Chapter 1: crashing down
mini-muffins, Mia Thermopolis, and morning shows
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“I had a great time,” Tobin said as she pulled her car up to the curb and pulled some hand lotion out of her console, distractedly putting it on instead of offering to walk this woman to the door.
“Would you like to come see my…drapes? They’re new. Just came in,” the woman offered with a casual smirk, her fingers dancing across the door handle, her heavy gaze on Tobin.
“Oh, I wish I could,” Tobin replied, shooting her the most apologetic look she could muster. “I’ve got a really early day tomorrow. Maybe next time. I’ll call you.”
“I sure hope you do,” the woman said with another smirk, sliding out of the car and heading toward the building.
Tobin offered a wave and then pulled away, not waiting for the woman to get inside. She turned up the music in her car and found the nearest place to pull over. With deep breaths and her eyes closed, Tobin repeated the words she’d written down and said a million times with her therapist.
I am confident. I am smart. I am funny. I am kind. I am desirable. I am worth people’s time.
With a long and loud release of breath, Tobin popped a piece of pineapple flavored gum into her mouth and headed back home, trying to forget the fake and meaningless conversations she’d put herself through tonight.
She pulled into the garage and wandered into her house, flipping on a few lights and ditching her leather jacket and keys on the kitchen counter.
Tobin’s house was her most prized possession. It was hers and only hers. She’d saved money to buy a house, opting to pay a mortgage when most of her friends were buying Rolex watches.
It was a modern house, but it was warm. There were large windows in almost every room that let in plenty of light. She’d picked up a few plants that were thriving in the sunroom at the back of the house. Pictures from her days on the pitch with friends from the National Team were on shelves and framed on a few walls. And tons of photos of her family littered her house.
Her house was a home. It was lived in and loved. The couch was large and soft; her bed was cozy and warm; her kitchen was functional and cheery. It was home, and it was Tobin’s space. It was her one space that didn’t get invaded. Ever.
She dropped down onto the couch and pulled one of her favorite fuzzy blankets over her body. She dug beneath the couch cushion to produce the TV remote and turned on ESPN, letting the sound drone through the house and send her to sleep.
She hadn’t lied. She did have an early day at work tomorrow, starting with a meeting. More than that, though, she hadn’t wanted to spend any more time with anyone else. She hadn’t wanted to pretend any longer or worse let the façade slip.
She just needed her couch and her TV and her alone time. She needed to end her night just like she ended every night. Alone.
Seattle at four in the morning was peaceful and quiet. Serene. The rain could be heard pitter-pattering on the sidewalk, creating a soothing symphony.
Christen loved the rain and the serenity and the soothing symphony. She loved Seattle and her trusty bike that she rode almost every single day to work. She loved her job at Seattle News Network. She loved co-hosting their morning segment, The Emerald View, with Tiffany. She loved working some juicy morsels of news into their jovial, cookie-cutter program. She loved getting coffee with the producer of her segment slash best friend, Crystal, once the show was over. She loved almost everything about her life here.
What she didn’t love was the envy. The deep, dark, twisting envy she felt every time she was finished with her morning program, heading out of the news building downtown, only to be passed by the anchors and journalists assigned to the evening news. The prestigious news. The real news.
She envied them. Every single last one. And she especially hated every newscaster who’d been given their job solely based on the size of their fan base and obnoxiously charming grin.
Christen had gone to school and studied and worked her ass off to be here and stupid jocks on the sports desks or bottle blondes with dimples on the weather segment got their jobs for no good reason. Not like her. She’d gotten to co-host The Emerald View because she was good at her job. She’d gotten it for a damn good reason.
And maybe the hate and envy was a little aggressive. She was self-aware enough to recognize that. But Christen was the type of person who trusted the process. She trusted that if you put your head down and did the work, you got what you deserved.
So, at four fifteen in the morning, she left her bike in the parking lot and shivered in her jacket as she walked up to the SNN building on a chilly September morning. She hung up her coat once inside and cheerfully greeted the security guard before heading to hair and make up. She plastered on a large grin and greeted the cameras with her classic, “wake up and smell the coffee, Seattle! It’s time for The Emerald View . I’m your co-host, Christen Press,” as their program began.
She’d worked her ass off to be here and she knew her break was coming. She knew she was destined for a desk upstairs, for the nightly news any day now.
But then Crystal dropped the bomb of all bombs on her after their program had wrapped and the cameras were off.
“So, Tiffany took a job in Atlanta,” Crystal said, keeping her best ‘don’t panic’ smile on her face as she sat in her desk chair across from Christen.
Christen blinked her eyes a few times, not exactly processing the words. She dropped slowly down into the chair in Crystal’s small office, her mouth working to form words, her brain working to form thoughts.
“Tiffany- Atlanta- huh?”
“Apparently they offered more vacation time,” Crystal explained, repeating what the executive producer had told her. “But don’t worry. We’re finding you a new co-anchor. Well…Larry is. He’s picking a co-anchor.”
Christen felt every ounce of hope she’d woken up with this morning completely slip away.
She was the one who was supposed to be moving up. She was the one who had been on The Emerald View for three years. She shouldn’t be the one being left behind.
“Crystal, I- I need a minute,” Christen said suddenly, jumping to her feet and breezing out of the office. She walked through their small studio space, past interns and production assistants, past the camerawoman congratulating Tiffany on her new job.
She shoved through a stage door and then moved into the wardrobe department.
Crammed between a fur coat and a pastel green pantsuit, and thankfully given a moment alone by the wardrobe department lead Jess, Christen crumpled. She felt a little bit of love for the life she led here drain out of her. With her head dropped on her crossed arms, she wondered why the hell she continued to trust the process.
All she could do was pray Larry didn’t find her a shit co-host. That would be too much to handle.
“You’re kicking me off?” Tobin asked, leaning forward and crossing her arms over Larry’s desk. “I’m the only actual athlete who works the sports desk.”
“And we’ll ask you to come in for soccer games and what not,” Larry promised.
“I told you the day I came in hungover was a one-time thing,” Tobin assured, hoping to talk her way out of this. “Larry, I’ll get your kid Wambach’s jersey signed and framed for Christmas this year. Come on.”
“SNN has a policy and you had little respect for said policy. You’re lucky they didn’t fire you. The people upstairs were satisfied with my alternative,” Larry sighed, undeterred by Tobin’s charming words and offer.
“Does she want Alex Morgan’s?” Tobin begged, pulling her phone out of her jacket pocket. “One call and she can have a private training session with her too.”
