After just one bite, Christen was inclined to agree with his assessment. 

All three of them traded light conversation as their pasta dishes were devoured and as they ordered their two pieces of Tiramisu for dessert, one for Christen and Scottie and one for Tobin. 

What surprised Christen the most was how easy it all was. The jokes, the laughter. It felt like they’d all gone out to dinner like this a hundred times before, like this was their Saturday night routine, and not just Tobin’s and Scottie’s. The ease of it all scared Christen just a little, and had her remembering her promise to keep things as just friends between her and Tobin. Which was hard enough to remember when Tobin interacted with Scottie, and only got harder as the night wore on and Tobin kept looking at her like that .

Tobin was in the same boat, finding it difficult to remember to look away from the woman across from her. She just felt drawn to her soft smiles and bright eyes. The way she laughed made Tobin’s entire body feel warm, and the way she spoke to Scottie made her heart melt. She felt completely overwhelmed by the way Christen gestured with her hands when she talked, and how she kept getting a tiny bit of pesto on her lips with each bite she took. 

Christen Press revealed more and more just how beautiful she was, inside and out, with each moment Tobin spent with her. Tobin had to force herself to pay attention to the conversation, which Scottie thankfully dominated. “You can be friends with her. Like you are with Glennon and Abby. Nothing more. She’s in Scottie’s world, not yours,” Tobin continued to remind herself, making sure to draw the line between friends and more than friends in thick Sharpie in her mind. 

“Christen?” Scottie asked, her eyes getting a little heavier as they waited for their Tiramisu to come out and the night got just a little bit later.

“Yeah?” Christen replied, leaning her arms on the table and fixing the girl with a smile.

“Do you ever write names on your tape?” Scottie asked, her eyes serious and thoughtful. 

Christen blinked and sat back in the chair, as if that could possibly give her some distance from the personal question. The kind of personal question which required a personal answer. The kind of personal answer she’d been skirting all night whenever Tobin asked her about college or her childhood or her family.

“Her what?” Tobin asked, confused about what Scottie was referencing. She hadn’t been that inattentive in the dinner conversation. 

“The tape she puts on her wrist for games to remember why she plays,” Scottie clarified, looking between the two women. 

Christen subconsciously rubbed her left wrist, where the tape had been hours ago. “Um, I haven’t put any names down yet. Just those numbers. But maybe someday,” Christen replied quietly.

“Maybe if you meet someone with a cool name,” Scottie suggested, not fully getting that the name didn’t matter as much as who it belonged to. 

“Yeah, maybe,” Christen agreed, swallowing thickly and finding solace in a large sip of water. 

Tobin watched Christen intently, noticing her hesitation and the way her eyes seemed a little flighty, maybe even scared. She didn’t like the fear or the fact that Christen felt it in her favorite restaurant with her little family. 

“I used to play soccer with someone who never washed her socks,” Tobin said, knowing that would distract Scottie from asking Christen any more questions. 

“Ewww,” Scottie giggled. “Why?” 

“She thought it was lucky, I guess,” Tobin shrugged. 

“Morgan Brian?” Christen asked with a weak chuckle, her chest still a little tight and her heart hurting a bit.

Tobin sent a wink Christen’s way. “You got it!”

“Auntie Moe Moe?! That’s so yucky! Does she still do that?” Scottie asked, looking between Tobin and Christen. 

“Only during the Challenge Cup,” Christen replied, wrinkling her nose at the memory of the rank smell Morgan’s socks always left in the locker room.

“Christen?” Scottie asked. 

Christen blew out a short breath and fixed a half-smile on her face. “Yes?” she replied, almost scared about what Scottie was going to ask her.

“Do you want to go to the park tomorrow?” 

Christen hesitated, remembering her resolution to stay friends with Tobin and try not to get too involved. 

“You can say no,” Tobin said again, not liking the hesitation she could see in Christen’s face. 

“We always take the subway uptown and get bagels to eat in the park on Mommy’s day,” Scottie said. 

“I have a recovery session tomorrow, but I’ll try to make it okay?” Christen replied, wondering if she was actually going to try to make it. Part of her wanted to, but another part of her wanted to sprint in the complete opposite direction and save these two wonderful people the heartache she would surely bring them.

“Scottie, why don’t you check on the Tiramisus and tell Gio about your pick-up game on Sunday,” Tobin suggested, sending Scottie scrambling from her seat and racing to the kitchen. 

Tobin looked across the table at Christen’s face, still seeing that same hesitation that she’d been seeing all night, the same hesitation that flickered in Christen’s eyes sometimes when they spoke at practices or sipped their coffees on the bench together. “I’m sorry. Sometimes she gets really excited and asks for too much all at once,” Tobin apologized. 

“It’s fine,” Christen waved off.

“You won’t upset her if you don’t want to come. One bite of a bagel, and all will be well,” Tobin continued, giving Christen the out she seemed desperate to have. 

“It’s not that I don’t want to,” Christen said quietly, dropping her eyes to her lap and starting to fiddle with the napkin again.

“Then what?” Tobin asked. “You can just tell her if you can’t make it from practice.” 

There were so many ways to answer that question, so many things Christen could say. Things like I want to but I’m fucked up and will end up disappointing your kid; You two deserve better than me; I can’t fall for both of you and be the one to hurt you when you find out how broken I am. But she didn’t say any of those. She couldn’t.

“She’d be expecting Coach Christen, her favorite soccer player, to show up at the park tomorrow. And some days, I don’t wake up as her. When I’m not on the field, I’m not her. I don’t think I could survive disappointing her like that,” Christen said, going for vague yet honest and hoping she’d managed to thread the needle.

“She seems to like you fine right now, and I don’t see a field,” Tobin shrugged. “But I get it if hanging out in Central Park with a seven-year-old isn’t your ideal way to spend a Sunday.” 

Christen’s eyes narrowed a little bit. “What does that mean?” she asked, curious about the slight tightness in Tobin’s voice.

“Which part? There really aren’t soccer fields in Little Italy,” Tobin teased. 

“The last part,” Christen replied, not laughing in the slightest at the teasing. Not when it sounded like Tobin didn’t think she was the kind of person who would do that, like Tobin was judging her for something.

Tobin shrugged, not really wanting to say that most people don’t give her a chance when they find out about Scottie. She didn’t want to imply that she wanted a chance with Christen. 

“Most people run the opposite direction,” Tobin said, glancing over Christen’s shoulder to the kitchen. 

A wave of understanding flashed through Christen. It wasn’t a comment on her, so much as a comment on every other person Tobin and Scottie had probably tried to include in their lives. Tobin wasn’t judging her and assuming she wouldn’t be the kind of person to hang out with them at the park. Tobin was just assuming that was the case because it had always been the case with others.

“What time do you get to the park?” Christen asked softly.

“She lets me sleep in on my birthday. It’s the only day all year that I get to sleep past 9:00,” Tobin smiled. “We usually get the bagels as more of a lunch than a breakfast.”

Christen reached into her purse and pulled out her phone, opening it. “Put your number in. I’ll text you when I’m on the way,” Christen replied.

“That wasn’t me trying to guilt you into it or anything,” Tobin said, quickly thinking the worst and wishing she hadn’t said something so honest. 

“That’s not why I decided to come,” Christen shrugged, shaking the phone slightly in the air for Tobin to take.

Tobin took the phone from Christen’s hands, typing in her number and handing it back. 

“Recovery usually goes until noon, but I’ll get there as soon as I can,” Christen said, putting her phone back into her purse and trying not to think too hard on her decision to see Tobin and Scottie again tomorrow. It didn’t mean anything. She was just trying to be nice. She was just curious. But that excuse was starting to get a little thin and she knew it.

“What kind of bagel do you like?” Tobin asked, unable to keep the small smile off her face at the idea of seeing Christen the next day. 

“Cinnamon raisin,” Christen grinned. 

“Goes well with the dirty chai, I guess,” Tobin hummed. 

“Match made in heaven,” Christen agreed.

“Tiramisu time!” Scottie cheered, placing one down in front of Christen and letting Gio put the other in front of Tobin. Scottie ended up helping both of the women eat their desserts, getting most of it on her face and making Tobin and Christen laugh with her silly stories. 

And just as she promised, Christen wouldn’t let Tobin get the bill, explaining that she deserved a free dinner the day before her birthday. When dinner was over and they’d returned to Tobin's place, Christen quickly hailed a cab. As she slid into it, she waved goodbye to Tobin and Scottie, who stood outside of the garage with identical, large smiles on both of their faces.

Christen should have known this would happen. She should have expected it. She’d had too many good days, too many days with smiles and laughter, especially after spending almost all of Sunday in Central Park with Tobin and Scottie. 

They’d eaten bagels and fed the ducks in the pond. They’d strolled around and then found a patch of grass on a hill to lay down on and cloud watch. It had felt easy too, and familiar, and intimate in a way that caught Christen completely off guard. 

But it was now Tuesday and gone were the smiles and the laughter. Christen had woken up and felt it immediately, that heaviness in her limbs and in her heart. She knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that she wouldn’t be getting out of bed today.

There was no trigger, no cause. There never was. She just was due for a bad day and it had finally shown up. It came with pain behind her eyes and an ache in her chest and a strong desire to go to sleep and not wake up for the next 48 hours. 

She sent off a quick text to Amanda and Kelley, letting them know she was sick and wouldn’t be coming to practice or the Development Academy training. She then rolled over in bed and pulled her blankets tighter around herself, feeling a shiver run through her. 

Her last thought as she drifted off to sleep was that she hoped Scottie and Tobin wouldn’t be too disappointed that she wasn’t there.

“Where’s Christen?” Scottie asked as soon as she reached Kelley’s side, Tobin trailing slowly behind her with a tray of coffees. 

“Hey, Mini Tar Heel. She’s, uh, sick today and won’t be here,” Kelley replied, her voice laced with concern she was trying desperately to mask.

“Mommy, she’s sick,” Scottie pouted, feeling bummed that she couldn’t show Christen the new step-over trick she’d learned yesterday. 

“That’s too bad,” Tobin said, keeping her voice as neutral as she could, despite feeling a little disappointed that she didn’t get to see Christen that day. She shook her head softly, wishing that she didn’t want to see Christen, that seeing Christen didn’t set her heart racing at a blistering pace. 

“That’s okay, though, because your favorite coach is still here! Right?” Kelley asked with a smile, trying to cheer Scottie up.

“You’re silly, Coach Kelley,” Scottie giggled. 

“But I made you smile, didn’t I?” Kelley grinned, getting a nod from Scottie.

“Coffee?” Tobin offered, holding out the tray. 

“Bless you, Tar Heel,” Kelley groaned, grabbing her coffee cup and snagging Becky’s from the tray too. “I’m gonna run this over to Brunn. And since we’re down a man today...would you maybe want to help out?”

“Really?” Tobin asked, raising her eyebrows a little at the suggestion. 

“Just don’t convince these girls to go to UNC,” Kelley winked. 

“That’ll be the first order of business,” Tobin grinned. 

Kelley laughed and started backing away to where Becky was organizing the cones by color. 

“We just need another strong voice out here who actually knows stuff about footy. Don’t sweat it, Heath, it’ll be fun!” Kelley said with a smile.

Tobin shot Kelley a thumbs up, not all that worried about coaching little kids, since she spent every minute of her time with one. 

“Mommy, we should do something for Christen. She’s sick, so maybe she needs chicken noodle soup and a painting,” Scottie said thoughtfully. “Can we bring her them after training?” she asked, looking up at Tobin, jutting her lower lip out slightly.

“That’s a really sweet idea, little bit, but we don't know where she lives,” Tobin said, brushing her fingers through Scottie’s hair. 

“Rats,” Scottie pouted, her brow furrowing. “Maybe we can bring them to the next practice then?”

“That sounds like a good plan,” Tobin hummed, loving how sweet Scottie could be. “Why don’t you go put your bag on the sidelines and juggle or pass with me?” Tobin suggested. 

“Okay!” Scottie agreed, running over to throw her bag onto the sidelines with very little care. She grabbed a soccer ball and started dribbling it over to Tobin.

Tobin couldn’t help the way her stomach churned, worrying that maybe this weekend had been too much, that she and Scottie had been too much. 

The day at the park had been perfect, full of laughter and teasing and sweet moments with Scottie, but it wasn’t lost on Tobin that there were still fleeting moments when what looked like worry or apprehension and even fear flickered in Christen’s eyes. The hopeful part of Tobin’s brain wanted to believe that Christen was just sick with a cold, but the louder part pointed out that maybe Christen just wanted space, and seeing them at practice was the opposite of that. “Don’t think about her. She’s just Scottie’s coach. You’re nothing more than friends, so she doesn’t need to avoid you. There’s nothing there.” 

Tobin had started teaching herself how to cook within the first week of having Scottie. She hadn’t really realized how sorely lacking she was when it came to typical parent skills. It had been a learning curve filled with lots of crying from both of them, tons of burnt dinners that ended up in the trash, and sweet cuddle sessions to make up for everything she failed at. After nearly five years with Scottie, though, Tobin considered herself a decent cook. She wouldn’t say it was a talent, and she certainly wouldn’t invite a woman over on a date and cook for her, but she was skilled enough to keep Scottie happy and healthy. 

Tonight, Scottie had insisted on making homemade quesadillas, and although she was pretty bad at it, Tobin couldn’t resist Scottie's pout when she asked to help flip the quesadillas, spilling most of the filling on the stovetop. It was Scottie’s infectious laugh that made making messes a fun and sweet part of life. Scottie was standing on the short kitchen stool in front of Tobin, her hands wrapped around the spatula and Tobin’s arms around her waist, the two of them giggling and snatching cheese from the bag on the counter. 

“Don’t pick it up,” Tobin said, catching Scottie’s hand in her own, so that the seven-year-old wouldn’t stick her hand onto the hot stovetop to eat the piece of chicken she’d just knocked off of the griddle. 

“I wasn’t gonna!” Scottie protested.

“Likely story, little bit,” Tobin teased, kissing Scottie’s temple. “I think we’ve got enough quesadillas to last all week,” she added with a grin, glancing over at the plate with a stack of quesadillas on it.

“I wish we could bring some to Christen,” Scottie sighed, her little voice tight with worry.

Tobin wanted to kick herself for the way her stomach flipped at the name. “I know, buddy. That would be pretty nice.”

“Maybe you can text her? Like we did with Auntie Moe Moe!” Scottie said, brightening with the suggestion.

“I don’t know if she’ll want me to text her, dude,” Tobin sighed, helping Scottie down from the stool and turning off the burner. 

“You never know if you never try,” Scottie retorted, throwing something Tobin said to her often right back in Tobin’s face.

“Look at you becoming all wise,” Tobin grinned. “Let’s eat and think of something we might want to tell her.”

Scottie grabbed Tobin’s phone from the counter. “I already know what I want to say.”

Tobin’s eyes widened, not really wanting Scottie to bother Christen if she really was sick in bed at home and definitely not wanting Scottie to bother Christen if she wasn’t sick and was really freaked out about the weekend she’d spent with them. 

“What’s that?” Tobin asked, stepping closer. 

“I’m going to tell her to feel better and that I miss her and that we made extra quesadillas if she’s hungry right now,” Scottie replied, swiping open the phone and pulling up the texting app.

“Are you going to say it’s from you?” Tobin asked, not sure if this was the best idea. No parenting book had discussed whether you should let your daughter text a woman that you might like but definitely couldn’t like and offer her quesadillas. 

“Duh, Mommy. I’m going to send a picture of myself eating my quesadilla,” Scottie rolled her eyes.

“Cool,” Tobin hummed, trying not to freak out. She carried the plate of quesadillas to the table and set it down in the middle of it, checking to make sure she and Scottie both had water and napkins before she sat down. 

“How do you spell quesadilla?” Scottie asked, trudging over to her spot at the table.  

“Q-U-E-S-A-D-I-L-L-A,” Tobin spelled out slowly, her stomach tightening a little at how Christen would respond to this. 

With a sigh, Scottie slid the phone across the table. “That’s too many letters. You type it, please and thank you!”

“Okay,” Tobin mumbled, typing the word out for Scottie and correcting a couple of other words she’d misspelled before sliding it back.

“How do I send a pictur- oops,” Scottie murmured, her face getting red with embarrassment.

“Oops?” Tobin asked, her entire body tensing up. “Oops, what?” 

“I figured out how to send a picture,” Scottie mumbled.

“Why did you say oops?” Tobin asked, reaching out for the phone. 

Scottie handed the phone over, an apologetic pout playing at her lips. “It wasn’t of me…”

“Scottie,” Tobin grumbled. “You should have just asked and waited for me to show you instead of clicking buttons.” 

“I’m sorry, Mommy. But it’s okay because Christen likes you and now she can have pictures of both of us,” Scottie said with a small shrug of her shoulders, as if all of that made it okay to send a slightly blurry, candid picture of Tobin to Christen with absolutely no context since Scottie hadn’t sent her text yet.

Tobin could feel a blush rising to her cheeks and pressed send on Scottie’s text as quickly as she could, hoping to give Christen some context, so that she knew it was Scottie sending her messages and not her being weird. “You want me to take your picture?” Tobin asked, trying to change the subject. 

Scottie grabbed her quesadilla from her plate and held it up proudly, shooting Tobin that toothy grin that she loved so much.

“Say Krispy Kreme,” Tobin said, snapping the picture. 

“Krispy Kreme!” Scottie grinned.

“You want to see it before I send it?” Tobin asked, turning the phone around to show Scottie. 

“Do I look cute?” Scottie asked, taking a big bite of her quesadilla.

“You always look cute,” Tobin laughed. 

“Okay, send it!” Scottie replied with her mouth full of chicken and tortilla and rice.

Tobin pressed send, hoping that Christen would forget about the blurry picture of her in favor of looking at Scottie’s huge, toothy smile. 

“Is it good?” Tobin asked, putting her phone down and focusing on the dinner they made. 

“It’s yummy. I hope Christen likes quesadillas. I don’t think I could hang out with someone who doesn’t like quesadillas,” Scottie said matter-of-factly.

“I bet she does,” Tobin hummed, realizing that she had no chance of escaping talking about Christen Press, not with Scottie in her house. 

Chapter Text

Now here you go again, you say you want your freedom

Well, who am I to keep you down?

It's only right that you should play the way you feel it

But listen carefully to the sound of your loneliness

Like a heartbeat drives you mad

In the stillness of remembering what you had

And what you lost

And what you had

And what you lost

Oh, thunder only happens when it's raining

Players only love you when they're playing

Say, women, they will come and they will go

When the rain washes you clean, you'll know

You'll know

(Christen - “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac)

I saw the part of you

That only when you're older, you will see too

You will see too

I held the better cards

But every stroke of luck has gotta bleed through

It's gotta bleed through

You held the balance of the time

That only blindly I could read you

But I could read you

It's like you told me

Go forward slowly

It's not a race to the end

Well, you look like yourself

But you're somebody else

Only it ain't on the surface

Well, you talk like yourself

No, I hear someone else though

Now you're making me nervous

(Tobin - “You’re Somebody Else” by Flora Cash)


The heaviness was still there, as was the crushing weight on her chest, but at least Christen had been able to pull herself out of bed this morning. She padded over to the coffee maker, turning her phone on as she waited for her first cup of the day to brew. 

She scrolled through social media notifications and texts from Amanda and Kelley, assuring her the missed trainings yesterday were fine and to let them know if she needed anything. She paused when she saw she had three text messages from Tobin Heath.

Her stomach tightened as she hesitantly opened the messages, grabbing her coffee and walking over to the window seat along the far, floor-to-ceiling window she had in her apartment.

It was this window seat that had sold her on the place. She remembered the way her mom had gushed over it, talking endlessly about how Christen could add throw pillows and a thick cushion on top of it. Christen remembered her mom telling her that she could welcome a new day in the city that never sleeps with a cup of coffee from this very window seat. It hurt to remember, but she remembered.

She sank down onto the navy cushion and leaned the side of her head against the cool window, her attention falling to her phone.

The first message was a blurry picture of Tobin sitting at a table, a plate of some kind of food in front of her. Christen could tell it was Tobin because of that lopsided grin she had on her face, even if she wasn’t looking at the camera.

The second was a rambling series of words that she guessed was written by Scottie, saying that Scottie missed her and hoped she was feeling better. And then she’d asked if Christen liked quesadillas. 

With a small smile, Christen scrolled to the last message and felt her smile widen. It was a cute picture of Scottie, a quesadilla held in the air next to her head, a beaming grin on her face. 

Her smile quickly dropped when she re-read Scottie’s message. Scottie had asked if she was hungry, because they’d made extras and could give her a quesadilla if she wanted one. The gesture was beyond sweet and thoughtful and it was too much. 

Christen quickly liked both of the pictures and sent a quick message back. All she said was thanks for the well wishes and the invite for quesadillas, then she quickly locked her phone before she did something silly like ask if she could cash in the invite today. 

She gazed out the window and lifted the mug to her lips, sighing when she realized that not even her first sip of coffee would bring her any semblance of peace this morning. 

Yesterday had been a cruel reminder that she wasn’t okay. She was so very far from okay. She’d spent six months drinking and partying and one-night-standing her grief away, and now it was all catching up to her. 

It was like once she’d accepted the coaching job and met Scottie and Tobin, once she’d stopped going out and running away from her emotions, she finally had felt the true power of everything she’d been hiding within her. Her grief had brought her to her knees yesterday and she hated it. She hated how weak it made her feel, how useless and powerless and alone she felt. She hated that Tobin and Scottie had broken down her walls and were making her feel again. She hated that she couldn’t ignore her grief any longer, because of an almost 8-year-old and a pair of warm brown eyes that saw too much. 

She hated how much she didn’t actually hate it at all. 

“Don’t give me that look,” Christen sighed, pulling on her cleats. She was sitting on the grass next to Kelley, getting ready for their morning training session, and she was already regretting getting out of bed and skipping the second cup of coffee.

“What look?” Kelley asked pulling her socks up to cover her shinguards. 

Christen pushed her hand against the side of Kelley’s face and shoved her over into the grass. 

“Pity doesn’t help anyone, so don’t give it to me,” Christen grumbled, finishing tying her cleats.

“I’m not pitying you. I’ve never pitied you. I worry about you sometimes, and I love you all the time, but I don’t pity you,” Kelley said, leaning back on her hands. 

Christen just shrugged. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t have to lie and say that you’re fine. I’d be more concerned if you were fine after everything,” Kelley sighed. 

“I’m-” Christen sighed, running her hands across her hair and then down her ponytail. “Okay, I’m not fine today and I wasn’t fine yesterday. So I’m glad I didn’t show up at training.”

“I’m glad you took the day if that’s what you needed,” Kelley said. “Not that you weren’t missed. Your kids asked about you.”

Christen bobbed her head silently for a second, her throat tightening. “How were they?”

“Tobin looked overwhelmed when I asked her to help, but she managed,” Kelley snorted, remembering how they’d made her run around after them during the entire practice. 

Christen couldn’t help it. A small smile pulled at her lips at the mention of the brunette who was lingering in her thoughts and in her mind and maybe even in her heart, all without her permission. 

“I would have paid to see that,” Christen replied.

“She asked about you,” Kelley mumbled, trying to act as nonchalant as she possibly could. 

Christen ignored the way her stomach fluttered, choosing instead to focus on the heaviness lingering inside of her. The one that reminded her that she wasn’t okay and had no business bringing anyone else into that equation, least of all two literal rays of sunshine. 

“Good to know,” Christen whispered.

“It is good to know,” Kelley nodded. “She seems really nice and chill and like someone you’d totally go for.”

Christen shook her head. “I can’t, Kel. I’m a fucking mess and they’re not going to be the ones I unload it on.”

“You aren’t a mess. Why don’t you let Tobin decide if she’s willing to-”

“Because it’s not just Tobin I have to think about,” Christen shot back, getting to her feet, very done with this conversation.

“Tobin would never do anything to put Scottie in a bad situation, and you know that,” Kelley said. 

“Then she never should have started bringing me coffee,” Christen mumbled, jogging away from the sidelines and onto the field for warm-ups.

Tobin set up a small table for Scottie to use in the corner of her studio, draping a sheet over it and putting out a few different paint colors and a few different pieces of thick paper to paint on. As much as she absolutely loved having Scottie around all summer, it was a little more difficult to get work done with a kid talking and running around everywhere. When Roni had left on her first vacation of many during Scottie’s first year with them, Tobin had quickly learned that the best way to get work done was to wait for Scottie to fall asleep or distract her with something. 

Tobin never wanted Scottie to be glued to a screen, refusing to buy her an iPad, despite several other parents suggesting it. In the early days, Tobin had hardly slept, staying up at night to paint with a sleeping Scottie in a daybed that sat in her studio and waking up early in the morning to make Scottie breakfast and spend time with her. Now, though, Scottie could entertain herself a little more during the day, especially enjoying the opportunity to work in tandem with her mom. 

Tobin tried not to look over at Scottie’s work table, not wanting to see what she was painting for Christen but also desperate to know what she was going to give her. Tobin forced herself to look ahead at the large canvas, covered only in a base coat of dark blue paint. Some wealthy, Wall Street guy had commissioned it as a gift for his son’s promotion. It was going to hang in his new office. The only things she really knew about the son were his favorite colors and that he loved abstract art, but other than that, she was flying blind, just hoping she made something that they liked. 

“What do you think is Christen’s favorite color?” Scottie asked, turning to look at Tobin. She already had a dash of pink paint on her cheek.

“I don’t know, buddy,” Tobin shrugged. “Your pink was probably a good choice.”

“I was going to pick pink, but then it reminded me of that gross medicine you made me drink when I got the flu. So I think I’m going to go with happy yellow,” Scottie decided, raising her brows in Tobin’s direction for confirmation.

“Happy yellow sounds perfect, little bit,” Tobin said, smiling softly at Scottie to give her the green light. 

“She’s happy yellow, and I’m awesome purple, and you’re goofy orange. I’m going to use all of them,” Scottie announced, getting back to work.

“I’m goofy?” Tobin asked, putting her hands on her hips and getting paint on her white t-shirt. 

“Duh, Mommy. You put faces on my pancakes with blueberries this morning.”

Tobin grinned before turning back to her canvas and deciding to go with the stencil idea she’d had earlier that week. She’d already made all the stencils, so she set about measuring and marking the canvas with tape before she airbrushed some of the stenciled shapes to see how it looked. Tobin worked intently, her mind sinking into the work at hand, experimenting a little bit with texture. It wasn’t until her stomach growled that she looked down at her watch and saw that it was already 5:30 and she and Scottie had hardly had more than a late brunch that day. 

“You ready to make dinner?” Tobin asked. 

“I’m starving!” Scottie said, bouncing out of her seat and wrapping her arms around Tobin’s waist, getting even more paint on the white shirt. 

Tobin glanced down at Scottie’s paintings, admiring the bright colors and funky shapes on each of the pages. She settled on one that looked like a painting of a rainbow and smiled a little bigger at the sweet little fingerprints Scottie had used to form the clouds on either end of the rainbow. 

“Let’s let these dry,” Tobin said, taking each of Scottie’s paintings and laying them on a drying rack. 

“Yours looks really cool, Mommy,” Scottie said, her head slightly tilted as she stared at Tobin’s canvas on one of the easels. “You didn’t use a lot of colors.”

“The guy who asked for the painting likes dark blue and mustard yellow, so it probably won’t be as pretty and colorful as yours,” Tobin shrugged. “The art pieces at MoMA are really colorful, though.”

“I know. I saw them all here before they went to the museum,” Scottie said, walking over to Tobin and holding her arms out to get help with her smock. 

“You excited to go see them again with Grandma?” Tobin asked, draping Scottie’s smock on a hook by the sink before turning on the water and helping Scottie scrub the paint off of her hands. 

“Yes! I miss the paintings, and I love Grandma,” Scottie grinned. 

“We’re doing that in two weeks,” Tobin reminded her. 

“After your big fancy party and my weekend at Grandma’s?” Scottie asked. 

“That’s right,” Tobin nodded. “It’ll be a boring adult party for museum people to see the art before other people.”

“But I saw it first,” Scottie beamed. 

“You always get to see it first,” Tobin hummed, reaching out for a towel to dry their hands off. 

Christen might hate whatever Gramercy bar she’d stumbled into, with its sticky floors and cheap beer smell, but at least this bartender knew how to make a whiskey sour. 

Finishing off her second, Christen slid the empty glass back to the bartender and signaled for another. She didn’t mind the way the alcohol dulled her senses and quieted her mind. In fact, she was desperate for it. She’d felt too much yesterday, too much grief and sorrow and loneliness. And then she’d felt too much care and sweetness and thoughtfulness when she’d gotten those texts from Tobin. She didn’t want to feel those things, any of those things. 

She wanted to forget the way Tobin’s brown eyes made her heart flutter. She wanted to forget how right it had felt to walk down the street, her hand in Scottie’s, swinging the girl between her and Tobin. She wanted to forget how Tobin had stirred something within her that she was too damn terrified to think about. 

Christen reached out and grabbed the new whiskey sour from the bartender, dropping another twenty into her tip jar. 

“What’s a woman like you doing in a place like this?”

The line had Christen rolling her eyes. She’d heard some variation of it before, quite often in fact, over the past six months. But tonight she wasn’t going to be picky. She was going to cope the way she always did. She was going to self-destruct the way she always did. She was going to do that because she was a mess and she didn’t deserve Tobin or Scottie or the good they promised. 

Christen turned to look over her shoulder, finding a gorgeous woman standing at her elbow. She wore a tight red dress and her black hair fell in loose waves around her shoulders. Those loose waves reminded Christen of Tobin. 

At the thought of the brunette, Christen quickly took a sip of her drink. She then turned back to the woman with a smile on her face. 

“Waiting for a woman like you to offer to take me home,” Christen replied smoothly, laying on the charm. She wasn’t going to beat around the bush. She had one destination in mind.

“Awful forward of you, isn’t it?” the woman replied.

Christen shrugged, her smile never dropping even if it felt a little forced. “Are you opposed to the suggestion?”

Getting a soft, ‘No,’ in response, Christen stood up, dropped another twenty-dollar bill into the jar, and grabbed the woman’s hand. She led them out of the bar and back toward her place, trying her best to ignore the pit of shame growing in her stomach.

Christen managed to ignore it as she led them back to her apartment, as she and this woman found their way to the couch, as she lost her shirt and she’d unzipped the back of the woman’s dress and pulled it down her shoulders. She managed to ignore it until she’d informed the woman that she didn’t do second times or breakfast in the morning.

“You got yourself a deal,” the woman replied, lowering herself back down to kiss Christen again and suddenly Christen wasn’t able to ignore the pit in her stomach any longer.

Christen put a hand on the woman’s chest and gently pushed her backward, her eyes falling shut as her stomach rolled and her heart ached. She couldn’t help but think of Scottie at the sound of those words. She couldn’t help but think of Tobin and of the smile they’d shared after Scottie had said that same phrase to her a few weeks ago. The thought of Tobin and Scottie had her wanting to put an abrupt stop to this night. 

She couldn’t do this. 

She couldn’t keep falling down the downward spiral.

She couldn’t do this.

“What?” the woman husked, breathless and impatient to keep going. 

“I can’t,” Christen whispered, shaking her head slightly. She pulled away and got off the couch, grabbing her shirt from the floor and slipping it on. “I’m sorry.”

“Did I do something wrong?” the woman asked, pulling the straps of her dress back onto her shoulders. 

“No, of course not,” Christen assured, running a hand through her curls. She huffed and sat down on the coffee table, her eyes fixed on a spot on the hardwood floor. “It’s not you. I shouldn’t- I mean, I never should have-”

“You’re married, aren’t you?” the woman asked, rolling her eyes a little like this wasn’t the first time she’d been in this kind of situation. 

Christen barked out a laugh and finally looked back up at the woman she’d foolishly brought back to her place. 

“Not at all. I just...I don’t think I’m this kind of person. Not anymore. And I didn’t realize it until now,” Christen admitted, somehow finding it easier to be honest with this complete stranger than anyone else in her life.

“Zip me up?” the woman asked, finally standing up from the couch. 

“Sure,” Christen nodded, getting to her feet and zipping up the dress. “I am sorry,” she added, smiling tightly at the woman.

“Don’t sweat it. You’re a good kisser, so I enjoyed myself. And whoever it is…” the woman started, trailing off a little, not wanting to overstep. “If they’re able to make you send me away, I think they’re probably pretty special.”

Christen laughed, much easier this time. That pit was still there, but the shame was bleeding away. 

“Let me pay for your cab at least,” Christen offered, trying not to focus on the way her heart fluttered slightly at the thought of the ‘pretty special’ reason she’d put a stop to things tonight.

“That’s okay. Save your money for whatever date you’re gonna take this person on,” the woman shrugged, picking up her purse and making her way to the door of Christen’s apartment. 

Christen watched her door close behind the woman, a long breath escaping her lips. 

If you’d told her a month ago that she’d send a beautiful woman, a woman very ready and eager to share her bed, packing, Christen wouldn’t have believed it. This was how she coped, this was how she dealt with the tangled mess of feelings inside of her that she’d boxed up and left unattended since she’d buried her parents. But tonight, she realized that maybe she didn’t have to cope like this anymore. 

As she crawled into bed, still feeling the effects of her whiskey sours and with a hangover looming, Christen scrolled back through Tobin’s texts, smiling a bit easier now at the pictures she’d gotten of Tobin and Scottie.

Maybe she could deal with the tangled mess of feelings inside of her instead of ignoring it. Maybe she could do all of that and find time for Tiramisu on Saturday nights. Maybe she could try to be good enough for that and for them.

“Mommy, hurry up!” Scottie begged, wanting Tobin to get out of the car with the tray of coffees as fast as she possibly could. 

Tobin glanced over at the field, making sure that one of the coaches was there before saying, “Run ahead if you want.”

Her heart fluttered in her chest as soon as she saw Christen sitting in the middle of the field, sorting pinnies. She didn’t want to admit it, but she’d missed her. Not seeing her at Scottie’s last practice had felt wrong, making Tobin feel unbalanced for the rest of the week. 

“CHRISTEN!” Scottie squealed, racing across the field. 

Christen winced at the high-pitched squeal. She was fighting a mean hangover and the sheer volume of Scottie’s voice had made the pounding in her head slightly worse. 

“Not so loud today, Scottie Heath,” Christen said with a tight smile, shielding her sunglasses-covered eyes with her hand as she looked up at the girl. “We’re going to practice our inside voices.” 

“Oh, sorry,” Scottie whispered, plopping down on the field beside Christen. 

“Don’t apologize, kid,” Christen replied, reaching out to grab some pinnies from the ground and dropping them on Scottie’s head playfully. 

After giggling at Christen and tossing a couple of pinnies back at her, Scottie couldn’t contain her excitement for what she’d brought for Christen. “You were sick. Do you feel better?” Scottie asked

Shockingly, the answer to Scottie’s question was yes. For the first time in a long time, the answer was yes. Christen was feeling a bit better. Sure, she still felt heavy sometimes, and that bad day had knocked her on her ass. Sure, she still had a lot of twisted, knotted, complicated emotions to unpack and sort through. She still had to grieve. But she was actually feeling better today, better than she had in a long time.

“You know I wasn’t feeling great, but then I saw this smile right here-” Christen paused, reaching out to poke the slight dimple on Scottie’s cheek, “-and now I feel like a million bucks.”

Scottie’s smile grew even more, practically showing all her teeth. “I brought something to make you feel even better.”

Christen’s heart melted. “You didn’t have to do that, your smile’s enough,” she replied with a wink.

Scottie opened her soccer bag and reached in, pulling out a silver thermos. “Well, Mommy actually made this, but it was my idea. It’s chicken noodle soup.”

Christen was confused for a moment until she remembered that her version of sick wasn’t the same as a seven-year-old’s. Scottie, and maybe even Tobin, had assumed she had a cold or the flu or something. But even if that wasn’t the case, she wasn’t about to turn down homemade soup.

“My favorite,” Christen replied, taking the thermos with a small smile.

“When I’m sick, Mommy lets me sleep in her bed, and she draws me doodles and puts them all over the house for me to find,” Scottie said, reaching into her bag and retrieving a folder, taking a piece of paper out of it. She handed Christen the painting she’d done of the rainbow, only now there were two cartoon doodles standing under the rainbow.

“I painted it a couple days ago, and then Mommy did the doodles, but I told her what I wanted them to look like. See?” Scottie pointed to the cartoon version of Christen with a bun and a soccer ball at her feet. “That’s you.” Scottie moved her finger to the smaller cartoon version of herself with a ponytail and a huge smile. “And that’s me. I told Mommy she could draw herself, but she said it was my gift, so it should just be the two of us.”

Christen had no words. She was stunned, speechless, overwhelmed in the best possible way. She also was on the verge of tears at the thoughtful and sweet gesture, and she was very grateful for her sunglasses.

“Wow,” Christen whispered, clearing her throat when she heard how weak her voice had sounded. She looked down at the painting and at the doodles, completely awestruck. “This is...this is the coolest thing I’ve ever gotten. Thank you.”

“Tar Heel brought coffee!” Kelley yelled, knowing it would aggravate Christen’s hangover headache. 

“Well Scottie brought me a painting and soup,” Christen countered, reaching out to squeeze Scottie’s hand and ignoring the way her headache worsened at the volume at which Kelley chose to speak.

“You didn’t waste any time, little bit,” Tobin laughed. 

Christen looked past Kelley, her eyes landing on Tobin. The brunette sauntered up, her signature lopsided grin on her face, her snapback on backward and her brown eyes shining. Christen couldn’t help but smile up at Tobin, choosing not to ignore the flutter in her heart this time.

“You took a long time to get out of the car, Mommy. I was too excited to be patient!” Scottie sighed dramatically. 

“I hear you did the doodles?” Christen asked, tilting her head to the side a bit.

“Yeah, Scottie’s the only one who likes it when I draw people, so I have to cash in when I can,” Tobin shrugged. 

“I wouldn’t say she’s the only one,” Christen replied, her words a little brazen. She quickly ducked her head and struggled to get to her feet, letting out a small sigh as her headache worsened.

“Ooookay,” Kelley mumbled, taking Becky’s coffee from Tobin’s hand. “I’m gonna help Becky.” Kelley walked off with a smile on her face.

“You feeling better?” Tobin asked, watching Christen carefully. 

“She feels like a zillion bucks!” Scottie replied for Christen, grabbing ahold of Christen’s free hand and swinging it between them.

“Just a million today, but maybe I’ll feel like a zillion tomorrow,” Christen corrected with a small chuckle. She let out a short breath and squinted behind her glasses as the sun seemed to get just a bit brighter now that she’d stood up.

Tobin couldn’t help but notice how Christen’s face looked pained, how she kept reaching for her head, how she kept talking in a low voice, much quieter than usual. The sunglasses were new too, and Tobin couldn’t decide if Christen just had a really bad headache from whatever she was sick with or possibly a hangover. 

Tobin had experienced enough hangovers in her own lifetime to know the telltale signs. She didn't want to jump to conclusions, but she couldn’t help but feel a little bit of concern coil up in her chest. 

Abby had told her that Christen had been through something, but it had admittedly been hard to remember that when Christen had seemed so happy with Scottie and the other girls at practice the past few weeks. Now, though, Tobin wished that there was something she could do, that there was a way for her to soothe any kind of pain that Christen might be feeling. 

“Scottie, you want to put the soup and painting on the bench and get your soccer ball out?” Tobin asked, glancing down at her daughter. 

Christen got the unspoken message and handed the painting and thermos over to Scottie, feeling a small flicker of nerves at the prospect of standing here with Tobin alone, with no kid buffer. Even if she’d decided to do better and be better for Scottie and Tobin, she still wasn’t entirely sure she was capable of it. She was still nervous to really even try. She was even more nervous because those damn brown eyes stirred something within her, something foreign and real

Tobin watched Scottie race away, knowing that she had a very limited amount of time to talk to Christen. 

“Are you really feeling okay?” Tobin asked, readjusting her snapback, almost nervously.

Christen knew now wasn’t the moment to word vomit and unload everything. Now wasn’t the time for complete and total honesty. And honestly, she didn’t really feel like she could be that honest right now. Growth didn’t happen in a handful of hours. 

“I’ve been better,” Christen said, settling on a vague answer. “I appreciate everything you’ve done though. The texts were very sweet.”

“That was Scottie. All I did was spell the word quesadilla,” Tobin said, pushing some stray hairs behind her ear. 

“And you spelled it so well,” Christen teased, the corner of her mouth twitching up slightly. “It wasn’t all Scottie, though. So...thank you .”

“I hope you feel better. If the headache’s too much, there’s Aspirin in my car,” Tobin offered, handing Christen her coffee as she said it. 

Christen took the coffee with a shy smile. “I’m already on a few Aspirin and praying they kick in soon.”

“Gotcha,” Tobin nodded, not really knowing what else she could say. 

“Mommy!” Scottie squealed, running straight into Tobin’s side. A sheepish smile appeared on her face when Christen winced at the loud noise. “Sorry,” Scottie whispered. “Mommy, Christen could go to the museum with us after practice.”

Christen didn’t feel as much hesitation this time, if any. She readied herself to accept the offer, knowing she had a free night, but then Tobin spoke up.

“Buddy, Christen has a headache. I bet she just wants to go home and sleep after this,” Tobin said softly, brushing baby hairs away from Scottie’s forehead. 

“But she can see the exhibit before it opens with us,” Scottie begged, glancing between both women. 

“I mean, I-” Christen tried to say, ready to say that she’d love to go. She wanted to know about this museum and this exhibit and why Tobin and Scottie got to see it before it opened.

“What did I say about begging for people to do things,” Tobin said, interrupting Christen, keeping her voice soft but firm. 

“That it isn’t cute,” Scottie grumbled.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea, little bit. We’re just going to look one last time before the exhibit opens. It’s not just for fun. It’s for work,” Tobin said, keeping her focus on Scottie. 

Christen deflated slightly at Tobin’s words. Even if she could appreciate that Tobin seemed to be giving her an out due to her hangover and headache, it felt like there was something else there too. ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea’ didn’t just sound like concern. That sounded like Christen going with them to the museum wasn’t a good idea in a general sense, like maybe doing anything with them wasn’t a good idea. 

“Right,” Christen replied, her voice a little tight.

“Maybe Christen can come with us when it’s open next week, then,” Scottie said. 

“Maybe,” Tobin nodded. “We can try to pick a good day for Christen’s schedule when she feels better.”

Christen cleared her throat and took a small step back. “I’ll have to look. We’re going to Seattle this weekend for a game, so,” Christen said, her thumb scratching against the side of the coffee cup.

“You’ll love the exhibit! There are soooo many colors,” Scottie said, unaware that there was tension from either of the adults with her. 

“Very cool. I hope me seeing it is a good idea, then,” Christen offered, taking another step back.

Tobin cocked her head slightly, not realizing that her words had landed differently for Christen. Now, though, she could hear the disappointment in her voice and see it in the way her shoulders slumped forward a little, and Tobin’s heart clenched painfully in her chest. “Shit. You should have just let her come, hangover and all.”

“I’ve got to get things ready. I’ll see you guys in a bit,” Christen said, shooting Scottie an attempt at a bright smile. She then turned on her heel and walked away, her shoulders slumping with every bit of space she put between her and Tobin and Scottie.

“Whoa, what happened?” Kelley asked as soon as she caught sight of Christen. “You were little miss sunshine a minute ago, even with a hangover.”

“I’m so mad at you, Kelley Maureen O’Hara,” Christen grumbled, setting her coffee down on the bench.

“Why?” Kelley asked, her eyes growing bigger at her full-naming her. 

“You get my stupid fucking hopes up, and when I finally decide to listen to you, Tobin says this isn’t a good idea,” Christen replied, her throat getting a bit thick.

“Wait, you asked her out, and she said it was a bad idea?” Kelley gasped, reaching out and taking Christen’s hand in her own. 

“Not exactly. But the message was pretty clear,” Christen huffed, wrenching her hand out of Kelley’s grasp and stalking away, not wanting any part of this conversation anymore. 

“So, you didn’t ask her out or you did?” Kelley tried to clarify, her words falling on deaf ears. 

“I think the room looks perfect,” Kyle said, walking over to Tobin and Scottie’s side. 

“I really like it,” Tobin nodded, glancing around the room at her paintings. 

“Look it’s the cotton candy painting,” Scottie grinned, pointing at a smaller painting near the end of the room. Scottie wasn’t wrong; some of the strokes did look wispy like cotton candy, and the happy pink color added to the similar look. She’d loved that painting when Tobin had started working on it. Scottie had put her own handprints on the painting, although they were hardly visible after all the layers of paint that Tobin had added. 

“Is that your favorite?” Kyle asked. 

“Yeah, Mommy said it’s my painting,” Scottie nodded. 

Tobin grinned, running her hands over Scottie’s hair gently. “Yep, this one is all yours.”

“Can I take a picture and send it to Christen?” Scottie asked, looking up at Tobin with the best puppy dog eyes she could manage. “When we did shooting today, she said the pictures we sent were really nice to wake up to.”

Tobin’s heart clenched a little more, wishing she hadn’t hurt Christen’s feelings by suggesting she didn’t come with them to the museum. She hadn’t really thought that a hungover Christen would want to spend the rest of her day with an energetic seven-year-old in a bright museum. But, looking back on it, Tobin probably should have let Christen decide for herself or, at least, told Christen why she thought it wouldn’t be very fun for her. 

“Sure, buddy. I’ll take your picture,” Tobin nodded, pulling her phone out to take a picture of Scottie in front of the cotton candy painting. Scottie posed with both of her thumbs lifted in a thumbs up and a huge smile on her face. 

“I’ll send the picture and write her a message,” Scottie said, skipping over to the phone. 

“Ms. Heath, we do have one question about the windows. Would you mind looking at a couple ideas we have?” Kyle asked, pulling Tobin’s attention away from Scottie and toward his iPad. 

“Sure,” Tobin nodded, letting Scottie hold her phone and stepping to the side to look over Kyle’s shoulder. 

“We could always leave the windows as they are or we could cover them with a couple of different kinds of fabric curtains. We have a unique idea, though. There’s another local artist who does glasswork, and we could cover them with some of her stained-glass pieces,” Kyle hummed, swiping through a few photos of the stained glass work. 

“Is that a serious question?” Tobin laughed. “Obviously, I choose the art. Stained glass is awesome, and the colors will match the entire vibe of the collection. The more art the merrier.”

By the time Christen actually realized that maybe she’d overreacted, that she’d maybe read too much into Tobin’s comment, she was already in Seattle. She was sitting across from Kelley in the hotel’s breakfast room on the day of their game, sipping shitty coffee and trying not to feel like a complete asshole. 

“What did you mean when you said that you finally decided to listen to me?” Kelley asked, still curious about their conversation after the last Development Academy practice. 

Christen flushed and tried to find her bowl of cereal super interesting to avoid Kelley’s questioning gaze. 

“You can’t judge me or make a sassy comment,” Christen mumbled, already hating the fact that she was going to admit this to Kelley. But it was only because she needed a second opinion. She needed someone to tell her that she’d royally misread things and that Tobin was just being kind and sweet, not pulling her and her kid away.

“I will be a perfect angel,” Kelley said, batting her eyelashes at Christen. 

Christen snorted and ran her spoon through the soggy cereal in her bowl. “I went home with someone on Wednesday and-”

“Not Tobin?” Kelley verified. 

Christen’s flush deepened. “No, not Tobin. But before anything could really happen I realized that maybe...maybe it wasn’t such a good idea.”

“What made you change your mind?” Kelley asked, keeping her face neutral. 

Christen shrugged and dropped her spoon. She sat back in her chair, her eyes shifting around and avoiding Kelley’s gaze.

“Like you have to ask,” Christen sighed.

“You thought about Tobin and Mini Tar Heel,” Kelley said, no hint of a question in her voice. 

Christen nodded. “Yeah. Which on the one hand should piss me off. I was doing just fine before they waltzed into my screwed-up life, with their matching smiles and thoughtfulness,” she added, her words lacking any real bite. She didn’t actually feel that way and both she and Kelley knew it.

“Sure, I’ll humor you and say you were doing just fine, even though we both know that’s a lie. But why be fine when you could be way more than fine with thoughtful people who actually care about you?” Kelley asked. 

“I guess I realized that for myself...but then at training, Scottie invited me to come to some museum with them and Tobin basically said it wasn’t a good idea. So what was the point of doing all that soul-searching and finally deciding to listen to your not-so-terrible advice when Tobin was just going to say no anyway?” Christen asked, her eyes finally meeting Kelley’s.

“Pressy, you clearly had a hangover at practice. Anyone who’s ever had a hangover could see that. I bet Tobin was trying to spare you an afternoon with a hangover and an excitedly loud kid,” Kelley suggested. “You’re blind if you haven’t seen the way Tobin looks at you. She definitely wouldn’t say no just to keep you from spending time with them.”

Christen had realized the hangover bit for herself this morning, but it was nice to hear it confirmed for her. Even if it was by Kelley.

“What if she still says no?” Christen asked quietly, voicing her deepest worry. 

“The only reason she’d say no is if she were trying to protect Scottie. I firmly believe that. You just need to show her that you’re seriously there,” Kelley hummed. “If you do seriously want to be there, that is.”

“I…” Christen trailed off, her mind immediately jumping to Tiramisu and Central Park and every moment spent with Tobin and Scottie so far. “I think I want to be; I just want them to know what they’re getting in all of this too.”

“I’m pretty sure Tobin would listen if you told her,” Kelley said, her voice soft and gentle. 

“I haven’t talked about it, Kel. With anyone. I don’t know if- I don’t even know how,” Christen admitted, swallowing thickly.

“Well, I suggest you take her some coffee and start with the information you’re comfortable sharing,” Kelley offered. 

Christen nodded, her mind already jumping through every possible scenario, every way that she could tell Tobin what had happened in her life, and every way that Tobin could run or reject her or deem her unworthy of being in Scottie’s life as anything more than her coach. 

At the thought of Scottie, Christen felt a small smile tug at her lips. She remembered the sweet texts she’d gotten two days ago. She’d gotten another picture of Scottie, only this time in front of a painting. She’d then gotten another slightly blurry picture of Tobin, this time standing in front of a window, engaged in conversation with an elderly man. And then she’d gotten a short message along with the pictures: ‘Mommy’s doing boooring adolt things I miss you and wish you were hear to see the art Mabe next week?? PLEEEAASSE Love Scottie’

Christen’s heart had warmed at the pictures and the message. She’d quickly sent a selfie back, of her sitting in the away locker room in Seattle’s stadium, with Scottie’s painting hanging behind her inside of the locker. She’d then sent a short message back - I miss you too, kid. I’ll see you after Seattle! Love, Christen

It was becoming increasingly clear that Christen shouldn’t disappoint this sweet, innocent, easy-to-love and easier-to-hurt little girl. She wouldn’t. She needed to be open and honest with Tobin, to tell her where she was at and what she was capable of giving right now. 

She also needed to see if there even was anything to explore here. Sure, Kelley said that Tobin looked at her in a special kind of way, and maybe Christen felt it too. Okay, Christen definitely felt it too. It went beyond curiosity and intrigue. She liked Tobin, she really liked her and she wanted to be a part of Tobin and Scottie’s life. But she still needed to see where Tobin was at. 

When it came down to it, Christen needed to remember that there was more than just her and Tobin to consider. Scottie was a factor, a big factor, and she just prayed that her worst fears, the ones whispering to her that Scottie and Tobin were better off without her, would be proven wrong. 

“If and when this backfires on me, you’ll owe me so many drinks,” Christen replied with a weak chuckle.

“I’ll be your personal barkeep,” Kelley smirked. “But for the record, I don’t think it’ll backfire.” 

Christen didn’t exactly share in Kelley’s confidence, but she smiled anyway.

“Scottie, that’s a total handball!” Tobin laughed, running after Scottie and making her squeal with laughter. 

“Mommy, no!” Scottie giggled, as Tobin wrapped her arms around her waist and pulled her off the ground to tickle her sides. 

“Are you gonna follow the rules?” Tobin asked, tickling even harder. 

“Yes! Yes!” Scottie squealed, squirming in Tobin’s arms.

“Okay,” Tobin laughed, setting Scottie down on the ground again and watching her run after the soccer ball. They were playing around on the indoor turf field in the basement, spending their Sunday learning new tricks and kicking the soccer ball around. 

The intercom from the front door buzzed, alerting both Scottie and Tobin to a visitor. 

“Who’s coming over?” Scottie asked, looking over at Tobin. 

“No one. It’s probably a delivery or something,” Tobin shrugged. “Keep playing. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” 

Tobin raced up the stairs and into the garage. She pushed the button on the wall to open the garage door and made her way out onto the sidewalk, surprised when she turned to look at the front door and saw Christen standing there, her feet moving back and forth. Her heart fluttered at the sight of Christen Press standing in front of her door on a Sunday when there wasn’t any reason for her to be around. 

“Hey,” Tobin called from the open garage. 

Christen whirled around, her eyes widening a bit in surprise at where Tobin’s voice had come from. She quickly shook herself out of it and walked down the steps and over to the garage, her nerves almost all-consuming at this point.

“Good game in Seattle. We watched,” Tobin said, hoping that the tension from last time they’d talked was going to be gone. But from the slightly skittish look in Christen’s eyes and the way her hands seemed to shake, Tobin had a feeling the tension was sticking around. 

“Thanks. Um, I brought you coffee,” Christen blurted, holding out a package of coffee beans from the best coffee shop in Seattle, according to an extensive Google search. She’d had all Saturday and all morning to think about what she was going to say when she saw Tobin again, and that rushed-out sentence was not one she’d practiced. She’d planned to say hi and ask to talk, to apologize for overreacting. She never planned to all but yell at Tobin that she’d brought her something back from Seattle.

“Oh, cool. Thanks...” Tobin replied slowly, taking the package. 

“I mean technically it’s not coffee. It’s just coffee beans. But there is no coffee without coffee beans, so…” Christen rambled, scratching at her jaw nervously after handing over the package to Tobin.

“No, this is great. I hear Seattle has amazing coffee,” Tobin said, bringing the bag up to her face to smell the rich coffee scent. 

“They do,” Christen nodded, crossing her arms over her chest and wondering if it was going to be possible to work through the awkwardness hanging between them.

“ about last Thursday,” Tobin started, pushing her hair away from her face. 

“Yeah, I’m really sorry!” Christen interrupted, throwing her words at Tobin again because she was apparently incapable of anything else today. “I overreacted, I think. Possibly. Hopefully? And I was also a little hungover, so,” she added a little sheepishly.

“I had a feeling that was the case. Scottie’s seven, and seven-year-olds don’t really filter or lower their volume well. I thought it might be torture for you to spend any more time than you had to with a kid with that going on,” Tobin admitted. 

“No time spent with Scottie is torture,” Christen replied quickly with a sharp shake of her head. 

“Well, that’s very sweet of you, but I can’t imagine that’s how you’d like to spend your free time,” Tobin mumbled, leaning against the door frame of the garage. 

Christen’s brow furrowed, hearing the same insecurity lacing the words that she’d heard the last time Tobin said something like that. It had her wondering if maybe she wasn’t the only one carrying baggage into this...thing, whatever it was.

“How about next time, you let me accept the invitation since that is how I want to spend my free time,” Christen hummed, finally uncrossing her arms and stuffing her hands into her pockets.

“You got yourself a deal,” Tobin smiled, feeling her heart start to race in her chest at Christen’s words. 

Christen felt her breath catch at the smile. She realized that this was the moment for her to say something, something she wasn’t sure if she was even ready to say. 

“Is there um, I mean, can” Christen asked. 

“Sure,” Tobin nodded. 

“Without kid ears present?” Christen added.

“She’s in the basement cheating at soccer,” Tobin grinned, stepping back into the garage and clicking the button to close the garage door as soon as Christen followed her. She walked toward the door that led into the bottom floor of their apartment, which happened to be her studio. 

Christen huffed out a laugh. “It’s not cheating if she’s just better than you,” she replied, following Tobin inside. She marveled at the studio space Tobin led her into, at the half-finished paintings and the blank canvases, at the sheer size of the house.

“It is when she picks up the ball and runs away with it,” Tobin countered, flipping on a few light switches. 

“Oh yeah, that’s definitely cheating,” Christen laughed, her eyes holding on a painting tucked into the corner of the room, half-covered with a sheet. 

“I’m going to tell her to stay put, I’ll be right back,” Tobin said, walking to the basement and leaving Christen alone in the studio. 

Christen let the painting she’d spotted pull her in, having a moment alone to look at it. She walked over to it, inexplicably drawn in. Without thinking, she moved the sheet away from the canvas and felt a gasp of wonder leave her lips. 

“I haven’t gotten that one right yet,” Tobin mumbled, walking back into the studio. She joined Christen by the painting that Christen had revealed. It was the only painting in the studio that wasn’t abstract at all. It was a painting of Scottie at the age of three, right when Tobin had brought her home for the first time. “It’s been a couple years of getting frustrated and starting over.”

“Why start over? This is beautiful,” Christen whispered, her fingertips ghosting across the canvas.

“Her eyes aren’t right,” Tobin shrugged. “I don’t think I’m ready to scrap it yet, but I’m still fiddling with that one. My mom takes all the ones I don’t like. She has like five Scotties hanging in her house.”

Christen smiled at that, her gaze still trained on the painting. She filed away all of the new information she’d just learned, how Tobin wasn’t just some artist in her spare time; she clearly did it well enough to make a living at it. A good living. She filed away how Tobin had a mom who supported her. She filed away that Tobin seemed to not realize how perfectly she’d captured the girl, that Tobin seemed overly critical. 

“You got her smile right, though,” Christen hummed, turning back to look at Tobin.

“I guess so,” Tobin nodded, turning away to pull out two chairs from the back wall of the studio and making sure they didn’t have wet paint on them before she sat down. 

Just like every time she spent time with Christen, Tobin was painfully aware of how she had some stains on her shirt from the lunch she’d made for Scottie that afternoon and paint on her hands from working earlier that morning. She was aware that she looked tired, with her hair in a messy bun and no makeup on. Christen, on the other hand, looked flawless in dark jeans and a loose-fitting tank top, her hair perfectly placed and a tiny touch of makeup on her face. 

“Scottie’s practicing a new move, so we’ve got maybe ten minutes,” Tobin said, dropping into one of the chairs.

“Do you invite all of your daughter’s coaches into your studio?” Christen asked, settling into the other chair and not giving it a second thought that there was dried paint splattered across it.

“None of my daughter’s coaches have brought coffee to my house and asked to talk,” Tobin answered softly. 

“Right,” Christen nodded, chuckling weakly. She pushed a hand through her hair and tried to remember why she was doing this, why she felt the need to be honest. It wasn’t just for Scottie or for Tobin, it was for her as well. “I...I don’t even know where to start, which is ridiculous since I’m the one who asked to talk,” Christen admitted with a small shrug.

“Do you want to talk about sports?” Tobin offered, trying to ease the tension. “Or are you interested in real estate in SoHo? I can’t promise I really remember much, since I’ve lived here for four years, but I have some friends in real estate.”

Christen huffed out a laugh, seeing what Tobin was doing and feeling immensely thankful for it. “Maybe later,” Christen replied softly.

“Hmm…” Tobin sighed. “We talk about Scottie a lot, so I don’t think you’d be nervous if you were wanting to talk about her. It probably isn’t about soccer either, then…”

Christen was ready to deny the fact that she was nervous, but she knew there was no point. If Tobin could read her that well, there was no point in lying. 

“I’m-  I’m just going to say something. And if I’m totally off base or crazy, then feel free to kick me out of this cool studio and never bring me coffee again,” Christen started, wringing her hands together in her lap.

“I probably won’t do that, but go ahead,” Tobin nodded, wishing she could do something, anything to keep the nerves away from Christen. 

“I don’t date,” Christen blurted out, mentally cringing at the choice of words. This was definitely not how she had imagined starting this conversation. She ran a hand over her face, willing her blush to subside. “Not that I don’t get asked out on dates, I do. I get asked out a lot. Wait, I don’t mean like a lot, a lot. It’s totally a normal amount. I just-” Christen blew out a short breath and dropped her hand from her face. 

“I just mean that I haven’t dated a lot since...well, for the last six months,” she said, looking deep into Tobin’s brown eyes, letting them tether her to this moment. But at the way they were narrowed slightly in her direction, Christen faltered. “And now you’re giving me a slightly confused look so I think I’m just going to make a joke and change the subject,” Christen rushed out, her cheeks flaming, the blush doing the opposite of subsiding.

“You’re rambling. I didn’t expect you to do that when you got nervous,” Tobin hummed, trying to sound calm, despite the loud thudding of her heart. 

“My mom used to say that I was a leaky faucet when I got nervous. You couldn’t shut me off or make me stop,” Christen admitted, the pang in her chest still painful, but a little less so than usual.

“I can see that,” Tobin nodded. “I don’t date a lot either. Not successfully, anyway,” Tobin offered, hoping that the honesty would make Christen feel a little better. 

“How is that even possible?” Christen scoffed, unable to fathom how someone like Tobin Heath, someone with her heart and her mind and her looks, ever dated unsuccessfully.

“It usually starts and ends with drinks once the single mom thing is mentioned,” Tobin shrugged, feeling her throat get a little tight with the direction that this conversation was going in. “Most people my age don’t want complicated.”

“Nobody seems to want complicated, even if we all are complicated,” Christen replied distractedly. With a quick shake of her head, she came back to the moment, scratching a bit at the corner of her jaw. “But, um, back to the dating thing...I don’t- I mean, maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t feel like just Scottie’s soccer coach anymore,” she said softly. “I haven’t felt like just her coach for a while now.”

“You aren’t crazy,” Tobin sighed, brushing a hand over her hair and pushing the pieces that had slipped out of her bun away from her face. She wanted to jump out of her chair and run to Christen’s side, to tell her that she couldn’t stop thinking about her, that she’d stared at that adorable selfie she’d sent to Scottie for far too many minutes. 

The words were a good thing, but the resigned way Tobin had said them didn’t make Christen feel better. Tobin now seemed to be the one hesitating, and for a moment, Christen wondered if she’d completely misread everything. She wondered if there truly wasn’t anything here to explore, if she’d shown up foolishly on Tobin’s doorstep with coffee beans, ready to talk about how her parents had died and sent her into a downward spiral she was desperate to come out of. She wondered if she’d done something silly like develop feelings for someone who wouldn’t want her or her mess of a life. She wondered if she was making a mistake. 

Christen pulled her bottom lip between her teeth and tried not to let the apprehension twisting around in her stomach make her get up and run away from this studio, from Tobin, from the regret Christen could see swirling around in those brown eyes.

“You’re Scottie’s,” Tobin mumbled, her face flashing with sadness. 

Christen’s brow furrowed slightly, her worry further rolling around inside of her. “I don’t understand…” she trailed off, desperate for answers for the sadness and the regret Tobin was doing little to hide.

“I, um- I met this girl in college,” Tobin said, swallowing down the hesitation she had about sharing her and Scottie’s story with someone else. “And she said that she wanted the whole picket fence and family thing. I was injured and couldn’t get drafted, and I thought that I loved her, and so we got married right out of college,” Tobin choked out, not having told this story all that often. The only people who knew about it were people who saw it happen firsthand. 

Christen instinctively reached out and laid a hand on Tobin’s knee, giving it a comforting squeeze. She wasn’t quite sure what had possessed her to cross this line, to touch Tobin in a way that was too familiar, but she couldn’t take the cloud she could see hanging over Tobin’s head. She kept her hand there, feeling the way her palm tingled at the warmth radiating from Tobin’s skin.

“We traveled around for a bit before we settled down in New Jersey near my parents. I wanted to start working more permanently and set up some roots, and I thought she did too. We adopted Scottie when she was three, and my entire world changed. I live for her...but my ex-wife didn’t. She didn’t know how to take care of her, and she didn’t seem to want to learn. Weekend trips turned into week-long trips until one day she decided not to come home. Scottie doesn’t remember enough, but I know it hurt her. I can’t do that to her again. I can’t take someone from her,” Tobin whispered, feeling her eyes start to burn a little at the admission. 

Christen retracted her hand slowly, bringing it back into her lap. Even if she’d been slightly prepared for a no, despite desperately hoping for a yes, it still hurt to hear. It hurt to know what Tobin and Scottie had been through. It hurt to know they’d been hurt. It also hurt to know that what this other woman had done to the both of them was going to cost Christen the chance at more.

“I see,” Christen mumbled, clenching her teeth tightly together and willing the rejection not to sting so much.

“I can’t, Christen. I’m sorry. No matter how much I want to,” Tobin added softly, trying to look up at Christen but not particularly wanting to see that her eyes were watery. 

“I understand,” Christen nodded tightly. She fiddled with the ring around her middle finger, twisting it repeatedly. “I- um, I appreciate you sharing that with me. And I’m sorry it happened to you both. You deserve better than that.” 

“Scottie adores you,” Tobin mumbled. 

“Yeah, it’s mutual,” Christen whispered, her words coming out a little tight. She couldn’t take the way Tobin’s eyes started to fill with something too closely resembling sympathy. She’d seen enough looks like that in the last six months, and she hadn’t even told Tobin the story that warranted it. She couldn’t stand the sight of it now, not when her heart hurt and her eyes burned.

Christen abruptly stood up from her chair and smiled weakly at Tobin. “I’m sorry if I made things weird or anything.”

“You didn’t,” Tobin assured her. “If things were different-”

“Yeah,” Christen interrupted. “I’ll...see you on Tuesday?” she asked.

“Bright and early,” Tobin nodded. 

With one more tight smile, Christen walked out the way she came in, wishing like hell that things were different. That Tobin’s ex-wife hadn’t done what she did. That Tobin and Scottie hadn’t been hurt and disappointed and left behind before. That she was stronger and better. Mostly, she wished that she was enough to convince Tobin to take the risk.

Tobin hit the garage door button, hating the giant pit in her stomach that she felt building. She could hear Scottie’s laughter from downstairs echoing into the garage, and the pit only grew. She didn’t ever want to feel anything but love toward Scottie, but at times like this, she wondered what her life would look like if she didn’t have her. She shook her head, feeling like the absolute worst person in the world. 

“I’m really sorry,” Tobin choked out, her voice just loud enough to be heard over the garage door. 

Christen’s steps faltered at the broken apology sent her way, the garage door falling shut before she could turn around and see if she’d really heard Tobin say those words to her.

“I’m sorry too,” she whispered at the closed garage door. Taking a deep breath, Christen turned and started to walk slowly down the tree-lined street, not really knowing where she was going.

Chapter Text

There's a war inside of me

Do I cause new heartbreak to write

A new broken song?

Do I push it down

Or let it run me right into the ground?

I, I feel like

I wouldn't like me if I met me

Well, I can't stop talking

For fear of listening to unwelcome sound

And you haven't called me in weeks

And honestly, it's bringing me down

Oh, I, I feel like

I wouldn't like me if I met me

I, I feel like

You wouldn't like me if you met me

And don't you worry, there's still time

Don't you worry, there's still time

There's nothing to live for when I'm sleepin' alone

(Christen - “You Wouldn’t Like Me” by Tegan and Sara)

Could not care less about your day job

The gossip or ordinary stress

See, every relationship I've ever loved

It starts when someone says

Show me where it hurts and give me something real

And lead me to the part of you that never really heals

And say the words that burn when they leave your mouth

Tell me your story, but don't leave the good parts out

And tell me all about your failures

The little things that make you cry

And tell me the acts that you preach but cannot seem to practice

That leave you compromised

I've seen your trophies, your highlight reels

Show me where it hurts and give me something real

And lead me to the part of you that never really heals

And say the words that burn when they leave your mouth

Tell me your story

(Tobin - “The Good Parts” by Andy Grammer)

Christen was a professional athlete. She was in the best shape of her life. But sitting in a yoga studio in the West Village, trying to twist and contort her body into crow pose, Christen seriously started to doubt her athleticism. She doubted it even more because Kelley and Becky seemed perfectly content to pretzel their bodies into crow pose with ease. 

“How. Are. You. Doing. This?” Christen grumbled to Kelley, sighing as she failed to get the pose right again. 

“We’re really zen,” Kelley laughed. “You’re holding tension.”

“I’ll show you tension,” Christen grimaced, almost falling forward and smashing her face into the purple yoga mat she’d had to pull out of the back of her closet this morning, a fine layer of dust on it from lack of use.

“Why are you so tense anyway?” Kelley snorted. “I thought you talked to Tobin, and since I didn’t get an angry text about it, I figured it went well.”

“It...went,” Christen sighed, thinking back on the conversation she’d had with Tobin yesterday. She kept seeing those pained, sad brown eyes in her mind, kept hearing the regret and hurt in Tobin’s words. She’d learned things, things she wondered if she had any right to learn. But the most important of all was that Tobin believed she was in Scottie’s world and had to stay there. Even if Tobin wished for things to be different, even if she did as well, she existed in Scottie’s world and not Tobin’s.

“That doesn’t sound so good,” Becky observed quietly, her eyes still shut.

“Did we read it wrong?” Kelley asked, her voice at a whisper. 

“Not exactly,” Christen hummed, trying to balance herself on two hands.

“So, she’s totally into you too. Called it,” Kelley said a little too loudly, getting shushed by the instructor at the front of the room. 

“I called it first. You were second to call it,” Becky whispered.

Christen gave up on the crow pose and let out another long sigh. “It doesn’t matter who called it. I’m in Scottie’s world, so she shot me down,” she mumbled, grabbing her water bottle and taking a large sip, still feeling a slight sting of rejection. 

Yesterday, she’d come home from Tobin’s place and had drowned her sorrows in a pint of Van Leeuwen’s ice cream and a Golden Girls marathon. She’d let herself be sad that she’d put herself out there and had gotten turned down. Even if it was for a good reason, even if Tobin seemed as sad about it as she had, it still hurt.

“That’s bullshit,” Kelley grumbled, getting another stern stare from fellow yogis. 

“Quiet back there!” the instructor whisper-shouted, causing Christen to lift her hand up in apology.

“Sorry,” Kelley mumbled before turning to look at Christen again. “But she seemed interested in you, right?”

“She- honestly, it really doesn’t matter. Nothing is gonna happen between us,” Christen replied, watching the instructor show them the crane pose and trying not to let her heart hurt just a bit with that knowledge.

“It definitely matters,” Becky sighed. “You just need to prove that you’re going to respect her wishes, but also that you aren’t going to go anywhere. You can be Scottie’s and Tobin’s, and you just need to prove that.”

“I have zero clue how to do that,” Christen whispered, trying to straighten her arms and achieve the crane pose. “Or if it would even work.”

“You could try just being there?” Kelley offered. “Being Scottie’s coach and her role model and her hero. Don’t go back to what you were doing a month ago.”

Christen slipped and fell down on the mat, squishing her face against the foam. She could hear Kelley and Becky chuckling softly nearby. 

“I hate you guys,” Christen grumbled, pushing herself up off the mat and rubbing at her nose.

“Want to bail and get brunch?” Kelley asked, lowering herself onto her knees. 

“Oh thank god,” Becky sighed, pulling out of crane pose expertly and getting to her feet.

“We can plan ‘Operation Make MILF Trust You’ over coffee,” Kelley grinned. 

“I don’t know if that would even work,” Christen sighed. “She seems pretty intent on not letting anything happen.”

“So we convince her! We show her that you’re irresistible and worth the risk! ‘Operation Make MILF Trust you and Fall for You’ is a go!” Kelley cheered, earning her glares from the other yoga patrons.

“We’ve got to work on your op names, Kel,” Becky shook her head, rolling up her mat.

“You’re a godsend,” Abby groaned, flipping open the doughnut box that Tobin had picked up on the way over. With a powdered doughnut in hand, Abby finally turned her attention to Tobin. “What’s going on?” 

“Nothing…” Tobin mumbled. 

“You brought me doughnuts,” Abby said, lifting her eyebrows with emphasis. 

“And that means something’s going on?” Tobin scoffed. 

“Honey!” Abby called for Glennon, her lips twitching up into a smirk. 

“Nooooo,” Tobin groaned. 

“What’s up? Ooooh, doughnuts! What’s wrong?” Glennon asked, moving her attention to Tobin. 

“Doughnuts don’t mean that something’s wrong,” Tobin sighed. 

Abby and Glennon simply stared at Tobin, knowing something was wrong and waiting for her to fess up. 

“Fine, grab a doughnut,” Tobin grumbled, reaching into the box and grabbing an old-fashioned doughnut before she sat down at the kitchen table. “Christen came over yesterday,” she said quietly, not wanting Scottie to hear her from all the way upstairs in Glennon and Abby’s kids’ playroom.  

Glennon reached out and grabbed Abby’s arm, her mouth dropping open in delighted surprise. 

“That is great news!” Glennon grinned.

Abby rolled her eyes affectionately, removing Glennon’s vice-like grip from her arm and tangling their fingers together. 

“It clearly doesn’t end great, since Heath brought doughnuts,” Abby said, making Glennon’s shoulders slump.

“Rats,” Glennon sighed, digging into her jelly doughnut with less gusto than before.

“She kind of rambled and talked about how she doesn’t date, and then she said she feels like more than Scottie’s coach,” Tobin blurted out, only stopping herself from talking more by shoving her doughnut in her mouth. 

Abby and Glennon stayed silent, munching on their own doughnuts and waiting for Tobin to continue. They knew her well enough to know that she needed time and space to work out her thoughts and feelings, in real-time, not constant interruptions from them.

“And that sounds like she’s interested, right? Because that’s how I read the conversation, especially when I turned her down. She looked bummed, so I figured I was reading it right,” Tobin said, moving her hands around for emphasis, the doughnut, waving in front of her face. 

“I’m sorry, you did what now?” Glennon said, her eyes narrowing in confusion.

“Well, obviously I can’t date her. She’s Scottie’s coach,” Tobin huffed. 

“For the summer. She’s Scottie’s coach for the summer ,” Abby corrected.

“Scottie loves her. If something were to happen and Scottie lost her, Scottie would be devastated,” Tobin mumbled. 

Glennon and Abby turned to look at one another and talked in hushed whispers. 

“That sounds reasonable, honey,” Abby hummed. 

“It sounds like an excuse,” Glennon countered with an arched brow. 

“I mean, totally. But Scottie does matter,” Abby reasoned. 

Glennon sighed and put her doughnut down on her napkin. “Of course she matters, which is why Tobin shouldn’t push away the first woman who she actually likes, who knows about Scottie and still wants to start something.”

“You’re so smart and I love you so much,” Abby grinned. The two of them turned back to look at Tobin, now on the same page and ready to help.

“No, no, no, no, no, don’t gang up on me,” Tobin whined. “I already feel like a jerk for turning her down. Don’t tell me it was dumb.”

“We always gang up on you,” Abby chuckled. “And you’re not just a jerk, you’re an idiot-”

“Yeah, a huge idiot. Because that woman made the scary jump and told you she wanted more, and you sent her packing. Honey, would you send Christen Press packing?” Glennon asked.

Abby paused. “I feel like this is a trick question…”

“Oh my god,” Tobin groaned, dropping half of her doughnut back in the box that Abby had brought to the kitchen table and slumping down onto the table. “I’m a total idiot.”

Abby and Glennon just smiled and nodded in agreement.

“I could totally keep this from Scottie for a little bit and not be an awful parent for doing that, right?” Tobin asked, lowering the volume of her voice even more, not that she thought Scottie would really hear her since the kids were yelling and laughing upstairs. 

“You’re allowed to still be a person. You’ll always be Scottie’s mom, but you need to let yourself have a life too. Honestly, you’ll be a better mom to her if you have your own life. A life where you explore what could exist between you and Christen,” Glennon replied with a warm smile. 

“And if it goes horribly, horribly wrong?” Tobin murmured. 

Abby shrugged. “That’s life. Anything is possible. But we don’t think it will. From everything you’ve told us-”

“-which is a lot ,” Glennon interjected with a wink.

“-Christen adores Scottie, so I don’t think you’re the only one looking out for your kid in this situation,” Abby finished.

“So, I kind of suck, and she’s probably not gonna want to speak to me,” Tobin sighed. 

“Hey, don’t talk about our best friend like that,” Glennon replied, shaking her head a bit. “You made a mistake for the right-ish reasons, but now you can make up for it.”

“We’ll come up with a plan,” Abby nodded. 

“We’ll call it… ‘The Great Wooing’ plan,” Glennon grinned.

“Can we make a pity cake while we make said plan?” Tobin asked quietly. 

Taking in the slumped shoulders and regretful look on Tobin’s face, Abby and Glennon nodded in tandem.

“We’ll make two,” Abby replied.

“You ready to rumble?” Kelley asked, bouncing up and down next to Christen. 

“Run me through it again?” Christen asked, her nervous gaze trained on the parking lot. 

“Don’t pretend like Sunday didn’t happen. You gotta respect her desire to just stay friends,” Becky said.

“Don’t be an awko taco weirdo,” Kelley threw out.

“Keep treating Scottie like you always have and keep being there for her,” Becky continued.

“Talk to Tobin like you always do. Show her that you’re there for her and that you’re not going anywhere,” Kelley added. 

“If you feel yourself slipping back into bad habits or start freaking out, say ‘offsides’ and we will totally help you out,” Becky said with a soft smile.

“And keep throwing Tar Heel those smiles that make her blush, and she will be tripping over herself to let you be in their lives like you want to be,” Kelley finished with a clap of her hands.

Christen scratched at her jaw nervously, wondering if this half-baked plan the three of them had cooked up over waffles yesterday would even work. She wanted to respect the fact that Tobin just wanted her to be Scottie’s. But she also didn’t want to go down without a fight. So, like the three of them had decided, she would repeatedly show up. She would prove that she could be here for Scottie and for Tobin. And hopefully, with enough time and persistence, Tobin would start to warm to the idea of her being more than just Scottie’s.

“Christen!” Scottie called from across the field, waving with one hand and holding onto Abby’s hand with the other. 

Christen deflated slightly when she didn’t see Tobin by Scottie’s side. But she quickly shook it off and sent the girl a large smile and a wave.

“Well, shit,” Kelley grumbled. 

“Your plan didn’t prepare me for her to be MIA,” Christen sighed, getting off the bench.

“Well, ask where she is,” Kelley mumbled under her breath. 

“Christen, Abby did my hair this morning!” Scottie said, turning around to show Christen her hair. 

