Christen wasn’t sure if funny was the word for it, but seeing her entire marriage and life for the last six months itemized and categorized on a series of pages in front of her was definitely something.
“Ms. Press would like the Chagals and she’s willing to give up the vintage pinball machine,” Crystal said, getting a nod of confirmation from Christen.
“Deal. Chris always liked those paintings best anyway,” Brooke replied with a shrug.
Crystal hummed and crossed that item off the list in front of Christen, already moving on to the next one.
“My client would also prefer to keep the wedding china and the season tickets to the Center of Performing Arts,” Crystal continued.
“Ms. Landers is willing to part with the china and the tickets, but she would like to keep the BMW,” Brooke’s lawyer, Percy, conceded.
“Which one?” Christen wondered with an almost amused half-smile.
“The red one,” Brooke grinned.
“I get the blue,” Christen shot back.
“I expect nothing less,” Brooke teased, pouring herself and Christen more water from the pitcher on the table.
Crystal made a note of that in her file, relaxing just a bit at the cordiality between the two women.
“Why do you two need me and Percy again?” Crystal joked, elbowing Christen playfully.
“I think it’s more for show than anything else,” Brooke laughed, lifting up her glass of water almost in a cheers for Christen.
“Her mother insisted,” Christen corrected, lifting her water in turn and taking a sip.
“It’s payback for not having Chris sign a prenup,” Brooke added.
Christen chuckled and then gestured to the last item on Crystal’s list, the one thing she wasn’t sure she’d be able to get. It had the potential to wipe away the smiles and polite laughter the four of them shared, making her tense up slightly in her chair.
“You’re scared. What is it? I thought we agreed I get the cat,” Brooke said, lowering her glass back onto the table and watching Christen closely.
“Nacho is all yours,” Christen said with a shake of her head.
“I’m not willing to give up the beach house. That’s a hard no from me. I know you like it there, but that’s the only thing I really want-” Brooke started, crossing her arms over her chest.
“If I may interject,” Crystal interrupted. “Chris doesn’t want the beach house. She wants The Avalanche.”
Christen waited with bated breath, ready for Brooke to shut her down and send them into serious, bitterly contested, divorce-like arguments.
But it never came.
“Oh thank God,” Brooke breathed out. “It’s all yours. Absolutely! I have no idea what I’m doing with it anyway. Pretty sure I bought it to impress you, and I still don’t understand offsides. Can I still have season tickets?”
“Yes, but you’ll have to sit in the stands, I’m keeping the box,” Christen replied with a small smile of relief on her face.
“You don’t want your favorite ex-wife to sit in the box with you?” Brooke asked with another teasing grin.
“I can’t stand you,” Christen joked, softening her words with a wink.
“You’ll miss my obnoxious game commentary when I’m in the stands. Hopefully, you’ll find someone who can take my place,” Brooke hummed, drumming her fingers on the table.
“And hopefully you'll find someone to take mine,” Christen acknowledged, siding the small jewelry pouch across the table with her engagement ring and wedding band in it.
“Shall we sign some paperwork and get some lunch? It’s on me,” Brooke asked, pocketing the rings that she’d bought for Christen.
Crystal nodded and slid Christen a set of papers while Percy slid Brooke some. “Sign these and you’re both officially divorced,” Crystal said.
“You want the wedding day cufflinks back?” Brooke asked, reaching into her pocket.
Christen shook her head and finished signing the paperwork. “Dear God, no. Keep those gaudy things.”
“Shoulda known we’d get divorced when you told me an outer space-themed wedding was a bad idea,” Brooke laughed, signing her own name on the line.
“Nothing out of this world about our marriage,” Christen replied with a laugh of her own.
“You’re still one of my best friends, and I’m glad we both get another chance at something out of this world,” Brooke said, handing the pen back to Crystal.
“You’ve got the beach house and I’ve got the Avalanche. I’d say we’re set,” Christen grinned. “So, lunch on you?”
“Absolutely. Percy, Crystal, would you like to join?” Brooke asked, clearly in an amazing mood post-divorce.
“Love to,” Percy agreed.
“Girl, I was already invited. It was implied,” Crystal scoffed, shooting Brooke a smile and packing up the paperwork in her briefcase.