Larry shook his head and then slid a folder across the desk.
“You’re moving to mornings for the foreseeable future. Their show’s in trouble and your ‘stans,’ as our social media intern dubbed them, will bring needed traffic in. If viewership isn’t up in eight months, it’ll be cut,” Larry explained.
“But…I won’t be cut, right?” Tobin asked, swallowing thickly at the obvious threat.
Larry just grimaced. “Soccer will always need your voice, but I can’t promise a return to a desk.”
“Jesus, Larry,” Tobin sighed, dropping her head on Larry’s desk. “Your kid’s gonna hate you when I tell her what you turned down.”
“She’s into basketball now. If you knew Sue Bird, we’d be having a different conversation,” Larry replied with a wry grin.
“I do, but you’ve missed your shot,” Tobin smirked. “Who am I working with for this morning gig?”
“Crew should all be down there. They wrapped their ‘Wednesday with Wendy’ segment an hour ago.”
“Who the hell is Wendy?” Tobin grumbled as she slipped out of the office, winking at Larry’s receptionist and making her way to the elevators.
“Good girl! Now, sit,” Christen grinned, holding up a treat in the air and making the Golden Retriever sit dutifully on the studio floor.
It had been odd to do the morning segment without Tiffany, but at least she’d had Wendy with her. She’d even gotten to bring the adorable dog onto the plush orange, velvet couch with her that she always sat on for the show. She was sure that was Crystal’s doing, a small peace offering after her co-host abandoned her.
Christen handed Wendy the treat, making the dog wag her tail and munch happily.
“Maybe you could just host with me? I’ll even teach you Tiffany’s part. I say, ‘Wake up and smell the coffee, Seattle! It’s time for The Emerald View . I’m your co-host, Christen Press.’ Then you say-”
“And I’m Tobin Heath,” Tobin grinned, flashing her bright teeth. “Cute puppy.”
Christen’s fist instinctively tightened, squeezing the other treat in her hand and reducing it to crumbs. She knew that voice. That warm, honeyed voice that made her skin crawl. She knew that voice and she had no clue why she was knowing it right now.
“Lost, Heath? Get off on the wrong floor?” Christen managed, dropping the crumbs out of her hand and petting Wendy’s head as she licked the crumbs up.
“Nope,” Tobin practically purred. “I’m here to help you keep your show. Consider me your knight in shining armor.”
Christen barked out an unamused laugh. The sound was brittle and biting.
“Yeah, and it’ll be sunny all year in Seattle. Oh, and the Mariners will definitely have a winning season,” Christen mocked, clearly not believing a word Tobin said. She straightened up and fixed Tobin with a cool glare, her stomach twisting uncomfortably at the sight of the charming grin on Tobin’s face.
She’d once found it irresistible. With stars in her eyes and a quickening heart and a flush in her cheeks, she’d tried to talk to Tobin. To befriend her. To…test the waters with the recently retired professional soccer player who was about to get a sports broadcasting position at SNN.
Fate had stuck them in the same elevator onTobin’s interview day, and Christen had said words. Stumbled over them, really. It was awkward and a little dorky, and she’d managed a sentence or two or three.
But Tobin hadn’t given her the time of day. She’d been clipped and short. Brusque, in fact. Rude. Her words haunted Christen to this day. The stars in Christen’s eyes had quickly dimmed, snuffed out completely once Tobin dismissed her and snatched the wind from her sails with barbed words.
Three years later, nothing about Tobin made Christen’s heart race or her cheeks flush. Not really. Now, Tobin Heath just made her irritated and irritable and it was still not even nine in the morning.
“I don’t know,” Tobin chuckled, running a hand over the dog’s head. “The Mariners aren’t looking half bad. But I was told the morning show usually keeps sports out of the broadcast.”
“Just go back upstairs to where you somehow managed to snag a desk despite lacking any real journalism skills,” Christen replied, taking a step back and guiding Wendy back with her, away from Tobin.
“No can do,” Tobin winked, dropping her bag on the floor for emphasis. “I’m officially at your service. I’m here to bring the ratings back up.”
“My karma is not this shitty,” Christen mumbled under her breath, her stomach sinking with every word that left Tobin’s mouth. “And our ratings aren’t down. Well, not that down. We’re in a minor slump. That’s all,” she added in defense, Wendy’s soft fur keeping her grounded instead of flying off the handle like this news threatened to send her.
“I heard it’s a dangerous slump, but not to worry,” Tobin smirked, striding confidently to the orange couch and bouncing down onto it. “Comfy,” she observed. “They really spoil you guys down here, don’t they?”
“Crystal!” Christen yelled, her eyes falling shut as she pinched the skin of her wrist, hoping she would wake up from the nightmare in her bed. When she cracked an eye open and saw Tobin still bouncing on the orange couch in her spot, she realized she was living her nightmare.
“Hey!” Crystal called out, her voice lilting nervously. “You found each other.”
“I’ve taken about all I can take this week. Please, please tell me she’s not my co-host. Please?” Christen begged, pointedly looking away from Tobin and at Crystal, her expression pleading.
“Larry said she was the best choice,” Crystal murmured under her breath.
“That’s not even remotely possible. She’s not the best choice for this show or for me,” Christen shot back, her voice hard, her thumb soothing the part of her wrist where she’d pinched herself.
“She’s got fans. And she brings in a sportier group of viewers,” Crystal explained, waving back at Tobin who was waving from her spot on the couch.
“She’s got an ego that I don’t have the time or patience to battle,” Christen ground out. “I won’t work with her.”
“Well, we’re doing a run through with a test audience soon. And if it goes terribly, Larry will find someone else,” Crystal promised.
“ When it goes terribly, he better find me someone I can work with. A real journalist,” Christen huffed, narrowing her eyes in Tobin’s direction before looking back at Crystal.
“Just do your job. It’ll all work out,” Crystal promised, readjusting the headset she was wearing. “She can be nice…sometimes really nice.”
“Never to me,” Christen snapped, frustratedly pulling her hair into a bun.
“Jealous?” Tobin grinned, having stood up and wandered closer.
“You’re not worth the energy, Heath,” Christen quipped with a bored look on her face.
“You seem to be expelling a lot,” Tobin whispered, leaning closer to Christen as she spoke.
“Whatever gets your ass back out the door of my show,” Christen whispered back, her eyes narrowing into slits as she refused to back away or back down.
“Gum?” Tobin asked, holding out a piece of pineapple flavored gum. “You’ve got coffee breath.”
With an undignified huff, Christen spun on her heel and stomped away.