Christen took in the slightly lopsided pigtails and felt her smile grow. “Well then I would tell Abby to stick to scoring goals and leave the hairstyling to other people,” Christen replied, bending down to accept the hug Scottie offered.

“Hey, hey, these are the best I’ve ever done,” Abby defended herself. 

“That’s sad,” Kelley snorted, dodging Abby’s shove and hurrying onto the field to start setting things up. Becky followed behind her, shooting Christen a thumbs up before walking away.

“I’m out of practice. My girls do their own hair now,” Abby grumbled. 

“It’s good to see you, Abby,” Christen said, standing back up and feeling Scottie press herself into her side, her small hand tangling in the back of her shirt.

“It’s great to see you,” Abby said, opening her arms and offering Christen a hug. 

Christen stiffly hugged Abby back, remembering all of the ignored phone calls and text messages she’d received from her old teammate. 

“You’re squishing me!” Scottie protested from in between Christen and Abby.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Abby teased. “Your mommy told me to squish you and watch you play today.”

“Is Tobin not coming?” Christen asked, trying to keep her expression neutral.

“She’s being a boring adult today,” Abby rolled her eyes. 

“Booooooring!” Scottie repeated, trying to roll her eyes as well and not really succeeding.

Christen accepted the flicker of disappointment and took it in stride. At least Tobin wasn’t avoiding her after their conversation this weekend. 

“Mommy’s walking the street,” Scottie chirped, wrapping her arms around Christen’s waist. 

“Um, she’s what?” Christen asked, looking up at Abby.

“She’s on Wall Street,” Abby burst out laughing. Christen laughed as well and rubbed her hand across Scottie’s back. 

“Tobin does commission work, and some financial guy bought one of her pieces, so she’s meeting with him today,” Abby clarified. 

Christen nodded and then looked down at Scottie, already finding those bright gray eyes fixed on her. “What do you say we convince Abby to practice with us today?”

“But she’s old,” Scottie whispered, loudly enough for Abby to hear and protest. 

“Super old,” Christen agreed, poking her tongue against her cheek to stop herself from laughing. “But I haven’t played with her in a while and I missed her. So maybe we can make an exception?”

“Okay,” Scottie shrugged. “I play with Abby every week, and she’s really loud and mean when she plays.”

“I’ll make sure she’s on her best behavior today,” Christen replied, poking her pointer finger against the tip of Scottie’s nose.

“I’m never mean,” Abby protested. 

“Want to go take some shots on goal before everyone else gets here?” Christen asked, wanting a moment alone with Abby and knowing this was her only way to get it.

“Yes, please!” Scottie said, racing toward the goal. “Last one there’s a rotten egg!”

Christen turned her attention to Abby and fixed an apologetic grimace on her face. “I meant to call you back. Things just got…” Christen trailed off, searching for the right words and coming up empty.

“You don’t need to apologize,” Abby shook her head. “You have every right to work through things at your own pace, and responding to my calls didn’t have to be a part of that process.”

“It was, um,” Christen cleared her throat. “It was... my parents . I didn’t mean to shut anyone out after, I just needed some time.” It was hard to say the words, but she needed to say them. She didn’t just owe them to an old friend, she owed them to herself as well.

“Christen, you don’t need to explain anything to me. I’m just glad to see you doing so well, and I’m sorry that you had to go through all of that. No one deserves that,” Abby said, her voice soft. 

“I’m getting there,” Christen hummed, blinking away the burn of tears in her eyes. “I just wanted you to know that I wasn’t ignoring you. I missed you, Abby.”

“I never thought you were,” Abby said with a smile on her lips. “I missed you too, Press. But you’ve officially converted my goddaughter into a Stanford fan. That’s the only thing you need to apologize for.”

Christen laughed and swiped under her eyes quickly, hoping Abby hadn’t caught the tears that had snuck out. 

“I haven’t even been trying, but now that I know she’s amenable to it, I’ll try harder,” Christen chuckled.

“She’s already ditched the UNC jersey and ripped Tobin’s heart out of her chest,” Abby chuckled. 

Christen knew it was a joke, she knew it was just light-hearted fun, but she remembered what Tobin had said to her. That she was Scottie’s, not Tobin’s. She didn’t feel like she was allowed to come between them in that way.

“It’s a good thing,” Abby said, elbowing Christen in the side. 

“I’ll take your word for it,” Christen replied softly, flashing a tight smile up at Abby quickly.

“I actually am really glad Tobin asked me to bring Scottie. I wanted to ask you a favor,” Abby said. 

“No, I will not defend you while you try to score headers,” Christen hummed, bumping her shoulder into Abby’s. “Been there, done that.”

“It’s not soccer-related actually,” Abby grinned, loving the easy comradery that she’d always had with Christen. 

“Fire away,” Christen shrugged, wondering what Abby could possibly need help with.

“Glennon’s gonna be helping her friend move this weekend, and there’s this gala I’m going to. I don’t want to go alone…” Abby started. 

“Do I get to dress up?” Christen teased, her mind already running through the various outfits she had in her closet that she’d love to pull out and wear again. She hadn’t really gotten dressed up or gone out to a fancy party or gala since everything happened. 

“Black tie event,” Abby nodded. “You can totally say no if you want, but it’ll be nice to have a friend there, and Tobin’s busy, so I can’t ask her or anything.”

“I’d love to go. Saves me from vacuuming my apartment and listening to the Frozen soundtrack,” Christen chuckled, her cheeks heating slightly at the admission.

“That’s what you’ve been doing lately?” Abby laughed. “You must have it bad.”

“What do you mean?” Christen asked hesitantly, scratching at her jaw.

“Oh, please,” Abby snorted. “The only person who has it as bad as you is Tobin. I’ve never seen someone eat as much pity cake as she did at Sunday night dinner.”

“Pity cake?” Christen repeated, tactfully avoiding the Tobin parts of that reply.

“Glennon makes them when someone’s bummed,” Abby shrugged. 

“She’s bummed?” Christen asked, guilt flashing through her quickly.

“She told us about...things between you two. I hope that’s okay. But she’s bummed about it, yeah. It’s hard to want to do something and hold yourself back, you know?” Abby mumbled. 

“Better than anyone,” Christen whispered, turning away from Abby’s knowing look.

“If you ask me, she’s an idiot,” Abby sighed. “I told her as much, for the sixth time that day, which started her on slice number four of pity cake.”

Christen barked out a laugh and bumped her shoulder against Abby’s again. “How nice of you, Abby,” she teased, once more avoiding the parts of Abby’s comment about Tobin.

“You guys are the slowest rotten eggs in the world!” Scottie shouted, throwing her hands up in exasperation. 

“No, I’m not!” Christen yelled back, laughing as she shoved Abby and sprinted away from the bench toward Scottie.

Tobin felt like a complete idiot. She kept replaying Christen’s visit over and over in her mind, visualizing how nervous Christen had looked and how absolutely dejected she’d seemed once Tobin’s words were out in the open. It wasn’t that she thought Christen would actively hurt Scottie. On the contrary, Tobin knew Christen would do everything she could to love Scottie and protect her. 

Despite knowing that though, Tobin couldn’t stop herself from thinking about every woman she’d been with who’d run the other way. Roni had shattered things, and Tobin had put the pieces back together, maybe even better than they had been before. But her limited dating experience since had ended with her sitting in restaurants alone and wishing she didn’t feel the need to welcome another person into her life romantically. 

Glennon had pointed out to Tobin that Christen was asking for more, that she had already spent time with Tobin and Scottie and wanted more, which made her different from everyone else she’d gone out with, and Tobin couldn’t deny that. Christen was different. She was kind and compassionate and beautiful and talented and loved Scottie. But that scared Tobin even more. If those past dates had been painful, losing Christen would be heart-wrenching, and she wasn’t only thinking of herself. Scottie was already so attached. Losing Christen would break her heart. 

“Mommy?” Scottie whispered, wrapping a finger around Tobin’s belt loop and tugging slightly. 

“What’s up, little bit?” Tobin asked, pulling her eyes away from the pan that she was washing. 

“You’re sad again,” Scottie mumbled. “And don’t lie because lying is bad.”

“I’m just thinking, buddy,” Tobin sighed. 

“Then you’re sad thinking, but you’re still sad,” Scottie pointed out thoughtfully. 

“Sometimes even moms get sad, and that’s okay,” Tobin said, rinsing the pan one more time and setting it on the drying rack. 

Scottie grabbed her kitchen stool from near the refrigerator and dragged it over. She then got on top of it and climbed up onto the countertop, sitting next to the sink. She put her hand on Tobin’s cheek, making Tobin stop what she was doing and look at her. 

“How can I make you not sad?” Scottie asked quietly.

“You already make me not sad. You make me the happiest,” Tobin grinned, leaning forward and kissing Scottie’s forehead. 

“We can listen to Frozen , that always helps me feel better,” Scottie offered.

“How about we watch it in bed tonight?” Tobin asked, unable to keep the smile off of her face, remembering how she’d suffered through Frozen with Christen on the way to the restaurant. 

“You got yourself a deal,” Scottie replied, holding out her hand in a fist bump. “Christen says you have to fist bump or it doesn’t count.”

Tobin’s heart clenched slightly, and she hoped that it wasn’t obvious on her face. She bumped her fist against Scottie’s before telling her to go get changed into pajamas and wait for her in Tobin’s bed. 

“Christen!” Scottie called, racing across the field like she always did, her bag bouncing up and down against her body. 

Christen didn’t hear her today though, she was listening to a podcast in her AirPods and was completely unprepared for the little body to collide with her own.  She had been bent over the ball bag and the force of Scottie's embrace sent them both tumbling down to the grass.

“Oh my god,” Tobin swore under her breath, picking up her pace but trying not to spill coffee all over herself at the same time. 

Christen was laughing, like tears from the corners of her eyes laughing, lying in the grass with Scottie half on top of her. 

“Hi,” Scottie grinned, her own giggles shaking her body. 

“You knocked me off my feet, kid,” Christen said, continuing to laugh as she pulled Scottie in for a hug.

“I missed you,” Scottie mumbled, wrapping her arms around Christen’s neck and squirming closer to her. 

Christen’s chest tightened at the words, at the chord they struck within her. She shouldn’t be this attached, not after only a month and a half. But she was, she was desperately attached and falling in love with this kid and praying that it wasn’t going to leave her hurting when the Academy eventually ended.

“I’m so sorry,” Tobin blurted out as soon as she reached Christen’s side, feeling her cheeks start to blush at the mere sight of Christen. 

Christen sat both her and Scottie up, keeping Scottie in her arms. “She’s fine, I wasn’t paying attention. Too lost in my murder podcast,” Christen chuckled, using one hand to put away her AirPods.

“Scottie, you shouldn’t run into people without warning,” Tobin said, unable to hide the smile that was on her face now that she knew everyone was okay.

“You probably shouldn’t when it’s other people, but you can run into me anytime,” Christen said, winking at Scottie when the girl pulled out of the hug, but stayed sitting in her lap.

“Funny, you didn’t say that to me,” Tobin smirked, remembering their first meeting when they actually bumped into one another. It wasn’t until she heard the flirty way that came out that her eyes widened a little. 

Christen felt her brows shoot up slightly, blushing not just at the comment, but at the endearing way Tobin seemed to be surprised even at herself. 

“I get to go see my Grandma this weekend!”  Scottie interrupted, stealing Christen’s sunglasses from where they’d been hanging on the collar of her shirt. She put them on, the glasses far too big for her head. 

“That’s so exciting!” Christen replied, trying not to think about the sentimental value of the sunglasses as Scottie’s fingers touched and grabbed with little care.

“Scottie, you didn’t ask to try on her sunglasses,” Tobin sighed, cringing when she saw Scottie’s fingers swipe across the lenses. 

“Christen, can I keep trying on your sunglasses?” Scottie asked with that signature toothy grin on her face.

“Of course, kid. Just try not to break them, someone really important gave them to me,” Christen said gently.

“Who?” Scottie asked, turning her face to look at Christen. 

“My- my dad,” Christen replied hesitantly, adjusting the glasses on Scottie’s head. “He...he loved sunglasses. All kinds, all colors. He had a pair for every outfit. And he loved giving them as gifts. He gave me these before, um- last year,” she added, keeping her voice light and her smile on her face, even though she wanted to keep neither. Even if it hurt a little less to talk about this with Scottie, and by extension Tobin, it still hurt.

Tobin didn’t miss the fact that Christen was using the past tense to talk about her dad. She didn’t miss the sadness in Christen’s eyes, and she suddenly felt a huge urge to wrap the woman up in her arms. 

“Roni sends me sunglasses sometimes,” Scottie shrugged. “The last ones were ugly.”

“Well how about we find you a super cool pair you can wear to the next home game, then?” Christen replied with a smile, reflexively holding Scottie just a little tighter at the mention of Roni, who she assumed was the ex-wife who’d done quite the number on Tobin and Scottie.

“I get to go to the next game?” Scottie gasped. 

“You didn’t hear? My favorite player gets to come to every home game,” Christen winked. 

“I’m your favorite?” Scottie asked, her eyes widening in wonder. 

“I don’t let just anyone borrow my dad’s sunglasses,” Christen replied, finding it a little easier to say the word dad this time. She couldn’t help but smile at the gobsmacked look on Scottie’s face. She wanted to keep doing things like this, things to put that smile on Scottie’s face. Maybe that should be part of her plan too.

“You’re my favorite coach,” Scottie grinned, removing the sunglasses from her head and hanging them back on Christen’s shirt. 

“Thank you for being so gentle with them,” Christen murmured.

Tobin’s heart was a puddle of goo. She had no words to add to the conversation, and honestly, she thought her words might break the moment, so she tried to focus on Kelley and Becky across the field, even stepping away slightly to give Scottie her moment with one of her favorite people. 

“Of course,” Scottie beamed. 

Christen suddenly realized she’d promised Scottie that she could come to every home game without actually checking with the person who had the say in that. She looked away from the girl in her arms and up at Tobin, and noticed that she was no longer standing close by. 

“Tobin?” Christen asked, feeling her heart pick up just a bit when she said her name. She had uttered it so softly and she wanted to kick herself. It was just a name, she shouldn’t be so tripped up by it. She shouldn’t have said it the way she did, like a reverent whisper, loaded with feelings and desires she had no business feeling or desiring.

“Christen?” Tobin answered, turning around to look at the woman who kept stopping her heart and then sending it into a racing tailspin. 

“Is it okay if Scottie walks out with me and is the ball girl for the rest of the home games this season?” Christen asked, cringing slightly at having not checked before basically promising Scottie she could. “I know I should have checked with you, but-”

“I bet she’d love that,” Tobin interrupted with a nod. “It’s cool with me.”

“The season goes until November,” Christen added, saying more with her words than just communicating the end date of the season.

“We’re not planning on going anywhere,” Tobin replied, her eyes landing on Christen’s and staying there for a beat too long. 

“Neither am I,” Christen murmured softly, and maybe it was too serious and meant more to her than it did to Tobin or Scottie, but she said it anyway.

“Mommy, you should give Kelley and Becky their coffees. I have a secret, and you can’t hear it,” Scottie said, leaning into Christen. 

“Oh, really?” Tobin laughed. 

“Scram, we’ve got secrets to share,” Christen teased, holding out her hand for her own coffee before Tobin left.

Tobin’s smile grew to its full size, making her cheeks ache. “Coffee for the bossy lady,” Tobin sighed, handing the drink to Christen. “And a kiss for the even bossier little girl,” she added, pressing a kiss to Scottie’s head, not realizing that leaning down to kiss her would put her in a position that was mere inches from Christen. 

For the first time since knowing Christen, she was close enough to smell the jasmine and honeysuckle scent that was in Christen’s detergent or lotion or hair products or was just naturally her . It made Tobin’s heart ache to reach out and touch her, to pull her in for a hug, to spend every second with her. Tobin’s breath caught in her throat, and she had to force herself to stand up quickly and walk across the field to Kelley and Becky. 

Christen watched Tobin walk away, her breathing still a little labored. She hadn’t recovered from Tobin being so close to her, from those scents of sandalwood and something floral that had overwhelmed her senses. They were an intoxicating combination, Tobin was intoxicating , and Christen wondered if she’d ever recover. 

“Are you even listening to me?” Scottie asked, bringing Christen’s attention back to the seven-year-old in her lap.

“What’d you say?” Christen replied, a sheepish smile on her face. She had been completely ignoring the girl in her arms in favor of obsessing over the girl’s mom.

“Mommy’s sad,” Scottie repeated, looking up at Christen. 

And just like that, whatever light and comfort and delicious promise had come from being so close to Tobin was gone. In its place was concern, a concern that had Christen’s forehead wrinkling and her mouth turning down in a frown.

“How do you know that?” Christen asked, hating the worry she could see in Scottie’s gray eyes and the responsibility resting on her small shoulders. She didn’t want Scottie to have to be the only one looking out for Tobin.

“She isn’t listening to music in her studio anymore,” Scottie pouted. “And her eyes look different, and she didn’t even sing to “Let It Go” last night, even though she usually does because it makes me laugh.”

Christen was almost at a loss for what to say. She didn’t want to pepper Scottie with questions to try and figure out if Tobin was sad about what had happened on Sunday, like Abby had alluded to, or if there was more going on. It wasn’t really her place and she didn’t think it was Scottie’s place to have to answer questions like that anyway. 

So instead, she pushed aside her concern for Tobin and focused on Scottie. She stayed in Scottie’s world like Tobin wanted her to. 

“Well, Scottie, sometimes our moms get sad, but it’s not our fault. All we can do is give them really big hugs and extra scoops of ice cream for dessert,” Christen replied.

“That’s what Mommy said!” Scottie gasped. 

Christen had lost count of the number of times that had happened, where she would say something and Scottie would exclaim that Tobin had said the same thing.

“Christen?” Scottie asked. 

“Scottie Heath?” Christen teased with a small smile, trying to bring the light back into those gray eyes.

“I think you need to spend time with Mommy,” Scottie hummed. 

“Do you not want to spend time with me anymore?” Christen asked, desperate to steer this back toward something she could manage. She had to respect Tobin’s decision to keep their lives separate, but it was hard to do when Scottie seemed intent on tangling them together.

“I do!” Scottie blurted out. “But Mommy always smiles really big when she talks to you. You can hang out with both of us.”

“I…” Christen trailed off, wishing more than anything that she could agree. But she shouldn’t. “I think that’s something you should talk to your mom about, kid.”

“Okay, I can do that!” Scottie said, trying to scramble out of Christen’s lap. 

“Wait, I didn’t mean now!” Christen replied quickly, trying to grab onto Scottie’s arm or jersey or something, but all she caught was empty air as Scottie raced away from her. 

Christen sighed and dropped her head into her hands. Great, now Tobin was going to think she put Scottie up to this. 

“Mommy!” Scottie called, skidding to a stop beside Tobin. 

“Are you finished with your secrets?” Tobin teased. 

“Christen wanted me to ask you about her spending time with us since she makes you happy!” Scottie grinned.

Tobin’s eyebrows shot up at Scottie’s words. She lifted her head and looked toward where Christen was still sitting in the grass with her head in her hands. 

“Did she ask you that or did you ask her that?” Tobin clarified, seeing that Christen looked absolutely mortified. 

“Ummm...well I sorta asked her, but then she said I had to ask you first,” Scottie shrugged, bending down to pick some wildflowers from the grass field.

“Why don’t you go pass the ball with Kelley?” Tobin suggested. 

“But I don’t want to pass the ball with Kelley,” Scottie replied, her brow furrowing.

“Or Becky,” Tobin offered. 

“I like Coach Becky. Look, I can wear my jersey like her,” Scottie said, rolling the sleeves of her jersey up.

“I bet she’d love to see that. Why don’t you go show her?” Tobin suggested. 

“COACH BECKY! LOOK!” Scottie yelled, racing across the field to where Becky was setting up the small, pop-up nets.

Tobin walked over to where Christen was still hiding her face, dropping down onto the grass beside her. 

“I didn’t ask her to say that,” Christen mumbled from behind her hands.

“I know,” Tobin nodded. “She has a habit of putting words into people’s mouths.”

Christen finally lifted her face from her hands and turned to look at Tobin, which was a mistake because there was a wayward strand of hair that had escaped her bun and was now blowing in the wind, enticing Christen to reach out and tuck it behind Tobin’s ear.

“I definitely wouldn’t have said that after this weekend. You drew a line; I respect the line. I’m not crossing the line or using Scottie to cross it,” Christen assured.

“I was kind of dumb this weekend,” Tobin replied softly, looking out across the field. 

That gave Christen pause. “Do you actually not know anything about the real estate market in SoHo?” she joked weakly, scratching at her jaw self-consciously a bit.

Tobin smiled at Christen’s joke, wanting more than anything to take away the space between them. “No. About the line, and about you. I was...really dumb.”

“Dumb, a very adult word you got there,” Christen replied, not letting herself fall into hope’s trap. Tobin’s words could mean anything. She could mean that she didn’t want Christen in their lives in any capacity.

“I know I probably blew my chances, but I’d like to talk again if you’re willing. Not here, obviously,” Tobin mumbled. “I have a thing this weekend. If you want to come you can. I’d love the company,” Tobin offered, looking over at Christen. 

Christen sighed. “I can’t this weekend. I have a game Saturday up in D.C. and an event on Sunday,” she replied regretfully.

“Another time then maybe,” Tobin hummed, offering a soft smile to Christen. 

“I’d like that,” Christen found herself saying, hopelessly within hope’s trap now as she mirrored Tobin’s smile.

“You clean up nice,” Abby grinned as soon as Christen opened her door. 

“Such a tone of surprise. Do you not remember the ESPYs?” Christen teased, stepping out of her apartment and pulling the door shut. She ran a hand down the side of her strapless, black, floor-length dress, straightening the skirt and making sure the slit didn’t ride too high up her leg. 

It felt a little strange to be getting so dolled up, putting on the make-up and styling her curls into a loose up-do. But she also had missed it, the time and care one could put into their appearance. She hadn’t been out in this capacity since her parents, and she’d missed it. 

“I’m not surprised,” Abby said, offering Christen her arm. “You’re gonna be drawing some eyes tonight.” “One particular pair of eyes,” Abby thought to herself, unable to keep the mischievous smile off her face. 

“I’d prefer not to,” Christen admitted, taking Abby’s arm and letting her lead them to the elevator. 

“Oh, really? Why’s that?” Abby asked, feigning innocence. 

Christen knocked her hip into Abby’s and rolled her eyes. “Who’s watching the girls if Glennon is helping a friend move?”

“Oh, um a- a babysitter,” Abby stuttered, not expecting Christen to ask her that. She hadn’t come up with a good cover, and she couldn’t be honest and tell her that Glennon was at home with the kids having a movie night. 

“Oh my god, Abby, did I tell you that I failed to put two-and-two together and realize Glennon was Glenny? Scottie was rambling on about family dinners and Tobin going to visit this Glenny person, and for some reason, I just did not think of your wife,” Christen laughed.

“Scottie’s been calling her Glenny since she was three. It’s adorable, and Glennon loves it,” Abby laughed, thankful for the new topic. 

“It’s super cute,” Christen agreed. “I didn’t realize that Tobin had adopted Scottie when she was already three. I honestly didn’t even realize she was adopted until Tobin mentioned it.”

“It’s usually a longer process, but Scottie needed a foster family really quickly, and Tobin had already fostered a few kids before, so they placed Scottie with her. I think Roni really wanted to adopt a baby, but Tobin just fell in love with Scottie as soon as she saw her,” Abby sighed, remembering the night that Tobin had called her to tell her about Scottie and the following weeks when she called regularly for advice. 

“That I get,” Christen chuckled, letting Abby lead her out of the apartment building and down to a town car waiting on the curb. They slid in and the car promptly took off through the city streets.

“You should have seen her when Tobin first picked her up. Scottie was tiny, and she latched onto Tobin pretty immediately. I’m sure she’ll show you a picture sometime,” Abby said, looking out the window at the buildings they were passing. 

“Maybe,” Christen replied, feeling that stubborn hope inside of her again. The one she shouldn’t be feeling. The one she had to ignore if she was going to stay in Scottie’s world.

“For the first few years, it was hard to get her to stop showing people pictures,” Abby laughed. 

Christen laughed right along with Abby, being able to picture sleep-deprived but totally enamored new mom Tobin showing anyone who would give her the time of day pictures of Scottie. 

“Tobin was so chill in college. Nothing bothered her; everything just rolled right off her back, and then she got Scottie, and I watched her morph into this huge worrywart. She’s mellowed out since, though. Sorry, you probably don’t want to talk about her right now,” Abby said, clearing her throat softly. 

Christen had to bite back a quick, overly eager response. A response where she begged Abby to keep telling her things, to keep adding to her mental stores on Tobin and Scottie. She instead shot Abby a small smile and forced herself to reply calmly.

“It’s okay, I don’t mind,” Christen replied. “I like hearing about her from your perspective. It’s very different from the soccer mom side I see.”

“And what do you see?” Abby asked, cocking her head to the side and glancing over at Christen. 

Christen blushed and looked away from Abby, not wanting to take the bait. “Things I shouldn’t,” Christen admitted. “I shouldn’t see her as anything, at least that’s kind of the message I got last weekend. Only now I’m not so sure. She...she asked to talk.”

“Probably because she got brave,” Abby mumbled. “Glennon gassed her up.”

Christen chuckled and shook her head. “Whatever it was, I’m trying not to read too much into it. I’m finally getting back on my feet and I don’t need to be looking for a place to land that’s not on solid ground, you know?”

“You don’t think Tobin’s solid?” Abby asked, her eyebrows scrunching together in thought. 

“I do,” Christen replied quickly, her heart fluttering at the admission. Tobin was solid ground. She was strong and unwavering, steadfast and dependable. Tobin was someone who could be her safe harbor, but she wasn’t sure if Tobin wanted to be. Christen took a deep breath and added, “I just don’t know if she would let me land.” 

After a beat of silence, Christen shook her head and smiled weakly at Abby. “But wow it got heavy in here, yeah? Does this swanky town car have sparkling water or something?” she asked, changing the subject quickly.

“There’s water in the cooler,” Abby nodded, reaching forward to open the small cooler. “We’re almost there, anyway.”

“Where are we going? I didn’t actually ask,” Christen laughed.

“How much do you love me?” Abby asked, offering Christen a tight smile. 

“Uh...enough. Why?” Christen wondered, her eyes narrowing.

“We’re here, ladies,” the driver announced as he pulled up in front of the Museum of Modern Art. 

“MoMA! So cool, right?” Abby said, smiling brightly and opening her door. 

“I guess...I haven’t been here in years,” Christen said carefully, not sure why Abby looked so guilty and mischievous all at once.

“The show tonight is gonna be awesome!” Abby said, a little too enthusiastic for normal. 

“I thought you said it was a gala?” Christen asked with a furrowed brow.

“It totally is, but there’s also art…” Abby mumbled, pulling Christen by the hand out onto the street. 

“You’re so weird, Abby,” Christen laughed, not understanding why Abby seemed so secretive about this but she just decided to roll with it. 

Abby led Christen through the front doors, telling security her name and watching as they checked her and her plus one off. “We’re going to the third floor,” Abby said quietly, heading to the elevator and pressing the buttons for them to ride up. The entire time, she felt jittery, hoping that all would go well for both Christen and Tobin. She didn’t need their second attempt at a talk to go poorly, but she’d told Glennon to get a cake ready just in case it did.

“Wow, you did this one too?” a woman cooed, looking between the painting on the wall and Tobin by her side. 

“Yes,” Tobin blushed, glancing back at the painting that the woman was looking at. “All the paintings in this room are mine.”

“That’s incredible,” the woman replied. “Are any of them for sale?”

“Not any of these just yet. They’ll be sold at the end of the summer exhibit. I do have other pieces on my website for sale right now, and people sometimes commission pieces if they have a specific person or place in mind,” Tobin said, giving the woman her undivided attention. 

“So I could hire you to paint me something?” the woman practically purred, leaning into Tobin’s space.

“Absolutely,” Tobin nodded, reaching into her suit jacket pocket, pulling out her business card, and offering it to the woman.  

The woman reached out, running her pointer finger against one of Tobin’s as she took the card. “What about tonight? Could you start then?”

Tobin’s face flushed at the insinuation. She hadn’t expected someone to proposition her for that, not at an art gallery where most of the people were decades older than her. “My dance card’s all booked up tonight,” she said, thinking about Christen and what it had been like to sit and talk to her at Scottie’s last practice. 

“What a shame. Let me know if it frees up,” the woman replied with a coy wink.

“Will do,” Tobin nodded, knowing fully well that she wouldn’t be actively seeking this woman out later. 

Tobin wandered around the room with her nametag on the lapel of her jacket, answering a few questions that people had about her work. Making art was fun. It didn’t feel like a job, but this...this was exhausting. Tobin always hated the schmoozing, the compliments, the loud conversations over wine and cheese, and the bright lights in the museum. This was work. 

It was in the middle of one of the many overly schmoozy conversations that she caught sight of dark, curly hair and felt her stomach flip. 

“Excuse me,” she mumbled to the man who was trying to talk to her about some art theory that he’d learned about in college. She hurried away from him, stepping out of the room that contained her art and turning to look down the hall. 

The head of dark curls was now at the end of the hallway and ducking into a different artist’s room. 

Tobin darted down the hallway, dodging a few glasses of wine and a couple of museum patrons. When she rounded the corner, her eyes met green ones, and the entire museum fell silent in the back of her mind. 

Christen froze, her glass of water halfway to her lips, her gaze holding with Tobin’s. She couldn’t breathe, she could barely even think. She felt like the world stopped turning as her eyes stayed locked with that pair of familiar, warm brown eyes. The ones that stirred something within her that she was maybe a little less scared of now.  

Tobin was here, at this gala event Abby had dragged her to, and Christen couldn’t wrap her head around odds like that. 

“Abby?” Christen asked tightly, her eyes still locked with Tobin’s.

“Yeah?” Abby hummed, pulling her eyes away from the painting she was admiring from another local artist. 

“What is Tobin Heath doing here?”

“Oh, did I forget to mention that part?” Abby asked with a guilty chuckle. “She’s a featured artist.”

Christen couldn’t even respond. She just stared at Tobin, feeling drawn in, inexplicably pulled in Tobin’s direction. She couldn’t stand so far away, not when she saw the tailored navy suit and the soft, beachy waves in Tobin’s hair. She couldn’t be over here, with Tobin all the way over there, when Tobin looked just a little wonderstruck and surprised in the absolute best way. 

Tobin lifted her hand in an awkward wave, and immediately chastised herself. “Are you serious? That was the lamest greeting you could have thought of.” She couldn’t help it, though. She couldn’t think of anything other than how beautiful Christen looked in her black dress and dark lipstick. She couldn’t help that her heart was thrumming at the fastest pace she’d ever felt and that her skin felt prickly and tingly and that her stomach was rolling in the best way possible. She stepped forward into the room, knowing only one thing for certain: she wanted to be close to Christen more than anything else. 

Christen’s feet were moving, not even really registering the fact that Abby was talking to her. She elbowed through the crowd, and approached Tobin, unable to deny the pull any longer.

“Hi,” Christen all but breathed, her lips pulling into a shy smile once.

“Hey,” Tobin said, her voice low, almost reverent. “You look amazing.” “You shouldn’t have said that out loud,” Tobin thought, her eyes widening a little at the brazenness. 

“You don’t look too bad yourself,” Christen replied smoothly, her cheeks filled with a pretty blush at the compliment.

“Thank you,” Tobin said, glancing down at her navy suit and the black shoes on her feet. 

“I, um, I didn’t know this was the museum Scottie was talking about,” Christen hummed, fighting the urge to step closer and run her hand along the lapel of Tobin’s coat, to tuck a few strands of hair behind her ear.

“I didn’t know this was what you were busy with this weekend,” Tobin said softly. 

“I didn’t either, really. Abby told me I was accompanying her to a gala,” Christen laughed.

“What a liar,” Tobin chuckled. “She ditched Glennon for you, then.”

“Glennon’s not helping a friend move tonight, is she?” Christen asked, shaking her head at how naive she’d been, believing Abby’s pitiful excuse.

“She said she didn’t feel well and couldn’t come, but I’d guarantee that she and the kids are watching a movie and eating popcorn right now,” Tobin smirked. 

“Remind me to thank her,” Christen replied, her voice soft.

“Remind me to thank her too,” Tobin murmured. 

The two simply looked at each other for a moment, enjoying the fact that there weren’t dozens of kids running around on a soccer field around them, that there wasn’t a seven-year-old begging for attention. Tonight, they were just Christen and Tobin.

“Excuse me,” a server holding a tray of wine glasses said, moving past Tobin, making her step closer to Christen to clear the path. 

Christen sucked in an audible breath, her eyes widening a bit at the feeling of Tobin’s hand on her waist, at the proximity they now enjoyed. She was close enough to see the honeyed flecks in Tobin’s brown eyes and the smile lines around her mouth. They were closer now than they were at the fields and Christen wasn’t hating a single second of it.

Tobin felt like her brain was short-circuiting. She felt the silky material of Christen’s dress under her fingertips and Christen’s soft breath against her cheek. Tobin had never been this close to Christen, and she wondered if moving any closer would kill her since this distance was stopping her heart in her chest already. 

“Uh...sorry,” Tobin mumbled, taking her hand off of Christen’s waist and stepping back but not quite as far as she had been before. 

“It’s fine,” Christen whispered, fighting off a wince at how deep her voice had gotten. She cleared her throat and gripped her clutch tightly in her hand to avoid scratching at her jaw. 

“Do you want a drink or something?” Tobin asked, looking over her shoulder for another wandering waiter. 

“I’m okay for now,” Christen replied, still trying to get her bearings after being so intoxicatingly close to Tobin.

“Okay,” Tobin nodded. “I should- well, I should actually get back to my corner before someone comes to find me.”

“Oh, right. Of course,” Christen said, feeling a flash of disappointment that Tobin had to go so soon.

“I’ll see you if you wander that way?” Tobin asked, her voice hopeful and her body longing to stay rooted right where she was. “Maybe soon?”

“I could wander now...but I’d need someone to show me the way. It’s a little confusing in here with the crowd and all the rooms,” Christen replied, a small smile tugging at her lips.

“Sure. Yeah,” Tobin replied, fumbling with her words and her body for a second unsure of whether she should offer Christen her arm or just walk ahead. She settled on something that in hindsight was likely more intimate, resting her hand on Christen’s back and guiding her out of the room and down the hall. 

“I should have known these were yours,” Christen observed quietly, looking at the pink, cotton candy-colored painting that Scottie loved so much. “You just have this...thing that no one else does. This is a Tobin Heath painting, through and through.”

“I’ll assume that’s a compliment,” Tobin grinned, looking at the pink painting as well, her arm brushing against Christen’s slightly. 

“I meant it as one!” Christen assured, turning to offer Tobin a dazzling smile. “These are all extraordinary. Especially this one,” she added, nodding at the cotton candy painting.

“That’s Scottie’s favorite. She claimed it, so you’ll have to choose another,” Tobin teased. 

“I get to choose one?” Christen asked with a small chuckle, her green eyes dancing.

“Sure,” Tobin shrugged with an easy smile on her lips. 

“I want the one in your studio,” Christen whispered, her cheeks flushing slightly with the admission. 

Tobin knew exactly which one Christen was talking about. Christen wanted the painting of Scottie, the one Tobin still hadn’t managed to get right, the one that Christen looked at and saw perfection, even if Tobin didn’t.

“Okay,” Tobin hummed, her stomach somersaulting again at the admission. It seemed like Christen became more and more amazing with each word she spoke, and Tobin was feeling a little overwhelmed by the way her heart kept fluttering in her chest. 

“Were you...were you serious about talking again?” Christen wondered, her voice soft. She knew they were in the middle of a crowded museum, that Abby was off somewhere, that they weren’t alone. But tucked away in this little corner of the third floor, it felt like they were in a world all of their own.

“Yes, I was serious,” Tobin nodded, reaching out to brush her fingers across the back of Christen’s hand. 

Christen let out a short, relieved breath and looked down at their hands. She tracked the briefest, barely-there touches of Tobin’s fingertips along the back of her hand. She watched so intently, almost as if Tobin’s touch could communicate whatever it was Tobin wanted to tell her. 

“I haven’t had dinner,” Tobin mumbled quietly. 

Christen lifted her gaze back to Tobin, her hand itching to take Tobin’s in her own. “Me neither,” she replied softly. “You definitely shouldn’t skip dinner. It’s an important meal.”

“Neither should you. You’re a professional athlete, so it’s doubly important,” Tobin said, her brown eyes a little playful. 

“We should probably make sure we don’t skip it then.”

“There’s a food cart downstairs that stays open really late. I can’t leave early, unfortunately,” Tobin whispered. 

“I’ll wait for you,” Christen hummed, swallowing thickly at the deeper meaning behind her words as she finally let herself reach out to capture Tobin’s hand in her own, giving it a small squeeze.

“Abby ditched you,” Tobin teased, pressing the button for the ground floor in the elevator. 

“She’s just adding to the list,” Christen laughed. 

“What list is that?” Tobin asked, cocking her head to the side and leaning back against the wall of the elevator. 

“She clearly lied to get me here and now she’s ditched me. If she wanted me to spend time with you, she didn’t have to go to such extremes,” Christen replied with a shrug, looking at the closed elevator doors.

“I’ve got to get her a good birthday present this year,” Tobin chuckled, standing upright when the doors opened. She waited for Christen to exit first before she followed behind her. 

Tobin led Christen to a food cart that sold South Indian dosas, letting Christen order first before giving them her own order and paying for their dinner. She insisted that since Christen paid for dinner in Little Italy, she could buy dinner tonight. 

They wandered with their dosas for a few blocks, not really walking anywhere in particular, until Christen started to recognize some of the streets. 

“Want to eat these somewhere with a table?” Christen asked when they reached a stoplight. 

“Uh...I’m not sure any place with a table will let us in with food,” Tobin said, her forehead wrinkling a little in confusion. 

“My apartment is about five blocks from here, but I understand if that’s a little...much. We can eat on the steps in front of my building if you want?” Christen offered, feeling her nerves flutter around within her and make her words come out in a rush.

“No, it isn’t too much. That’s fine, that’s perfect,” Tobin nodded, suddenly feeling nervous for the conversation she was about to have with Christen and the prospect that Christen could say no to Tobin’s request, that she could say Tobin had missed her chance. 

“Okay,” Christen replied softly, smiling just a bit and tugging on the arm of Tobin’s suit jacket to pull her in the right direction. “I’m this way.”

When they reached the outside of Christen’s apartment building, Tobin glanced up at the brick building. “Nice place,” she hummed.

“It’s got a little something, yeah,” Christen agreed, walking up the front steps. “Nice neighbors, quiet street, and insane rent like all of Manhattan,” she added with a chuckle.

“I used to run through Chelsea a lot when I first moved here,” Tobin said, trying to soothe her nerves with small talk. 

“But you don’t anymore?” Christen asked, holding open the door for Tobin.

“Sometimes I do,” Tobin nodded. “Scottie’s too big to push in a jogger now. Plus, I bought a treadmill.”

“Doesn’t that feel a little like a hamster on a wheel?” Christen laughed, leading them to the elevator and taking the short trip up to her floor.

“Try a lot,” Tobin sighed. “I can’t call a babysitter every time I want to run, though. That’d be a little excessive.”

Christen laughed again, warm and rich and melodic. She shuffled out of the elevator, fishing her keys out of her clutch and then opening up her apartment. She was immediately grateful she’d been cleaning so much. She was pretty sure this was the cleanest her studio had ever been. 

“So...this is me,” Christen said, walking into the apartment and heading straight for the small eating nook next to the kitchen.

“Wow, you’re super tidy,” Tobin hummed, glancing around at the vacuum marks on the carpet and the immaculate kitchen. 

“I’m not usually this clean. But I’ve been on a real vacuuming kick lately,” Christen grinned, dropping into a chair at the table and turning her attention to Tobin.

“Expecting company?” Tobin teased, letting her eyes take in the soft, neutral colors in the room. It was modern like Tobin’s place, but it wasn’t nearly as colorful, likely because Scottie wasn’t begging to design things. 

“No, not exactly. I just needed a clean plate, I guess. A fresh start.”

Tobin nodded, knowing exactly what that felt like. As soon as Roni had left and Tobin had filed for divorce, she’d packed up all of her and Scottie’s stuff, dumped things that reminded her too much of Roni, and packed a truck headed for the city. “Fresh starts are good,” she sighed, sinking down into a chair across from Christen at the table. 

“Especially after being a little sad this week, right?” Christen asked, her thoughtful gaze trained on Tobin, her dosa abandoned in front of her. 

Tobin cocked her head to the side for a minute, wondering why Christen thought that. “Scottie?” she guessed, knowing that her daughter had no filter. 

Christen nodded, the corner of her mouth twitching up into a half-smile. “She worries about you.”

“I know she does,” Tobin sighed, closing her eyes for a second. She hated that Scottie worried. She was supposed to be the parent, not the other way around, and any time that Scottie looked worried or tried to take care of her, it killed Tobin just a little bit. “I wish she didn’t.”

“Someone should,” Christen hummed. “You shouldn’t go through life without somebody worrying about you.”

“Maybe, but I’d like for her to hold off on the worrying until she’s finished with college and doing something amazing,” Tobin grinned. 

Christen felt herself smiling as well. She immediately thought of things to say. Things like, Let me be the one who worries about you ; I’ll be that someone until Scottie’s old enough . But she kept those in. She still didn’t know why Tobin wanted to talk.

“Do you want to eat before we...?” Christen trailed off, her stomach clenching in anticipation.

Tobin shook her head, growing quiet for a moment. “I was sad,” she said finally, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to stomach her food if she didn’t try to speak first. 

Christen leaned her arms on the table, tilting her head to the side a bit as she listened intently. She couldn’t decide what to focus on between her racing heart, the nerves swirling around in her stomach, or the way Tobin’s expression looked so vulnerable it nearly made her heart break.

“I’ve dated,” Tobin said, trying to find the words she hadn’t yet really had a chance to fully prepare. “Don’t get me wrong, I went through an angry one-night stand phase for a few months, but you can’t really do that when you have to pick up a four-year-old from your friend’s place the next day. But I’ve dated, and they all kind of...sucked. I tried to find people who were a part of my world and not Scottie’s, like at art galleries or at this one school where I volunteered for a bit in their art department, but even though they were convenient, they weren’t right for me.” Tobin blew out a soft breath, scared about what she was going to say and hoping that Christen wouldn’t respond negatively. 

“They never wanted to stick around after finding out about Scottie, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted. But Glennon pointed out that you’re the first person who’s gotten to know both Scottie and me and wanted more. And because of that, you- you terrify me a little, Christen,” Tobin admitted quietly, running a hand through her hair. She gazed across the small table at Christen and felt her heart continue to race, the way it always seemed to around the green-eyed woman.

“Scottie loves you, and I know that if I mess this up I could hurt her, and I’d never forgive myself for that. I also realize how much pressure that probably puts on you. But I can’t lie to myself or to you and say that I don’t want to try. I was an idiot the other day and I’m so sorry. I hid behind Scottie when all I wanted to do was tell you that I want...I want you ,” Tobin said, her voice a little wobbly at the end. 

She didn’t even know if Christen fully understood all that she’d said since it had been so rambly, but she was hoping she did. She was hoping she’d look at her with those calm, understanding eyes and everything would feel right. 

Christen let out a shaky breath, ducking her head slightly and breaking the eye contact she’d been holding that entire time with Tobin.

That was...a lot. But it was a lot in the very best way. It was a lot and it was what Christen had wanted to hear. It confirmed for her why Tobin had been hesitant, why she still was, and it also confirmed that Tobin was as aware of this pull between them as she was. 

Tobin wanted to try, Tobin wanted her . It made her heart soar and her spirit sing, but it also made her fear grow tenfold. She was still worried she was too messed up, too much of a burden. She didn’t want to crumble under the pressure this would put her under, and she didn’t want to run the risk of disappointing Tobin or Scottie. 

“You terrify me a lot too, Tobin,” Christen whispered, forcing herself to take a deep breath and then look back up at Tobin. 

Tobin’s stomach tightened a little bit at that. She knew it was a long shot, that Christen might have changed her mind or might have thought more about the consequences should they not work out. She nodded softly, letting Christen know she was listening, despite not really feeling like she could respond. 

“You terrify me because you look at me like Scottie does, with that hope and that understanding and that light ...and I don’t think I’m entirely deserving of it, even if I want to be,” Christen continued, her voice so soft it was almost inaudible.

“I don’t think you see you the way we do,” Tobin said quietly. 

Christen shook her head slightly and grew quiet for a few moments, her hands tightening their grip on her arms. Before she told Tobin that she wanted her too, that she wanted this, she needed Tobin to know. She needed Tobin to know who she was getting in all of this. 

“Remember that day I wasn’t at training?” Christen whispered, her chest tightening a bit at the knowledge of where this was going.

“Yes,” Tobin nodded, watching Christen carefully, knowing that she was about to share something important and wanting to give her all of her attention. 

“I...I wasn’t sick.”

“Okay…” Tobin nodded. “Well, that’s okay if you needed a day to yourself.”

 “I-” Christen hesitated, her jaw tightening as she looked down at the table. It had been so easy to tell Abby. Well, not so easy but it had been easier. This? This was hard. It was hard because she knew once this was out there, Tobin could look at the state of her mess and run in the complete opposite direction. 

“I’ve had a lot of days like that for the past seven months. Since my- since my parents died ,” Christen’s voice broke on that word, but she kept going, knowing she needed to get this out. If she didn’t get this out now, she never would. She needed to get this out and see if Tobin still wanted her, still wanted to try. “I’ve been in a bad spot, doing things I’m not proud of. I was drowning in questionable choices on a downward spiral until I got roped into coaching the Development Academy. Until I met Scottie and- and you .”

Tobin felt guilt immediately flood her system at the way she had judged Christen when she’d first met her and looked at those stupid tabloids. She felt the urge to take Christen into her arms, the same urge she’d been having more and more frequently since getting to know Christen. But she didn’t do that. She just sat across the table and listened.

“I’m not...I’m not Coach Christen, with a smile on her face and her life together. I’m still drowning a little bit, and I’m a hot mess, and I showed up at your place last weekend ready to tell you all that so you’d know what you were getting yourself into. I’m not put together, and I don’t really have solid footing right now, but I’m-” Christen faltered, her eyes still locked on the table. She was too scared to look up, too scared to see how Tobin was reacting to her word vomit. “I don’t think I’m saying it right, but...I want you so bad it scares me, Tobin. And I’m trying to be better and I want to try. For you and for- for me .”

“Trying is the only thing I care about,” Tobin murmured, reaching out and placing her hand in the middle of the table, silently reaching out if Christen wanted to meet her in the middle, if she still wanted to try this

Christen silently slid her hand into Tobin’s, marveling at how warm Tobin’s hand was, how reassuring her touch was. She still didn’t dare look up yet though, preferring to follow the slow circles Tobin’s thumb was tracing along the back of her hand.

“I’m sorry you lost your parents,” Tobin added softly, not knowing firsthand how painful that must have been but empathizing as well as she could. 

“I didn’t tell you so you’d feel bad for me. I just wanted you to know why I am the way I am,” Christen whispered, her throat thick and her eyes stinging.

“I’m not feeling bad for you or pitying you. I’m just sorry you lost two people who loved you and who you loved,” Tobin said, not taking her eyes off of Christen. 

Christen felt her eyes fill with tears, her vision swimming. She had no ability to stop the tears. Not when Tobin was so sweet and soft, so gentle and kind. Not when her hand was still holding tightly to her own, with no sign of letting go. 

“Would it be okay if I hugged you?” Tobin asked quietly, her heart aching at the sight of Christen so heartbroken, in so much pain. 

“I think I’d get you all makeup-y,” Christen choked out. “And crying on an accidental first date is really lame.”

“It isn’t lame, and I have a good dry cleaner,” Tobin insisted, staying in her seat until Christen gave her the green light. 

“You really don’t have to,” Christen whispered, not wanting Tobin to feel the full extent of how shaky she was right now. After talking about her parents openly for the first time since they’d died, with someone she had admitted to wanting and was in desperate danger of falling for, she was barely holding on. 

“I know I don’t have to. I’d like to, but if you’re more comfortable with me over here, then I’ll stay,” Tobin said, keeping her voice gentle and even. She’d known that Christen had experienced something. She knew firsthand from Abby, but she could also see it in the way Christen responded to the people and things around her. Tobin just hadn’t realized how much pain she was actually in. If she’d known, she probably would have offered a hug weeks ago. 

“Do you give hugs as great as Scottie does?” Christen sniffled, finally chancing a look up at Tobin, knowing a few tears had leaked out and were currently running down her cheeks.

“Who do you think taught her?” Tobin smiled softly, squeezing Christen’s hand in her own. 

Christen let a wobbly breath escape her lips, and then she nodded, almost imperceptibly, giving Tobin the green light she was looking for. 

Tobin stood from her seat, letting go of Christen’s hand just long enough to walk around the table and stand beside the seat that Christen was sitting in. She offered Christen one of her hands, pulling her up to her feet as soon as Christen gave her her hand. 

With slow, steady breaths, Tobin prepared herself to give the best hug of her life, hoping that she could do something to make Christen feel better. She wrapped her arms around Christen, pulling her closer and holding her securely against her body, the way she’d been aching to for weeks. 

In the safety of Tobin’s arms, arms that held her like they were meant to, Christen finally let herself break. 

She gave herself permission to cry, clinging to Tobin and praying that she would keep them upright since Christen was sure she was moments from collapsing. She cried tears of grief and pain, tears of shame and embarrassment, tears of relief and hope. She cried until she felt like she couldn’t cry anymore. But the whole time, Tobin held her and rubbed her hands across her back, and whispered soft, reassuring words. 

It felt like too much, too soon. Too emotional, too raw, too real. They’d both admitted to their deepest hurts before even really knowing what they were or where they stood. But as Christen stood there on shaky legs, with tear stains on her cheeks and her face pressed against the side of Tobin’s neck, she couldn’t find it in herself to regret it. She couldn’t regret it because, for the first time since she’d buried her parents, she didn’t feel like she was drowning anymore. 

“ good is that dry cleaner?” Christen mumbled, loosening her vice-like grip on the back of Tobin’s suit jacket once her tears had subsided enough for her to catch her breath.

“Scottie has spilled everything possible on me,” Tobin whispered. “I’m not worried about a little bit of makeup.”

Christen smiled a bit, pulling back out of Tobin’s arms and immediately moving to wipe under her eyes, knowing her mascara was smudged and the complete opposite of attractive.

Tobin silently pulled a handkerchief out of her pocket and handed it to Christen. She’d started carrying handkerchiefs in her pockets as soon as she became Scottie’s mom, wanting to be the same kind of parent her parents had been for her. Her dad had always carried handkerchiefs or tissues on him, just in case. 

Christen took the handkerchief with a wobbly half-smile, wiping under her eyes and at her cheeks, trying to erase the evidence of her slight breakdown. “I shouldn’t have gone for the smokey eye,” she chuckled weakly.

“I don’t know. I thought it was pretty striking,” Tobin hummed. 

“Even now?” Christen shook her head with an amused huff, feeling the complete opposite of striking.

“Still beautiful,” Tobin shrugged, feeling her cheeks flush a little at the admission. 

Christen’s cheeks filled with a similar flush. “Oh, um, thank you,” she whispered, realizing how close they were still standing, how one of Tobin’s arms was still around her waist, her hand resting on the small of her back. 

“Uh...are you hungry?” Tobin asked, not wanting to make Christen uncomfortable with her close proximity but also not wanting to step away before Christen was ready. 

Christen laughed, her eyes crinkling at the adorably hesitant and random question. “A little,” Christen replied, letting her hand fall to the lapel of Tobin’s jacket, running her thumb along it slowly. “But before we go back to food I just- I wanted to say thank you.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Tobin said, shying away from any thank you Christen could possibly say. 

“You’ve done more for me than anyone’s done in a long time,” Christen murmured. 

“Thank you for letting me,” Tobin whispered. 

Christen offered Tobin a small smile and finally stepped back, running the handkerchief under her eyes once more in an effort to get all the smudged makeup off. “Are you hungry?” she asked, repeating Tobin’s earlier question.

“Always,” Tobin nodded. 

The two sat back down at the table and started their meal. They traded light and easy conversation, the previous heaviness disappearing with every minute and smile and laugh they put between it and themselves. They talked about where they grew up and what they studied in school, about their most embarrassing childhood memories and their favorite concerts. 

It could have been minutes or hours, Christen wasn’t entirely sure. It was just so easy to talk to Tobin, even after having broken down in her arms, arms that had strangely felt like home. 

After refilling their water glasses, Christen made her way back to the table. “So...this must be some kind of record for you,” she said, putting Tobin’s glass on a coaster and then settling back in her chair.

“What do you mean?” Tobin asked, her mind racing to catch up with what Christen was referencing. 

“I’ve never heard you not talk about Scottie for this long before,” Christen chuckled, hiding her smile behind her water glass.

“Notice that you broke the record I was trying to set,” Tobin teased back. 

Christen shrugged, knowing they had to eventually circle back to the not even four-foot, seven-year-old elephant in the room. 

“Who can blame me? She’s a great kid,” Christen replied with an easy smile.

“Thank you,” Tobin said, her lips tilting up in an easy smile at the mention of Scottie. 

“I really care about her, Tobin,” Christen admitted.

“I know you do,” Tobin said, focusing her attention on Christen and not the water glass in front of her or the apartment they were sitting in. She could tell Christen was broaching a serious subject, and she wanted to be completely present. 

“And I- I like you,” Christen continued, her voice softening as a slight blush heated her cheeks.

“I like you too,” Tobin echoed, her smile growing and her stomach flipping at the pretty blush on Christen’s cheeks. “And obviously I love Scottie. I don’t want to lie to her, but…” Tobin pushed her hair behind her ear to settle her nerves. “I don’t want to say anything to her until we know what this is.”

“But you do want to figure out what this is?” Christen asked softly. 

“Yes,” Tobin nodded, wanting to reach across the table for Christen again. 

“Because I wouldn’t blame you for cutting and running now. I might have ruined that gorgeous suit, which basically gives you a get-out-of-jail free card,” Christen sighed, leaning back in her chair and resisting the urge to cross her arms or scratch her jaw. 

“I don’t want to cash in the card,” Tobin said, keeping her hand in the middle of the table, waiting for Christen to take it. “I just don’t want to tell her and get her hopes up until we know what’s going on. I mean, I could be the worst kisser or have terrible taste in music, and that could be a game-changer for you.”

“There’s no way that’s possible,” Christen murmured, a flush creeping up her neck. 

“I’d like to figure things out before getting her involved because she loves you, and I know the minute I tell her anything, she’ll get excited. I want to be sure about what things are and where things are going when I tell her,” Tobin hummed. 

“I agree, I just- I don’t want to let her down down,” Christen replied, placing her hand next to Tobin’s. She reached out with her pointer finger and ran it against Tobin’s, just wanting a small bit of contact.

Butterflies erupted in Tobin’s stomach at the contact, and she wondered if she would survive getting closer to Christen. “I don’t think you will,” Tobin said softly, trying to soothe the nerves that Christen clearly had about this. 

“Your vote of confidence is noted and appreciated,” Christen joked weakly.

“I think you underestimate yourself,” Tobin said, reaching out and tangling her fingers with Christen’s. 

Christen shrugged, running her thumb along Tobin’s pointer finger, feeling a bit more grounded now that her hand was back in Tobin’s.

“That’s a possibility,” Christen hummed. “But either way, we don’t tell Scottie and we don’t do...this in front of Scottie,” Christen added, squeezing Tobin’s hand lightly.

“For now,” Tobin nodded. 

Christen smiled at that, at the certainty behind Tobin’s words, at the way it sounded like someday they would be able to hold hands like this in front of Scottie, in front of everyone. 

“That doesn’t mean that I don’t want you to spend time with us...outside of soccer,” Tobin said, feeling her face flush a little at the suggestion. 

“I’d really like that,” Christen murmured, scrunching up her nose a bit at the adorable blush on Tobin’s face. 

Tobin glanced at their empty food containers and the clock that read 1:19AM on Christen’s wall in the kitchen area. 

“Shoot, you have practice,” Tobin blurted out, practically jerking up from her chair. 

“Not at 1 in the morning, I don’t,” Christen laughed. “It’s not until noon today,” she added, tightening her hold on Tobin’s hand to keep her from getting up.

“Thank god,” Tobin sighed. “Sometimes I forget that people have normal working hours.”

“I wouldn’t say kicking a soccer ball around on a field for a living constitutes normal working hours,” Christen replied with a smile. 

“If I didn’t have to make someone breakfast, I’d sleep until noon every day,” Tobin grinned. 

“So not a morning person?” Christen chuckled.

“Only once the caffeine kicks in,” Tobin hummed. 

“I’m the same way,” Christen agreed. “No coffee, no talky.”

Tobin’s lips turned up into a huge smile. “That’s adorable.”

“My mom used to say it,” Christen replied, her chest not even tightening at the mention of her mom, something she had expected to happen and was surprised it didn’t. “She got up really early for work when I was a kid, but my dad would always wake up with her and make her coffee. Every day. But she would warn him that no matter how sweet he was for getting up with her, there would be no talking until she got her coffee. So, no coffee, no talky,” she said with a small, wistful smile. “I haven’t thought about that in a while.”

“That’s really sweet,” Tobin chuckled. “I’ll remember that one.”

Christen was about to reply when Tobin yawned. It was clear that Tobin tried to stop it, even going so far as to hide behind her free hand, but Christen caught it. It was the cutest yawn she had ever seen. 

“It’s late,” Christen said, her tone a little sad at the prospect of her time with Tobin ending.

“Or really really early if you think about it,” Tobin smirked. 

“Either way, you yawned,” Christen shot back.

“I tried really hard not to, though,” Tobin grinned, squeezing Christen’s hand in her own. 

“I noticed. It was cute,” Christen murmured, pulling her lower lip between her teeth as she fought off a blush.

Tobin had to clear her throat and look away for a second to stop imagining what it would be like to kiss Christen, to stop gawking at the way she was biting her bottom lip. 

“I should go. I’m driving to my mom’s tomorrow to pick up Scottie, and I promised I’d get there before lunch.”

“Will you tell her I say hi?” Christen asked, sliding her hand out of Tobin’s and gathering their empty boxes from the table. 

“Scottie...or my mom?” Tobin asked, her smile growing with her question. She stood up and followed behind Christen, feeling lighter than she had in an extremely long time. 

Christen chuckled and threw the boxes away, shaking her head at the playful tone in Tobin’s voice. 

“Scottie, smart ass,” Christen quipped, turning to lean back against the counter and face Tobin. 

“Of course. She’ll probably steal my phone during the drive and send you a selfie,” Tobin sighed. 

“And probably a blurry picture of you too.”

“Yeah, that needs to stop,” Tobin groaned, running a hand over her face. 

“I hope it doesn’t,” Christen replied, tilting her head to the side a bit and trying not to give in to her desire to hug Tobin again, to never let go.

“I’m sure it won’t,” Tobin mumbled. “I can- uh...I mean I’ll text you later if that’s okay?”

Christen felt another smile make its way across her face. She hadn’t realized it until now, but smiling didn’t feel foreign or forced anymore. Smiling felt natural, especially around Tobin and Scottie. 

“It’s very okay,” Christen hummed in reply.

“Okay, good,” Tobin nodded. “I’ll get out of your hair then,” she said, shoving her hands in her pockets and taking one step to the side. 

“You know, I still can’t decide something and I was wondering if you’d help me out,” Christen said, halting Tobin’s awkward shuffle to the door. While this whole song and dance was cute, she wasn’t about to pass up the chance to hug Tobin one more time.

“What’s that?” Tobin asked, her eyebrows furrowing a little. 

“I can’t decide if your hugs or Scottie’s hugs are better. I think I need to do some more research. Maybe even a field study or two,” Christen quipped, a teasing smile playing at her lips.

“It’s a good thing I’m a big fan of scientific research,” Tobin grinned, taking her hands out of her pockets and stepping forward to wrap her arms around Christen. 

Christen sank into the hug. It felt like they’d done this hundreds of times, not just once before. The familiarity of the embrace shouldn’t be there already, but it was. Christen tightened her arms around Tobin’s shoulders, and pressed her smile against the side of Tobin’s head. 

“I think I’ll need to do more research moving forward,” Christen whispered.

“That’s the best news I’ve heard all week,” Tobin murmured, pulling Christen a little closer. 

Eventually, the hug had to end, and eventually, Christen had to walk Tobin to the door. They lingered, as long as they possibly could without either of them doing something silly like ask for another hug or something a little more. 

“Text me when you’re home?” Christen asked quietly, leaning against the doorframe as she watched Tobin back up down the hall.

“Will do,” Tobin promised. “Have a great practice.”

“Have a great...Monday? I don’t actually know your schedule like you seem to know mine,” Christen chuckled.

“That’s because I don’t have a schedule,” Tobin grinned. “Only thing I’m doing this week is chauffeuring Scottie to soccer, taking her to the museum on Wednesday, and texting a really pretty lady.”

Christen’s cheeks warmed again. “Sounds like a good week and a lucky lady. Good night, Tobin.”

“Good night, Christen,” Tobin echoed, finally turning around and stepping into the elevator with a huge smile on her face. 

Chapter Text

So we're okay

We're fine

Baby I'm here to stop your crying

Chase all the ghosts from your head

I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed

Smarter than the tricks played on your heart

We'll look at them together then we'll take them apart

Adding up the total of a love that's true

Multiply life by the power of two

You know the things that I am afraid of

I'm not afraid to tell

And if we ever leave a legacy

It's that we loved each other well

(Tobin - “Power of Two” by Indigo Girls)

Let it go

Let it roll right off your shoulder

Don't you know

The hardest part is over

Let it in

Let your clarity define you

In the end

We will only just remember how it feels

Our lives are made,

In these small hours

These little wonders

These twists and turns of fate

Time falls away

But these small hours

These small hours still remain

Let it slide

Let your troubles fall behind you

Let it shine

Until you feel it all around you

(Christen - “Little Wonders” by Rob Thomas)



[Tobin Heath 8:02PM]

...I’ve thought about what I could text you for the past thirty minutes, and the best I could come up with was hi

[Christen Press 8:04PM]

Hi works. Hi back!

[Tobin Heath 8:05PM]

I’m much smoother in person

[Christen Press 8:05PM]

You should let other people tell you you’re smooth…

[Christen Press 8:05PM]

(you’re smooth)

[Tobin Heath 8:05PM]

Well thank god for that

[Christen Press 8:06PM]

How was your day? How’s my favorite soccer player?

[Tobin Heath 8:06PM]

My day was good, and she’s absolutely zonked


Tobin took a picture of Scottie completely passed out on her lap, the bedsheets pulled up around her body, and some Disney movie playing on the TV on the wall. 


[Tobin Heath 8:06PM]


[Christen Press 8:07PM]

She’s adorable, even if she’s sleeping through Brave !

[Tobin Heath 8:07PM]

Who’s forcing you to know Disney movie titles?

[Christen Press 8:07PM] one

[Christen Press 8:07PM]

They’re good movies! 

[Tobin Heath 8:07PM]

Abby told me you vacuum to Frozen now

[Christen Press 8:08PM]

That was said in confidence...

[Tobin Heath 8:08PM]

It’s really cute

[Christen Press 8:08PM]

In that case, guess what I’m listening to right now?

[Christen Press 8:08PM]



Tobin laughed softly as soon as she looked at the image. Christen was clearly vacuuming, having snapped an aerial shot of the vacuum to send to her. 


[Tobin Heath 8:10PM]

I bet your neighbors love you

[Christen Press 8:10PM]

It’s only 8PM, Grandma. My neighbors aren’t even home yet.

[Tobin Heath 8:10PM]

Why aren’t you out on the town, then?

[Christen Press 8:10PM]

I have a reason to stay home.


Tobin couldn’t help the way her heart fluttered at the idea that Christen’s reason to stay home was that she was interested in something with Tobin and not with anyone else. She couldn’t fully wrap her head around why Christen wanted something with her, but she wasn’t about to question it.


[Tobin Heath 8:10PM]

Ah, the vacuuming. I see...

[Christen Press 8:11PM]

Yup, totally just the vacuuming. Not anyone in particular.

[Tobin Heath 8:12PM]

Have you gotten to “Reindeers are Better than People” yet?

[Christen Press 8:12PM]

I skipped it :)

[Tobin Heath 8:12PM]

I have a confession to make

[Christen Press 8:12PM]

Confess away, I’m just belting “Let It Go” over here.

[Tobin Heath 8:12PM]

I bet it sounds great

[Christen Press 8:12PM]

Great = horrible off-key screeching

[Tobin Heath 8:13PM]

I doubt that

[Tobin Heath 8:13PM]

My confession though...I did something bad

[Christen Press 8:13PM]

Care to share?

[Tobin Heath 8:13PM]

I took the Frozen CD out of my car and told Scottie that it’s the only copy in the world

[Christen Press 8:13PM]


[Christen Press 8:13PM]

That is evil...but also genius...

[Tobin Heath 8:14PM]

I drove back from New Jersey to the Moana soundtrack today, and I’ve never been happier to hear The Rock sing

[Christen Press 8:14PM]

What’s Moana? ;)

[Tobin Heath 8:14PM]

Don’t do that to me again

[Christen Press 8:14PM]

You’re right, I’ll do it in front of Scottie tomorrow.

[Tobin Heath 8:15PM]

She’ll be talking about it all practice

[Christen Press 8:18PM]

Hopefully the whole car ride home too :)

[Tobin Heath 8:19PM]

Are you sure you like me?

[Christen Press 8:19PM]

Let me check…

[Christen Press 8:19PM]

Yes, I definitely like you.

[Tobin Heath 8:19PM]

Funny way of showing it

[Christen Press 8:19PM]

Oh, how should I be showing it?


Tobin’s eyebrows shot up a little at the slightly suggestive text. She hadn't expected that from Christen, not today or this soon. Not that Tobin would complain about that. Christen had already made her heart race and her stomach flip, but now, knowing she liked her back, sent Tobin’s feelings into overdrive.


[Christen Press 8:20PM]

Sorry that definitely didn’t sound as forward in my head.

[Tobin Heath 8:22PM]

I was gonna suggest encouraging Scottie to listen to some classic rock or something

[Tobin Heath 8:22PM]

 Oooh or maybe if I tell her that Christen loves Frank Ocean, she’ll be into that

[Christen Press 8:23PM]

I can do that!

[Tobin Heath 8:24PM]

When she was four, I got her into a solid Bob Marley phase, but then she found Disney

[Christen Press 8:24PM]

Just wait until she’s listening to grunge rock and rebelling. You’ll wish for the Disney phase.

[Tobin Heath 8:25PM]

MY KID?! No way. We don’t rebel in this house

[Christen Press 8:25PM]

Everyone rebels, Tobin. It’s a right of passage!

[Tobin Heath 8:25PM]

I didn’t rebel...

[Christen Press 8:25PM]

Yeah, me neither...totally didn’t...

[Tobin Heath 8:27PM]

I’m sorry? Are there pictures of this rebellious teenage phase?

[Christen Press 8:27PM]

I’ll never tell! I have to hop on a call in a second, can I text you after?

[Tobin Heath 8:27PM]

Of course, I’ll just be watching a bear pantomime to its human daughter


Tobin leaned back against her pillows, setting her phone down beside her and focusing on the movie again. She ran her fingers through Scottie’s hair, unable to keep the face-splitting grin off of her face and the butterflies out of her chest. She hadn’t felt this way in years. She felt like a teenager again, trying to text her crush and say the right thing, balancing between flirty and too forward. It made her heart race and her cheeks hurt with how much she was smiling. 

Scottie squirmed a little in her lap to get more comfortable, letting out a long puff of air, and Tobin’s heart melted at how cute she was. Holding Scottie in her lap, knowing Christen wanted to give things a try, Tobin didn’t know if she’d ever felt this happy, and she wasn’t about to let it go. 

Christen hadn’t felt nervous like this in years. Especially not because of a crush. She felt like she was in high school again, with the blushing cheeks and anticipation making her stomach tight and her hands jittery. 

She and Tobin had texted well into the night, threading the needle of flirty and forward, telling jokes and teasing and learning a little more about one another. She learned that Tobin was a quick texter, responding quickly and giving her her full attention. She learned that Tobin was a night owl and usually went to bed much later than she did. She learned that even over text, Tobin’s compliments and sweet words could make her heart flutter. 

And today, Christen learned that she had no clue how she was going to act like Sunday night’s conversation hadn’t happened. 

“You’re all smiley,” Scottie noticed, tilting her head a little bit in thought. 

“Aren’t I always?” Christen replied, trying to hide the huge smile she knew was on her face, sending a pass back to Scottie softly.

“But today you’re really smiley. You’re really really sunshiney, happy yellow!” Scottie chirped.

“Sunshiney, happy yellow?” Christen repeated, cocking her head to the side and putting her hands on her hips.

“That’s your color. Mommy agreed,” Scottie said, putting her hands on her hips to mimic Christen. 

The mention of Tobin had that huge smile threatening to make its way back on her face again. Christen let her eyes jump over to where Tobin was sitting next to Becky on the bench, telling some story that required lots of hand gestures and facial expressions. 

Christen learned something else at that moment. She learned that Abby was right: she did have it bad. 

“Well if Tobin agreed, then it must be true. What’s your color, kid?” Christen replied, turning back to Scottie.

“Awesome purple!” Scottie cheered, flexing her arm muscles in a power pose. 

Christen threw back her head in laughter, unable not to find the response and the flexing absolutely adorable. “That’s definitely your color!” she replied with a grin, gesturing to the ball at Scottie’s feet for her to pass the ball.

“Mommy’s goofy orange,” Scottie added, hopping from foot to foot to a rhythm that no one heard but Scottie. 

“Goofy? She’s goofy?” Christen wondered, chasing after the slightly errant pass that Scottie sent her way thanks to the impromptu dancing she did before passing the ball.

“She’s the goofiest!” Scottie laughed, turning around to stick her tongue out at Tobin and get the same in return. 

Christen scrunched her nose at how cute the interaction was. She then shared a quick look with Tobin, which had them both blushing and looking quickly away. Christen shook her head, wondering how Becky and Kelley didn’t see it. She felt like everything had changed, like she and Tobin’s dynamic had fundamentally shifted and it was obvious to anyone paying attention. Every look felt shy yet charged, every word felt flirty yet sweet. She had no clue how they were supposed to keep this a secret. 

“Um, what’s the goofiest thing she’s ever done?” Christen asked, returning her focus to Scottie and ignoring the butterflies in her stomach as Tobin continued to watch her.

“One time, I got really sad, so Mommy sang me this silly song with a hairbrush microphone to make me feel better,” Scottie beamed. 

Based on the way her heart swelled at Scottie’s response, Christen knew she officially had it bad. She had it bad and it was still new and early and something undefined. But she was excited to figure out whatever this was with Tobin, ignoring the small voice in the back of her mind that wondered if she was enough.

“Did you and Mommy go to the park when I was at Grandma’s?” Scottie asked, squinting in the sunshine to look at Christen. 

“Why do you ask?” Christen shot back, tactfully avoiding the question and praying Scottie wouldn’t see the blush in her cheeks.

“Mommy’s really happy,” Scottie shrugged. 

“She’s not sad anymore?” Christen asked, knowing the answer but wanting Scottie to know it too.

“Nope, she even spelled my name in pancakes today!” Scottie grinned. 

“That sounds super-duper happy,” Christen grinned back, sending Scottie a pass and watching the girl trap it easily.

“Super-duper,” Scottie parrotted quietly. “I’ll be back!” Scottie said, running toward a group of her friends who’d just arrived for practice. 

Christen held her hand over her eyes, shielding her eyes from the sun. She watched Scottie greet her friends and felt a smile tug at her lips at the way Scottie’s hand gestures and facial expressions so perfectly mirrored Tobin’s.

“Hi,” Tobin hummed quietly, stopping a few feet away from Christen, a cup of coffee in each hand. 

Christen’s heart fluttered for the millionth time that day. She felt her smile grow as she turned to face Tobin. “Hi works,” she teased, eyes moving from the cup in Tobin’s hand up to meet Tobin’s warm brown eyes. 

“Coffee?” Tobin blushed, thankful that Kelley and Becky weren’t nearby to see or hear them. 

“Thank you,” Christen hummed, stepping closer, maybe a little closer than she should. 

“No problem,” Tobin said. From the corner of her eye, she saw Scottie and a few of her friends racing to talk to Kelley about something and felt a smile make its way across her face. Thanks to Kelley, she was about to get a few precious moments of privacy. 

Christen reached for one of the coffee cups in Tobin’s hand, letting her fingers trace against Tobin’s as she took the cup. “A trusted source told me that you’re happy,” she hummed, bringing the cup to her lips and enjoying the taste of the most perfect dirty chai tea latte. 

“You have a good source,” Tobin murmured, quickly lifting her own coffee cup to hide her dopey smile. 

When Christen dropped her cup away from her lips, she noticed a bit of writing peeking out above the sleeve of the cup.  She narrowed her eyes at it, seeing the words PULL DOWN scrawled on top of the sleeve in neat writing. 

Christen looked up at Tobin, arching her brow in confusion. “Pull down?” she said

“If you want,” Tobin shrugged, her eyes crinkling a little with a smile. 

Her confusion melting into giddy surprise, Christen pulled the sleeve of the coffee down. She felt her smile grow, her cheeks almost hurting with how big her smile was now. On the cup was a small doodle of her vacuuming, the lyrics to “Let It Go” in a small bubble near her head. 

“Good thing you didn’t accidentally give this to Kelley,” Christen teased, her eyes lifting to meet Tobin’s.

“Like she would have noticed it in her haste to get as much caffeine in as possible,” Tobin laughed. 

“Well, you’re very smooth,” Christen replied, referencing their conversation from last night.

“Who knew it only took doodles,” Tobin grinned.

“Who knew,”  Christen repeated at a whisper, a dreamy look on her face as she simply held the cup in her hands. She was lost in those brown eyes again, adrift and afloat and feeling so peaceful.

“I was wondering if-”

“Tar Heel! Book it to the bench,” Kelley called out, interrupting Tobin mid-sentence.

“Have fun,” Tobin mumbled, keeping an easy smile on her face and taking a deep breath to steady the nerves she’d built up while almost managing to ask Christen if she wanted to go out on a date soon.

Christen reached out and wrapped her fingers around Tobin’s wrist, squeezing it gently and quickly before releasing it. “Thank you for this,” she said again, mirroring Tobin’s easy smile. “I’ll see you after?”

“Of course,” Tobin nodded, stepping away and toward the bench, trying and failing to steady her racing heart the entire time. 

Tobin dumped the two newest postcards they’d gotten, one from New Zealand and the other from Australia, into the shoebox before Scottie ran back downstairs to the kitchen, shoving the box back onto the shelf and trying to leave her frustration on the shelf with the box too.

“Laundry day?” Scottie asked, as soon as she skidded to a halt near Tobin. 

“Every day is laundry day with you,” Tobin teased. “You’re the grass stain monster.”

“I want to wash my Christen jersey so I can wear it to the game this weekend!” Scottie announced, running up the stairs to her room.

Tobin followed after her, needing to grab her own laundry hamper to actually get a full load’s worth of clothes. 

“I’m sure she’ll love that you’re gonna wear the jersey again,” Tobin said, picking up a few of the clothes Scottie had left on her floor over the past couple of days. 

“I told Grandma about how last game, Christen let me come into the locker room and walk out with her and gave me her jersey after. And then I told her about how she’s my favorite and I’m her favorite and that I love her,” Scottie rambled, throwing around clothes, searching for the smaller version of the jersey Christen had given her, the one Tobin had Abby get for them.

Tobin’s heart beat a little faster with those words, not just because they were adorable, but also because Scottie loved Christen, and that was a reminder that if things went poorly, it wouldn’t just hurt two people. 

“Um...have you seen my jersey, Mommy?” Scottie asked, a slight panic in her voice as she continued to throw clothes around her room.

“No, buddy,” Tobin shook her head. “Let’s just retrace your steps, okay?” 

“I brought both of the jerseys to Grandma’s house to show her them, and I still have Christen’s-” Scottie said, sticking a hand up from behind her bed and holding up Christen’s game-worn jersey, “-but I don’t know where mine is.”

“Well, you could just wear Christen’s for the game, and we’ll find yours later,” Tobin suggested. 

“I can’t wear it,” Scottie replied matter of factly, gently folding the jersey on top of her bed and continuing her search.

“Why?” Tobin asked, wondering if she was missing something. 

“It’s too special. I would spill a snow cone or something on it and then Christen would be mad,” Scottie replied, diving under her bed in search of her jersey.

“She would not be mad, little bit,” Tobin sighed, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to convince Scottie to forget about her mini Christen jersey. Instead, she prepared herself to call her mom and see if it was still in New Jersey. 

“I GOT IT!” Scottie cheered, wiggling back out from under the bed, holding the jersey up with both hands and jumping around happily.

“We have got to clean up your room,” Tobin sighed, taking the jersey from Scottie and putting it in the laundry hamper. 

“This is clean,” Scottie shrugged.

“No way,” Tobin said, eyeing the shoes all over the floor and the toys spilling out from under her bed. 

“Yes way,” Scottie argued, putting her hands on her hips just like Christen did whenever Christen coached or wanted to get her point across.

“Why don’t you clean up in here while I do laundry and fix some lunch?” Tobin asked, hoping that Scottie wouldn’t put up a fight. 

“Why do I have to clean up a clean room?” Scottie argued, her hands still on her hips.

Tobin took a deep breath and knelt down on the floor. “Scottie, it would be really nice if I didn’t trip over your shoes when I put you to bed tonight. Do you think you could put the shoes away and put the toys in the baskets over there?” 

Scottie tapped her foot, seeming to think about that for a second. Finally, she dropped her hands from her hips and shrugged.

“I guess, Mommy. I don’t want you to trip.”

“Thank you,” Tobin said, reaching out and pulling Scottie closer for a hug and a quick kiss to the cheek. “I’ll come see how awesome you did when lunch is ready.”