“You love me too, Dunny,” Brooke hummed before kissing Crystal’s cheek.
“I’d like you more if Chris had fought you for the pinball machine,” Crystal teased as she got to her feet.
“You both can come over and play with it whenever you want. Nacho too,” Brooke assured.
Crystal looped her arm through Christen’s and followed Brooke and Percy to the door.
“Wherever we’re going, I need a burger,” Christen sighed, feeling a little tired from parsing out who got what for the last few hours, despite the amicable nature of it all.
“We’ll go to the ridiculously expensive burger place. Oh, and about the Avalanche,” Brooke threw over her shoulder, smirking to herself and waiting for Christen to get interested.
“She tells me now,” Christen grumbled, narrowing her eyes at the smirk on her now ex-wife’s face.
“You’ll like what I have to say,” Brooke sing-songed. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for the team aside from letting you be the owner.”
As the four of them stepped into the elevator, Christen arched a brow at Brooke and waited for the ‘best thing’ to be revealed.
“What’s that hotshot player’s name who plays...is it winger?” Brooke asked, her forehead wrinkling in thought. “I bought her rights in a trade. She gets here tomorrow.”
Tobin had finally let herself cry. She’d kept up a tough appearance for her practice with her team. She’d done one last very brief interview. She’d packed up her house and sent everything to Denver.
And once all that was done, once she was on a mattress in an apartment in Denver, with boxes surrounding her and her furniture haphazardly placed in rooms, she let herself cry. She let herself eat the biggest cheat meal she’d had in years and cried on a mattress, unable to watch mindless TV, since her internet wasn’t yet set up.
And now, dressed in her favorite pair of Nike sweatpants, her most comfortable US Soccer sweatshirt, and a pair of Jordans, not her typical practice gear, her eyes felt puffy and raw.
She stared at the stadium from inside her car. She stared at the stupid mountain emblem on every fucking surface of the stadium. She stared, knowing full well that the same emblem was about to be on all of her practice gear and her jersey and her travel bag and burned into the inside of her eyelids for eternity.
And for the first time in her entire career, Tobin wondered if it was time to just retire. She could coach. She could coach somewhere. Maybe she could be happy coaching. Maybe.
But she also knew that the pain behind her eyes and the ache in her throat wouldn’t go away if she retired. It wouldn’t go away because she’d lost something she had been sure of. She’d lost a sure thing. The proverbial rug had been ripped out from under her, and there was no way to scramble across the floor and find that same rug again. It was gone. It was done. And now she was a fucking mountain.
A knock on her window had her nearly jumping out of her skin.
“Jesus fucking Christ!” Tobin croaked, rolling down her window.
A young woman, decked out in royal blue, Adidas Avalanche attire, stood next to her car with a large smile on her face.
“I’m Phoebe. I do all the social media for the team. I recognize you from the gifs I had to make,” Phoebe said in a chipper tone.
“Fantastic,” Tobin replied, forcing a tight smile. “I’m Tobin.”
“I know!” Phoebe grinned, gesturing for Tobin to follow her. “Come on, I’ll show you inside. ”
With a long sigh, Tobin rolled up her window, switched her car off, and followed behind with her bag of gear that she needed for practice.
Christen had just finished her second ristretto of the morning when one of the executive interns, a delightful young man named Connor, poked his head into the conference room that was doubling as her base of operations today.
“Alec is here,” Connor announced.
“Send him in,” Christen replied with a polite smile, setting down her cup and smoothing out the front of her button-up.
“Would you like me to stay right outside...just in case?” Connor asked with a sheepish smile.
“Just have security on stand-by,” Christen chuckled.
“Of course, Ms. Press.”
“Christen is fine,” Christen corrected.
“Right, sorry,” Connor nodded, moving back outside and making way for Alec to walk in decked out in team gear with a whistle around his neck.
Christen let her face fall into an impassive expression, one she usually reserved for her actual workplace. She was the CEO of her own company, an elite interior design firm, so she had plenty of experience handling difficult personalities, entitled individuals, and especially entitled men.
“Press, nice to see you’re settling in,” Alec murmured as he moved into the conference room and dropped into a chair.