“She’s just really protective of the show,” Crystal said in explanation, a weak smile on her face.
“No worries,” Tobin replied, giving Crystal a million-dollar smile. “It’s a great show. I do have one question.”
“Fire away,” Crystal nodded, readjusting the clipboard in her hands.
“Who the heck is Wendy?”
Crystal nodded at the Golden Retriever who had followed Christen as she walked away. The dog now sat with her head in Christen’s lap as Christen got her makeup touched up.
“I’ve gotta win over two co-workers?” Tobin groaned playfully.
“You’ll have better luck with the dog,” Crystal chuckled, patting Tobin’s arm.
“What does Press like? Chocolate? Flowers? Pretzels? Wine? Any athletes that tickle her fancy?” Tobin asked, flashing a smile at Christen in response to the glare she was getting.
With a laugh, Crystal replied, “You could get her her favorite meal in the entire world and she’d toss it in your face because you gave it to her. Trust me, you won’t win her over.”
Tobin couldn’t help but wonder what she’d done. Other than becoming her co-worker, and passing her a few times in the halls, Tobin hadn’t really interacted with Christen Press. She couldn’t for the life of her understand why someone would dislike her so vehemently for no reason.
“Go see Stella for your makeup. We’ll do a studio audience dry run in an hour,” Crystal said, offering Tobin one last small smile.
“Glad I wore my lucky socks today,” Tobin hummed as she bent down to pick up her bag. “Looking forward to working with you Crystal.”
“Just between us,” Crystal said, lowering her voice and leaning closer. “Christen hates pineapple. So maybe don’t chew gum while you work together?”
“Who hates pineapple,” Tobin gasped, holding a hand over her heart.
Crystal shrugged and then stepped back. “See Stella for makeup,” she said, giving Tobin one last nod before moving away and calling out instructions to the people on the studio floor.
Tobin made her way down the hall toward makeup, ditching the gum that she’d been chewing into the nearest trash can as she walked.
“No way. Get up,” Christen said, motioning for Tobin to stand.
“Excuse me?” Tobin laughed, draping an arm over the back of the couch.
“That’s my spot,” Christen replied, feeling her jaw tighten at the casual aloofness Tobin exuded.
“It’s just a couch, Press,” Tobin grinned. “And I saved room for you.”
Christen rolled her eyes and caught the eye of one of the production assistants.
“Hey, Mickey? Can you grab me that armchair from the storage room, please?” Christen asked with a sweet smile.
“Sure, Chris,” Mickey nodded before hustling to the storage room.
“You think I have cooties?” Tobin asked, giving in and reaching for her pack of gum in her jacket pocket.
“I think breathing the same air as you is an ask too big for my Wednesday afternoon,” Christen deadpanned.
“Lots of people would kill for it, any day of the week,” Tobin murmured, absentmindedly tousling her hair.
Christen splayed a hand over her heart and mockingly gasped.
“Aren't I just the luckiest woman in the world, then? Sharing oxygen with someone like you . Someone so in demand.”
“You’re feistier than I usually go for, but I try not to be too picky,” Tobin grinned, pulling her feet up onto the couch and sitting crisscross applesauce.
Christen smoothly dropped into the armchair Mickey had just finished setting up for her. She crossed her legs, one knee over the other, and fixed Tobin with a scathing look.
“This might come as a complete shock to you, but not everyone is dying to be a notch on your bedpost,” Christen huffed, offended at the blasé offer.
“Obviously I know that, Press,” Tobin snorted. “Straight women exist…supposedly.”
“As do I. So don’t say something like that to me again,” Christen said in a low, warning voice.
“No dates with Press, got it,” Tobin smirked, keeping her face schooled and unfazed.
Christen rolled her eyes and fixed the fabric of her skirt as she looked over at the people filing into the studio seating. She saw Crystal shoot her a hand signal for ‘ two minutes to go ’ and nodded.
“Since this will be your first and only time on that couch, a little word of advice,” Christen offered, her eyes moving back to Tobin. “Don’t deviate from the teleprompter. It makes the writers upset.”
“What if I think of something really funny?” Tobin asked, shooting a lopsided smile at Christen.
“Trust me, you’re not that funny.”
“You’re fantastic for the ego,” Tobin laughed, leaning back into the couch cushion and waving at a few fans who were in the audience.
Christen didn’t bother replying. She simply readjusted her skirt one final time and then looked at Crystal. As she watched Crystal count them down, Christen did what she always did right before the show.
She closed her eyes, mumbled a few words under her breath, and clicked her heels together once.
“Three…two…” Crystal counted down, pointing at Christen and Tobin as the lights went down and The Emerald View jingle began.
Right on cue, the lights went up, illuminating the stage Christen and Tobin were sitting on. Christen fixed the camera, which was really more for show than anything because of the test audience, with a smile, reading the familiar words off the teleprompter.
“Wake up and smell the coffee, Seattle. It’s time for The Emerald View. I’m your co-host, Christen Press, and-”
“I’m Tobin Heath,” Tobin smirked, her smile only growing when a few people in the audience cheered.
Christen managed to keep her smile on her face as she breezed over Tobin’s too early introduction.
“-and as you can see, I’ve got a new co-host with me this morning. She comes to us from our very own sports broadcasting team, and we here at The Emerald View are lucky to have her.”
Tobin fist pumped as people in the audience clapped. “Be careful,” Tobin chuckled, completely going off script. “Chris really hates it when you deviate from the teleprompter, and I didn’t see audience applauds there.”
Christen felt her eye twitch as she tried, again , to stick to the teleprompter.
“Tobin has some pretty big shoes to fill in Tiffany’s absence, but she’s more than capable of waking up Seattle by my side,” Christen continued, nearly eye rolling the quick script the writers had whipped up for this test audience.
“Or from all the way over here on the couch,” Tobin teased.
At that, Christen looked away from the teleprompter and fixed Tobin with a murderous look hidden behind a smile.
“Someone’s ego was too big. It took up the whole sofa,” Christen replied, ignoring the chuckling from the audience.
Tobin just winked at Christen, her smile widening at the comment that wasn’t on the stupid teleprompter.
“I was a complete saint,” Tobin gasped playfully. “I even offered you a piece of my favorite chewing gum, and you declined.” Tobin turned toward the audience and leaned forward as if she were sharing a secret. “I understand that pineapple-flavored gum isn’t for everyone, but Chris hates pineapple, apparently.”
Christen’s cheeks filled with a light blush as she worked through her momentary surprise. Apparently Tobin could still make her face flush and that just filled her with an even more intense feeling of irritation.