[Tobin Heath 11:31AM]

You taught my kid your power pose, and it’s seriously affecting my parenting


Tobin pocketed her phone and started on laundry. By the time she had it sorted and the dark colors were swishing around in the washer, Tobin could hear Scottie walking around, likely tossing toys from the floor to the baskets, like she was playing basketball. She set about making sandwiches, only pausing when her phone buzzed in her pocket. 


[Christen Press 11:46AM]

My what?

[Tobin Heath 11:48AM]

Your power pose. You know, the hands on the hips and tapping foot thing 

[Christen Press 11:48AM]

I...I didn’t even realize I did that or that she noticed. Sorry?

[Tobin Heath 11:48AM]

It was adorable. Plus, I won the non-argument, so...

[Christen Press 11:48AM]

Maybe she’s not doing the power pose right then


Tobin couldn’t help the laugh that left her lips at Christen’s text. She glanced around the kitchen to make sure that Scottie hadn’t heard her from upstairs before looking back down at the message thread with Christen. 


[Tobin Heath 11:50AM]

I’m sure she’ll get it with more practice

[Christen Press 11:50AM]

I have to run and see the trainer really quick

[Christen Press 11:50AM]

Can I take you guys out for ice cream later?

[Tobin Heath 11:51AM]

Later today?

[Christen Press 11:51AM]

If you want? Or tomorrow. Or Friday. Or Saturday. Whatever day really?

[Tobin Heath 11:51AM]

What if I said all of the above?

[Christen Press 11:51AM]

Then I’d say thanks for making me smile and blush in the training room in front of my far too curious teammates

[Tobin Heath 11:52AM]

I’m glad I could do that for you :) Godspeed with the trainer

[Christen Press 11:52AM]

That is the dorkiest thing you’ve ever said to me, which is really saying something. Okay now I really have to run, bye!

[Tobin Heath 11:53AM]

I’m a mom. I’m not supposed to be cool. Bye, Christen!

Christen balanced three ice cream cones in her hands, dodging the small kids and families crowding Van Leeuwen’s ice cream store in Greenwich.  She stopped to let a pair of teenagers walk in front of her, and then continued to the front of the shop, where Tobin and Scottie were sitting at the counter in front of the window.

“Peanut butter marshmallow crunch for my favorite player,” Christen announced, moving Scottie’s cone to her right hand and passing it to the girl with a wink.

“Thank you,” Scottie grinned, already pulling her cone to her mouth and digging in. 

Christen nodded and then handed Tobin’s cone to her, lingering just a little bit. “And the classic Cookies & Cream for my- uh, for you,” Christen stammered, her cheeks flushing slightly. She took a step back and dropped into the stool beside Scottie, thankful the girl was between them after that almost embarrassing slip-up. She had no idea what was going to come out of her mouth after the word ‘my,’ but she had a feeling it wasn’t meant to be heard by Scottie.

“What did you get?” Tobin asked, seemingly unfazed by Christen’s use of the word ‘my.’ 

“I love their Salted Caramel,” Christen replied with a smile.

“Do you want to try mine?” Scottie asked, looking up at Christen with wide eyes. 

“As long as you try mine,” Christen nodded.

“You’ve got yourself a deal,” Scottie said, pulling the cone away from her face and holding her hand out for a fist bump. Scottie’s entire face was covered with the creamy dessert, just like it always was when ice cream was involved, and her smile was huge and infectious. 

Christen fist-bumped Scottie and then held out her cone for Scottie to try, looking up at Tobin over Scottie’s shoulder. She was momentarily floored by the power of the look Tobin was giving the two of them, something that felt far too serious and real for an ice cream shop.

She offered Tobin a small smile and then looked back down at where Scottie was going back in for another taste of her salted caramel.

“This is sooooo good!” Scottie grinned, leaning back and then holding her cone up for Christen to try. “Your turn! Make sure to get the crunch, it’s the best part.”

Tobin couldn’t help the laugh that left her lips. Christen was a brave soul to offer to taste Scottie’s ice cream, not only because the flavor sounded a little bit too sugary, but also because Scottie had definitely tasted every inch of her ice cream.

Christen took a small taste and made all of the appropriate facial expressions and noises, nodding her head. “Ooooh super yummy,” she said, quickly retreating to her own ice cream to get the sickly-sweet flavors out of her mouth.

“You want some more?” Scottie asked, completely stunned that Christen liked her ice cream flavor. 

“I think since you love it, you should eat as much as you want. But if you can’t finish it, I can try to help,” Christen replied, praying that Scottie was one of those kids who devoured their ice cream and didn’t need help finishing it.

“Okay,” Scottie nodded, hurrying to eat some more of her ice cream. 

Tobin couldn’t keep the smile off her face at Christen’s smooth avoidance. For someone who claimed to not have much experience with little kids, she certainly knew how to talk to them, and Tobin loved that. Sitting in Van Leeuwen’s and eating ice cream with her kid and a woman she cared about felt foreign and exciting, and she couldn’t help that her heart hadn’t settled for one second since meeting up with Christen for ice cream. 

“Hey, you know what we need?” Christen asked when Scottie had put the last bit of cone in her mouth.

“What?” Scottie mumbled through her full mouth. 

“Napkins,” Christen replied with a laugh, taking in the mess on Scottie’s face and around her mouth.

“I got it,” Tobin laughed, starting to slide from her stool. 

“No Mommy, I got it!” Scottie said, jumping off her stool and racing off.

Christen laughed and quickly looked over at Tobin, softening when she found Tobin already smiling at her. “I was hoping she’d offer just so I could say hi,” Christen whispered.

“Hi back,” Tobin said softly, her heart speeding up, which she hadn’t thought possible. “You’re pretty brave.”

“You two must bring it out of me,” Christen replied, her voice teasing but the look in her eyes anything but.

“I’m glad,” Tobin breathed out. 

Christen itched to reach out and lay her hand on Tobin’s, to brush away the bit of ice cream from the corner of her mouth, but she held back, knowing Scottie would be back any moment. 

“I actually wanted to ask you something. Do you think-” Christen tried to say, her words coming out slightly rushed due to her nerves about asking Tobin on a date. One that included less ice cream, fewer messes, hopefully, less crying, and fewer seven-year-olds who interrupt.

“Mommy, Uncle Funky’s is close!” Scottie interrupted, setting down a heaping pile of napkins on the table and grabbing Tobin’s forearm with a sticky hand. 

“Yeah, it’s close-ish,” Tobin nodded, reaching for one of the napkins to wipe off her arm. 

“Are you two going to tell me what that is? Or do I have to guess?” Christen chuckled, grabbing a napkin and wiping her hands with it.

“Oooh! Guess! Guess! Guess!” Scottie cheered, making Tobin laugh. 

“Is it...a magic shop?” Christen wondered, looking between Tobin and Scottie.

Tobin shook her head no, her smile only growing. 

“Is it an arcade?”

“Nope!” Scottie said, wrapping a finger around one of Tobin’s belt loops and leaning into her side. 

“Is it…” Christen trailed off, racking her brain for what it could be. “The shop next door to Auntie Spunky’s?”

Scottie began to giggle then, her ice cream high making her even sillier than usual. 

“No, silly! It’s a skateboard store,” Scottie explained. 

Christen playfully smacked her forehead. “Oh, duh, of course, it is! I’m not a very good guesser.”

“Well, skateboarding isn’t in the name, so we’ll forgive you,” Tobin hummed. 

“Right! We’ll forgive you,” Scottie copied, tugging a little on Tobin’s belt loop. 

Christen tsked, dipping her fingers into the melted ice cream at the bottom of her cone that she didn’t finish. She quickly wiped it onto Tobin’s cheek and hopped up from her stool. 

“Shouldn’t have forgiven me!” Christen winked at Tobin, grabbing the trash and hurrying off.

Scottie practically squealed with delight at the playfulness, running after Christen and leaving Tobin sitting on the stool and wiping at her face, a giant smile never leaving her lips. 

“Pressy, we’re going to be late! To our own game!” Kelley groaned, leaning against the door and checking her watch with barely-contained frustration.

“Gimme a minute!” Christen yelled back, digging around in her small storage closet.

“What could you possibly be looking for? Can’t it wait?” Kelley asked, readjusting her bag on her shoulder and huffing a little at the delay. 

“No, it can’t!” Christen replied, running her hands over her hair in frustration. She knew she’d put the box of her dad’s old sunglasses in this closet somewhere, she just had to find them. She’d promised Scottie a pair for the next home game, which was in about...four hours. So she had to find that box.

After shoving aside some suitcases and Christmas decorations, Christen let out a sigh of relief. The small, cardboard box was sitting there, her dad’s handwriting on the side. It made her chest tight seeing it, and instead of ignoring that tightness, Christen pressed her hand to her sternum and let her eyes fall shut. She accepted the tightness and the fact that she missed her dad, and her mom. She accepted it. 

“Dude, we have to go NOW!”

Christen grumbled and grabbed the box from the closet. She set it down on her bed and opened it, searching for the smallest pair of sunglasses she could find. She knew she had a pair of lavender-colored, square-shaped sunglasses that her dad had given her when she was in middle school.

“Got it!” Christen called out with a grin, grabbing the purple sunglasses and hustling out from behind her partition that separated her bed from the rest of her place. 

“Sunglasses?” Kelley asked, confused and a little frustrated that Christen had held them up for a pair of sunglasses. “You can’t play in sunglasses.”

“I promised Scottie she’d have a pair for our next home game,” Christen replied, sliding the glasses into her purse. 

“Oooooh,” Kelley cooed, her face brightening immediately.

“Shut it, Kel,” Christen grumbled good-naturedly, her words lacking any real bite.

“You’re smitten with the kid and the kid’s mom. I’m just happy for you,” Kelley grinned. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Christen deflected, only pausing to check her more dressed up than normal game day outfit. She was in a pair of dark jeans, sandals, and a floral crop top. “Are we suddenly not in a rush?” she added, narrowing her eyes at Kelley.

“Oh we’re in a rush still,” Kelley said, throwing open the apartment door. “And on the way, I’d like to find out why you’re dressed like you’re going on a date after this game.”

“Who are you looking for?” Glennon asked, her lips lifted into a cocky smirk. She knew exactly who Tobin was looking for. 

“Abby obviously,” Tobin scoffed. “Where did she have to park?” 

“Is someone antsy to get to the game?” Glennon teased again. 

“I just don’t want Scottie to miss them lining up or whatever,” Tobin grumbled. 

“I think the game would be delayed if Scottie wasn’t there to walk out with Christen,” Glennon chuckled.

“Yeah, right,” Tobin snorted, glancing over her shoulder at where Glennon’s girls and Scottie were giggling together. 

“She came in to see me the other day,” Glennon murmured quietly, conscious their kids were nearby.

“Who?” Tobin asked, feigning innocence, even though she knew Glennon wouldn’t believe it for a second.

“Christen,” Glennon smirked. “She wondered if there was any way to keep up the Development Academy after the summer’s over. She said that the kids were really good and she didn’t think their training should end.”

Tobin felt her stomach flip a little. She couldn’t help but wonder if Christen wanted to keep coaching because of Scottie, maybe because she wanted to keep spending regular time with both of them. 

“I told her we have an older version of the Academy for high school age players looking to get recruited and scouted, but nothing for a seven-year-old,” Glennon chuckled, rubbing her hand across Tobin’s back. “She wasn’t exactly subtle, but it was a sweet question nonetheless.”

“I’m glad she enjoys coaching,” Tobin mumbled, keeping her eyes on the parking lot and pretending to search for Abby. 

“I’m sure that’s exactly why she was asking,” Glennon teased. 

“Scottie Heath!”

Tobin turned around at the sound of Christen’s voice, her heart starting to pick up speed again, something she’d grown completely comfortable with in the presence of Christen. 

Christen jogged over, already in her uniform, a pair of slides on her feet. She ran up to Scottie and picked her up, swinging her around as the two of them laughed.

“I think my ovaries just exploded,” Glennon whispered, snickering a little as she leaned into Tobin’s side. 

“Yeah,” Tobin muttered, completely overwhelmed and distracted by Christen and Scottie together. 

Christen walked over to Tobin and Glennon, Scottie held against her hip. “Sorry, I gotta steal this one this away now. Is that okay?” Christen wondered a little breathlessly. She only had eyes for Tobin, not even sparing Glennon a second glance.

“Sure thing,” Tobin nodded, reaching out to brush a hand over Scottie’s hair. “Have fun, little bit.”

“Oh, look! I see Abby,” Glennon mumbled, smiling as she looked between the three of them and stepped away.

“Good luck forehead kiss?” Scottie asked, leaning out of Christen’s arms just a bit toward Tobin.

Tobin pressed a kiss to Scottie’s forehead, loving that Scottie still wanted those kinds of things from her, no matter how old she got. “Have a good game,” she added, glancing at Christen. 

“What no forehead kiss for me?” Christen teased, her cheeks flushing slightly at the words that had just come out of her mouth. She didn’t know what came over her, but she was going to blame the ridiculously happy feelings she’d woken up with this morning, and every other morning since talking with Tobin after MoMA.

Tobin’s entire face turned red, and her mouth went dry at the joking suggestion. 

“Mommy,” Scottie interrupted.

“Scottie?” Tobin choked out, forcing herself to look away from Christen and at Scottie. 

“Christen said she has a present for me, but I had to ask you if I could have it before the game,” Scottie said, completely oblivious to whatever had transpired between Tobin and Christen.

“Well, what is it?” Tobin asked, swallowing thickly and looking back at Christen. 

Christen reached into the waistband of her shorts and pulled out the purple sunglasses. She held them up for Scottie with a shy smile. 

“You needed a cool pair, and this was the coolest pair I could find. You don’t have to wear them if you don’t want to,” Christen said, readjusting the girl in her arms a bit. She wasn’t used to holding a kid this long, and she had to admit her arms were getting a bit tired. But there was no way she was letting this girl go.

“Those are so cool!” Scottie gushed, reaching out for the glasses. 

“That’s really sweet of you,” Tobin said, smiling at the way Scottie was trying to get the sunglasses to sit perfectly on her head, just like Christen did with hers. Tobin reached out and pushed them up onto her head so that they rested almost like a headband in Scottie’s hair. 

“It’s no biggie. I just wanted my favorite player to have something special,” Christen replied, squeezing Scottie a little tighter.

“Thank you,” Scottie said, wrapping her arms around Christen’s neck and pressing her face into her shoulder. 

“Oh, um, you’re welcome,” Christen mumbled, overcome by the wave of emotions this tight hug from Scottie triggered within her.

“I love you,” Scottie beamed, keeping her cheek pressed into Christen’s chest. 

Tobin knew that Scottie loved Christen. She’d known it for a while, but hearing it still made her heart feel like it was melting. Seeing Scottie loving Christen the way that she did made Tobin simultaneously completely overjoyed and absolutely terrified. 

Christen let her eyes fall shut as she pressed her face into Scottie’s hair, hopefully hiding how affected she was by those words. She knew kids said I love you easily and without really knowing what it truly meant. But it still felt big and monumental and so real. And just like that, another jagged bit of her broken heart healed.

“I...I love you too, kid,” Christen whispered, her arms tightening around Scottie. 

Tobin turned her head to the side, offering Christen a moment if she needed it. She placed her hand on Christen’s back as a reminder that she was there and would be if Christen needed her. 

“You want to hang out with us after the game?” Tobin murmured after a few moments of quiet. 

Christen blinked her eyes open, her vision of Tobin swimming before her due to the collection of tears in her eyes. “Definitely. And speaking of the game, we should probably get going,” Christen hummed, shooting Tobin a grateful smile.

“Game time!” Scottie cheered, clearly unaffected by the emotional moment that the adults in her life had just had. 

Christen rolled her shoulders and then chugged water, thankful for the breather an injury had afforded her side. Morgan was fine, she had signaled as much, but she was giving her team a much-needed break.

The Houston Dash were physical on a good day, but this wasn’t a good day. This was a day of cheap shots and sloppy tackles, and Christen’s anxiety had only increased as the game continued and the score remained tied at 0-0. The longer the stalemate dragged on, the more physical and dirty Houston got. 

“How’re your legs?” Kelley panted, spraying water on the back of her neck to cool her off. 

“Haven't been able to feel them since the 70th minute,” Christen replied. She took the break from the game to look across the field at Scottie. She was wearing those purple sunglasses and juggling the soccer ball on the sidelines, near the halfway line. Despite her exhaustion, Christen felt a smile make its way onto her face as she watched Scottie try a juggling trick, fail, and laugh to herself. 

“You look at Tobin like that too?” Kelley teased. 

“Shut up,” Christen grumbled, handing the water back to the team manager and walking away from the bench. But the mention of Tobin had Christen looking up to the box, the one she’d secured a spot for Tobin in again. She saw Tobin wave and then pick her camera back up.

Christen beamed up at her, not wanting to risk waving or anything like that, knowing there were hundreds of fans in the stands with iPhones and game photographers and cameras broadcasting this game live all over the world. The last thing she needed was for someone to know who was sitting in the box, watching her play. She was already pushing it with how much she had allowed herself to be soft with Scottie in the public’s eye, but it was easier to write that kind of stuff off than it was to write off a wave at a beautiful woman during a game.

When the referee blew her whistle, Christen made her way back to her spot on the field. Play ebbed and flowed from there, with both sides getting good chances on goal. Christen had a few good looks, and even sent a shot over the bar and shook her head with a smile, shooting a thumbs up at Becky for sending such a good ball over the backline for her to run onto. 

But with three minutes left to play, Christen felt the energy on the field shift. It grew more tense, more serious, and any and all thoughts of Scottie or Tobin left her brain as she became singularly focused on winning this game.

When she saw Kelley beat Houston’s right back, she knew Kelley was going to cross it. So, she bided her time and timed her run so she’d come crashing into the box at the perfect moment to score. 

But she didn’t see the Houston midfielder running behind her, reading her every move. She was too focused on the driven cross Kelley sent in, the ball about knee height. Christen sprinted to meet the ball, jumping a bit and lifting her right cleat so she could send a volley toward goal. She felt the ball come off her cleat perfectly and she knew she was going to score. 

And then she felt a body collide with hers from behind, the Houston player’s knee driving straight into the side of her thigh and she knew that even if she scored, she was going to pay a small price. A price that doubled when she fell to the ground and her cheek made contact with a Houston player’s cleat, the Houston midfielder landing on top of her. 

Christen could hear the roars and cheers of the fans in the stadium, but she could also feel the pain from a large bruise she was sure she was going to have on her leg, and a sharp bite on her cheek from where she’d hit someone’s cleat. She stayed down, pressing her face into the grass and forcing herself to take deep breaths, to work through the pain. 

“Pressy, you good?” Morgan asked, kneeling by Christen’s side. Kelley was quick to rush over as well, peeling away from her teammate’s goal celebration. 

“Christen!” Scottie shouted, pulling the sunglasses off her face, concern filling her entire body. 

Christen tensed, hearing Scottie’s voice cut through the noise of the stadium. “Shit,” she grimaced, knowing she needed to get up. She needed to get up so Scottie knew she was okay. “Help me up guys,” she winced, pushing herself up off the grass and holding her hand up to Kelley and Morgan. 

“You got a shiner, Million Dollar Baby,” Kelley replied, trying to smile through her concern as she and Morgan helped Christen up.

Christen lifted a hand to touch her cheek and flinched at the quick flash of pain that came from her touch. 

“Lucky me,” Christen sighed, forcing a smile at her teammates. She waved over at Amanda, telling her she was okay, and then she blinked the pain from her eyes and looked toward the halfway line. She faltered when she didn’t see Scottie anymore and suddenly the pain she’d been willing to work through felt just a little bit worse.

Tobin had raced down as soon as Christen hit the ground, knowing that Scottie would be upset. She hurried down to the field, and found the closest official-looking adult who wasn’t actually in the game, asking them to get her kid who was trying to run onto the field, currently being held back by a cameraman. She held Scottie, letting her daughter wipe her tears with her handkerchief and soothing her with soft words. Tobin promised that Christen would be okay, that sometimes soccer could be a little rough but that Christen was super strong. 

After a few more minutes of questions, which Tobin patiently answered, she and Scottie sat down at the end of the tunnel. Tobin let Scottie sit in her lap and play with Christen’s sunglasses that she’d been gifted, smoothing out her hair and wiping away any and all remaining tear tracks. Tobin had already texted Abby and Glennon that everything was okay, that they didn’t need to wait for them or come find them, when she heard the quick click of a pair of cleats in the tunnel. Scottie’s head jerked up at the sound too, gripping onto Tobin’s shirt and squinting to see which player had entered the tunnel. 

Christen hurried down the tunnel, guilt clawing its way up her throat. She pulled the ice bag from her cheek, praying that the swelling wasn’t bad even if she knew she already had a bruise forming. She ignored the ache in her leg and made her way over to where Tobin and Scottie were sitting. She’d spent the last five minutes looking for them, ignoring signing things for fans or requests for media interviews. Thankfully, Tobin had thought to bring them back near the locker room, where they had met up the first time.

Scottie’s eyes brimmed with tears again as soon as she saw Christen’s face and the dark bruise on her cheek. 

“See, Mommy. I told you she’s hurt,” Scottie said, her voice wobbly. 

“Me? Hurt? No way,” Christen replied, imbuing her voice with as much confidence as she could. She hid every wince and grimace she could as she sank down to the floor, sitting pressed up against Tobin’s side. “I just have a little bruise, but at least I scored right? Did you see my goal?” Christen continued, her heart aching in her chest at the sight of the tears in Scottie’s eyes and the red splotches on her cheeks from crying.

“It was really cool,” Scottie nodded, grabbing Tobin’s handkerchief again and wiping her face. 

“That was for you, kid,” Christen said gently, reaching out to adjust the sunglasses perched atop Scottie’s head so that they kept some of her baby hairs off of her face.

“Really?” Scottie asked, her voice reverent, full of excitement but softer than usual. 

“Really really,” Christen nodded. She abandoned the ice pack on the stadium floor next to her and reached out to rub Scottie’s back gently, her hands occasionally brushing against Tobin’s with the gesture.

Tobin let her fingers catch Christen’s every few moments, glad to see that she was okay, even if she could tell that she was hiding some of the pain from Scottie. 

“Maybe we should let Christen shower,” Tobin hummed softly, pressing her lips against Scottie’s temple. 

Scottie shook her head and moved to grab Christen’s arm, keeping her in place. “But I don’t want her to go,” Scottie pouted, a fresh wave of tears building.

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m super comfy right here, kid,” Christen replied gently, swiping her thumb under Scottie’s eye and catching a tear.

“See, Mommy. She’s super comfy right here,” Scottie repeated with a small smile. 

Christen shot a quick look at Tobin, nodding her head just a bit to let her know she really was okay to sit here for a bit longer. She wasn’t just saying that to appease Scottie.

Her heart faltered in her chest when she saw the raw concern shining in Tobin’s brown eyes. She did her best to smile despite the lingering pain in her leg and the fresh pain in her cheek from the gesture. She didn’t want Tobin to be worried, she was fine. 

Tobin held onto Scottie, letting her lean back into her chest. Scottie held onto one of Christen’s hands, talking quietly about the game and about what she wanted to eat after they left the stadium. All Tobin wanted to do was hold tightly to Christen too. She wanted to talk to her, to make sure that she was really okay, to get her some more ice for her bruising cheek. She couldn’t do that, though, not when she and Christen had created a Scottie ground rule for a reason. So instead, Tobin placed her hand in between them, resting it on top of their legs that were still pressed together, just wanting to be even closer without obviously scooting closer to her. 

Christen never broke stride, answering one of Scottie’s questions about a free-kick and sliding her hand into Tobin’s slyly as she spoke. She threaded their fingers together easily, the instinct coming to her as easy as breathing. The angle was a little awkward and she knew the tape around her wrist was sweaty and was probably bothering Tobin where it was pressed against her, but Christen couldn’t find it in her to care. She was sitting with two people who were quickly becoming very important to her, and the pain in her legs, her cheek, and her heart was fading with every smile she got from Scottie and every brush of Tobin’s thumb along the back of her hand.

“Scottie, you want to run in and get dinner from Gio?” Tobin asked, pulling her car to a stop outside the restaurant and putting it in park with her hazards on. 

“I want to stay with Christen,” Scottie protested, not moving her hand from Christen’s. Christen was sitting in the backseat with Scottie; she had been the whole way into the city from the stadium. There was no way to say no to that sweet face when Scottie had asked to sit next to her, plus it gave her the ability to stare at Tobin’s reflection in the rearview mirror the whole drive.

“Ooookay,” Tobin sighed, longing to have a moment alone with Christen but wanting Scottie to feel better more. Tobin unbuckled her seatbelt and slipped from the car, jogging around and waving at a traffic cop who was eying her illegal parking job. 

“Just in time,” Gio smiled, handing Tobin a giant bag of their dinner. “I slipped in a couple Tiramisus. We watched the game and figured your friend might want some,” Gio said, smirking at Tobin when he said the word friend. 

“Thank you,” Tobin blushed, pulling out her wallet to pay. 

“It’s on the house tonight. Give Scottie a hug for me and make sure that friend of yours takes care of you both,” Gio nodded to the car where he could see Christen and Scottie in the back. 

“Thank you,” Tobin mumbled, feeling her cheeks flush even more. “I’ll give her a big hug for you.”

“And the friend!” Gio called. 

“Yeah, yeah,” Tobin grumbled good-naturedly, slipping back onto the street and jogging to the car before she could get a ticket. 

Christen smiled tiredly at Tobin when she got back to the car. She continued to run her fingers through Scottie’s hair, the girl’s head resting against her shoulder and slow puffs of air hitting her neck as Scottie slept.

“She fell asleep seconds after you left the car,” Christen whispered.

“She’ll get a fourth or fifth wind when we get home,” Tobin said quietly. 

“I’m sure,” Christen replied. “But this is probably good for her right? After such an emotional day? I mean, I’m assuming so.”

“Definitely,” Tobin nodded. “Sleep is a little magical. I never thought I’d say that, but then I had a little kid, and nap time healed all wounds.”

Christen chuckled lightly, careful not to jostle the girl on her shoulder. “I feel like I should take notes or something. Naps? Magical. Tiramisu? She loves it. Frozen ? Can’t get enough,” she said with a small smile.

Tobin laughed softly, pulling away from the restaurant when the traffic cop started walking toward her car again. 

“I don’t think you need to take notes at all. You’re pretty fantastic with her,” Tobin hummed. 

“I think I’m getting lucky,” Christen murmured bashfully, knowing that ever since meeting Scottie, she’d been running on instinct and not a whole lot of prior kid knowledge. Hell, she’d never even really liked kids before Scottie.

“Honestly, at the beginning, I thought you must have a kid of your own or at least a kid close to you,” Tobin admitted. 

“Not at all, I used to-” Christen stopped herself from admitting her dislike for kids before meeting Scottie.

“What?” Tobin asked, looking in the rearview mirror at Christen. 

“I kinda didn’t like kids all that much,” Christen blushed. “I thought they were sticky and messy and always asking too many questions.”

“They are sticky and messy and ask a ton of questions,” Tobin chuckled. “You hide your dislike for that well.”

Christen lifted her free shoulder into a little shrug, her eyes never leaving Tobin’s reflection in the mirror. “I never really thought I would like kids, let alone love one,” she admitted softly.

“She’s pretty good at squirming into hearts,” Tobin grinned. 

“She must have learned that from somewhere,” Christen teased, reaching forward to squeeze Tobin’s shoulder gently and then pulling her hand back into her lap. 

Tobin only shrugged, the smile on her face growing even more at Christen’s touch. 

“Tobin?” Christen asked, checking to see if Scottie was still asleep on her shoulder.

“Yes?” Tobin asked. 

“Do you think that thing you were trying to ask me at training this week was the same thing I was going to ask you at Van Leeuwen’s?”

“Probably,” Tobin nodded. “Two interruptions so far, but they say the third time’s a charm.”

Christen smiled and leaned into Scottie just a bit, finding a bit of courage in the way Scottie burrowed closer to her. “Well, I...I mean, I would really like to do this the right way. I’d like to take you on a-” Christen paused and leaned forward just a little bit to whisper, “-a date.”

“Me too,” Tobin whispered back, her voice raspy and a little wobbly due to the nerves she felt at the idea of actually going on a date with Christen. 

“Oh, thank god,” Christen chuckled softly, turning to press a kiss to the crown of Scottie’s hair.

“What did you expect?” Tobin laughed, pushing the button in the car to open the garage. 

“I don’t know, maybe I just didn’t want to get my hopes up too high or anything,” Christen admitted. “But I’m glad you said yes.”

“Can I tell you something? Well...a few things?” Tobin asked, parking the car and turning around in her seat to make sure Scottie was still asleep. 

“Of course,” Christen whispered.

“Well, first off, you can get your hopes up, okay? Maybe I haven’t been obvious enough, but I really want to date you and see where this goes,” Tobin said, keeping her voice low. 

Christen felt her cheeks fill with a light blush, her heart hammering in her chest at Tobin’s words and the soft look in her eyes.

“And secondly, about the kid thing...I had no idea what I was doing when I adopted Scottie. For the first year, when she cried, I cried. I was exhausted, I was always sticky. My clothes were never clean. No one is a natural, even if you’re currently making it seem that way. What I think you do best, what I think you’re doing naturally is treating Scottie like a human with actual feelings. Some people don’t see kids the same way they see adults and treat them like they're tiny and helpless, but you treat her with respect and kindness, and that’s why she loves you and why you’re doing great,” Tobin said, glancing down at Scottie to make sure she was still fast asleep. The soft puffs of breath hinting that she was. 

“I don’t know how to treat her any different,” Christen murmured, trying to ignore the way Tobin’s compliments about the way she was with Scottie made her want to cry tears of joy and relief.

“You’re already better than most people, then,” Tobin assured her, opening her car door, slipping out of her seat, and hitting the button to close the garage. 

Christen wasn’t sure which version was more true, Tobin’s ‘You’re a natural’ or her ‘I’m just lucky’. But either way, she was grateful she hadn’t royally messed up yet.

Tobin climbed into the back of the car on the other side of Scottie, running her finger along Scottie’s nose, making the girl scrunch up her nose at the tickling sensation. 

“Quesadillas,” Scottie mumbled, wrinkling her nose and burrowing closer to Christen. 

Christen chuckled at the sleepy response, sharing an amused smile with Tobin.

“Tiramisu actually,” Tobin whispered, running both of her hands along Scottie’s sides to tickle her a little more. 

That had Scottie sitting up just a bit, blinking her eyes slowly and smacking her lips together. “Tiramisu?” she repeated in a low voice.

“Mhm, but only if you can get upstairs, wash your hands, and pick a movie,” Tobin teased, tucking some of Scottie’s hair behind her ear. 

Scottie leaned over to rest her head against Christen’s shoulder for a moment. “Thanks for being my pillow,” she whispered. She then reached down and unbuckled her seatbelt.

Christen didn’t have an answer for the adorable comment. All she could do was smile and follow Tobin and Scottie inside, going further into the house than she had last time. They passed through the studio and climbed the stairs, Tobin carrying the bag of food in one hand and holding Scottie’s hand in her other one, leaving Christen to follow behind, her soccer bag slung over her shoulder and her steps a little slower since her leg was still aching a bit.

Scottie hurried around the space, pulling out a few movie options from a drawer in the living room area, while Tobin set the food down and began pulling plates out of the cabinet and dishing food onto plates. The two moved easily in the space, completely comfortable to slip off their shoes and drop the keys, sunglasses, wallet, and anything else they’d been carrying around without worrying about a mess. 

“Holy shit,” Christen whispered under her breath, taking in the second floor. She marveled at the shining appliances in the kitchen, the largest sectional she’d ever seen in a New York City apartment in the living room, and the bursts of color everywhere. The walls of the kitchen were a deep purple, and the kettle on the stove was orange with white polka dots on it. The sectional was green and the living room around it had light orange-colored walls. The colors should conflict and clash, with the space being so open-concept. But they didn’t. They blended together to make a masterpiece of a space that made Christen feel so at home it scared her just a little bit. 

“A home with colorful walls is a happy home,” her mom’s voice drifted through her mind, almost out of the blue. She didn’t even remember when her mom had told her that, maybe when her parents had painted the garage door a robin’s egg blue when Christen was in high school. But for whatever reason, she thought of them now and she felt like her mom was with her.

She left Tobin and Scottie to their own devices, letting them settle into their routine as she made her way around the room, taking in the dozens of pictures lining the walls and cramped into flat surfaces. Each and every single one of them featured Scottie. Only a few had Tobin in them, some others had an older woman who Christen assumed was “Grandma.” But in every one, Scottie was clearly the apple of the eye of the photographer. They’d captured her in moments of bliss and joy and laughter - in the bathtub with soap piled high on her head, in a swing at the park, in Tobin’s old UNC jersey in front of a Christmas tree. 

But the pictures weren’t alone. There were paintings too, most of them Tobin’s by the look of them. Christen hadn’t lied at MoMA; Tobin’s art held a special quality to it, an X factor. Christen had no doubt she’d be able to look at a random panting and know if it was one of Tobin’s. She’d be able to recognize the woman she was hopelessly falling for in the colors and shapes and swirls. 

Christen gravitated toward one painting hanging next to a large window, above one of Tobin’s more colorful pieces. It was clearly done by a child, most likely Scottie, and it was...beautiful. It was abstract in the way only a kid’s art can be, without rules and with total freedom. It had every shade of purple that Christen thought existed in the world.

“Do you want to put your bag down?” Tobin asked, walking up slowly behind Christen, having seen her taking in the room and all the stuff hanging on the walls. 

“What? Oh, yeah,” Christen answered distractedly, her eyes unable to leave the painting on the wall.

“That’s a Scottie original,” Tobin grinned, reaching out for Christen’s bag. 

“I can tell,” Christen replied, handing the bag over to Tobin with a grateful smile. She winced as the smile was too big and made the pain in her cheek resurface.

“You want some ice?” Tobin asked, swinging Christen’s bag over her own shoulder. 

“And an Advil if you’ve got one. I didn’t let the trainer give me anything, but now I’m regretting it a little bit,” Christen hummed.

“Coming right up,” Tobin nodded, reaching out for a second and squeezing Christen’s arm gently before she turned around to hang Christen’s bag on a hook near the staircase and find some Advil in the kitchen cabinet. 

Christen drifted over to the sectional, sinking into the cushions, unable to stop the gasp that left her lips when she sat down and felt how soft it was. She could marry this couch, it was so soft and perfect and wonderful.

Monsters, Inc. or Up ?” Scottie asked, turning around to hold the two DVD cases in front of Christen.  

“Which one do you want to watch?” Christen shot back, perfectly content to watch either as long as she got to stay in this exact spot on this perfect couch.

“If we watch Up, Mommy will cry,” Scottie whispered, a mischievous grin on her face. 

“We should probably do Monsters, Inc. then,” Christen decided, knowing they’d had a few too many tears between the three of them today.

“Okay,” Scottie shrugged, clicking the remote buttons that Tobin had taught her how to use. 

“I think we’ve all cried a little too much today, yeah? And the best medicine for that is laughter and this movie is really funny,” Christen replied.

“Yeah,” Scottie agreed, curling up on the couch beside Christen. She glanced up at Christen’s face, frowning slightly when she saw the bruise. “Does it hurt?” 

“A little bit, but I’m okay. I’ve got my favorite player giving me super great cuddles,” Christen said gently, not wanting to lie to Scottie and say it didn’t hurt, but not wanting her to keep worrying either.

“Can I make it better?” Scottie asked, getting up on her knees and touching her index finger to her lips. 

Christen wasn’t exactly sure what Scottie meant by that, so she just nodded a bit with a small smile on her face, waiting to see what exactly would make it better.

Scottie put one hand on Christen’s shoulder and the other on the back of the couch. As gently as she possibly could, Scottie leaned forward and pressed the lightest kiss to Christen’s bruise, making Christen’s heart melt at the gesture.

“That’s what Mommy does for me,” Scottie said, dropping back down onto the couch. “Oh!” she added, hopping off the couch and hurrying into the kitchen area where Tobin was. She scurried back after opening the freezer and asking Tobin for help reaching something. “She also gives me this,” Scottie added when she got back to Christen’s side, handing Christen a small ice pack that was blue and fuzzy and in the shape of a bear. “Boo-boo Bear will help too,” Scottie sighed. 

“Thank you,” Christen said softly, taking the cold blue bear.

“Garlic bread,” Tobin announced, putting a plate down on the coffee table. She then handed a plate of pasta that Gio had made for Christen to try, even writing her name on the to-go box. “And water and Advil,” Tobin added, putting a glass of water on the coffee table and handing Christen the bottle of Advil. 

“This is a full-service joint,” Christen teased, tossing back the Advil quickly and then putting Boo-boo Bear back on her throbbing cheek.

Tobin smirked at the teasing, heading back to the kitchen to get Scottie’s food and water. On her third trip into the kitchen, she put the bottle of Advil away and grabbed her own food, and finally joined Scottie and Christen on the couch, smiling every time Scottie giggled at the movie. 

As they worked on their dinner and as the movie continued playing, Scottie excused herself, putting her plate on the coffee table and scurrying up the stairs, claiming to need to use the bathroom. 

“She doesn’t have to go to the bathroom,” Tobin said as soon as she was upstairs. 

“Then what?” Christen replied, putting the now-no longer cold Boo-boo bear next to their empty plates.

“She’s afraid of Randall,” Tobin whispered. 

“Shit, I told her to put this on,” Christen whispered back, grimacing slightly.

“No, no, she loves this movie, trust me. He just totally freaks her out, and every time we watch it she tells me to keep playing it and that she’ll come back after. She can hear it from upstairs,” Tobin sighed. 

“Shit- I mean crap- I mean can I even say crap?” Christen whispered, covering her mouth with her hand, realizing that Scottie probably could hear her as well. 

Tobin couldn't help but laugh at Christen’s reaction and her obvious worry. “Scottie’s heard me say both of those words, and just because I don’t say them a lot, in hopes of keeping them out of her vocabulary for now, doesn’t mean I never say them.”

Christen’s shoulders sagged in relief.  “Sorry, the kid filter is hard to turn after being on a field with grown women who drop ‘f’ bombs every few minutes.”

“It’s okay,” Tobin hummed, glancing at the TV where Randall was still torturing some other monster. “How are you feeling post Advil?” she asked, her concern evident in her voice. 

Christen sighed and sank deeper into the couch, rolling her head along the cushion to fix Tobin with a tired half-smile. 

“Like my face tried to fight a cleat and lost,” Christen joked, reaching out to put her hand in between them on the couch, on the cushion Scottie had occupied since the movie started.

“But it gave it a valiant effort,” Tobin teased back, tangling her fingers with Christen’s without hesitation. 

“Kelley said I looked like Million Dollar Baby,” Christen replied, scrunching her nose up a bit.

Tobin reached out, holding Christen’s chin with her hand and tilting her head to the side to see the bruise. “Hmm...nah I’ve gotta say you rock it better than Maggie.”

Christen’s eyes fluttered a bit at the feeling of Tobin’s hand on her chin, at the gentle yet strong way she held her. 

“Um,” Christen cleared her throat, a flush creeping up her neck at how raspy her voice sounded, at how much Tobin’s simple and innocent touch had affected her. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Tobin nodded, not moving her eyes away from Christen, even when she dropped her hand back onto the couch. 

Christen let herself get lost in Tobin Heath, in her warm eyes, in her soft smile, in the slightly playful expression on her face. The silence stretched between them, but it wasn’t awkward or strange. It instead brought with it a sense of comfort, of familiarity, of the promise of more. 

“He’s gone, right?” Scottie’s voice drifted from upstairs, breaking the moment between them.

“You just missed him, little bit,” Tobin called, smiling at the sweet way Scottie asked. She gave Christen’s hand one last squeeze before pulling her hand away, knowing Scottie would be down in mere seconds. 

Scottie raced down the stairs, wearing a pair of pajama pants, fuzzy purple slippers, and her PRESS jersey. She climbed onto the couch and situated herself between Christen and Tobin, taking Christen’s hand in her left hand and Tobin’s hand in her right. 

As the movie progressed, Scottie pulled their hands closer, clinging to each of them and unintentionally brushing Christen’s and Tobin’s hands together, unknowingly sending butterflies through both women’s stomachs. She tried valiantly to fight sleep, but her eyelids kept drooping, and then she finally leaned fully into Tobin’s lap and passed out.

“She’s asleep,” Tobin whispered when the movie was over, the credits scrolling to the theme music. 

“I’m starting to think it’s a Disney thing. Kid can’t stay awake for Monsters, Inc. or Brave,” Christen chuckled, gently sliding her hand out of Scottie’s, trying not to jostle her or wake her up.

“She’s not good at watching full movies yet,” Tobin grinned. “I think she gets too excited for the first half of them.” Tobin slid her hand out of Scottie’s, making the seven-year-old mumble a little bit in her sleep. She bent down and scooped her up with practiced ease. 

“I can head out-” Christen tried to offer, keeping her voice soft.

“You don’t need to,” Tobin said, probably too quickly. “I won’t be long,” she added, nodding toward the stairs. 

Christen didn’t mind that the response was fast. She didn’t really want to leave either. She got up from the couch, wincing just slightly at the pain in her leg, and leaned down to give Scottie a soft kiss on the forehead. 

“Night, kid,” she whispered before taking a small step back and sitting down in her spot on the couch. She didn’t let herself think too hard about how good it felt to stand that close to Tobin.

Tobin had to remind herself to breathe, to head to the stairs, to carry Scottie upstairs, and get her situated. She had to remind herself not to get too caught up in everything just yet, to feel too comfortable or too familiar. Christen felt natural. Having her here felt easy, and that was a little startling, considering they hadn’t even gone out on their own. 

Tobin shook herself into the present moment and blushed at her obvious daydreaming. She spun on her heels and headed to the stairs, climbing them and trying to keep calm, despite the very attractive, very sweet, very beautiful inside and out woman sitting on her couch downstairs. She tucked Scottie into her bed, kissing her forehead and making sure that her stuffed bear, Herbie, was close to her side, just in case she woke up and needed to cuddle him. “I love you, little bit,” she whispered. 

“Love you, Mommy. You’re the best mommy in the whole wide world,” Scottie mumbled, her small voice tinged with sleep as she rolled over in bed.

“Sweet dreams, buddy. You’re the best kid in the whole wide world,” Tobin whispered back, flicking the lights off except for the small night light. She cracked the door closed, turned off the hall light, and went into her room to turn on the lights so that she had some light when she came back upstairs to the dark hallway. 

Tobin paused on the last step, her eyes fixing on Christen’s face and her closed eyes. She stepped softly into the kitchen, putting a couple of plates in the sink as quietly as she could. For a moment, she thought about whether it would be a terrible idea to let Christen sleep on her couch, not wanting to wake her from a peaceful sleep. 

“I didn’t fall asleep on you. I’m just resting my eyes,” Christen called out softly, her head back against the couch cushions and her eyes still shut, but a small smile clear as day on her face.

“Jeez, you scared me,” Tobin gasped, throwing a hand over her chest for a second. “I seriously thought both of you had passed out on me.”

“And squander this alone time? No way,” Christe teased, her eyes blinking open so she could look over and watch Tobin move around the kitchen.

“You want more ice?” Tobin offered since she was up and in the kitchen.

“I want to say no and be all brave and impress you, but I really need some,” Christen chuckled weakly.

Tobin smirked as she opened the fridge and grabbed a bag of frozen peas. She covered it in a clean dish towel before walking back to the couch and offering it to Christen. This time, when Tobin sat down, she didn’t leave space for Scottie, enjoying the closeness that came with ‘alone time’ with Christen. 

Christen sighed when she put the bag of frozen peas against her left cheek, involuntarily leaning into Tobin’s side a bit as her free hand fell to Tobin’s knee.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get that sound out of my mind,” Christen whispered, her thumb moving in slow circles over the knee of Tobin’s ripped jeans.

“Which sound?” Tobin asked, turning her head a little and coming face to face with the top of Christen’s head, the smell of her hair products completely overwhelming Toibn’s senses. 

“Scottie yelling my name like that today. It hurt worse than the knee to my leg and the cleat to my face,” Christen murmured, the desperate, pained cry echoing in her ears.

“I was hoping you hadn’t heard that,” Tobin sighed. 

“I did...and it scared the shit out of me,” Christen admitted quietly, her eyes falling shut as she replayed it over and over in her mind, feeling her guilt coming back.

“I’m sorry if it distracted you or made it worse,” Tobin mumbled. 

Christen sat up a little bit, dropping the bag of peas away from her face to look at Tobin intently. 

“I didn’t say that it did. It just scared me, is all because...I don’t want her to be scared,” Christen replied softly. 

Tobin had felt deep feelings for people. Obviously, she had; she’d been married once before to someone she loved or at least thought she loved. She loved her family and her friends, and her love for Scottie was the deepest and most important. It wasn’t until this moment, though, that Tobin felt what people meant when they say you fall for someone. She felt like she was careening into something that she didn’t fully understand, something that scared her but exhilarated her all the same. Something that felt foreign and safe all at once. 

“And I guess- I guess I forgot what it was like to have somebody watching a game who cared whether you got a cleat to the face or not,” Christen added, lifting the peas back to her face and leaning back into Tobin’s side.

“Well, you have two somebodies,” Tobin admitted, lifting her arm and putting it along the back of the couch around Christen. She let her fingers just barely brush against Christen’s shoulder, relishing in the way her fingers tingled with each touch. 

Christen shivered at the tentative brush of fingertips on her bare shoulder, at the way the frozen peas seemed to get infinitely colder as her skin grew infinitely hotter.

“Do you like Thai food?” Christen asked, letting herself sink further into Tobin’s side.

“Yes,” Tobin nodded, her lips quirking up into a smile. 

“What about Mediterranean?”

“Yes,” Tobin chuckled. 

“Mexican?” Christen asked, smiling softly.

“Who doesn’t,” Tobin hummed. 

“Just checking. I would hate to take you somewhere you didn’t want to eat on our date,” Christen replied.

“When are you free?” Tobin asked, keeping her voice low. 

“We leave mid-week for a game in L.A., but I’ll be back Sunday. And then I’ll have Monday and Tuesday off,” Christen whispered, butterflies fluttering around in her stomach.

“Well, technically you don’t have Tuesday off, but I guess it depends on what you consider work,” Tobin said, running a finger along Christen’s shoulder in small strokes. 

“I haven’t considered coaching Scottie work, not after the first day of training.”

“You hated the first day,” Tobin teased. 

“I got my coffee spilled on me,” Christen chuckled. “But no, I didn’t hate it. Even on that day, your kid made me smile in a way I hadn’t in a long time.”

Tobin couldn’t help herself then. She turned her head just slightly and pressed a kiss to Christen’s forehead, right at her hairline. 

Christen sighed audibly at the feeling of Tobin’s lips on her skin, wondering how it was possible to feel so much from such a simple touch.

“Sorry, but I never gave you a good luck forehead kiss, so it’s better late than never,” Tobin whispered, her voice a little wobbly, probably due to the way butterflies were racing in her stomach and her heart was thudding against her ribcage. 

“Better late than never,” Christen repeated back, switching hands to hold the ice pack against her cheek with her right hand. She slung her left arm across her own body and then over Tobin’s waist, wondering how that forehead kiss had simultaneously healed the fissures in her heart and cracked it wide open. 

Chapter Text

I think I want you more than want

I know I need you more than need

I want to hold you more than hold

When you stood in front of me

I think you know me more than know

And you see me more than see

I could die now more than die

Every time you look at me


When it's right it's more than right

'Cause you feel it more than feel

I could take this moment now

Ride into the grave with me


In your eyes, oh in your eyes

In our hearts, yeah in our hearts

Sometimes words just ain't enough

For this love that's more than love

But I've never seen anything quite like you tonight

No, I've never seen anything quite like you tonight

(Christen - “Never Seen Anyone ‘Quite Like You’” by The Script)


Take my eyes, but take it slow

And my demise is finding home

And someone’s questions can you know

That people are looking for something

They think they lost long ago

And when the heat blows over from my head now

And I see you’re holding all of me together now

For all those hours I waited for nothing

I wanted something like this

Yeah, I got burned where I stand

But it was harder then than now to understand

How to bleed until you’re empty, how to open what is full

But I hope I know when I am capable of loving you

(Tobin - “Something Like This” by Gordi)


Christen threw another top onto the bed, huffing in frustration. She’d tried on every outfit in her closet, even the unseasonable ones. She’d tried sweaters, button-downs, blouses, tank tops. She’d tried dresses and jumpsuits and skirts. But nothing felt right .

So, it was time to call in reinforcements, knowing she would regret it later but too desperate to care.

“You need to promise me two things, Kelley O'Hara,” Christen grumbled, narrowing her eyes at her phone when Kelley answered her FaceTime.

“Hello to you too,” Kelley laughed on the other end of the line. 

“One, you will ask NO questions,” Christen continued, breezing by pleasantries since she had exactly thirty minutes before Tobin would be here.

“Ooooh, where are we hiding the body?” Kelley teased, not fully realizing how stressed out Christen actually was. 

“Kel, I’m serious,” Christen pleaded, sinking down onto her bed and holding the phone up in front of her face.

“Okay, fine. I’ll try not to ask questions,” Kelley grumbled, wiping sweat off of her forehead and stopping her Peloton workout. 

“The second thing have to tell me if I look hot or not,” Christen said, knowing there was no going back now. She’d opened the door and Kelley was about to come crashing through it.

“It’s 6:30. You aren’t going to a club,” Kelley worked out to herself. “You’re going on a DATE!” Kelley gasped, her eyes going wide. 

Christen immediately blushed and looked away from the phone. “I need help picking out an outfit that is the right combination of sexy but sweet.”

“Okay, where are you going? Is this a casual place or really fancy?” Kelley asked, leaning forward and resting her elbows on the handlebars of the Peloton. 

Christen walked the phone over to the dresser and propped it against a stack of books. She walked back over to her bed, standing in front of her huge pile of clothes.

“It’ between casual and fancy.”

“So are we thinking pants or dress?” Kelley asked, looking more serious than usual. 

“I was thinking a dress, but I don’t know,” Christen sighed. She grabbed a pretty, bright yellow sundress from the bed and a tighter fitting pale blue dress. She turned back to the phone and held them up. “These were my first two choices.”

“Do you want to sleep with this person tonight?” Kelley asked seriously, her eyes flitting between the two dresses. 

Christen cleared her throat, feeling her blush deepen. “I, uh, I mean, eventually. Not that I’m avoiding it, because I’m not. We just- we haven’t talked about that yet. Not that I’m talking to someone,” Christen rambled.

“Right, of course not,” Kelley laughed, rolling her eyes. “I mean do you want the date to end in sex tonight?” 

“No,” Christen responded automatically.

“Then go for yellow,” Kelley said, leaning back up and starting to pedal again. “Yellow is sexy but a little sweeter. The blue says take me off. The yellow says think about what’s under me but be respectful.”

“You got all that from a brief look at those two dresses?” Christen chuckled, feeling a bit better now that Kelley had helped her pick an outfit.

“Tobin seems like she’d like the color yellow too,” Kelley smirked. 

“I- what- no,” Christen scoffed, far too quickly. “I’m not-”

“Have a great date, Pressy! Enjoy yourself and be safe!” Kelley called before hanging up the phone. 

Christen groaned and collapsed back onto the bed. She and Tobin weren’t actively avoiding telling people that they were exploring things between them, but they’d decided that one of the first people they wanted to tell was Scottie. If they made it that far. So she wasn’t going to tell Kelley anything, not without checking with Tobin first. 

After laying there for a moment, Christen pushed herself off of the bed and grabbed the yellow dress. She slipped it on, the color instantly brightening her mood and making her feel a little calmer about the prospect of going out with Tobin tonight.


[Kel 6:34PM] 

Wear your black sandals. They match that cute purse you got in L.A.

[Pressy 6:34PM]


[Pressy 6:34PM]

Thanks, Kel


Tobin hugged Scottie for the third time. As much as Scottie was independent and loved staying with Glennon and Abby when Tobin had a night out, she didn’t love saying goodbye. Tobin often wondered if it was because Scottie could remember being left, or maybe she was just projecting on Scottie. 

“My heartstring is gonna be pulled far,” Scottie mumbled, tightening her arms around Tobin’s neck.

“Mine is too, little bit, but then I’ll come right back, and our heartstrings won’t stretch at all,” Tobin promised, pressing a kiss to Scottie’s cheek. 

“Promise?” Scottie asked quietly.

“Pinky promise,” Tobin said, holding out her pinky finger for Scottie’s. 

Scottie linked her pinky with Tobin’s and beamed. “Pinkies!”

“Be good for Glenny and Abbs, okay?” Tobin said, lowering Scottie to the floor and brushing a hand through her hair. 

“Okay, Mommy. Have fun wherever you’re going!” Scottie replied, throwing up the shaka sign just like Tobin had taught her.

Tobin copied the shaka sign and watched as Scottie ran into the living room where Glennon and Abby’s kids were playing a board game. 

“Thanks, you guys,” Tobin said, straightening her silky, navy blue tank top and making sure that the French tuck she’d perfectly poked into her black jeans was still intact. 

“We’re rooting for you!” Abby called out with a smile.

“Hope she makes it to the appetizer this time!” Glennon added, blowing Tobin a kiss.

“You and me both,” Tobin answered, throwing a wave over her shoulder and heading down the front steps. She checked her watch and decided to hail a cab when she realized that saying goodbye to Scottie had taken a little bit longer than she’d originally planned. 

When she pulled up in front of Christen’s apartment building, Tobin could feel her stomach churning with nerves. Sure, she’d been alone with Christen a few times now, but none of them had been real, planned, intentional dates. She slid out of the taxi, making sure that she had her wallet and phone and keys, that she wasn’t forgetting anything important, before buzzing up to Christen’s apartment. She made the quick trip up the elevator and to Christen’s front door, knocking softly and making sure to wipe her palms on her jeans before Christen came to the door, since she was absolutely certain that her palms were sweaty. 

Christen pulled open the door with a radiant smile, feeling every nerve and worry fade away the moment she laid eyes on Tobin. “Hi,” Christen whispered.

“Hi back,” Tobin breathed out, her lips turning up into one of her biggest smiles. 

Christen simply smiled, content to look into those warm brown eyes. But then she realized they were standing in silence, with her apartment door wide open and Tobin still in the hall. 

“Oh, come in,” Christen said quickly, an embarrassed flush creeping up her neck. She stepped to the side and pulled the door open wider. “Sorry.”

“No need for sorrys,” Tobin said quietly as she walked past Christen into her apartment. 

Christen blew out a short breath and closed the door, wondering why her nerves had come back full force. She’d felt wonderful the moment she’d opened the door but now she was nervous all over again, tripping over her words and feeling a bit jittery. 

“You look beautiful,” Tobin murmured, not fully trusting her voice not to shake with the nerves and excitement she’d been feeling since the date had been planned. It didn’t help matters that Christen looked effortlessly stunning in her yellow dress that made her dark, curly hair even more striking and showed off just enough of her muscular legs to make Tobin’s mouth go a little dry. 

Christen’s blush deepened as she leaned back against the apartment door, letting her eyes trail over Tobin’s outfit, loving the way her strong, toned arms were left exposed by the tank top and her jeans hugged her in all the right ways. 

“Thank look- I mean, you look good- great. You look great ,” Christen stammered, mentally kicking herself for losing any and all ability to be smooth. She’d wooed many a woman with her words and her eyes, but this felt different. She felt giddy and excited and nervous all at the same time and she could see that Tobin felt the same way.

“Thank you,” Tobin hummed, glancing around the apartment again, since the last time she was there she hadn’t really gotten a chance to see it before they were digging into deep confessions and topics. She grinned at the huge, expensive, complicated coffee machine on Christen’s kitchen counter, a sign that her love of coffee was an everyday affair. Tobin wanted to walk across the studio to look at the books and the framed pictures on Christen’s bookshelf, but she stayed rooted in her place, not wanting to overstep. 

Christen took advantage of Tobin’s momentary distraction and walked to the kitchen, opening her fridge and taking something out. She kept it behind her back and stepped up next to where Tobin was standing near the kitchen counter and bar stools lined up against it.

“Here,” Christen said, pulling a single orange tulip from behind her back. “It kind of matched the goofy orange in the painting Scottie gave me, so I grabbed it. I probably should have gotten a whole bouquet...which would have been more romantic than just one flower,,” she added a little bashfully, sliding the stem between her fingers as she waited for Tobin to take the tulip.

Tobin couldn’t think of anyone ever giving her a flower other than maybe her parents for her birthdays. She hadn’t really been romanced; she was typically the romancer. Now, with Christen holding a flower in front of her, she felt like she didn’t even have the words to explain how she felt. There was gratitude and awe and this soft warmth that she couldn’t fully describe. 

“No, that’s perfect,” she whispered, taking the tulip and holding it between her fingers. She suddenly wished she’d dropped Scottie off at Glennon and Abby’s earlier and stopped by a florist before coming over. “Thank you.”

Christen ducked her head shyly for a moment at the reverent whisper. “No problem,” she murmured, lifting her head back up with a smile.

Tobin leaned forward and placed a light kiss on Christen’s cheek, not feeling like she had words to properly thank her for being sweet and making her feel special. 

Christen felt her heart hammer in her chest as Tobin’s lips lingered. She swayed into Tobin just a little bit, going weak in the knees at the emotion behind the kiss being pressed against her cheek.

“Thank you,” Tobin repeated when she leaned back. 

“You already said that,” Christen hummed, unable to force herself to take a step back. She couldn’t put any space between them, she didn’t want to.

“I repeated for emphasis,” Tobin winked, her smile growing a little bit bigger. 

Christen’s smile mirrored Tobin’s. “Are you as nervous as I am?” she asked, reaching out to brush her fingers against the back of Tobin’s free hand. 

“I might bet that I’m more nervous,” Tobin said, huffing out a shaky breath. 

“I think we should both agree to stop being nervous. To leave the nerves here, in my kitchen, and not take them out with us,” Christen replied.

“You’ve got yourself a deal,” Tobin smirked, holding out her hand to shake Christen’s. 

“That's not how you seal a deal,” Christen corrected gently, her stomach fluttering slightly at the playful glint in Tobin’s eyes.

“I’m traditional. I don’t know where this fist-bump business you’ve taught my daughter comes from,” Tobin teased. 

“I wasn’t talking about a fist bump, either,” Christen murmured, her heart starting to race in her chest. She knew she would never be able to leave all of her nerves behind if she had the pressure of a first kiss hanging over her all night. It wasn’t that she wanted to get it out of the way, because she didn’t. She just wanted to enjoy it now, when they were still shy and nervous, when they wouldn’t get carried away. She wanted to kiss Tobin Heath in her kitchen in front of her expensive coffee maker before taking Tobin out for dinner.

Tobin’s eyes immediately dropped to Christen’s lips, and her stomach started flipping rapidly. Sure she was nervous but more than anything she was dying to finally kiss the woman she’d been entranced by for almost two months. She reached out slowly, letting her hands land on Christen’s waist so that she could pull her a little bit closer. 

Christen tentatively lifted a hand and settled it on the corner of Tobin’s jaw, her thumb tracing along her cheekbone gently as she drifted impossibly closer.

Tobin tilted her head slightly, leaning in until her nose met Christen’s. She took one last steadying breath before pressing her lips against Christen’s for the first time. 

Christen had never believed those people that said they saw fireworks when they kissed someone. She’d never experienced anything like that before. Sure, kissing was nice and not entirely unpleasant, but she’d never understood the way a kiss could make sparks flash behind your eyes, or make you weak in the knees. She’d never understood it until she felt Tobin’s lips on her own. 

Even though she desperately wanted to forget about dinner and kiss Christen for the rest of the night, Tobin didn’t linger too long, not wanting to push the first kiss longer than it should be. 

Christen was the first to pull back, a shaky breath leaving her lips as she pressed her forehead against Tobin’s, her thumb still caressing Tobin’s cheek. She nuzzled her nose slightly against Tobin’s and felt a small smile make its way across her face.

“Still nervous?” Tobin asked softly, wrapping her arms around Christen’s waist so that her hands were on Christen’s back. 

“Not one bit,” Christen whispered, leaning her head back so she could look into Tobin’s eyes. She could still feel the ghost of Tobin’s lips pressed against hers, soft but firm and a little chapped. She was sure there had never been a more perfect first kiss in the history of the world. “You?” she asked.

“Nope,” Tobin shook her head, a lopsided smile gracing her lips. 

“Are you sure? Because I could do it again?” Christen teased, her eyes crinkling.

“Oh, wait. I’m actually feeling really nervous,” Tobin lied, her eyes shining playfully at Christen’s teasing. 

Christen chuckled and leaned back in, kissing Tobin with a little more confidence this time, now that the first one was behind them. If possible, this second kiss was better. It was still innocent and sweet and a little tentative, but it was also a tiny bit more confident and with a skosh more oomph behind it. 

“I really like your kitchen,” Tobin mumbled when they broke the second kiss. 

“It’s my new favorite place,” Christen beamed, moving her hand from Tobin’s jaw and swiping her thumb across Tobin’s bottom lip, removing the bit of lipstick she’d left behind. “And now we don’t have anything to be nervous about. We can just go enjoy the date and not have the pressure of a first kiss hanging over us.”

“Just the third kiss,” Tobin teased. 

“I have a feeling that’ll be a good one too,” Christen winked, stepping back from Tobin, causing Tobin’s arms to fall away from her waist. “We should probably get moving; we have reservations,” she added, reaching out for her purse on the kitchen counter.

“Sounds good,” Tobin said, trying to shake off the trance she’d been put under as soon as Christen’s lips had met her own. 

“If you keep looking at me, you won’t look at the menu, and then what will you order?” Christen teased, arching her brow at Tobin, who sat across from her.

“Easy, pad thai. Every Thai restaurant has that,” Tobin countered, keeping her eyes on Christen. 

Christen rolled her eyes in amusement and dropped her gaze back to her menu. “Must be nice to not be cripplingly indecisive about ordering,” Christen chuckled lightly.

“All you have to do is close your eyes and run your finger down the menu,” Tobin suggested. “Whatever you land on is dinner.”

“Hmmm…” Christen hummed. Finally, she sighed closed her eyes, dragging her finger across the menu and then picking something at random. She opened her eyes and shrugged at what she’d landed on. “Pad thai it is,” she grinned, shutting her menu and putting it down on the table.

“Copycat,” Tobin whispered. 

“I just closed my eyes and let my hand do all the work like you told me to,” Christen smirked, reaching forward for her water glass and taking a small sip.

“That’s pretty suggestive for a first date,” Tobin deadpanned, keeping a serious expression on her face. 

“It just slipped out,” Christeen shrugged with a slight blush in her cheeks. “I can’t help that you’re a really good kisser and my mind went places.”

“At least I wasn’t the only one,” Tobin hummed. 

Christen choked slightly on her next sip of water and coughed slightly. If Tobin’s words hadn’t done it to her, the way her brown eyes seemed to darken would have. “Good to know,” Christen rasped, taking another sip of water to clear her throat before setting the glass down.

“You okay?” Tobin teased, her lips quirking up into a smirk. 

Christen narrowed her eyes. “I think we should call a truce right now because this could get dangerous, and I would hate to miss out on this Pad Thai.”

“Are we sealing this with a kiss too?” Tobin grinned. 

“Smartass,” Christen chuckled with a slight shake of her head. 

“I think you like it, though,” Tobin shrugged. 

Christen held up her pointer finger and her thumb, showing just a little bit of space between them.

“Just that much?” Tobin laughed.

Christen shrugged and dropped her hand back to the table, closer to Tobin’s than where she’d had it previously. Tobin reached her hand across the table to hold onto Christen’s, missing contact, even though they were sitting across from one another, their eyes glued to each other.

They held hands the entire meal. They held hands as they ordered, as they spent time talking about the city and their collegiate soccer years, as their food came and they each elected to eat one-handed. They held hands as the restaurant quieted down and the candles at their table started to get lower and lower.

They were only forced to separate when their waiter came around with their check.

“I can get it,” Tobin said, reaching into her back pocket for her wallet. 

“You can get the next one,” Christen replied smoothly, sifting through her purse to find her wallet.

Tobin’s heart thrummed quickly at Christen’s words. No one she’d been out with in the past year had wanted a second date, and even though she knew Christen was different, that the entire scenario was different, she couldn’t help but feel caught off guard by those words. 

“Okay,” Tobin nodded, letting Christen pay. 

Christen looked over at Tobin after the waiter left with her credit card. “Oh, scary. You don’t sound so sure. Did I bore you with my story about the NCAA tournament and my first time playing in snow?” Christen teased, just the slightest bit of hesitation in her eyes.

“No,” Tobin hurried to say, not wanting Christen to think she wasn’t interested. “Not at all. I...I haven’t done a second date in over a year,” she mumbled, feeling her cheeks flush a little at the admission. 

“Me neither, but just not for the same reasons as you, I don’t think,” Christen replied, her tone a little self-deprecating and sheepish.

“Is yours because you have a child that people don’t want to get close to?” Tobin attempted to tease, her tone not quite as light as it would be for her typical jokes. 

“Good guess,” Christen replied with a tight smile. “But no. I was more of the self-destructive loop of meaningless one-night-stands kinda gal.” She swallowed thickly at the admission, having never actually talked about that part of her life with Tobin before. It wasn’t a secret and it wasn’t information that was all that hard to find. All Tobin had to do was Google and it was right there at her fingertips. But, Christen had a feeling Tobin knew enough.

“But not anymore,” Tobin hummed, no question in her voice, since she’d heard Christen use the past tense. 

“Not anymore,” Christen agreed, sliding her hand back to the middle of the table. “And not anymore for you either.”

“That sounds really nice,” Tobin said, reaching out to take Christen’s hand. “In all honesty, I do have to tell you that I may or may not have googled you at one point, so I did have an inkling.”

“I could kinda tell,” Christe grimaced. 

“Sorry,” Tobin cringed, hating that she’d possibly made Christen feel judged for it. 

“You don’t have to be. I did what I did and got a lot of heat for it, none of it deserved. Even if I can own it, it’s still not my proudest moment.”

“I would have totally picked you up in a bar,” Tobin admitted with a shrug. 

“I wouldn’t have wanted you to,” Christen replied seriously, flipping her hand over to tangle her fingers with Tobin’s.

“I think I prefer the second date idea,” Tobin said softly. 

“Me too. One night wouldn’t have been enough if we’d met at a bar, and one night still isn’t enough,” Christen replied, equally as soft.

“You’re pretty smooth,” Tobin smiled, feeling her heart thud with each word that Christen said. 

“I know, and I let other people tell me I am,” Christen teased, her lips twitching up into a large smile.

“Okay, okay, I guess I’m out of practice,” Tobin replied, rolling her eyes a little. 

“I strongly disagree,” Christen whispered, her voice going deeper with those words.

“That third kiss is looking really good right now,” Tobin murmured. 

Christen’s smile grew infinitely bigger as the waiter finally returned with her credit card. After sliding it back into her purse, she inclined her head toward the door. 

“Want to take a walk with me?” she asked.

“Yes,” Tobin nodded, standing up from her seat and taking Christen’s hand.

Christen had taken four months to come to Central Park after moving to New York. She’d been so busy with the team and practices, she hadn’t really had a chance to explore her new city. But a few days off in her first season gave her the perfect opportunity to do some sightseeing, and she’d immediately fallen in love with the long stretch of grassy hills and trees and lakes and bridges in the middle of the concrete jungle she called home. 

And tonight she found herself falling a little more in love with the park. It was moments after the sun started to set, the warm summer day bleeding into a warm summer night, and the sky was still bright enough for the oranges and pinks to make the world around them seem magical. With her arm looped through Tobin’s, their steps slow and unhurried, their voices soft and low, Christen loved Central Park and was really liking her company in it.

“Am I allowed to ask a question that is definitely too serious for a first date?” Christen hummed, leaning into Tobin’s side just a bit. 

“I think we passed serious a while back,” Tobin laughed, thinking about the night of the MoMA event and how Christen had cried on her suit. 

“You still have to send me that dry cleaning bill by the way,” Christen chuckled.

“That’s not going to happen,” Tobin hummed. 

“Hmm...what if I power posed?”

“I don’t think I’ll crumble that easily,” Tobin grinned. 

“You say that now,”  Christen teased, knocking her hip gently into Tobin’s as they continued to stroll. “But, um, I was wondering more about how you got Scottie,” she asked softly. “I understand if you don’t want to go into any more detail, but I just thought I’d ask.”

“Sure,” Tobin nodded, an easy smile on her lips. “I always knew I wanted a family at some point. I didn’t necessarily plan to have one when I was quite so young, but I told you, the person I was with said she really wanted to settle down. We didn’t have a ton of money at the time, so adoption was pretty expensive. I mean we were doing well enough to take care of a kid obviously, but it’s not like we had money to burn,” Tobin rambled a little, trying to do the story justice.  

“Anyway, the most cost-effective way to adopt is to foster first, so we both got licensed. We took all the classes and did the background checks, and a couple kids were placed with us before Scottie for super short periods of time. The whole foster system’s goal is to put kids back with their birth parents, so the two kids before her came and went back to their families pretty quickly,” Tobin continued, remembering the ten-year-old boy she’d fostered for a few weeks before he went to a more permanent foster home and the baby she’d fostered for a month before she went to live with her birth mother again.  

Christen nodded, hanging on to every word. She loved the way that with every word, she felt like Tobin was opening up to her, showing her another piece of herself that she’d kept hidden. 

“Anyway, I got a call from our caseworker about a little girl who’d just turned three and really needed a place to stay for a few months; they said probably only four or so. Roni wasn’t even in New Jersey when I met Scottie for the first time. By that time, she’d started taking long weekend trips with friends pretty often, and the caseworker called me on a Sunday. They dropped her off, and she was just this tiny, terrified little kid who barely had any stuff with her.”

“I can’t imagine her like that. She seems so strong and...confident in herself, in a way that I definitely wasn’t at seven,”  Christen interjected softly.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Tobin chuckled. “She was strong then. She wailed for days. I’m talking full-on screaming through the night for days. I thought I’d broken her or something. Her stamina and lung capacity were off the charts.”

Christen laughed, leaning in a little closer to Tobin. “Now that I can imagine.”

“She liked the car and the dryer,” Tobin mumbled. “The first few months, she couldn’t sleep unless I drove her around or turned the dryer on and sat on top of it and held her in my arms.”

With an adoring smile, Christen reached up and ran her thumb across the smile line beside Tobin’s wistful grin, just wanting to immortalize the way Tobin looked right now, talking about Scottie as the sun set behind her.

“You were good with her, even then,” Christen hummed. 

“I think I called my parents or my sisters every single day,” Tobin admitted. 

“So you were on your own?” Christen asked, her voice a little strained and vaguely angry.

“At first not so much. I mean, Roni had a nine-to-five job, so she didn’t get up with her at night. She was in charge of breakfasts and such, but I was at home trying to make art a job and taking care of Scottie,” Tobin hummed. 

“You succeeded, on both accounts,” Christen pointed out.

“Yeah, but she left after a year,” Tobin added softly, “even if she stopped showing up within the first six months, she still left.”

“I’m sorry,” Christen whispered, feeling her chest tighten with a quick flash of anger at some woman she’d never even met before for doing that to Scottie, to Tobin.

“I’m not,” Tobin said honestly. “I was really really mad for a long time, but who wants someone to pretend to care? She didn’t deserve Scottie.” 

Christen nodded, hearing the conviction in Tobin’s words and finding herself agreeing. Scottie deserved the world, not this woman who was willing to walk out on something spectacular, on two spectacular someones.

“What about her- I mean, her birth parents? Is that the right way to say it?” Christen wondered, a small flicker of embarrassment running through her, worried she was saying it wrong.

“Yeah,” Tobin nodded, squeezing Christen’s arm gently. “Scottie still calls them tummy parents because that’s what I told her when she was really little,” she added with a laugh. “I don’t know a ton about them. I know that her dad left before she was born. I’m not sure what kind of trouble her mom was getting into, but Scottie kept being taken away. She’d go to a foster home and then back to her mom for a bit and then back to another foster home. Her mom actually passed away while Scottie was with me for what was supposed to be a few months,” Tobin said softly, remembering how hard it had been to get that phone call, how gut-wrenching it had been to explain to Scottie, as best as she could, why she was going to stay at her house and not her birth moms. 

Christen pulled them gently over to a park bench when she heard the change in Tobin’s voice. She settled them down close to one another, taking a hold of Tobin’s hand in her own and threading their fingers together. Her heart ached for Scottie and for Tobin, having an idea of just how hard it had been to get that phone call.

“They tried to contact her birth father and see if he’d take her, but he gave up his rights to custody. He said he couldn’t take care of a kid, which was probably the best thing he could have done for her,” Tobin sighed. “She didn’t have anybody else. They told me they were going to start the adoption process, that a family in Connecticut was interested in her, and I told them that I wanted her. The rest is history, riddled with caseworkers and paperwork and a really long wait to actually become her mom, but it’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” Tobin whispered. 

Christen let the story wash over her, adding another dozen or so things to her stores of information about Tobin and Scottie. It wasn’t a happy one, but it had a happy ending and for that, she was glad. 

“You changed that girl’s life,” Christen said quietly, squeezing Tobin’s hand in her own, her eyes tracking across Tobin’s profile as Tobin gazed out at the sunset.

“She’s changed mine more,” Tobin mumbled. “I think I’d be really bitter if I didn’t have her. I think I’d be a trainwreck.”

“As the resident trainwreck, I can guarantee you wouldn’t be,” Christen joked lightly.

“I wouldn’t call you a trainwreck,” Tobin said softly. 

“And I don’t believe for a second you would have been one. You’re too good,” Christen replied.

“I’m really not,” Tobin shook her head. It wasn’t that Tobin wanted to disprove Christen. She wanted to be too good. She wanted to be amazing and enough and everything that Scottie...and now Christen deserved. That being said, even the most perfect-looking people, even people who had their lives together enough to raise a kid could have pasts riddled with bumps in the road. 

Tobin was no stranger to bumps in the road. She was no stranger to jagged edges and breakdowns, and because of that, she knew she could never be too good. She’d made unforgivable mistakes in her life, mistakes that she knew would gnaw at her heart until it stopped beating. She’d hurt people who only ever loved her, and at one point, she’d handed over the only bit of light in her life. 

This was the first date, though, so as much as Tobin wanted to spill her guts and tell Christen exactly what she was getting into, as much as she wanted to convince Christen that she was far from perfect, she tucked darkness away and smoothed down the jagged edges, opting for easier, flirtier conversation. Someday she’d tell Christen everything. She was sure of it. She was sure that those green eyes would be the pair she wanted to pour her soul out in front of. But for now, for tonight, she steered the conversation away, she put her best foot forward, and she let Christen think that she was good. 

“Do you know what comes up when someone googles you?” Tobin asked with a cheeky smile, swallowing down every thought she’d just mulled over. 

Christen winced. “Unfortunately, yes. Articles, pictures, lots of things since the internet is forever.”

“I’m talking about one thing in particular,” Tobin smirked. 

“I’m not a good guesser, remember,” Christen replied with a small, half-smile.

“Hmm...I believe you did it for ESPN at some point.”

Christen’s eyes widened comically and her mouth dropped open. “Um- you- that was- you saw- that?” Christen stumbled over her words, her cheeks flaming and her skin prickling at the sudden and drastic change in tone and direction of their conversation.

“Briefly,” Tobin admitted, her cheeks flushing a little at the memory. “I may have seen a few of those pictures.”

Christen sat back against the bench and suddenly wished for a cooler night. She was feeling too hot, almost uncomfortably so. She could not believe that Tobin Heath, the patient and impossibly sweet single mom she’d chanced into meeting had seen a state of undress that was very undressed.

“It was really tasteful,” Tobin mumbled. 

“I am whole ass naked in that,” Christen blurted, shaking her head still as she tried to wrap her mind around this.

“The posing was tasteful,” Tobin assured her with a shrug. 

“Oh, I know, I made sure it was. But…Jesus, Tobin,” Christen husked, her voice deep and gravelly, her skin on fire. “You’ve been sitting on this information for how long?”

“Um...” Tobin hesitated, feeling a little embarrassed that she’d googled in the first place. “Since before I knew your coffee order,” she admitted, covering her face with her free hand. 

“I...I have no idea what to say,” Christen laughed, still flushed and embarrassed and bothered in a very hot way.

“I mean I rationalized it and said I was being an overprotective parent,” Tobin mumbled into her hand. 

“You looked at pictures of me naked because you’re an overprotective parent?” Christen replied, starting to laugh a little harder now.

“It wasn't intentional, but it was hard to look away,” Tobin admitted softly, lowering her hand but not yet looking right at Christen. 

Christen blew out a shaky breath and shook her head slightly. She looked over at Tobin, taking in her red cheeks and her shy yet coy smile. She could see the fleeting embarrassment and the muted intrigue, the same sorts of things she was feeling swirling around inside of her. 

So instead of saying anything, of putting her foot in her mouth or stumbling through an awkward response, Christen used her free hand to turn Tobin’s face toward hers with a gentle grip on her chin. 

She leaned forward and kissed Tobin without the same softness their first kisses had held. She moved her lips confidently against Tobin’s, keeping her hand on Tobin’s chin. She couldn’t keep this kiss gentle, not when she knew that Tobin had seen her Body Issue cover, not when she knew that Tobin hadn’t wanted to stop looking at it. She kissed Tobin with enough simmering passion and purpose to get her message across: I’m glad you saw it

Tobin hadn’t felt this attracted to someone...maybe ever. She’d never wanted to make out with someone in public. But Christen was confident and sweet and ridiculously sexy and didn’t mind if people knew that she liked her. Obviously, they were taking that slow because of Scottie, but Tobin was sure, without a doubt, that if things progressed, if Christen really wanted this, if everything went smoothly and they told Scottie, she’d want to hold Christen’s hand and get kissed senseless by Christen every single place they went. 

So, while she was a little caught off guard when her tongue brushed against Christen’s bottom lip without her permission, she wasn’t really that surprised. 

It was the moan that threatened to wrench itself from her chest at the feeling of Tobin’s tongue dancing along her bottom lip that finally had Christen breaking the kiss. She abruptly pulled back, her chest rising and falling quickly as she forced air back into her lungs. 