Christen casually took some papers out of the folder in front of her and then sent them sliding down the smooth wood of the conference room table.
“What the fuck is this?” Alec asked, glaring down at the papers.
“In your four-year tenure as head coach, we’ve had an 8-12-76 record. Out of the ninety six games you’ve coached, we’ve averaged two shots on goal and conceded over one hundred. Instead of, I don’t know, doing your job, you somehow convinced my ex-wife to increase your salary, decrease the players’ salary, and spent more time flashing that fake Rolex on your wrist out at nightclubs than you have coaching my team,” Christen said.
“It’s not a fake,” Alec protested, pulling his sleeve over his wrist.
“When you wrote it off as an expense for your position and filed that with the front office, it wasn’t hard to piece together that the watch was fake,” Christen replied smoothly.
“This team would be nothing without me. Your wife wouldn’t know football if it bit her in the ass. I carry this team,” Alec insisted.
“On the contrary, they’re currently nothing with you, as documented on the pages in front of you. Lucky for the team, I know football, and I am very ready to carry this team away from the damaged reputation you’ve given them,” Christen said, her voice leaving no room for argument. “This is your notice. You’re fired, Alec.”
“You bitch!” Alec hissed, tossing the papers across the table.
“The Denver Avalanche wishes you the best of luck on your next venture,” Christen replied, not reacting to the outburst and merely signaling for Connor through the glass wall of the room.
“Excuse me, Mr. Dixon but Ms. Press has a few more meetings scheduled this morning. I’d be happy to show you to HR and help you get some paperwork-”
“Oh, fuck off!” Alec yelled, shoving his chair back.
Christen quickly shot to her feet, moving between Alec and Connor, not needing this to become more explosive than this already was.
“If you’re not out of here in ten seconds, I’ll get someone to make you leave. Don’t make me bring out the expense list again. You really don’t want me to go through that with a fine-tooth comb called the IRS,” Christen said, her jaw tight and her brow arched in a challenging manner.
“Have a fan-fucking-tastic season. I hope Heath breaks a leg or something. She’ll be carrying you without me, and she’s thirty. Amazing prospects,” Alec growled, shouldering past Christen and Connor as he left the building.
With a sigh, Christen moved back to her chair at the far end of the conference table. She rubbed at the side of her neck, already feeling a knot of tension forming.
“I think Tobin Heath is getting her gear, but once she arrives would you like me to send her in?” Connor asked.
“Send Laura in before her? And after Ms. Heath arrives, go grab some breakfast,” Christen instructed.
“Thank you so much, Ms. Press,” Connor replied, gushing at Christen’s new leadership.
“It’s Christen, and take everyone in the front office with you,” Christen added, turning back to her computer as Connor left.
“We’ve got your practice gear here,” Audrey said with a cheery smile as she put a folded pile of clothes on a table. “Socks too,” she added, putting a pile of white Adidas socks on the table next to the royal blue and gray clothes. “And we also have travel gear here. Some nice joggers, a jacket, sweatshirt, scarf, gloves. Phoebe showed you around, right?”
“Yep, it’s pretty standard no matter where you are,” Tobin sighed, hating that she had to wear royal blue every day for the foreseeable future.
“I’m sure you’re more experienced than we are, but if you have any questions at all, everyone here is super friendly,” Audrey assured, not noticing the absolute torment Tobin could feel rolling around inside of her.
“I’ll be sure to ask. Thanks for the clothes,” Tobin mumbled.
“Oh, I almost forgot. Here’s your duffel for traveling too,” Audrey grinned, pulling out a large duffel and beginning to pack Tobin’s new clothes in it.
“Boss wants you upstairs before the first practice to say welcome,” Phoebe said, poking her head into the room and smiling another way too happy smile at Tobin.
“Great, I’ll head up there now,” Tobin replied, leaving her full duffel bag on the table to get later.
“I can show you!” Phoebe offered.
“Thanks,” Tobin murmured, trying her best not to take anything out on these very helpful people.
“I’ve been dying to head up there and meet the new owner anyway. We’re all so excited she’s here. We never saw our last one,” Phoebe rambled as she led Tobin through the facilities toward the executive end of the building.