“Artificial pineapple. I hate artificial pineapple,” Christen clarified in defense of herself.
“See, it’s important to really get to know your coworkers and work on those communication skills,” Tobin replied.
“You and I aren’t coworkers,” Christen pointed out with an arched brow as she uncrossed and recrossed her legs.
They were so off script, it had the crew scrambling but Christen couldn’t stop. She couldn’t stop giving as good as she got. And Tobin was giving it good.
“Yet,” Tobin hummed. “But if this beautiful audience decides to torture you for the rest of time, I’ll be your morning show buddy for the foreseeable future.”
“There goes that ego, taking up even more space. You don’t have the capacity to torture me,” Christen said, her smile like ice and her eyes sparkling dangerously. “Don’t flatter yourself.”
“Well, speaking of torture, the next few days are going to be pretty chilly,” Tobin said, glancing at the teleprompter that was moving a mile a minute and catching a bit about cold weather.
“I’d suggest more than a light jacket. Maybe a scarf or a beanie,” Christen tacked on, seamlessly sliding back into things.
“It’s days like these that I’m happy I’ve retired from the game,” Tobin murmured, slouching even more comfortably into the couch. “I’d be a popsicle if I were out there in shorts.”
“I’m-” Christen faltered, her eyes skimming across the words on the teleprompter. She refused to say I’m sure your fans miss you in those shorts. You were one of the greats. She couldn’t do it. Instead, she decided to be the one to go off script this time. “-going to enlighten our audience and tell them a little known fact about you, Heath. Since you graciously gave them one about me.”
“Fantastic,” Tobin said, paying close attention to Christen.
A million things ran through Christen’s head. Things she could say, things she could expose. But she wasn’t cruel. She wouldn’t parade Tobin’s womanizing behavior in front of the audience. Tobin did that herself with the amount of women she dated in the building. Christen wouldn’t drag Tobin’s name through the mud for the horrible interaction they’d had three years ago. She would do something else though.
“She’s left-handed, but if you irritate her enough, or push her buttons in just the right way, she signs something for you with her right hand instead of her left,” Christen said, her eyes on the audience and their captivated faces.
Tobin let out a loud laugh at that. Christen wasn’t wrong. She wasn’t sure how Christen knew that, but she was right. It was a stupid thing Tobin did to kind of be a dick when people frustrated her or wanted too much from her.
“And I’ll tell you one last thing. Since you’ve all been such a wonderful audience,” Christen continued with a smile.
“Oh God,” Tobin mumbled, running a hand over her forehead and feigning worry.
“She’s definitely not my morning buddy, but let’s give her a round of applause for trying so hard to be.”
A chorus of applause and wolf whistles and cheers echoed around the studio space as Crystal signaled to cut the cameras and the prompter.
“And we’re out!” Crystal yelled.
“What kind of basket would you like when they announce that I’ve got the job?” Tobin asked with a smirk.
Christen let out an amused huff and got to her feet.
“Since that’s literally never going to happen, I have no qualms about requesting something hand-woven and full of mini muffins,” Christen quipped, her fake smile dropping now that the cameras were off.
“Hand-woven,” Tobin whistled, pushing up from the couch. “That’s a tall order, Press. They don’t pay me that much.”
“They won’t pay you for this job, either. Best of luck in your future endeavors, Heath,” Christen said, turning on her heel.
“Hey, Press,” Tobin called after Christen. “Maybe for the real deal we can color coordinate,” she offered, pointing at their clashing outfits. “I pop in all blues.”
Christen simply rolled her eyes for the millionth time since Tobin Heath walked into the studio.
“ Do you?” Christen asked mockingly, flicking her gaze down to Tobin’s blue button up and shaking her head before sauntering away from the staged set up.
Tobin couldn’t help the small smile that slipped onto her lips at the way Christen responded. It was clear that Christen Press was the only person she’d met in a very long time who didn’t want anything from her. Hell, Christen didn’t want anything to do with her. And Tobin kind of loved it.
Christen wouldn’t ask her to go to the most expensive restaurant for a date. She wouldn’t ask her for an autograph or beg her to FaceTime a relative who was a big fan. Christen was a breath of fresh air in a world that sometimes only seemed interested in taking things from Tobin.
So, while this was a punishment and while Tobin couldn’t think of a more boring segment to work on, she was glad it was Christen. She was overwhelmingly relieved that she’d get to sit next to Christen, who hated her guts, every morning instead of someone who just wanted to use her for something.
“I’d start looking for a hand-woven basket,” Crystal chirped, tugging her headset around her neck and fixing Tobin with a slightly pained smile, like she knew Christen would hate this but the decision was already done.
“Awesome,” Tobin chuckled. “I know a guy.”
Christen washed down the mediocre danish with a lukewarm cup of coffee as she occupied her typical spot at the large table The Emerald View team used for their weekly meetings.
The news of Tobin’s hiring was still causing bile to rise up in her throat on occasion. It still had fire licking up her throat and frustration causing her fists to clench.
She felt ridiculous and Crystal had even called her as much. But she had a right to dislike Tobin. She did . People who got a cheat code at life and jumped the hurdles everyone else had to go over were irritating and infuriating. People who rejected polite attempts at conversation and rudely snapped in response at you in an elevator were also irritating and infuriating.
So, yes Christen felt ridiculous but she also continued to feel irritated and oddly angry. She had a feeling she’d be like this for the foreseeable future.
With a sigh, Christen got to her feet and walked over to the craft services table. She refilled her cup of lukewarm coffee with warmer, still crappy coffee.
“Good morning,” Tobin sing-songed, walking into the room with a huge basket of muffins in one hand and a box of bagels in the other.
“Not anymore,” Christen grumbled under her breath, stirring creamer into her coffee and returning to her chair at the head of the conference room table.
“Hand-woven as requested, Press,” Tobin grinned, placing the basket on the table in front of Christen.
Christen looked from the basket of muffins up to Tobin’s annoying smirk.
“You can sit over there. This end of the table is full,” Christen replied, sipping her coffee and pushing the basket away from her.
“There’s no one else in here besides us and Omar,” Tobin responded, dropping into a seat close to Christen but not right next to her. “Want a bagel, Omar?”
With another sigh, Christen let her eyes fall shut and leaned her head against the back of the seat, cradling the coffee cup to her chest.
“Yo, thanks Heath!” Omar grinned, looking up from his notebook. “Feel free to ad lib today. You brought blueberry bagels,” he added, snagging a bagel from the box.