“You can’t- you can’t just say things like that and then kiss me like that and-” Christen stopped, wetting her lips as she looked deeply into Tobin’s eyes.

“Sorry?” Tobin offered, catching her own breath, unable to not glance down at Christen’s lips. 

“I’m not. Not at all. Please don’t stop doing all of-” Christen broke off and gestured at Tobin in a general sense, “- that . But I don’t want this to be just a one-night thing. You’re important, so important that I need to physically put some space between us right now because you’re giving me that look again…” Christen chuckled hoarsely and slid across the bench, putting a few inches of space between them. But she kept their hands clasped and resting on the bench between them.

“You’re important to me too,” Tobin whispered back. “And I will try to stop looking at you like that ,” Tobin teased. 

“Just for now,” Christen hummed, wiping away the lipstick she’d gotten on Tobin’s lip for the second time that night. 

“That’s a good plan,” Tobin nodded, knowing that her self-control was good but maybe not phenomenal enough to kiss Christen like that, especially when both of their houses were empty and Christen was wearing that dress. Especially since Tobin hadn’t actually had sex in over a year and was...eager. She wanted to respect Christen and their brand new possible relationship, and Christen was right. Respecting it included giving it time to develop. 

“So now I think I should let you walk, or cab, me back to my apartment, let you give me a not-so-chaste kiss outside my door, and then promise me you’ll text me when you get home,” Christen replied, hating that their night was drawing to a close but knowing that it had to.

“I can do that,” Tobin smiled, standing up from the bench and leading the way out of the park, their hands never leaving one another’s. 

They marked the next few blissful weeks of June with lots of moments like the ones on their first date. 

With more meals, where Tobin paid the next time, then Christen, then Tobin, and sometimes split evenly down the middle. With more kisses, so many they started to lose count, some soft and sweet, others anything but. With more admissions and talking, of getting to know one another as individuals outside of being a parent or a professional soccer player.  With late nights spent talking on the phone, since Christen had been kept late after practice doing extra shooting drills, or Tobin was kept late in the studio finishing a commission. With more and more and more difficulty keeping their hands off of each other whenever Scottie was distracted or left the room. 

By the first day of July, they’d been doing this dance of spending time together, of falling for one another and enjoying every new facet of their budding relationship, but still holding out on telling Scottie. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to tell her or that they were afraid. 

Tobin was almost certain that Scottie would be floored with the news, but they wanted to make sure that they were stable and steady, that they had a label for their relationship, that they were ready to take the next steps that a kid would inevitably bring, and honestly, that the sex was good, which they hadn’t yet explored. 

That was something that Tobin had been thinking about a lot more. Especially now, as she prepared three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Somehow, she could even think about sex with Christen while doing this mundane activity.

“Mommy, look!” Scottie called, juggling the soccer ball and trying to catch it with her shoulder blades. She managed to get it onto her back, but the ball bounced off of her, making Christen give chase and intercept the ball before it bounced up and hit the TV.

“You’re getting close,” Tobin said, spreading some jelly on Scottie’s sandwich. She couldn’t help but glance up at Christen’s long, bare legs that her soccer shorts really weren’t covering much of. She couldn’t help but think about how a couple of nights before, after Scottie had gone to bed, they’d kissed on the couch, their hands lingering a little more than usual- 

“Remember to arch your back a bit, Scottie. And cradle it down,”  Christen instructed, handing the ball back to Scottie and running her hand across Scottie’s wild hair. “Try it one more time, okay?” she added, moving to the kitchen after catching a certain look on Tobin’s face, one that had her stomach tightening and fire prickling across her skin. 

“You’re going to drool into the jelly, Tobin,” Christen whispered, getting close enough to Tobin in the kitchen so that Scottie wouldn’t hear.

“Hey, buddy?” Tobin called out, clearing her throat a little. 

“Mommy?” Scottie answered, still bouncing the soccer ball off of her knees. 

“Why don’t you run downstairs and practice on the turf. I don’t want any paintings to get knocked down,” Tobin suggested. “We can bring sandwiches down there.”

Seeing Scottie’s momentary hesitation, Christen decided to add her voice to the mix. “I’ll meet you down there in five minutes, okay? Get those 100 juggles and I’ll be there before you know it.”

“Okay,” Scottie shrugged, picking up the ball and climbing down the stairs to the studio, and then opening the door to the garage. Tobin waited to hear the basement door slam shut in the garage before she turned her attention to Christen. 

Resting a hand on Tobin’s shoulder, Christen dipped her head to meet Tobin’s eyes. “Hey, is everything, oof-” Christen gasped, completely caught off guard when Tobin quickly captured her lips and backed her up toward the solid surface of the fridge. Christen’s back hit the fridge and the impact knocked a few magnets off, but Christen didn’t care because Tobin was kissing her all hot and needy and it lit something inside of her that she’d been trying her best to tame. 

Tobin had been wanting to kiss Christen since she’d said good night in front of Christen’s apartment after a date at the movies two nights ago. She’d been keeping her hands to herself in front of Scottie, but she felt like there was a burning need coiled up inside of her, something that she couldn’t dislodge until she could touch Christen and feel her gasp against her. She let her hands wander more than she probably usually would in her house, especially with Scottie two floors down, and with each touch, Christen’s words and soft noises made that desire coil even tighter. 

“Tobin- she’s- Scottie’s-” Christen tried to protest, but her words were swallowed by Tobin diving back in for another kiss. A kiss she eagerly returned, with her hands buried in Tobin’s messy bun and any and all thoughts of Scottie flying from her mind.

When Tobin realized she wanted even more, that she couldn’t have it here or now, that she needed to splash water on her face and go downstairs and be a responsible parent, she finally managed to pull away. She was more than a little breathless as she kept Christen pinned to the fridge, their foreheads pressed against one another's. 

Christen moved her hands to cradle Tobin’s face between her palms, her thumbs running over her cheekbones and beneath her hazy brown eyes. She was so affected when Tobin did something like this, when she kissed her and touched her desperately. It made her feel like Tobin wanted this as bad as she did. 

“That whole thing was... very nice,” Christen hummed, a slight flush in her cheeks.

“Just wait until a night when Scottie’s not waiting for us downstairs,” Tobin huffed, starting to feel a little guilty that she’d kissed Christen in her house with her daughter downstairs, that she’d told Scottie to run downstairs, in order to kiss Christen. 

Christen couldn’t help herself. She pressed her lips against Tobin’s again, silently expressing how excited she was for that and how so very okay this had been.

“She’s definitely gotten to 100 juggles by now,” Christen murmured after disconnecting their lips. 

“She usually loses count, though,” Tobin laughed, turning around to put sandwiches together. 

“Oh I know,” Christen chuckled, bending down to pick up the magnets and put them back on the fridge.

“Can I ask you something that you can totally say no to?” Tobin asked, piling the sandwiches onto a paper plate.

“Um, sure. What’s up?” Christen asked as she put the last magnet back up on the fridge and turned to look at Tobin.

“Well, first what are you doing on the 4th of July?” Tobin asked, leaning her hip against the counter. 

“We’ve got a few days off. A small summer hiatus, as Amanda called it,” Christen replied with a smile. “Why?”

“Are you going out of town?”

“I don’t- I mean, I don’t really have anywhere to go out of town to,” Christen replied gently, her smile dimming just a bit.

“I didn’t know if you were going to visit your sisters,” Tobin mumbled, not wanting to dredge up bad feelings. 

“We only see each other for Christmas,” Christen shrugged. “So I’m free. Why?”

“ mom does a 4th of July barbecue kind of thing, and Scottie and I always go,” Tobin explained. 

“Do you need a ride or something? Someone to come watch the apartment while you’re gone?” Christen asked, cocking her head to the side in thought.

“I want you to come,” Tobin said, surprised that Christen thought she’d want her to drive and not join. 

Christen’s brows lifted high on her forehead. This wasn’t clandestine, secret date nights, or stolen kisses while Scottie was in the basement. This was a barbecue with other people around. This was a barbecue with family around. 

“Are you sure?” Christen asked, scratching at the corner of her jaw.

“Yeah, I’s just a family thing, so it’s not like a huge group of people,” Tobin murmured. 

Just a family thing echoed around Christen’s mind, making her reel just a little bit. Tobin considered her family enough to invite her to this event. It felt big in a serious and slightly terrifying way, but it also felt big in a wonderful way too. 

“My mom sort of knows about you. Not in specifics, but she knows I’ve been seeing someone, and she knows we’re taking things slow with Scottie. She said you’re welcome to come, and I-”

“Okay,” Christen interrupted softly.

Tobin’s brows lifted high on her forehead as a small smile tugged at her lips. “Really?”

“Yeah, okay. It’s a little intimidating, the idea of meeting your mom and dad, but um, I’d like to go.”

“And one of my sisters will be there with her kids,” Tobin added, cringing a little at naming another person Christen would have to meet. 

“...and them too,” Christen nodded, shooting a tight-lipped smile at Tobin. “Bring it on. The more the merrier.”

“You really can say no, Chris,” Tobin promised. 

Christen pushed off the fridge and wrapped her arms around Tobin’s waist. “I want to spend time with you and your family. I wouldn’t have said okay if I didn’t want to,” she whispered, pressing a kiss to Tobin’s cheek softly.

“Okay, good,” Tobin nodded. “And seriously, if you get there and want to bail, we can bail.”

“If I say the word offsides, that means we gotta bail, okay?” Christen chuckled.

“And I will take you to a really obscenely fancy dinner as an apology,” Tobin hummed, pressing a kiss to Christen’s forehead. 

“You got yourself a deal,” Christen replied softly.

“Way to melt my heart,” Tobin laughed. 

“I do what I can,” Christen laughed right along with her.

“You ready to go down?” Tobin asked, picking up their lunch and heading to the staircase. 

Christen hurried after Tobin and stole a quick kiss. She then waltzed to the stairs in front of Tobin. “As Scottie would say, last one there’s a rotten egg,” she tossed over her shoulder with a smile.

“Do you want lunch?” Tobin teased. 

“Not as much as I want to beat you down to the basement,” Christen laughed, running down the stairs.

Tobin started running after her, holding the food in one hand and wrapping her free arm around Christen as soon as they got to the studio. 

“Ah! Tobin!” Christen squealed, fighting against Tobin’s arm to reach the stairs to the basement.

Tobin spun Christen around, slipping past the basement door and down the stairs first as quickly as she could. 

“That’s cheating!” Christen laughed, following close behind and trying to jump down the stairs two at a time.

“That’s using all of my talents,” Tobin countered. “Plus, I was holding lunch, so I was at a disadvantage.”

“Mommy always cheats,” Scottie joined in. 

“I do not!” Tobin countered with a laugh. 

Christen swiped the plate of sandwiches from Tobin when she was distracted by Scottie, carrying them over to the girl and sitting down on the turf next to her. 

“I think we earned our sandwiches, but I don’t know if Tobin did,” Christen chuckled, handing Scottie a sandwich.

“I made them,” Tobin countered, kneeling down on the turf and crawling toward Scottie. 

“You cheated,” Christen and Scottie said in unison, turning to smile at each other. Christen held up her sandwich and Scottie knocked her sandwich against Christen’s in a mock-cheers.  

Tobin lunged forward, knocking Scottie softly onto the turf, lifting her shirt so that just her tummy was showing, and planted a raspberry on her skin, sending Scottie into a giggling fit. 

Christen grabbed Scottie’s sandwich before it fell onto the turf, dropping them back onto the plate. She shook her head and laughed as she watched Tobin and Scottie interact, as she watched the happiness they exuded fill the space around them and completely overwhelm her. 

“I think Christen needs some attention,” Tobin whispered into Scottie’s ear, smirking over at Christen. 

“She does!” Scottie giggled, letting Tobin pull her up. 

“She definitely doesn’t,” Christen protested, scooting backward a bit across the turf and keeping a hand held in front of her.

Scottie dove into Christen’s arms and wrapped her arms around Christen so that her fingers could tickle her sides. All the while, Tobin told Scottie she was doing a great job and pulled her phone out to take pictures, suddenly regretting that her bigger camera was upstairs. 

Christen tried to wrestle away, but she didn’t actually try very hard since Scottie’s laughter was infectious and she’d do just about anything to hear it. But she did let out a few shrieks and squeals when Scottie managed to actually tickle her. 

“I give! I give! No more!” Christen laughed, trying to squirm out of Scottie’s surprisingly strong grip.

“Oookay,” Scottie relented, wrapping her arms around Christen’s neck and burying her face into Christen’s chest. 

Christen leaned her head against Scottie’s and rubbed a hand over her back, letting out a sigh of relief that the tickling was over for the moment. She felt her mouth twitch up into a smile when she heard Scottie whisper ‘I love you’ into her neck.

Tobin forgot trying to be subtle about taking pictures, dropping to her knees to get a closer picture, first of just Scottie, one of Scottie and Christen, one of just Christen, then an artsier one of Christen’s hands on Scottie’s back, and finally one of Scottie’s hands around Christen’s neck, tangling gently in her hair. 

Christen narrowed her eyes playfully at Tobin, not loving being the subject of the camera but totally unable to do anything about it with the kid in her arms. 

Scottie turned her face and caught sight of the phone in Tobin’s hand, taking pictures. “No paparazzi!” Scottie giggled. 

“Yeah, no paparazzi!” Christen repeated, winking at Tobin. 

Tobin rolled her eyes playfully, dropping down onto her back and sliding her phone across the turf. “Fine,” Tobin groaned. “Someday, you’re both gonna ask me for pictures, and you’ll be really happy that I took them.”

The sound of someday rolling off of Tobin’s tongue had Christen’s stomach doing somersaults and her heart beating fast. It sounded a little scary, but oh so very right. 

Chapter Text

Oh, maybe I came on too strong

Maybe I waited too long

Maybe I played my cards wrong

Oh, just a little bit wrong

Baby I apologize for it

I could fall or I could fly

Here in your aeroplane

And I could live, I could die

Hanging on the words you say

And I've been known to give my all

And jumping in harder than

Ten thousand rocks on the lake

So don't call me baby

Unless you mean it

Don't tell me you need me

If you don't believe it

So let me know the truth

Before I dive right into you

(Christen - “Dive” by Ed Sheeran)

I set out on a narrow way many years ago

Hoping I would find true love along the broken road

But I got lost a time or two

Wiped my brow and kept pushing through

I couldn't see how every sign pointed straight to you

Every long lost dream led me to where you are

Others who broke my heart, they were like Northern stars

Pointing me on my way into your loving arms

This much I know is true

That God bless the broken road that led me straight to you

I think about the years I spent just passing through

I'd like to have the time I lost and give it back to you

But you just smile and take my hand

You've been there, you understand

It's all part of a grander plan that is coming true

(Tobin - “Bless the Broken Road” by Selah, Melodie Crittenden)

Amanda had a tradition on the last day of training before the Fourth of July break. It was a tradition that Christen loved

“CUPPIES!” Kelley cheered, throwing an arm around Christen’s neck. 

Christen laughed and slung her arm around Kelley’s shoulders, letting Kelley march them across the field and toward the goal. The rest of the team paired off, each pair choosing a “Country” to represent. The pairs would try to score off a cross that one of the coaches sent in, and if they scored, they moved onto the next round of “cuppies.” If you failed to score, you were out. They’d play until there was one team standing, who would be crowned the Cuppies Champions and got to lord it over the rest of the team for the rest of the season. 

“We’re going to be deja-booty,” Kelley decided, announcing it to the team. 

“I think you mean Djibouti,” Christen corrected with a chuckle. 

Once every pair had selected their home country, with Becky and her partner going head to head with two others for the honor of being the U.S., Amanda got things started. She sent a cross into the box, one Kelley physically manhandled people out of the way of and got on the end of. She sent a volley into the net and cheered. 

“Hell yes! Suck it! How deja booty taste?” Kelley screamed, flexing her muscles. 

“O’Hara, get off the field and let the rest of the pairs try to score!” Amanda called out, sending in another cross.

Laughing, Christen dragged Kelley out of the eighteen yard box, sitting down a few yards away from the madness of Cuppies. 

“You want to grill with me tomorrow?” Kelley asked, watching the other pairs fight to score. 

“I can’t,” Christen replied, hoping Kelley would leave it there and leave her be. But this was Kelley O’Hara, so that was never going to happen.

Kelley’s eyes snapped away from the goal and onto Christen. “What do you mean, you can’t?”

“I have plans,” Christen shrugged, trying not to let her smile give her away.

“You always have plans lately,” Kelley whined. “And you don’t tell me what they are, so I can’t even live vicariously through you.” 

Seeing Becky approaching them with a few water bottles, Christen decided that if she was going to have to face Tobin’s family tomorrow, she should take all the advice and help she could get.

Taking the water from Becky with a smile, Christen looked around and noticed the other pairs that had gone through sitting far enough away that whatever conversation they were going to have was going to be private. 

“So…” Christen started, clearing her throat and scratching at her jaw. “I think you two should know that I’m seeing someone.”

Kelley spat out her water, some of it hitting Becky but most of it landing on the grass. 

“Ugh, control yourself,” Becky grumbled, wiping at her face with her practice shirt. 

“I FUCKING KNEW IT!” Kelley yelled, pointing at Christen. 

“Kelley!” Christen hissed, her eyes going wide.

Becky rolled her eyes at Kelley and then fixed Christen with a smile. “I don’t know what her deal is, but I’m really happy you’re happy, Press.”

“Please, please, please tell me it’s Tar Heel,” Kelley begged, tugging on Christen’s t-shirt.

Christen just took a long sip of water instead of confirming it. But her silence and her blush were enough for Becky and Kelley. 

“HOLY SHIT! YOU BEAT ME TO GETTING A MILF?!” Kelley blurted out. 

Christen choked on the water and turned beet red. “Kelley,” she hissed again, her embarrassment making her voice come out higher than normal. 

“Sorry,” Kelley whispered. “I just didn’t think you had it in you. Is she good? I bet she’s really good. She has one of those faces that says she’s gone down on women and is good at it.”

“I see that,” Becky agreed, her tone nonchalant as always.

“Right? I think it’s the eyes...or maybe the lips?” Kelley mumbled.

“You guys, stop !” Christen laughed, shaking her head and feeling her blush deepen. “I didn’t say something so you could give me shit about it. I’m going to meet her family tomorrow and I might be freaking out a little bit. So I-”

“OH MY GOD!” Kelley lost it again. “This is serious. You’re serious with Tar Heel.”

Christen ducked her head and ran a hand over her hair. It had only been about a month since MoMA, since they’d decided to give this thing a shot, but it already felt serious. It felt serious and terrifying and extraordinary. 

“We’re taking things slow, to make sure that we work before telling Scottie or anything,” Christen mumbled, looking up from the grass between her two friends. 

“That’s really sweet,” Becky hummed. “We’re really happy for you, Press, and you’re totally gonna impress her parents.”

Kelley’s eyes widened in realization when Becky mentioned the word ‘parents.’ She grew a little more serious than she had been, her teasing and chaotic playfulness subsiding for the moment.

“Do you feel ready to meet her family? I’m sure you don’t have to. It’s Tar Heel; she’s totally smitten with you, so if you didn’t want to go so soon, she probably wouldn’t push you to,” Kelley said. 

“I just think...parents get this idea in their heads about who they want their kids to be with. And I don’t know if I fit the bill for their daughter,” Christen replied, her mouth pressed into a thin line as she picked blades of grass from the ground.

“Christen,” Kelley scoffed. “You’re the most painfully amazing person I know. It’s hard to be friends with you because everyone likes you more. But also, Glennon called Tar Heel’s ex-wife the devil. I doubt her parents are expecting anything if she was already married to the worst.”

“I think you’ll exceed their expectations, Press. Give yourself a little more credit,” Becky added, reaching out to give Christen’s arm a squeeze.

“Plus, Scottie loves you, and they love Scottie,” Kelley added. “And Tar Heel probably loves you too, but I wouldn’t know because you haven’t told me anything about dating her!”

“I told you now though, didn’t I?” Christen replied, pointedly ignoring the love comment and the way it made her heart skip a beat.

“How was the first date? Where did you go? Did you kiss? Is she a good kisser?” Kelley asked, nearly bouncing off the grass. 

Christen beamed as she thought back to that night. “It was perfect,” she sighed happily.

“Is she really good in bed?” Kelley pried. 

“We haven’t-” Christen blushed and scratched at her jaw again. 

“Are you serious?” Kelley asked, her jaw dropping. 

“Hey, I think that’s a good thing,” Becky interjected, siding with Christen on this one. “It’s good to wait if that’s what you both think is what’s best.”

“It is. I’m just surprised. You must actually like her a lot,” Kelley hummed. 

Christen nodded, the gesture small. “I really do,” she whispered, leaning back on her hands in the grass and smiling at her friends.

“ haven’t had sex in a month?” Kelley double-checked. 

“Longer, I think. Since the Academy started,” Christen replied. “ Since I met Tobin and she turned my world upside down,” Christen thought to herself. 

“Jeez,” Kelley hummed. “You’ve got it bad.”

“It’s a good look on you,” Becky grinned, knocking her shoulder into Christen’s. 

“Thanks guys,” Christen replied. “And if we could just keep this between us, that would be great.”

“Of course,” Becky nodded. 

“I’ll try not to run and tell Scottie,” Kelley teased. 

“Please don’t,” Christen shook her head, shooting Kelley a warning look. Getting a nod in response, she softened and smiled. “And I can see that you have more questions, so just ask them Kel. But I reserve the right not to say anything,” she added, picking  up her water bottle.

“Does she have tattoos? I totally see her as one of those artists with hidden tattoos,” Kelley grinned. 

“Nope, Tobin Heath is not inked,” Christen laughed. “She’s deathly afraid of needles.”

“Shoot. Did you use tongue in your first kiss?” Kelley smirked. 

“No,” Christen blushed.

“Later on that same date, though, right?” Kelley pressed, knowing what the blush meant. 

“No comment.”

“You totally want to have sex with her, right?”

“No comment,” Christen repeated, her blush growing impossibly redder and heating her cheeks.

“This is no fun if you’re just gonna say no comment. Oooh where was your first kiss? I want the juicy details,” Kelley asked, closing her eyes to visualize. 

Christen was immediately transported back to that night, to the way Tobin’s lips had felt pressed against her own, to the way the scents of sandalwood and something floral had invaded her senses. 

“My kitchen, in front of my very expensive coffee maker,” Christen replied, grinning. 

“In front of Janice?!” Kelley laughed. “Last question...Scottie calls Tobin Mommy right? I promise this isn’t a dirty question.”

“It better not be,” Becky fake gagged, making Christen laugh.

“She does,” Christen nodded at Kelley.

“ years from now, would you want to be Momma or Mom?” Kelley grinned, flopping back onto her elbows and watching Christen process her question. 

Christen’s stomach dropped and it suddenly felt like the sun got brighter and the air got thinner. She took a deep breath in and tried not to focus on the nerves that seemed to start in her stomach and spiral out into every single part of her.

“Dude, it’s been a month. Don’t freak her out,” Becky scolded, smacking Kelley’s knee. “Scottie calls her Christen.”

“Yeah,” Christen replied quietly, her mind still turning over Kelley’s question, trying to decide if she was more afraid of disappointing Scottie and Tobin and losing the chance to ever become that figure for Scottie, or of actually becoming Momma or Mom. At this point, she didn’t know, but she wasn’t about to let Kelley’s question derail her. “I’m partial to ‘my favorite soccer player’ though, so,” Christen added, her smile a bit tight but no less genuine. 

“Okay, but here’s my question,” Becky interrupted. 

“Finally, sanity prevails,” Christen teased. 

“Does she make you happy?” 

Christen’s response was immediate in the way her face lit up and a large smile made its way onto her face. “Happier than I’ve been in a long time,” Christen murmured, knocking her cleat into Becky’s.

“Mom, I’ve told you everything I can possibly tell you,” Tobin sighed, throwing Scottie’s bathing suit into a backpack and talking to her mom on speakerphone, so that she could move around Scottie’s room without holding the phone. 

“But what if she can’t eat corn? What if she’s allergic like Katie’s first boyfriend? I will not have the girl who has finally brought a smile back to your face die of anaphylactic shock at my barbecue,” Cindy retorted with slight fear in her voice.

“If she were allergic to corn, she wouldn’t eat it,” Tobin huffed, trying to find Scottie’s sunglasses that she got from Christen. She’d had a bit of a meltdown that morning when she hadn’t been able to find them in her, once again, messy room. 

“But what if she accidentally grabs some-”

“Mom, take a deep breath. She isn’t allergic to corn. We had tacos like four nights ago, and there was corn in hers. She isn’t allergic to anything,” Tobin sighed. 

The sound of the front door’s buzzer traveled through the house, making both Tobin and Scottie jerk up from what they were doing. 

“Can I get it?” Scottie begged. She jutted her lower lip out in her signature pout and put her hands up in front of her chest in a begging gesture. 

Tobin peeked through one of the front windows and craned her neck to see that it was Christen. “Sure, Scottie,” she nodded, continuing to talk to her mom. 

Scottie raced down the stairs, excited to see Christen, even though she’d just been over for a movie night a couple nights ago. She threw the door open with a huge smile. 

“Scottie Heath!” Christen greeted, lifting her sunglasses up on her head and pushing curls away from her face.

“Christen! You’re going to Grandma’s with us!” Scottie cheered, reaching out for Christen’s hand. 

“I am!” Christen replied, trying to match the kid’s excitement despite the slight nerves swirling around within her. She took Scottie’s hand and let the girl lead her inside and up the flights of stairs to her bedroom.

“Mommy and I have been searching everywhere for my sunglasses. She’s not happy because I’m a little messy,” Scottie sighed. 

“A little mess isn’t bad,” Christen replied, trying to think back in her own mind for where she’d seen those sunglasses last. “Did you check the basement?”

“No. I really think they’re in my room. You can come help look,” Scottie said. 

“I’d love to,” Christen grinned, swinging Scottie’s hand between them as they climbed the last few stairs leading up to the third floor.

“Mom, you really don’t need to worry,” Tobin sighed, sitting down on the floor and leaning back against Scottie’s bed, surrounded by her clothes and shoes and toys that she hadn’t put away even after Tobin had asked her to the night before. 

Christen and Scottie both shared a quiet laugh, heading toward Scottie’s room and hearing Tobin’s voice come from behind the cracked door. 

“Fine, fine, I’ll stop fussing,” Cindy hummed, her voice loud, coming from where the phone sat on the bedside table. 

“No you won’t,” Tobin laughed. 

“You haven’t brought anyone home in a long time, kiddo. I just don’t want our craziness over here to scare her off,” Cindy replied.

“I know,” Tobin mumbled. 

Christen’s steps faltered a bit at that. She knew that Tobin hadn’t seriously dated recently, or much at all since Roni. But she’d assumed that Tobin still had dated enough to bring someone home. She hadn’t expected to be the first one since Tobin’s ex-wife.

“Just don’t be weird,” Tobin added with a soft chuckle. 

“Me? Weird? I birthed you, you can’t say stuff like that to me!”

“Don’t pull out the photo albums of us as kids. You can show Scottie and nothing else,” Tobin warned. 

“Oh Tobs, your baby photos are already out! See you soon! Love ya, gotta go, bye!”

“Shit,” Tobin mumbled, lifting up off the floor and looking down at the plastic action figure that she’d accidentally sat on. 

“That’s a bad word, Mommy,” Scottie giggled, running into the room and jumping onto the bed, sitting right by where Tobin was leaning against the bed.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t say anything,” Tobin said. 

“You heard it too Christen, right?” Scottie asked, smiling sweetly at where Christen hovered in the doorway of her bedroom. 

“Uh...” Christen trailed off, shooting Tobin a panicked look, unsure what to say in this situation.

“I’m sorry I said a bad word,” Tobin said, turning around to look at Scottie. “I shouldn’t say them if I don’t want you to.” 

Scottie pressed a kiss to Tobin’s head and then let out a gasp. She scrambled off the bed and dove under her dresser. “GOT ‘EM!” she cheered, squirming back out and holding the sunglasses triumphantly.

“Scottie Katherine,” Tobin sighed, rubbing her eyes with her hands. 

Scottie deflated slightly at the sound of her almost full name. “Yes?” she mumbled.

“Do you remember what I asked you to do last night before dinner?”

“To tell Christen that she looks really pretty today and ask her if she wants to swim with me at Grandma’s?” Scottie said, cocking her head to the side.

Christen arched a brow in Tobin’s direction, a smile pulling at her lips as she watched Tobin flounder just a bit.

“No, the other thing,” Tobin shook her head, keeping her voice as serious as she could. 

“Oh, to clean up my mess,” Scottie nodded.

“Do you remember what I reminded you to do after dinner?” 

“To clean up my mess,” Scottie repeated, her shoulders slumping just a bit more.

“Do you think you can turn on your super speed and clean while I get the rest of our stuff in the car?” Tobin sighed, hating when Scottie looked bummed. 

“I can totally super speed clean!” Scottie said, smiling just a bit at Tobin.

“Don’t shove it under your dresser or in your closet,” Tobin warned. 

“Or under my bed,” Scottie sighed, like she’d already thought of that idea and knew it wouldn’t fly either.

“That’s right. In the baskets and in the drawers and in the laundry hamper,” Tobin nodded, standing up from where she was sitting on the floor. “You want me to put your sunglasses in the car?” 

Scottie shook her head and walked over to hand them to Christen. “Don’t let these out of your sight,” Scottie instructed seriously before turning back around and starting to gather up her toys.

“I feel wounded,” Tobin mumbled under her breath as she passed by Christen at the door. 

“Poor Tobin,” Christen teased at a whisper, following Tobin out of Scottie’s room and down the hall.

Tobin grabbed three pool towels out of the linen closet and carried them down the stairs to the kitchen where her backpack was waiting at the door, full of snacks for Scottie and a couple books and CDs that she might want in the car, as well as her own swimsuit and a change of clothes for both her and Scottie. 

Christen sat down in one of the bar stools, watching Tobin move around the kitchen as she got things ready to go.

After getting out three water bottles and setting them down on the counter, Tobin paused. “Wait, I forgot something.”

Christen tilted her head to the side. “What’d you forget?” she asked, her brow furrowed. 

Tobin moved out of the kitchen and leaned against the bar next to Christen, fixing Christen with a sheepish smile. 

“Hi,” Tobin whispered.

“Hi works,” Christen grinned, sinking into the warmth in Tobin’s brown eyes.

Tobin leaned down and quickly pressed a kiss to Christen’s lips. “It’s good to see you, and I’m glad you’re coming with us.”

Christen pecked Tobin once more before leaning back in the bar stool. “I am too, even if I am one of the first people you’ve brought home in awhile,” she teased, trying not to let the seriousness of the implications behind that add to her already nervous stomach.

“You’re not one of the first,” Tobin admitted, moving back into the kitchen to fill up the three water bottles she’d abandoned. 

“As long as I crack the top three, I’m happy,” Christen chuckled, smoothing her hand out over her jean shorts, seeking out nonexistent wrinkles.

“You’re the only one,” Tobin mumbled as she capped the bottles. 

“Oh, wow,” Christen replied, a little surprised. 

“It’s not a big deal. You don’t need to stress about it,” Tobin hurriedly said, trying not to make the trip to her mom’s house any more stressful. 

“I have had stress in my body since you asked me,” Christen said with a tight laugh. “But it’s not a you thing. I just haven’t done the whole meet the parents thing in a long time, so...I’m nervous.”

“How long?” Tobin asked curiously. 

“Since I played in Sweden,” Christen murmured, thinking back on the painfully awkward dinner she’d had with the parents and grandparents of her short-term girlfriend when she played overseas. Her ex had to translate for her the entire dinner and the food had been terrible. All around, it had not been a very positive experience. It was one she was hoping not to repeat today.

“So, you dated some super attractive international player? Cool cool cool,” Tobin hummed awkwardly. 

Christen got up from the bar stool and slipped around the counter, wrapping her arms around Tobin from behind and tucking her chin on Tobin’s shoulder. “Going out with the only other gay girl on the team because you both were lonely doesn’t really count as serious dating.”

“Have I told you that you look really beautiful today and that I really missed you?”

“Not yet, and I think I missed it...what was that you just said?” Christen teased, tucking her face into the side of Tobin’s neck.

“You look beautiful, and I missed you,” Tobin sighed, sinking into Christen’s arms. 

“I DID IT, MOMMY!” Scottie yelled, her footsteps starting to echo down the stairs.

Christen dropped a kiss to the side of Tobin’s neck and unwound her arms from around Tobin’s waist. She stepped back and moved to the barstool again, jumping back onto it.

“Are we ready?” Tobin asked, smiling as soon as she saw that Scottie was once again in her PRESS jersey, paired with the red, white, and blue snapback Tobin had given her. 

“Ready Freddy!” Scottie replied, skidding to a halt in the kitchen and standing by Christen’s side. She dropped her chin on Christen’s knee and smiled up at her. 

“You look really pretty today,” Scottie grinned.

Christen tapped her finger against the brim of the snapback and knocked it down over Scottie’s eyes. 

“Thanks, kid. You look super cool in this hat,” Christen replied with a smile.

“Mommy got it for me,” Scottie beamed, dancing away from Christen and toward the staircase. She took a water bottle from Tobin and carried her own small bag down the stairs to the car. 

“Are you ready?” Tobin asked, looking over at Christen as she pulled her bag over her shoulder. 

Christen let out a long breath. “As I’ll ever be. But remember, offsides.”

“Offsides, and we’re out of there,” Tobin nodded. 

“Did you know that we lost the only copy of Frozen ?” Scottie sighed from her place in the backseat. 

“I did hear the bad news, kid,” Christen nodded, turning around to pout at Scottie and then dropping back into the passenger’s seat, silently chuckling to herself.

“Actually, Scottie, I found one more CD of Frozen , and I ordered it. It just hasn’t gotten here yet,” Tobin said, feeling a little bad about the tiny lie she’d told in a moment of frustration. 

“Yeeees!” Scottie said, pumping her fist at her side. 

It didn’t really feel like Tobin had “lost” the CD though, because now that the promise of another hung in the air, Scottie decided to sing the entire album from start to finish, just without music. 

“Offsides,” Tobin mumbled when Scottie reached the highest note in “Let it Go.” 

Christen hid her laugh behind her hand and shook her head, itching to reach out and take Tobin’s hand on the gear shift in her own, but knowing she couldn’t. Not yet. Maybe someday soon though.

“Scottie?” Christen asked, turning to look over her shoulder and pausing Scottie halfway through the next verse.


“Do you know that one song from Moana? The one she sings to the sea?”

“Duuuuh,” Scottie giggled. 

“I love that song,” Christen replied. “Do you think you could sing it for me?”

“Are you going to sing with me?” Scottie asked. 

“Oh, I don’t sing,” Christen shook her head. She’d gone into this with good intentions, trying to get the Frozen sing-along to stop by changing movies, and now she was being roped into singing.

“Pleeeaaaassseeee,” Scottie begged, reaching forward to touch Christen’s shoulder. 

“Only if Tobin sings too,” Christen bargained, already dreading this.

“You don’t want Mommy to sing,” Scottie said, reaching for the Goldfish that Tobin had packed. 

Christen snorted, grabbed the bag for Scottie, and handed it back to her. “Fine, I’ll sing with you, but only if I get some Goldfish.”

“You’ve got yourself a deal,” Scottie grinned. 

After a fist-bump and an exchange of Goldfish, Scottie started to sing “How Far I’ll Go” in that endearingly off-key way of hers. Christen shoved the Goldfish in her mouth, looking for some kind of momentary reprieve from having to join in.

“Hey, Chris?” Tobin whispered, glancing over at Christen as she drove. 

“Yeah?” Christen mumbled around her mouthful of Goldfish.

“I can’t hear you,” Tobin grinned, her eyes crinkling with her huge smile. 

Christen narrowed her eyes at Tobin and wished she could kiss that smile right off her face. But since she couldn’t, she swallowed the Goldfish, took a sip of water from Tobin’s water bottle, and prepared to hold up her end of the bargain.

“Come on, Christen!” Scottie giggled, jumping into the next verse. “I can lead with pride, I can make us strong,” she sang, holding up her arms and flexing as she did so, earning her chuckles from both Tobin and Christen.

Finally, Christen joined in and started to sing along with Scottie. She turned around in her seat to face Scottie, a smile on her face. “I’ll be satisfied if I play along. But the voice inside sings a different song-” 

“WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?” Tobin screamed along with the song, sending both Scottie and Christen into a fit of laughter. 

“SEE THE LIGHT AS IT SHINES ON THE SEA?” the three of them sang all together, their laughter making it hard to sing. “IT’S BLINDING!”

Tobin pulled her handkerchief out of her pocket and wiped at her eyes and the tears that were slipping out because of her laughter. 

Scottie continued to sing as Tobin stopped, but Christen continued as well, both her and Scottie’s volume returning to normal now that Tobin was no longer pushing them into a screaming sing-along.

“But no one knows, how far it goes,” Christen sang, playfully bobbing her head to the non-existent beat, making Scottie giggle.

“This is all I want,” Tobin thought to herself, trying her hardest to focus on driving when every single part of her wanted to turn in her seat and watch Christen make her daughter laugh and smile and sing. 

“Hi!” Cindy greeted, pulling open the front door of a quaint, two-story colonial on a quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac in New Jersey.

“Grandma!” Scottie cheered, wrapping her arms around Cindy’s waist. 

“Peanut!” Cindy grinned, swaying Scottie back and forth as she returned the hug. 

“Hey, Mom,” Tobin said, leaning forward and pressing a soft kiss to Cindy’s cheek. 

“She’s beautiful,” Cindy whispered to Tobin before pressing a kiss to her daughter’s cheek in return. Cindy then leaned around Tobin to smile at Christen who hovered a few steps behind. “You must be Christen,” Cindy greeted. 

“That’s me,” Christen grinned, holding out her hand for Cindy to shake, praying that it wasn’t clammy after wiping it a few times against her jean shorts. “Thank you for letting me crash your family barbecue.”

Cindy shook Christen’s hand gently. “You’re more than welcome. We’re glad to finally meet you. Scottie’s told us all about you. I will say, though, we’re big huggers, so be prepared to duck if you don’t want a big group hug.”

“I appreciate the heads up,” Christen chuckled weakly.

“Come on in,” Cindy said only to Tobin and Christen, since Scottie had already sprinted into the house to find Tobin’s dad. 

Tobin reached out and tangled her fingers with Christen’s, offering her some sort of comfort as they walked into the house. Christen gave Tobin’s hand a gentle squeeze, thanking her for the silent show of support.

“You have a beautiful home,” Christen complimented, taking in the gorgeous hardwood and light blue walls covered in paintings and pictures, much like Tobin’s were.

“Thank you,” Cindy smiled, leading the way to the kitchen where everyone was gathered. 

Christen watched, a bit overwhelmed as a small crowd of people descended upon them, throwing out greetings and hugs and loud laughter. She’d quickly dropped Tobin’s hand and taken a giant step backward, not wanting to be in the middle of that, allowing Tobin the space to greet her family without being in the way.

It wasn’t hard, necessarily, to be here. But it wasn’t exactly easy either. It wasn’t easy to stand here and watch a family interact. To watch a mom and a dad embrace their kids and enjoy a holiday all together. It made her chest ache and her breath catch in her throat and it made her want to scream ‘offsides’ at the top of her lungs.

But then Tobin looked over and grinned at her. She grinned that dopey, lopsided, almost too big for her face grin and it got a little easier to breathe.

“Hey,” Tobin said, slipping out from her sister’s grasp and making her way back over to Christen. “You want to put these down somewhere?” Tobin asked, holding her backpack up to show Christen. She could see the slight hesitation, maybe even panic in Christen’s eyes, and she wanted to slip into another room, to give her a moment to breath, to say ‘offsides’ if she needed to, to decide if she could do this. 

Christen nodded and let Tobin lead her out of the kitchen, knowing she’d have time to formally meet the Heath family members after she’d gotten everything she was feeling under control. They made their way down the hallway, hands clasped, and then up the stairs. Tobin gently pulled her to the last door on the left and led her in.

“Don’t tease. I didn’t redecorate after I turned eleven,” Tobin warned, walking into the room with soccer posters and paraphernalia covering every inch of it. 

“It’s cute,” Christen hummed. “My room looked pretty much just like this growing up.”

“Here,” Tobin murmured, slipping Christen’s bag off of her shoulder and hanging it on the back of the desk chair in the corner. 

“Thank you,” Christen whispered, doing her best to smile at Tobin.

“I know they’re a lot and loud, and if you say ‘offsides’ right now, I won’t be upset,” Tobin worried out loud. 

“I think I just need a minute,” Christen replied softly, hating the concern shining in Tobin’s eyes.

“Like...a minute alone or a minute where I’ll stop worrying and sit quietly with you?” Tobin asked. 

Christen reached out to slip Tobin’s backpack off of her shoulder and placed it on the floor next to the desk chair. She then wrapped her arms around Tobin’s waist and buried her face in the crook of Tobin’s neck. 

“Just hold me, please,” Christen mumbled, wondering when she’d become someone who sought comfort from embraces like this instead of dodging them. It was probably around the time Scottie and Tobin came into her life and changed everything, flipping everything on its head in the best of ways.

“I was really hoping you’d say that,” Tobin whispered, pressing her lips to the side of Christen’s neck and wrapping her arms securely around Christen. She knew there wasn’t much she could do to make this any easier for Christen. She couldn’t bring back all that Christen had lost, but she was willing to do anything that was within her power. 

Christen could still hear the loud voices coming from downstairs, the clinking of plates and clanging of pots from the kitchen. But as she stood in Tobin’s arms, gathering strength from the embrace, she felt a little better about having to go down there and join it. 

“I won’t make a habit of dragging you away. I just needed one more hug,” Christen hummed.

“You aren’t dragging me away. I asked you to come here because I wanted to spend time with you,” Tobin assured Christen, rubbing her hands along Christen’s back. 

With a final breath, Christen set her shoulders and leaned back. “I can do this,” Christen said with more confidence than she felt. “And I might need to call a few offsides, but I am happy I’m here with you.”

“You can call offsides as often as you want. We can drive around the block. We can come up here. We can go home. Whatever you want. I just wanted to spend the day with you and Scottie, although she’s ditched us for my dad at the moment,” Tobin said with a small smile. 

“Then let’s go find her and spend some time together. Just...stick close, yeah?” Christen asked, her forehead furrowing just a bit, hoping she wasn’t asking for too much.

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” Tobin said, leaning forward to press a kiss to Christen’s lips. 

“It’s really nice to meet you,” Perry said, her smile growing as she saw Scottie run up and hold onto Christen’s shirt, ready to get her attention. 

“It’s great to meet you too. Tobin’s told me a lot about you,” Christen replied with a matching smile, her hand immediately falling to Scottie’s back to keep her close.

“Scottie called me a few weeks ago to tell me all about Coach Christen,” Perry grinned. 

“I’m just Christen today,” Christen chuckled.

Perry leaned into Christen’s space, not wanting Scottie to hear her. “Thanks for making Tobin look like a happy little doofus again.”

Christen blushed and quickly looked down at Scottie, thankful the girl seemed content to make silly faces at Tobin, who sat a few feet away with Perry’s husband. 

“I don’t know if I’m the one doing that. Scottie seems to make everyone around her happy,” Christen said quietly.

“Yeah, but you make my sister all lovesick, which I haven’t seen in a really long time,” Perry emphasized. 

Christen’s blush deepened and she scratched at the corner of her jaw a little self-consciously. 

“Oh, I don’t know- I mean, I don’t think-” Christen stuttered, desperate to find a response that wouldn’t make her sound like a happy little doofus.

“Perry, don’t be weird,” Tobin warned from where she was sitting, unable to hear the conversation but able to see that Christen looked uncomfortable. 

“Tobin, don’t be an-” Perry paused and mouthed ‘asshole’ in Tobin’s direction with a sweet smile.

“Christen, do you want anything to drink?” Perry’s husband asked. “The sisters are about to argue.”

“Yes, please. Literally anything with a little alcohol in it! Thanks!” Christen replied with a laugh, throwing him a thumbs up in gratitude.

“We aren’t about to fight,” Perry sighed, rolling her eyes. 

“Christen?” Scottie said, looking up with wide eyes. 

Christen looked down and smiled softly at Scottie, moving her hand to brush some stray flyaways from Scottie’s forehead.

“Yeah?” Christen hummed.

“Will you play with me?” Scottie asked, hooking a finger in Christen’s belt loop. 

Christen nodded. “Whatcha wanna play?”

“Bird game,” Scottie said, a huge smile stretching onto her face. 

“Um...the bird game,” Christen mumbled, totally at a loss for what that could possibly be.

“What’s up?” Tobin asked, walking up and resting a hand on Christen’s back. 

“Bird game?” Christen said, shaking her head a little with a laugh.

“Badminton,” Tobin chuckled. “You hit the birdie.”

“Ohhhh,” Christen laughed. She looked back down at Scottie and winked. “Let’s go play the bird game and I’ll even maybe let you win.”

“Mommy’s on my team, so I’ll probably win,” Scottie grinned. 

“Then who’s on my team?!” Christen protested.

“You’re a professional athlete,” Tobin teased. 

“I’ll go set up!” Scottie cheered, racing across the backyard over to the grass.

Christen slipped her free hand around Tobin’s back and let out a small laugh, enjoying their brief moment of alone time. “I’m not a professional badminton player,” she replied.

“Fine, you can have Cole,” Tobin said, pointing across the room at her nephew, the toddler who was sitting on her dad’s lap. 

“How generous,” Christen mumbled, ignoring the urge to kiss the teasing smirk from Tobin’s lips.

“Don’t worry, baby. I’ll go easy on you,” Tobin whispered in Christen’s ear. 

Christen shivered, not just at the feeling of Tobin’s breath ghosting across the shell of her ear, but at the sound of ‘baby’ leaving her lips. She reflexively tightened her hold on Tobin’s back and narrowed her eyes playfully at Tobin. 

“Watch it, Tobin Heath. We’re in public,” Christen whispered, her voice growing just a bit gravelly.

“Unfoooortunately,” Tobin hummed, spinning out of Christen’s grasp and walking around to the part of the yard where Scottie was trying to set up the small net. 

Christen managed to win all three games, even when she actively tried not to. She did feel a little bad, but she couldn’t deny that watching the slight competitive streak within Tobin that came out with every win she got was worth it.

“This is lame,” Scottie pouted. “I’m playing with Christen next time.”

“Oh you don’t want to be on her team anymore?” Christen teased, her hands falling to her hips.

Tobin rolled her eyes but pulled her phone out of her pocket to take a picture of Christen in that exact moment, not even bothering to defend herself. 

“No paparazzi!” Christen called out, making Scottie giggle.

“You’re doing the power pose. I’m just documenting it, so that you’ll know what I’m talking about,” Tobin laughed. 

Scottie ducked under the net and stood by Christen’s side, putting her hands on her hips in the same power pose.

“Okay, you can paparazzi again, Mommy!” Scottie said, beaming over at Tobin.

Tobin stepped around the net and held her phone up. “Scottie, what do we say instead of cheese?” 

“KRISPY KREME!” Scottie yelled, her grin growing impossibly wider.

Tobin took way too many pictures, smiling at the way Scottie tried to match Christen’s stance perfectly. 

Christen let Tobin take a few more pictures before she broke the power pose and bent down to get her revenge for the tickle attack in the basement the other day. She tickled Scottie, making the girl giggle and shriek and try to run away, but Christen had her trapped.

The entire tickle fight was caught on Tobin’s phone in pictures of a laughing Christen and a giggling Scottie. Tobin knew she’d be staring at these for months, just letting her heart melt at each one. 

“I give!” Scottie squealed with glee, making Christen finally stop, a little breathless. Christen grinned and picked Scottie up, settling her against her hip. 

“Stop being so cute, you guys. My phone storage is already limited,” Tobin sighed, snapping another picture. 

Christen smirked and leaned closer to Scottie, whispering something into her ear and making the girl look over at Tobin and then nod. 

“No,” Tobin shook her head. “I don’t know what Christen just said, but no.”

Christen and Scottie shared a smile and then Christen nodded, giving Scottie the go-ahead to reply. 

“Mommy, Christen said to tell you that you look really pretty today,” Scottie announced.

Tobin’s cheeks immediately flushed at the compliment. She stepped forward to stand with the two of them, leaning forward to place a kiss on Scottie’s cheek. 

“You can tell Christen thank you,” Tobin hummed. 

“Mommy says thank you. Okay, can we swim now?” Scottie asked, looking between Christen and Tobin excitedly. “I brought my bathing suit with the dolphins on them and I really want to show Grandma.”

“Sure, little bit,” Tobin nodded. 

Christen readjusted Scottie in her arms and playfully threw the girl over her shoulder, holding Scottie’s legs.

“Hey, Tobin, I’ve got a sack of potatoes here, know where I could put it?” Christen wondered, her tone playful and light.

“The pool?” Tobin teased. 

“NOOOOO!” Scottie giggled, squirming a bit.

“Anywhere else?” Christen asked with a smile, stepping back and spinning around, making Scottie laugh even harder.

“Hmm…” Tobin pretended to ponder. “I think I usually keep potatoes upstairs.”

“Perfect!” Christen replied, carrying a giggly Scottie across the backyard and into the kitchen. 

“I’m not a sack of potatoes!” Scottie laughed, twisting her head around and spying Cindy in the kitchen. She waved at her grandma before falling into another fit of laughter. Cindy watched the three of them waltz by the kitchen, a smile on her face.

“I think sacks of potatoes should go on the bed,” Christen said, reaching the top of the stairs and carrying Scottie down the hallway toward Tobin’s room.

“That’s a great idea,” Tobin hummed, pushing open the door for Christen and letting her carry Scottie inside. 

Christen gently dropped Scottie onto the bed, laughing as Scottie laughed.

“Christen, you’re silly,” Scottie giggled, sitting up on the bed with a light bounce. 

“Not as silly as you,” Christen winked.

“Are you gonna swim too?” Scottie asked. 

“Of course! I wanna see the dolphin swimsuit in action,” Christen replied with a smile.

“Let’s get changed,” Tobin said, picking her bag up and dropping it on the bed next to Scottie. 

Christen immediately moved to grab her bag from the desk chair, ghosting her hand across the small of Tobin’s back softly as she moved toward the door. 

“The bathroom’s right through there,” Tobin said, pointing over her shoulder. 

“Thanks, ba- Tobin ,” Christen replied, covering up her near slip-up with a cough and a quick retreat out of the bedroom.

“All right, plug your nose,” Tobin said, pulling Scottie into her already tired arms for the dozenth time. 

“It’s plugged,” Scottie said with a nasally sound in her voice. 

“1…” Tobin said, swinging Scottie’s body back through the air. 

“2…” Scottie squealed in anticipation.

“3!” Tobin said, releasing Scottie and sending her through the air and further across the pool where she landed with a splash.  

Christen grinned from her spot on the edge of the pool, a towel wrapped around her as she swung her legs through the water. She’d gotten out a few minutes ago, but Scottie had wanted a few more chances to be thrown in the air, so she and Tobin had stayed in the pool. Christen had only left to grab a towel before quickly coming back, settling on the edge with a constant smile on her face as she watched Tobin and Scottie.

“Mind if I join?” Cindy asked, pointing at the spot next to Christen. 

“Not at all,” Christen replied, scooting over just a bit to give Cindy more room. She hadn’t interacted much with Tobin’s mom since showing up at the barbecue, having only met the entire family briefly before sticking close to Tobin’s side ever since.

“Scottie’s a ball of energy, isn’t she?” Cindy laughed, watching Scottie and Tobin countdown from ten before they both went under the water for an ‘underwater tea party.’

Christen chuckled with a nod, feeling a slight soreness in her arms from when she’d taken turns with Tobin throwing the girl into the air. 

“I don’t know where she keeps it all,” Christen replied.

“I wish I knew. I wish I had a fraction of it,” Cindy sighed, enjoying the sounds of her family in the backyard. “She really likes you.”

Christen swallowed thickly, bobbing her head slightly as her chest got tight with such a raw feeling of love for the girl who’d just come back to the surface, spluttering and giggling and so goddamn happy. 

“The feeling’s mutual,” Christen admitted softly.

She really likes you too,” Cindy added, knocking her shoulder against Christen’s. 

That made Christen blush and duck her head, her eyes falling to the colorful stripes on the towel she had wrapped around her. 

“That’s mutual too,” Christen said, shooting a small, albeit shy, smile over at Cindy.

“Good. So we can plan on seeing you at more family barbecues?” Cindy asked. 

“As long as I’m not traveling for a game or something, you can count me in,” Christen replied, enjoying the ease with which she was able to converse with Cindy. It didn’t feel awkward, it felt like they’d had poolside talks about Tobin and Scottie for years.

“Tobin’s dad and I are planning on coming to the next home game,” she said, watching Scottie climb onto Tobin’s back. 

“I’ll make sure you guys get the VIP treatment then,” Christen winked. 

“That’s very sweet,” Cindy hummed. “We’ve heard all about Scottie’s VIP treatment.”

Christen shrugged, not wanting to make it a big deal. “I didn’t really do much,” she said.

“In Scottie’s eyes you did,” Cindy said, looking over at Christen. “And in Tobin’s.”

Christen let out a long breath, thinking about how much more she could be doing, how much more she should be doing, especially when it felt like Tobin and Scottie had literally changed her life. 

“I’m not so sure about that, but thank you,” Christen replied quietly, having to tear her gaze away from the emotional look in Cindy’s eyes, eyes that looked so much like Tobin’s it was a bit overwhelming.

“Tobin!” Perry called from the other side of the pool. “Watch Cole, okay?” she said, waving Tobin over, so that Tobin would take her son. 

“Where are you going?” Tobin asked, now with Scottie on her back and Cole holding onto her neck. 

“I want to get wine before I sit in the pool with him,” Perry said, as if it were painfully obvious.

Cindy couldn’t stop the laugh that slipped from her lips at their interaction. “Do you have siblings?”

Christen had expertly avoided questions like these in the past eight months, questions of the probing, personal variety. She had expertly crafted vague responses and changes of subjects. But then Tobin had come into her life, and she’d stopped avoiding and crafting. She just wished it didn’t feel so painful sometimes to talk about things like this, especially when the question was such an innocent one, only asked to get to know her better. 

“Two sisters,” Christen managed, trying not to let her smile dim in the slightest.

“So, you know exactly what that’s like,” Cindy said, referencing Tobin and Perry’s interaction. 

“Definitely,” Christen agreed.

“Are you the youngest?”

“Middle. The forever forgotten child,” Christen teased, trying to take deep breaths and remind herself that talking about family was normal . It was a good thing. It probably would make it hurt less if she did it more.

“No wonder you and Tobin get along,” Cindy laughed. “I can’t wait for you to meet her other sister and little brother.”

“I’ll get everyone the VIP treatment at any Gotham game they want to come to,” Christen replied easily.

“You don’t need to win us over,” Cindy grinned. “We already like you. As soon as we saw you play with Scottie, we fell for you.”

Christen chewed on the inside of her cheek, feeling that familiar weight on her chest. The one that always cropped up whenever family came up in conversation, either her own family or the tiny family she was slowly falling for. 

“Well, I- um, I like you guys too,” Christen said, resisting the urge to scratch at her jaw. It felt impossible that they could already like her, could already want her to come back for every family barbecue. She didn’t feel worthy of it in the slightest.

“Christen,” Scottie said, paddling to the side of the pool and gripping onto Christen’s leg when she got there. 

Tobin followed behind, holding Cole, his hands tangled in the necklace she was wearing. 

“Hey, cutie. You have fun out there?” Christen asked, smiling down at Scottie, trying desperately not to look up and see the adorable way Tobin was playing with her nephew. She was even more desperate to ignore the fluttering in her chest at the sight of a toddler in Tobin’s arms.

“Mhm, but I’m hungry,” Scottie said.

“Want to get out and get some food?” Christen wondered, tilting her head to the side a bit.

“Yes,” Scottie nodded before she sank under water again and swam toward the steps to get out. 

“I think you need to drive us home,” Tobin joked, holding a limp arm out in front of her. 

“Aw, is someone tired?” Christen teased, flicking some water up at Tobin and expertly avoiding hitting Cole.

“Woooow,” Tobin said, playfully feigning hurt. “And just because of that,” Tobin said, a smirk spreading across her face, “You can hold Cole.” She lifted the toddler out of the water where she was holding him and letting him splash, and held him over Christen’s lap. 

Christen rolled her eyes and took Cole into her lap, wrapping her arms around his back. She felt a little out of her depth but figured that as long as the kid kept looking at her with that wide-eyed smile, she was doing fine. 

“You do the sweetest things for me,” Christen winked, earning a chuckle from Cindy.

“I’m gonna set the table,” Cindy grinned. “You’re a natural, don’t worry.”

Christen smiled up at Cindy and then turned back to look at Tobin over Cole’s head. 

“I really can drive if you want,” Christen offered.

“That’s okay,” Tobin hummed, stepping a little closer, her lopsided grin full of mirth and the desire to keep getting closer. 

“Tobin, Scottie’s right there,” Christen whispered, nodding her head at where the girl was standing next to Tobin’s dad at the grill, helping him flip burgers.

Tobin let out a sigh and fell back into the water dramatically. It was getting increasingly hard to not touch Christen or talk to her the way she would if they were on their own. The swimsuits obviously didn’t help, even if Christen had gone with a modest one-piece. It still reminded Tobin a little too much of the Body Issue that she’d stumbled upon. 

So, instead of letting her impulses drive her to do something ill-timed, Tobin swam toward the steps and climbed out of the pool, wrapping her arms around Scottie and leaning down to ask her if she was ready to dry off and get food. 

“Your aunt is a drama queen, Mister Cole. Yes she is, a super-duper big one,” Christen mumbled, her pointer finger held tightly in Cole’s fist. “But I really like her. You gotta keep that a secret, okay?”

Cole just nodded, distracted by the necklace around Christen’s neck. 

“Sorry, he’s into shiny things right now,” Perry said as soon as she saw that Christen was holding her son. 

“He’s okay,” Christen threw out, content to let Cole sit in her lap and play with her necklace since it got her out of answering personal questions or feeling that pressure in her chest that seemed to be building slowly with every happy family moment that happened in the backyard.

“I think we’re gonna eat soon, and Scottie said she wants you beside her, so I’ll take this little cutie,” Perry said, bending down and holding her arms out for Cole. 

Christen gently lifted Cole up, then stood up from the edge of the pool. She walked over to where she’d discarded her shorts, pulling them on over her suit and grabbing the flannel Tobin had brought downstairs with her. She buttoned it up and then made her way over to the back deck where a large, farm table sat piled high with food and plates.

“Sorry,” Tobin mumbled, slipping back into Christen’s space. “She needed a towel.”

“It’s okay,” Christen assured quietly, smiling at Tobin and gently tucking a few wet strands of hair behind her ear for her.

“How’s it going?” Tobin checked in. 

“I’m about halfway to an offsides I think,” Christen whispered, subconsciously lifting her hand to rub at her sternum, right where the pressure seemed to be building.

“Okay, well food is still cooking. Want to go for a walk or make a trip to the grocery store for ice?” Tobin asked. 

“CHRISTEN!” Scottie called, running onto the back deck with her hairbrush in hand. 

“Saved by the bell,” Christen winked, stepping out of Tobin’s space and putting a more respectable amount of distance between them.

“Will you brush my hair?” Scottie asked.

Christen held her hand out for the hairbrush with a smile. “Totally, just waiting for a please,” she said teasingly.

“You don’t have to,” Tobin whispered softly, already worrying a little that so much family was too much, that it was too soon, that Christen really didn’t need to be put in this situation when she hadn’t even fully grieved her own loss. 

“Scottie, you can ask grandma to do it,” Tobin suggested. 

“Please, Christen? Please, please, pretty please?” Scottie asked, jutting her lower lip out in a pout. 

“It’s okay,” Christen hummed, giving Tobin a small nod before turning back to Scottie. Scottie pulled Christen toward the steps that led down to the yard, picking one to sit on in front of Christen.  

Christen sank down to the step behind Scottie, pulling the dark blonde hair over Scottie’s shoulders and onto her back so she could brush it. She gently ran the brush through the wet curls, losing herself in the mindless motion.

“Mommy says this is the best feeling in the world,” Scottie mumbled sleepily. 

“It is,” Christen replied, smiling a bit at how zen Scottie sounded, so unlike her typical Energizer Bunny self.

“Does your mommy brush your hair?” Scottie asked softly. 

Christen’s hands stilled at the question, the brush nearly slipping from her grasp. The weight on her chest was immediate, the thickness in her throat making it nearly impossible to take in a deep breath.

“Um-” Christen started, completely unsure how to answer this and even more unsure if she could say anything without the tears, the ones that now swam in her eyes and blurred her vision, leaking out and falling down her cheeks. “Not- um, not anymore, Scottie,” she said in a small voice.

“Cause you're grown up?”

“Yeah,” Christen breathed out, her hands still not moving, the brush barely held between her fingertips now.

Tobin was setting the table on the deck, glancing down the steps at Christen and Scottie every few minutes to make sure everything was okay. When she saw Christen’s hands stop moving, she wondered what they were talking about, what Scottie was saying to stop Christen from brushing all the knots out of Scottie’s hair. She was curious, but she wasn’t worried. Christen had said she was okay, so she decided to wait for an offsides call or something. 

“Maybe if you asked her she’d still do it,” Scottie hummed innocently. 

“Oh god, I can’t do this,” Christen thought, feeling the threat of tears become far too great. The question had landed like a blow to the chest, like a punch to the gut, a knife to the heart. It was too much. 

Christen quickly moved the brush away from Scottie’s head, dropping it to the step beside her. “I- I forgot something upstairs, can you ask Tobin to finish brushing your hair?” Christen said, trying to keep the wobble out of her voice, not wanting to alarm Scottie.

“Okay,” Scottie said, turning around to look at Christen. 

Christen immediately turned her head away from Scottie’s curious gaze, knowing that her eyes were full of tears and her lower lip trembled. She quickly got up from the step and hurried toward the backdoor, brushing by Perry and her husband who stood next to the table, ducking her head as she did so.

“Chris?” Tobin asked, the name hardly leaving her lips before Christen was gone. She hurried down the steps to where Scottie was sitting. “Hey, buddy?” 

“Christen said you’re going to finish brushing my hair for me,” Scottie said, holding out the hairbrush.

“I can do that,” Tobin said, wishing more than anything that she could run after Christen, but no matter what, every single day, she was a mom first, and she wanted to make sure that Scottie was okay. “Did she say where she was going?” Tobin asked, pulling the hairbrush through Scottie’s hair. 

“I don’t remember. We were just talking about brushing hair,” Scottie shrugged, tapping her palms against her bent knees.

“What about brushing hair, little bit?” Tobin asked, slowly unknotting a strand of Scottie’s hair. 

“How Christen’s mom doesn’t do it for her anymore, but then I told her she should just ask. Because sometimes I know you’re sleepy and don’t want to do it, but I ask anyway and you always say yes,” Scottie explained.

Tobin’s stomach sank at Scottie’s words. She knew it was coming. It was bound to happen at some point. Scottie was a chatterbox and super curious, but Tobin had hoped that this could have waited a few more months, that Christen could have had a little more time with Scottie and a little more time to grieve. 

“I think your hair looks great,” Tobin hummed. 

“Can you give me space buns, Mommy?” Scottie asked, turning to smile at Tobin over her shoulder.

Tobin’s heart ached at her conflicting desires. She nodded softly, though, not wanting to alert Scottie to anything being wrong. 

“Turn around, dude,” she said, separating Scottie’s hair into two sections and wrapping two ponytails around two very messy space buns on the top of her head. “You want to go show Grandma?” 

“And then Christen!” Scottie said, shooting to her feet.

“Hey, buddy,” Tobin hummed. 

“What is it?” Scottie asked, her brow furrowing slightly.

Tobin stood up and kissed Scottie’s forehead gently. “I think Grandma wants your help with the cookies. You can show Christen your space buns after that, okay?” 

Scottie threw up the shaka sign Tobin had taught her and then took off toward the kitchen. “Grandma! I have space buns!”

Without running and freaking out her family, Tobin hurried through the house and up the stairs. She jogged down the hall until she got to her old bedroom door and knocked quietly. 


“I’ll be right out,” Christen’s voice drifted through the door, shaky and wet.

“Can I come in?” Tobin asked, leaning her forehead against the doorframe. 

It was silent for a few moments, where no sound could be heard from inside the room. Tobin wanted to peek inside, to step in for just a moment and make sure that everything was okay, but she couldn’t, not without Christen’s consent, not when she was hurting as much as she was. So instead, Tobin waited in the hall, her heart hammering and aching for a response. 

“Yes,” came Christen’s soft, eventual reply.

Tobin stepped into the room, shutting the door softly behind her. She slowly made her way across the room, stopping a few feet away from Christen and crouching down, so that she was on the same level. 

Christen was sitting on the floor, her back propped up against the foot of Tobin’s childhood bed. Her knees were tucked to her chest, and her arms were wrapped around her legs, a far off look in her watery eyes.

“I’ll come down in a second,” Christen said, repeating the similar sentiment in a slightly detached voice.

“You don’t need to,” Tobin replied, her voice soft and gentle. She sank down, so that she was sitting too, giving Christen space if she needed it but trying to show that she wasn’t going anywhere unless asked. 

Christen just nodded, taking a deep breath in through her nose and noiselessly releasing it through her parted lips. She still didn’t look at Tobin, her unseeing eyes fixed on a spot on Tobin’s wall.

Tobin didn’t really know what to do. She didn’t really think apologizing for something Scottie had innocently mentioned would help. She figured that if Christen wanted her to touch her, she’d reach for her. So, all she did was sit and wait, feeling highly unhelpful. 

After a while spent in silence, Christen finally spoke up. “My sister sent me this article once, right after our parents died,” Christen whispered, wiping stubbornly at a single tear that slipped down her cheek. “I didn’t read it. Not for a long time. I didn’t open it until May 6th.”

“What was the article about?” Tobin asked softly. 

Christen hadn’t read it as well as she should have, even then. Even if things started to fundamentally shift for her on May 6th, on the first day Tobin had brought her coffee almost two months ago, she still hadn’t been able to stomach the hard parts. But she’d gotten the gist enough, and for whatever reason, she felt the need to talk about it. 

“It talked about how grief is like a ball in a box,” Christen replied. “And at first the ball is too big for the box, it pushes at the seams and makes you feel like nothing will ever be fine again.” 

Christen unfurled one of her arms from around her knees. She reached out for Tobin’s hand, blindly reaching for it since she couldn’t look away from the wall, not without losing her tenuous grip on her emotions.

Without hesitation, Tobin scooted closer on the floor and slipped her hand into Christen’s, holding tightly and running her thumb across the back of her hand in small, soothing circles. 

“Eventually, the ball shrinks. As time passes, it grows just a little bit smaller. But the ball doesn’t just sit still in the middle of the box, it bounces around, knocking into the sides...or something, some of the details are fuzzy.”

“That sounds like a good metaphor,” Tobin mumbled, not knowing what to say in this situation. 

“Yeah, it’s nice when the ball decides to just hang out in the middle of the box, because it doesn’t feel like it’s there anymore. You can forget it exists for a moment. You can have tickle fights and date nights and you can breathe ,” Christen continued, the ghost of a smile tugging at her lips. A smile that dropped quickly. “But then the ball moves and it hits a wall, and suddenly those things aren’t easy to do anymore. It reminds you it’s there, even if maybe you didn’t want or need the reminder,” she added, her lower lip trembling as she felt the proverbial ball repeatedly hitting into her every wall, making it impossible to ignore right now.

“Would you mind if I move closer?” Tobin asked, glancing at the foot of space between them. 

“That’s fine,” Christen whispered, her voice still a bit detached and wobbly, her tears falling without anything holding them back anymore.

Tobin moved so that she was sitting right next to Christen, their legs touching and their hands still tangled. 

“It’s okay to not be able to do those things all the time,” Tobin said, quietly. 

“I’m dating a woman with an almost eight-year-old who loves tickle fights. Those are things I need to be able to do,” Christen reasoned, her voice slightly strained.

“We aren’t- I mean, no one is expecting you to be happy all the time. Scottie can ask someone else for a tickle fight if it's hard today, and if dates aren’t in the cards, we can take a nap or sit just like this,” Tobin whispered. “There are no expectations for how you have to be.”

Christen nodded again, blinking a bit out of her vacant stare. She forced herself to take a deep breath and then look over at Tobin. 

“She caught me off guard. One second she was talking about how good it feels to have her hair brushed and the next she was asking about my- my mom, and I just-” Christen’s jaw tightened as fresh tears pooled in her green eyes.

“I know, baby,” Tobin hummed. 

“I want to be okay for you two. I want to be okay so bad, but then the ball hits a wall, and I don’t feel okay anymore,” Christen whispered, her grip tightening on Tobin’s hand, almost painfully.

“You don’t need to be okay,” Tobin said, reaching out for Christen. She pulled Christen’s legs into her lap, just wanting to hold her somehow. “Eight months is not a long time, and if you’re still not always okay after eight years, that’s okay too.”

“I don’t remember what the article said about how small the ball will be in eight years,” Christen mumbled, simply letting herself be held.

“You don’t need to be anything more than you are for us,” Tobin repeated. 

The words hit Christen in the chest, but not in the same way Scottie’s had. These words made the pain in her chest lighten. These words were like a balm to her soul. These words made her feel like she could be her messed up, grieving self and that Tobin and Scottie would still stick around. 

“She didn’t- I mean, Scottie didn’t realize- right?” Christen said, her words tight with worry.

“No, she didn’t,” Tobin whispered. 

Christen sagged in Tobin’s arms, a stuttering breath leaving her lips. “Good. That’s good,” she murmured.

Tobin rubbed a hand along Christen’s back, slowly moving her hand up and down. “You know that she loves you. That’s not gonna change if you get sad or if some moments are more painful than others.”

Even if she knew they were talking about Scottie, it felt like there was just a little more behind Tobin’s words. More than there should be this early on, and it wasn’t explicit or anything, but it had the pain in Christen’s chest easing even more. The promise of more behind the words had Christen realizing that even if moments like these continued to happen, because they would, if she had Tobin there to hold her and Scottie to love her, maybe she would survive it better than she had been. 

“Your parents are going to think we’re making out up here before dinner like a couple of teenagers,” Christen whispered, the corner of her mouth lifting just a bit.

“That’s okay,” Tobin hummed, a smile reaching her lips slightly. 

“Maybe I should give you a hickey, just in case.”

“I think you’d have a lot of explaining to do to a seven-year-old,” Tobin teased. 

Christen choked out a laugh, pressing herself just a bit closer to Tobin. “Yeah...thank you.”

“For saving you from a child’s inquisition? You’re very welcome,” Tobin teased. 

“For coming after me,” Christen replied, brushing her lips across the side of Tobin’s throat gently.

“You never have to thank me for that,” Tobin whispered. 

And with that, another knot of pain loosened, and it got just a bit easier to breathe. Christen leaned off of Tobin’s chest, looking into those brown eyes so full of concern and care that it made her melt. 

“I’m going to need to pay to get this t-shirt dry-cleaned too,” Christen sighed, running her thumb across the small smudges of mascara she’d left near the collar.

“I’ll add it to your tab,” Tobin murmured, resting her forehead against Christen’s. “We can leave,” Tobin offered. “I know a really good burger place in Jersey City.”

“I’m not calling offsides,” Christen shook her head, making Tobin’s forehead bounce against hers gently. “I’m good, and I think I’d really like a Scottie hug.”

“She’s dying to show you the really horrible job I did with her hair,” Tobin laughed. “I can’t get space buns down for the life of me.”

“I’m actually really good at them,” Christen confessed with a small, huff of a laugh. “But I’m sure yours are great.”

“They’re only cute because she’s cute,” Tobin admitted. 

Christen lifted her free hand and cupped the side of Tobin’s face. She ran her thumb across Tobin’s cheekbone slowly. 

“You’re cute,” Christen hummed, her smile coming a little easier now. “And you’ve called me baby twice now.”

Tobin pressed a kiss to Christen’s forehead, trying to play off her slightly embarrassed blush with a gentle kiss. She hadn’t necessarily meant to let the word slip. In fact, she’d never called someone ‘baby,’ but with Christen, the term of endearment had felt natural.  

“Is that okay?” Tobin asked softly. 

“Very okay,” Christen replied at no more than a whisper, her thumb continuing its path across Tobin’s cheek and down across her smile lines, the ones that grew deeper with her answer. “You promise this isn’t too much?” she asked a little hesitantly, an embarrassed flush creeping up her neck. 

Christen knew this was a lot. The fact that she had to come up here during a family barbecue and breakdown wasn’t easy to deal with. She knew it wasn’t going to be the last time something like this happened. She also knew that not everyone wanted to sign up for this, for walking alongside someone who was grieving. But Christen hoped it wasn’t too much. She hoped Tobin would say what she thought she’d say. She hoped Tobin would want to continue walking alongside her.

“I promise,” Tobin nodded. “I didn’t start dating you because I thought it would be easy. Some parts are super easy, don’t get me wrong. But I want to date you because I want to be with you, even when you’re having a bad day or when the ball in the box is rolling all over the place. I’ve never wanted to be with someone who’s always smiling or pretending things are okay when they aren’t. This, ” Tobin said, gesturing at Christen, “This doesn’t scare me. I just want to be here.”

There was nothing Christen could say to capture the way her heart completely and totally healed at Tobin’s words. There was nothing Christen could do to express her gratitude or her care for the woman in front of her. There was nothing to say or do, besides crash her lips against Tobin’s and kiss her with everything she was feeling. 

“Thank you for being here,” Christen whispered into the breath of space she put between them before pressing another kiss to Tobin’s lips once more.

“Thank you for letting me,” Tobin whispered back, brushing her thumbs along Christen’s cheekbones. 

The beautiful thing about a family barbecue was that things got hectic around dinner time. It allowed Tobin and Christen to slip back downstairs, almost without anyone having noticed their absence. Except Scottie, who was waiting alone in the kitchen for her mom and Christen to reappear. She’d been spending her time watching cookies bake in the oven. 

“Mommy, you found her!” Scottie said from where she was now snitching fruit off of the counter. 

“Whoa, those are awesome space buns!” Christen said, pulling her hand out of Tobin’s slyly and making her way over to the counter. She picked Scottie up and settled her against her hip.  

“Thank you,” Scottie blushed, pressing her face against Christen’s neck. 

“Whoever did them must be super talented,” Christen replied, running her hand up and down Scottie’s back.

“Mommy’s the best at hair,” Scottie mumbled against Christen’s skin. 

“And do you know who gives the best hugs?” Christen whispered.

“Who?” Scottie asked, pulling back to look at Christen. 

“You do,” Christen replied, smiling softly. “Think I could have one of those magical hugs right now?”

Scottie put her arms around Christen’s neck and burrowed even closer, squeezing tightly. “I love you,” she whispered as soon as Christen was hugging her back. 

“I love you too,” Christen replied, her chest tightening for an entirely different reason now. 

“Will you and Mommy sit by me at dinner?” 

“Totally,” Christen murmured. “Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Tobin hadn’t wanted to intrude on their moment, but upon hearing her name, she slipped into the space and wrapped her arms around the two of them, keeping Scottie in the middle. 

“I get to sit by you ?” she asked Scottie, widening her eyes to show Scottie just how cool that was. 

“Duh, Mommy!” Scottie giggled.

“Let’s go, slow pokes! Burger’s are getting cold!” Tobin’s dad said, poking his head into the kitchen from the back door.

“Yeah, jeez slow pokes,” Tobin teased, poking Christen and Scottie in the sides and making them both squirm and laugh. 

Tobin led the way outside, with Christen carrying Scottie following behind her. They settled into the three open spots at the table, Scottie between the two adults. She would alternate whose hand she would grab for, eating her burger one-handed so she could always be holding Christen’s or Tobin’s hand. 

Conversation flowed easily around the table, the topics floating from summer plans to the newest Netflix shows. And the whole time, Christen always felt Scottie’s hand in her own, or Tobin’s hand on her back, making her feel marginally better with every moment that passed. 

As the day faded into night, as fireworks lit up the dark sky and sparklers were passed around, Christen still had Scottie’s hand in her own and Tobin’s hand on her back, and she didn’t just feel marginally better. She felt better than she had in a long, long time. 

Chapter Text

Blue jean shorts and a sweater

I didn't know if she was hot or cold

I told her on the day that I met her

I was never gonna let her go

There's a spark in her eyes when she's smiling

Lights a fire in my soul

When she touches me the flames get higher

And it's burning out of control

The years go by

My heart knows I

Miss California

Highway one

Halfway to Hollywood

Miss California

Sunset dipping in the water never looked this good

I just wanna watch her all day

But she comes in and out like a wave

She puts her moonlight lips on my face

And she goes

There she goes

Miss California

(Tobin - “Miss California” by Hootie and the Blowfish)


I'll be kind, if you'll be faithful

You be sweet and I'll be grateful

Cover me with kisses dear

Lighten up the atmosphere

Keep me warm inside our bed

I got dreams of you all through my head

Fortune teller said I'd be free

And that's the day you came to me

Came to me

Come to me my sweetest friend

Can you feel my heart again

I'll take you back where you belong

And this will be our favorite song

Come to me with secrets bare

I'll love you more so don't be scared

And when we're old and near the end

We'll go home and start again

(Christen - “Come to Me” by The Goo Goo Dolls)


Tobin cleared the plates off of the table, rinsed them, and put them into the dishwasher, all the while watching Christen at the table. She was starting to think that her stomach would never stop doing somersaults around Christen. 

It had been a month and a half, and Tobin was completely captivated by the dark-haired woman. It made staying focused on anything else a little difficult. So, even though she was telling Christen a story, she was still having trouble keeping her facts straight and her eyes off of Christen. 

“I’ve never seen Abby that nervous. Her last NCAA Tournament was a cakewalk compared to getting married,” Tobin laughed. 

Christen chuckled lightly and took a healthy sip of wine, only half-listening to Tobin’s story. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, she did. She was just still replaying Kelley’s words in her mind, still entirely too focused on the comment Kelley had made to her at training earlier in the day.

Kelley had picked up a knock in their training a few days ago, so she was on the sidelines cheering the team on during a 3v3 tournament. Christen had been on fire, scoring goals left and right. After a particularly pretty goal, Kelley had yelled, “I should have filmed that for your girlfriend!”