“She’s new?” Tobin asked. If things had been bad yesterday, they were just getting worse by the minute. Of course, she’d been traded to not only a shitty team but also a team with a brand new owner.
“Started this morning, just like you! Word on the street is,” Phoebe lowered her voice and leaned close, “she got stuck with the team in the divorce. But you didn’t hear that from me.”
“Lovely, so she was forced to take on the job,” Tobin grumbled, trying to take a deep breath and keep in the scream she felt in her chest.
Phoebe shrugged and then led them up two flights of stairs, the stairs becoming carpeted on the second flight.
“This is the executive level. Management and coaches have offices here. The owner - well, historically, the owner doesn’t keep an office here, but our new gal might do things differently,” Phoebe explained, opening a door and leading Tobin into a posh-looking management space.
The carpet was the same royal blue colors as the Avalanche crest, and the walls were adorned with art and professional photographs from the games. Each office space was separated by glass walls, and the overall vibe was welcoming.
“If you want to sit here, they’ll be ready for you,” Phoebe added, pointing to a row of chairs outside of the conference room at the back corner of the floor.
“Cool,” Tobin sighed, settling in a chair and leaning her head back against the wall.
“Oh, fantastic! You’re here,” Connor gushed, interrupting Tobin’s moment of possibly finding some peace or at least pretending this was just a nightmare. “You have no idea how excited I’ve been to meet you, Tob- Ms. Heath.”
“Nice to meet you too…” Tobin answered, forcing her eyes open and a tight smile onto her face.
“Connor. I’m Connor. This is so cool.”
“Nice to meet you, Connor,” Tobin responded, shaking Connor’s hand quickly.
Laughter from inside the conference room drew their attention.
“Let me check with Ms. Press and see if she’s ready for you,” Connor said, hurrying to the conference room door and knocking softly.
“Fuck me,” Tobin muttered under her breath, pressing her head back into the wall again.
Connor opened the door, allowing the conversation from within to bleed out into the hallway.
“- and I swear, that asshole was stealing money from the organization! I thought he was going to pop a vein when I threatened to show him the expense report -”
“Ms. Heath is here,” Connor interrupted, causing the laughter and the story from inside the room to stop.
“Send her in,” the sweet voice instructed now that her story was interrupted.
Connor nodded and stepped back, gesturing at Tobin to head in. “Have fun! I think you’ll really like them.”
“Thanks,” Tobin forced out, walking into the conference room and feeling like she was on her way to hell.
The royal blue carpeting stayed the same in the conference room. The walls were painfully white with hardly any decoration. There were large windows on two walls and an oval table in the center. Papers littered the table and artwork sat against the walls, waiting to be hung.
It seemed like everything here, not just in the conference room, was just kind of thrown together, like a staged set.
The locker room was small, the kit room wasn’t organized, the hallways were loud. It didn’t feel normal. But who was Tobin to even know what that meant? Her normal was Portland. Her normal had been a red and black uniform and yearly championships. Her normal had been huge banners with her face on them and fans in stands who held signs saying, ‘I want to be just like you when I grow up.’
“You must be Tobin Heath,” Christen said, standing up from her chair and approaching the woman hovering in the doorway.
“That’s me,” Tobin greeted, chewing on the inside of her mouth as she looked at the two women in the room.
“I’m the team’s owner, Christen Press, and hopefully I’m not the first one to say welcome to the Denver Avalanche,” Christen said as she held out a hand for Tobin to shake.
“Thanks. You’re definitely not the first. You’ve got some very friendly employees,” Tobin mumbled, taking the offered hand and shaking it.
“I only kept the ones that I felt contributed to the right culture, on and off the pitch,” Christen replied with a firm shake of Tobin’s hand before dropping it. “Speaking of which, meet our new head coach, Laura Harvey.”
“Nice to meet you,” Tobin said with a wave in Laura’s direction. “I thought Alec Dixon was coaching here.”
Christen moved back to her chair at the head of the conference room table. “He was until about thirty minutes ago.”
“Must have missed him leave,” Tobin hummed, looking over her shoulder at the now-closed door and the intern looking through the glass at them.