“Will do,” Tobin laughed, pushing a tub of cream cheese toward him.
Christen audibly grumbled at Omar’s offer, remembering how she’d only gotten the same offer from the writer after six months of hard work on the show.
“I’d appreciate it if you would sit on the right end of the couch today,” Christen said through gritted teeth, hating the warmth she could feel coming from the woman next to her and the occasional whiff she caught of whatever spicy cologne Tobin wore.
“Are you joining me on the couch?” Tobin gasped jokingly.
“Larry doesn’t want us to come off as disconnected.”
“Larry’s an ass,” Tobin sighed. “You want to race to the couch to see who gets there first?”
Christen blinked her eyes open only to narrow them in Tobin’s direction.
“Are we some kind of joke to you?” she snapped, her grip on her styrofoam cup tightening.
“Be careful with the Styrofoam. I popped one of those in my mom’s car once, and she’s never let me forget it,” Tobin whispered.
Christen let out a scoff and set the cup down with a thunk on the wooden table.
“You can’t just come in here with your big brown eyes and your silly little anecdotes and ruin the good thing we’ve got. People love our show. We might not have millions of followers, but we have loyal viewers. We aren’t a vacation or a game for some washed up athlete to fuck up because she wants a thrill. Enjoy the coffee. It sucks,” Christen said, her words rushed and clipped.
She pushed back out of her chair and marched around the conference table, settling down on the far side, completely opposite to where Tobin sat. She crossed her arms defensively, tried not to feel a little bad for snapping like that, and closed her eyes again, waiting for everyone else to show up for the meeting.
“You catch the Storm game last night, Omar?” Tobin asked, completely pushing away Christen’s words despite how hard they’d hit her.
“Bird was on fire!” Omar cheered as he finished adding cream cheese to his bagel.
Tobin just nodded as her affirmations spun through her head. I am confident. I am smart. I am funny. I am kind. I am desirable. I am worth people’s time.
“She played really well,” Tobin agreed.
Crystal and the rest of the producers quickly filtered into the room, causing Christen to open her eyes and focus on the task at hand. It was easy to ignore Tobin, especially since that god awful basket with those muffins blocked her from view. She was able to sink into the familiar routine of Crystal going over the plan for their show for the next three days. And for a few brief moments, she was able to forget about the fact that she’d have to co-host a show she really cared about with a woman who didn’t seem to care about a thing. A woman she’d been ready to avoid for the rest of her life and career.
“One hour until cameras! Talent, off to wardrobe please,” Crystal said as she wrapped up the meeting. “And please stick to the script today, yeah?” she added with a pointed look at Tobin.
“Me?” Tobin asked, holding a hand over her heart and feigning surprise. “I would never.”
“I’m watching you, Heath,” Crystal warned with a grin before moving out of the room with the other producers in tow.
Christen got up from the chair and checked her watch, seeing it was only 5:07 in the morning. Letting out a soft groan, Christen rubbed at the knot in her neck and started walking toward the door. Early mornings for the morning show always felt early. But with Tobin now invading her space and her segment, it felt particularly early.
“Sooo, I’ve thought long and hard about it-” Tobin started before Christen cut her off.
“My allotted time to talk to you starts at 6:00. And not a minute earlier.”
“You don’t have to answer,” Tobin grinned, almost skipping to catch up to Christen. “You wearing blue today? I bet you’d pop in blue too.”
Christen simply kept walking toward wardrobe, her jaw clenched and her hands stuffed into the front pocket of her sweatshirt.
“I was thinking blue and green look nice together. Maybe wardrobe will let me have a say. I wanted to talk to someone about the orange couch too,” Tobin hummed, knowing she was getting under Christen’s skin.
Christen pushed open the door to wardrobe, not bothering to hold it so it swung back toward Tobin’s face as she moved into the room.
“Jess! I’d like to be in red today,” Christen called out.
“Oooh, sexy,” Tobin crooned as she shoved the door open fully and followed behind Christen. “Who are you trying to impress, Press? Oh, that’s cute. ImPRESS.”
“For the love of God !” Christen snapped, whirling around and narrowing her eyes at Tobin, something she was doing far too often now. “Give me five minutes of fucking peace and quiet. Please?”
“Jess, what compliments red?” Tobin asked, flashing Jess a big smile.
“How does blue sound?” Jess asked, handing Christen a red pantsuit and a black, silk tank top to wear underneath it.
“Awesome, you’re the best,” Tobin beamed, dropping down onto a chair.
Realizing her request for peace and quiet would go unheeded, Christen snatched her clothes from Jess and moved into the small changing room, pulling on the red pantsuit and slipping into a pair of heels before emerging once more.
“Got another shade? I think this red is a little bright for me,” Christen said, fiddling with the sleeves of the blazer.
“I don’t know. I like it,” Tobin smirked.
“I’m not talking to you. Actually, it’s safe to assume that unless we’re on camera, I’m never talking to you,” Christen replied coolly, looking at Jess expectantly. “I feel like Heat Miser. I was hoping for a maroon.”
“Great movie,” Tobin said, drumming her fingers against the sides of the chair. “Can I be Snow Miser?”
With her fourth eye roll so far this morning, Christen shucked off the suit jacket and dropped it into Jess’s hand, leaving her in a thin, silk black tank top.
“Maroon, please. And yellow or purple also looks great with red, so feel free to put her in orange or green or anything that doesn’t look good,” Christen said with a smile for Jess.
“You ever thought about wearing just the slip? That might up the ratings,” Tobin smirked, very aware that she was being a dick.
Christen leveled Tobin with a bored look, her hands on her hips as her mouth remained pressed into a thin line. She wasn’t going to even dignify that with a response.
“You’re a pilates person, aren’t you?” Tobin pressed, offering a quick thank you when Jess handed her a navy blue turtleneck sweater and some black dress pants. Without hesitation, she swapped her sweatshirt out for the turtle neck, used to changing in front of people because of all of her time spent in locker rooms.
Christen’s bored expression never faltered as she slipped on the maroon suit jacket and took the matching pants from Jess.
“You look like Fester,” Christen deadpanned, spinning on her heel to go back into the dressing room to change pants.
“He’s the best Addams,” Tobin countered, shucking off her joggers and leaving herself in only boy shorts.
“He’s an idiot who should have trusted his instincts instead of marrying the first woman who made him feel something below the belt,” Christen replied through the closed changing room door.
The comment was innocent enough, but it had Tobin clenching her jaw tightly and forcing her brain to sink back into affirmations. If she tried hard enough she could be in Dr. Colter’s office with sun streaming into the room and plants lining the window sill.