Her teammates teased her mercilessly as the 3v3 tournament continued. But in addition to the blush on her cheeks and the smile on her face, Christen felt a slight flicker of trepidation. She knew that she and Tobin were dating, that they were seeing each other. Tobin’s family knew, Christen’s friends and teammates knew. Scottie was definitely the next person to know. But they had never formally addressed one another, or introduced one another, as their girlfriend. They hadn’t even had a conversation about whether or not they were exclusive; although, Christen didn’t think that Tobin was seeing other people. 

Christen had left training with her thoughts swirling around in her mind, thoughts about the girlfriend label, the exclusivity of this whole thing, and the fact that they’d nearly jumped each other’s bones at her apartment last week without ever having had the ‘what are we’ conversation. She knew she wanted to be Tobin’s girlfriend, and for Tobin to be hers. She wanted the weight behind the label, the solid ground it offered. She wanted that and more, she just didn’t know how to broach it.

“It poured the whole day before, so she was really stressed about that, but then the sun magically came out, and-” Tobin stopped looking at Christen’s glazed-over face. “You okay?”

“What?” Christen replied, blinking back into the moment with a slightly sheepish expression on her face.

“At what point did you zone out?” Tobin laughed, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. 

“I’m sorry,” Christen sighed, running a hand through her curls and tousling them a bit as nerves flitted around in her stomach. She wanted to ask if they were exclusive, if they were girlfriends, but she wasn’t quite sure how to broach the subject.

“It’s okay. What’s going on?” Tobin asked, feeling her own body fill with nerves at the hesitation on Christen’s face. She hadn’t seen that hesitation much since they’d started dating, and definitely not when they were hanging out, just the two of them. 

Christen chewed on her lip for a moment, dozens of phrases and sentences running through her mind. 

“This isn’t a fling to me,” she finally blurted, her cheeks turning slightly red with the way she basically yelled the words at Tobin.

Tobin walked around the kitchen island toward the table where Christen was still sitting. “ isn’t a fling for me either,” she said softly. 

“Great because I’m not seeing other people,” Christen continued, her words still rushed and tight.

“I would hope not, since I haven’t been,” Tobin hummed, reaching out a hand to hold onto Christen’s. 

Christen nodded, her eyes on their clasped hands. “And I think I’m a little out of practice, but I would really like you to be my girlfriend, I just don’t know how to go about asking that,” she added, her stomach tightening at the admission.

“You just did,” Tobin smirked. “I don’t think you’re that out of practice.”

Christen looked up, finally meeting Tobin’s gaze. “I...I did?” Christen asked, tilting her head to the side.

“I’d love to be your girlfriend. I kind of assumed we were,” Tobin grinned, feeling butterflies erupt in her stomach at the sweet, nervous way Christen had approached this topic. 

“Oh. Great. Cool. It’s just that Kelley called you my girlfriend today and I guess I just wanted to...check?” Christen replied, scratching at the corner of her jaw with her free hand.

“I’m glad you checked,” Tobin hummed, leaning down and pressing her lips to Christen’s gently. “And Kelley can keep calling me that.”

Christen chased Tobin’s lips, giving her another kiss. “I’ll let her know,” Christen hummed, kissing Tobin one last time before letting the brunette lean away.

“So, this means that you’ll be calling your girlfriend when you’re away at camp?” Tobin smirked, her heart racing at the word and at Christen’s adorable reaction to the new label. 

Christen blushed and tucked a curl behind her ear, almost feeling a bit shy at the sound of that word rolling off Tobin’s tongue. 

“I’m going to get so much shit from everyone. Especially Megan and Kling. Especially when I talk about my girlfriend and her adorable kid,” Christen replied.

“Kelley texted me about that today,” Tobin said, sitting down in the chair beside Christen. 

“Oh yeah she said she was going to bug you to hang out, since she’s stuck here,” Christen grimaced. “I’m so sorry,” she added with a laugh.

“That wasn’t what she texted me about,” Tobin snorted, remembering the text she’d read that morning. 

Christen’s brow furrowed. “What did it say?”

“She sent me a screenshot of a group text she’s in with Megan, Kling, Becky, and some person she called Kriegs,” Tobin said, her smile only growing at the subject they’d been talking about. 

“I hope you didn’t open it around Scottie, that group chat is a recipe for disaster,” Christen laughed, her cheeks still warm and one hand still clasped in Tobin’s, the fingers of her free hand playing with the watch band around Tobin’s wrist.

“Scottie was busy with her French toast sticks,” Tobin hummed. “It wasn’t that inappropriate. Plus, Scottie doesn’t know what a MILF is, and I could probably come up with a good fake definition if put on the spot.”

Christen groaned and dropped her head, shaking it slightly. “Oh my god,” she grumbled. “Maybe I should just stay here with you guys. That way I can avoid any and all MILF comments.”

“Baby, one nation, one team, but only if you’re there,” Tobin teased, her cheeks starting to ache with her huge smile. 

Christen scrunched her nose adorably at the look on Tobin’s face and the lightness in her words. 

“I’m excited to get back into camp, MILF comments notwithstanding. But a week and a half is a long time to be gone,” Christen sighed, her smile growing a little sad.

“Do you not think I’m a MILF?” Tobin asked, cocking her head to the side. 

“That was your takeaway there? I was all sappy, talking about missing you and you’re focused on the MILF thing,” Christen teased, letting her fingertips trail up Tobin’s forearm, from elbow to wrist.

Tobin winked and then grew serious as well, thinking about Christen’s impending departure. “A week and a half is a long time to be gone, but Scottie’s really good at FaceTiming people, and I plan on seeing your face pretty regularly,” Tobin said, lifting Christen’s hand up to her lips and kissing the back of it. 

“I think I’ll need a Heath fix every day,” Christen agreed. “Even if I am beyond excited to be getting back into camps, I’m sad to leave.”

“We can do that,” Tobin said, squeezing Christen’s hand gently. “I’m excited for you to get back to the National Team.”

Christen tilted her head to the side and fixed Tobin with a curious look. “Is it hard to talk about soccer? I know you got hurt, and from the YouTube videos I watched, it looked pretty bad, but-”

“It isn’t hard for me to talk about soccer anymore,” Tobin said honestly. “It used to be really hard, but everything happened for a reason, and I probably wouldn’t have Scottie if I hadn’t been injured.”

“I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t hurting your feelings or anything,” Christen replied gently. 

“You aren’t. I like talking about it with you; it’s exciting. But...let’s backtrack. You looked me up on YouTube?” Tobin asked, a smirk growing on her face. 

Christen smiled coyly and shrugged. “You’re not the only one allowed to use a search engine to figure out more about the person you’re dating.” 

“And what did you find?” 

“Your messy buns used to be messier look really hot when you play,” Christen smirked, adding a bit more pressure to the touch she was still running up and down Tobin’s forearm.

Heat rushed through Tobin’s body at those words. She couldn’t deny that nearly everything Christen said lately could set that heat off. It was almost a little embarrassing just how attractive she found Christen, just how turned on she got when she spent time with Christen. 

“Now you know how I feel on a regular basis,” Tobin husked, her eyes trailing over Christen’s body. 

Christen’s eyes sparkled at the rough timbre in Tobin’s voice, her throat bobbing as she swallowed thickly. “Will you join me in the kitchen please?” Christen asked, removing her hand from Tobin’s and getting up quickly. 

Tobin followed much more eagerly than she ever had before, but she couldn’t help herself when Christen looked at her like that and when her voice deepened just a bit. 

Christen turned to face Tobin and quickly stepped into her space once they were both in the kitchen. She placed her hands on Tobin's sides, pushing the brunette gently backward until she hit the fridge. 

“It’s not the same without magnets to knock over, but…” Christen trailed off with a smile.

She slowly leaned in and kissed Tobin, aching and wanting and a little desperate. She loved kissing Tobin, loved the way Tobin’s body responded to hers, loved the way Tobin touched her with strong, purposeful hands. Christen especially loved getting to push Tobin up against the nearest surface and kiss her senseless. 

“MILF is definitely the right thing to call you,” Christen husked, nipping gently at Tobin’s bottom lip and then diving back in for another kiss.

Tobin responded easily, no hesitation in her hands or in her lips. They’d done this dance dozens of times since their first date. She tangled one hand in the hair at the base of Christen’s neck, holding her close. Christen’s body was flush against hers, and Tobin suddenly felt warmer than she’d ever felt in her life. She didn’t want to be in the kitchen. She wanted to walk Christen through the studio, around the partition, all the way to her bed. She wanted to hear Christen and feel all of her. 

Instead, she pulled her lips away from Christen’s and placed them on the soft skin of her neck, kissing up and down, sucking gently, leaving soft bites. Each and every sigh that she heard come from Christen’s lips only pushed her forward. 

Christen’s hands grew greedy, pulling up the tight white t-shirt Tobin had tucked in her dark jeans, sliding her hands beneath the shirt and gripping Tobin’s bare sides. Her fingers dug into Tobin’s warm skin as she let her head loll to the side, giving Tobin more room to work.

Tobin kissed down to Christen’s collarbone, letting her tongue brush into the hollow of Christen’s neck. Her hands trailed over Christen’s back, her thumbs slipping under the hem of Christen’s shirt and brushing along her skin. 

“Fuck, Tobin,” Christen husked, her hips involuntarily rolling into Tobin as Tobin’s tongue and lips worked literal magic. She was almost gasping, her breathing coming out short and fast, as she felt a blazing fire of want burn beneath her skin.

Tobin moved to kiss the underside of Christen’s jaw, the same spot that Christen scratched when she got nervous. She sucked gently, her hands moving up Christen’s body, pushing her shirt up with the movement. 

As much as she loved their current position, Christen wanted more. She wanted Tobin above her, looking down at her with those dazzling brown eyes. So she pulled a hand out from beneath Tobin’s shirt and used it to grab onto Tobin’s jaw, pulling Tobin up. She reconnected their lips in a messy kiss, pulling Tobin off the refrigerator and walking them backward toward her navy blue velvet couch. 

Christen only separated her lips from Tobin’s long enough to step back from Tobin and pull the tight crop top over her head, dropping it onto the floor with a smirk. 

“Holy shit,” Tobin mumbled under her breath, even more heat rushing through her body at the sight of a shirtless Christen Press in front of her. 

Despite the desire and the want dripping from the moment they were in, Christen blushed, a little shy at the slack-jawed look on Tobin’s face. Tobin had obviously seen much more of her on the cover of the Body Issue, but this felt different. Standing in a pair of blue jeans and a simple black bra, it felt even more revealing.

“I knew you were beautiful, but you’re beautiful,” Tobin whispered reverently. 

Christen’s blush deepened as she shook her head slightly at the compliment. She stepped forward and kissed Tobin soundly. “Thank you,” Christen mumbled against Tobin’s lips, her hands traveling under Tobin’s shirt again as she let her fingertips trail up and down her sides.

“You can take it off,” Tobin whispered, lifting her arms for Christen to pull it off. 

Christen groaned into the next kiss, her hands fisting in the shirt. She leaned back, relishing in the hooded look Tobin was giving her, and pulled Tobin’s shirt up and over her head. 

She didn’t even bother to look where she’d dropped it, too mesmerized by the expanse of tanned skin before her, by the hard lines of Tobin’s abs, by the simple gray sports bra she wore, by the way Tobin’s jeans hung low on her hips and the hem of her boxers just peeked out over the waistband of the jeans. 

Christen reached out and placed her hands back on Tobin’s sides, her touch light, as her eyes rose to meet Tobin’s. 

“You are the sexiest woman in the world,” Christen whispered, nuzzling her nose along Tobin’s as she pulled them slowly back toward the couch again.

“Agree to disagree,” Tobin husked, her eyes trailing up and down Christen’s body, stopping for a beat longer when she reached Christen’s chest. 

“If you just look, it’d be such a shame,” Christen smirked, pulling them down onto the couch, Tobin landing on top of her, their legs tangling together.

Tobin didn’t need to be told twice. She pushed herself up off the couch slightly, so that she could kiss the newly revealed skin. 

She tried her best to ignore the tiny voice in the back of her head that kept reminding her that she was seriously out of practice, that she hadn’t had sex in a year and a half, that she’d hardly even helped herself out for a year and a half. She tried not to think about what expertise Christen was accustomed to. She tried to let the desire drive her, especially when she slid her tongue just underneath the edge of Christen’s bra and heard a loud moan slip from Christen’s lips. 

But then that little voice said that Christen would want to know, and Tobin suddenly felt like she couldn’t ignore it any longer. She felt a sense of embarrassment flood her system at the prospect of telling Christen, slowing her kisses until her lips were barely brushing against Christen’s ribs. There was no way she could tell her and look at her at the same time, not when she knew exactly what surprised look Christen would have on her face. 

“I haven’t had sex in a year and a half,” Tobin mumbled, resting her forehead against Christen’s stomach. 

The words barely made it through the thick haze of desire that had descended upon Christen, but at the feeling of Tobin stopping her path downward, of Tobin resting against her stomach, Christen blinked her eyes open. 

“Wha- what’d you say?” Christen said a little breathlessly, one hand still overhead, pushed against the arm of the couch, and the other threaded in the hair at the nape of Tobin’s neck. 

“I really have to repeat that?” Tobin asked, cringing internally at the entire situation that she’d just created by opening her mouth. 

“I didn’t hear much when you were kissing me like that,” Christen chuckled lightly, looking down at the top of Tobin’s head. She tried to tug gently on Tobin’s hair to get her to lift up, but Tobin refused to move.

Tobin blew out a short breath and shut her eyes before she tried again. “I said I haven’t had sex in a year and a half,” she murmured quietly. 

Whatever momentary surprise Christen had, she quickly packed away. She also pushed aside any quippy joke or smart remark. Instead, she focused on the slight insecurity lacing Tobin’s words and tried to figure out what to do with it. 

“Okay,” Christen replied softly, running her fingers through Tobin’s hair. “And I haven’t had sex in two and a half months.”

Tobin let out a slight huff, a not-so-small part of her loving that what Christen was saying was that she hadn’t slept with anyone since they’d met. 

“Babe, your ears are turning red. Which means you’re embarrassed, and I’m just trying to figure out why,” Christen continued gently.

Tobin finally looked up at Christen, seeing the softest version of her green eyes she’d possibly ever seen. “That’s a while,” Tobin said quietly. 

“It’s just an amount of time that has no meaning unless you give it one,” Christen shrugged, tugging on the back of Tobin’s head again. She let out a small sigh of relief when Tobin listened this time, moving back up to lay on top of Christen. 

“I don’t have expectations. I’m not accustomed to anything. I spend my Saturday nights watching Frozen until my kid falls asleep,” Tobin sighed, thinking about the seriously different worlds the two of them were coming from. 

“Do you think I have some insane list of sexual boxes to check and if you don’t fulfill each one, I’m going to stop being with you?” Christen asked, moving her other hand to Tobin’s lower back, moving her fingers in slow, soothing circles.

“I think you have more experience. At least, more recent experience,” Tobin answered. 

“They weren’t you, so they don’t matter,” Christen replied, her brows knitting together slightly. “What matters is this and us and whatever we want to happen tonight, and tomorrow, and next month, and every one after that. Just that and only that.”

Tobin couldn’t help suddenly wanting to kiss Christen again. She was always kind, but this was a new side, a new moment for the both of them. She pressed her lips to Christen’s gently, purposeful but slow, wanting to express just how much she cared about Christen and just how safe and comfortable she felt in moments, even somewhat embarrassing ones, with Christen. 

“Thank you,” Tobin mumbled softly. 

“You don’t have to thank me for that,” Christen hummed, smiling up at Tobin. “And can I just say...even if you think it’s been a long time, you very much know what you’re doing. You’re not out of practice.”

“I haven’t done anything more than kiss you,” Tobin laughed, smiling down at Christen. 

“I feel more from kissing you than I did from anything else, with anyone else,” Christen admitted quietly. “Kissing you is- it sets my whole body on fire.”

“So it’s not just me burning up over here?” Tobin grinned. 

“Definitely not,” Christen whispered, leaning up to reconnect their lips in a brief kiss, one that quickly turned far less brief. 

“Can we not do this on the couch for the first time, though?” Tobin asked, her lips brushing against Christen’s as she spoke. 

Christen’s stomach flipped at the question. “Yeah? Are you sure?” she asked, more than a little breathless.

“I’ve been sure since our first date,” Tobin mumbled, pressing another kiss to Christen’s lips. “Obviously, only if you’re ready.”

“I’ve been ready since you figured out my coffee order,” Christen whispered, leaning back with a playful smirk on her lips.

Tobin couldn’t help the laugh that left her lips and the huge smile that spread across her face. She climbed off of Christen and scooped her up off of the couch, making her way to the bed on the far end of the studio. 

“Ooh, so strong,” Christen teased in a husky voice, ghosting her lips across Tobin’s jaw, nipping gently then soothing with her tongue.

Tobin rolled her eyes at the teasing but couldn’t help that heat flooded her body making her stomach flip and something coil low in her body. She gently placed Christen onto the bed and quickly followed, hardly finding time to admire the soft sheets and the comfy mattress, not when Christen was sprawled across said mattress looking at her with dark, hooded eyes. 

Tobin leaned down and captured Christen’s bottom lip between her own, not hesitating to brush her tongue across it and wait for Christen’s lips to part. She ran her tongue along Christen’s and let her hands wander, brushing over the front of Christen’s bra and feeling Christen arch up into her hands. 

It felt like entirely too much and entirely not enough, all at the same time. Christen loved the feeling of Tobin’s warm skin pressed against her own, but she wanted more. She loved the barely-there touches and the teasing, but she wanted more. She loved the way Tobin moved and kissed and touched with a quiet confidence, like she knew exactly what she was doing, but she still wanted more. 

Christen hooked her leg around Tobin’s waist, pulling Tobin flush against her. She let her hands travel down Tobin’s back, sliding them into the back pockets of Tobin’s jeans as she rocked her hips up against Tobin’s. She was seeking the kind of friction and release that Tobin seemed to promise. 

“Jesus,” Christen husked, wrenching her lips from Tobin’s when she felt those gifted hands tease at the band of her bra. 

“Can I take this off?” Tobin murmured. 

Christen nodded and reconnected their lips, pushing herself up from the mattress by propping herself up on her elbows

Tobin quickly unclasped Christen’s bra and tossed it somewhere near the foot of the bed. She pulled away from the kiss, taking a moment to look, sending even more heat coursing through her body. 

“What?” Christen whispered, tilting her head to the side a little bit when she saw the stunned look on Tobin’s face.

“You’re exquisite,” Tobin husked. 

“You’ve already seen most of this on the cover of ESPN,” Christen replied, her cheeks heating at the timbre in Tobin’s voice.

“It’s different when you’re letting me undress you,” Tobin hummed, brushing her fingers along Christen’s ribs. 

Christen felt her eyes flutter shut at the touch, a moan spilling from her lips when Tobin’s touch went higher than her ribs. She fell back, off her elbows, and down onto the bed, Tobin falling with her.

Tobin leaned down and pressed her lips to the newly revealed skin on Christen’s chest, letting her lips and hands explore simultaneously. Her right hand was busy tweaking one of Christen’s nipples, and her mouth had just slipped over the other when her phone started ringing from her back pocket. 

“Absolutely fucking not,” Christen gasped, her hand in Tobin’s hair keeping her in place. 

“Chris,” Tobin sighed, moving her hands down to Christen’s waist. She’d only left her ringer on, just in case something went wrong at Abby and Glennon’s, just in case Scottie needed her.

“No, babe,” Christen groaned, loosening her hand in Tobin’s hair even though she was desperate not to. She knew she shouldn’t protest, it could be about Scottie, but she was so hot and bothered right now that she wished like hell the phone had stayed silent.

“Just give me a second,” Tobin huffed, once she saw that it was Abby calling her. 

Christen nodded, running her hands over her face and through her hair as she tried to get her breathing under control, as she tried to ignore the pressure between her legs that begged for attention. 

“Hello?” Tobin said, her voice a little more strangled and hostile than she meant it to be. She kept one arm on the bed beside Christen’s head to keep herself upright but also to stay close to the woman beneath her. 

“I am so, so, so sorry Heath but-” Abby started, her tone beyond apologetic.

“Yeah,” Tobin huffed. “Is she bleeding?” 

Christen’s eyes flew open, alarm flashing across her face as she lifted back up on her elbows, bringing her closer to Tobin and the phone.

“Technically, yes? She lost a tooth. Not a front one, just a small one on the top,” Abby replied.

“Give her a tissue,” Tobin mumbled, closing her eyes and clenching her jaw tightly. 

“Glennon is making her chug milk. She swears it’ll get her to stop bleeding since it worked for our kids, but Scottie isn’t too happy about it,” Abby sighed.

“It sounds like you guys have it under control. She’s lost teeth before. Why is she upset?” Tobin asked, sitting up and running a hand over her face. 

“She’s asking for you, She says the Tooth Fairy won’t know where to find her if she sleeps here,” Abby said, her words quiet and full of every kind of regret and apology possible.

“Can you put her on?” Tobin asked. 

Christen’s eyes widened in surprise. She leaned over and grabbed a shirt from beside the bed, slipping it on quickly. She was not about to be topless if Scottie was on the phone, even if it was just her voice. She held up a thumbs up to Tobin, silently asking if Scottie was okay, having not caught too much of what Abby had said.

Tobin nodded softly, trying to push her frustration down, even though all she wanted was to continue what she’d been doing before her ringing phone had interrupted. 

“Mommy?” Scottie’s voice came over the phone, the tears evident in her words as she sniffled.

“Hey, buddy,” Tobin cooed. 

“Can you come get me?” Scottie sniffled.

“You know that the Tooth Fairy visits Glennon and Abby’s kids too, right?” Tobin said, trying to appeal to Scottie’s Tooth Fairy logic. 

“But Pearl won’t know to come here, Mommy. She has only ever come to our house,” Scottie replied, her voice still quiet.

Tobin silently cursed herself for telling Scottie that kids had personal tooth fairies, for making an elaborate story about her tooth fairy named Pearl. 

Christen managed to catch just a bit of what Scottie had said, and despite the lingering disappointment for what the night could have been, she sat up and placed her hand on Tobin’s shoulder. She squeezed it gently and did her best to smile reassuringly. She knew that Tobin was going to leave, that she had to leave, and Christen supported that decision completely. 

“You really want to go home?” Tobin asked, trying to hide her disappointment. 

“Yes, please,” Scottie whispered

“Okay, I’ll be there soon, little bit,” Tobin whispered, waiting for Scottie to hang up before she flopped backward onto Christen’s bed.

“So...she lost a tooth?” Christen asked, gazing down at Tobin and feeling her smile grow at the pout on Tobin’s face. 

“Yes, and I’m the idiot who told her that every kid has a personal tooth fairy who knows where they live,” Tobin grumbled. 

“That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever heard,” Christen hummed, leaning down and pressing herself against Tobin’s side, brushing the baby hairs on Tobin’s forehead back.

“Is it cute right now?” Tobin asked, her pout still very prominent on her face. 

Christen leaned down to kiss that pout. “It’s a little less cute,” she chuckled. “But this will still be here later; the Tooth Fairy is needed tonight.”

“She’s only getting a quarter,” Tobin sighed. 

Christen laughed, nuzzling Tobin’s nose with her own, feeling herself fall just a little bit harder for the brunette lying on her bed beneath her.

“Make it two quarters, babe. No need to be stingy,” Christen teased. 

“You’re a pushover. I can already tell,” Tobin mumbled, leaning up and pressing a kiss to Christen’s lips. 

Christen shrugged with a smile and kissed Tobin back, knowing she couldn’t linger since Tobin had to go. 

“We can come back to this when I’m back from camp?” Christen asked, her eyes dancing between Tobin’s.

“Please,” Tobin nodded. “And we can still take you to the airport?” 

Christen softened at the question, feeling any last lingering disappointment leave her. “Of course. Even if taking me to the airport at 6:30 in the morning is way too early for either of you two to be going anywhere.”

“I’m gonna miss you,” Tobin sighed. 

Christen swallowed the lump in her throat and forced a small smile onto her face. “I’m going to miss you, too. More than you know.”

“I don’t know about that. I think I have a pretty good idea,” Tobin mumbled, reaching into her back pocket and pulling out her wallet. She thumbed through it quickly before putting it back in her pocket. 

“Do you need two quarters?” Christen chuckled.

“You know I’m a softie. I needed to make sure I had a dollar,” Tobin sighed, rolling off of the bed and making her way toward the couch to get her shirt. 

Christen let out a long breath, making peace with the fire prickling beneath her skin and the ache between her thighs that wouldn’t be getting the attention it wanted. She got up from the bed and walked out from behind the partition, finding Tobin tucking in her t-shirt into her jeans.

“I’m really sorry,” Tobin sighed. 

“Don’t apologize. But if you’d gone any further...then maybe you’d need to,” Christen chuckled.

“It would have been very hard to force myself to answer the phone if I’d gone further,” Tobin whispered. “I’ll call you later?” 

Christen nodded, grabbing onto Tobin’s hand and following Tobin to the front door, scuffing her bare feet across the hardwood floor as she went. “Get home safe,” she hummed, squeezing Tobin’s hand gently.

“I better,” Tobin nodded. “Gotta be able to drive my girlfriend to the airport in a couple days.”

Christen beamed, leaning in for a brief kiss. “I really like how that sounds,” she whispered against Tobin’s lips.

“Me too,” Tobin nodded. 

“Good night,” Christen hummed, pressing one final kiss to Tobin’s lips.

“Good night,” Tobin sighed, wishing she could have a few more final kisses but knowing that Scottie had probably already packed her overnight bag and was waiting at the front door. 

So, with as much strength as she could muster, Tobin walked down the hall and toward the elevator, her shoulders slumping a little with a tiny bit of leftover disappointment. 

Christen was surprised Scottie was even awake this early, let alone talkative and very energetic. But then again, Scottie was always full of surprises.

“You know that you’re on my wall?” Scottie said, her feet bouncing against the booster seat. 

Christen shook her head, spinning one of Scottie’s curls around her finger. “What do you mean, cutie?” she asked, keeping her voice quiet even if she didn’t really need to.

“Mommy got me a poster. You’re on my wall,” Scottie hummed. 

Christen was a little taken aback at that and turned to look at Tobin in the rearview mirror with an arched brow.

“That’s not entirely true,” Tobin laughed. “I bought it a couple years ago as a joke because Abby’s on the front. Scottie just realized yesterday that you’re on it too.”

Abby was definitely the largest player on the poster, each other player varying in size behind her. Christen had been brand new to the National Team at the time, her picture dwarfed compared to Abby’s. 

“I bet it’s the team one from the Olympics,” Christen said, realizing which poster it was and blushing a little at the knowledge that she was literally on her girlfriend’s kid’s bedroom wall.

“It’s pretty cool,” Scottie mumbled. 

“Do you have a favorite player on the National Team? I can see if they’ll get me their autograph at camp this week,” Christen offered smiling over at Scottie.

“You, duh,” Scottie said, rolling her eyes at Christen’s question. 

Christen laughed, feeling her chest ache at the knowledge that she wasn’t going to see that eye roll or that smile for almost two weeks. 

“Anyone else? Maybe Megan Rapinoe or Alyssa Naeher?” Christen asked.

“Mommy thinks Alex Morgan’s pretty,” Scottie sing-songed. 

Christen scoffed and raised her eyebrows in Tobin’s direction, catching sight of the embarrassed flush creeping up her neck. 

“Is that so?” Christen wondered, her tone slightly teasing and not at all jealous. Nope, not one bit.

“Absolutely not,” Tobin said, shaking her head emphatically. “I only like one player on the team. Everyone else is irrelevant.”

“And who’s that?” Christen asked challengingly, her smile growing.

“The most talented one. Christen Press,” Tobin said confidently, winking in the rearview mirror. 

Christen blushed, holding Tobin’s eyes in the mirror for a moment before turning back to Scottie. 

“No,” Scottie said, sitting up straighter in her booster seat. “Mommy, you said Crystal Dunn’s the most talented player.”

“Scottie,” Tobin groaned. “You’re gonna get me in trouble.”

Christen burst out laughing, excited to tell her long-time friend and teammate that her girlfriend thought she was the best. 

“I actually agree with you on that one. She is the best,” Christen replied. “She will love knowing that you think so,” she added with a teasing lilt in her voice.

“I don’t think she’s the best anymore. I think the two of you are both the best, and together...woooow, right buddy?” 

“Yeah, wooooow,” Scottie parroted in the same tone of voice as Tobin’s. 

Christen’s cheeks ached from smiling so much, and she felt a pang in her chest, knowing she was going to miss moments like these more than anything. She scooted just a bit closer to Scottie and took her hand.

“Well, then how would you like to meet her on FaceTime? And maybe some other players too?” Christen asked, smiling at Scottie.

“Really?” Scottie asked, bouncing Christen’s hand in her lap. 

“Really, really,” Christen nodded.

“That’s so cool,” Scottie whispered reverently. 

The car grew quiet as they got closer to LaGuardia, as Tobin parked the car and the three of them got out.

“You really don’t have to walk me in,” Christen assured, tightening the straps on the new Nike backpack the team had sent her last week.

“Yes, we do. It’s tradition!” Scottie said, holding onto Tobin’s hand and swinging Tobin’s arm with her own. 

Tobin nodded in agreement, remembering all the times that she and Scottie had walked her sisters and brother and...Roni into the airport when they left. 

“Who am I to argue with tradition then?” Christen winked.

“Here, let me,” Tobin offered, grabbing Christen’s suitcase from the back of the car. 

“I can help too,” Scottie said, picking up Christen’s water bottle. 

“Thank you, guys,” Christen replied with a soft smile, watching the Heath girls take such good care of her. It made the pang in her chest tighten just a bit and her eyes sting.

“I left you some things. Mommy helped me sneak them into your bag,” Scottie mumbled as the three of them started walking to the entrance of the airport. 

“I thought you were keeping that a secret, little bit,” Tobin laughed, remembering how Scottie had whispered about it to Tobin all last night and this morning. 

“I got excited,” Scottie shrugged. 

“Well I’m excited to find the surprises,” Christen managed in a tight voice, her throat thick with emotion. She gripped tightly onto Scottie’s hand as they crossed the street and made their way to the ticketing gate.

“Press! Heaths!” Beckey greeted them with a smile and a wave, looking a little more awake than they were, even at the early hour.

“Coach Becky!” Scottie called, waving excitedly. 

Becky crouched down and accepted the hug from Scottie easily, now very used to the girl’s proclivity for greeting the people she cared about with hugs.

“Are you and Christen going to have fun?” Scottie wondered. 

“We’re going to have so much fun. But we’re going to miss you and the other girls a lot. You’ll only have Coach Kelley to hang out with,” Becky replied, ruffling Scottie’s hair.

“I’m sorry, Kelley’s flying solo?” Tobin mumbled next to Christen, suddenly terrified about Christen and Becky leaving Kelley in charge by herself. 

“Morgan and a rookie are stepping up and helping her out. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t leave Scottie with just Kel,” Christen whispered. She took advantage of Scottie’s momentary distraction and got just a little closer to Tobin, sliding her hand into Tobin’s and giving it a small squeeze. “It’s going to be really hard not to kiss you goodbye,” she added softly, squeezing Tobin’s hand again.

“You’re telling me,” Tobin hummed, rubbing her thumb along the side of Christen’s hand. 

“I’m going to miss you,” Christen murmured, smiling just a bit at how Becky kept trying to keep Scottie distracted to give them a small moment alone.

“I’m going to miss you too,” Tobin sighed. “I made a countdown, and I pretended that it was for Scottie, but it was totally for me.”

Christen knew she was risking it, pushing it maybe a bit too far, but she quickly stepped into Tobin’s space and pulled her in for a hug. How could she not after Tobin said something so impossibly sweet like that? She tightened her arms around Tobin’s neck, feeling Tobin’s arms encircle her waist. “I- I can’t wait for the countdown to reach zero,” Christen whispered.

“Me too, but in the meantime, kick some ass,” Tobin grinned. 

Christen chuckled and stepped out of Tobin’s arms quickly, hoping the tears pooled in her eyes went unnoticed. She had perfect timing, because Scottie immediately turned around, her mouth forming a little ‘o’ when she heard Tobin swear.

“That’s a bad word!” Scottie said.

“Yeah, Tobin, that’s a bad word,” Becky teased, standing up. “I’m going to go check us in, want me to get your bag for you?” she asked, inclining her head in the direction of Christen’s bag, still next to Tobin. 

“Sure, I’ll be there to show my I.D. in a second,” Christen nodded, a grateful smile on her face. 

Scottie drifted back over to Christen, her mouth forming a small pout. 

“What’s with the long face, cutie?” Christen asked, kneeling down on the linoleum floor to bring herself to Scottie’s eye level.

“You’re going away,” Scottie murmured. 

“But do you know the best part about going away?” Christen asked, reaching out to wipe a tear off of Scottie’s cheek.

“No,” came Scottie's mumbled reply.

“I’m always going to come back,” Christen replied softly.

“You promise?” Scottie asked, holding onto Christen’s wrist where it was lifted up to wipe tears away. 

Christen swallowed thickly. She knew whatever she said was going to be big and she knew it would hold weight, not just for her and Scottie, but for Tobin as well. So, she made it count. 

“I promise,” Christen whispered.

Tobin brushed loose hair off of Scottie’s face, willing away the lump in her throat that had been forming all morning but was unmanageable now that Scottie was talking about missing Christen. Scottie knew airports well. For the first year of her life with Tobin, Scottie waited with Tobin at baggage claim, hoping that she didn’t have to miss her other mom again. 

Scottie’s question was valid. Wanting Christen to promise was valid because people didn’t always come back. Roni didn’t come back, and Scottie wasn’t going to forget that, no matter how young she was when she saw Roni off at the airport for the last time. No matter how little she still was, waiting for Roni to visit at Christmas or drop by for a weekend and she never did.  

“I’m going to come back, Scottie. I promise,” Christen repeated, her words full of conviction.

“Okay,” Scottie nodded, reaching up and tangling one of her hands in Tobin’s as an anchor, just like she always had at every airport goodbye. 

“I have to go to the ticket counter really quick, but I’m going to come right back, and then you can walk me to security okay?” Christen murmured, her hand still on Scottie’s cheek because Scottie hadn’t let her go just yet.

“We’ll be here,” Tobin said, squeezing Scottie’s hand gently. 

Scottie nodded in agreement before letting go of Christen’s wrist and turning into Tobin’s body. 

Tobin watched Christen walk away to check-in, making sure that she was busy talking to the airport employee before she knelt down in front of Scottie. 

“I know airports aren’t fun,” Tobin sighed. “Not unless we’re going somewhere.”

Scottie didn’t really register the question, too focused on where Christen had walked to. “You can’t break a promise right?” Scottie asked in a small voice, her brow furrowed.

“Sometimes people break promises,” Tobin said honestly, not wanting to give her a false impression of the word promise, especially when Roni still broke them regularly. “But, I don’t think Christen’s going to. We’re gonna be right here in a week and a half, super happy to see her back in the city.”

“Okay,” Scottie replied, still withdrawn and sad, but with a small light back in her gray eyes with the prospect of seeing Christen come back.

“I bet if you ask really nicely she’ll call you to say goodnight tonight,” Tobin whispered, just wanting to get a smile back on Scottie’s face. 

“She already said she would call me every night. We talked about it at practice,” Scottie replied.

“See,” Tobin smiled, “how could someone who loves you that much not want to come back?” Despite her words, despite knowing, with full certainty, that Christen would come back, Tobin couldn’t help the heaviness she felt on her chest. This conversation was one she’d had before. One that hadn’t ended well. 

Scottie nodded thoughtfully. “How far is California?” she asked, her eyes tracking Christen as she made her way back over to them.

“It’s pretty far, buddy,” Tobin said, holding onto Scottie’s hands. 

Scottie turned to look back at Tobin. “Can heartstrings stretch to California?”

“Totally,” Tobin nodded. “I told you that heartstrings can stretch all the way around the world. Around and around and around,” she said, forcing her words out around the lump in her throat. She leaned forward and kissed Scottie’s cheek gently. 

Christen walked up and caught the tail-end of Tobin’s comment, her forehead slightly furrowed at the talk of something stretching all the way around the world. She bent down to join Tobin on the ground. 

“What goes around the world?” she asked softly, not wanting to pop the small bubble the three of them found themselves in at the ticket counter in LaGuardia.

“Heartstrings,” Scottie said simply, kissing Tobin’s cheek and then leaning back to look at Christen. 

Christen looked to Tobin, her forehead still furrowed, Scottie’s one-word explanation not really explaining much to her. 

“I don’t think Christen knows what heartstrings are, little bit,” Tobin whispered. 

“You don’t?!” Scottie asked, her eyes growing wide when Christen shook her head.

“Everyone has someone or someones that they love, right Mommy?” Scottie started the spiel that Tobin said to her all the time, waiting for a nod from Tobin before she continued. “But sometimes the people you love have to go away, but just because they go away, it doesn’t mean they aren’t with you. We all have heartstrings that stretch all the way around the world. Mommy and my heartstring is loose. We could jump rope with it. But your heartstring  and mine is going to be stretching from here all the way to California.” 

Christen felt her eyes fill with tears as a shaky breath left her lips. She’d never really thought about her future having room for kids in it. Sure, when she was younger, she’d dreamt of a big family with lots of kids. But losing her parents had made that dream shrink and shrivel up. 

Yet, as she knelt down on the hard tile floor of this airport, and Scottie moved her small hand between where her heart was in her chest and where Christen’s was, Christen wanted her future to have this kid in it. She hoped and prayed and wished to have Scottie in her life. She hoped for it desperately, because she’d never known love like this and she never wanted to unknow it. 

“Did I tell it right, Mommy?”

“Yeah, you did a great job,” Tobin nodded, placing her hand on Christen’s back, not fully knowing how Scottie’s words had landed. 

Christen blinked away the tears in her eyes and poked her finger against the tip of Scottie’s nose, making the girl scrunch up her face adorably.

“I get it now, and I love you, Scottie,” Christen whispered.

“I love you too,” Scottie said, stepping into Christen’s space and wrapping her arms around Christen’s neck. 

Christen accepted the hug like she always did, with a smile on her face and a warmth in her heart. She picked Scottie up, keeping her arms around the girl as she got back to her feet. She shared a look over Scottie’s shoulder with Tobin and then nodded in the direction of security with a sad grimace.

Tobin kept a hand on Christen’s back and carried her backpack for her to security, wishing that their steps could be even slower than they already were. 

“We’ll see you soon,” Tobin said, running a hand over Scottie’s back, so that she knew it was time to say goodbye. 

“It’ll go by really fast because I’ll call you every night,” Christen promised, trying to let Scottie out of her arms, but Scottie just tightened her grip. With a small, stuttered breath, Christen tightened her hold on Scottie as well.

“Scottie,” Tobin hummed, wrapping her hands around Scottie’s waist to pull her into her own arms. 

“Not yet. One more hug,” Scottie whispered, making both women’s hearts all but break.

“I’m coming back, cutie. I made a promise and I won’t break it,” Christen hummed, rubbing a hand up and down Scottie’s back, her face buried in Scottie’s shoulder.

“Okay, okay,” Scottie sniffled, finally releasing her hands from behind Christen’s neck and leaning back into Tobin’s outstretched hands. 

Tobin helped Scottie slide down to the ground, where she promptly leaned against Tobin’s leg and fisted a hand in the baggy fabric of her sweatpants. 

“I should go, we’re boarding in 30 minutes,” Christen mumbled, wanting like hell to do the opposite of go. 

“Hey, Chris?” Tobin breathed out. 

“Yeah?” Christen replied, cocking her head to the side a bit.

Tobin reached down and covered Scottie’s eyes with one of her hands, not moving it when the little girl tried to pull it away with a giggle. She quickly tugged on Christen’s sweatshirt, pulling her in for a quick kiss goodbye. It was barely more than a simple brush of lips, barely long enough to even be considered a kiss, but it was more than either of them thought they were going to get this morning, so it was perfect.

“Mommy!” Scottie laughed, finally getting Tobin to move her hand. 

Christen stepped back with a blush in her cheeks, the pang in her chest not as painful as it had been a moment ago. She had someone to come back to, two someones, and that made leaving just a little bit easier. 

She looked down at Scottie and offered the girl a smile. She touched two fingers to her chest, right above her heart, and then moved them to Scottie’s heart, just like Scottie had done earlier. 

“These heartstrings are super strong, and they won't’ have to stretch for too long. I love you,” Christen hummed with a small smile. 

“I love you too,” Scottie whispered. 

Christen offered Scottie one last smile, one last brush through her blonde curls, before she looked up at Tobin. 

“I’ll see you soon,” Christen murmured, the words not feeling like enough.

“Have a great camp,” Tobin replied, wanting to say more. 

Christen nodded and backed away from Tobin and Scottie, offering them both one last smile.

“WE LOVE YOU!” Scottie yelled, wrapping her arms around Tobin’s waist and resting her head on Tobin’s side, watching Christen go through security. 

Christen’s stomach jumped at the use of ‘we’, her heart hammering in her chest. She managed a smile and a wave before handing her boarding pass and ID to the security agent.

Tobin flushed a dark shade of red, looking down at Scottie and then scooping her up into her arms, so that she could distract herself from the declaration that Scottie had just made for the both of them. 

“PRESSY!” Megan Rapinoe bellowed, striding into the hotel room with a large grin on her face.

Christen set aside her book and got up from the bed, accepting the hug and offering one in return. 

“How the hell did I beat you? I came from New York!” Christen laughed, stepping out of her friend’s arms and dropping down onto the hotel bed. “It’s almost dinner time.”

“I missed the first flight and caught a later one,” Megan shrugged. 

Christen rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “Classic,” she replied. 

“Late night with Sue,” Megan grinned, tossing her bag onto the free bed. 

“Even more classic,” Christen laughed. She grabbed her phone from the bed and checked it. She’d been glued to it ever since she’d landed, texting Tobin and Scottie from the moment her plane touched down this afternoon until Megan had shown up just now. 

“I’m so glad to finally be here and learn about your mystery woman,” Megan sighed, dropping down onto Christen’s bed with a huff. 

Christen handed Megan her phone after clicking on the most recent selfie Tobin and Scottie had sent her. They were in the kitchen, evidence of their baking escapades littered behind them. Scottie was stuffing a ball of cookie dough into her mouth and Tobin was smiling hard for the camera, a swipe of flour on her cheek.

“Daaaamn, Kelley said you were seeing a MILF, but that’s a MILF, ” Megan said, her eyes growing at the picture of Tobin. 

Christen laughed, a blush heating her cheeks as she locked her phone and dropped it into her lap. “She’s great, yeah,” Christen replied, a little dreamily.

“Kid’s cute too,” Megan added. 

“Oh god, the cutest. She snuck some drawings and this into my suitcase,” Christen replied, lifting up her wrist and showing Megan the braided bracelet she assumed Scottie had made. It was made with purple, orange, and yellow string, and according to the note, it was made with their colors.

“Wow,” Megan said quietly, looking at the bracelet and her friend’s dopey face. “You’re really in it.”

Christen nodded, her smile growing a little sad. “I didn’t expect to be. But they...they showed up right when I needed them to. They saved me a little bit, not that I needed saving or anything. But they helped me save myself, I think,” Christen replied thoughtfully. Megan knew about her parents, and she had a feeling Megan also knew about how she’d dealt with their loss. But she wanted to make sure Megan knew this too. 

She'd been in a bad place, possibly the worst one she'd ever been in. But she'd gotten herself out of it. She'd done it on her own, but with some help from Scottie and Tobin. She still had tough days, but they were a little less tough with Scottie's laugh and Tobin's lopsided grin. She was healing herself, she just wasn't healing herself on her own. 

“I imagine they needed you too,” Megan said thoughtfully. 

“Eh, I don’t know about that,” Christen shrugged. 

“I just never pegged you for step-mom,” Megan sighed, flopping onto her back. 

Christen’s stomach did somersaults at that and she had to force herself to breathe. “We are so far from that,” Christen said with a small shake of her head. “She doesn’t even know we’re together yet.”

“Yet is the operative word,” Megan smirked. “Tell me she’s adopted or something, though. That woman does not look like she’s even kissed a guy.”

Christen chuckled, flopping down on the bed next to Megan. “She is. It’s a long, not-so-happy story that is not mine to tell. But yeah, Scottie’s adopted and Tobin is very, very gay.”

“Do you have to like...navigate the whole other parent thing?” Megan asked, turning her head to look at Christen. 

Christen’s face darkened and her jaw clicked shut as thoughts of Roni swam through her mind. “She’s not in the picture and doesn’t deserve to be,” Christen replied coolly.

“Ooooh protective Pressy,” Megan laughed. 

Christen shrugged, knowing Megan was right. She felt insanely protective not just of Scottie, but of Tobin as well. Tobin had told her about Roni, about what she’d done, how she’d left them, about the wounds she’d left in her wake. It made Christen’s blood boil.

“Well, they’re adorable. The whole team’s dying to talk to you about them,” Megan smirked. 

Christen huffed out a laugh. “I had a feeling once Kelley got a hold of you, the word would get out.”

“New relationship gossip spreads around here faster than an STD in the Olympic Village,” Megan chuckled, sitting up and patting Christen’s knee. “Let’s get some grub and show that cute picture around to the rest of the team.”

Christen sat up in bed, taking just a moment to send a quick text back to Tobin. 


[Christen 6:15PM]

You two are adorable! Off to dinner, I’ll FaceTime you after to wish my favorite player goodnight!


“Ready, set, go!” Tobin said, flipping the sand timer on the bathroom counter and brushing her teeth alongside Scottie. 

Scottie had started brushing her teeth on her own when she turned seven, and the entire year had been full of Tobin arguing with her about actually brushing them. It wasn’t until she bought a timer and made it a game that Scottie started looking forward to brushing her teeth. The two of them would start the timer in the bathroom, making sure to brush for at least two minutes. The challenge came when each of them tried to talk. Whoever ended up with the least amount of toothpaste around their mouths won. 

“My bir-day’s soon,” Scottie mumbled around a mouth of toothpaste, swinging her legs back and forth from where they dangled over the edge of the counter.

“That’s right. Any re-wests?” Tobin asked, trying to keep the toothpaste from slipping from her bottom lip. 

“Bir-day pancakes,” Scottie replied, tilting her head back to keep the toothpaste in her mouth as she talked.

“I can do that,” Tobin nodded, pointing at where the toothpaste was starting to slip from the corner of Scottie’s mouth. 

“Spen- time wit- Chri-ten,” Scottie continued.

“Mhm,” Tobin nodded. “Chri-ten is free on your bir-day.”

“Fam-ly din-r,” Scottie finished, leaning her head back down and continuing to brush her teeth, her mouth rimmed with white foam and some dripping down onto her chin.

“You’re messy,” Tobin smirked, inadvertently letting a drop of toothpaste slip over her bottom lip. 

Scottie rubbed some toothpaste off her mouth and wiped it onto Tobin’s cheek, her gray eyes dancing with playfulness. 

“Hey!” Tobin complained, grabbing the towel off the rack in the bathroom and wiping her face. “Wha- else?” Tobin mumbled, trying to suck the toothpaste back into her mouth. “Think big.”

Seeing the last of the sand fall through the timer, Scottie leaned over and spit into the sink. “I want to play soccer with you and Christen in my Christen jersey,” Scottie said, leaning down to get some water in her mouth, swish it around, and spit it back out. Wiping her mouth with her sleeve, she turned back to Tobin. “I just want to spend the day with you guys and be happy. Oh, and I want a unicorn for my present. But if you can’t get a unicorn, I want a bike with no training wheels.”

“Ohhh a unicorn is big,” Tobin said as soon as her toothpaste was out of her mouth and in the sink. “I’ll see what I can do, but Christen and I will definitely spend the day with you.”

“I like spending time with Christen when she’s not my coach,” Scottie observed, putting her toothbrush back in its spot.

“Yeah?” Tobin asked, her heart surging at Scottie’s words. For a moment, Tobin thought about just telling her. She thought about just letting it slip that Christen was more than her coach, that she and Tobin were spending time together, that they were girlfriends, sort of like Glennon and Abby. But then she thought about Christen and how caught off guard she’d be if she told Scottie without them discussing it first. 

“Yeah. I love her. She makes me laugh, and she calls me kid and cutie and it makes me happy. And she makes you happy and that’s the best,” Scottie nodded.

“She does make me happy; you’re right. I’m glad she makes you happy and that you like her hanging out with us because I like it too,” Tobin said, putting her toothbrush away and lifting Scottie off the counter, so that she could jump into bed. 

“Do you think she likes hanging out with us? She’s been doing it more,” Scottie replied.

“I know she likes hanging out with us,” Tobin said with a smile. “She told me she does. Are you happy that she’s hanging out more than usual?”

Scottie nodded and ran over to Tobin’s bed and launched onto it, landing in a belly flop onto the mattress. “I’m the happiest happy ever!”

“Thank goodness! I’m the happiest happy ever too!” Tobin echoed, jumping onto the bed and tickling Scottie’s sides. 

“Mommy!” Scottie giggled, wiggling away. She looked at the clock and saw it was already 10:03PM. “Christen’s calling soon!” she exclaimed excitedly, scooting back against the pillows.

“Are you just going to sit there until she calls?” Tobin chuckled, looking at Scottie’s excited face. 

Scottie tucked herself beneath the comforter and folded her hands in her lap. “Yup,” she replied, popping the ‘p’ with a smile.

“Well let’s hope she’s not busy for too much longer then. It’s past your bedtime,” Tobin hummed, crawling under the covers to join Scottie. 

“But it’s only…” Scottie trailed off, counting on her fingers, “7:03 in California. So it’s not bedtime for Christen.”

“That’s true, but you’re gonna be a grumpy girl tomorrow if we stay up too late,” Tobin sighed, grabbing her phone off of the bedside table and making sure the volume was on. 

Scottie looked at the clock again. “She said 10:15 right?” she asked.

“Yes, buddy,” Tobin nodded. 

“Why can’t it be 10:15 now?” Scottie grumbled with an adorable, sleepy pout.

“We’re so close. Why don’t you tell me what kind of unicorn and what kind of bike you want for your birthday? What color bike?” Tobin asked, trying to calm Scottie’s anticipation...and her own. 

“I want my bike to be purple and orange and yellow, and I want my unicorn to be my color purple,” Scottie replied, tapping her fingers along the comforter, her eyes on the clock.

“Hmmm...that’s a tall order,” Tobin teased. 

Scottie was quiet for a few moments. “I miss her, Mommy,” she finally sighed, leaning against Tobin slightly. 

“I know, little bit,” Tobin sighed, opening her arms so that Scottie could squirm even closer. “I miss her too.”

Just then, Tobin’s phone started ringing, the tell-tale FaceTime ringtone echoing around the bedroom. 

“SHE’S CALLING! ANSWER! ANSWER! ANSWER!” Scottie cheered, launching out of Tobin’s arms and jumping on top of the bed in her excitement, her loose blonde curls bouncing around her head.

Tobin laughed at the way Scottie almost sounded like a teenager waiting for a crush to call. She reached out and swiped her finger across her phone to accept the call. 

“Hi,” Tobin said, a smile stretching across her face when she saw Christen’s face on the other side of the call, on the other side of the country. 

“Hi works,” Christen teased, with a grin. She was sitting in the hallway outside the dining room, crouched down on the floor. Technically, dinner was still going on nearby, but she knew it was getting late on the East Coast, so she snuck out for a few minutes to say good night to her girls.

“Christen,” Scottie said, shoving into Tobin so much that Tobin was almost out of the screen. 

“Scottie Heath!”  Christen greeted, laughing a bit as the image of Scottie came onto her screen, effectively pushing Tobin out of it.

“I missed you soooooooo much,” Scottie said, touching her hand to her heart and then touching the phone, alluding to the heartstrings stretching between her and Christen.

Christen did the same, tapping her fingers to her chest and then tapping the phone camera. “I missed you too, cutie. How were the cookies? They looked super-duper yummy.”

“Mommy only let me have two,” Scottie pouted. 

“She means they were delicious,” Tobin laughed, handing Scottie her phone so that she wouldn’t be pushed off the mattress.

“Scottie, do you think you and Tobin can be on the screen at the same time? I missed you both,” Christen replied with a smile.

“Oh, yeah,” Scottie nodded, holding her hand out a little more so that her face wasn’t up against the screen and Tobin could now be seen. 

“Much better,” Christen grinned. “So, Scottie, guess who I ate dinner with tonight?”

“Who?” Scottie asked, nearly vibrating with excitement. 

“Your mom thinks she’s really pretty,” Christen teased.

“I do no-”

“Alex Morgan?!” Scottie asked, interrupting Tobin’s response. 

Christen nodded, laughing at the slight flush creeping up Tobin’s neck, visible even over FaceTime.

“Mommy told me that it was just a...a phase. She said I should tell you that,” Scottie said. “Was that all?”

“You weren’t supposed to tell her that I told you to say that,” Tobin mumbled, her face getting even redder. 

Christen snorted and hid her beaming smile behind her hand. She missed them so much her chest ached. Sure, she’d loved getting back into things today with some of her oldest friends, and meeting some new ones. But even if she’d smiled and laughed, she didn’t smile and laugh like this.

“Maybe tomorrow I can get Alex and Crystal to FaceTime with me,” Christen chuckled.

“Oh my god,” Tobin groaned, flopping back into her pillow. 

“Yes!” Scottie said, beaming at Christen’s suggestion. 

Christen just laughed, catching movement out of the corner of her eye. She saw their team manager poke her head out of the conference and beckon her back inside. Christen deflated just a bit, knowing she had to cut this short. She held a finger up to the manager, signaling she needed a minute more.

“I have to go pretty soon, but I’ll call you again tomorrow, okay?” Christen said quietly. 

“Okay…” Scottie said, a little saddened at the looming goodbye.

“Hey, I want you to keep an eye out for a special package coming from L.A. The team might have heard about a pretty special birthday coming up,” Christen hummed, dropping her chin onto her hand and smiling at the images of Scottie and Tobin on her phone screen. 

Scottie’s eyes grew even rounder. She turned to look at Tobin as if she had anything to do with this, but Tobin only shrugged. 

“Thank you,” Scottie said, her mind already reeling with what it could be. 

“You don’t even know what it is yet. We could have sent you like, a rock, or something,” Christen chuckled.

“Mommy says thank you’s are important,” Scottie said. 

Christen nodded, feeling her heart melt just a little. “They are, you’re right. And you’re very welcome. Make sure to let me know when you get it okay?”

“I’ll keep an eye out for Scottie’s rock,” Tobin laughed. 

“There’s something in there for you too,” Christen murmured, her eyes softening as she looked at Tobin.

“Mommy, now you have to say it,” Scottie said. 

“Thank you,” Tobin said, having trouble even paying attention to what was being said with Christen looking at her the way she was with so much sweetness and softness and care. 

“I have to go now, you guys,” Christen whispered, her smile faltering just a bit. 

“Go finish dinner,” Tobin nodded. 

“And then sleep tight,” Scottie added. 

“Good night, cutie,” Christen said, blowing a kiss at the phone screen.

“Good night,” Tobin said, wishing that she could teleport for a quick minute. 

“I love you, Christen!” Scottie replied, catching the kiss Christen blew and then blowing Christen a kiss of her own. 

“Love you, bye,” Christen replied, waving one more time before ending the call, her image disappearing from Tobin’s phone screen.

“All right, little bit, time for bed,” Tobin sighed, pressing a kiss to Scottie’s head. 

Scottie sighed, but got back under the covers and burrowed close to Tobin. Her breathing was already heavier, her eyelids fluttering as she succumbed to sleep.

“I love you, Mommy. You’re the best Mommy in the whole wide world. Good night,” Scottie mumbled.

“I love you, buddy. You’re the best daughter in the whole wide world. Good night,” Tobin whispered back, turning off the bedside lamp but keeping her phone in her hand. 


[Tobin 10:10PM]

Thank you for calling

[Christen 10:15PM]

I promised I would. Couldn’t turn down the chance to see you two looking all sleepy and adorable 

[Tobin 10:15PM]

It was really really good to see your face

[Christen 10:15PM]

I was thinking the same thing. Those glasses on you, babe? *fans self*

[Tobin 10:15PM]

Yeah right 🙄

[Christen 10:15PM]

I’m serious 🥵 It’s a LOOK

[Christen 10:15PM]

Megan Rapinoe just caught me literally fanning myself...

[Tobin 10:15PM]

What a casual name drop 

[Christen 10:16PM]

We’re rooming together, so expect to see her pop into a FaceTime sometime this week. She thinks you’re a MILF by the way

[Tobin 10:16PM]

Oh nice. Cool cool cool cool cool

[Christen 10:16PM]

Is someone starstruck?

[Tobin 10:16PM]


[Tobin 10:17PM]

I almost did something tonight...

[Christen 10:17PM]

Did you pretend to lose the other copy of the Frozen CD?

[Tobin 10:17PM]

I wish, but no...I almost told somebody something

[Christen 10:17PM]

I love how you drop this on me right when dinner’s being served 

[Tobin 10:17PM]

Pretend I said nothing then 

[Tobin 10:18PM]

Have lovely dreams, babe

[Christen 10:18PM]

Oh hush. You know you’re going to be awake when I’m getting ready for bed later. I’ll call you and you can tell me all about how you almost spilled the beans to Scottie tonight, okay?

[Tobin 10:18PM]

Sounds good. Enjoy your dinner 

[Christen 10:18PM]


[Tobin 10:18PM]


Christen used a piece of athletic tape to hang Scottie’s rainbow painting to the inside of her locker. She traced her finger across the small clouds Scottie had created using her own fingerprints, feeling her heart grow three sizes just thinking about the girl. With a smile, she dropped back down onto her chair and pulled on her socks. 

“You’re oozing mommy hormones,” Ashlyn laughed, patting Christen on the shoulder as she walked past. 

“You’d know,” Crystal called out.

“Wow, what a comeback!” Ashlyn snorted, rolling her eyes playfully. 

“Is she wrong?” Ali Krieger teased, winking at her wife.

“No, but I ooze for my kid,” Ashlyn said, grabbing her bag from her locker and digging in it for her gloves. 

“Pressy’s like halfway there,” Megan teased. 

“I think it’s sweet,” Becky yelled from her corner of the locker room, sending a smile at Christen.

“Wooow art in the locker,” Alex joined in, peeking over Christen’s shoulder to see Scottie’s painting. 

Christen just shook her head, taking all of the teasings in stride. If anything, it made her even happier. She was proud to have a reason to hang this painting in her locker. She was lucky. She was oozing and she didn’t even care if her teammates noticed or called her out on it.

“Her mom must be really good in bed, right?” Kristie smirked. “No way would anyone go for a single mom if she wasn’t great in bed.”

Sydney smacked the back of Kristie’s head with her towel as she walked past, in honor of all mothers everywhere. 

Christen just kept her head down, intently focused on sliding her feet into her cleats and lacing them up, knowing if she looked up, everyone would notice the blush in her cheeks.

The locker room went silent, everyone waiting for Christen to answer. And when she didn’t...

“Pressy?” Megan asked, her voice eerily quiet. 

“You guys haven’t fucked?” Ashlyn mumbled, the question making Kling drop her entire bag on the floor in shock, not having caught the rest of the conversation. 

“That is literally none of any of your businesses,” Christen replied, finally sitting back in her chair and crossing her arms over her chest.

“You’re hanging her kid’s art in your locker and you haven’t had sex yet?” Ali cooed, finding the entire thing absolutely adorable. 

“It’s impossible to find the time when there’s a kid who calls and requires a visit from the Tooth Fairy at a really inopportune time,” Christen replied, shaking her head at the memory.

“Tell me about it,” Ashlyn groaned, getting a nod of agreement from Ali.  

“Woooow getting clam jammed by the Tooth Fairy,” Kristie sighed. “Glad I’m not into MILFs.”

“Don’t knock ‘em until you try ‘em,” Christen chuckled, taking the heat in her cheeks in stride. She was going to be a blushing mess this whole week if her teammates continued to tease her, so she might as well just accept it.  

“No, you should totally knock her...if you know what I mean,” Megan smirked. 

Everybody knows what you mean,” Kling laughed.

“Okay guys, let’s roll,” Becky announced, getting up from her chair. Everyone filed out of the locker room and made their way down to the fields, still teasing Christen about Scottie and Tobin the entire time. 

Chapter Text

Honey, on your knees when you look at me

I'm dressed like a fucking queen

And you're begging, "please"

I rule with the velvet tongue

And my dress undone

And I'll get you lost but I'm having fun

Holy, holy, holy, yeah

Holy, holy, holy, holy

'Cause I could lose it all

Can't watch it fade to black

Can't let it end like that

'Cause I got power over

Won't let it all fall down

I got my guards all around

(Christen - “Holy” by King Princess)


Your eyes, so crisp, so green

Sour apple baby, but you taste so sweet


And I said

Beautiful stranger, here you are in my arms and I know

That beautiful strangers only come along to do me wrong

And I hope

Beautiful stranger, here you are in my arms

But I think it's finally, finally, finally, finally, finally safe

For me to fall

I've never recognized a purer face

You stopped me in my tracks and put me right in my place

Used to think that lovin' meant a painful chase

But you're right here now and I think you'll stay

(Tobin - “Finally // Beautiful Stranger” by Halsey)


Christen had missed this, the intensity and the level of camp. She’d missed the demanding days and the long practices, the funny moments in the locker room, and the team bonding in the moments in between. But this camp was different. It was different because every chance she got, she was darting into a side room or into the hallway or walking behind everyone on the way back to the team vans and pulling out her phone to text or call or FaceTime Tobin and Scottie. 

It was hard to describe how much they were helping her. It was her first camp back since her parents, and she knew it wasn’t going to be easy. There were still tough moments, moments where it felt like her chest was too tight and she’d never catch her breath, moments where her body felt so weighed down that she wondered if she’d ever feel light again. But then she’d get a sweet text or a cute selfie, or she’d get to see Tobin’s lopsided grin or hear Scottie’s laugh, and things got a bit better. 

So much better that she wasn’t even all that nervous about starting against Canada tonight. How could she be nervous when she’d gotten a picture right before heading out for warm-ups, with Scottie and Tobin cheesing for the camera, in their matching jerseys, the ones she’d gotten U.S. Soccer to specialty ship back to New York. 

Christen kept her girls in her heart the whole game, as she played better and ran faster and took better shots on goal than she’d ever remembered doing before. She felt like she was flying, like she was untouchable, and she wondered if it would always feel like this now. If she’d always enjoy the game just a bit more, knowing there were two people watching who wanted her to succeed. 

In the 62nd minute, Christen felt her goal coming. They were tied 1-1 after a hard-fought hour of football, and she knew she was scoring tonight. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when. So when Alex laid a ball off to the outside to Megan, Christen took off toward Canada’s eighteen-yard box.

Megan sent a slotted pass across the backline, right into Christen’s path. Without taking a touch, Christen sent a one-time shot into the bottom corner of the net, right past the glove of the Canadian goalkeeper.

Christen pumped her fists at her sides and ran right over to Megan, wrapping her in a tight hug. After accepting the sweaty hugs and pats on the back, Christen looked up and pointed at the sky, knowing she was scoring not just for herself, but for her parents too. This goal was as much for them as it was for her.

But it wasn’t just for them either. After pointing at the sky, Christen looked right at the camera on the sidelines, the one that had been trained on her since she’d scored. She kissed two fingers and touched them to her chest, right over her heart and her heartstrings, and then she pointed at the camera, sending Scottie and Tobin a message as well - That goal was also for you two

On the opposite coast, Scottie was jumping up and down on the couch, telling Tobin to look over and over, despite the fact that Tobin hadn’t taken her eyes off the screen since Christen got the ball. 

“Mommy! Those were heartstrings!” Scottie squealed, pointing at the TV. 

“I know, buddy,” Tobin grinned, her heart feeling like it was about to burst out from her chest at the love that Christen had for Scottie, at the care that she showed in every single thing that she did. She made Scottie feel seen and special, and it was all that Tobin ever wanted. Not only that but...Christen made her feel seen and special too. Christen made her feel cared for, like she wasn’t a lonely island, just trying to stay afloat. 

There was absolutely no doubt in Tobin’s mind that what she had with Christen was serious, that Christen was just as serious about her as she was. Suddenly, the words felt like they were sitting on Tobin’s tongue. Suddenly, it felt like she was going to let them spill from her lips at any minute. Christen and I are together. We’re going to see a lot of Christen. She’s going to be around whenever she can and wants to. She’s going to be with us. The only thing that kept the words in was knowing that Christen would want to be a part of the decision and of the day. 

“This is the coolest thing ever,” Scottie sighed, collapsing back on the couch with a happy smile. 

“You’re so right, little bit. This is the coolest thing ever,” Tobin whispered, and she didn’t mean the game or the goal or the celebration. 

“I’m never taking this jersey off,” Scottie announced, popping back up and sitting on the edge of the couch to watch the kick-off.

“Uhhhh…that’s probably not the best idea. Even Christen washes her jerseys,” Tobin laughed. 

“But it’s got our name on it, Mommy,” Scottie replied, hooking a thumb over her shoulder and pointing at the ‘HEATH’ on the back of the jersey, right above the number 17.

“You’re right. It does have our name on it, but you won’t wash the name off. I’ll tell the washing machine to be super gentle,” Tobin grinned. 

“I guess that’s okay. But can we wash it, so I can wear it to the airport in two days?” Scottie asked, her eyes still on the screen, small gasps leaving her lips when one of the U.S. players made a good pass.

“Of course,” Tobin nodded. “I bet Christen will love that. You want to go to our place after we pick her up?”

“Duh,” Scottie laughed.

“If she isn’t too sleepy,” Tobin added, kissing the top of Scottie’s head. 

“Megan told me that Christen’s been getting plenty of sleep. And Alex and Crystal said that Christen is really happy,” Scottie said, tapping her feet on the ground. She covered her face with her hands and groaned dramatically when Alex Morgan missed a shot.

“Well, that’s super good to hear,” Tobin hummed, wrapping her arm around Scottie and squeezing her gently. 

“I can’t believe you didn’t want to meet everyone with me, Mommy,” Scottie sighed, almost unable to comprehend it.

“I will sometime soon, but I wanted you to have your moment with them all,” Tobin said. Christen had FaceTimed from the bus, walking Scottie up and down the aisle to meet everyone. Christen had even stopped to make sure their head coach, Vlatko, got to say hi to Scottie. 

Tobin had been in the middle of making dinner, in a dirty apron and a messy bun, and she’d decided that an adorable almost 8-year-old was a lot better company than a messy looking, exhausted adult. Not only that, but she also really didn’t feel like she needed to fangirl over anyone when Christen was and always would be the only player that mattered. 

“Alex Morgan was really pretty, but she’s not as pretty as Christen,” Scottie observed, jumping to her feet when Becky slide tackled a Canadian forward. “Oh gosh,” she whispered, dramatically wiping her brow when the ball went out for a throw-in.

“You’re right, buddy,” Tobin nodded. “Christen is the prettiest.”

Christen had never been one of those people to rush through an airport. She’d always ambled off the plane, slowly made her way through baggage claim, not really ever having anything to rush for. 

But the minute she’d landed at LaGuardia, she’d started fidgeting in her seat next to Becky, just itching to get off the plane. She knew Tobin and Scottie were waiting for her at baggage claim and she couldn’t wait to see them. 

She felt like she hadn’t seen them in weeks, in months. Which was ridiculous, since it had barely been a week and a half, and she’d only known them for two and a half months. But the two of them had wormed their way into her life and her heart and were now such a permanent fixture, Christen wondered if her life would ever feel complete without them in it.

“They waiting for you?” Becky asked softly.

“Yeah,” Christe replied, smiling a bit. “This is crazy right?” she asked, a little overwhelmed at how fast but how right it all felt. She’d been with Tobin since early June. Scottie didn’t even know about them yet. But it felt like it had been years. It felt like they’d done this airport routine before. It felt so natural it made Christen’s heart feel the closest to whole it had since her parents had gone.

“It’s not crazy if it feels right,” Becky hummed, patting Christen’s hand. “I’ll see you at practice in a few days. Enjoy your time with them.”

Christen offered Becky a nod before shooting to her feet once the seatbelt sign had been turned off. She grabbed her bag and made her way to the door, barely waiting for the door to be opened by the flight attendant before hurrying up the jet bridge and through the terminal. She didn’t run exactly, but she definitely hustled. She had two people she had waited a week and a half to hug and she was dying to get the chance to do so.

Scottie ran ahead, peeking up the escalators to see when Christen would appear at the top. She was bouncing from foot to foot in excitement and anticipation, her tongue sticking out to the side with the way she was intensely focused on each passengers’ shoes at the top of the escalator. When she finally saw a pair of white Nikes and Christen’s duffel bag, she started to climb up the escalator, pushing past passengers with Tobin trailing right behind, apologizing to everyone she passed. 

“Christen!” Scottie called, throwing herself against Christen’s stomach and wrapping her arms around Christen’s waist before she even got off the escalator, the two of them riding down the rest of the way together. 

“Scottie Heath,” Christen grinned, wrapping an arm securely around Scottie’s shoulders as they made their way down the escalator. They stepped off together and Christen moved them to the side, over to where Tobin was waiting. She met Tobin’s gaze, softening at the adoration she could see nestled in those warm brown eyes.

Tobin immediately wrapped Christen in a hug, not concerned about what Scottie would think. Scottie already knew that she cared about Christen, even if she didn’t understand the capacity just yet. 

Christen kept one arm around Scottie, dropping her duffel bag and wrapping her other arm around Tobin’s back, keeping the three of them together. She pressed her face against the side of Tobin’s neck, the floral and sandalwood scents smelling so much like home.

“Hi,” Christen mumbled, running her hand up and down Tobin’s back.

“Hi back,” Tobin whispered, pressing a discreet kiss to Christen’s head. 

Christen pulled away and smiled up at Tobin, a slight blush in her cheeks. At the feeling of Scottie’s arms tightening around her, Christen finally turned her attention to the girl. She bent down, causing Scottie’s arms to drop away from her. 

“That is a good-looking jersey, cutie,” Christen hummed, tugging at the U.S. crest on the small, white U.S. jersey she’d gotten for Scottie.

“Thank you for giving it to me,” Scottie said, wrapping her arms around Christen’s neck. 

“You’re welcome,” Christen hummed, hugging Scottie back.

“Thank you for coming back,” Scottie added quietly. 

Christen felt her throat close up, a shaky breath leaving her lips at the surprised sound in Scottie’s voice. 

“I’ll always come back,” Christen promised softly, pressing a kiss to Scottie’s temple. She then stood up slowly, Scottie immediately pressing against her side again. 

“How sleepy are you on a scale from 1-10?” Tobin asked, picking up Christen’s duffel bag, taking Christen’s backpack off her shoulder, and putting both of the bags on her own. 

Christen chuckled and smiled over at Tobin. “I’m so awake,” she replied.

“Are you hungry?” Scottie asked, slipping her hand into Christen’s. 

“You know what I could totally go for right now?” Christen said, squeezing Scottie’s hand as all three of them walked over to baggage claim.

“What?” Scottie asked, grabbing onto Tobin’s hand as they walked. 

“Garlic bread,” Christen grinned. “Know a good place where I can get that?”

“That was our plan!” Scottie said, her excitement infectious. 

Christen shared a smile with Tobin as they waited for the bags to come around, swinging Scottie in the air between them. After getting her roller bag, they headed out to the car and made their way back into the city.

“Can Christen sleep over?” Scottie asked, tugging on Tobin’s hand as she tried to get up and turn the TV off. 

Christen choked on her water, some of it spilling onto her U.S. soccer travel t-shirt. She set the glass down on the coffee table and wiped at her shirt, hoping that focusing on the spilled water would get her out of answering the question.

“You know, buddy. I bet she will some time, but she’s probably a little tired and wants to go home and sleep in her own bed,” Tobin said, trying to be diplomatic. She didn’t want Christen sleeping over until Scottie knew that they were together. 

“Maybe for my birthday. We can build a pillow castle!” Scottie said with a smile, unfazed by Tobin’s answer or the fact that Christen was still coughing slightly after choking on water.

“You okay?” Tobin asked, glancing over at Christen.

Christen held a thumbs up in the air, finally getting her coughing under control.

“I think we’ll have to see how Christen feels on your birthday,” Tobin hummed. 

“She can sleep on the top bunk if she wants,” Scottie added, thinking that would sway Christen. 

“I think that sounds super fun. So maybe, okay? I’ll see what kind of soccer stuff I have to do the next day,” Christen replied, smiling over at Scottie.

“Okay,” Scottie nodded. 

“Bedtime. Let’s go,” Tobin said, turning off the TV and taking Scottie by the hand. 

Scottie grabbed Christen’s hand, repeating Tobin’s words. “Let’s go,” she said, pulling Christen off the couch. 

“Are you sure you want me to come?” Christen asked, shooting a questioning look in Tobin’s direction. She didn’t want to intrude on the nightly ritual, very used to waiting downstairs on the couch as Tobin put Scottie to bed. 

“Yeah,” Scottie nodded. “Mommy does the best voices.”

“Well then I’m excited to hear them,” Christen replied, winking over at Tobin.

Tobin let out a slightly nervous laugh as she climbed the stairs since no one had actually ever seen her put Scottie to bed aside from Roni and her mother. It was her time with Scottie, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t prepared to share it with Christen. 

Christen was in charge of flipping over the timer so Scottie could brush her teeth for a full two minutes. She got to help Scottie pick between the unicorn and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajamas, which resulted in Scottie putting on the latter of course. She then settled on the right side of the bed while Tobin was on the left, both of them sitting up near where Scottie was nestled beneath the covers.

Tobin read from one of Scottie’s shorter books, none of them awake enough to read a whole chapter of Harry Potter. She tried not to be self-conscious when she did the voices that made Scottie laugh. When she realized that they also made Christen laugh, she had no problem doing each voice as well as she possibly could. By the time the book was closed and Tobin and Christen were standing up, Scottie’s eyes were drooping heavily. 

“I love you, Mommy. You’re the best Mommy in the whole, wide world. Good night,” Scottie whispered, yawning a little and smiling sleepily at Tobin.

“I love you too, buddy. You’re the best kid in the whole, wide world. Sleep tight,” Tobin mumbled, pressing a kiss to Scottie’s head and brushing her hair away from her forehead. 

Scottie turned to look at Christen and smiled at her too. “I love you, you’re the best Christen in the whole wide world. Good night,” Scottie mumbled, her eyes completely shut now and her breathing slow.

Christen worked through the emotion in her chest and bent down to kiss Scottie’s forehead, mirroring Tobin’s action. “I love you, you’re the best Scottie in the whole wide world. Good night.”

Tobin turned off the bedroom light, leaving Scottie’s night light on and waiting for Christen to exit first before she cracked the door. She slipped into her own bedroom and turned on the light, just like she did every night so that she could turn the hallway light off but still make it into her room without tripping. 

“She’s right,” Tobin mumbled, walking down the hallway to the stairs. 

Christen followed close behind, her hand on Tobin’s back. “About what?” she asked, keeping her voice quiet.

“You are the best Christen in the whole wide world,” Tobin hummed. 

Christen felt her heart flutter in her chest at Tobin’s words. She leaned into Tobin’s side, pressing a kiss to her temple as they reached the bottom of the stairs.

“I really missed you,” Tobin sighed, wrapping her arms around Christen’s waist in the kitchen. 

Christen melted into the embrace, her arms wrapping around Tobin’s shoulders. “I really missed you ,” Christen murmured.

“So...Scottie’s best friend from school always goes on vacation to the Hamptons during June and July, and her family just got back to the city a couple days ago,” Tobin said, running her hands along Christen’s back. 

“That’s nice,” Christen replied, too caught up in the feeling of Tobin’s arms around her and the warmth of the embrace to really focus on Tobin’s words.

“Well, yeah...sure. What’s nice is that her friend really wants to have a sleepover,” Tobin continued. 

Christen sighed and bobbed her head. “So you’ll have two almost 8-year-olds running around here?”

“No,” Tobin shook her head, a smile growing on her lips. “I’ll have zero almost 8-year-olds here.”

That had Christen leaning back and fixing Tobin with a curious look. “Wait, you mean-”

“She invited Scottie over,” Tobin clarified. “So the Jacksons will have two almost 8-year-olds running around their apartment.”

Christen felt a smile grow on her face, her eyes inadvertently dropping to Tobin’s lips and lifting back to her eyes.

“When?” Christen whispered, her voice dropping a little with the question.

“Two days,” Tobin hummed. “Why are you busy?” she asked, looking into Christen’s eyes to make sure she wasn’t trying to mentally re-organize a schedule. 

“Absolutely not. I am so free,” Christen rushed out.

“She has no loose teeth,” Tobin promised. 

Christen leaned in and hovered a breath away from Tobin’s lips. “I can’t wait to pick up where we left off,” she whispered.

“You and me both,” Tobin sighed, resting her forehead against Christen’s. 

“I’m having a little trouble remembering where that was, though...maybe you could refresh my memory?” Christen teased lightly, running her fingertips along the back of Tobin’s neck.

Tobin nodded enthusiastically, backing Christen up across the room and toward the couch in the living room. 

After consulting with both Becky and Kelley, Christen had chosen the pale blue dress she didn’t wear for the first date. Kelley had affirmed that the dress said “ Take me off,” and since that was definitely the end goal tonight, it had been an easy choice. 

As she stood on the front stoop of Tobin’s place, she fiddled nervously with the hem of the dress, feeling the same anticipation in her stomach that she’d had for the past 48 hours. 

Tonight was the night. She’d vacuumed and put the nicest sheets on her bed. She’d set candles out to light later and made sure every available surface was clean, from her kitchen counters to the couch...just in case. Tonight was the night and she was both insanely ready and insanely nervous all at the same time.


Tobin had never thought about what she was going to wear more in her life, sifting through all of her clothes, even some that she hadn’t touched since adopting Scottie. She settled on a pair of black dress pants, wanting to look a little more dressed up than usual, and a gray, short-sleeved button-up. She’d tucked the shirt into the dress pants, pairing the whole outfit with a black belt and black loafers. The pants were slightly tapered at the bottom, letting her ankles show, and she spent way too long deciding if she should cuff the sleeves of the button-up or leave them be. 