“Nobody’s missing him,” Laura quipped, earning her a soft snort from Christen.
Tobin just hummed again as she moved over to a chair, leaving plenty of room between herself and the other women.
“How’re you settling in?” Christen asked, taking in the dark circles under Tobin’s eyes and the heaviness in her shoulders.
“I got in yesterday. Everything seems pretty normal. Football’s football, right?” Tobin answered without really answering, too busy taking in the royal blue gear this new coach was already wearing and the royal blue blazer Christen was in. It was all too much. It was too much blue, too many mountains, too much change, too soon.
Christen and Laura shared a quick look before Christen moved her gaze back to her newest player.
“Can I be frank with you, Tobin?” Christen asked, steepling her hands in front of her mouth.
“I have two pet peeves in this world, and Laura here can attest to both of them,” Christen explained.
Laura hummed and nodded. “That I can, Press. That I can.”
“I can’t stand soggy croutons in a salad, and I don’t put up with bullshit. So, I’ll ask again, how are you settling in?”
“I’ll be great after I finish moving in,” Tobin said with a forced smile.
Christen dropped her steepled hands away from her mouth, putting them on top of the table in front of her. She arched a brow in Tobin’s direction, a direct challenge to Tobin’s answer, and waited.
“Word to the wise, Heath, that eyebrow thing? It means business,” Laura chuckled, watching the interaction with amusement.
“Look. I don’t need you to fake whatever this is. I’m here to play, and I’ll do my job well. I always do my job well. You don’t need to pretend to care about me or my life off the pitch. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even get closer to the championships this year than you ever have,” Tobin huffed, leaning back in her chair and clenching her jaw.
If she just focused on the biting anger in the words, Christen might have felt offended. Especially at the insinuations Tobin was making about her and her job and her team. But she picked up on the emotion beneath the anger. She could hear the hurt in Tobin’s voice and she knew why it was there. She’d read enough about Tobin Heath’s departure from Portland to understand on some level.
So instead of letting the words cause her to react in the way Tobin was clearly inviting her to, Christen remained calm.
“I’m sorry for the circumstances that brought you here. Believe what you want to believe, but I truly am sorry for all of this. If there’s anything Laura or I can do to make this transition or your tenure here with the Avalanche more amenable, please do not hesitate to ask.”
“Will do,” Tobin muttered, forcing back the ache that was trying to choke her and send more tears down her face.
Laura gently rapped her knuckles on the table and got to her feet. “Time to hit the pitch, Heath. Games start soon and we’ve got a team to meet.”
Laura moved to the conference room door and saluted Christen as she went to leave.
“Thanks for the call, Boss.”
“Thanks for picking up, Laura,” Christen replied with a fond smile.
Tobin stood up from her seat, intent on following Laura out of the office and finding someplace to relax before practice started.
“Yes?” Tobin answered, turning around to look at her new boss.
“Put on your gear. You’re part of the Avalanche now,” Christen said with a small nod. “There’s nothing to be done about it, nothing you can do to change it. But if you give us a chance, maybe you can try to make the most of it?”
“Wonderful advice, thanks,” Tobin breathed out, leaving before Christen could say anything more.
“Watch this,” Emily Sonnett grinned at the rookies, grabbing two water bottles from the bench. She snuck up behind one of the veteran players and sprayed water on her back, making the rookies cackle and the rest of the team roll their eyes.
“You suck, Sonny!” Caitlyn yelled, running after a giggling Sonnett.
Tobin watched from the sidelines, stretching like she did before every practice and game, only this time she was in royal blue leggings and a gray windbreaker with a new crest. The only things that actually felt the same were the number seven on all of her gear and the pair of orange Nike cleats on her feet.
“The altitude will be an adjustment,” Laura observed, coming to stand right next to Tobin on the side of the practice field.
“Yeah,” Tobin nodded, tugging at her gray, Adidas neck warmer that felt just a little too tight on her neck.
“What do you make of them?” Laura asked, nodding in the direction of the women who were all goofing around on the practice field.
“They’re young,” Tobin shrugged. “Probably could be faster than the average team if they focus.”
Laura hummed thoughtfully. “They don’t seem focused to you?”