I am confident. I am smart. I am funny. I am kind. I am desirable. I am worth people’s time.
It didn’t work.
She yanked on the dress pants, dumped her own clothes on the chair she’d been sitting in and left the room, only stopping for a moment to grab the Chelsea boots Jess held out for her.
The slamming of the door startled Christen enough to peek her head out of the dressing room. Not seeing Tobin there anymore, she grinned.
“I should have talked about Fester a while ago,” she chuckled to herself, leaving the dressing room in the maroon pantsuit and enjoying the merciful silence in Tobin’s absence.
“Make sure you get my nose,” Tobin grinned as she overtly flirted with the makeup artist who was touching up her makeup before the show.
“I have gotten it,” the makeup artist, Stella, giggled, moving her brush up to Tobin’s nose and playfully swiping across it.
“Maybe I just really want to keep you here,” Tobin whispered, winking as she spoke.
Stella blushed and picked up the mascara. “Hold still or you’ll mess me up,” she whispered back, leaning in close.
“I can hold you still,” Tobin chuckled, putting a hand on Stella’s hip.
“That’s messing me up too,” Stella admitted with a blush, swiping mascara onto Tobin’s eyelashes with a concentrated pout playing at her lips.
“I’m sorry,” Tobin said innocently, squeezing Stella’s hip once and then letting go.
“I didn’t say you had to stop,” Stella flirted with a smirk, starting to add mascara to Tobin’s other eye.
Tobin let out a laugh and then put both of her hands on either hip. “I’ll keep you really steady.”
A few moments later, Christen rounded the corner and couldn’t stifle her fifth eye roll.
“Stella, your boyfriend probably wouldn’t love this situation you’re in. And I happen to like Omar. He’s a good writer and we’d hate to lose him,” Christen sighed, shaking her head at Tobin’s hands splayed across Stella’s back, skirting dangerously low.
“I was just helping,” Tobin said, holding her hands up defensively.
“Sure you were,” Christen huffed, dropping down into the free chair to Tobin’s left. “Day two and you’re already causing issues. Unsurprising.”
“I was just being friendly, Press,” Tobin scoffed. “Maybe if Stella had told me about Omar I would have asked him to hold her steady.”
“You were being friendly. I was flirting shamelessly,” Stella shrugged, stepping away from Tobin with a smile. “Omar knows you’re on my list.”
“Oooh I love a good list,” Tobin smirked, pushing her hand through her hair to tousle it.
Christen covered her face with her hands and wished to be anywhere else, with anyone else. She stifled her growl behind her hands.
“You’re at the top of mine,” Stella winked, moving over to Christen after pulling the cover out of the neck of Tobin’s sweater so no makeup got on her clothes.
Tobin stood up and walked around to look at Christen. She put her hands on Stella’s hips as she smirked at Christen. “I think she’d look great with some blue eyeshadow.”
“Go flirt with another woman on the studio floor,” Christen dismissed, tucking a napkin in the neck of her suit jacket as Stella started to put foundation on her. “Or better yet, just go. Literally anywhere else.”
“Stella’s at the top of my list, though,” Tobin teased before she stepped away from both women and wandered away to find a water bottle.
Stella’s blush was obvious as she continued to apply Christen’s makeup.
“She’s not worth the heartbreak, honey,” Christen advised with a click of her tongue.
“Agree to disagree,” Stella laughed, digging in her makeup bag for Christen’s preferred mascara. “I don’t want her near my heart enough to break it. That’s all Omar’s. I just want to know if the rumors about her in bed are true.”
“What do the rumors say?” Christen asked curiously.
“I’ve heard she’s quite the giver, and I’ve also heard she keeps up with her training just for endurance in bed,” Stella whispered as she worked.
There it was, the usual flash of irritation. Tobin Heath and irritation were basically synonymous for Christen now. They had been for years.
“Enjoy yourself, then. Could we do more of a winged eyeliner today?” she asked, changing the subject quickly.
“Sure,” Stella nodded. “Who are we impressing today?”
“There’s never anyone you need to impress more than yourself,” Christen replied, closing her eyes and letting Stella get to work.
Ten minutes later, she had her makeup done and she was floating across the studio space, shuffling through some notes on the general direction for the show today. She was so engrossed in the papers that she didn’t notice someone occupying her end of the couch.
She sat down, hitting pants and legs instead of the velvety cushion. She immediately yelped and ungracefully pivoted onto the cushion to the left.
“Who am I? Mia Thermopolis?” Tobin teased, her eyes crinkling as her smile grew.
Christen groaned and scooted as far away from Tobin as humanly possible on the couch, her attention dropping back to the papers in her hand as an embarrassed flush crept up her neck.
“That’s my spot,” she grumbled, trying to focus on the words on the papers in front of her.
“Why an orange couch?” Tobin asked, bouncing up and down on the cushion.
“Not my call,” Christen replied distractedly. “It was here when I joined Steve and then it was still here when Tiffany replaced Steve. Now…it’s here for you too, I guess.”
“Steve was gross,” Tobin sighed, rolling her head a few times to loosen her neck.
“Mhm,” Christen hummed, suppressing a small yawn as her eyes glazed over at the sight of another…normal program. No news. Nothing world changing. Just weather and commentary on the awards shows coming up.
“Do we have to talk about recipes?” Tobin asked, peeking over at the papers Christen was holding.
“Mhm,” Christen hummed again, angling the papers away from Tobin’s gaze.
“What about like…that oil spill in the gulf? Is that worth mentioning?” Tobin asked, raising an eyebrow in Christen’s direction.
“24/7 Breaking News covered it as it was happening. We don’t really do that on this show,” Christen managed to reply, her jaw tightening again and making the throbbing in her temples get a little worse.
“Oookay,” Tobin hummed, beginning to tap her feet on the studio floor. “So we’re like…people’s breather. We bring joy.”
“I bring joy. You bring whatever it is you’re selling at the moment,” Christen replied swiftly, stacking the papers and handing them off to a production assistant with a smile.
“You think you’ll ever get tired of this?” Tobin asked, gesturing between the two of them.
Christen looked from Tobin’s outstretched hand up to her brown eyes.
“I’ve been tired of you. This is exhausting, and frankly, not what I wanted. Any other questions, Heath?”
“Have you seen a doctor?” Tobin asked with a tiny smile on her lips.
“Excuse me?” Christen countered with a dangerous narrowing of her eyes.
“The stick is probably really uncomfortable. I’m sure a doctor would be willing to help,” Tobin smirked, flipping an arm over the back of the couch.