By the time she heard the buzzer to the apartment, she let out a nervous sigh and simply let the sleeves of her button-up be. She raced down the stairs, hating, for the first time, that the house was so vertically spacious and that her bedroom was all the way on the top floor. She stopped in the kitchen and grabbed the yellow tulip that she’d picked up for Christen, something to mirror their first date, something a little sentimental, and then she let out another nervous breath and hurried down to the studio where Christen was waiting at the front door. 

When she opened the door, Tobin’s mouth went completely dry. She couldn’t stop herself from taking in Christen’s entire appearance, her eyes trailing over Christen’s tan, muscular legs, the very fitted dress that highlighted every curve, the natural curls in her hair. She grinned when she noticed Christen was looking at her in a similar way, loving that Christen’s green eyes were moving up and down her body. 

“Damn,” Christen whispered, shaking her head a little. She let her eyes move leisurely down Tobin’s outfit, drinking in every detail, then slowly back up to meet Tobin’s gaze, a slow smile making its way onto her face. “You look great.”

“You look amazing,” Tobin breathed out, her eyes still drifting over Christen’s entire outfit. 

“Are you trying to one-up me with the compliments?” Christen teased.

“No,” Tobin grinned, looking up at Christen’s eyes. “I’m just being honest about what I’m seeing,” she added, pulling the yellow tulip out from behind her back and holding it out for Christen. 

Christen melted at the sight of the flower, moving to take it from Tobin’s hand while also moving just a bit closer. “You’re sweet,” she hummed, placing a quick kiss on Tobin’s lips. “Thanks for the flower. I’m guessing it’s happy yellow?”

“Yeah, I realized I have no idea what your actual favorite color is because Scottie just gave you one and forced you to take it,” Tobin blushed. 

Christen chuckled and kissed the blush on Tobin’s cheek. “I actually have never had one before. I loved all the colors when I was a kid, and I guess I just forgot to figure out a favorite once I grew up.”

“I’ll ask if they make rainbow tulips next time,” Tobin teased. 

“Happy yellow is quickly becoming my favorite, actually,” Christen replied softly.

“Well, then it’s good I listened to an almost 8-year-old,” Tobin nodded, stepping out onto the stoop. “You ready to go?” 

“Oh, do I actually get to know where we’re going now, Miss Secretive?” Christen chuckled, sliding her hand into Tobin’s.

“Well, we’ve been there before,” Tobin said, pulling her door shut and locking it with her house keys. “Does that help you guess?”

“No,” Christen laughed. “We’ve been to a lot of places these past few months.”

“Hmm...I guess you’ll just have to be surprised then,” Tobin shrugged, taking Christen’s hand in her own and leading her down the front steps. 

In hindsight, Christen should have guessed. Tobin was a sentimental sap, so of course, their date night was at MoMA. But what Christen never would have guessed was what Tobin told her once they reached her exhibit.

“Take your pick,” Tobin said, wrapping her arms around Christen’s waist from behind and setting her chin on Christen’s shoulder. 

“I already told you which one I want. The one in your studio,” Christen replied softly, leaning back into Tobin’s embrace.

“Well, that one’s not finished, so if you want one now, take your pick,” Tobin mumbled, feeling slightly shy about offering Christen a painting, despite literally selling them for a living. 

“Don’t you want to sell these? Or give them to your Mom?” Christen asked, feeling a little unworthy of the artwork in the room. 

“Nope. The only one you can’t pick is the pink one. Scottie claimed it when I was making it,” Tobin hummed. 

“Right, I remember,” Christen replied. With a nervous little sigh, she stepped out of Tobin’s arms. 

“You don’t have to if you don’t want one, though. Some people really don’t like abstract stuff. I didn’t even realize you might be one of those people since you did pick the realistic Scottie painti-”

Christen interrupted the adorable ramble with a quick kiss. A kiss that hopefully assuaged Tobin’s worries, that told her how much Christen did like her art and wanted a piece of it, even if she didn’t feel entirely deserving of it. 

“Let me peruse,” Christen whispered, kissing Tobin once more before moving to the first painting. 

Tobin watched Christen look at each painting. She watched her lean forward and step back from a few of the pieces, likely thinking about what colors she liked and where she’d put it in her apartment. 

Tobin had never done this. She’d given her mom paintings. She’d even sent a couple to her sisters and brother, but she’d never let them choose. She’d never told someone she cared about to pick a painting that they wanted. 

Watching Christen made Tobin feel this strange mixture of nerves and excitement. A tiny part of her was worried that Christen was humoring her, that she really didn’t have space or desire for one of the paintings. But then she saw the smile on Christen’s face and thought better of it. She wanted Christen to have one of these because they were going to be sold at the end of the summer. Tobin didn’t want all of them to go away, not when this was the exhibit that had changed their relationship. She was keeping the pink one for Scottie, but she really wanted Christen to have one. She was sappy and sentimental, and she wanted Christen to remember that night at MoMA when they’d finally talked and decided to give this a shot. 

It wasn’t until Christen stopped leaning forward and stepping back, until she was stuck still in front of a painting right next to the stained glass window that Tobin knew she’d picked one. 

Christen tilted her head to the side, completely losing herself in the swirls and patterns on the canvas in front of her. She had an arm wrapped around her middle, and her other lifted to run her pointer finger along her nose, tapping the tip of it occasionally as she took in the painting before her. 

It was breathtakingly exquisite and heartachingly simple. That was the only way Christen could think to describe it. 

The canvas was littered with pastel yellows, purples, teals, and reds. The painting’s texture was varied. Some places were ridged as if Tobin had run some sort of tool over the thick paint. A few of the spots of color almost looked like tissue paper was under layers of paint. Christen couldn’t quite figure out what all Tobin had used, but she couldn’t deny that it was difficult to stop staring, to stop trying to figure it out. 

The way she felt about the painting was the way she felt about the artist behind it. Tobin was this tantalizing combination of laid back and put-together, made up of jagged edges and soft curves. She hadn’t figured everything out about Tobin just yet. There was still so much more to know and learn. But she knew, just like she knew about this painting, that she was never going to stop trying to figure it out.

“You want to know something about all of these paintings?” Tobin asked, stepping up next to Christen. 

“What’s that?” Christen murmured, turning away from the painting to gaze softly over at Tobin.

“Did you catch the collection’s name?” Tobin asked, pointing at the sign near the front of the room. 

Christen squinted her eyes, reading the sign that said “Sweetest Devotion” and feeling her heart melt. She looked back at Tobin with a smile on her face.

“Scottie and I painted every single base coat on all of these,” Tobin whispered. “It’s funny that you chose this one.”

“Why?” Christen wondered.

“Scottie wrote her name over and over and over again when we were doing the base coat for this piece,” Tobin hummed, remembering when they’d done this painting in November the last year. 

If at all possible, Christen felt even more certain about her choice now. Something about this painting had called to her, had made her stop and stare, and now she realized it was because she hadn’t just recognized Tobin in the patterns and colors, she’d recognized Scottie too.

“So I didn’t just pick you, I picked the both of you,” Christen replied softly, her heart thrumming in her chest with her words.

“That’s what it looks like,” Tobin murmured, taking a sheet of red, circular stickers out of her pocket and placing a sticker on the placard that sat on the wall next to the piece to mark that it wasn’t for sale and needed to be packed away for the final exhibition night when people could buy the pieces. 

“That’s what it is like,” Christen corrected.

Tobin couldn’t help but lean into Christen and press a kiss to her cheek. “Thank you.”

Christen slid an arm around Tobin’s waist, squeezing her hip gently. “You don’t have to thank me when I should be thanking you for the painting.”

“You hungry?” Tobin asked, an easy smile sliding onto her lips. 

“Are we doing dosas round two?” Christen grinned.

“I’m not that sentimental,” Tobin scoffed. 

“I disagree,” Christen teased, ghosting her lips across Tobin’s temple.

“I was thinking something a little more formal. You don’t need to be eating a dosa in a dress like this,” Tobin smirked. 

“Oh, do you like it?” Christen whispered, making sure her words came out a little huskier than they had before.

“Baby,” Tobin groaned. “You have no idea.”

Christen felt a small shiver run through her, Tobin’s words making heat pool low in her stomach and her hand tighten reflexively on Tobin’s hip.

“I think I have some idea, babe ,” Christen hummed in a low voice. She pressed a lingering kiss to the corner of Tobin’s jaw and then stepped away, grabbing ahold of Tobin’s hand. “So, dinner?” she asked, her voice returning to normal.

“Mhm. Yes,” Tobin said, shaking her head a little to focus on actually treating Christen to a nice meal. 

Tobin led Christen to the elevator and out onto the street. Christen stepped forward, ready to hail a cab, but Tobin tugged on her hand to the door right next door to the museum. 

“This way,” Tobin hummed, tilting her head to the entrance of The Modern.

“Holy shit,” Christen whispered as they walked inside. “This place is really expensive,” she added, taking in the low-lighting and the crisp white tablecloths.

“I’ve wanted to try it for a while, but you don’t bring a seven-year-old to this place,” Tobin grinned, keeping her hand on Christen’s back as she gave her name to the hostess. 

“You mean Miss ‘I think Mac N’ Cheese is fancy food’ wouldn’t like a Michelin star restaurant?” Christen teased.

“Two Michelin stars actually,” Tobin smirked. “And no, I don’t think she’d be into it.”

Christen chuckled and leaned into Tobin’s side as they were led through the restaurant, toward a small table along the glass wall. It offered a view of a courtyard with gorgeous sculptures in it, with the setting sun a beautiful backdrop to the garden.

Christen smiled as Tobin pulled her chair out for her, dropping into it and offering Tobin a soft, “Thank you,” in reply.  

Tobin moved to sit across from her, her smile never faltering. She really had been wanting to eat here for a while, and she was glad that she’d waited for the right company. 

“Don’t be scared, but I got the six-course menu,” Tobin said, her smile only growing at Christen’s shocked face. “They’re really small courses.”

“I...I trust you,” Christen laughed, holding up her hands in mock surrender. She dropped her napkin in her lap and then moved her hand to the middle of the table, as was the tradition during their date nights.

Tobin reached across and took Christen’s hand, squeezing it gently. “You’re doing mental math right now, aren’t you?” Tobin snorted. 

“Not every Stanford grad does mental math,” Christen teased.

“Bleh, gross,” Tobin mumbled, sending a wink across the table to Christen. 

“You know what would be hilarious?” Christen asked softly, leaning forward a bit, just to get closer to Tobin.

“Don’t you dare say what you’re about to say,” Tobin warned, her smile teasing. 

“If Scottie went and played soccer for my alma mater, that would be hilarious ,” Christen chuckled, the sound warm and light.

“I refuse to wear a Stanford Mom shirt. That’s where I draw the line,” Tobin grinned. 

“I would make it worth your while,” Christen replied, moving her thumb slowly across the backs of Tobin’s fingers.

“Wooow,” Tobin hummed, surprised that Christen was maybe thinking about being around when Scottie was going to college. “You really like me.”

Christen just nodded, her cheeks warming a bit. “You could say that,” she replied softly.

“I really like you, so that’s good to know,” Tobin whispered. 

They were interrupted politely by a kind waiter, who took their drink orders and their preferences for the tasting menu. He returned with the bottle of white wine Tobin had ordered, pouring both women a glass before drifting off. 

Christen promptly picked up her glass and held it up. “To seventieth impressions and sleepovers,” she said quietly, winking slightly.

Tobin chuckled a little at Christen’s toast and clinked her glass with Christen’s. She couldn't wipe the smile off of her face the entire night, watching Christen talk with her hands and laugh about people’s teasing at camp and eating delicious food. She felt light and happy, stress-free maybe for the first time in four years. 

Two servers appeared at their table, placing the third course in front of them with a flourish. 

“This is the hand-cut tagliolini with aged parmesan and shaved black truffles,” the primary server said before asking if they needed anything else and then leaving their tabl e. 

“That’s a very fancy way to say pasta,” Christen teased.

Tobin couldn’t hold back the soft laugh that almost all of Christen’s teasing evoked. She loved that Christen could be silly and sweet and even a little sassy, even in a fancy restaurant. That she had a sense of humor that didn’t fade, that she was kind. Everything with Christen felt natural and comfortable like she’d been a part of her life for years, not just months. She wanted this all the time. She wanted this with Scottie, at home, at Gio’s, at her parents’ house. 

“How freaked out would you be if I said I wanted to tell Scottie soon?” Tobin asked. 

Christen paused with a bite of tagliolini hovering in front of her mouth. 

“Sorry, eat first,” Tobin laughed. 

Rolling her eyes affectionately, Christen dropped her fork back down to her plate and fixed Tobin with a soft smile.

“I would say that even though I’m a little nervous, I feel good about where we are, and if you think it’s time, then I agree,” Christen replied, running her thumb across Tobin’s fingers. She was nervous, she was insanely nervous. She didn’t want Scottie to treat her differently, she didn’t want to disappoint Scottie. Most of all, she didn’t want to lose Scottie or Tobin, and the more people who knew, the higher that chance became.

“Ooookay, that’s good to know,” Tobin nodded. “Because I might have told her that she and I are doing something tomorrow, just the two of us,” Tobin blurted out quickly. 

Christen laughed, a little too loudly, and drew some stares from people around them. She quickly covered her mouth with her hand, quieting her laugh.

“You really don’t waste time do you?” Christen teased.

“I wanted to tell her a week ago,” Tobin shrugged. “I just wanted to make sure you weren’t gonna freak out and run the opposite direction.”

Christen shook her head. “If you’re ready, I’m ready,” she replied. “Can I eat this pasta now? Because holy shit it smells good. But if you have any other things you’d like to ask...”

“Bon Appetit,” Tobin grinned, sticking her own fork into the pasta. 

It was during their second-to-last course, while they were trading shy smiles over tangerine sorbet, that a young man approached the table. He looked giddy and nervous all at the same time and stopped a few feet away from the table. 

“Christen Press?” he asked, a cocktail napkin and a pen held in his trembling hands.

Christen fixed a smile on her face and casually slid her hand out of Tobin’s. She turned to face the young man. 

“Hi there,” Christen replied.

“Can I get an autograph? Maybe a picture?” he asked in a shaking voice, clearly in awe of Christen.

“Yes to the autograph, but I’m gonna say no to the picture,” Christen said, trying not to feel bad for turning down a picture. But she was out to eat with Tobin, she was in a moment of vulnerability and privacy, and she didn’t exactly want that invaded. 

She took the napkin and the pen, signing her name completely on autopilot, not even having to think anymore. She was actually surprised this hadn’t happened more often. It wasn’t like she and Tobin were always hiding away in apartments or taxi cabs. They went out. To the movies, to the park, to museums and dinners. But this was the first time she’d been recognized in front of Tobin, the first time they’d been interrupted.

Christen handed the autograph back to the young man and turned back to Tobin, her brow furrowing at the curious look on Tobin’s face.

“What?” she asked, scratching at the corner of her jaw.

“You’re like...famous,” Tobin said, cocking her head to the side. 

Christen snorted and shook her head. “Not really. I mean, I sometimes get spotted out and about and asked for stuff like that.”

“ agree. You’re basically famous,” Tobin smirked. 

Christen slipped her hand back into Tobin’s on top of the table. “I mean, I do have a Wikipedia page so…” she trailed off with a half-smile. “Does that bother you?”

“I have a Wikipedia page too, but no one asks for my autographs,” Tobin laughed, squeezing Christen’s hand in her own. “No, it doesn’t bother me.”

“Will it bother you when people start to photograph us together? If I take you to events and people get a hold of your name? When we’re out in Central Park with Scottie and someone snaps a picture that ends up on Twitter later?” Christen wondered, knowing she probably should have talked about this a while ago. But she’d honestly forgotten just a bit. She’d found herself in this bubble of privacy these past few months, and while atypical, it wasn’t going to last. 

Tobin’s brows scrunched together a little bit at the mention of someone taking a picture of Scottie. She hadn’t thought about any of that. In hindsight, it was a little naive to forget about tabloids, especially considering Tobin had looked at them when she’d googled Christen. Of course, there were tabloids. Of course, there was the possibility that someone would take a photograph of them or of Scottie with them. 

This was Christen, though. Christen tried to take care of Scottie as much as she could, and if she knew there was a photograph being taken, she’d protect her as much as possible. 

Christen was important to both of them. She was thoughtful and kind, and they could handle fans asking for autographs. Tobin could cover Scottie’s face in the park if she saw someone trying to take a picture. And if a picture ended up on Twitter, they’d work through it and figure it out. 

“I should have brought this up a lot sooner, I’m sorry. I just- I kind of forgot about this. I got to just be Christen for a little while, wiping Van Leeuwen’s ice cream off Scottie’s face and crying at family barbecues,” Christen sighed. 

“You still get to be Christen, wiping Van Leeuwen’s ice cream off of Scottie’s face. It isn’t like you’re taking the pictures or asking people to interrupt your private life,” Tobin said softly, rubbing her thumb along Christen’s hand. “You can’t help that people try to pry.”

“So you’re okay with not just Scottie knowing but everyone in the soccer world knowing?” Christen asked with a tight chuckle.

“Knowing that I managed to convince you to date me?” Tobin asked, raising her eyebrows like it was the most impressive thing she’d ever done. “Yeah, I’m okay with it.”

They decided to take a small detour through Bryant Park on their way back to Christen’s apartment, ambling slowly along the paved path as the sun dipped below the city skyline. 

They walked hand-in-hand, neither feeling the need to fill the silence as they watched dog-walkers wrestle with a dozen leashed dogs, families packing up their picnics, and young adults enjoying the warm night seated around the tables lining the space. 

As they passed the fountain, they came upon a small crowd surrounding a pop-up jazz band. Christen dragged Tobin over, pausing on the outskirts of the crowd to listen. 

She loved jazz music, always had. There was something about the combination of a saxophone and a trumpet, with a piano and the drums, that just got to her. She leaned into Tobin’s side, tilting her temple against Tobin’s shoulder as she listened with a smile on her face. 

“You’re right,” Tobin mumbled. 

“About?” Christen hummed.

“I am really sentimental, and I really want to dance with you,” Tobing whispered. 

Christen’s smile grew as she leaned her head off of Tobin’s shoulder. “Here?” she asked, looking around at the small crowd and the smattering of people milling around the park.

“If you want,” Tobin shrugged. “I’m sure I can reenact this at your apartment, though.”

“Let’s dance,” Christen replied softly, squeezing Tobin’s hand in her own.

Tobin turned toward Christen, resting her hands on Christen’s hips and pulling her a little bit closer, not too close, just in case Christen felt uncomfortable with people around. Which she didn’t, because Christen quickly stepped even closer, looping her arms around Tobin’s neck.

“You can play soccer. You can sing songs from Moana. You can dance,” Tobin sighed. “Wooow, I’m a lucky lady.”

Christen blushed as they continued to sway to the slow jazz music. She let one of her hands move to brush a few strands of hair behind Tobin’s ear, trailing her finger down Tobin’s jaw. 

“Just wait until you see what else I can do,” Christen whispered with a coy smile.

“I think I’ve done enough dancing,” Tobin hummed. 

Christen laughed as she felt Tobin all but pull her away from the crowd and out of the park, their pace significantly quicker as they walked toward her apartment.

“You decorated,” Tobin grinned, taking in the unlit candles and the silky sheets that had definitely not been on Christen’s bed last time they’d been over. 

“Romance isn’t dead, you know,” Christen teased, tossing her purse onto the couch and spinning around to drape her arms over Tobin’s shoulders.

“Do you want anything to drink? Not that I should be offering in your apartment,” Tobin blushed, feeling slightly nervous now that they were actually back in Chelsea. 

“Do you ?” Christen replied, arching a brow in amusement. 

“Not really,” Tobin shook her head. “I was trying to make you more comfortable because you’ve scratched your jaw six times since we’ve come inside.” 

Christen scrunched her nose and shrugged. “And here I was, thinking you weren’t going to notice my slight nerves about this part of the evening.”

“It’s not a bad thing to have slight nerves,” Tobin said. 

Christen felt the tension in Tobin’s shoulders beneath her arms and realized Tobin was probably just as slightly nervous as she was. “You know that I’d be perfectly happy with waiting,” Christen said quietly.

“You don’t want to…?” Tobin asked, her eyebrows furrowing at Christen’s words. 

“Oh my god, I do. I really do,” Christen corrected quickly, flushing slightly with the admission. “I just wanted to let you know I wasn’t expecting it if you decided you wanted to wait.”

“I don’t need an out. I’ve been thinking about this for an embarrassingly long time,” Tobin murmured. 

Christen felt her stomach flutter at Tobin’s words. She leaned forward and pressed the lightest of kisses against Tobin’s lips, hovering there once she had.

“In that case, let me light these candles,” Christen whispered.

Tobin grinned, letting Christen lead her the rest of the way behind the partition. She watched Christen walk around the bedroom and light the candles on her dresser, all the while admiring the soft smile on Christen’s lips and the way she tucked strands of hair behind her ears. 

“Do you light candles every time?” Tobin asked with a smirk. 

Christen shook her head, dropping the lighter to the dresser. “There was never any need to, before. Or a desire to...until you.”

Tobin nodded, her heart already racing at the admission. She stepped forward, wrapping her arms around Christen’s waist and leaning forward to press a kiss to her lips. 

Right away, Christen tasted the difference in this kiss. It was still sweet, just like all of Tobin’s kisses were. But there was a purpose behind it tonight that had been there in flashes and in moments, but never with this much certainty. There was a purpose behind Tobin’s touches as well. In the caress against her cheek, in the trails her fingertips made down the length of her arm, in the tug against the zipper at the back of her dress.

Tobin hadn’t even really touched her yet, her lips hadn’t even left her own, but Christen already felt hot, all over. Her skin was prickling and her hands were tingling and she wondered how she was going to survive the night. 

When she felt Tobin pull the zipper down between her shoulder blades, Christen pulled out of the kiss. She looked deep into those brown eyes she’d come to like so much, feeling a small thrill run down her spine at the hooded look within them. 

“I just- I really like you,” Christen husked, a blush rising to her cheeks, her hands toying with the material of Tobin’s shirt where it was tucked into her dress pants.

“I really like you too,” Tobin whispered, pausing her movements to look at Christen’s face and make sure that she was sure. 

“I still want this. I just wanted you to know it means something to me,” Christen hummed, the corner of her mouth lifting up in a small, shy smile.

“This means so much to me, too,” Tobin echoed, running the tip of her nose along Christen’s. She held tightly to the woman in front of her, wanting her to know that this was important and real and wouldn’t be fleeting. 

Christen felt a stuttered breath leave her lips when Tobin’s fingers returned to the zipper on the back of her dress. 

“You can finish unzipping me now,” Christen said softly.

Tobin smirked before she pressed her lips to the side of Christen’s neck and did just what Christen had suggested. She pressed her fingers along the now revealed skin on Christen’s back, completely in awe of how soft Christen’s skin was and also how strong her back was beneath her touch. Tobin had the sudden urge to kiss the skin there, to press her lips to every inch of Christen’s body. 

So, she did. 

She slowly turned Christen around, pushing the dress aside a little more and pressing her lips along Christen’s spine, over each and every bit of skin that she could reach on Christen’s back and shoulders and the back of her neck. She listened to Christen’s shaky breaths, loving that it sounded like Christen was feeling the same way that Tobin had been from the very beginning. 

Once Christen’s breaths were just too noticeable, too enticing, Tobin turned her back around, missing her lips and the way she looked at her with her strong, focused, green eyes. 

Christen almost knocked Tobin over with the force of her kiss, her hands cupping Tobin’s jaw as she backed them up toward the bed. She’d been patient while Tobin had explored, but the fire within her was reaching uncontrollable heights. Her hands fell to the buttons on Tobin’s shirt, making quick work of them as she ran her tongue along Tobin’s bottom lip, begging for entrance.

Tobin knew she would never deny Christen anything, least of all that. She opened her mouth slightly, letting out a soft sigh when Christen’s tongue met her own. She reached up to Christen’s shoulders, tugging the dress down as much as she could with Christen’s hands holding onto her shirt. 

Once she’d gotten the last button undone, Christen leaned back, feeling Tobin’s insistent tugs on her dress. With a smile playing at her lips, Christen took a small step back, working the dress down her arms and then down her body, stepping out of it and kicking it off to the side. She stood there for a moment, letting Tobin look all she wanted. At her, at the matching white lingerie set she’d put on. And boy, did Tobin look .

“Holy…” Tobin husked, her voice raw and full of desire. She’d expected her voice to sound like that. How could it not when Christen was standing in front of her in thin, lacy lingerie, smirking at her? 

She’d never seen someone as beautiful as Christen. She’d never been with someone with a heart as loving and open and amazing as Christen’s. Yes, she was sexy and beautiful, but there was something more that made Tobin want to take all the time she could, that made her want to worship the woman in front of her. 

Christen had never felt desired like this before. Sure, she’d been wanted, she’d been lusted after before. But there was something behind the desire in Tobin’s voice and in her eyes. There was something deeper there, something real and serious. It was something that scared her in the very best way.

Christen let that real and serious desire carry her back to Tobin, her hands softly pushing the shirt from Tobin’s shoulders, her hands falling to Tobin’s belt buckle. She never looked away from Tobin’s eyes as she painstakingly undid the belt, as she undid the clasps and unlooped it from around Tobin’s waist. 

“May I?” Christen whispered, her fingers hesitating at the button of Tobin’s dress pants.

“Please,” Tobin nodded. 

The pants quickly joined the shirt and the belt on the floor, leaving Tobin standing before her in a set of maroon lingerie.

“Is it corny if I say holy now?” Christen whispered, tracing her fingertips along the hard lines of Tobin’s stomach, her eyes drinking the absolute vision that was Tobin Heath in lingerie.

“I wouldn’t mind even if it is corny,” Tobin hummed. 

“Good. Because... holy ,” Christen murmured, smiling just a bit as she leaned in for another kiss.

Tobin wrapped her arms around Christen, deepening the kiss and letting her hands wander along Christen's back and over the bottoms of her lingerie set. Without hesitation, Tobin lowered her hands even more, hooking them around the backs of Christen’s thighs and lifting her off the floor, so that she could lay her on the bed. 

Christen let out a surprised huff as her back hit the mattress, pulling away from Tobin’s lips to smile up at her. 

“So strong,” she teased breathlessly, just like she always did whenever Tobin picked her up, or pushed her up against something, or just showed off her physical side.

Tobin rolled her eyes before she leaned down and pressed her lips against Christen’s chest, sucking gently on the skin above Christen’s left breast. She let her teeth scrape over skin and her tongue soothe each mark that she left, spurred on by Christen’s reactions. 

As Christen threaded her fingers in the hair at the nape of Tobin’s neck, she felt her breathing quicken again, soft moans and gasps leaving her lips without permission with every suck or bite Tobin left in her wake. 

She had never considered herself a compliant lover. She liked to take control, to set the pace, to be the one to write the rules. It let her keep one foot out the door, let her be ready to gather her clothes once she was done and leave. 

But tonight was different because Tobin was different. Tobin was taking control, Tobin was setting a delicious, delirious pace. Tobin was writing every rule and Christen was helpless to resist. Christen was along for the torturous, alluring, world-rocking ride.

Tobin reached her arms around Christen’s back and thumbed the clasp of the top piece of Christen’s lingerie set, lifting her head up slightly to ask permission to take the bra off. 

Christen arched into the touch, her wide green eyes fixed on Tobin. “Jesus, fuck, yes . Just take it off, babe.”

Tobin smirked, loving that she was making Christen sound like this, that she could make her sound like this. Tobin unclasped the bra and pulled it off quickly, tossing it over her shoulder and likely off the bed. 

“If you just threw that on a candle, I’m gonna smack you,” Christen choked out, pushing her bare chest up off the bed, her tongue darting out to wet her lips.

Tobin laughed but turned around to make sure it was on the floor and not on fire somewhere in the apartment. 

“No need,” she husked, leaning down and taking one of Christen’s nipples into her mouth, swirling her tongue around it and tugging on it gently between her lips. She reached a hand up, trailing her fingers slowly up Christen’s side and cupping the unattended breast in her hand. 

Christen’s hips bucked at ministrations, a choked groan wrenched from her throat at the way Tobin was lavishing her with attention, at the way Tobin was building her up quickly, far quicker than anyone ever had before. She’d be embarrassed by her grasping hands and needy moans if she wasn’t so far gone already. 

Tobin switched sides, focusing on the other nipple. Instead of cupping the other breast, Tobin moved her hand down Christen’s side, slipping her thumb just under the waistband of Christen’s underwear and rubbing soft circles into the skin over her hip, all the while keeping her tongue moving at a steady pace. 

“Oh fuck me,” Christen gasped, almost losing it at the barely-there touches being littered along the sensitive skin of her hips and right above where she desperately needed.

“I will,” Tobin mumbled, releasing Christen’s nipple with a pop of her lips. “You’re not very patient, are you?” Tobin teased, kissing across Christen’s collarbones, her fingers moving over the waistband of the underwear still. 

Christen aimed for an annoyed huff or maybe even a grumble, but it came out more like a desperate whimper. 

“Who could be patient when you’re- fuck Tobin- when you’re doing that ?” Christen managed through heaving breaths, her eyes screwed tightly shut.

“This?” Tobin asked, running a finger over the wet spot on Christen’s underwear. 

Christen’s hand tightened in the hair at the back of Tobin’s head, her back arching off the bed. She forced her eyes to open, to meet Tobin’s. Those brown eyes were already looking up at her, swimming with mirth and want.

“I did not have you pegged for a tease,” Christen husked, biting back the guttural moan that begged to be set free at Tobin’s touch.

“People can be surprising,” Tobin shrugged, making her touch a little more purposeful as she brushed two fingers over the wet spot. 

Christen’s jaw tensed as she fought a losing battle, trying to keep the moan at bay. It was the moan Tobin wanted from her, and she didn’t want to give it. She might have submitted, but she was still stubborn. 

People can be surprising later,” Christen panted.

“Hey, baby?” Tobin asked, pushing the underwear aside a little, enough to slide one finger underneath and feel just how wet Christen was. 

Christen’s head dropped back down against the bed, that goddamn moan finally leaving her lips as she felt a delirious haze settle over her, as she felt like every part of her was on fire. 

“Wha- what?” she gasped.

“Do you mind if I take this off?” Tobin asked, innocently. 

“Such a- a smartass,” Christen groaned, pushing her hips up, seeking more contact than Tobin was offering.

“That wasn’t a yes.”

“God, yes. Off. Take them off. Just take them off ,” Christen begged.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Tobin whispered, leaning down and pressing her lips along Christen’s hips, moving the underwear down Christen’s legs slowly. She slid off the bed, taking the underwear with her and dropping them on the floor. Tobin couldn’t help but pause and look at Christen sprawled across the bed, her chest heaving and her body completely bare. 

“You’re stunning,” Tobin said, stepping forward and running her hands up and down Christen’s shins. 

Despite how far gone she was, despite how desperate she was for Tobin to touch her, Christen had the audacity to blush at the innocent compliment.

“So are you,” Christen replied, pushing a hand through her hair and forcing her eyes to stay open, to stay locked on Tobin, to immortalize the raw need on Tobin’s face in her mind forever.

“I’d like to make you feel good now,” Tobin hummed, climbing onto the bed and crawling up Christen’s body so that she could see Christen’s face. 

Christen wrapped a hand around the back of Tobin’s neck, a smile making its way onto her face at how soft Tobin had suddenly gone.

“Please,” Christen whispered, nuzzling her nose along Tobin’s.

Tobin pressed a kiss to Christen’s lips, sliding a hand down Christen’s body, her fingers landing exactly where Christen wanted her.
She felt Christen’s hips jerk up into her hand and leaned back so that she could watch Christen’s face change with each touch. Tobin wanted to make sure that Christen enjoyed every single second. She wanted to watch Christen’s face so that she knew exactly what Christen liked best. 

Tobin found a steady rhythm, enjoying the way Christen’s eyes fluttered with each touch. It wasn’t until Christen’s skin was starting to flush and her hips were jerking a little more forcefully that Tobin saw Christen biting her bottom lip. 

“You can be loud, baby,” Tobin whispered, not wanting Christen to hold anything back, to bite back moans or words. 

Christen loosened her hold on her lower lip, finally letting herself do exactly that. She let herself be loud, to swear and beg and curse and enjoy every moment and every touch. She let herself vocalize her want, her need. And when she felt herself getting close, faster than she ever had before, she tightened her hold on the sheets and on the back of Tobin’s neck.

“I- I’m-” Christen gasped, feeling her entire body start to shudder.

“I know,” Tobin whispered, slipping two fingers inside, heat coiling low in her stomach when she felt Christen clench around her fingers. 

Tobin had never seen something as beautiful as Christen Press coming apart beneath her. She’d never imagined that watching someone in the throes of pleasure would affect her as much as it did right now, with Christen. But it did.

She helped Christen ride out her orgasm, whispering soft words and brushing her lips over Christen’s skin. When Christen’s eyes fluttered closed and her breathing steadied, Tobin flopped onto the bed beside her. 

“Holy fuck,” Christen rasped, still seeing stars behind her closed eyes as she forced air back into her lungs.

Tobin didn’t respond. Instead, she brought her fingers up to her mouth and sucked on them, tasting Christen for the first time. 

Christen turned her head at the soft moan that left Tobin’s lips. When she caught sight of Tobin’s tongue licking her fingers clean, Christen felt her mouth go dry. She’d never seen something sexier, never heard anything sexier than that soft moan.

She rolled over and caught Tobin’s wrist in her hand, pulling it away from Tobin’s mouth so she could lean down and kiss Tobin soundly. 

“You’re incredible,” Christen hummed against Tobin’s lips.

“You taste amazing,” Tobin replied with a smirk. 

Christen moaned into Tobin’s mouth, rolling more firmly on top of her. She lifted herself off of Tobin’s chest with a hand on either side of Tobin’s head, her curls cascading down around them.

“I bet you do too,” Christen smirked, intent on finding out the answer.

They didn’t leave the bed for hours. The candles had burned out, the moon was high in the sky, and a new day had nearly begun. When they finally did, it was in search of the cookie dough sitting in Christen’s fridge. 

With t-shirts tugged over their sated and warm bodies, they took the tub of cookie dough over to the window seat along the far, floor-to-ceiling window Christen had in her apartment. Christen sat with her legs draped over Tobin’s lap, the tub resting atop her thighs and Tobin’s arm around her waist.

Christen leaned her head against the window, watching as Tobin swiped her thumb across her bottom lip, getting the bit of cookie dough that had gotten left there. She was mesmerized by the simple movement of Tobin’s thumb moving into her mouth, of Tobin’s tongue snagging that small bit of cookie dough off her finger. She was just mesmerized by Tobin, by everything she did.

“You’re really good in bed,” Christen said quietly, smiling a little with the admission.  

Tobin let out a soft laugh, abandoning the cookie dough that sat between them and focusing on Christen. “Thank you. Were you expecting something subpar?” 

“Not at all,” Christen shook her head, reaching up to brush some hair away from Tobin’s forehead. “You’re just- you’re like really good,” she chuckled.

“Phew,” Tobin teased, wiping her forehead. 

“I had no idea you’d be so…” Christen trailed off, searching for the right word.

“Soooo?” Tobin asked, tilting her head a little in question.

“You’re a total top,” Christen laughed, lifting her hand to the side of Tobin’s jaw and running her thumb along Tobin’s cheekbone. 

“Hmm…” Tobin sighed with a soft nod. “I suppose so.”

Christen grinned at Tobin’s thoughtful response to her teasing remark.

“I think…” Tobin said, her lips pursing a little in thought. “I think that’s the best sex I’ve ever had.”

Christen felt those words hit her right between her legs, stoking the coals of her desire and reigniting the flame. She grabbed the cookie dough, moving it to the ground. She then repositioned herself so she was sitting in Tobin’s lap, her hands pressed to the cool glass of the window behind them. 

With a smirk, Christen leaned in for a kiss, a kiss Tobin eagerly lifted toward. But Christen smirked and dodged the kiss. She simply brushed her lips right by Tobin’s, across her cheek, to her ear.

“I’m just getting started,” Christen whispered, her breath ghosting across the shell of Tobin’s ear.

She moved her lips down the side of Tobin’s throat as her fingertips painted paths up and down Tobin’s bare sides. She pushed the t-shirt up with every touch, wanting more room to work.

“I know it’s mine, but I’d still like to ask your permission to take it off,” Christen hummed into Tobin’s skin, nipping gently at the base of her neck.

“If you don’t, I will,” Tobin groaned, tilting her head to the side, so Christen had more room to work.

After finding a particularly sensitive spot, one that had Tobin gasping and pushing up into her, Christen pulled away with a slight smirk. She quickly divested Tobin of the shirt and then reattached her lips to Tobin’s neck, sucking hard, hard enough to leave a mark. 

“I’ve been thinking about this since our first kiss. Having you like this, against this window,” Christen murmured. She switched sides with her lips, lavishing the other side of Tobin’s throat with attention as her thumbs brushed across hardened nipples.

She’d never talked this much in bed. She never felt the need to whisper words or divulge desires before. This was just another thing that Tobin brought out of her.

Tobin let out a low moan, her hands gripping Christen’s ass and pulling her even closer. Tobin hadn’t imagined that Christen had felt that way even during their first kiss, and knowing that sent even more heat between her legs. 

Tobin had never felt this comfortable with anyone before, this willing to talk and feel and have sex against a window, not in a dark bedroom. She firmly believed that if Christen suggested anything, she’d nod her head and say yes, and that was terrifying and exciting and overwhelming. She felt her heart race for the woman in her lap, radiating a warm feeling through her body that felt more serious than just liking someone. 

With an ease that came from loving Tobin for hours, Christen moved down Tobin’s chest, her tongue and lips and teeth marking the path. She didn’t linger too long on Tobin’s breasts, having learned that the other woman was far less sensitive there than she was. 

When she’d gone down as far as she could while still seated in Tobin’s lap, Christen pulled away from Tobin’s chest, moving back up to leave a kiss on Tobin’s lips. It was a little sloppy and tinged with need, it was a kiss Tobin was eager to return and make last.

Christen didn’t let it last though. She leaned away, moving out of Tobin’s lap and down onto the floor. She knelt on the plush carpet and pushed Tobin’s legs open, her green eyes lifting to meet Tobin’s. She marveled at how dark those brown eyes were, at how the moonlight was like a halo around Tobin’s sex-mussed hair, at how absolutely gorgeous Tobin looked, thoroughly kissed and desperate for more. 

“Oh my god,” Tobin groaned, already feeling how wet she was. 

Christen pressed her lips together, her fingertips gliding along the tops of Tobin’s thighs. “I haven’t even done anything ‘oh my god’ worthy yet,” she teased, her voice deep and dripping with want.

“Have you seen yourself?” Tobin husked. “This is a view I’m never forgetting.”

“I plan to spend a lot of time here, so you wouldn’t be able to forget anyway,” Christen hummed, wrapping her hands around Tobin’s lower back and pulling her to the edge of the cushion. She grinned up at the awestruck look on Tobin’s face for a moment longer before dropping her lips to Tobin’s hip bone, sucking gently as her hands pushed Tobin’s legs even further apart.

Tobin’s entire mind clouded with pleasure. Christen’s tongue moved over her hip bones, making her legs shake and her hands tighten on the edge of the window seat. 

Christen took her time, wanting to draw this out as long as possible. Another thing she learned was that as much as Tobin liked to tease, she loved to be teased. And Christen Press was an excellent tease.

Once Tobin’s hand had found purchase on the back of her head, as that strong grip tried to guide her to where Tobin wanted her, Christen decided to give in just a little. She ran her tongue slowly through Tobin just once, humming at the taste she’d immediately fallen for hours ago.

“Fuck,” Tobin rasped. 

“That’s a bad word,” Christen smirked, leaning back to look up at Tobin through her lashes.

“Do not do that in this situation,” Tobin said, her eyes snapping open. 

“Or what?” Christen challenged, arching a brow.

“Baby, I swear. That phrase haunts me,” Tobin whined. 

“Well we can’t have that,” Christen murmured, leaning back in to make it up to Tobin in the way she knew Tobin wanted her to. 

Christen loved each and every noise that left Tobin’s lips when she tasted her. They were louder, more unrestrained than usual. Whatever tenuous control Tobin tried to maintain was thrown out the window whenever Christen had her tongue between her legs. Tobin Heath was a gorgeous mess when Christen worked her up like this, and Christen had never enjoyed something more.

But all of that paled in comparison to how much Christen loved pushing Tobin over the edge. She adored the way Tobin’s mouth parted slightly, the way her eyes screwed shut and her forehead got this little wrinkle in it. She was obsessed with the way her chest flushed a dark red, the way her grip tightened almost painfully on the back of Christen’s head. Everything about Tobin coming undone had Christen falling even harder for her.

She’d only gotten to do this a handful of times tonight, but she knew she would never get enough of it. She could do this every day for the rest of her life, and while that thought would normally scare the living shit out of her, right now it didn’t. It couldn’t when her name was tumbling from Tobin’s kiss-swollen lips as she pushed Tobin over the edge.

“Shit!” Tobin hissed under her breath, the steam from the coffee maker hissing at her. She pressed a different button this time, only making the machine angry, a red button blinking slowly at her and a gurgling sound coming from the back of it. 

Christen groaned and blearily blinked her eyes open. “What’re you doing?” she called out in her deep, raspy morning voice that she absolutely hated but couldn’t do anything about until coffee was had.

“Nothing,” Tobin called back, her eyebrows furrowed in thought. “You can go back to sleep.”

With another groan, this time a happier one at the sated feeling in her limbs and the soreness that was very welcome, Christen got up and pulled on a t-shirt. She padded into the kitchen, a sleepy smile breaking out across her face at the sight of Tobin fighting against her coffee machine, one of her old Stanford soccer t-shirts doing a lovely job of barely covering her up.

“You have to be nice,” Christen teased.

“I was being nice. I asked it to give me coffee, and it said no and spat at me,” Tobin pouted. “I even put on this horrible shirt to convince it that I was you.”

With a breathy laugh, Christen joined Tobin by the coffee maker, her arms encircling Tobin’s waist. “Good morning,” she hummed, pressing her lips to the corner of Tobin’s jaw.

“Good morning, beautiful,” Tobin grinned, forgetting about the coffee maker in favor of the woman holding her. 

Without leaving the embrace or even opening her eyes, Christen reached out and pressed three buttons in quick succession, causing the machine to hum and start spitting coffee into the mug Tobin had placed under it.

“This is the sexiest you’ve ever been,” Tobin teased, turning in Christen’s arms so that she could wrap her arms around Christen. “I was going to bring you coffee in bed.”

“But now I get to kiss you in the kitchen while the coffee maker does its sexy thing,” Christen replied with a laugh.

“That beast isn’t sexy,” Tobin grumbled. 

“Hey, Janice is not a beast,” Christen protested, pressing a kiss to the tip of Tobin’s wrinkled nose.

“Janice doesn’t do it for me,” Tobin mumbled, leaning in and catching Christen’s lips. 

Christen hummed into the kiss, trying not to smile too hard and break it, but failing in her efforts. 

“Last night was amazing,” Christen whispered, her cheek filling with a pretty blush.

“Very amazing,” Tobin agreed. “I’d totally do it again sometime…”

“Me too. I’m glad we’re on the same page,” Christen chuckled.

“So...does Janice make dirty chais?” Tobin asked, lifting an eyebrow at the machine. 

Christen wrinkled her nose and sighed. “Sadly, no. But she makes great coffee.”

“And when you don’t drink dirty chais, you put what in your coffee?” Tobin asked, stepping back toward the fridge. 

“Wow, she gets me naked one time and suddenly doesn’t want to guess anymore,” Christen winked, leaning back against the counter with her arms crossed over her chest.

“Okay, okay,” Tobin said, dropping her hand away from the fridge. She stood in front of it and closed her eyes, pretending to be deep in thought. “Well, when I get you dirty chais, it’s real milk...hope that’s not an issue, otherwise sorry…” Tobin grinned. 

“Not an issue. And this whole thing is adorable, so please continue,” Christen grinned, pulling her lower lip between her teeth as she watched Tobin try to figure out the right answer.

“Okay, but you also accepted creamer on the first day when I offered, so you might be a half and half girl when it comes down to regular coffee. But I doubt that because you’re a professional athlete and super conscious about what you put in your body.”

“Logical assumption,” Christen mused, her smile growing wide enough to make her cheeks start to hurt. It was just too much to see Tobin standing there in her Stanford Soccer t-shirt with that wrinkle between her brows that meant she was thinking hard.

“I’m going with regular milk...maybe a flavored creamer on special occasions if you’re feeling fruity,” Tobin finally said, pulling open the fridge and revealing no creamer or half and half, only a carton of milk. 

“I’m impressed,” Christen murmured, feeling herself fall just a little harder at the goofy grin on Tobin’s face when she pulled the milk from the fridge triumphantly.

“I was really pretending to be confident just then. I honestly wasn’t sure what I was about to see in the fridge,” Tobin smiled. 

“You had me fooled,” Christen chuckled.

“I’m not a half and half person either,” Tobin hummed, walking over to the coffee machine. 

“I know. You like Hazelnut creamer and I have some. It’s in the back of the fridge,” Christen said softly, nodding at the now-closed fridge.

Tobin placed the carton of milk on the counter and turned around, her mouth flopping open a little at Christen’s admission. 

“I didn’t just set out the candles and the sheets, babe. I prepared,” Christen chuckled.

“I really really like you,” Tobin said, pressing a kiss to Christen’s cheek. No one had ever done that for her. No one outside of her family had tried to make her feel at home in their space. No one had prepared for things that she might want. 

Christen’s heart fluttered in her chest at Tobin’s words. “Feeling’s mutual,” she murmured. 

But the truth of it was, the feeling wasn’t just mutual. Christen was in danger of feeling more than that already. Which was reckless and foolish and silly, but she couldn’t help it. She was in desperate danger of falling in love with Tobin Heath, with her goofy grin and warm brown eyes and giving heart. In reality, she was in danger of already having fallen in love.

Chapter Text

Welcome to the end of being alone inside your mind

Tethered to another and you're worried all the time

You always knew the melody but you never heard it rhyme

She's fair and she is quiet, Lord, she doesn't look like me

She made me love the morning, she's a holiday at sea

The New York streets are as busy as they always used to be

But I am the mother of [Scottie]

The first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep

She broke a thousand heirlooms I was never meant to keep

She filled my life with color, cancelled plans and trashed my car

But none of that is ever who we are


They've still got their morning paper and their coffee and their time

They still enjoy their evenings with the skeptics and their wine

Oh but all the wonders I have seen I will see a second time

From inside of the ages through your eyes

You were not an accident where no one thought it through


You're nothing short of magical and beautiful to me

(Tobin - “The Mother” by Brandi Carlile)


I haven't seen my father in some time

But his face is always staring back at me

'Cause he taught me how to walk the best that I can

On the road I've left behind


I haven't heard my mother's voice in a while

But her words are always falling out my mouth

My mind and spirit are at odds sometimes

And they fight like the north and the south

But I still care enough to bear the weight

Of the heaviness to which my heart is tethered

She taught me how to be strong and say goodbye

And that love is forever

But most of all

She taught me how to fight

How to move across the line

Between the wrong and the right

And when I'm turned out in the darkness

And the pushing comes to shove

To remember what comes back

When you give away your love

Give away your love

When you give your love away

Give away your love


And remember what comes back to you

(Christen - “Most of All” by Brandi Carlisle)


“Why are we here on a Thursday?” Scottie asked, looking around at Gio’s and how busy it was.

“The food is good, and we talked about coming here for a Mommy-Scottie dinner,” Tobin said, drumming her fingers on the table. She was nervous. No. She was so far past nervous that she felt eerily calm. 

Scottie had been asking where Christen was all day, causing Tobin to almost spill the news earlier. She wanted this to be special and right. She wanted Scottie to feel comfortable to ask questions and have an actual conversation about Christen, but it took all of her strength not to just blurt it out. 

“But we never come here on Thursdays…” Scottie mumbled, her brow furrowed slightly as she tapped her fingers across the tablecloth, mimicking Tobin.

“Do you want to go somewhere else?” Tobin asked, worried that maybe Scottie wasn’t in the mood for Italian food. 

“That’s a silly question,” Scottie rolled her eyes, turning to wave at Gio who had just stepped out of the kitchen. “I love it here.”

“I know you do, buddy,” Tobin said, starting to worry if this conversation was going to ruin the restaurant for Scottie if it went poorly. 

Scottie grew thoughtful and turned to face Tobin again. She started to tap her finger against her nose, seeming to be thinking really hard. 

“Are you getting me a puppy?” Scottie asked.

“No,” Tobin laughed. “Not until you’re older.”

“Are we moving out of our house?”

“Of course not.”

“Am I in trouble?” Scottie wondered, continuing to rattle off questions as she tapped away at her nose, now choosing to mimic Christen.

“No, little bit,” Tobin sighed. She knew she was acting weird. She knew she needed to tell her now before she jumped to any crazier conclusions. 

“Then what Mommy? You have that serious look on your face,” Scottie sighed. She got up from her chair and walked around to Tobin’s side of the table. She threw her arms around Tobin’s neck and pulled her in for a tight hug.

“You’re the best hugger,” Tobin mumbled, squeezing Scottie tightly. 

“Not as good as you,” Scottie sing-songed.

“Agree to disagree,” Tobin smiled. 

“Do you feel better? Or do you want a longer hug?” Scottie asked, rocking Tobin back and forth slightly.

“I feel so much better. Can I have a longer hug later?” Tobin asked. 

“Of course, Mommy,” Scottie replied, skipping back over to her seat and sitting down.

“You’re right that I’m acting a little weird,” Tobin started, working up the nerve to tell Scottie. 

“ have a secret,” Scottie said, tilting her head to the side, smiling at having finally figured out why Tobin was acting so odd.

“I do have a secret,” Tobin nodded. “And I want to tell you about it.”

“Okay,” Scottie shrugged.

“You know how Abby and Glennon care about each other a whole lot?” Tobin asked. 

Scottie nodded. “They love each other,” she replied.

“Yeah, they do. Well, before they got married and moved into their cool house, they had to date,” Tobin said, trying to make what she had to say understandable. 

“What’s a date?” Scottie asked innocently.

“It’s when you go to dinner with someone or maybe see a movie or just spend time together,” Tobin explained. 

“ that like when we go to dinner or ice cream with Christen?”

“Yeah, sort of,” Tobin nodded. 

“Oh,” Scottie realized. “It’s an adult thing.”

“Yes,” Tobin nodded, thankful that Scottie was basically helping her with this explanation. “Adults go on dates with other adults.”

“So you could go on dates with Christen?” Scottie wondered, reaching out for a piece of garlic bread and taking a big bite of it.

“Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Tobin said. 

“You’re not doing a whole lot of talking, Mommy,” Scottie grinned, diving back into her piece of garlic bread.

“You’re right,” Tobin chuckled. She took a few deep breaths, preparing to admit this whole thing to Scottie. “So...Christen and I have actually been on a couple dates,” Tobin said honestly. 

Scottie grew quiet, her gray eyes moving away from Tobin and focusing on the city streets out the window next to their table. Her fingers started to tap across the table again.

Tobin’s stomach dropped immediately at Scottie’s reaction. She had no idea how to describe anything better since she’d never been in this situation before. She had no idea how to make Scottie look at her again, to make her smile big and bright again. 

“So you’re getting married?” Scottie asked, jumping to an unreasonable conclusion in the way only a kid could. She turned back to look at Tobin curiously.

“No, no, no,” Tobin shook her head. 

“But you said people date to get married,” Scottie pointed out.

“A lot of people need to date for years before they decide to get married. Christen and I haven’t dated that long,” Tobin clarified. 

Scottie nodded and grew quiet again, staying quiet for a lot longer this time. Her hand stilled on the tablecloth and her eyes stayed stuck on the cars moving along the busy street.

“I know you love Christen,” Tobin said softly, resting her hand in the middle of the table and hoping that Scottie would take her hand. “I don’t want you to think that me spending time with her will change how she feels about you or how the three of us are together because it won’t.”

After a moment, Scottie slid her hand into Tobin’s and finally looked away from the window. 

“How long?” she asked softly.

“What?” Tobin asked, not having planned that this would be a question that Scottie asked her. 

“How long have you been dating?”

“Uh...about two months,” Tobin said, her throat feeling a little thick. “I really wanted to make sure that Christen and I both wanted to keep dating before I told you. You’re the most important person, and I never want you to feel disappointed about things not working out.”

Scottie nodded and then shrugged, smiling across the table at Tobin. “Cool beans,” she said.

“Cool beans?” Tobin asked, her eyes growing wide at the response. 

“Yeah, cool beans,” Scottie replied. “I love Christen. I love spending time with her, and so do you. So, cool beans.”

“And you’re okay that Christen and I spend time together, even on our own?” Tobin asked, having expected some kind of response other than cool beans. 

Scottie grinned, her signature toothy grin. “I just want you to be happy, and she makes you happy, Mommy.” 

Tobin could feel her eyes starting to sting at Scottie’s ‘way too mature’ response. 

“Did you think I’d be mad?” Scottie asked, her brow furrowing at the tears gathered in Tobin’s eyes.

“I didn’t think you’d be mad, little bit. I just haven’t dated someone seriously. It’s just been you and me for a long time,” Tobin hummed. 

“Yeah but Christen promised she would always come back to us. So we don’t have to be alone anymore,” Scottie replied thoughtfully.

“She did,” Tobin nodded, tears threatening to slip from her eyes at Scottie’s words. “You know that you’re never alone, even if it’s just the two of us, right?”

Scottie quickly got up from her chair and hurried over to Tobin. She jumped into her lap and hugged Tobin tightly.

“I know, Mommy. I love you,” Scottie mumbled.

“I love you so much,” Tobin whispered, pressing a kiss to Scottie’s forehead. “I’m so in the mood for Tiramisu now.”

“Can Christen come eat it with us?” Scottie asked quietly, leaning back to wipe a little too hard at the tears on Tobin’s cheeks.

“You can definitely call and ask,” Tobin said, pulling her phone out of her pocket. 

Christen had all but paced a hole in her rug. She kept muttering under her breath, chewing on her thumbnail, as she made lap upon lap around her studio, under the watchful gaze of Becky and Kelley.

“My money’s on Mini Tar Heel losing her shit she’s so happy,” Kelley whispered, sipping her beer.

“You never know with kids,” Becky mumbled under her breath. 

“But it’s this kid. She looks at Christen like she’s the best thing since sliced bread,” Kelley pointed out.

“Sure, but that doesn’t mean she wants Christen and her mom kissing and going out without her,” Becky shrugged. “All I’m saying is we can’t predict what she’ll say.”

“We gotta be prepared either way,” Kelley grumbled, knocking her beer against Becky’s.

“Did you get ice cream?” Becky whispered. 

Kelley hooked a thumb over her shoulder, pointing at the fridge. “Four pints.”

Christen stopped her pacing, starting to scratch at the corner of her jaw as she shot worried looks between Becky and Kelley.

“Guys, what if she hates the idea? What if she hates me ?” Christen asked in a tight, wobbly voice.

She’d been stressed all day. In the moment, when Tobin had asked her about telling Scottie, she had full faith that it was time. They felt solid in their relationship and in where they were headed, so the natural step was to finally tell Scottie. 

But now the moment had arrived and Christen was scared shitless. She knew Scottie loved her as Coach Christen. She knew Scottie loved her as Christen, the woman who hung out with them for Disney movie nights and family barbecues. But she didn’t know if Scottie would love her as the woman dating her mom. That was a different dynamic than the one Scottie had become accustomed to. 

She couldn’t help but jump to the worst-case scenario, she couldn’t help but let every fear and worry and anxiety inside of her plague her. She might be doing better and feeling better than she had in a long time, in no small part thanks to Scottie and Tobin and their light. But she still had to wonder if the other shoe was going to drop. If how easy and right this all felt would blow up in her face. Telling Scottie had the chance to do that, especially if Scottie had a problem with her dating Tobin. 

“Christen, Scottie loves you. She could never hate you,” Becky sighed, wishing her words could actually help her friend. 

“No matter what she thinks about you and Tar Heel together, she’s not going to hate you,” Kelley added, smiling in a hopefully reassuring way. 

The room grew silent, filling with tension and nerves, as Christen continued to pace and Becky and Kelley wondered if there was anything more they could do. 

And then Christen’s phone rang.

Christen all but sprinted over to the counter, grabbing it. Seeing that it was Tobin calling, she immediately picked up, her heart in her throat.

“Did you tell her? Is she mad? She’s probably mad right? Why else would you be calling me so soon? Just tell me fast, Tobin, I can take it,” Christen rushed out, covering her eyes with her hand and forcing deep breaths into her lungs.

“Christen?” Scottie said, confused about why Christen’s voice sounded so strained and different from its normal calm, slow tone. 

Christen’s head snapped up, her hand falling away from her face. She looked between Becky and Kelley, her mouth opening and closing for a second, while she tried to formulate a response to the one person she was not expecting to be on the other end of the phone.

“Did you drop the phone?” Scottie asked. “Mommy, I think she accidentally hung up,” she mumbled to Tobin on the other end of the line. 

“No,” Christen choked out, clearing her throat. “No, I’m here.”

“Oh, she’s here,” Scottie said, her voice brightening. “Christen, Mommy told me that you’re dating.”

Christen felt her stomach drop, trying not to read too much into the excitement in Scottie’s voice. 

“She did? That’s- that’s great...unless it isn’t?” Christen replied slowly, already preparing herself for the worst.

“It’s cool, but I thought it was kind of weird,” Scottie said. 

“Um,” Christen replied, her brow furrowing. “Cool but weird?”

Kelley and Becky silently celebrated on the other side of the kitchen counter, high-fiving and hugging.

“Because you aren't here. I thought since you’re dating Mommy you’d want to be at Gio’s with us,” Scottie explained. 

Every bit of stress and anxiety and panic that had previously been trapped within her chest immediately disappeared. Christen felt tears prick at the corners of her eyes as a slow smile spread across her face. 

“I’d love to come join you at Gio’s,” Christen hummed, earning herself another round of silent high-fives and hugs from her teammates.

“We only had garlic bread, but I saved you a piece, and I told Gio to make you something,” Scottie continued. 

“That is very sweet of you, cutie. I’ll be there as soon as I can, okay?” Christen replied, her smile growing impossibly wider with how normal it felt, how Scottie still sounded like Scottie, and how it didn’t feel like anything had changed, even if everything had.

“Hey, Christen?” Scottie asked, a giggle escaping her lips. 

Christen felt a small chuckle escape her lips in response. “Yes, Scottie Heath?”

“Thanks for making Mommy all smiley,” Scottie hummed. 

Christen let out a shaky breath, her hand rising to rub at her sternum, right over the ball of warmth that was growing in her chest.

“Thank you for letting me make her all smiley, even if it’s cool-weird,” Christen replied.

“It’s only weird because you aren’t here, silly,” Scottie laughed. 

“I’ll be right there. Give Tobin a hug for me okay?” Christen asked, feeling her heart all but bursting in her chest.

“Okay! Bye-bye!” 

“Bye,” Christen whispered, dropping the phone down on the counter and immediately sinking down to the floor. She dropped her head into her hands and stayed crouched down.

“That sounded positive,” Becky said, walking around the kitchen counter. 

Christen didn’t reply, too overcome with everything. Scottie wasn’t mad or upset. Scottie didn’t hate her. Scottie thought it was cool and wanted her to come to Gio’s.

“...unless we read that wrong,” Kelley mumbled. 

Despite the tears making her throat thick and threatening to spill from her eyes, Christen looked up at Becky and Kelley and managed a small smile. 

“She thinks it’s cool and wants me to join them for dinner,” Christen said in a quiet voice.

“So, why are you still here?” Kelley teased. 

“I just- I need a second,” Christen replied, dropping her head back into her hands as she felt the last few broken, shattered bits of her heart start to heal. She felt Becky and Kelley join her on the ground, their arms wrapping tightly around her. She felt her tears fall and deep sobs leave her lips. She felt everything all at once, and then she felt peace. Completely and totally at peace.

Scottie raced outside as soon as she saw Christen through the window, moving past waiters to throw herself into Christen’s arms on the sidewalk. 

“Hey, cutie,” Christen hummed, swinging Scottie back and forth as she hugged the girl tighter than she ever had before.

“Hey!” Scottie greeted, pressing herself close to Christen. 

“So what’s this I heard about garlic bread?” Christen said, leaning back to fix Scottie with a smile as she set Scottie down.

“I saved you a piece and wouldn’t let Mommy eat it,” Scottie said triumphantly, taking Christen’s hand and pulling her into the restaurant. 

“You’re the best,” Christen replied, picking up her pace so she could keep up with Scottie who was practically dragging her back to their table. The moment she stepped into the restaurant, her eyes found Tobin’s and an easy smile made its way onto her face. Her stomach tightened and her heart fluttered and that feeling of peace made her chest all warm and fuzzy.

“Hi,” Tobin called out softly, lifting her hand up to wave at Christen. 

“Hi back,” Christen replied, waving back, a little shyly.

“You can sit between us,” Scottie said, ushering Christen to the closest seat that Scottie had clearly been sitting in earlier. 

“Are you sure? You love sitting between us,” Christen replied, running her hand over Scottie’s wild hair.

“It’s okay,” Scottie nodded, hopping into the other seat and grinning at both Tobin and Christen. 

Christen dropped into the chair Scottie offered her, sharing a quick smile with Tobin. 

“So...I have a few questions,” Scottie said, her face getting oddly serious for an almost eight-year-old. 

Their smiles quickly morphed into panicked looks as Christen and Tobin whipped their heads around to look at Scottie. 

“Do you two come here on dates?” Scottie asked. 

“No,” Christen quickly assured with a shake of her head. “This is your place with Tobin. We wouldn’t mess with that.”

“Do you kiss?” Scottie asked, tilting her head to the side curiously. “Anna and Kristoff do, and Glenny and Abbs do too.”

Christen blushed furiously and reached out to nudge Tobin’s arm, silently asking her to take this one.

“Sometimes we do, buddy,” Tobin nodded. “Is that okay with you?” 

Christen fought off the urge to duck her head or scratch the corner of her jaw. She just smiled tightly over at Scottie and prayed this wouldn’t be the deciding factor to make Scottie decide this was actually not cool.

“Sure,” Scottie shrugged. “You guys don’t listen to Frozen on dates, right?” 

“Absolutely not,” Tobin shook her head, a smile sliding onto her face again. 

“Christen, do you want to marry my Mommy?” Scottie asked, needing to ask the same marriage question to Christen that she’d asked Tobin. 

Christen’s mouth flopped open in shock and looked frantically between Scottie, who looked so goddamn innocent Christen couldn’t even be upset, and Tobin, who was flushing a dark shade of red.

“Mommy said people date before they get married, but she said you guys aren’t getting married,” Scottie continued. 

“We- um, I mean- I think- well,” Christen stammered, wondering how the hell she was going to even remotely attempt to answer this question. It had been a little under two months of dating, far too soon to consider something as heavy and serious as marriage.

“I think you’ll have to ask her that again when you’re eleven,” Tobin interrupted, hoping that would be enough. 

“Yup, what Tobin said,” Christen squeaked out, reaching for the water glass on the table and taking a long sip.

“Okay,” Scottie shrugged. “Do you want Tiramisu?” 

Christen’s shoulders sagged at the easy question. She put the water glass back on the table and nodded. “I’d love some,” she replied with a smile.

“You know what’s cool?” Scottie hummed, bouncing up in her seat a little bit. 

“What’s that?” Christen asked, her breathing slowly returning to normal after the marriage question and the sudden divergence in topics.

“A huge box came to the house today, and Mommy said it’s for my birthday,” Scottie grinned. 

“You’re supposed to pretend you didn’t see it,” Tobin grumbled, glad that Scottie hadn’t actually seen inside the box and found the bike frame that she’d had custom painted with a design that included orange, purple, and yellow flowers. 

Christen chuckled and slid her hand onto Tobin’s knee beneath the table, giving it a small squeeze. “I bet that big box has a really cool present inside,” Christen said. “Something like an avocado, or a soccer ball,” she added with a wink in Scottie’s direction.

“No, silly! Those are small,” Scottie said, rolling her eyes. 

“Oh right, duh!” Christen replied. “Is it okay if my present doesn’t come in a box, though?”

“Sure,” Scottie said, her mind still reeling with all the questions she wanted to ask. “Do you guys hold hands?” 

“We do,” Tobin said, taking Christen’s hand in her own and lifting it up for Scottie to see. 

“But we don’t have to if it makes you...feel uncool?” Christen asked, arching her brow in Scottie’s direction.

“No, you can hold hands. I like holding hands and so does Mommy,” Scottie said, sitting up in her seat as soon as Gio came out of the kitchen with plates. 

“My three favorite people!” Gio greeted, passing out the plates of pasta with a warm smile. He noticed Tobin and Christen’s clasped hands on top of the table and shot a wink in Tobin’s direction. “Proud of you, my friend,” he said, quiet enough for only Tobin and Christen to hear.

“Thanks, dude,” Tobin said, a blush spreading across her cheeks. A blush that matched the one Christen currently wore as well. 

“Gio,” Scottie said, sitting up on her knees, her fork already poised over her pasta dish. 

“Yes, Scottie?” he replied.

“They’re dating,” she said, nodding her head toward Christen and Tobin. 

“And I think the world is a better place for it,” Gio replied, pinching Scottie’s cheek affectionately.

“Me too,” Scottie grinned, scrunching her nose and pulling her face away from Gio. 

Christen squeezed Tobin’s hand in her own and shot Tobin a quick look, one full of so many emotions all at once. Emotions of awe and gratitude, of delighted surprise and relief, but most prominently, of happiness.

Tobin lifted Christen’s hand off the table and pressed a very light kiss to the back of Christen’s hand, her own chest feeling tight with the emotions coursing through her. She was suddenly overwhelmed by how much she loved Scottie, by how much she’d wanted her to be happy about this, by how quickly she was falling for the woman sitting next to her. 

“I think we’re going to need three pieces of Tiramisu,” Scottie declared, grinning up at Gio.

“Three pieces coming your way,” Gio said, rubbing Scottie’s head and messing up her hair before making his way back to the kitchen. 

“Are you capitalizing on the happiness?” Tobin asked, winking at Scottie across the table. 

Scottie attempted to wink back, offering her awkward double blink instead. “I just think we should celebrate!” she replied with a smile, digging into her pasta.

And celebrate they did, with Tiramisu and boisterous laughter and a happiness that felt untouchable. 

“Mommy?” Scottie whispered from underneath her blankets. 

“What’s up, little bit?” Tobin asked as she placed the book they’d been reading on top of the shelf near her bed. 

“Can Christen sleepover tonight?” Scottie asked quietly, jutting her lower lip out in a pout. “It’s my birthday week.”

Tobin glanced over at where Christen was leaning against the doorframe, feeling a nervous, excited flutter in her chest at the idea of having Christen stay and wake up with them in the morning. 

“Uhh...if she wants to, but I don’t think she’d like sleeping in your bunk bed,” Tobin said awkwardly. 

“We have lots of places to sleep, she doesn’t need to be in here,” Scottie shrugged. “I just want her to be here for pancakes.”

“I guess you’ll have to ask her,” Tobin whispered, pressing a kiss to Scottie’s forehead. 

“CHRISTEN,” Scottie said, raising her voice and peeking around Tobin to smile at Christen, who still stood in the doorway. 

Christen narrowed her eyes just a bit, a playful smile on her face as she looked between Scottie and Tobin.

“What’s up, cutie?” Christen replied.

“Will you sleep here?” Scottie asked, propping herself up on an elbow. 

Christen felt her brows jump high on her forehead. “Um…” she trailed off, a little thrown by the question, even if it was the second time she’d heard it.

“You can borrow Mommy’s pajamas, and we have brand new toothbrushes that we got from the dentist,” Scottie said, adding some convincing details to her request. 

“Do you want me to stay over?” Christen asked a little hesitantly, her arms crossed over her chest.

“Yes,” Scottie nodded. “If you stay over, you can make pancakes with us and watch cartoons. It’s my birthday week.”

Christen looked to Tobin, arching a brow in question, silently wondering if this was okay.

“If you want to,” Tobin said, not wanting Scottie’s begging to make Christen do anything she didn’t want to. 

Christen ran through her schedule tomorrow, trying to figure out if this was even possible. She had nothing until the late afternoon, so this was actually feasible. 

“Well I do love pancakes, and cartoons,” Christen said with a small smile. 

“Yes!” Scottie cheered, pumping her fist at her side. 

“You need to sleep,” Tobin laughed. The calm mood she’d managed to get Scottie to sink into was officially gone, replaced by a grinning, excited kid whose favorite soccer player was staying at her house. 

Christen seemed to pick up on the same thing, so she pushed off the doorframe and came to sit next to Tobin on the bed. She ran her finger down the bridge of Scottie’s nose and then poked the tip of it gently.

“The sooner you go to sleep, the sooner I can show you how to flip a pancake,” Christen whispered, wiggling her eyebrows a little in Scottie’s direction.

“Okay, okay,” Scottie nodded, wiggling down into her sheets and closing her eyes to prove that she was going to try and sleep. “I love you. You’re the best Christen in the whole, wide world. Good night.”

“I love you, you’re the best Scottie in the whole, wide world. Good night,” Christen replied softly, her heart clenching at the adorable good night she’d now heard quite a few times. She had a feeling she’d never get tired of hearing it. 

“I love you, Mommy. You’re the best Mommy in the whole, wide world. Good night,” Scottie mumbled. 

“I love you, Scottie. You’re the best kid in the whole, wide world,” Tobin whispered, pressing one more kiss to Scottie’s forehead before standing up and turning off the bedroom light. “Good night.”

Christen followed Tobin out of Scottie’s bedroom, automatically heading for the stairs, assuming they’d go back down to the living room like they always did. But then Tobin’s arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her away from the stairs. 

Tobin guided Christen down the hall, past a bathroom and an office, and toward her own bedroom, flipping on the light switch. 

“You want pajamas?” she asked quietly. 

Christen turned in Tobin’s arms to face her. “Only if you're sure it’s okay that I’m staying? I can just leave and then come back super early before Scottie wakes up.”

“I think it’s okay. I haven’t read the handbook, but it seems fine,” Tobin teased. “If you don’t want to, though, or don’t feel comfortable, then you don’t have to stay.”

Christen silenced those worries with a gentle kiss, one hand running through Tobin’s hair while the other settled against her neck. “Let me see those pajamas,” Christen whispered, kissing Tobin once more before stepping back.

Tobin moved away and pulled open the top drawer of her dresser with a flourish. “Take your pick,” she said, stepping back and bouncing down onto the foot of her bed. 

Christen grinned and approached the dresser. She ran her hands across the neatly folded t-shirts, taking in the names of cities and soccer teams and National Parks. She grabbed a faded, UNC soccer shirt and a pair of black and white, striped boxers. 

“You wore my Stanford shirt, it’s the least I can do,” Christen said with a small wink. 

“Oh my god,” Tobin said, rolling off of the bed and grabbing her camera from the top of her dresser. “I have to capture this for posterity.”

“Babe, no,” Christen protested, walking up to Tobin and holding a hand in front of the camera.

“Please,” Tobin pouted. 

Christen pursed her lips, feeling her resolve crumble at the sight of the pout. “Fine, but only a few,” she sighed, tossing the pajamas to the bed and dropping her hands to the hem of her shirt. “And no in-progress pictures, Tobin,” she added with a raised brow.

“Of course not,” Tobin promised, keeping the lens cap on her camera. “I’m not ESPN’s photographer.”

“Ha ha, very cute,” Christen quipped, removing her shirt quickly, and then her jeans. She tossed them at the foot of the dresser.

“Although, damn if I had been…” Tobin added quietly. 

Christen’s eyes darkened as she pulled the UNC soccer shirt over her head, making sure to tousle her curls just a bit more than normal after slipping the shirt on. “If you had been what ?” she asked innocently, pulling on the boxers and dropping her hands to her hips.

This would have happened sooner,” Tobin shrugged. “I also probably would have been fired from ESPN for staring.”

Christen chuckled and stepped into Tobin’s space, careful not to crush the camera. “You won’t get fired for staring now,” she whispered, pressing a quick kiss to Tobin’s lips. “And I get to take some of you once you’re done with me.”

“You’ve got yourself a deal,” Tobin nodded. 

Christen sealed the deal with another kiss and then hopped onto Tobin’s bed, sighing at how soft the mattress was. “Damn, babe. You’ve got a great bed,” she complimented, leaning back against the headboard, bending a knee and tilting her head to the side with a small smile on her face.

Tobin was already looking through the viewfinder, snapping pictures every few seconds. 

“Beautiful, it’s like you’ve posed for pictures before,” Tobin teased, knowing full well that Christen had to take photos for Gotham and all kinds of USWNT publicity. 

Christen rolled her eyes and pulled at the UNC logo on the t-shirt. “None in something as horrible as this,” she teased with a wink.

“Be careful, that’s a low blow. I happen to think you look amazing in Carolina Blue,” Tobin smirked. 

Christen rolled her eyes again, feeling her cheeks flush slightly at the sweet compliment. She indulged Tobin for a few more moments, smiling for one picture, sticking her tongue out for another. All the while, her blush never faltered, and her eyes remained on the woman behind the camera, not on the camera itself.

“That’s totally gonna be framed,” Tobin hummed, looking down at the picture of Christen wrinkling her nose at Tobin mid-laugh. 

Christen pushed off the headboard, getting to her knees. She leaned into Tobin’s space, narrowing her eyes at the screen showing the picture. 

“Hmmm...I guess you can frame that,” Christen sighed, a small smile tugging at her lips. She looked up at Tobin and inched just a bit closer, knowing she had Tobin’s complete and undivided attention. “But where would you put it?” she all but whispered, her hand slowly moving up toward the camera as she gazed into Tobin’s eyes.

“Bedside table, obviously,” Tobin hummed, feeling completely overwhelmed by Christen’s close proximity. 

“Obviously,” Christen replied, snatching the camera from Tobin’s hand quickly. She fell back onto the bed with a smirk. “But only if the one I take gets to go on my bedside table.”

“I’m not as photogenic as you are,” Tobin mumbled, her cheeks flushing a little at the prospect of being photographed. 

Christen shook her head, almost in disbelief that Tobin could actually think that. She lifted the camera, looking through the viewfinder and feeling her heart flutter as she gazed at the woman she was most definitely, very much so, without a shadow of a doubt falling in love with.

“You want to know what I see?” Christen asked quietly, not taking a picture just yet, not until Tobin felt more comfortable being on this side of the camera.

“What?” Tobin asked, stepping up to the foot of the bed, so that her legs bumped into the frame of the bed, and resting her hands on the blanket that was folded at the end of her bed. 

Christen peeked over the top of the camera, meeting Tobin’s eyes. “I see someone comfortable noticing the beauty around her, but who for some reason, is very oblivious to her own.” 

Tobin couldn’t stop the way her stomach flipped at Christen’s words. She wet her bottom lip and let her eyes wander around the room for a second before settling on Christen again. “I don’t know about that,” she shrugged. 

“I know it enough for the both of us,” Christen hummed. She dropped the camera to her lap and tilted her head to the side. “You’’re beautiful, and that word isn’t even enough because you’re so much more than that.” 

“Yeah, that word has seemed pretty weak lately,” Tobin nodded, thinking about the number of times words had seemed to fail her around Christen. 

Christen set the camera aside and moved to the foot of the bed so she was kneeling in front of Tobin. She lifted her hands to cup Tobin’s cheeks gently. “Remember when you told me that I don’t see myself the way you see me?” Christen said quietly.

“I’m about to eat my words, aren’t I?” Tobin asked with a wry grin, reaching out and putting both of her hands on Christen’s waist. 

Christen chuckled and nodded. “Yes, you are. Because I look at you and…” Christen trailed off, reaching down for one of Tobin’s hands. She gently laid Tobin’s hand on her chest, right over her heart. She knew without a doubt that Tobin could feel the way her heart raced, simply because of their proximity. “Do you feel that? Just being near you does that to me.”

Tobin let out a shaky breath, unable to fully believe that she did that to someone like Christen Press. She used her free hand to put Christen’s hand over her own heart, the rhythm matching Christen’s rapid pace. 

“Feeling’s mutual,” Tobin whispered.

Christen beamed and then felt her heart skip a beat at the look on Tobin’s face. She quickly moved her hand away from Tobin’s chest and reached for the camera. “Don’t move, stay just like that,” she hummed, lifting the camera up. She wanted to capture Tobin like this, with a slight blush in her cheeks and a look of wonder on her face. She wanted to remember Tobin like this, exactly how she looked in this moment. She wanted to remember it, because it seemed like based on how Tobin was looking at her, Tobin was feeling all those big, scary, messy things she was too. 

“So beautiful,” Christen whispered, shaking her head just a little as she dropped the camera away from her face. 

Tobin lifted her hands to cover her face, turning around to dig through her own pajama drawer. “Now I get why Scottie says no paparazzi all the time,” she grumbled, pulling out a t-shirt and a pair of boxers. 

Christen laughed and moved to set the camera on the bedside table. “You were a good sport. Thank you for letting me take one picture of you.”

“That’s my one picture for the next six months,” Tobin grinned, pulling her shirt off and changing into a t-shirt she’d bought at Rocky Mountain National Park when she and Scottie had visited last summer. 

“Six hours, you mean? I agree,” Christen teased, letting her eyes trail up and down Tobin as she changed.

“Someone’s staring,” Tobin smirked when she’d pulled the boxers on and saw Christen’s slightly parted lips and focused eyes. 

“I guess I’d be fired as ESPN’s photographer too,” Christen shrugged with a small smile.

Tobin leaned over the foot of the bed and placed a kiss on Christen’s lips. “I know it’s early, but do you want to get ready for bed? We can watch a movie before we actually fall asleep or something,” Tobin mumbled, finally feeling a few nerves at the idea of Christen actually staying for the night.

She and Christen had been out on dates, but that didn’t mean that Christen would love the boring aspects of sleeping down the hall from an eight-year-old and waking up early for pancakes. No matter how many times Christen said she loved spending time with them, Tobin couldn’t help but wonder when the average, day-to-day stuff would lose its shine. 