“I don’t know. I’m not a coach,” Tobin murmured, rolling her head from side to side to try and relieve some stress.
“I’m not the only one out here who knows the game. These ladies could learn a lot from a player like you. If you gave a shit, that is,” Laura remarked bluntly before walking toward the team.
Tobin took a deep breath and sank into another stretch. She did give a shit. She gave a lot of shits. She didn’t want to be on a losing team, on a team that wouldn’t get a spot in the playoffs. She wanted this team to grow and get better, and of course, she’d help her teammates out. That didn’t mean she wasn’t allowed to be a little pissed that she’d been handed off like a chess piece for five young players and a chunk of money.
“Good morning!” Laura greeted cheerfully, stuffing her hands into her coat pockets. “You seem like a lively bunch and I’m very excited to get to work with all of you. I’m Laura Harvey, your new coach, and today, I thought we’d have a bit of fun.”
“Sweet!” Cat yelled from the back of the group, slinging her arms around Sonnett and Andi.
“Partner up!” Laura yelled after clapping her hands. “One partner on the other’s back. Ten seconds. Go!”
Tobin had been wrong. Christen’s fake office hadn’t been hell. This was hell. She watched as rookies threw themselves at other players, bracing herself for someone to try to launch onto her.
“Hey, buddy,” Sonnett grinned. “You a top or bottom?”
“Hey, Sonny,” Tobin sighed, a tiny but still genuine smile slipping onto her lips.
“Most women would kill to jump on me, so whenever you’re ready,” Sonnett grinned, holding out her arms and turning her back to Tobin.
“Shut up and mount me,” Tobin snorted, elbowing Sonnett in the ribs.
Sonnett whooped and jumped onto Tobin’s back. “Whatever it is, you suckers are going down. I’ve got Toby!”
Laura looked around with a grin, seeing everyone paired up. “All right, all right. Now, partner on top, cover partner on the bottom’s eyes, and direct them to one of the goals. Use nice, direct, specific communication.”
“Shoulda jumped on you,” Tobin groaned as Sonnett covered her eyes.
“We can do that next time,” Sonnet teased, pressing a kiss to Tobin’s head.
From the top row of the stands beside the training fields, Christen watched the team laugh and joke around as they moved around the field. Naturally, her eye was drawn to Tobin, the star player who Brooke was convinced would help them to a winning season.
Christen knew about Tobin Heath’s skill, her talent, her ability. She’d seen it on television and on fields for years. She also knew that whatever direction she and Laura wanted to take the team this season, Tobin Heath would be the key to that.
But from the looks of things, Christen really had her work cut out for her.
Tobin peeled off the royal blue tank top she’d worn underneath her quarter zip and windbreaker and the royal blue leggings. She tossed them into the laundry hamper in the locker room and grabbed her towel, heading for the shower and praying that she could wash every feeling and emotion down the drain.
She didn’t hate the team. She didn’t hate practice. Laura was a fine coach, and the pitch was nice. But Tobin was twenty-eight, no longer the superstar rookie at Portland. And she wasn’t sure that she could invest the kind of energy and love and commitment to another team, not when she could very well be told to pack up her life and fly across the country at any minute.
She’d been naive to settle down and plant roots. She’d been an idiot to suggest her family come out to Portland for her nephews and niece’s summer break from school. And now she had a box full of Portland gear sitting in her apartment’s living room, a mortgage on an empty house in Oregon, and a phone that wouldn’t stop buzzing with either fans who were mad at her for leaving or mad at Portland for trading her.
Those feelings wouldn’t wash away, and they wouldn’t disappear because of a decently okay practice. They wouldn’t go away even after she slid into her own clothes again, hair still damp and clean.
“Some of the team’s grabbing some lunch after this, do you wanna come?” Sonnett offered.
“Thanks for asking. I still have a lot of unpacking to do, so I’ll just see you tomorrow,” Tobin mumbled, fully aware that she was going home to take a nap and maybe order some food.
“Maybe next time, Toby,” Sonnett said with an understanding smile. “It’s good to have you here.”
“Next time,” Tobin nodded, grabbing her bag and heading out of the locker room.