Christen’s entire body tensed as she prepared to hurl something equally hurtful and painful back.
“You are such a little-”
Crystal clapped her hands and gave both Tobin and Christen bright smiles, ignoring the tension between them.
“Thirty seconds, team! Go razzle-dazzle them!” she said before flitting off.
“Do you need an extra pillow to sit on?” Tobin asked, smiling even bigger. “That might help.”
Christen didn’t stoop to Tobin’s level. Instead, she silently flipped Tobin off and then prepared for the start of the show like she always did.
She closed her eyes, mumbled the words she always did, and then clicked her heels once, the noise of the crew getting ready to start the broadcast fading into the background.
Crystal counted down, the lights dimmed, and then the cameras rolled. The jingle played, the lights came up, and Christen beamed at Camera Two.
“Wake up and-”
“Smell the coffee, Seattle. It’s time for The Emerald View, ” Tobin interrupted, her smile now megawatt. “I’m Tobin Heath, and this is my co-host-”
“Christen Press. I’m not used to going second, so, better not get used to first, Heath,” Christen quipped, her look one of warning as she glared over at Tobin with a fake smile on her face.
“I thought since it’s my first day, you’d cut me some slack,” Tobin winked, soaking up all of the hatred Christen was shooting her way.
“It won’t be your first day for long. So soak up the slack,” Christen replied smoothly, her eyes moving back to the teleprompter. “And the sun. We’re expecting a nice heatwave this weekend. Unseasonable for this time of year. What’ll you do with the sunshine?” she asked, managing to sound somewhat genuine as she read the question off the prompter.
“I’m definitely planning to play a few pick-up games and then go out with friends,” Tobin said, reading off the teleprompter and holding back an eye roll.
“Of course you are. Since you’re such a giver ,” Christen said before she could stop herself. She cleared her throat and then read from the teleprompter. “I know you didn’t ask, but I’m planning to head to the art walk downtown with my sunshiney days.”
“That’s the annual fall festival. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday this week between 9:00AM and 5:30PM. Chris, I didn’t even know you were into art,” Tobin added, turning away from the teleprompter and Crystal’s warning look.
“That’s because we don’t know each other,” Christen hummed, pointedly keeping her attention off of Tobin. “The best thing about the fall festival-”
“Isn’t it funny that people work in the same building for years and don’t know each other until they share a couch?” Tobin asked, interrupting Christen.
“It’s hilarious in fact. I’m howling on the inside,” Christen deadpanned.
“You seem thoroughly amused,” Tobin chuckled. “I gotta say, your sense of humor is one of the things I appreciate most about you.”
“I wasn’t aware we were at the appreciation stage of our couch-ship,” Christen quipped with an arched brow, now turning away from the teleprompter as well.
“I move quickly. You know what they say about U-Hauling when you share a couch on day one,” Tobin replied, ignoring Crystal who was clearing her throat off screen.
“The U-Haul breaks down on the highway and the couch-ship never recovers? The matching flannels are held hostage by one of us while the shared fanny pack and favorite granola are held for ransom by the other?” Christen wondered dryly.
“Well, you’ve got this all planned out. I call the flannel,” Tobin smirked. “Speaking of road trips,” she moved on, still ignoring the teleprompter. “I know you were planning to go to the beach before the big oil spill. You and I were talking about that earlier, and I guess I just wanted to know your take on it all.”
“Umm-” Christen faltered, her easy facade slipping as Tobin completely threw her for a loop. She uncrossed and recrossed her legs as she fidgeted on the couch. “The oil spill?”
“Yeah, the one down south. I guess it’s hard to keep track when there seem to be so many lately,” Tobin sighed.
“Too many. The one off the coast of Southern California yesterday released thousands of gallons of crude oil into the coastal waters,” Christen replied, uncertainty coiling in her stomach as Tobin moved them away from their snarky rapport and the boring teleprompter. “But we should really talk about the sculpture booth at the art walk. They’re a local artist who tries to capture the beauty of the world around them in the clay and stone they work with.”
“I’m all about capturing beauty in the world, since most of our natural beauty is being polluted,” Tobin responded, giving Christen an out along with an opportunity to talk about something actually important.
“How do you capture beauty?” Christen wondered, her appraising gaze locked on Tobin.
She reminded herself this was an act for the camera. Tobin was selling the good co-host act. Tobin was selling it well. It didn’t mean anything that she’d brought up oil spills or seemed to genuinely mean what she’d said just now.
So, even if it was just an act, she acted right alongside Tobin.
“Well, I used to capture beauty on the pitch. I liked entertaining people. Now, it’s beauty in art and in recognizing natural beauty as well as other artists’ beauty. That’s why I’m so excited about the art festival and also so disheartened about the spill.”
“Somehow, I’m going to wind up running into you at this art walk, aren't I?” Christen sighed, a polite half-smile on her face.
“We could carpool,” Tobin offered with a beaming smile.
“You wouldn’t fit on the back of my Triumph Bonneville,” Christen quipped, her half-smile still in place.
“What if I hold on really tightly?” Tobin countered, her voice definitely flirty.
Christen pretended to think about that, pursing her lips.
“Sorry, still no,” Christen replied, an amused sparkle in her eye.
“I’ll have to bring you another muffin basket, won’t I?” Tobin asked, knocking her knee into Christen’s.
Christen stifled an eye roll and looked back to the teleprompter.
“You wondering where she got those mini muffins? Stay tuned after these commercials,” Christen said with a smile.
“Aaand we’re out!” Crystal called, signaling for a quick change of camera angles. “Back on in twenty!”
Christen turned her head to glare at Tobin, waving off water from an intern. “What happened to no deviations from the teleprompter? What the hell was that about the oil?”
“You deviated first,” Tobin scoffed. “I’m a giver ? What does that even mean?”
“Really? You’re going with the ‘you did it first’ defense?” Christen shot back, ignoring the giver comment. “How old are you?”
“You can’t seriously tell me that you aren’t bored to death,” Tobin whispered for only Christen to hear.
“This morning show matters to a lot of people. So I grin and bear it and talk about art walks. You should too,” Christen hissed.
“Fine,” Tobin huffed, leaning back against the couch and crossing her arms.
“Such a child,” Christen grumbled, pinching the bridge of her nose as she leaned into the couch cushion.
“Ten seconds and we’re back!” Crystal yelled, a chaotic rush of people milling about the studio space.
“Stick to the script, Heath,” Christen sighed, her eyes closed.