“I’m vetoing anything Disney,” Christen teased, kissing Tobin once more before sliding off the bed. “Do you- I mean, do you want to get ready first?” she asked.

“You can go first,” Tobin offered, opening the door to her bathroom. “There are new toothbrushes in here. Anything else is fair game,” Tobin said, opening a linen closet and pointing to three brand new toothbrushes on a shelf. 

“Thank you,” Christen replied softly, squeezing Tobin’s arm as she moved past her toward the sink. 

“I’ll pull up Netflix,” Tobin said, slipping out of the bathroom and shutting the door so that Christen could have her own privacy. 

Christen had picked a toothbrush, found the toothpaste, and was already brushing her teeth when she realized what came after this. After the getting ready for bed and the Netflix watching. 

She’d shared a bed with women before, she’d shared one with Tobin before, but sleeping was different. Sleeping, especially sleeping without the sex part, was intimate and vulnerable. There was nowhere to hide, no way to sneak away and slip out. 

After rinsing her mouth and washing her face, Christen eyed her reflection, taking in the worn UNC shirt and the borrowed boxers. She wasn’t regretting her decision to stay over, far from it. She was happy, just like she always was with Tobin. But she was just slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of sharing this form of intimacy with Tobin, with someone she was very into, someone who was quickly becoming her whole world. It was a step, a big step, and one that she was just slightly nervous about taking.

Realizing she’d spent far too long in the bathroom, Christen gave herself one last look, let out one last long breath, and opened the bathroom door. She smiled tightly as Tobin hopped off the bed and approached her.

“Small remote will scroll through Netflix,” Tobin said, pointing at the bedside table where two remotes were sitting. The large light in the bedroom was already off, but the two bedside lamps and the TV on the wall kept the bedroom well lit.

Christen nodded slightly to acknowledge what Tobin had said, staying glued to the wall right outside the bathroom door. 

“In the mood to watch anything in particular?” Christen asked.

“Not Disney, but you already said that. Your choice is fine,” Tobin smiled, pressing a kiss to Christen’s cheek and slipping into the bathroom. 

Christen leaned against the wall, her arms crossed over her chest and her lower lip pulled between her teeth. She eyed the bed, the slightly rumpled, light gray comforter and the soft white sheets, her mind still mulling over the fact that she was staying the night, that she was going to be in that bed with Tobin, she was going to sleep next to the woman she wanted to share more than just the night with. 

Thirty minutes ago, accepting Scottie’s invitation to stay over had seemed simple, uncomplicated. But now, staying over felt anything but simple. 

“It’s just a bed,” Tobin hummed, stepping out of the bathroom with a freshly washed face and brushed teeth. Her hair was piled into a messy bun, and a pair of thick-framed glasses sat on her nose. 

Christen startled, not having heard Tobin open the door. She tore her gaze away from the bed and turned to look at Tobin, a smile tugging at her lips. Even if she was terrified at the prospect of spending the night in that bed, she still couldn’t deny the butterflies that erupted in her stomach at the sight of a ‘ready for bed’ Tobin Heath.

“Well...that’s not true,” Tobin chuckled. “It’s a very nice bed. I bought it after selling my first big piece in the city. Do you know how many mattress stores a five-year-old Scottie and I visited before getting that thing shipped here across the country? The real question is how many Scottie and I were kicked out of for excessive bouncing.”

“This is cute, what you’re doing,” Christen hummed, leaning slightly into Tobin.

“You won’t hurt my feelings if you aren’t comfortable and want to go home,” Tobin mumbled, pressing her lips against Christen’s temple. 

“I don’t want to do that,” Christen corrected quickly, swallowing the lump in her throat. “I just...I haven’t done this in a while.”

“Baby, I slept over last night,” Tobin whispered, pulling Christen a little closer. 

Christen huffed out a laugh, snaking an arm around Tobin’s waist. She tucked her head into the crook of Tobin’s neck and let out a long breath. 

“Sleeping together and sleeping together are two very different things,” Christen mumbled.

“And you’ve never just slept with someone?” Tobin asked curiously, running a hand up and down Christen’s back. 

“Not in a long time, no,” Christen admitted quietly.

“Me either,” Tobin hummed. “This mattress hasn’t seen another person. That’s how long.”

“What if I’m a horrible sleeping buddy? I could, like, steal all the covers or something,” Christen replied, her face still buried in Tobin’s neck, finding comfort in the embrace.

“We both know after last night, that I’m the one who steals covers. I know that you snore a little bit, and it’s adorable and doesn’t deter me from wanting you here,” Tobin grinned. 

Christen pulled back, her nose scrunched up. “I do not snore,” she murmured with a small shake of her head.

“You snore a little bit, but it’s so cute,” Tobin laughed, pressing a quick kiss to Christen’s lips. 

Christen sank into the kiss, letting the familiarity of Tobin’s lips and her embrace fill her with comfort. “It’s just a bed,” Christen whispered against Tobin’s lips, repeating what Tobin had said just a minute ago.

“A really comfy bed and you can leave any time you want or need to as long as you wake me up and let me call you a cab,” Tobin added. 

“Okay,” Christen replied with a small nod. She let Tobin pull her off the wall next to the bathroom and lead her over to the bed. She watched as Tobin pulled back the comforter and the sheets, gesturing for her to climb in first. Christen pressed a quick kiss to Tobin’s cheek before sliding into bed.

“You know what else I found out last night?” Tobin hummed, climbing into bed after Christen. 

Christen settled under the covers and turned on her side to face Tobin. “What’s that?”

“You’re a total cuddler,” Tobin whispered, a large smile sliding onto her lips. 

Christen covered her eyes with her hand and rolled onto her back with a groan. “Oh god, I’m sorry, I didn’t even know I-”

“If you weren’t a cuddler, we’d have a problem,” Tobin assured her, reaching out and placing one of her hands on Christen’s hip. “I’m a huge cuddler. I can’t get enough.”

Christen peeked between her fingers and felt a small smile make its way across her face. “Really?”

“Really. The sex was amazing last night,” Tobin said, lowering her voice even more. “But as soon as you latched onto me like a koala in your sleep...that was the game-changer.”

Christen let her hand fall away from her face, her smile growing. “The game-changer, huh?” 

“It was a big deal,” Tobin nodded, hoping that her honesty, even if a little silly, would make Christen feel more comfortable. “I’m a big fan of cuddling. I love being a spoon, big or little.”

Christen grabbed Tobin’s hand from her hip and lifted it to her chest, right over where her heart was beating so very fast.

“You did it again,” Christen hummed.

“Feels like cuddling is a game-changer for you too,” Tobin said softly, her heart keeping pace with Christen’s. 

“I didn’t even know,” Christen admitted. “I didn’t know a lot of things before you two.”

With a huge smile and a soft blush, Tobin pulled Christen’s hand to her own chest. “We like you,” Tobin hummed. 

“I am so glad she took it so well,” Christen replied, marveling a bit at the way Tobin’s heart was beating so fast beneath her palm.

“She scared the crap out of me,” Tobin admitted with a soft laugh. 

“How?” Christen chuckled.

“She just kept staring out the window while I talked,” Tobin sighed. “Admittedly, Scottie and I haven’t had many serious conversations like that. She asked me if I was getting her a puppy and then jumped to the conclusion that we were moving.”

Christen’s face brightened. “Oooh, a puppy?” she asked, completely honing in on that part of Tobin’s response.

“Of course that’s what you heard out of all that I just said,” Tobin laughed. “Do not get her excited about that. The rule is she gets one when she’s twelve.”

“My lips are sealed,” Christen promised, miming zipping her lips and throwing away the key.

“You want to know something cute?” Tobin asked, remembering her conversation with Scottie and how quickly Christen had come up. 

Christen pointed to her closed mouth and arched a brow, silently reminding Tobin she couldn’t actually reply. She simply smirked, moving her fingertips across the soft material of Tobin’s shirt, right over her heart.

Tobin leaned in and kissed Christen until both of them were a little breathless. “Unzipped?”

“Not yet,” Christen replied, with an easy smile, her hand fisting in Tobin’s shirt to bring her back down.

“Okay, I’ll try again,” Tobin murmured, rolling even closer to Christen and taking Christen’s bottom lip between her own. When Christen’s fingers started to tangle in her hair, Tobin pulled back slightly. “Unzipped?” 

Christen forced herself to take a deep breath, to ignore the slight fire beneath her skin. “Unfortunately,” she whispered, loosening her hold on the back of Tobin’s head.

“At some point, I’ll definitely continue this, but the first night might not be the best idea, especially since the door isn’t locked, and Scottie’s still in a nightmare phase,” Tobin sighed. “Super sexy, I know.”

Christen felt her eyes narrow a bit at the slight insecurity in Tobin’s words. “Just getting to kiss you a little bit is super-duper sexy. I don’t need anything more than that tonight,” she murmured, running her fingertips across the back of Tobin’s neck.

“I had to explain what dating is,” Tobin grinned, returning to their discussion about Scottie. 

Christen felt a laugh bubble up out of her chest. “That’s absolutely adorable.”

“I told her what people usually do on dates, and Scottie’s first response was that we do that with you,” Tobin said, tracing her fingers along Christen’s side. 

“She’s not exactly wrong,” Christen replied with a smile.

“No, she isn’t,” Tobin agreed. “I was nervous at Gio’s the first time she invited you,” she added, a blush spreading across her cheeks. 

Christen leaned up to kiss Tobin’s blushing cheeks. “I was too, as evidenced by my quick escape to the bathroom,” she admitted with a slight laugh. 

“Oh, so that’s what the racing from the table was about,” Tobin hummed. 

“Kind of,” Christen shrugged before racing to change the subject. “So, I hear Netflix has a new serial killer documentary-”

“Kind of?” Tobin asked, cocking her head to the side. 

“ know,” Christen replied evasively, finding the baby hair around Tobin’s head very interesting. 

“I don’t, but you don’t have to tell me anything until you feel like you’re ready,” Tobin said. 

Christen sighed and lifted a hand, wiping at the corner of Tobin’s mouth, mirroring exactly what Scottie had done to her in Gio’s the first night they’d all gone there together.

“Toothpaste?” Tobin asked, completely missing the gesture and its importance to Christen.

“No,” Christen replied with a small smile. “Scottie did that to me at Gio's, the first time we were there together. Without even thinking. She just wiped away whatever bit of garlic bread I’d gotten on my face, like-” Christen let out a stuttered breath. “-like a kid does for their parent. Like I used to do for my mom.”

“And it made you miss your mom,” Tobin said, no question in her voice. She brushed Christen’s hair away from her forehead. 

“Yeah, and it made me realize how deep in I already was,” Christen nodded.  

“You weren’t in the deep end on your own,” Tobin whispered, pressing a kiss to Christen’s forehead. 

Christen felt her heart flutter in her chest as a happy little sigh escaped her lips. “I’m really glad Scottie asked me to stay,” she breathed out, tightening her arms around Tobin’s back.

“Me too,” Tobin smiled. “Especially since I can now watch serial killer documentaries with someone. I obviously can’t with Scottie, and I’m too afraid to watch by myself.”

“I’ll protect you,” Christen assured with a wink.

“You’re like my dream woman,” Tobin grinned, flopping down onto her pillows and reaching for the remote. She opened her arms for Christen to crawl into, her heart thrumming at the possibility of cuddling with Christen and falling asleep with her in her arms not just tonight, but for many nights to come. 

Chapter Text

Have you ever felt like nobody was there?

Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?

Have you ever felt like you could disappear?

Like you could fall, and no one would hear?

Well, let that lonely feeling wash away

All we see is light

'Cause maybe there's a reason to believe you'll be okay

For forever

'Cause when you don't feel strong enough to stand

You can reach, reach out your hand

And oh

Raise a glass to freedom

Something they can never take away


No matter what they tell you

Someone will come running

They'll take you home

Raise a glass to all of us

(Tobin - “Found/Tonight” by Ben Platt and Lin-Manuel Miranda)


If you could let the pain of the past go

Of your soul

None of this is in your control

If you could only let your guard down

If you could learn to trust me somehow

Well I swear, that I won't let you go

If you could only let go your doubts

If you could just believe in me now

I swear, that I won't let you go

I won't let you go

When your fear is currency

And you feel that urgency

You want peace but there's war in your head

Maybe that's where life is born

When our façades are torn

Pain gives birth to the promise ahead, yeah

I won't let you go, yeah

I'll always be by your side, yeah

There ain't no darkness strong enough that could tear you out from my heart

There ain't no strength that's strong enough that could tear this love apart

(Christen - “I Won't Let You Go” by Switchfoot Feat. Lauren Daigle)


“Happy birthday to you,” Tobin began singing as she quietly padded into Scottie’s room. It was a tradition for Tobin to wake Scottie up before the sun even rose so that the girl got as many hours of her birthday to celebrate as possible. She and Scottie would climb up to the roof, watch the sun rise in their pajamas, and then make pancakes with tons of chocolate chips and whipped cream and strawberries. 

Tobin grinned when she saw Scottie squirming under her covers. “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Scottie,” Tobin crooned, climbing into the tiny bottom bunk bed with Scottie and wrapping her arms around the little Scottie-shaped lump of sheets. “Happy birthday to youuuuu!” Tobin finished. She pulled the sheets down and pressed a dozen kisses onto Scottie’s head until the little girl finally opened her eyes and smiled up at Tobin. 

“There’s my kid,” Tobin laughed. “Good morning, birthday girl.”

“I’m eight,” Scottie grinned, shrugging her shoulders and putting her arms over her head in a full-body stretch. She let out a long yawn and blinked her eyes sleepily.

“That’s right,” Tobin nodded, poking her fingers into Scottie’s side to tickle her. “You’re so old now. that a gray hair?” Tobin teased, narrowing her eyes at Scottie’s blonde hair. 

Scottie grabbed a fistful of Tobin’s hair and scrutinized it. “ might have one, Mommy,” she giggled.

“Ouch, you wound me,” Tobin laughed. “You don’t have any gray hairs, but you definitely look taller. I think we’ll have to measure you today.”

Scottie’s eyes widened and she pushed at her covers and at Tobin’s shoulders. “Measure me! I know I’m taller! I just know it!”

“Hurry up, little bit. The sun’s gonna rise in twenty minutes,” Tobin said, rolling out of Scottie’s bed and leading the way to the doorframe of her office where she’d been measuring Scottie’s height since moving to the city. There were height marks from all of Scottie’s birthdays, as old as her fifth, and a few heights from Christmases during big growth spurts. Each one had her age and the date scrawled in tiny writing. 

“Stand up tall,” Tobin said as she uncapped a Sharpie. 

Scottie straightened her back against the doorframe and puffed out her chest, trying to act as tall as she could.

Tobin suppressed a laugh at the serious look on Scottie’s face and marked her height. “Wow, buddy. You’ve grown a ton,” Tobin said, leaning forward to write: Scottie age 8, July 30th, 2021

Scottie whirled around and scrutinized the newest mark. “Whoa,” she whispered, holding her thumb and forefinger between the newest mark and the one before it. It had to be at least two inches between the two marks.

“I bet Grandma will measure you today too, and then you can see if you’re taller than I was at your age,” Tobin said, squeezing Scottie’s shoulders. Her mom had measured Tobin and all of her siblings against a doorframe that she still had in her house in New Jersey. The grandchildren had slowly been added to the doorframe, and Scottie loved to see if she was taller than Tobin had been at her age, like growing was a competition. 

“I totally am, Mommy,” Scottie grinned, almost bouncing with excitement. “Can we say hi to the sun now?” 

“You mean can the sun say hi to you? I think we can manage that,” Tobin nodded, walking Scottie down the hallway, past her own bedroom, and unlocking the door to the roof. The two of them walked up the steep stairs, and Tobin unlocked the second door, pushing it open to step onto their roof. It was still gray, but the sun seemed to be seconds from rising. They walked over to the two lounge chairs on the roof, taking their places to watch the sun rise in the sky. 

“We’ll have to get another chair soon,” Scottie announced, leaning back in her chair and letting out a small yawn.

“Oh?” Tobin hummed, glancing over at Scottie with a thrumming heart and a dopey smile on her face. 

“Yeah, if Christen is going to do birthday sunrises with us we need another chair. Unless she wants to share with me, but I’m growing a lot, so I don’t know if we can share forever,” Scottie replied thoughtfully, her eyes on the sky.

“We can definitely get a third chair, little bit,” Tobin nodded. “I think that’s a good idea.”

“When is she coming over? When do I get to open presents? When is it time for cake?” Scottie asked, throwing every question possible at Tobin as she watched the sky with a smile on her face.

Tobin laughed at Scottie’s excitement, enjoying just how much Scottie loved her birthdays. “She’s coming over for pancakes, and you can open a few presents with breakfast if you want. And cake is after dinner.”

“Does Christen like cake?” Scottie wondered, turning to look at Tobin with a furrowed brow.

“She likes Tiramisu, so I bet she does,” Tobin nodded. “Gio’s making you the big Tiramisu cake, so I imagine Christen will love it.”

“I hope she does,” Scottie nodded, looking back to the sky.

“If she doesn’t, you and I get to eat even more,” Tobin teased, reaching out and taking Scottie’s hand in her own. 

“Do you love her like I love her, Mommy?” Scottie asked, swinging their hands between them. “Because I love Christen. She’s the coolest.”

Tobin’s heart did a flip in her chest, almost feeling like it was stopping for a second before beating at a rapid pace. 

“I...I don’t know if I’ll ever love her in the same way you love her,” Tobin said honestly. “You love her and look up to her. You love her because she’s a role model and someone you like spending time with. I think someday I’ll love her but in a different way. I love spending time with her, but it’s different than the way you love her. I care about her a whole lot, though.”

“Cool beans,” Scottie grinned.

“Who taught you that?” Tobin laughed. 

“Coach Kelley,” Scottie giggled.

“Of course she did,” Tobin sighed, rolling her eyes. “Hey, little bit?” 

“Hey, Mommy?” Scottie replied, tilting her head to the side a bit.

“The sun’s saying hello,” Tobin hummed, pointing across the sky to where the sun was just peeking over the nearest building. 

Scottie whipped her head around and jumped up from the lounge chair. “HI SUN! I’M EIGHT TODAY!” Scottie yelled, totally ignoring the early hour and the fact that people were probably asleep.

Tobin pulled out her phone and started recording. She had a collection of videos of Scottie greeting the sun on her birthday and on holidays and on days when she just wanted to watch it rise. 

“SHE’S EIGHT TODAY!” Tobin joined in, neighbors be damned. She’d do anything to make Scottie giggle and feel special. 

“I GREW SO MUCH! I’M SUPER TALL!” Scottie giggled, bouncing up and down. 

“2 WHOLE INCHES!” Tobin shouted. 

“AND I GET TO SPEND MY BIRTHDAY WITH MY MOMMY AND MY CHRISTEN!” Scottie cheered, zooming around the lounge chairs as if she were celebrating a goal, with her arms out to her sides and a huge smile on her face. 

Tobin stopped the video and put her phone in the pocket of her sweatpants. She scooped Scottie up into her arms and spun her around, pressing quick kisses to her cheeks and nose and forehead. 

“This is gonna be the bestest birthday ever,” Scottie sighed happily.

“You want to open a present before pancakes?” Tobin whispered. 

“YES!” Scottie yelled, squirming out of Tobin’s arms and running toward the door.

“Bye bye, sun,” Tobin said before following Scottie. 

“BYE, SUN!” Scottie threw over her shoulder, skidding to a stop at the door that led downstairs.

Tobin helped her pull the door open and locked it behind them. She made sure that both doors to the roof were locked before leading Scottie into her bedroom and pulling a gift bag out of her closet. 

“First birthday gift but definitely not the coolest,” Tobin said with a grin. 

Scottie did a little drumroll on the bed before grabbing the bag and tearing into it, tossing pieces of tissue paper every which way. 

“A unicorn?!” Scottie exclaimed, hugging the fluffy, purple plush unicorn to her chest. 

“That was one of your birthday requests,” Tobin nodded. 

“I’m gonna name him Carl,” Scottie grinned. “Thank you, Momm. I love him.”

“That’s a cool name,” Tobin chuckled. “I bet Carl would love to watch some cartoons on the couch with us and then make some pancakes.”

“Carl loves cartoons, especially Scooby-Doo ,” Scottie nodded.

Scooby-Doo sounds perfect,” Tobin grinned, rubbing a hand over Scottie’s messy bedhead. “Last one to the couch has to put mustard on their pancakes,” Tobin said with a mischievous grin. 

Scottie fake gagged and rushed to get off the bed. She sprinted right by Tobin and hurried downstairs. 

In a last-minute attempt, Tobin scooped Scottie over her shoulder and plopped both of them onto the couch at the same time. 

“I guess Christen has to put mustard on her pancakes,” Scottie giggled, snuggling into Tobin’s side and hugging Carl the unicorn to her chest.

“She probably would have won if she were here,” Tobin laughed. “I think we can spare her the mustard fate.”

“We do love her,” Scottie agreed. “We shouldn’t make her eat mustard pancakes.”

“Do you want to send her a text?” Tobin asked. “I bet she’s still fast asleep.”

“Can you tell her we miss her?” Scottie yawned, curling even closer to Tobin. 

Tobin pulled out her phone and sent Christen the video she’d just taken of Scottie basically yelling at the sun. 


[Tobin 6:02AM]


[Tobin 6:02AM]

We miss you and can’t wait to see you when you wake up ☀️

[Chris 6:03AM]

Could you check your front door? I sent something over for Scottie and it got delivered way earlier than I thought it would be...

[Tobin 6:03AM]

Someone’s up way too early 

[Chris 6:03AM]

Couldn’t sleep, it’s a big day today!

[Tobin 6:03AM]

Really? Scottie’s having no trouble falling asleep again 


“Hey, Scottie,” Tobin whispered to the eight-year-old nearly asleep on her chest. 

“Wha-?” Scottie mumbled, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“Christen said she sent something for you, and it’s at the door,” Tobin said, running a hand up and down Scottie’s back. 

That woke Scottie up. She quickly hopped off the couch, Carl the unicorn in tow. “Come on, come on, let’s go see what it is!” she said excitedly.

Tobin followed behind, loving just how excited Scottie got with each and every birthday surprise and celebration. When she opened the door, her heart completely melted in her chest. 

Christen was standing on the front stoop, a shiny purple balloon that was in the shape of the number “8” in her hand.

“I heard someone’s birthday is today…” Christen trailed off, offering Tobin a small smile before grinning down at the now eight-year-old.

“CHRISTEN! It isn’t pancake time!!!” Scottie cheered, wrapping her arms around Christen’s waist with Carl swinging from one of her hands. 

Christen held Scottie close and rocked her back and forth slowly. “I know I’m like three hours early, but I was too excited for your birthday. I hope that’s okay?” she asked, looking up at Tobin a little hesitantly.

“It’s more than okay,” Tobin nodded. 

“You can snuggle with us on the couch,” Scottie suggested. 

“Birthday snuggles sound great,” Christen agreed, running her hand through Scottie’s wild bedhead.

“You can snuggle with me, and Mommy can have Carl,” Scottie suggested. 

“Carl?” Christen repeated, chuckling just a bit.

“Carl’s my first present of the day,” Scottie said, stepping back and showing Christen the purple, fuzzy unicorn that had been dangling from her hand. 

“That is one handsome unicorn,” Christen replied.

“Yeah...Mommy, I think I’ll keep cuddling with Carl. You can borrow Herbie from my room,” Scottie suggested. 

“I’ll be fine on my own,” Tobin sighed, rolling her eyes a little and pulling Scottie into the house so that Christen could step off the stoop and into the studio. 

“Is that for me?” Scottie asked, pointing at the bright purple balloon in Christen’s hand. 

“My family was big on balloons, so...I thought I’d get you one,” Christen shrugged, suddenly a little shy about it. “Happy birthday, cutie,” she added, holding the balloon out for Scottie to take.

“That’s so cooooool,” Scottie beamed. “I’ve never gotten a birthday balloon before. Thank you!” she chirped, pulling the balloon down and staring at her reflection in the shiny Mylar balloon. 

Scottie raced ahead, yammering on about birthday cuddles and Scooby-Doo cartoons and pancakes, still looking at her reflection in the balloon. 

Christen shook her head fondly and looped an arm around Tobin’s waist. “Did she get more energetic somehow?” 

“It’s the new two inches of height,” Tobin laughed, pulling Christen even closer for the brief moment of privacy she knew they wouldn’t have for the rest of the day. “Good morning.”

“Morning,” Christen hummed, leaning into Tobin’s side. “I’m sorry, I was trying to wait until 9 but...I couldn’t.”

“Don’t apologize for wanting to be here,” Tobin said, placing a kiss on Christen’s lips.  “If you hadn’t had a late practice yesterday, we probably would have begged you to stay over. I just can’t believe ‘Ms. No Coffee, No Talky’ is up this early.”

“Janice already treated me to two cups this morning,” Christen chuckled. “I woke up at 5 and told myself I wasn’t allowed to even think about coming over until 6:30.”

“And you broke that resolution and showed up at 6:00, which I love,” Tobin laughed. “I YouTubed something yesterday, and I think you’re gonna be excited about it,” Tobin said, taking Christen’s hand and heading toward the stairs. 

Christen felt her brows climb high on her forehead, a familiar heat settling low in her stomach. “Is that so?” she whispered.

“Oh, not that kind of thing,” Tobin blushed. “You’ll see.”

Christen didn’t have to wait long to see exactly what Tobin was talking about. She was left to cuddle on the couch with Scottie and Carl, cartoons playing quietly in the background, as Tobin retreated to the kitchen. Christen tried to peek over the counter a few times, trying to figure out exactly what Tobin was doing, but she couldn’t see anything and just resigned herself to being surprised. 

“Hot chocolate for the birthday girl,” Tobin said, handing Scottie a big mug that had clearly been handmade by a potter. “And the favorite for you. Be nice; it’s only my second try,” hummed, handing Christen another unique, handmade mug, just like all of the mugs in Tobin’s house. 

Christen took the mug and instantly caught a whiff of spice. “Babe, is this…” she trailed off, her mouth turning up in a surprised little smile. 

“Dirty chai latte,” Tobin nodded. 

“You know it’s not my birthday, right?” Christen teased, blowing on the hot coffee to try and cool it down enough for a taste.

“It doesn’t have to be,” Tobin shrugged, settling down on the couch with her own cup of coffee. 

Christen took a sip and groaned. “Holy- I mean, um, wow,” she quickly corrected herself so that she wouldn’t say something like Holy fucking shit this is the best dirty chai I’ve ever had .

“Good or bad?” Tobin asked, a soft smile quirking up on her face. 

“The best,” Christen replied with a smile of her own.

“No way,” Tobin laughed.

“Way,” Christen shot back, taking another sip and letting the spice of the drink and the adoration behind the gesture warm her up.

“Mommy makes the best hot chocolate too,” Scottie mumbled, a whipped cream mustache already on her face. 

Christen chuckled at the sight of the whipped cream on Scottie’s face. “Hey, cutie, you got something on your face,” she hummed, reaching out to wipe some of it away. 

“I mustache you a question,” Scottie teased, repeating a joke that Tobin had said hundreds of times to her growing up. 

Christen threw her head back in laughter, managing to wipe the rest of the whipped cream off of Scottie’s upper lip. “And what question does the birthday girl have for me?”

“Can we camp tonight?” Scottie asked, her feet bouncing off the edge of the couch with excitement. 

“Paging parent translation,” Christen whispered, leaning back toward Tobin with a small, confused smile.

“She wants to build a pillow fort with you,” Tobin mumbled into Christen’s hair. 

“It’s a pillow castle, Mommy,” Scottie sighed in dramatic exasperation. 

“Yeah, Tobin, duh,” Christen rolled her eyes teasingly, making a funny face in Scottie’s direction and earning herself a laugh from Scottie.

“Mommy said I can turn her big bed into a pillow castle. Or we can make a living room fort,” Scottie grinned. 

“I would love to build a castle with you,” Christen replied, reaching out to poke her finger in the small dimple in Scottie’s cheek from her smile. “A queen like you needs a very regal castle.”

“I know,” Scottie nodded. “I need all the fuzzy blankets and Carl...Christen?” 

“Yeah, cutie?” Christen replied, relaxing back into Tobin’s side.

“Are you hungry?” Scottie asked, her eyes shining with excitement. 

“Starving, actually. Have you been practicing your pancake flips?” Christen grinned.

“Unfortunately,” Tobin whispered against Christen’s shoulder, shuddering at the amount of pancake batter she’d been cleaning off of her counters and stove top.

“Mhm, I have. I’m a natural!” Scottie smiled, standing up from the couch and putting her hands on her hips. 

“See,” Tobin hummed, nudging her nose against Christen’s shoulder. “That’s the Press Power Pose.”

Christen huffed out a laugh. “I didn’t mean to teach her that,” she whispered, turning just a bit toward Tobin.

“It’s pretty freaking adorable, though,” Tobin smirked. 

“Agreed,” Christen hummed.

“Mommy,” Scottie whined, grabbing one of Tobin’s hands. “Will you make the batter, so that Christen and I can flip...pleaaaaase?” 

“Since you said please,” Tobin teased, pretending that Scottie was strong enough to pull her off the couch. She pulled out a cookbook, even though she basically had the recipe memorized, and started to sift flour into a big mixing bowl. 

Christen dropped her mug on the corner of the counter and leaned down to lift Scottie up and onto the counter as well. 

“This is nice,” Scottie sighed, looking between Tobin and Christen. “I wish every day were my birthday.”

Christen shared a quick look with Tobin, a small smile passing between them that spoke volumes.

“This is really nice,” Christen replied, running her hand through Scottie’s loose curls. 

“Ooooh we could have pancake Sundays,” Scottie said, stealing a few chocolate chips from the bag that Tobin had already put on the counter in preparation for making pancakes. 

“As long as everyone’s Sundays are free,” Tobin hummed softly, cracking a few eggs into the bowl. 

“Are you free on Sundays?” Scottie asked Christen with a sweet smile.

“It really depends on the week, cutie. Some weekends we travel for games, and other Sundays we have recovery. But if I’m in town, I would love to come over for pancakes,” Christen replied, mirroring Scottie’s smile. “And if I can’t make it, maybe we can do ice cream Wednesdays or something.”

“I love ice cream,” Scottie mumbled through a mouthful of chocolate chips. 

“All right, flip master,” Tobin cringed, stepping away from the stove where she’d just poured some batter into a small circle to form the first pancake. 

“Will you get her the stool, babe?” Christen asked, smiling at Tobin as she snuck a few chocolate chips and threw them into her mouth. Scottie giggled and stole a few more chocolate chips as well.

Tobin nodded, smiling to herself at how natural it was for Christen to be here, to help them in the kitchen. She looked totally at home here, stealing chocolate chips with Scottie and telling her to get the stepstool. 

Tobin reached around the island to where the stool was sitting and pulled it over to the mat in front of the stove. She watched the first pancake slowly cook on one side, wishing she could wrap her entire stove in aluminum foil and protect it from any more messes. 

Christen got Scottie settled on the stool in front of the stove and stood behind her, her hand on top of Scottie’s on the spatula. “Just like we practiced, okay?” Christen said quietly. “Ready?” 

“So ready,” Scottie nodded, staring down at the pancake that was already starting to bubble. 

“One...two...three,” Christen counted, guiding Scottie as they lifted the pancake off the pan together. Christen took the reins a bit and flicked her wrist, sending the pancakes flipping over, the batter side landing back down on the hot pan.

“See, Mommy! I’m a natural!” Scottie said, shooting a megawatt smile at Tobin. 

“That was great, little bit,” Tobin nodded from where she was now sitting on the kitchen island. 

“You want to try the next one on your own?” Christen asked, shooting a wink over her shoulder at Tobin.

Tobin felt her smile drop at Christen’s suggestion. She felt her stomach tighten even more when she saw Christen add more batter to the pan to make a second pancake. 

“Don’t forget to flick your wrist, okay?” Christen instructed once the second pancake had started to bubble, removing her hand from Scottie’s on the spatula and giving the eight-year-old complete control, knowing this wasn’t going to end well but unable to deny the girl the entertainment.

With the most determined look on her face, Scottie scooped the spatula under the pancake. Her tongue was poking out in concentration, and her eyebrows were furrowed. She flipped her wrist a little harder than necessary, sending the pancake soaring to the back of the stove where the uncooked side hit the backsplash and slid down the tiles. 

“Next time,” Scottie shrugged, not deterred by the failure. 

Christen snorted and covered her mouth with her hand, trying to stifle it. She couldn’t though, not at the pained look on Tobin’s face. 

“I need to get dressed,” Tobin mumbled, hoping that leaving the room for a second would make the mess more palatable. She considered herself very chill when it came to messes. She made messes in her studio all the time, but pancake batter that cooked onto her stove was her least favorite mess. She hated cleaning the stovetop; it was a chore she had to force herself to do every night. 

“No, no, stay,” Christen laughed, reaching out to grab Tobin’s arm. She pulled Tobin over to the stove with a small, apologetic smile on her face. “I’ll help her from now on, I promise. And I’ll clean this up once we’re done.”

“You don’t need to,” Tobin murmured, pushing her hair out of her face. 

“I taught the flip master here; I can clean up the mess,” Christen replied, smoothly reaching out to help Scottie flip the next pancake over, this one landing back on the hot pan.

Tobin reached out with quick reflexes and caught Scottie’s hand in her own. “That’s hot,” she reminded her, having noticed that Scottie was reaching for a chocolate chip that was melting on the pan. 

“I wasn’t gonna,” Scottie scoffed, pulling her hand from Tobin’s.

“Mhm,” Tobin hummed, grabbing the bag from the counter and putting it closer to Scottie so that she could eat some without burning herself. 

“Let’s try to get the rest of these in the pan, okay?” Christen said, guiding Scottie to flip the pancake over. “We don’t want Tobin to turn into a cleaning monster.”

“ROOOOOAAAAR!” Scottie teased, shooting a toothy grin toward Tobin. 

Tobin couldn’t help the matching smile that spread across her face. She pressed her lips to Scottie’s cheek and blew a soft raspberry there, making her giggle even louder. 

Christen continued to flip the pancakes, her heart melting at the adorable way Tobin and Scottie interacted. The domesticity of this whole situation wasn’t lost on her, nor was the deeper implication of Scottie’s I wish every day was my birthday comment. But she didn’t dwell on it, she didn’t let the seriousness of it make her freeze or tense or run. She instead let the laughter and the smiles and the ease of it all warm her heart.

“That is a cool-looking bike, cutie,” Christen grinned, leaning against the wall of the garage with her second cup of dirty chai latte.

“Mommy got the perfect colors!” Scottie called from the other side of the Audi. She had been riding in circles since opening the present from Tobin. 

Christen winced as Scottie cut it very close and almost hit the bumper of the Audi for the third time. 

“Christen?” Scottie asked, still riding around the garage with limited coordination. 

“Yeah?” Christen called out, sipping her coffee and preparing to jump between the girl on the bike and the very nice car if need be.

Scottie stopped the bike and wobbled to a stop in front of Christen. “When is your birthday?”

“December,” Christen replied. She reached out to grab the handlebars, keeping the bike still.

“What day?” Scottie asked, cocking her head to the side. 

“The 29th.”

“That’s Mommy’s day too!” Scottie said, slipping out of the bike saddle and climbing off of the bike. She took the bike’s handlebars in her own hands and pulled it over to the wall, propping it up on its kickstand. 

Christen grinned. “Yeah, it is. Kinda funny, huh?”

“Easy to remember,” Scottie smiled. “What do you do on your birthday?”

Christen swallowed thickly, remembering how she didn’t actually remember her most recent birthday at all. She’d spent her 28th birthday alone, drinking any kind of alcohol she could find in her apartment, and ignoring the fact that her parents had just died. The entire day was a hazy blur.

“Umm...I don’t have anything I always do. It changes every year,” Christen replied, her voice a little tight. “But I usually try to have a doughnut or two,” she added with a small smile.

“Those are good,” Scottie said, taking Christen’s hand in her own. “Maybe in December I’ll be as good at pancake flipping as you and can do that for your birthday,” Scottie said, looking up with her big, gray eyes. 

“Yeah, maybe,” Christen managed, once again overwhelmed by just how much Scottie loved her and wanted her to be a part of their lives.

“All right, time to get dressed, little bit,” Tobin said, poking her head into the garage, having just finished with kitchen cleanup. 

Christen cleared her throat, pushing aside the heaviness that had descended because of Scottie’s innocent comment. “Speaking of, do you think you could wear something specific today, cutie?” she asked, crouching down to Scottie’s eye level.

“What’s that?” Scottie asked with a lopsided smile. 

Christen unzipped the hoodie she’d kept on this entire time, revealing the white, U.S. soccer jersey she’d had the team’s equipment manager send her. 

“Remember that jersey I gave you? If you put it on we can match, if you want. But if you don’t, you can wear whatever you want,” Christen grinned.

“Mommy, did you wash mine?” Scottie asked, a gasp slipping from her lips. 

“It’s on your bed,” Tobin nodded, her smile only growing at Scottie’s excitement. She was already bouncing off the walls with eagerness, and Christen hadn’t even given her the full surprise yet. 

Scottie raced into the studio and up the stairs, leaving Christen and Tobin in the garage in her wake. 

“You okay?” Tobin asked, having noticed the thickness in Christen’s voice when she’d first walked in. “Even on birthdays, you can call ‘offsides.’ I can stall her, and you can jam in the car for a few minutes if you need to.”

Christen waved Tobin off and stood up, reaching out to slide her hand around Tobin’s hip.

“She just says the damndest things, you know? Like how we can flip pancakes together on my birthday, which is months away from now and I just-” Christen shook her head, still a little in awe that this was her reality, that she somehow managed to cheat fate and wind up with two rays of sunshine. “-I can’t believe I get to have that. I wanted to forget my birthday last year, and I think this year I’m going to want to remember it.”

Tobin wrapped her arms around Christen, pulling her flush against her. “I’d like you to remember it this year,” Tobin nodded in agreement, pressing a soft kiss to Christen’s neck. “Thank you,” Tobin added softly. 

“For dirtying up your kitchen with pancake batter?” Christen teased, sinking into Tobin’s embrace.

“For loving her as much as you do,” Tobin answered honestly. 

“You don’t have to thank me for that,” Christen hummed, tucking her face into the crook of Tobin’s neck.

“I’m still thankful,” Tobin murmured against Christen’s temple. “And you have five months to prepare because we go hard for birthdays.”

“I’m starting to get that,” Christen chuckled. “I hope she likes her gifts. It took me weeks to settle on these. Becky thought they were great, but Kelley-”

“Are you kidding me?” Tobin scoffed, leaning away and looking into Christen’s eyes. “You’re going to win.”

“Babe, she loves that bike,” Christen reasoned.

“She’s about to-” Tobin paused, leaning back to peek into the studio and make sure that Scottie wasn’t running down the stairs. “She’s about to lose her shit at the stadium, and she’ll be talking about the tickets for the next couple weeks until we actually go to the show.”

Christen blew out a long breath. “God, I hope so.”

“Not to mention that her real favorite gift is just you being here,” Tobin said, running her thumbs along Christen’s cheekbones. 

“I thought that was your real favorite gift,” Christen teased, turning her head to press a kiss to Tobin’s palm.

“It is. Scottie and I have a lot in common,” Tobin smirked. 

“Not enough, since you’re still in a UNC t-shirt. Go put your jersey on too, babe. I was hoping we’d all match today,” Christen replied with a shy smile.

“Wooow you’re one of those people,” Tobin teased, stepping back and hurrying into the house before Christen could complain. 

Christen scrolled through Tobin’s Spotify to find them something to listen to on their drive. Scottie had given her instructions to find the "Disney Princess" Playlist that Tobin had saved in her Spotify account. 

“Wooooooow, you’re one of those people?” Christen teased, finding a playlist by the name of “Dad Rock” under Tobin’s profile.

“Excuse me?” Tobin asked, unable to see what Christen was talking about with her eyes on the road. 

“Dad Rock?” Christen chuckled, playing the " Disney Princess" Playlist for Scottie and then clicking back over to the " Dad Rock" playlist. “Really?”

“I didn’t name the playlist. I just follow it,” Tobin scoffed. “They have some good songs.”

“ you like Hootie and the Blowfish, The Talking Heads, Fleetwood Mac, that sorta thing?” Christen asked with a smile.

“Tread carefully,” Tobin warned, her lips twitching into a small smile. “Hootie and the Blowfish has an important place in my heart.”

“You’re such a dad,” Christen laughed, shaking her head and putting Tobin’s phone back in the cupholder. She reached out and snagged Tobin’s hand on the gear shift, threading their fingers together.

“Scottie’s first concert was a Hootie concert,” Tobin hummed. 

“YOU AND ME, WE COME FROM DIFFERENT WORLDS!” Scottie yelled from the back of the car.

“YOU LIKE TO LAUGH AT ME WHEN I LOOK AT OTHER GIRLS!” Tobin called back, the biggest smile possible breaking out across her face. 

“Oh my god,” Christen laughed. 

“We love Hootie, Christen. Can you play some Hootie please?” Scottie asked, bouncing around in her booster seat.

“See, it’s a requirement. I hope you can join in on the Hootie love,” Tobin grinned. 

“I will do my very best,” Christen assured in a faux-serious tone, reaching out to play the Dad Rock playlist.

Hootie and the Blowfish accompanied them all the way from Manhattan to New Jersey, to Gotham FC’s stadium. 

“What are we doing here?” Scottie wondered, looking curiously between Tobin and Christen.

Christen unbuckled her seatbelt and turned to look at Scottie with a tentative smile. “I thought the three of us could go kick the ball around in the stadium for a bit?”

“Wait…” Scottie said, seemingly at a loss for words. “The big stadium?” 

“Yup, the big stadium,” Christen replied, shooting a nervous look over at Tobin at the seemingly underwhelmed reaction from Scottie up to this point.

Scottie had never unbuckled and climbed out of the car faster. “OH MY GOSH THIS IS SO COOL!!!” she called from outside of the car, opening up Tobin’s door and practically pulling her out of the car behind her.

Christen let out a long, relieved sigh. “Thank god,” she chuckled, rushing to get out of the car as well.

“Christen, this is awesome,” Scottie whispered when they reached the end of the tunnel. Tobin winked at Christen from the other side of Scottie. She adjusted the soccer bag on her shoulder that held Scottie’s and her cleats and a few soccer balls. 

“Happy birthday, cutie,” Christen hummed, swinging Scottie’s hand and her own between them as they made their way onto the field.

She led Tobin and Scottie over to the Gotham benches, getting them settled into chairs so they could get their cleats on. Christen sat down on Scottie’s other side and slowly pulled on her cleats, getting distracted by the look of sheer joy on Scottie’s face as she tied her laces and the look of nervous wonder on Tobin’s.

Scottie was the first out of her chair, having finally mastered her own double knots after a couple weeks of practicing with Tobin at home before Academy training. Her cleats were still not quite as tight on her feet as they were when Tobin or Christen tied them, but they were good enough for some fun dribbling and shooting. She juggled one of the balls along the sideline, waiting for Tobin and Christen to be ready to play. 

“I’m excited to see what you can do,” Christen murmured quietly, reaching into the drawstring bag that had held her cleats for the tape and the Sharpie.

“I don’t know why,” Tobin scoffed, trying to ignore the tiny blush that rose to her cheeks at Christen’s words. “It’s been a while.”

“Yeah, but you in those shorts right now…” Christen trailed off and dramatically fanned herself. “Holy,” she winked, causing Tobin’s blush to deepen. “Plus, I have a feeling you’re going to pick it up pretty quick.”

“Who says I forgot anything,” Tobin hummed cockily before standing up and joining Scottie. 

Christen shook her head with a smile and focused on the tape. She wrapped it around her left wrist, tearing off the piece and dropping the roll back into her bag. She pulled the cap off the Sharpie and wrote the same thing she always did, no matter if it was a game or a practice or a pick-up session with her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s kid. 

“Mommy, are you going to score on Christen?” Scottie asked, a silly smirk on her lips at the thought of Christen not being able to keep up with her mom. 

“I’m gonna try,” Tobin said with a soft shrug of her shoulders, her relaxed demeanor seeming even more relaxed on the field. 

“Did you do that when you played?” Scottie asked, pointing over at where Christen was writing on her wrist.

“Sometimes,” Tobin nodded. “For the big games.”

“But we’re just playing, this isn’t a big game,” Scottie replied, her brow furrowing. 

“Sometimes I did it when I was just playing with friends too,” Tobin said, trying to keep Christen from having to explain anything painful. “It just depended on how I was feeling and what was going on in my life.”

Scottie nodded thoughtfully and then poked the ball between Tobin’s open legs. “I GOT YOU!” she cheered, giggling as she ran after the ball.

“YOU LITTLE STINKER!” Tobin called chasing Scottie, ready to strip her of the ball, birthday or no birthday. 

Christen stood on the edge of the field, her hands on her hips and a soft smile on her face as she watched Tobin chase Scottie around. She watched as Tobin scooped Scottie up and threw her over her shoulder, spinning her around a few times to make the girl laugh. Tobin then dribbled the ball over, Scottie still held over her shoulder.

“You got megged in the first two minutes?” Christen called out with a smirk on her face.

“She distracted me with questions,” Tobin grumbled. 

“Smart girl,” Christen chuckled.

“Cheater,” Tobin coughed out, plopping Scottie down on the grass but taking the ball away with her when she stepped away from Scottie and Christen. She loved the feeling of the pitch under her feet. It had been a long time since she’d stepped on grass this well maintained, and the ball seemed to move with even more precision than it typically did. 

Christen tried not to ogle; she really did. But she was a weak woman, especially for Tobin Heath in those loose-fitting number 17 shorts juggling the ball around like she’d never left the game. Her touch was perfect, the moves she pulled out were crafty and expertly executed. Christen imagined this was what it would be like to watch Tobin paint. Everything was purposeful yet free, all broad strokes and bold strokes and beauty. 

Christen felt a small hand lift her chin, closing her open mouth. 

“She’s the best,” Scottie whispered, a toothy grin on her face. 

Christen blushed and forced her mouth to stay shut, forced herself to look away from the miles of tan skin and the flexing muscles. “Yeah, she’s- she’s definitely the second-best behind you, cutie.”

“You’re silly. Even I know that Mommy’s better than I am, but someday I’ll be better,” Scottie added with a grin. 

“Until someday, want to see if we can meg her again?” Christen grinned.

“Yes!” Scottie cheered, jogging toward Tobin on the field. 

Tobin wasn’t about to be caught off guard again, though. For as free and relaxed as she seemed, she was very ready to tease both Scottie and Christen by slipping the ball between their legs. She was successful, slotting the ball between Christen’s legs twice and Scottie’s once. The three of them took turns shooting on goal and playing 1v1 or 2v1 depending on who Scottie decided to team up against. By the time the sun was high in the sky, the three of them were flat on their backs, soaking in the sunshine and sinking into the soft grass. It was Scottie’s stomach that broke the quiet moment, alerting the two adults to the time and the need for lunch. 

“Hah! I’m taller!” Scottie called from down the hall, sending Tobin into a fit of laughter. She already knew that Scottie would be taller. Tobin hadn’t hit her growth spurt until nine, and Scottie was small but definitely a little taller than Tobin had been as a kid. 

“I think you’re going to be taller than your Mom and Christen when you’re all grown up!” Cindy said, loud enough for Tobin and Christen to hear.

“Noooo,” Tobin sighed, slouching forward and laying her head on the kitchen table. 

Christen chuckled and ran her hand up and down Tobin’s back. “That won’t be for at least another year,” she teased, earning herself a loud guffaw from Tobin’s dad, Jeff, who sat across the table from them.

“She’s not allowed to be tall and old,” Tobin mumbled. 

“We said the same thing about you, kiddo,” Jeff replied with a warm smile.

“I’m not old. I have the maturity of a twelve-year-old,” Tobin countered with a lopsided grin. 

“You deserve an award for putting up with her,” Jeff joked, smiling in Christen’s direction.

“Scottie’s all the award I need. She’s mature enough for the two of them,” Christen laughed, leaning into Tobin’s side a bit.

“See, Dad? I told you someday the kid would be a chick magnet,” Tobin whispered, getting a smack in the back of the head from her dad. 

“She never said that,” Jeff clarified, looking at Christen. 

“What’s a chick magnet?” Scottie asked, prancing into the kitchen with Cindy right behind her.

“Tobin Powell Heath,” Cindy chastised, making Tobin sink into her seat a little more. 

All Christen could do was laugh at the familial interaction. She scooped Scottie up and set her down in her lap, helping Scottie settle so she could face Tobin.

“It’s a magnet that is decorated to look like a little chicken,” Tobin said easily. 

Jeff looked mildly impressed but Cindy just shook her head at her daughter, a disappointed sigh leaving her lips. 

“Can I have a chick magnet for my next birthday?” Scottie asked, seemingly excited about a magnet in the shape of a chicken.

Tobin’s cheeks flushed a little at the idea of Scottie using that phrase at school in the fall, but she nodded softly. “We can get all kinds of farm animal magnets for the fridge.”

“You know what’s even cooler than that though?” Christen said, seeing the slightly panicked glint in Tobin’s eyes and wanting to try and help if she could.

“What?” Scottie asked, tilting her head back to look up at Christen. 

“Those Disneyworld tickets your grandparents got you,” Christen replied, adding an excited lilt to her voice and praying that this would steer the eight-year-old away from thinking about chick magnets.

“I’m gonna meet Elsa,” Scottie said, her voice reverent. 

“And every other Disney character you want to,” Christen murmured with a smile.  

“Mommy said we can maybe eat breakfast with them,” Scottie added, reaching out and squeezing Tobin’s hand in her excitement.

“Character breakfasts are the best ,” Christen assured, thinking back on when her parents had taken her and her sisters to Disneyland when they were kids.

“You’ve been to Disneyworld?” Scottie gasped. 

“I’ve been to Disneyland, in California. It was a long time ago, though,” Christen nodded.

“That’s so cool,” Scottie hummed.

“Who wants sandwiches?” Cindy asked, cleaning her hands off with a dishtowel. 

“Me!” Tobin called, reverting to her childish self in her parents’ home. 

Christen rolled her eyes affectionately. “Do you need help with anything?” Christen called out, watching Cindy and Jeff move around the kitchen with ease.

“No, dear, but thank you for being such a good role model for Tobin to hopefully follow one day,” Cindy teased. 

“Peanut, you want to spread some peanut butter?” Jeff asked, pulling a stool over to the counter for Scottie to stand on. 

“Did you get the creamy kind?” Scottie asked, hopping out of Christen’s lap.

“There’s no other kind,” Jeff laughed, offering Scottie a hand as she stepped onto the stool and took over spreading peanut butter. 

“Oh, Christen, I meant to text you. We can actually make it to the game this weekend! I’m sorry for the late notice, our Bridge group canceled,” Cindy said, grabbing a few bags of chips and walking them over to the table.

“Not late at all! The tickets are always yours whenever you want them,” Christen replied, settling back in her chair and reaching out to slide her hand into Tobin’s.

“We’re really excited to watch,” Jeff added, ruffling Scottie’s hair gently. 

“They’re playing the stars,” Scottie said, sticking her finger into the peanut butter jar and grabbing a taste.

“Wow, the stars,” Jeff said with a smile. “That’s pretty impressive. It’s a good thing Grandma and I got some Gotham gear to wear to the game.”

Christen felt her brow furrow a bit. She hadn’t sent any gear to Tobin’s parents, only now realizing she probably should have. 

“They had a sale a week ago, so Jeff and I ordered some shirts and scarves,” Cindy clarified, assembling some lettuce and tomatoes for the other sandwiches that didn’t include peanut butter or jelly. 

“I would have gotten you guys that, I’m sorry,” Christen said, her thumb moving a bit faster across the back of Tobin’s hand.

“No sorry necessary. We consider it our contribution to the team,” Jeff said with a goofy grin that looked way too similar to Tobin’s and Scottie’s. 

“If you ask nicely, Grandpa, then Christen can give you her jersey. She gave me one of hers already and I haven’t washed it since,” Scottie announced, sticking two pieces of bread, slathered with peanut butter, together 

“Wow, that’s pretty special,” Jeff said, wrinkling his nose at the idea of an unwashed, sweaty soccer jersey in Scottie’s closet. 

“You should probably wash that, cutie,” Christen grimaced.

“She thinks it’s unwashed,” Tobin whispered so that only Christen could hear. 

Christen turned away from Scottie and looked at Tobin. “So sneaky,” Christen murmured, a smile playing at her lips.

“I figured if she freaked out, I could ask you to wear it again,” Tobin shrugged. 

“Sneaky and smart,” Christen teased, reaching out to push a few strands of hair behind Tobin’s ear.

“What’s your schedule like in November, Christen?” Cindy asked as she placed a plate of sandwiches in the center of the table. 

Christen blinked out of her moment with Tobin and pivoted in her chair. “Um...well that’s near the end of the season for Gotham, but there are always U.S. camps that month. I’m not entirely sure yet. Why?”

“We just wanted to get a headcount for Thanksgiving. Getting all of our kids and their people to tell us their schedules is like herding cats,” Cindy said softly, dropping down into her own seat. 

“Oh...well I- I don’t know yet, I’m sorry,” Christen managed to reply, trying not to completely lose it at the idea of joining the Heaths for Thanksgiving, knowing such a family-focused day would be beyond tough but beyond healing as well. 

“No, no,” Cindy shook her head. “No need for any sorrys from you. That’s not an answer you need to have right now. For all we know, you could be busy with your own family.”

Christen’s hand tightened around Tobin’s, silently asking her not to say anything. Christen looked around Cindy, seeing that Scottie was distracted with Jeff, still making peanut butter sandwiches.

Tobin took Christen’s hand in her left hand and wrapped her right arm around Christen’s lower back, running a thumb along Christen’s right hip. 

“I won’t be,” Christen said softly, her eyes drifting back to meet Cindy’s. “My- my parents passed in December and my sisters and I only see each other at Christmas.”

Cindy silently reached across the table, offering her hand to Christen. Her eyes filled with understanding, finally connecting the dots and understanding some of what Christen had said at the barbecue, better understanding why Christen seemed pained in such a large family gathering. 

“If I’m free, I’ll be here,” Christen added, sliding her free hand into Cindy’s offered one.

“We’d all really love to have you here,” Cindy said, squeezing Christen’s hand in her own. “Katie and Jeff are jealous that Perry got to meet you first.”

Christen chuckled weakly. “I look forward to meeting them.”

“Grandma? Did you know that Christen’s building a pillow castle with me tonight?” Scottie asked, her peanut butter jelly sandwich clutched in her hands. 

“I did not know that,” Cindy replied, retracting her hand and turning to face her granddaughter. “That sounds like a great birthday plan, peanut!”

“It is,” Scottie said, climbing into her seat next to Tobin and quickly losing her balance. She caught herself on Tobin’s shoulder, managing to get grape jelly on Tobin’s jersey.

“You want to add that to my dry-cleaning bill too?” Christen laughed, eyeing the purple stain on the shoulder of the white jersey.

“I’m pretty sure this is on Scottie’s bill,” Tobin hummed, glancing down at the jelly dripping down the white jersey. 

“Sorry, Mommy,” Scottie mumbled, handing Tobin a napkin. 

“That’s okay,” Tobin said, wiping at the jelly. 

“It’s not as bad as when I spilled Orange Fanta on your pillow,” Scottie whispered, sending Tobin into a bout of laughter. 

“That’s nothing compared to when your mom was five and decided to take permanent markers and draw all over the walls of our dining room,” Cindy pointed out, winking at Tobin. 

“A true artist in the making,” Jeff laughed, taking his seat and reaching out for a sandwich. 

Scottie stood up to press a messy kiss to Tobin’s cheek in apology and then got back into her chair. She looked around the table with her signature toothy grin on her face. 

“Bestest birthday of all time,” Scottie announced with a nod, digging back into her peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“How many gifts does an eight-year-old need,” Tobin laughed, glancing in the rearview mirror to the back of her car where all the books and the new bike helmet and the stuffed animals were sitting. 

“Like you have room to talk,” Christen replied, thinking about all the presents Tobin had given Scottie this morning.

“I’m her mom. I literally signed up to spoil her for life,” Tobin said with a laugh, deciding to carry the gifts inside later that night or even tomorrow. They’d be fine in the garage. 

“She got spoiled so hard that she started snoring a few minutes ago,” Christen chuckled, turning around in her seat to look at where Scottie was passed out in her booster seat, a small bit of drool at the corner of her mouth.

“I think we wiped her out,” Tobin said softly. “She’ll totally wake up for Tiramisu, though.”

“She’s going to be made of Tiramisu; she eats so much of it,” Christen teased, unbuckling her seat belt and turning back to face Tobin.

“I know,” Tobin murmured sheepishly. “I’m sure at some point I’ll have to be more serious about healthy eating, but right now she’s eight, and dessert once a week doesn’t seem like the end of the world.”

“You can get strict about a kale-centric diet when she’s ten,” Christen joked, leaning across the console to press her lips to the corner of Tobin’s mouth.

“Ew, who are you?” Tobin teased back, basically chasing Christen’s lips with her own. 

Christen let herself be caught, sinking into the first kiss in a few hours. She didn’t linger though; they couldn’t. Not with Scottie asleep in the back.

“Does Scottie have any sleepovers coming up?” Christen whispered, nuzzling her nose along Tobin’s.

“You know, my mom asked if Scottie could spend a weekend with her soon,” Tobin smirked. 

“Soon sounds great,” Christen grinned.

“Yes please,” Tobin nodded, pressing one last quick kiss to Christen’s lips. 

“I’ll get her, babe,” Christen hummed, wiping a bit of Chapstick off of Tobin’s lower lip. 

“You’re very sweet to carry her. You know you can wake her up if you want her to walk up the stairs,” Tobin said as she watched Christen softly unbuckle Scottie’s seatbelt. 

“She won’t want us to carry her forever,” Christen replied absent-mindedly, wrapping her arms around Scottie and pulling her out of the booster seat. She didn’t consider the deeper implications of her words, too focused on getting Scottie settled in her arms.

“I think about that all the time,” Tobin said quietly, her stomach flipping at Christen’s words, at just how serious they sounded. “The day she stops wanting to cuddle on the couch with me or hold my hand when we go somewhere is going to kill me.”

“I’ll always hold your hand,” Christen winked, holding Scottie close and settling her head onto her shoulder.

“Thank goodness,” Tobin said, unlocking the door to her studio and holding the door open for Christen. 

Christen fell into step beside Tobin, leaning into her side and feeling a smile tug at her lips when Tobin’s hand settled on her lower back. Christen wished she could bottle this feeling. It was just so perfect, so right and real and wonderful. She was happy and full of hope, and it had everything to do with the girl in her arms and the woman at her side.

And then the feeling changed when they walked into the kitchen and found it occupied.

“Shit,” Tobin said, her arm moving in front of both Christen and Scottie and her heart leaping in her chest at the prospect of some strange figure standing in her kitchen. When the figure turned around, though, Tobin suddenly wished the person had been a stranger. 

“Is that any way to greet me, angel?”

Tobin’s jaw clenched tighter than it ever had. It tightened at the way Roni’s lips quirked up into a smirk. Her teeth clicked together at the way Roni was occupying a space that she had made hers and Scottie’s. Her jaw started to throb at the way the stupid pet name slipped off of Roni’s tongue without hesitation. It sounded just as ugly as it always had. It made Tobin’s skin crawl, and she wanted to spin Christen around and get back in the car immediately. 

Christen looked between the gorgeous redhead leaning against the kitchen counter, the picture of unperturbed, and at Tobin, who was now so tense Christen thought she was moments from breaking.

“Who is that?” Christen asked, her eyes only on Tobin, her arms tightening protectively around Scottie as a pit started to form in her stomach.

“Tobin isn’t always good in social situations is she?” Roni laughed. “I’m her wife.” 

“Ex-wife,” Tobin finally spoke, hardly moving her mouth, her back teeth maintaining contact the entire time. 

“So you say,” Roni replied dismissively, waving a hand in the air.

“So the divorce papers say,” Tobin snapped, opening her mouth just a little and moving her jaw back and forth to loosen it. “Why are you trespassing?” 

“Such an ugly word, angel,” Roni said, clicking her tongue. “Did you think I would miss our little Princess’s birthday?”

“You’ve done it before,” Tobin scoffed. 

“And I didn’t want to miss another one,” Roni retorted, pushing off the counter. “So why don’t we wake her up so I can give her a hug?”

“Christen, would you take Scottie upstairs?” Tobin asked, moving even more fully in front of her daughter and her girlfriend. 

Christen hesitated, not wanting to leave Tobin alone with Roni. Whatever she was feeling, whatever pit had formed in her stomach and whatever bad taste was in her mouth as a result of everything Roni said, she knew Tobin was feeling worse. She’d never seen Tobin so agitated, so tense. She’d never heard her voice like this, with such a hard edge and an almost cruel bite to it. She didn’t want to leave Tobin, but she also knew Scottie didn’t need to be here. 

“Of course,” Christen whispered, reaching out to brush her hand across Tobin’s lower back, silently offering her support.

“I’ll be up in a minute,” Tobin added quietly, her eyes glued to Roni, narrowed and cold. 

Christen felt Scottie stir just a bit in her arms as she headed for the stairs, so she picked up her pace, wanting to get Scottie upstairs as soon as possible.

Tobin waited for Christen to get to the top of the stairs before she refocused on the woman in front of her. Roni looked the same, apart from a few new freckles from laying out on beaches and traveling to sunny locations. She still had that cocky glint in her eyes, one that Tobin had originally been attracted to but now only made her feel uncontrollably angry. 

“I know I shouldn’t throw stones from my glass house, angel,” Roni started, her blue eyes hard. “But-”

“Stop calling me that,” Tobin spat. “You have no right to come to my house without my permission and without warning.”

“You have no right to let some other woman be in Scottie’s life without my permission,” Roni shot back.

“Are you fucking kidding me?!” Tobin said, her voice reaching a higher pitch than usual. “You’re the one who left us for other women.”

“Oh please,” Roni rolled her eyes. “So dramatic, ange- Tobin . I simply needed to get away for a bit. But I’m back.”

“You don’t get to walk in and out like that. That’s not how a marriage works, and it’s absolutely not how being a parent works,” Tobin said, tossing the soccer bag off her shoulder that she’d been holding onto for dear life and letting it hit the floor with a thud. 

Roni let out a long sigh and approached Tobin, erasing the space between them. “Let bygones be bygones, I want to be in her life. She’s my daughter too.” 

Tobin put her hands up in front of her, effectively keeping Roni away as much as she could. “No,” she said simply. “I let you walk all over me, but I love Scottie more than I love anyone else in the world, and you aren’t hurting her again.”

“I don’t intend to,” Roni replied smoothly. “I’m here to stay, for you and for her.”

“I don’t want you here. I need you to leave,” Tobin said, her voice unwavering. 

Roni’s easy demeanor shifted. Her eyes narrowed and she pressed her lips together. “Who is she?” she asked coolly.

“That’s really none of your business,” Tobin said, keeping her voice low. 

“If she’s spending time with my daughter, it actually is,” Roni snapped.

“Really?! She wasn’t your daughter when you left in the middle of the night!” Tobin said, losing her cool completely and letting her voice rise again. Everything had been perfect. The day had been a dream. It had felt like what she hoped her life with Scottie and Christen would always feel like, and suddenly she felt like crying with the amount of frustration she felt, with the amount of anger she felt toward the woman in front of her. 

“No matter how many mistresses you bring around to play house with you two, she will always be my daughter,” Roni replied, her voice low, her eyes angry.

“GET OUT!” Tobin shouted, her voice razor-sharp and only rising in volume. “GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HOUSE!” 

Scottie sat on the floor with her back pressed against the side of her bed. She’d pulled her knees up and set Carl in her lap, focused on brushing her hand up and down his furry stomach. She’d heard this before. Roni had crashed one of their Christmases at Grandma and Grandpa’s house before and sent the entire Heath family into a defensive mode. That being said, Scottie never liked hearing her mom get so angry. Tobin’s voice wasn’t meant to scream. It didn’t sound like her mom when she got angry. 

Letting out a deep breath, Christen sank to the ground next to Scottie, her arm falling around the girl’s shoulders. She could hear the raised voices, the words muffled but the volume loud enough to make it through the closed door. She quickly pulled out her phone and turned on the Frozen soundtrack, hoping the music would drown out the yelling.  

“I bet Carl would love to come to the game this weekend,” Christen said gently, just trying to fill the air between them with words of love, knowing words of hate were still coming from downstairs.

Scottie only shrugged slightly, continuing to brush her fingers along the purple unicorn’s tummy. 

The lack of response from Scottie only furthered the worry in Christen’s heart. She was so used to bubbly Scottie, to the ray of sunshine with a smile on her face and a light in her gray eyes. She was used to her infectious laughter and her insane energy levels. But right now, she was muted and down and so lacking in light that it had Christen’s chest tightening. 

“I can see if we can get him a Gotham jersey to wear, that way he won’t feel left out,” Christen continued, her hand moving softly through Scottie’s curls.

“Christen?” Scottie said softly. 

“Yeah?” Christen replied, her heart clenching in her chest at the complete lack of warmth in Scottie’s voice.

“This was going to be my best birthday,” Scottie mumbled. 

Christen let out a shaky breath and gently pulled Scottie into her lap. She ran one hand through Scottie’s hair, the other moving in soothing circles across her back. 

“I know, sweetheart. I know,” Christen murmured. “I’m so sorry.”

Scottie finally let her face fall completely, her lower lip wobbling a little. When the first few tears slipped out of the corners of her eyes, she buried her face in Christen’s neck. 

“It’s okay,” Christen whispered, holding Scottie impossibly tight to her chest as her ears rang with Scottie’s sobs and the angry words from downstairs. “I’ve got you, sweetheart. It’s going to be okay.”

Scottie tangled her hands around the back of Christen’s neck and gasped for air after each sob left her small chest. 

“Shhh,” Christen murmured, continued to rub her hand in soothing circles. “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay,” she continued to repeat, hoping her reassurances would be proven correct.

When the yelling finally stopped and Scottie’s sobs were replaced with small sniffles, the house felt eerily quiet, too quiet. It didn’t hum with life like it usually did. It didn’t feel as colorful as usual. 

“I want Mommy,” Scottie hiccuped softly. 

“She’s going to come get us when she can,” Christen replied, gently untangling a few knots in Scottie’s hair as her eyes remain locked on the closed bedroom door, willing for Tobin to come through it.

“Christen, do you care a lot about my mom?” Scottie asked quietly. 

Christen’s arm reflexively tightened around Scottie, her heart jumping into her throat. Out of all the things she expected Scottie to say right now, that was not one of them. 

“I...I do,” Christen whispered, her own eyes blurring with tears at the broken vulnerability in Scottie’s voice.

“Good because she told me she cares a lot about you,” Scottie said. “Mommy needs someone who cares a lot about her.”

“I more than care about her,” Christen admitted softly.

“What’s more?” Scottie asked, tilting her head to the side. 

“I-” Christen started to say.

Tobin peeked her head into the room, her eyes slightly red and her face completely exhausted. 

Christen’s heart broke at the sight of Tobin, but she knew she wasn’t going to be the first one to hold her or put her back together. 

“Mommy,” Scottie sniffled, squirming out of Christen’s arms and throwing herself into Tobin. 

Tobin scooped Scottie up off of the ground and sank down to the floor with Scottie, a new round of sobs leaving the little girl’s lips. 

“I’m sorry, little bit,” Tobin whispered gently, sinking her hand into the hair at the back of Scottie’s head and rubbing her neck and head with her fingers. 

“Why does she do that?” Scottie hiccuped, her face pressed to the neck of the jersey that Tobin still wore. Christen looked on from her spot against the base of Scottie’s bed, her heartbreaking for Scottie as well, her heart completely shattering at the sadness she could hear in the girl’s voice, at the sobs leaving her.

“I don’t know, buddy. I think she wants to feel like she has some control,” Tobin mumbled, pressing a kiss to Scottie’s temple. 

“I hate her,” Scottie said, her hands tightening into fists.

“Woah woah woah,” Tobin cooed. “That’s a really big, scary word. I know you’re angry like me right now, but hating her only gives her the control she wants. Hate is something that can make someone as sweet as you feel yucky inside, and I don’t want that.”

Scottie remained silent as she hid her face in Tobin’s jersey, tears still falling from her tightly shut eyes.

Tobin glanced over at Christen, hating that Christen had now seen the ugliest side of her, the side that she wasn’t proud of, that she’d wanted to keep hidden from Christen at all costs. She felt her eyes water a little more at that thought. She felt her heart break with each tear that dripped from Scottie’s eyes onto her neck and her shirt. 

She suddenly felt like she was twenty-five years old again, waiting for Roni to come home so that she could tell her that this was over, so that she could have one of the many screaming matches with her and finally separate herself from Roni and protect Scottie in the process. Only, now she was twenty-nine and had a woman that she was falling for sitting across from her, and there was so much more to protect because there was so much more to lose. She just hoped that seeing her worst side, that seeing her anger and her pain wasn’t enough to make Christen step back. 

At the sight of the first tears that fell from Tobin’s eyes, Christen was moving without thinking. She sank to the ground next to Tobin, and pulled both Tobin and Scottie into her arms. She held them as tight as she could, ghosting her lips across Tobin’s temple and running her hand through Scottie’s hair.

Tobin had been there for her in some of her darkest moments these past few months. Tobin had held her and cared for her and wiped away her tears. So she could do the same. She would do the same. She’d be their lighthouse in this storm.

Christen didn’t stop holding them. She kept her arms around both Tobin and Scottie as she moved them downstairs, as they all sat together on the couch. She didn’t let go as she called Gio and asked that their birthday dinner be turned into a delivery. The only time she did was to get the food from the door, but she returned quickly to their sides. She dropped the food on the coffee table and wrapped an arm around Tobin’s back and ran her hand through Scottie’s hair.

“Do you two think you can eat?” Christen asked gently.

“I can always eat,” Scottie whispered, the tiniest smile slipping onto her face. 

“That’s my girl,” Tobin said, kissing the tip of Scottie’s nose. 

Christen pressed a kiss to both Scottie’s and Tobin’s foreheads. “With those smiles, you two look like my girls again,” she hummed, getting up to grab some plates from the kitchen.

Scottie climbed out of Tobin’s lap for the first time in nearly an hour. She peeked into the bag and couldn’t stop the big smile that spread across her face at the way Gio had used some sort of stencil to spell Scottie on top of the round Tiramisu cake with the cocoa powder. 

“Mommy, he wrote my name,” she said happily, pointing to the cake. 

“I guess you’ll have to eat the whole thing yourself then,” Tobin teased. 

“There are two,” Christen chuckled, setting plates and utensils down on the coffee table. “He insisted on it.”

“We’re all gonna turn into Tiramisu,” Tobin said softly, feeling exhausted, no matter how much better she felt after seeing Scottie’s smile. 

“Do you want something to drink, sweetheart?” Christen asked gently, running her thumb underneath Scottie’s eye and catching one of the final tears on the pad of her finger.

“I can get water,” Scottie said, hurrying to the kitchen, intent on getting water and digging into her dinner. 

Christen turned her focus to Tobin, the first time she’d really been able to. She took in the haggard look on her face, the detached glint in those typically warm brown eyes. 

“Oh, babe,” Christen murmured, scooting across the couch and sliding her arm around Tobin’s waist.

“I’m really sorry,” Tobin whispered. 

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Christen replied firmly, using her free hand to cup Tobin’s cheek.

“Agree to disagree,” Tobin mumbled. 

“You don’t. We’ll talk more about this later, okay?” Christen whispered, hearing Scottie’s footfalls as she ran back into the living room.

“Mommy, you can have one sip of my water, but that’s it,” Scottie said, handing Tobin her water glass and making Tobin smile even bigger, despite the weight in her chest and on her heart. 

“Thank you,” Tobin said, taking a huge gulp, just to make Scottie laugh. She quickly stood up and brought an entire water pitcher and two more glasses to the coffee table. She also placed a packet of candles and a box of matches onto the coffee table for after dinner. 

“When I’m nine can I get a puppy?” Scottie asked when almost all the dinner was gone and she was patiently waiting for Tobin to announce that it was cake time. 

“No,” Tobin laughed. “Twelve, but maybe we can visit the dog park tomorrow and pet someone else’s dog tomorrow.”

Scottie accepted Tobin’s words, especially when Tobin pulled the cake out of the bag Gio had packed it in and set it on the center of the table. 

“What’s your birthday wish, Scottie?” Christen asked, watching as Tobin lit the eight candles on the cake.

“My what?” Scottie wondered, tilting her head to the side.

“Your birthday wish. Right before you blow out the candles, you whisper your wish to the candles,” Christen explained with a smile.

“Other than the puppy?” Scottie teased with a cheeky grin, closing her eyes to think of a birthday wish. 

Tobin knew exactly what her own birthday wish would be if she were blowing out the candles. She’d wish that Roni’s name magically disappeared from the paperwork. She’d wish that she could rewind time and make better decisions, that she could talk to her younger self, that she could reverse the clock and listen to her parents and her siblings’ warnings. And even though Scottie would probably wish for a puppy or another PRESS jersey or a fun day with Christen without Roni’s interruption, Tobin knew that Scottie wished for the same kind of things deep down. It was clear from Scottie’s tears, from her words about hate that Scottie wished the same things Tobin did. 

“I wish that Christen will come to Disneyworld with us,” Scottie whispered, her eyes fluttering open as she blew out the candles, managing to get them all blown out in one go.

“Good job, buddy,” Tobin hummed, pressing a kiss to the top of Scottie’s head. She cut pieces of the cake and served Scottie and Christen before herself. 

Scottie only managed to eat half of the slice before her exhaustion got the better of her. Her yawns led to drooping eyes, and suddenly Tiramisu didn’t seem quite as appealing as the comfy couch and Tobin’s warm skin. She set her plate down on the coffee table and crawled onto the couch, resting her head on Tobin’s leg and falling asleep. 

Tobin cracked the door behind her and tiptoed down the stairs to the living room. She suddenly felt nervous to be alone with Christen. Scottie had almost been a security blanket. She’d kept Christen from asking questions. She’d even kept Tobin’s guilt somewhat at bay, but now Tobin felt the full effects of Roni’s intrusion, and Christen felt oddly far away. 

Christen was so lost in her thoughts, so caught up in boxing up the leftovers and washing the dishes that she didn’t hear Tobin come into the kitchen.

“You don’t need to clean. I can get it,” Tobin said softly. 

“I got it,” Christen replied, finishing the last dish and putting it into the dishwasher. She then dried her hands on a dishtowel and leaned her hip against the countertop, fixing Tobin with a worried look.

“I don’t really know what to say other than I’m sorry,” Tobin said quietly. 

“I already told you, you don’t have anything to apologize for,” Christen murmured, setting aside the dish towel and taking a small step toward Tobin. She made sure to keep a bit of space between them since Tobin seemed almost skittish, slightly on edge.

“I mean I kind of do, though. I’m the one who made bad decisions when I was younger and let her into my life, and I’m the one who is predictable and made the garage code Scottie’s birthday, and apparently, I hide spare keys in unoriginal places,” Tobin rambled out quickly. 

“Do you want to apologize for the fact that it rained yesterday too? Because you keep saying sorry for things that you have no control over right now,” Christen said gently.

“I didn’t-” Tobin sighed, clearing her throat a little and glancing down at the stupid jelly stain on her shirt. “I didn’t want you to see that side of me.”

“Why?” Christen asked, taking another small step closer to Tobin, her hands itching to reach out and hold Tobin, to cradle her face between her palms and heal her with a soft touch.

“Because it’s angry and really ugly and it teaches Scottie that it’s okay to hate, which is the last thing I should be doing,” Tobin admitted. 

Christen slid her hand onto the countertop, bridging the small gap between them and silently inviting Tobin to do the same. 

“You didn’t teach her to hate. And did you think I would cut and run if you showed me that you protect your family?” Christen said, making sure to keep her words soft. “That you protect Scottie from someone who has no right to be here?”

Tobin reached out and placed her hand next to Christen’s on the counter, letting her index finger brush against Christen’s hand. 

“I don’t like yelling,” Tobin shrugged. “I didn’t think you’d run, but I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to.”

Christen gently lifted Tobin’s hand off the counter and placed it on her chest, right over her heart. “I’m not going anywhere. I didn’t just promise Scottie that,” Christen replied. 

“How much did you hear?” Tobin asked, trying to ground herself in Christen’s heartbeat. 

“Idina Menzel could only drown out so much,” Christen mumbled, her jaw clicking at the memory of the words that had left Roni’s mouth, the way she’d spoken to Tobin, the things she’d said.

“She’s very good at lying, at saying the first hurtful thing that pops into her head, but none of it is true, especially what she said about you,” Tobin whispered. 

Christen grimaced, her lips pressing together in a thin line. “Yeah, she didn’t sound super nice.”

“That’s very diplomatic of you,” Tobin laughed. “I’m not sure I’m that compassionate.”

Christen’s brow quirked up slightly as she huffed out an amused chuckle. “I have lots of undiplomatic things in my head right now, but I don’t think I should say them. She’s taken enough of the night away from us.”

Tobin reached out and softly pulled Christen forward so that she could wrap her arms around her waist. “I know you probably want to go to your apartment and forget all of this happened, but I’d really like you to stay.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Tobin,” Christen replied, her voice soft. “I’ll always stay if you ask me to.”

“I really want you to stay,” Tobin hummed. “And I changed the garage code and am brainstorming new places to hide keys.”

Christen felt the corner of her mouth lift into a half-smile. “We can figure that out tomorrow. Let’s just go to bed, babe.”

“You have no idea how good that sounds,” Tobin sighed, wrapping her arms even tighter around Christen before she took Christen’s hand in her own and led her up the stairs to her bedroom. 

After getting changed into pajamas and all ready for bed, Christen settled against the pillows and pulled Tobin close. She ran her fingers through Tobin’s waves, scratching at her scalp every so often, and felt Tobin go pliant in her arms, every bit of tension seeping out of her. 

“You’re an amazing woman,” Tobin murmured, wrapping an arm around Christen’s hips and pulling her even closer. 

“You take such good care of me. I’m just trying to return the favor,” Christen replied softly, pressing a kiss to the top of Tobin’s head.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around how I got this lucky,” Tobin whispered, slipping her hand underneath Christen’s t-shirt and rubbing her hand along the skin on Christen’s back. 

Christen let out an audible sigh at the feeling of Tobin’s hand on her bare skin. “What do you mean?”

Tobin shrugged her shoulders. “You’re you ,” Tobin hummed. “You could have anyone in the entire world if you wanted, and I’m still wrapping my head around how I got lucky enough to be someone you want to spend time with.”

Christen’s hand stilled in Tobin’s hair as she picked up on the insecurity lacing Tobin’s words. She’d been so caught up feeling unworthy and inadequate, in questioning whether she was good enough to be part of Tobin and Scottie’s world, that she never really considered that Tobin felt the same way.

“I don’t want anyone in the entire world,” Christen said softly, her fingers gliding through Tobin’s hair again. “I want you because you make me feel like enough.”

Tobin pressed her lips to Christen’s stomach where the t-shirt was covering her skin, but it was the closest part of Christen she could reach. “You make me feel like enough too,” Tobin mumbled, lifting herself up so that she could place another kiss on Christen's lips. 

At the feeling of Tobin’s tongue swiping across her bottom lip, Christen let out a small moan and pulled Tobin closer. It wasn’t the softest kiss they’d ever shared, but it was one that was full of healing and of promise, it was one that they both needed tonight.

“Mommy?” Scottie called from down the hallway, clearly checking to see if Tobin was downstairs still. 

Tobin leaned back with a sigh, letting her eyes flutter shut. She pressed three more kisses to Christen’s lips before she rolled off of the bed and opened the door. She knew Scottie was still a little scared of the dark, so she flipped on the hall light and called down the hall. 

When Scottie appeared at Tobin’s open door, her smile grew even wider. “Christen’s still here,” she said, tangling her fingers in the hem of Tobin’s t-shirt. 

“Of course, I was promised a pillow castle!” Christen called out.

“Maybe we can pillow castle tomorrow,” Scottie yawned, pressing her forehead against Tobin’s side. 

“That is a great idea. I have absolutely nothing to do tomorrow after Academy practice,” Christen replied, knowing that wasn’t true. She had a team meeting and a training in the afternoon, but there was something more pressing than that. She needed to be here. She’d make it to the final training before their game this weekend and it would be more than enough.

“Can I sleep in here?” Scottie asked, looking up at Tobin and then over at Christen. 

Tobin brushed Scottie’s hair away from her forehead and turned to look at Christen, just wanting a nod of approval before she said yes to Scottie’s request. 

Christen patted the bed with a smile. “Come on, cutie,” she murmured.

Tobin helped Scottie jump onto the bed, getting a small giggle from the little girl when she tossed her a little bit. She helped Scottie squirm under the covers, and her heart melted a little more when Scottie curled up against Christen. Tobin turned off all the lights again and crawled under the covers, wrapping her arm over Scottie, so that her hand could rest on Christen’s hip. 

“This is the best end to a birthday I’ve ever had,” Scottie whispered into the quiet room. 

“Just wait until next year,” Christen whispered back, smoothing her hand over Scottie’s hair and dropping a kiss to her forehead.

“I love you, Christen. You’re the best Christen in the whole, wide world,” Scottie mumbled. 

“I love you too, sweetheart. You’re the best Scottie in the whole, wide world,” Christen replied, dropping her hand to rest atop Tobin’s on her hip.

“I love you, Mommy. You’re the best Mommy in the whole, wide world,” Scottie said, leaning over to kiss Tobin’s cheek. 

“I love you, little bit. You’re the best kid in the whole, wide world,” Tobin answered back, kissing Scottie’s forehead and sinking into the perfect warmth of this moment. 

Chapter Text

I wait by the door like I'm just a kid

Use my best colors for your portrait

Lay the table with the fancy shit

And watch you tolerate it

If it's all in my head, tell me now

Tell me I've got it wrong somehow

I know my love should be celebrated

But you tolerate it

I greet you with a battle hero's welcome

I take your indiscretions all in good fun

I sit and listеn, I polish plates until they gleam and glistеn

You're so much older and wiser and I

Break free and leave us in ruins

Took this dagger in me and removed it

Gain the weight of you, then lose it

Believe me, I could do it

If it's all in my head, tell me now

Tell me I've got it wrong somehow

I know my love should be celebrated

But you tolerate it

(Tobin - “Tolerate It” by Taylor Swift)


You don't know, if you belong here

You're afraid I won't stay long

While I lay in your arms dear

Can't you tell that you got me wrong


You got scars, they make you doubt

But you should know I won't leave more

I know it's hard when you give your everything, your everything

But just know that I'm still yours

'Cause these dreams ain't all that they seem

I know that they could hurt me

So won't you hold my hand if they come true

'Cause I could get by and hold my head high if everything deserts me

But I'm not losing you

And no, I'm not losing you

No, I'm not losing you

(Christen - “Not Losing You” by Maddie Poppe)


Four Years Ago...

Scottie’s screaming was what woke Tobin up this time. The throbbing in Tobin’s head was only getting worse, and her throat felt raw and scratchy. She had already taken three different kinds of medicine, and nothing seemed to be working. Her t-shirt had pink stains on it from the kids’ medicine that Scottie had spit up, but Tobin hadn’t felt like she had enough energy to even change her shirt. She reached across the bed, knowing that Roni had been there when she’d fallen asleep and hoping that Roni could get Scottie this time, but now the mattress was cold and empty. 

“MOMMY!” Scottie cried from down the hall, her voice shrill and her breaths heaving. 

Tobin jerked up, ignoring the aching feeling in her legs and arms, and hurried down the hall to where Scottie was sitting up in her bed. 

“I feel bad,” Scottie whimpered, letting out a long cough, her face contorting in pain once the coughs subsided.

“I know, buddy,” Tobin sighed, immediately scooping Scottie up in her arms. “Let’s try to get something to drink.” 

“Okay,” Scottie mumbled, burying her face into the side of Tobin’s neck.

Tobin stumbled into the kitchen, nearly tripping over the suitcases that were sitting in the hallway. She couldn’t remember if they were unpacked from the bachelorette trip Roni had been on for one of her friends or if they were newly packed for something else, but seeing them made Tobin’s stomach feel tight. It sent a bitter taste into her mouth. 

“Hot,” Scottie whispered. She tightened her small fists in Tobin’s shirt and pressed her face further into Tobin’s neck.

“You feel hot?” Tobin asked.

“You do, Mommy,” Scottie replied.

“Yeah, I think we still have fevers, little bit,” Tobin nodded. 

Tobin filled a kettle with water and set it on the stove. She wasn’t really sure that Scottie would even drink tea, but she was willing to try anything to get something warm down Scottie’s throat. If Scottie’s throat was anywhere as sore as her own, she knew a warm drink would offer some temporary relief. 

“I need you to drink some water, buddy. Are you hungry at all?” Tobin asked, grabbing a blanket from the couch and heading back into the kitchen. She put the blanket over a chair and set Scottie down on the blanket, wrapping her up like a little burrito. 

“I want Mom,” Scottie blubbered, her lower lip wobbling as tears filled her eyes.

“I know,” Tobin sighed. She put a sippy cup of water and a few plain crackers in front of Scottie on the table before pulling her phone out of her sweatpants’ pockets and trying to dial Roni’s number. She got her voicemail, just like she had yesterday when they'd gotten back from the pediatrician’s office. 

Scottie took a few sips from her cup and then held it out for Tobin. “Here, Mommy. Share,” Scottie sniffled, tears falling from her gray eyes.

“That’s yours,” Tobin said softly, feeling her own eyes start to water at the sight of Scottie so sad and in pain. She knew her own tears were coming, tears of anger and frustration and regret, but she didn’t want her almost four-year-old daughter to see them. “I’m gonna get my own and eat some food with you. I’m also gonna make a super-secret special drink.”

“Okay,” Scottie whispered, pulling her sippy cup back toward her and letting out a small huff.

Tobin made herself a cup of tea, but Scottie had made a face when she’d tried it, so Tobin ended up warming some milk and mixing in some honey to make it sweet. 

“I know Mommy’s tea was gross. Why don't you try this super-secret drink?” Tobin offered, handing Scottie a mug that she didn’t care about if Scottie broke it on accident. 

“Thank you,” Scottie mumbled, taking a sip of the milk and smiling a bit at Tobin when she liked the taste.

“I have a really good idea,” Tobin said, wanting something she said to brighten Scottie’s eyes, even if just for a moment. “You and I can have a sleepover in my big bed for the rest of the day. I don’t know about you, but I’m really sleepy.”

“With Mom?” Scottie asked, her excitement about sleeping in Tobin’s bed with both of her moms evident in her voice.

“We can see if Mom’s busy or not,” Tobin said softly, her heart cracking a little at Roni’s absence and Scottie’s clear longing for the other woman. “But if she’s busy, the two of us will just have to have tons of fun on our own.”

“Yeah, fun,” Scottie nodded, looking a million times better as she drank her warm milk and honey.

“Do you want anything else to eat?” Tobin asked, popping a plain cracker into her own mouth. 

Scottie shook her head as she took a large drink, spilling a bit of milk down the front of her shirt and on top of the table.

“Oopsies,” Tobin said, scooting out of her chair and wiping Scottie’s shirt, chin, and hand with a dishtowel. 

Scottie giggled and put the empty mug down. “Oopsies,” she repeated, letting out another giggle.

“I think you and I both need to change our shirts, buddy,” Tobin chuckled, looking at the pair of them. 

“UNC?” Scottie asked, jutting her lower lip out in a pout.

“I think that’s a great idea. The lucky jersey will probably make you feel tons better,” Tobin said. 

Scottie nodded animatedly, the color back in her cheeks and a light back in her eyes. Tobin lifted Scottie out of the chair, blanket and all, and carried her to her own bedroom. Tobin dug through her own dresser, noticing the limited number of Roni’s clothes that sat in the drawer. Scottie was already squirming out of the fuzzy blanket and pulling her own t-shirt off. 

“All right, let the magic take over,” Tobin said with a smile. She pulled the oversized jersey over Scottie’s head, her heart melting at just how long it was on her tiny body. She swapped her own shirt out for a UNC shirt, knowing that Scottie loved to match. 

“Let’s tuck you in, little bit,” Tobin said, pulling back the covers and situating Scottie onto the pillows. 

“Stay?” Scottie asked with a yawn, snuggling under the covers.

“I will always stay,” Tobin said. 

“Promise?” Scottie said in a quiet voice, her eyes big and sad and full of pain.

“I pinky promise,” Tobin whispered, her voice tight and wobbly. “Can I go get  something to help your stuffy nose from the hall closet?” 

Scottie nodded, her eyes filling with tears again.

“I’ll be so fast, and then we can cuddle,” Tobin promised, pressing a kiss to Scottie’s forehead. 

Tobin nearly ran down the hallway, pulling open the closet door and taking the humidifier off of the shelf. She raced into the kitchen, ignoring her own pounding headache. She needed to get back to Scottie and make sure she felt cared for, even if Roni wasn’t there. Tobin filled the back of the humidifier with water and put the lid on it. As she turned to head back into the bedroom, the front door opened, and Tobin’s headache suddenly seemed to be circulating anger throughout her body.  

“Angel, why is there milk all over the kitchen table?” Roni called out, her annoyance clear in her voice.

“Scottie spilled,” Tobin murmured, clenching her teeth together, partially because she was mad but also because she felt freezing cold and didn’t want them to chatter in front of Roni. 

“Why didn’t you clean it up?” Roni replied, setting her purse down on the clean side of the table and turning to face Tobin, her arms crossed over her chest.

“I’m a little busy trying to get her to sleep,” Tobin said, leaning her aching body against the wall. “She really wants you.” 

“I can’t get sick, I have a work trip coming up. Paris Fashion week won’t write about itself, angel,” Roni scoffed, rolling her eyes just a bit. 

“It’s a freelance job,” Tobin argued. “Tell them your family is sick. You don’t have to go.”

“I put the food on this milk-stained table, so yes I do have to go,” Roni said smoothly, her eyes narrowing a bit at the bite in Tobin’s words. 

“You’re not the only one who makes money, and to be honest, I haven’t seen any articles recently,” Tobin replied, her voice serious but quiet. She didn’t want Scottie to hear them arguing, even if it was getting harder to avoid these days. 

“Angel, your silly paintings barely make enough for one meal. But I- I don’t want to fight about this. I’m tired,” Roni sighed, running a hand over her face.

“So are we. She just wants you to sleep next to her,” Tobin said, feeling like she was practically begging Roni to stay and help. 

“I can’t. I’ll sleep in the guest room,” Roni shrugged, grabbing her phone from her purse and dropping her attention to the screen.

“When are you leaving for Paris?” Tobin asked, her voice lower and harder than she’d ever heard it before. 

“I was supposed to leave in a few days, but I think I’ll leave tomorrow. Get some of the pre-Fashion Week activities in,” Roni replied distractedly.

“Of course. Have a safe flight,” Tobin mumbled just a little bitterly before turning around and walking straight to her bedroom. She shut the door softly when she saw Scottie curled up under the comforter.

Tobin took a few deep breaths to steady herself before she hooked up the humidifier and placed it on Roni’s bedside table closest to Scottie. She crawled into the bed, finally feeling the stupid tears start to slip from the corners of her eyes. 

“Sad,” Scottie whispered, lifting a hand and laying it on Tobin’s cheek.

“How could I be sad when I have you? I’m just feeling sick,” Tobin whispered, pulling Scottie closer. 

“I love you,” Scottie sighed, tucking her head under Tobin’s chin and fisting her hand in Tobin’s shirt.

“I love you so much,” Tobin hummed, feeling a pit in her stomach start to grow. It was one thing for Roni to leave Tobin sick at home, but Scottie deserved more. Scottie didn’t deserve to be disappointed by any more adults. Scottie deserved the world, and Tobin was bound and determined to give her that. 

When Tobin woke up, soaking in sweat, her fever finally broken, it was 4:00AM. Scottie was still tucked in her arms, her own forehead finally feeling normal instead of blazing hot. 

Tobin slipped from the bed and padded down the hall. The guest room was empty, the suitcases were gone, the milk was still on the table, marking the wood with stains. Tobin didn’t even feel her eyes sting anymore. She pulled ingredients out of the fridge for chicken noodle soup and turned on a Disney movie as quietly as she could. When Scottie finally woke up, she’d have food and a fun movie on for her. They didn’t need Roni for comfort or for cuddles or for help. They didn't need Roni for anything, not when they had one another. 

Present Day...

“Yo, where’s my coffee, Tar Heel?” Kelley said, waving her hand in front of Tobin’s face. Her laughter subsided at the sight of the empty, far away look in Tobin’s eyes.

“Sorry, we were running late today,” Tobin said robotically, keeping her eyes glued to the grass in front of her feet and her arms folded over her stomach. 

“Are you good, dude?” Kelley asked, her voice quiet as she laid a hand on Tobin’s shoulder.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Tobin nodded, offering a fake, tight smile at Kelley. 

The truth of it was, she was far from fine. She hadn’t slept well, even with Christen and Scottie in bed with her. She’d woken up feeling the same way she’d felt when she was twenty-five and Roni had disappeared for the last time, flying to Paris and never coming back to the New Jersey house, at least not until it was too late. Not only that, but she suddenly felt this stupid paranoia that Roni was waiting around every corner trying to ruin a life that Tobin wanted more than anything. 

“You know, like, you can talk to me? I’m not just your kid’s coach or your girlfriend’s best bud,” Kelley shrugged, her hand falling to her side. 

“Scottie had a surprise birthday visit from my ex-wife,” Tobin said quickly. 

“Fuck,” Kelley said, dropping down onto the bench by Tobin’s side. She signaled to Becky to get things started for her and then looked over to where Christen and Scottie were sitting down in the grass on their own, their separation from the group making more sense now.

“I’m waiting for a call from the locksmith about setting up a time for him to come over,” Tobin added. 

“My uncle knows a guy. I can have him drop by tonight to get your locks changed and stuff,” Kelley offered.

“That’d be great,” Tobin said, her jaw clenching tightly. 

“I’m...I’m so sorry, Tobin,” Kelley offered, patting Tobin’s knee. “But you’ve got a whole bunch of us who have your and Scottie’s backs.”

“You should really get out there. Christen looks annoyed,” Tobin said, pointing at where a tall kid was now talking to Christen and making her scowl. 

“Pressy is always annoyed with Joni,” Kelley said with a shake of her head. “And we’re always going to be here for you and Mini Tar Heel. You’re stuck with us now, dude,” Kelley added with a smile, running her knuckles across Tobin’s head and jumping to her feet.

“Thanks,” Tobin mumbled, returning her gaze to the grass by her feet. She didn’t want to look out onto the field and see the way Scottie’s shoulders were still slumping. 


“Go join the rest of the girls, Joni,” Christen sighed, running a hand across her face in slight exasperation. She didn’t need Joni to keep standing here, asking why Scottie was getting special treatment, why Scottie wasn’t participating in the group drills. She needed the annoying ten-year-old to get out of here so she could get back to looking out for Scottie.

Christen watched Joni kick at the grass as she made her way over to where Becky was corralling the rest of the girls. With another sigh, she turned around and dropped back down into the grass in front of Scottie. 

“Sorry,” Scottie mumbled, shoving her shinguards into her socks. 

Christen reached out and stilled Scottie’s movements gently. “Did you know that you and Tobin have the same smile and laugh?” she said softly, setting the shinguards aside and angling her head to try and catch Scottie’s eyes.

“No,” Scottie said softly. “No one thinks she’s my mommy.”

“I knew she was when I met you guys,” Christen replied. “But something else you two have in common is that you apologize for things you don’t need to. So just like I always tell her, you don’t have to say sorry when you’re not the one who needs to say it. Okay?”

“Okay,” Scottie nodded, pulling her knees up to her chest. 

Christen ran a hand through her hair, wishing she knew what to say to make this better. She wished she could come up with the perfect thing to bring that light back into Scottie’s eyes and the smile back onto her face.

“Mommy thinks I forgot,” Scottie said quietly. 

“Forgot what, sweetheart?” Christen replied, her brow furrowing.

“When she left.” 

Christen’s chest tightened and her stomach dropped. She immediately scooted closer to Scottie and laid a hand on the grass between them, silently offering contact should Scottie wish it. 

“We were really sick,” Scottie admitted, double knotting her cleats. “Mommy got really really sick.”

“You don’t need to tell me anything you don’t want to,” Christen said gently.

“Okay,” Scottie shrugged, taking Christen’s hand in her own and giving it a soft squeeze. She didn’t mind telling Christen things, not when Christen promised to always stay. “She had to go away.” 

“Tobin or…” Christen trailed off.

“Roni wanted to go away. Mommy had to go away,” Scottie clarified. 

“I don’t know if I completely understand, sweetheart,” Christen replied, her confusion growing at the vague statements leaving Scottie’s lips.

“She was really sick,” Scottie repeated. “She thinks I forgot, but I didn’t forget.”

“Tobin was really sick when Roni left?” Christen clarified, her jaw clicking shut. Her anger at Roni was curling around her heart, making it ache and pound and clench painfully. She couldn’t fathom leaving Tobin and Scottie in general, but she couldn’t even begin to fathom leaving them when they were sick and in need.

“Yeah, we were sick when she left,” Scottie nodded. “But I got better faster.” 

“I’m sorry you were sick,” Christen said softly.

“It’s okay. I think I want to go play now,” Scottie said, changing the subject the way only a child could. 

“If you feel like stopping, you can, okay? Just come find me and we can stick together,” Christen replied, reaching out to brush some flyaways behind Scottie’s ear.

“Sure,” Scottie nodded, finally tucking her shinguards in her socks. “Thank you.”

“Anytime,” Christen murmured. She watched Scottie hop to her feet and race over to where Becky and Kelley were taking the girls through a passing drill. The light still wasn’t back and she hadn’t gotten a smile or even a giggle. It made the worry that had started to knot itself in her chest yesterday at the sight of Roni standing in Tobin’s kitchen tighten and worsen. 

Everything inside of Christen was screaming at her to protect Scottie and Tobin from this woman. She felt an intense need to keep them safe, to hold them close, and make sure nothing bad ever happened to them again. She also felt an intense desire to kick the shit out of Roni. 

But since she couldn’t, Christen let out a long breath and got to her feet. She was about to go join Kelley and Becky when she caught Kelley’s eye. Kelley gestured over to the bench, where Tobin was sitting, hunched over, her face in her hands. 

Christen’s heart tightened at the sight and she quickly rerouted toward the bench, her coaching duties put on hold for a moment longer. She sank down onto the bench by Tobin’s side, making sure to keep some space between them. With a gentle touch, she laid her hand in the middle of Tobin’s back, feeling the tension in Tobin’s frame.

“What can I do?” Christen asked quietly, wishing there was some sort of quick fix to take away the years of pain and replace it with joy.

“I’m pretty sure right now you’re supposed to be coaching,” Tobin answered, trying to joke but very aware that her teasing fell flat. “You’ve already done more than enough.”

“Agree to disagree,” Christen replied, throwing Tobin’s words from last night back at her. 

“Really, you’ve done way more than you even know,” Tobin said, finally turning her head to the side to look at Christen. “I wish you hadn’t been dragged into it, though.”

Christen shrugged, unbothered at having been dragged into anything. “And I wish you two had never been treated like that, or disappointed like that,” Christen murmured, moving her hand up and down Tobin’s back gently. 

“Well...if you think about it-” Tobin started, a small smile spreading across her face, “-if we hadn’t been, we wouldn’t have you.”

Christen returned Tobin’s smile, a small bit of warmth spreading through her chest. “While I’m super happy we have each other, I still wish she hadn’t hurt you two. It just-” Christen stopped herself, using her free hand to rub at her sternum, right above the ball of fury she still had inside of her. “I hate that you two went through that. It makes me so angry, Tobin. So goddamn angry.”

“Don’t waste your energy,” Tobin said softly, wishing that she could reach out and touch Christen, that she could rest her hand on Christen’s leg or take Christen’s hand in her own. She settled for the warmth that she felt from Christen’s touch on her back. 

“I know, I know. Anger and hate are a shout into the void that does nothing. But I still feel it. I can’t stop feeling it when Scottie, when you - when you’re both just...down,” Christen sighed, her eyes tracking Scottie as she ran around the field with much less gusto than usual.

“I mean, sometimes shouting into the void feels really good,” Tobin hummed. “I definitely did it for a while, but Scottie and I are okay. We’re gonna be back to normal soon. We always have a couple days of feeling some hurt whenever she pops back up, but it never lasts.”

“What if she doesn’t leave?” Christen asked softly, her hand stiffening against Tobin’s back.

“Roni really likes to think that Scottie and I are sitting at home waiting for her to come back. I think it’s a power thing or a control thing. I think she always thought she had a big enough pull on us that Scottie would always call her Mom and I wouldn’t file for divorce, but she doesn’t ever plan on staying. That’s not the kind of person she is. She’s just mad that we weren’t waiting for her,” Tobin replied honestly. 

Christen nodded, looking away from Scottie and over at Tobin. “Me being with you isn’t going to make things worse, is it? With her?”

“I’m not planning on sacrificing my own happiness and Scottie’s just to avoid Roni throwing a tantrum,” Tobin mumbled. 

“Good, because those Frozen on Broadway tickets are non-refundable,” Christen said with a teasing lilt in her voice, her mouth lifting into a small smile.

“And we’ll be there,” Tobin laughed for the first time in hours. 

“Did I mention it’s the sing-along version?” Christen said, her smile growing, Tobin’s laughter like music to her ears.

“You realize that as soon as you give those tickets to Scottie she’s going to perk right up,” Tobin chuckled. 

“I’ll give them to her soon. Maybe tonight in our pillow castle,” Christen replied, unconsciously leaning just a bit closer to Tobin.  

“Only if you aren’t exhausted after your own practice,” Tobin said, not wanting Christen to stretch herself too thin. 

“I really thought I could get out of it, but Amanda said it’s mandatory before the Red Stars game this weekend,” Christen sighed. 

“You do not have to come over after practice to build a pillow castle. The pillows will be there whenever you come over next,” Tobin assured Christen, wanting her to know that she could go to her own apartment and relax if she wanted to. 

Christen cocked her head to the side, a small smile playing at her lips. “When are you going to realize that I love spending time with you two?”

“I know you do,” Tobin replied, her smile growing a little at the way her body felt warmer with Christen’s sweet words.

“You don’t know, though,” Christen said quietly with a small shake of her head. “There is literally nowhere else I’d rather be and nobody else I’d rather be with than you two.”

Tobin let out a soft groan and closed her eyes. “I have to wait like eight hours to kiss you after you just said that.”

Christen chuckled, the sound warm and light and filling the air around them. She turned to see that everyone on the field was distracted, the girls and coaches alike. So, she pulled her jacket off and held it in the air, blocking the people on the field from being able to see them. 

“Or just eight seconds for me to work a bit of magic,” Christen winked.

Tobin’s heart fluttered at the dorky, sweet way Christen was creating some form of privacy for them on the bench. “You’re really amazing,” she whispered, leaning closer to Christen. 

Christen closed the last bit of space between them, pressing her lips against Tobin’s quickly. “Just really into you,” Christen replied softly, kissing Tobin once more before leaning back and lowering the jacket.

Scottie was grinning over toward the bench, having been the only player on the field to actually notice Christen lift up her jacket to block their faces. 

“Ooooh, you were caught,” Tobin teased. 

“Worth it,” Christen whispered, waving at Scottie and then letting out a small sigh. “I should probably stop shirking my duties.”

“Have fun, Coach Christen,” Tobin smirked, leaning back against the bench. 

Christen rolled her eyes and got to her feet. She lingered though, turning back to Tobin and reaching out to push some hair behind Tobin’s ear. 

“I missed that,” she whispered, trailing her finger down Tobin’s cheek and toward her lips that were still pulled up into a smile.

“Me too,” Tobin said, feeling a thousand times lighter just with a few words from Christen and her gentle touch. 

“You’ve got a sexy smile,” Christen winked, turning on her heel and running onto the field, the sound of Tobin’s melodic laughter following her the whole way.

“Okay, dish,” Becky whispered, poking Christen in the side, wanting to know the gossip and also wanting Christen’s words to distract her from the freezing cold ice bath they were currently sitting in. 

Christen pulled the towel tighter around her shoulders and shivered. “She was waiting in the fucking kitchen, you guys,” Christen sighed, shaking her head.

“Yeah, my uncle’s friend is changing Tobin’s locks this evening,” Kelly mumbled. 

“What does she look like?” Becky asked curiously. 

“Annoyingly gorgeous,” Christen grumbled, sinking further into the cold water.

“Does she look like you? Does Tar Heel have a type?” Kelley shivered. 

“Not at all,” Christen shook her head, her jaw tightening at the reminder of the woman she’d had the unfortunate luck to meet yesterday. “Red hair, mile-long legs, pinched expression on her face all the time.”

“Does Scottie call her Mom?” Becky asked, adding another question to the list. 

Christen’s stomach rolled. “I don’t know. Tobin had me take Scottie upstairs, so they didn’t really interact at all.”

“Protective Tar Heel,” Kelley smirked. 

“How did Tobin react to her?” Becky asked, ignoring Kelley in favor of getting more answers from Christen. 

“Loud. Angry. I’ve never heard her sound like that before. But...under all that, she just sounded sad,” Christen admitted. “Neither one of them really stopped crying until late last night. She did a fucking number on them, you guys.”

“Poor things,” Becky sighed. 

“Do you think she’s still in the city?” Kelley asked, a scowl forming on her face at the information Christen had just shared. 

“For her sake, I hope not,” Christen all but growled.

“Oooh protective Pressy too,” Kelley grinned. “You know we’re both here to help whenever you need us or whenever they need us. Tobin and Scottie are ours too now.”

“Yeah, we care about them too,” Becky added.

Christen nodded, growing quiet for a moment. She watched the water circle around the ice bath, her mind on Tobin and Scottie. She thought about the pain they’d been through. She thought about the number of times Roni had disappointed them. She thought about the broken road that had led them to her, littered with hurt and unkept promises. 

And then she thought about how she was going to do better. She wouldn’t cause them pain. She wouldn’t cause them hurt. She wouldn’t break promises. She was going to be there for them; she was going to stay. 

“I think I love her,” Christen whispered, the words tumbling from her lips almost without permission. She blinked quickly and looked up, her eyes moving between Becky and Kelley. She was surprised at herself, at the admission, even if she wasn’t surprised by the feelings. They’d been building and swirling around within her for a while now. What did surprise her was that she’d blurted it out in the middle of an ice bath.

Kelley’s mouth flopped open, but no words came out. Becky looked similarly stunned. “That’s a really big step,” Becky breathed out.  

“I...yeah,” Christen mumbled, scratching at the corner of her jaw.

“Are you going to tell her that?” Becky asked, still filling in the silence for Kelley. 

Christen shook her head quickly. “Not right now. I shouldn’t, not with Roni here. But...I’m just feeling things. A lot of wonderful, big, scary things. And I just-” Christen stopped, forcing herself to take a deep breath and not completely panic over the fact that she was very much in love with Tobin Heath. “I had to tell someone.”

“Do you think she feels the same way?” Becky asked, keeping her voice neutral and calm. 

“Tar Heel better fucking feel the same way,” Kelley spluttered out. 

“I hope so,” Christen whispered. She offered Becky and Kelley tight smiles and then swallowed thickly, her eyes falling to the water once more.

“She looks at you like she does,” Becky assured Christen, reaching out to take one of her hands. “She looks at you like she can’t believe you exist.”

Christen blushed a little at that, squeezing Becky’s hand. “I don’t know about that. But- I’ll tell her. Just...not right now. Not with the whole Roni thing hanging over us.”

“Yeah, maybe you shouldn’t,” Becky agreed. “You don’t want her to think it has anything to do with what’s going on right now.”

“It doesn’t, right?” Kelley asked. 

“No,” Christen replied forcefully. “It has nothing to do with her. What I feel for’s been there. It’s been there for a while.”

“I’m really proud of you,” Kelley whispered. 

Christen felt her brow furrow. “Why?”

“I was just really worried about you for a long time,” Kelley said carefully, not wanting to upset Christen by bringing up the past and her old coping mechanisms. “We both were. And at first, you hated the Academy, and you didn’t like Tobin, and now you’re just open and in love and kind of glowing. I’m just really proud of you for putting yourself first and finding people who make you happy.”

Christen felt her eyes fill with tears as a wobbly breath escaped her lips. In just a matter of months, she’d completely turned her life around. She’d found happiness and people who made her laugh, and she’d stumbled into love without even realizing it. The full force of that was finally hitting her, minutes after admitting to it. 

She loved Tobin. She didn’t think. She knew. She loved Tobin and that was the scariest feeling of all. But she wasn’t the same person she was three months ago. She didn’t run from her fears or her feelings; she faced them head-on. She embraced them. 

“I love her,” Christen repeated, this time with a smile on her face, a blinding one. Despite the tears gathered in her eyes, she was smiling bigger than she ever had before. “Oh my god, I love her,” Christen laughed, squeezing Becky’s hand and then reaching out for Kelley’s.  

The tenderness and beauty of the moment were broken up by the timer going off for all of them to get out of the ice bath. Becky laughed when Christen jerked out of her grasp and climbed out of the bath. 

“You going over to their house?” Becky asked, a knowing smile on her face. 

“Yup, Kelley let’s move!” Christen called out over her shoulder.

“I’m a chauffeur now,” Kelley groaned, but her smile was teasing, and she quickly climbed out after Christen. 

“She’s so happy, Kel,” Becky grinned.

“It’s freaking adorable,” Kelley murmured, drying herself off. 

“Get her to her girls safe and sound,” Becky instructed, setting the timer for another five minutes.

“Aye, aye, captain,” Kelley saluted before she hurried over to her locker to change.

Now that she had admitted it, Christen realized her love for Tobin was in almost everything she did. 

It was in the barely-there kisses she pressed to Tobin’s forehead whenever she got up from the couch to get them a snack or a drink. It was in her voice whenever she said good morning or good night. It was in her smile whenever she caught Tobin and Scottie goofing off together. It was in the air whenever she was around them. 

It was just there and Christen couldn’t wipe the dopey grin off her face now that she’d realized it.

“All right, Casanova, out you go,” Kelley said, pulling up outside of Tobin’s house. 

“Thanks, Kel,” Christen said, grabbing her bag. “See you tomorrow?”

“I can pick you up here before practice if you want. Just text me the plan,” Kelley nodded. 

Christen blushed and offered Kelley a smile. “I will. Tell Sonny I say hi,” she teased, opening the car door.

“How- I- She’s not-” Kelley muttered. 

Christen pointed to Kelley’s neck. “She should really learn not to leave those in such noticeable areas.”

“She finally agreed to give us a shot,” Kelley said quietly, “So I’m not gonna complain about her hickey placement.”

Christen’s grin grew. “I’m really happy for you, Kel. Look at us, giving love a shot. How grown-up of us.”

“Go hug your people,” Kelley said with a blush on her cheeks. 

“Go hickey-up your girlfriend,” Christen teased, hopping out of the car.

“You can walk to practice tomorrow,” Kelley deadpanned, her blush only getting darker. 

Christen waved as Kelley pulled away from the curb. She practically skipped up onto the sidewalk and up the steps to Tobin’s place, still feeling like she was floating on cloud nine after that love revelation. 

But whatever pep in her step she had quickly left her when she caught sight of the pastry bag leaning against the door. 

Christen narrowed her eyes and grabbed the pastry bag, reading the note left on the front of it:


Angel, I know last night wasn’t the best reunion. I’m staying in the city. I’d love to take you and our princess to dinner and talk. I’m not going anywhere. -Your Roni


It took every ounce of self-control not to crumble the pastry bag up and toss it off the porch. Instead, Christen let out a strangled breath and knocked on the front door.

“Hi,” Tobin breathed out, her shoulders visibly relaxing when she saw Christen. 

“Hi back,” Christen replied with a tight smile. 

“Christen!” Scottie called from inside the studio. 

Christen held the pastry bag up for Tobin to take, brushing a quick kiss to her cheek. “Took a lot of restraint not to toss it into the street,” she whispered as she moved by Tobin and into the studio. 

Tobin followed behind her, locking the door, peeking into the bag, and barking out a laugh as soon as she saw the note and the pastry. 

“What’s funny, Mommy?” Scottie asked, her hands covered in paint and smearing colorful swirls onto a canvas on the floor.

“Scottie, what’s one food I really don’t like?” Tobin asked with a tiny smile on her lips. 

“Almonds!” Scottie giggled.

“That’s right,” Tobin nodded, walking across the room to the garage door. She tossed the pastry bag into the trash can near the door and stepped back into the studio. 

Christen joined Scottie on the floor of the studio and arched a brow in Tobin’s direction. “Almond croissant?” she asked, nodding her head in the direction of the trash can, where the pastry and the note now sat.

“You bet,” Tobin said, leaning down and pressing a kiss to Christen’s head. “I had a bad experience with almond extract as a kid, and I’ve never been able to recover.”

Christen wrinkled her nose and reached out to run her fingers through Scottie’s curls.

“Christen, do you want to paint with me?” Scottie asked, holding up her messy fingers to entice Christen to join her. 

“You can borrow a smock or a shirt,” Tobin added, pointing at a hook on the wall that held several huge button-ups that had paint splattered on them. Scottie clearly had borrowed one. The button-up was huge on her, and Tobin had clearly had to roll the sleeves many times to free Scottie’s arms to work. 

Christen looked down at her ratty blue jeans and old Nike t-shirt. She shrugged and tossed her bag a few feet away from her.

“I’m good with a little mess,” Christen replied, rising onto her knees and dipping a hand into the jar of yellow paint on the ground next to the canvas. She traced her fingers across the top corner of the painting, contributing to Scottie’s artwork.

Tobin’s cheeks ached with the huge smile that she felt spread across her face. She’d always worried that hanging out with a kid would be a little too messy for Christen. Tobin was sometimes aware that her life came with a level of messiness that Christen’s didn’t. But seeing Christen laugh with Scottie, both of their hands covered in paint, made Tobin’s heart race and melt at the same time. 

Tobin had to force herself to look at the latest painting she’d nearly finished. The painting itself was rectangular and consisted of warm colors. Oranges swirled across the canvas, and yellow faded in and out of some strokes. There were some reds and even soft pinks, and it made Tobin think about the sunrise that Scottie always wanted to wake up for. What Tobin loved most about this piece was that she’d made it for herself. For the last few months, while her latest collection was sitting in MoMA, she’d been doing commissioned pieces. And while she loved making people smile with pieces she made especially for them, she felt most creative when she had no limitations, when the art was just something that naturally spilled from her own brain. 

Right now, working on a painting she actually felt a strong personal attachment to with her daughter and girlfriend laughing a few feet away, Tobin felt like everything was right in the world. She felt peaceful and grateful, and she knew that no matter what happened with Roni’s visit, everything would be okay because she had moments like these. 

“Are you sure purple’s your color?” Christen asked Scottie with a teasing smile on her face, already reaching out to grab a bit of light purple paint out of the jar.

“I love purple,” Scottie nodded. 

Christen wiped the purple paint onto Scottie’s cheek with a laugh. “Awesome purple really does suit you, cutie.”

Scottie puffed out her chest before reaching both of her hands out and putting them on Christen’s cheeks, smearing multiple colors across her face. 

“You look good in every color,” Scottie smirked. 

Christen grinned, reaching back out for the purple paint. She got some more on her fingers and then drew a heart on Scottie’s cheek.

“Not just happy yellow?” Christen asked, wiping the paint onto her jeans without a care.

“All the colors,” Scottie nodded with a giggle. “Mommy, doesn’t Christen look pretty?” 

Tobin turned around and let out a loud laugh at the paint that covered Christen’s cheeks and stuck to a few pieces of hair. 

“She looks beautiful,” Tobin nodded. “So do you, little bit.”

Christen blushed at Tobin’s compliment and felt a mischievous smile tug at her lips. “Do you think Tobin’s color is really goofy orange?” she asked Scottie, reaching out to pull a jar of orange paint closer.

“Woah woah woah,” Tobin said, stepping back slightly. 

“We can find out,” Scottie said with a matching mischievous grin.  

“Okay, let’s cover some paintings if we’re gonna start making a mess,” Tobin said slowly, pulling a few sheets down over a couple of commissioned pieces that she’d completed or nearly completed. 

“We’re not planning on making a mess,” Christen grinned, helping Scottie dip her hands into the orange paint. 

Scottie hurried over toward Tobin and pressed her orange handprints to Tobin’s chest on her white shirt, right over her heart. 

Chuckling, Christen dipped her hand into the jar and followed Scottie over. She drew a heart onto Tobin’s cheek to match Scottie’s, and then pressed her palm over Tobin’s heart as well, right next to Scottie’s.

“Oh, thank you,” Tobin said softly, her smile practically blinding. 

“Mommy, can I put my hand on your painting?” Scottie asked, looking up at Tobin with wide eyes. 

“Uhhhh…” Tobin said, thinking about whether she really wanted any handprints on the painting she’d been working on. On the one hand, it wasn’t for work, so Scottie could definitely do it without consequences, but on the other hand, Tobin really liked it the way it was. 

“I think my shirt needs some handprints, actually,” Christen supplied quickly, steering Scottie back over to the paints on the floor. “What colors do you want to do?” 

“Really?!” Scottie asked. 

“Tobin’s shirt looks so cool, I don’t want to be left out of all the fun,” Christen replied. 

“I can do purples or pinks or yellows,” Scottie said, already moving over to the paints. 

Christen sighed and leaned back against the table Tobin’s paints were resting on, knowing she’d do just about anything to keep that smile on Scottie’s face.

“See, I think you’re a natural,” Tobin whispered, pressing a quick kiss to Christen’s shoulder. 

“Remember that when I accidentally teach her a really bad swear word and get her to play soccer for Stanford,” Christen hummed with a smile.

“I’ll do my very best,” Tobin teased. 

Christen turned her head to look at Tobin, her eyes taking in the beaming smile and the orange heart painted onto her cheek. She swore that she fell a little more in love with Tobin at this moment, and she swore that it was beyond obvious in the way that she was smiling over at Tobin. 

“You’ve got a dopey smile on your face,” Tobin whispered, reaching around Christen and dipping her finger into the nearest bit of paint she could find. 

“Your fault,” Christen murmured.

Tobin ran her finger from the middle of Christen’s forehead down to the tip of her nose, leaving a trail of yellow paint. 

Christen just narrowed her eyes playfully. “This better wash off,” she whispered.

“It’s permanent, I’m afraid,” Tobin joked. 

“Then you’ll always have my heart,” Christen teased, poking her finger against Tobin’s cheek, right over the heart she’d painted there.

“That’s very sweet,” Tobin hummed, her heart pounding against her ribcage at the more serious meaning behind Christen’s words. “Do I need to paint one on you, or can I just tell you that you have mine too?” 

Christen’s heart fluttered in her chest and a deep blush heated her cheeks. She felt a smile grow on her face as she opened her mouth to respond-

“You can kiss her if you want, Mommy!” Scottie called out with a lopsided grin on her face, her attention moving back to the paints and trying to pick the ones she wanted to use to put handprints on Christen’s shirt.

“Thanks, little bit!” Tobin called back. “I always want to,” she murmured for only Christen to hear. 

“That’s so crazy because I always want to too,” Christen whispered, her green eyes dancing with amusement.

Tobin stepped forward and tugged on the hem of Christen’s shirt to move her closer. She gave Christen a short kiss, relishing in the soft feel of Christen’s lips, even if the kiss was eight-year-old appropriate. 

“Honey,” Abby whispered in warning, but there was no stopping a Glennon Doyle scorned and seriously pissed off. 

“I am woman, hear me roar!” Glennon seethed, pacing around the VIP box. “The nerve of that woman! To show up here! To talk to you like that! To make Scottie cry! To talk about Christen like that!”

“Yeah, she called her my mistress,” Tobin growled.

“TOBIN! She doesn’t need any more fuel,” Abby warned. 

“Mistress? MISTRESS?” Glennon yelled. “I swear to God if I ever see her-”

“She said she’s staying in the city?” Abby asked, stepping up behind Glennon and dropping her hands to her shoulders. She gently rubbed her wife’s shoulders, trying to calm her down as she looked across the box at Tobin with sympathetic eyes. 

“I mean, she says a lot of things. We’ll see if I actually have to deal with her again,” Tobin sighed. 

Glennon patted Abby’s hands. “Murderous rage has subsided, thank you,” she said, moving to where Tobin was sitting. She sank into the seat next to Tobin and grabbed ahold of Tobin’s hand. 

“You promise you’re okay?” Glennon asked quietly, trying to find the answer for herself in Tobin’s eyes.

“I mean, I’m pissed. I’m mad that Scottie was upset by seeing her, and I hate that she just shoved herself into my house and yelled about a woman I lo- care about. Don’t look at me like that right now,” Tobin said, her cheeks turning red. 

“We are so coming back to that when the devil incarnate is no longer traipsing around our city,” Glennon replied with a smile.

Abby ruffled her hand across Tobin’s head and then plopped down next to Glennon. 

“Fuck Roni. Let’s watch the woman you lo-care about kick some ass against the Red Stars,” Abby teased, shooting Tobin a wink over Glennon’s head.

Tobin sunk deeper in her seat, feeling her palms get a little sweaty at the idea of nearly telling her friends just how deep she was in this relationship. It had only been a few months, but she was overwhelmed by how much she felt for the other woman. Tobin felt her heart ache to love Christen when Christen took care of Scottie, when Christen laughed so hard that she had to throw her head back, when Christen sank into her arms for a long hug, when Christen did just about anything. She just needed to wait for a better time to tell her. 

“Tobs, you’re never allowed to lose this girl. There’s free beer!” Cindy called out after entering the VIP box and seeing the coolers stocked with beer.

“I’ll do my best!” Tobin called back, holding up a thumbs up. 

“Marry her! There are free nachos too!” Jeff added, making Tobin officially hide her face in her shirt. 

“Can I have tape today, too?” Scottie asked, swinging her legs back and forth. She was sitting in Christen’s padded chair in front of her locker, and Christen was sitting on the ground in front of her. 

“For what?” Christen asked with a smile, cocking her head to the side. She’d been so happy to see how good Scottie was doing these past two days. The light was back, and so was her laugh, and Christen just wanted to do her best to keep them around.

“I dunno,” Scottie shrugged. “For good luck.”

“Do you want to write anything on it?” Christen wondered, reaching around Scottie to grab her roll of tape and the Sharpie.

“Mhm, but it’s a secret,” Scottie nodded, waggling her brows dramatically. 

Christen chuckled and ripped off a piece of tape, one much smaller than what she used for her own wrist. She gently wrapped it around Scottie’s wrist and then handed Scottie the Sharpie.

Scottie uncapped the Sharpie and focused on her wrist. She stuck her tongue out in concentration and scrawled out four things. She quickly capped the pen and handed it back to Christen with an even bigger smile on her face. 

“Do I get to see?”

Scottie held out her wrist, revealing three letters: C, S, and T and a wobbly looking heart. 

Christen had gotten so used to the choked-up feeling she got whenever Scottie did something like this, something sweet and thoughtful, that she almost didn’t notice the way her throat tightened and her eyes burned with unshed tears. 

“That looks great, sweetheart,” Christen replied quietly, poking her finger in the dimple on Scottie’s cheek.

“Thank you,” Scottie beamed. “Now I get to be like you.”

Christen let out a shaky breath and shook her head, dropping her focus to the tape she was now wrapping around her own wrist. 

“You should just be you, Scottie Heath. You’re the best,” Christen replied, ripping the tape and then setting it aside. 

“I always get to be me,” Scottie said, smiling at Christen. “Mommy says I should never turn that off.” 

Christen deposited the tape back in her locker and smiled up at Scottie, hoping her unshed tears weren’t noticeable. 

“Tobin’s right. Never turn that off, okay?” 

“Pinky promise,” Scottie said, parroting all the pinky promises Tobin had made with her and offering her pinky to Christen. 

Christen took Scottie’s pinky in her own and squeezed it gently. She then picked up the Sharpie and wrote the typical numbers she always wrote on her wrist. But this time, she added four letters along the very bottom of the tape. She capped the pen and then turned her wrist around for Scottie to see what she’d written.

Scottie narrowed her eyes at the new addition to Christen’s tape, trying to sound out the letters that didn’t make up a word.  

“SH for Scottie Heath, and TH for Tobin Heath,” Christen explained, grinning at the confused crinkle that had appeared between Scottie’s brows.

“You play for us?” Scottie asked, her eyes widening in wonder. 

“Yeah, sweetheart, I do,” Christen replied, her throat getting thick again but she welcomed it. She welcomed it just like she welcomed every big, scary emotion she’d been faced with these past few months. 

“We love you a lot,” Scottie said, her smile becoming blindingly bright and happy. 

Christen’s smile mirrored Scottie’s. “And I love you a lot, too.”

“Are you going to be careful this game?” Scottie asked as she reached her hand up to touch Christen’s cheek where she’d once had a bruise from a game. 

“Pinky promise,” Christen hummed, her hand rising to cover Scottie’s against her cheek.

“Good! Because when it’s really sunny, Mommy said we could take my new bike to the park, but you have to feel good to do that!” Scottie said.

Christen laughed at the sudden change of topic and mood. She pushed herself up off the ground and stayed crouched down to Scottie’s eye level. 

“Maybe we can go after Pancake Sunday?” Christen offered.

“Ooooooh Pancake Sunday?!” Kelley called from across the locker room. “Can I come?” 

“I love pancakes! Can I come?” Morgan yelled, winking over at Christen. 

“Whoa, pancakes? Can I join too?” Becky grinned, leaning back in her chair and rolling up the sleeves of her jersey. 

Christen turned to look back at Scottie. “How do three more people at pancake Sunday sound?” she asked quietly.

“Mommy’s gonna have to make a lot of batter,” Scottie whispered, her eyes scrunching up in delight. 

“And we’ll get to flip so many pancakes,” Christen added, a smile growing on her face. 

“Time to head out!” Amanda called out to her team. “And sign me up for the pancakes, Press,” she added with a wink. 

“You got it, Coach,” Christen chuckled, lifting Scottie out of her chair. “Think Tobin will love having the whole team over tomorrow?” she asked Scottie.

“Definitely,” Scottie nodded, hopping from foot to foot and taking Christen’s hand in her own for lining up. 

Christen couldn’t remember the last time Gotham had beaten a team this bad. The final score was 7-1, and she’d netted three of the goals. Each time she’d scored, she tapped two fingers over her heart and pointed at Scottie on the sidelines. Each time she’d scored, she swore she could hear Tobin and Tobin’s parents and Abby and Glennon cheering impossibly loud. It was the perfect game and she wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

She only signed a few autographs. She didn’t want to ignore the fans, but she did have Scottie and Tobin and Tobin’s parents waiting for her. So after her fourth or fifth poster and her tenth selfie, she bowed out of any more fan interactions and headed for the tunnel. 

She passed a few of her teammates doing media or talking with each other and headed for the area where their community engagement manager, Bobbie, always took the ball girls after games.

Her blood ran cold when she heard a voice that was quickly becoming far too familiar in the absolute worst way possible.

“I’d like you to let me take my daughter home,” Roni argued. 

“The last name on your I.D. doesn’t match hers, and you aren’t the person who dropped her off with us,” Bobbie replied calmly, keeping her hand on Scottie’s shoulder. 

“That’s a bit old-fashioned of you,” Roni scoffed. 

“I’m sorry, but my job is to keep all of the girls here safe, and unless you have other proof, I’m not releasing her to you,” Bobbie said more firmly. 

Roni changed tactics, lowering herself to look down at Scottie. “Come on, Princess. Tell the nice lady here that you want to leave with your Mom.”

“My mom is upstairs. Her name is Tobin,” Scottie said as confidently as she could, looking up at Bobbie and stepping slightly away from Roni. 

“I think we’ll wait for Tobin then,” Bobbie said to Roni. 

Christen couldn’t get there fast enough. She hurried up, her eyes narrowed in Roni’s direction. “What’s going on here?” Christen asked, trying to keep her voice calm as she stepped between Scottie and Roni, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Of fucking course,” Roni grumbled to herself. 

“That’s a bad word,” Scottie whispered, looking up at Christen. 

“I know, sweetheart,” Christen murmured, lifting her arm for Scottie. The girl quickly left Bobbie and melted into Christen’s side, burying her face in Christen’s jersey. “I got it from here, Bobbie,” Christen said, her focus solely on Bobbie. Bobbie backed away after offering one final look in Roni’s direction.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Roni spat, adjusting her purse on her shoulder. “You aren’t her mother. Actually, it’s my name on the paperwork.”

“I think you should leave,” Christen replied, keeping her voice even, her arm tightening around Scottie.

“I don’t really care what Tobin’s flavor of the month thinks. I’m here to spend time with my daughter,” Roni growled. 

Christen’s jaw clicked shut, swallowing the instant replies she thought of, ones full of colorful language that would let Roni know exactly what she thought of her. 

“If you actually cared about her, you wouldn’t be trying to spend time with her like this,” Christen shot back. “Now leave, before I call security.”

“Princess,” Roni said, leaning down toward Scottie and taking her free hand that wasn’t wrapped around Christen’s waist. “I’m gonna come by later. You and your Mommy and I can get some dinner.”

“I don’t think Mommy wants to,” Scottie said softly, tightening her arm around Christen a little more. 

Christen felt the corner of her mouth lift into a small, victorious smile at Scottie’s words. She took a step back and kept Scottie pressed against her side, so that Roni couldn’t hold onto Scottie any longer.

“I’ll call her and make sure, okay?” Roni said with a sweet smile that morphed into a smirk when she looked at Christen. “Just so you’re aware. You’re the third person Tobin’s asked to play house with, so I wouldn’t feel special and I wouldn’t be smirking like that.” Roni spun on her heel and made her way back out of the tunnel toward the front gates. 

Christen felt her shoulders slump a little as she watched Roni strut away. “You okay, sweetheart?” Christen asked softly, her eyes still focused on watching Roni.

“Are you?” Scottie asked, burying her face into Christen’s stomach again. “She had angry eyes.”

“I’m fine,” Christen replied evasively, running her free hand up and down Scottie’s back, Roni’s words echoing through her mind.

“I’m looking for a little peanut!” Jeff called from the end of the tunnel. 

“Grandpa!” Scottie beamed, loosening her hold on Christen to lean around her and wave at where Jeff, Cindy, and Tobin were making their way down the tunnel.

“There she is! Christen, that was an incredible game,” Jeff cheered, leading the group toward Scottie. 

Only then did Christen turn away from the front gates, from watching Roni disappear into the crowd. She fixed a smile on her face as she pivoted herself and Scottie toward the Heaths.

“Thanks, Jeff,” Christen said, trying to infuse her voice with as much excitement as she could.

“It really was a spectacular game. Thank you for saving us tickets,” Cindy added. 

Scottie left Christen's side and bypassed Jeff’s open arms heading straight for Tobin and burying her face into Tobin’s shirt. 

“No problem. Like I said, anytime,” Christen replied, trying to ignore the way her stomach sank with each reminder of Roni’s words that her mind decided to replay for her on a loop.

Tobin practically lost her balance with the way Scottie pushed into her stomach. She stumbled back toward the wall and lowered herself down so that she could talk quietly with Scottie. 

“Scottie must've missed her mom or something,” Jeff said quietly to Cindy, looking a little butthurt about the dodged hug. 

“Yeah, or something,” Cindy replied, her eyebrows furrowing at the serious way Tobin was focusing on Scottie. “You probably need to get all changed before heading out. We don’t want to keep you. We just wanted to say thank you,” Cindy added, trying to pull attention off of Tobin and Scottie for a minute. 

Christen forced herself to look away from Scottie and Tobin, her eyes drifting to meet Cindy’s. “I’m really glad you guys could make it,” Christen offered. “I’ll change quickly and meet you guys out front?”

“Sounds great,” Jeff said with a smile. 

“We’ll see you out front,” Cindy added, realizing that Tobin wasn’t paying enough attention to respond. 

Christen gave Tobin and Scottie one last look before turning around and heading down the tunnel.

Tobin paced back and forth in front of the stadium, her own anxieties about Roni making her feel antsy and restless. Scottie had told her enough. She’d told her that Roni had tried to take her from Bobbie and from Christen. Scottie told her that Roni had been mean to Christen, that she’d said she would come and take them out to dinner sometime soon. But between the sniffling and the eight-year-old understanding of an adult conversation, Tobin wasn’t really certain what Roni had said or how Christen had responded. 

“Where is everyone?” Christen called out softly, her hands stuffed into her pockets. She stopped a foot or so away from Tobin, itching to get closer but suddenly feeling unable to.

“My mom and dad took Scottie in their car. She wanted to swim before dinner,” Tobin said, fiddling with the car keys in her hands. 

“Oh, okay,” Christen replied, scratching at the corner of her jaw.

“I’m really sorry,” Tobin said, her voice almost pleading. 

“Stop apologizing for her,” Christen said softly with a shake of her head. “And we should take this conversation somewhere else,” she added, noting the few fans that still lingered outside the stadium.

“Right,” Tobin nodded, leading the way to the parking lot where her car was sitting. The whole way she felt her stomach roll uncomfortably, worried about what kind of verbal abuse Christen experienced from Roni. Tobin opened Christen’s door for her, staying silent until they were both in the car. 

Christen blew out a long breath, leaning her elbow on the door of the car and covering her face with her hand. 

“If Scottie asks, I didn’t teach her the phrase ‘flavor of the month,’ I promise,” Christen sighed.

“Oh my god,” Tobin spluttered, slamming her foot on the brake before she’d even backed up an inch, making the car lurch. 

“I would just put it back in park, babe,” Christen said quietly, her hand still covering her eyes.

Tobin did as Christen suggested, unbuckling her seatbelt and turning to look at Christen. “Chris, you- you are not that,” Tobin said, refusing to repeat the phrase that Roni had said. She reached out for Christen’s hand, running her fingers over the knuckles on Christen's hand softly. 

“I know,” Christen whispered, not sounding like she entirely believed it.

“And I know you told me not to apologize for her, but I’m still sorry that she said that because it isn’t true. I’m sorry she cornered you,” Tobin said, only feeling more worry coil in her stomach at Christen’s silence and her closed eyes. 

Christen sighed again, moving her hand a bit so that she was pinching the bridge of her nose. She kept her eyes tightly shut, not wanting to look over at Tobin for this next part.

“She said you’d done this before. With other women. Played house, or whatever it is we’re doing,” Christen mumbled, feeling her stomach roll just repeating the words.

“Is that what you think we’re doing?” Tobin asked slowly, stopping her fingers from moving along Christen’s hand. 

Christen shook her head, feeling stubborn tears pool in her eyes as she finally opened her eyes and looked over at Tobin. “No, not until she said that. Until she insinuated that you- that this was the third go-round for you,” Christen replied.

Tobin let out a long breath. She silently cursed Roni for doing this, for putting her in this situation, for putting hurt and fear in her favorite pair of green eyes. 

“Scottie has never met anyone I’ve ever dated before, not even as a friend,” Tobin said quietly. “Well, at least not purposefully. We ran into someone I dated once at a grocery store, and she didn’t recognize me with a kid, so I’d say you’re the first. I don’t bring people into our lives without thought. I’m not... playing house,” Tobin finished, leaning back against the driver’s side door and drumming her fingers over the console. 

Christen turned away from Tobin and used the sleeve of her sweater to wipe at the corner of her eye, catching the lone tear that had the audacity to fall right now. 

“I shouldn’t have believed her. That was stupid,” Christen huffed, her voice a little tight.

“Hey,” Tobin said softly, reaching out for Christen again. “It wasn’t stupid. We hadn’t talked about that, and she was going for any insecurity she could, clearly.”

Christen met Tobin in the middle, tangling their fingers together atop the center console. “She’s…” Christen trailed off, almost at a loss for words.

“A real bitch,” Tobin suggested. “I’m aware.”

Christen cracked a smile, finally looking back over at Tobin. “I’m just trying to figure out how she ever managed to get someone like you,” she murmured.

Tobin let out a long sigh, remembering how Roni had acted sweet when they’d first met, how she’d taken care of Tobin when she’d gotten injured. 

“I think the word for it is deception,” Tobin mumbled, feeling that same sense of shame that she’d felt when she’d told her parents that she and Roni were getting divorced, that they’d been right about her all along.

Christen scooted as close as she could to Tobin, leaning over the console so she could use her free hand to smooth out the furrow in Tobin’s brow.

“That’s nothing to be ashamed of, Tobin,” Christen whispered. “I wasn’t saying that as a reflection of who you are. I just meant that I can’t for the life of me figure out how someone like her gets lucky enough to have you and Scottie, for however brief a time. That’s some seriously problematic karma,” Christen added, her mouth lifting into a small, half-smile.

Tobin let out a soft laugh, pressing her face into Christen’s touch. “Maybe she was a really good person in a previous life,” Tobin shrugged. 

Christen wrinkled her nose, Roni’s words still stinging just a bit. “She called me a flavor of the month, I don’t care how good she was in her past life.”

“Baby, you’re the flavor of a lifetime,” Tobin said, leaning forward and capturing Christen’s lips with her own. 

Christen melted into the kiss, moving her hand to the back of Tobin’s neck and running her fingertips along the sensitive skin back there. When she felt Tobin shudder and deepen the kiss, she couldn’t help but smile just a bit.

“That was-” Christen managed between kisses, “-really corny.”

“But true,” Tobin mumbled against Christen’s lips, swiping her tongue along Christen’s bottom lip. 

With a small groan, Christen pushed herself further against the console trying to get as close to Tobin as possible. When the console proved too obstructing, Christen broke the kiss just long enough to move out of her seat. She settled into Tobin’s lap and reconnected their lips, burying one hand into Tobin’s silky smooth waves and using the other to cup Tobin’s cheek.

Tobin’s moan of pleasure was interrupted by a soft tap on the window. Tobin’s fingers dug into Christen’s waist as the two women whipped their heads up to look at the window. Tobin awkwardly rolled her window down slightly, still holding onto Christen in her lap. 

“Uh, hi Elmer,” Christen managed, her cheeks filled with a dark red flush and an embarrassed smile on her face.

“Lot’s going to close, Ms. Press,” Elmer grinned, tipping his security guard hat and walking away, whistling a tune.

“Well he seems nice,” Tobin murmured, pressing one more kiss to Christen’s neck. 

Christen groaned and dropped her head to Tobin’s shoulder. “I’m never going to be able to look him in the eye again.”

“Hey, Chris?” Tobin asked softly. 

“Yeah, babe?” Christen mumbled, still keeping her face pressed into the soft material of the PRESS Gotham FC jersey Tobin was wearing.

“How would you feel if I told you that my mom really wants Scottie to sleep over at her house tonight after dinner?” 

Christen felt a slow smile make its way onto her face. She leaned back off of Tobin’s shoulder and fixed her with a charged look. 

“I would feel very lucky, considering I have the day off tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Most days I wake up with a pit in my chest

There are thoughts that I can't put to rest

There's a worry that I can't place

Most nights, I am restless and quiet won't come

So I lay there and wait for the sun

There's a trouble that won't show its face

You came out of nowhere

And you cut through all the noise

I make sense to the madness

When I listen to your voice

Darling, only you can ease my mind

Help me leave these lonely thoughts behind

When they pull me under,

And I can feel my sanity start to unwind

Darling, only you can ease my mind

I'll admit, for a moment I felt so afraid

Just to show you the mess that I made

There are pieces I usually hide

But when you collect me with your steady hand

With a language that I understand

I feel put back together inside

(Christen - “Ease My Mind” by Ben Platt)


You're afraid to need someone

'Cause you've been burned, you've been burned, you've been burned

Love is good until it's gone

That's what you learned, what you've learned, what you've learned

You don't have to hide your love away and

I know that I'm gonna make mistakes, but

Leaning on somebody isn't easy

I'll do what I can to make you see that

This is not a temporary love

This is not a temporary love

Now your heart is in my hands, I won't give it up

This is not a temporary love

(Tobin - “Temporary Love” by Ben Platt)


“Christen, look at Mommy!” Scottie said, handing Christen a framed picture that she’d found in Tobin’s parents’ room. It was a tiny Tobin dressed for Halloween in a Batman costume. 

“Wow, your mom is a superhero ,” Christen teased, poking the tip of Scottie’s nose with her finger and making the girl scrunch up her face adorably.

“She looks silly,” Scottie laughed, squealing a little when Tobin tried to tickle her as she walked past with some dirty dishes from dinner. 

“What do you want to be for Halloween?” Christen asked, knowing the holiday wasn’t for another few months, but wanting to ask anyway. She felt like she could ask, knowing she wanted to be around for this Halloween, and the next, and many more after that.

“I don’t know. Maybe Batman,” Scottie shrugged. “Or a unicorn. Or a soccer player.”

“Those are all super-duper ideas,” Christen replied, helping Scottie up into her lap.

“What are you gonna be?” Scottie asked. 

“Oh, I-'' Christen faltered, not having the slightest clue what to say. She hadn't dressed up for Halloween in years, not even participating in Halloween practices at Gotham really. “I don’t know, sweetheart. Maybe I’ll just go as a soccer player too or something.”

“That’s really original,” Tobin teased. 

“What are you going as?” Christen replied, arching a brow in Tobin’s direction.

“That’s easy,” Tobin laughed. “I go as whatever Scottie asks me to go as.”

“How original,” Christen quipped, earning her a laugh from Cindy.

“Don’t worry. I’ll think of your costume too,” Scottie offered

Christen melted at the offer, smiling down at Scottie. “That’s very sweet of you. But if you and Tobin just want to do a costume together, I can go as a soccer player. I know just where I can get the costume and everything.”

“But three-person costumes are fun,” Scottie said, sliding out of Christen’s lap and turning around to look at her.

“Got any good ideas?” Christen grinned, her heart fluttering at the thought of doing a group costume with Tobin and Scottie, at the thought of having a reason to dress up and celebrate this holiday.

“Three blind mice,” Jeff suggested, starting the dishwasher with all the dirty dishes. 

“The three stooges!” Cindy called out, pulling out ice cream from the freezer.

“Three musketeers,” Tobin joined in, like this was a word game. 

“Ooooooh, I know,” Scottie said, her eyes growing wide with excitement. She leaned toward Christen and whispered in her ear, so that Tobin wouldn’t hear. 

“Hmm...I think we could make that work,” Christen murmured, her lips pulling into a slight smirk.

“Why am I being excluded?” Tobin asked, walking to the table and wrapping her arms around Scottie. 

“It’s a surprise, babe,” Christen replied with a wink for Tobin.

“Mommy, I have to ask you a serious question,” Scottie said, turning in Tobin’s arms to look up at her mom. 

“What’s that?” Tobin asked, already knowing that Scottie was about to ask about sleeping over with Grandma and Grandpa. 

“Grandma has Disney plus now, and I want to watch Big Hero 6 with her so...can she and I have a sleepover here?” Scottie asked, holding up her hands in a pleading gesture.

“That sounds fun, little bit. It’s cool with me. I can pick you up tomorrow,” Tobin said. She was relieved that Scottie seemed to be doing just fine, despite the Roni sighting. She still seemed to feel comfortable and safe and happy, and that’s all Tobin could ever ask for. 

“YES!” Scottie cheered, throwing up shaka signs with her hands and skipping out of Tobin’s arms. “Grandma, Mommy said yes!” 

“YES!” Cindy parroted. “I’ve already put the 3 Musketeers bars in the freezer, and Grandpa’s gonna make popcorn.” 

“The mini 3 Musketeers I hope,” Tobin said, lifting an eyebrow at her mom as she settled down at the table next to Christen. 

“Of course, only the best for my granddaughter,” Cindy replied with an affectionate eye roll.

“The freezer?” Christen whispered, leaning into Tobin just a bit and dropping her hand to Tobin’s thigh.

“My mom’s convinced they taste better cold,” Tobin laughed, wrapping an arm around Christen’s waist.   

“Mommy, will you make me my super-secret drink before you leave?” Scottie asked. 

“I think I need closed captioning when it comes to you two,” Christen chuckled, tucking her face into Tobin’s shoulder.

“You can come watch me make it. It isn’t that secret,” Tobin murmured before answering Scottie. “Of course, little bit. You and Grandma can get the movie started, and I’ll make you a super-secret drink.”

Christen watched Tobin heat up a glass of milk and pour just a bit of honey into it, giving it a quick stir to mix it up. Tobin then delivered the not-so-secret drink to Scottie and pressed a kiss to her forehead. 

After a long goodbye, with even longer hugs and promises to come pick Scottie up tomorrow afternoon, Tobin and Christen managed to sneak out the door right as Big Hero 6 was starting. 

“Milk and honey? How’d you think of that?” Christen asked as they got settled into the car and headed back to the city. She ran her fingertips across Tobin’s palm which was sitting on top of the center console, and turned to face Tobin, curious as to the origins of the super-secret drink.

“Oh- uhhh, when Scottie was almost four, she had a really bad cold, and when your kid is sick you get sick. So, both of us were miserable, and she hated the taste of hot tea. I just wanted her to drink something warm, something more than just water,” Tobin said, catching Christen’s fingers in her hand a few times as she spoke. “Since then, it's been her comfort drink of choice.”

Christen recalled the conversation she’d had with Scottie, the one where Scottie had mentioned being super sick at the same time as Tobin right when Roni had left them. 

“Was that when Roni left?” Christen asked, choosing to tangle her fingers with Tobin’s as she asked the question.

“Yeah,” Tobin said, her jaw feeling a little tighter at the mention of her name. 

“Scottie told me a bit about it the other day,” Christen replied softly, squeezing Tobin’s hand in her own.

Tobin’s heart sank at that information. She’d always thought that Scottie had forgotten. Scottie had only been just shy of four, and Tobin had always hoped that Scottie’s memory didn’t track back that far. Of course she remembered it, though. It had been the most stressful time of her life with Tobin. It was memorable in its own dark, miserable way. 

“I still don’t fully get what she was trying to tell me, but whatever happened, she seems to be doing just fine now,” Christen added, reaching with her free hand to trace the hard line of Tobin’s jaw, hoping to soothe it with her gentle touch.

“Still makes me wish I could wipe her memory,” Tobin admitted, squeezing Christen’s hand in her own. 

“I know, baby,” Christen sighed, continuing to trace her fingertips along Tobin’s jaw.

“Hi,” Tobin said, breaking the quiet in the car after a few moments of silence. 

“Hi works,” Christen replied with a small smile.

“I feel like a kid with a crush right now being alone with you, and as much as I love talking about Scottie and telling you everything you want to know, I also want to pretend that the past few days haven’t been stressful. Or maybe just forget about them for the night,” Tobin breathed out, sinking into the feeling of Christen’s hand in her own. 

“What do you want to do to forget about the stress, Tobin?” Christen said, surprising even herself with how quiet and low her voice sounded. Her fingertips moved below Tobin’s jaw, ghosting along the side of Tobin’s neck, up and down in an unhurried way.

“Is that a serious question?” Tobin asked, heat rushing through her body at Christen’s tone of voice. 

“Maybe I just want to hear you say it,” Christen hummed, dipping her fingertips under the neck of the Gotham jersey.

“Having you for only one night isn’t enough, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since,” Tobin husked, keeping her eyes on the road, despite wanting to pull over and put the car in park. 

Christen felt every part of her body respond to the tone of Tobin’s voice, to her words and the desire dripping from every single one of them. 

“Me neither,” Christen managed to say, her breaths coming slightly faster now.

“Your place?” Tobin asked, gripping the steering wheel a little tighter with her left hand. 


“Oh, really?” Tobin asked. “It’s my mattress isn’t it?”

“That, and I’ve wanted you to fuck me against your fridge for weeks ,” Christen whispered, letting her fingers leave the neck of the jersey and skim across Tobin’s collarbones.

“Baby,” Tobin groaned, glancing over at Christen for the briefest of seconds. “We still have twenty minutes left in this drive.”

“This will be a good test of your patience then,” Christen chuckled, moving her hand even lower.

Tobin considered herself a very patient woman. She was an extremely patient parent, hardly raising her voice at Scottie. She was a patient artist, letting people suggest changes to commissioned work if they really desired something else. And previously, she would have described herself as a patient lover, but now she was starting to question that. 

She’d prided herself on being able to tease and care for the women she slept with, making them beg for her to take them to the edge as fast as possible but never relenting. Now, though, with Christen pressed against the fridge and magnets all over the floor, Tobin didn’t want to be patient or tease. She wanted Christen to feel good right now, and she wanted to be the one to do it. 

Tobin didn’t want to tease Christen over her clothes. She didn’t want to touch her over her jeans or her shirt. As soon as they were in the kitchen, Christen’s purse hanging on the hook near the stairs, Tobin’s hands were under her shirt and tracing every inch of Christen’s skin she could find. She wasn’t patient tonight. Instead, she tugged at Christen’s shirt and waited for a nod from Christen to pull it off completely before connecting her lips to Christen’s chest. 

“Fuck, Tobin,” Christen husked, threading her fingers in Tobin’s hair. She was grateful for Tobin’s weight pressing her against the fridge, for the strong thigh pressed between her own because she wasn’t sure she’d be able to stay on her feet otherwise. She was completely under Tobin’s spell, lulled into compliance and submission by the feeling of Tobin’s masterful hands desperately clinging to her, by the feeling of Tobin’s teeth dragging along the side of her throat and across her collarbones. 

“I missed this,” Tobin mumbled before slipping her tongue under the top of Christen’s bra and sliding her hands lower over Christen’s hips. 

“How do you-” Christen felt the question die on her lips when Tobin ran her tongue across the material of her sports bra, right over her hardened nipple. “How do you say such sweet things, when your hands are doing- are doing things like-” a broken moan left Christen’s mouth when Tobin popped open the button of her jeans.

“Because I don’t just lust after you. I don't just want you like this. I want all of you,” Tobin whispered back. “May I take these off?” 

Christen didn’t even have the words to answer, she just wrapped her free hand around Tobin’s and pushed it against the front of her jeans, silently begging for Tobin to take them off, to take it all off.

Tobin couldn’t stop the beaming smile that spread across her lips at Christen’s physical response. She paused to press one more kiss to Christen’s lips before kneeling down on the floor in front of her. Tobin pulled Christen’s jeans off, helping her step out of them.

Normally, she’d tease. She’d leave Christen’s underwear in place and kiss Christen’s legs until they started to shake, but she didn’t feel patient this time, not when she knew she had all night to be patient. Tobin slipped Christen’s underwear down and hooked one of Christen’s legs over her shoulder, glancing up to look at Christen’s dark, hooded eyes.  

“You’re going to be the death of me, Tobin Heath,” Christen husked, wetting her lips and tightening her hold on the back of Tobin’s head.

Tobin smirked up at Christen before leaning in to taste her, letting out a soft groan at how wet Christen already was for her. She knew it wouldn’t take long, so she moved her hands up to Christen’s waist to help hold her up against the fridge while she set a steady pace with her tongue. 

A choked chorus of expletives, interspersed with Tobin’s name, fell from Christen’s lips as she was quickly built up and lovingly pushed over the edge. The only thing keeping Christen grounded was the feeling of the cool metal of the fridge behind her and the feeling of Tobin’s hands on her hips. 

Tobin could feel the heat between her own legs, but right now she took her time. She helped Christen slowly ride out her orgasm, enjoying every single sound that left Christen’s lips. She’d never wanted to make someone feel as good as she wanted to make Christen feel. She’d never wanted to worship someone’s body as much as she wanted to worship Christen’s. When Christen finally tugged on the back of her neck, Tobin took the hint, only pausing to kiss Christen’s inner thighs before she stood up and met Christen’s lips with her own. 

The kiss took them from the kitchen, toward the stairs, a trail of clothing left in their wake. 

“You’re the most beautiful woman in the world,” Tobin murmured against Christen’s lips when they reached the top of the stairs and the hallway that led to Tobin’s bedroom. 

Christen grinned into the kiss, pulling Tobin further down the hallway, already knowing exactly where she wanted to go. 

“I’d argue with you, but I have a feeling I can find a better use for my mouth right now,” Christen whispered, nipping at Tobin’s bottom lip as they finally crossed the threshold into Tobin’s bedroom. 

Tobin let out a soft moan, surrendering completely to whatever plans Christen had in store. 

“Is this where you want it?” Christen hummed, moving her lips down the side of Tobin’s throat, nipping and sucking as she pushed them back towards the bed.

Tobin let out a groan before tangling a hand in the back of Christen’s hair and gently tugging. “Maybe lower,” she choked out. 

When the backs of Tobin’s knees hit the bed, Christen gently pushed Tobin down to the mattress, her lips never leaving Tobin’s neck. 

“Maybe?” Christen parrotted in a low voice, settling above Tobin as they moved in sync into the middle of the bed. 

“Definitely,” Tobin husked, forcing herself to keep her eyes open despite the warm desire in her body, not wanting to miss a second of this moment with Christen. 

“How about here?” Christen hummed, her lips placing small kisses between Tobin’s breasts.

“That’s nice, but lower,” Tobin whined, her hips twitching upward, longing for some kind of friction. 

Christen pushed her palms against Tobin’s hips to keep her still as her lips continued their downward trajectory.

“Is this low enough?” Christen husked, nipping gently at the smooth, tanned skin of Tobin’s stomach.

“No, baby,” Tobin nearly begged, not even caring that she sounded desperate. She was sure that she’d never sounded this needy with anyone ever before, but she couldn’t find it in herself to feel embarrassed, not when Christen was looking at her with dark eyes full of desire and kiss swollen lips. 

Christen smirked into Tobin’s skin and moved even further down Tobin’s body, pressing her lips against Tobin’s hips. She looked up through her lashes at the undone mess she’d made out of Tobin, her tongue tracing a slow line up the inside of Tobin’s thigh as her green eyes met brown ones. 

“Getting warmer?” Christen whispered, arching a brow.

“Mhm,” Tobin moaned, trying to lift her hips up against Christen’s strong hands. 

“I like you like this,” Christen murmured, using her tongue to even the field and trace up the inside of Tobin’s other thigh.

“Who knew you-” Tobin breathed out with a huff, arching off the bed. “Who knew you were such a tease,” Tobin choked out. 

“There is so much you don’t know,” Christen grinned, finally ending her tortuous path where she was always meant to end it. She used her hands to spread Tobin’s legs even wider as she dragged her tongue through the molten heat at the apex of Tobin’s thighs.

Tobin matched Christen’s profanity from earlier. Her hips and legs twitched uncontrollably, matching Christen’s pace and tightening around Christen’s shoulders. In her blissed-out state, three words spun through Tobin’s head. 

She’d never been the kind of person to fall for someone quickly. She’d always taken her time, but spending time with Christen and watching her spend time with Scottie had completely sped up the process. Christen was different and special and amazing, and it didn’t hurt that the sex was the absolute best of her life. It took all of her remaining focus to bite her bottom lip and hold the words in when she tipped over the edge and completely fell apart against Christen. 

If only Tobin knew Christen was thinking the exact same thing. If only she knew that Christen kept her tongue and lips moving, ushering Tobin toward another orgasm so that Christen wouldn’t do something foolish like say those three little words right now either.

“Um...weirdest place you’ve ever had sex?” Christen asked, tracing her fingertips in circles across Tobin’s bare stomach.

“Under the bleachers at UNC,” Tobin mumbled lazily. “You?” 

“A Ferris Wheel at Coney Island,” Christen admitted with a blush, hiding her face in the crook of Tobin’s neck.

“You win,” Tobin snorted. “I didn’t realize you were into doing that in public.”

“I mean, I’m not. Not really,” Christen replied, getting a little lost in the feeling of Tobin’s naked body pressed against her own. “That was a little too public for my taste.”

“Hmm…” Tobin sighed in thought, running her fingers up and down Christen’s side. “Your most frequent sexual fantasy?” 

“Oh that’s a good one,” Christen hummed, letting her eyes fall shut as she pondered her answer. As she thought, she pressed a few kisses to the base of Tobin’s throat. “I’ve recently been thinking a lot about my just my jersey,” Christen whispered, an involuntary shudder running through her at the admission. 

“I can do that,” Tobin husked, pressing a kiss to Christen’s temple. 

“What about you?” Christen murmured, flattening her hand on Tobin’s stomach.