“Yes, ma’am,” Tobin groaned, tousling her hair again.
“And don’t flirt with me. It just makes me dislike you more.”
“I’d never flirt with you,” Tobin insisted, making a face at the idea.
“What if I hold on tightly?” Christen quoted, dropping her hand and arching a brow in an accusatory manner in Tobin’s direction.
“Sweetie, you wouldn’t be able to,” Tobin smirked, clearly unable not to flirt despite knowing it was a stupid idea.
Christen wasn’t like the women she wined and dined. She couldn’t just shut off the flirting. Christen was just a little too confusing and challenging and annoying.
“I’m not usually the one who needs to hold on,” Christen shrugged, sitting up right as Crystal finished the countdown, her typical camera-ready smile on her face.
“Must be taking home the wrong people,” Tobin muttered, her hand covering the mic on her collar.
The rest of the show went exactly how it started.
Tobin deviated from the teleprompter. Christen deviated from it as well. They got more caught up in bickering and bantering about the topics at hand then actually reading the words written for them.
But by the end of the hour, it hadn’t been mind-numbing or cringey to watch. The entire crew, Crystal included, were a little enraptured with the display on the orange couch.
“I disagree,” Christen said with a shake of her head as she gestured at the basket of muffins one of the interns had rushed onto the set after their second commercial break. “The best muffin was definitely the Apple streusel or the pumpkin.”
“Are you kidding me? Double devil chocolate is superior. That’s why I put double the amount in there,” Tobin huffed, taking a bite of the muffin she liked best.
“That’s also why you should have grabbed more napkins. You’re wearing half of the double devil chocolate,” Christen replied breezily before looking at the camera for her typical sign-off. “Grab that next cup of coffee, Seattle. It was a pleasure to share our morning with you. See you tomorrow.”
“Bye,” Tobin mumbled through her mouthful of muffin, her hand moving into a shaka sign.
“Cut!” Crystal shouted, causing Christen to let out a bone deep sigh.
“Thank fuck,” she grumbled, dropping her face into her hands as a flurry of activity filled the studio space.
“You’re not supposed to eat in wardrobe,” Jess sighed, getting a sheepish smile from Tobin as soon as Jess said the words.
“But Press took a bite,” Tobin mumbled, swallowing the last bit of muffin and then trying to brush the crumbs off of the clothes.
“I don’t make a mess of things,” Christen huffed, getting to her feet and fixing Tobin with a look. “I’d suggest clearing your afternoon.”
“What? Why?” Tobin asked, holding her arms out while Jess wiped at her sweater.
“Larry’s going to chew us out for that,” Christen pointed out, already feeling the throbbing in her head deepen into an ache behind her eyes and in her temples at the thought. “He’ll probably do it soon. By noon at the latest.”
“I’ll send him a basket too,” Tobin grumbled, finally having enough. She pulled the sweater off and handed it to Jess, leaving her in just a sports bra. Tobin stalked out of the studio and toward wardrobe, intent on getting into her joggers as quickly as she could.
Christen and Tobin rode the elevator together up to the executive level offices. Christen busied herself on her phone, not bothering to offer Tobin a second glance or a barbed word. Doing it for an hour at 6 AM had been plenty. And she was painfully reminded of the last time they’d shared an elevator, her stomach full of knots as they climbed higher and higher.
They stepped out of the elevator and were led to Larry’s office, finding it empty.
“Have a seat. He will be right in,” his assistant said with a warm smile before leaving the two women alone.
With a heavy sigh, Christen dropped into one of the two office chairs, preparing for the inevitable. She figured her three-year tenure on the morning show would keep her safe, but she had a feeling that stunt this morning would cost Tobin her job. She felt a small kernel of guilt for that, but she didn’t let the kernel grow.
“This was a treat. Truly. I hope you’re happy wherever you end up,” Christen said, her focus still on her phone as she scrolled through Twitter.
“Did I like…run over your dog or something?” Tobin asked, slumping low in her own chair and looking over at Christen.
Christen met Tobin’s gaze with her brows knit and her lips parted in shock, scandalized at the question.
“That is not an appropriate comparison to make,” Christen chastised.
“You’re acting like I murdered your favorite dog in cold blood,” Tobin repeated, lounging now so that her sneakers were pushed up against the base of Larry’s desk.
“Take that back ,” Christen scoffed, offended for hypothetical dogs everywhere.
“What did I do? Did I sleep with you and forget?” Tobin asked, moving her lips into a smirk. If Christen hated the persona she embodied during the day, then Tobin might as well really sell it. They’d probably be fired and never have to see one another again anyway.
Christen suffered through another eye roll. “Yes, Tobin. We totally slept together and that’s why I can’t stand to be near you and your colossal ego,” she replied sarcastically.
“I don’t think so. If we’d slept together, you’d definitely be nicer to me,” Tobin grinned, now tapping her toes against the wooden desk.
“Nice isn’t the same as kind. And kindness is a two-way street,” Christen said quietly, rolling her shoulders and sitting up straighter in the chair.
“I’ve been nothing but kind to you. I bought you muffins and a ridiculously expensive basket,” Tobin huffed, dropping her head back against the back of the chair.
“Those aren’t acts of kindness. Those are simply nice, surface-level acts meant to buy my good graces,” Christen pointed out with a shake of her head.
Thankfully, she was saved from saying anything else by Larry walking into the office.
“You two!” he grumbled, his face drawn in anger. He dropped heavily into his desk chair and glowered at the two women. “I only have one thing to say about your little display this morning.”
“I will pull all my cards and get your kid a FaceTime call with Messi,” Tobin blurted out, finally sitting up in her chair.
Larry let the two women sweat for a second before his face broke out into a large smile.
“Brilliant. You two were brilliant ! The network loved it. The execs upstairs loved it. Your chemistry? Off the charts. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it,” Larry grinned.
Christen, once again, was having trouble keeping up with the sudden turn of events. She blinked rapidly, her forehead scrunched in confusion.
“Brilliant?” Christen parroted.
“Chemistry?” Tobin echoed, cocking her head to the side and looking at Larry like he’d officially lost it.
“My wife has never, and I repeat never watched the morning show. No offense, Press,” Larry replied with an apologetic grimace for Christen. “But this morning she called me and sang your praises for an hour. Then my college buddy did the same thing for another hour. Then my mom, then my son. You somehow tapped into every age range possible, and we here at SNN want you to keep tapping.”
Christen spluttered and shook her head, planting her feet on the carpeted floor and leaning forward.
“This has got to be a fluke, Larry! Unusual traffic isn’t uncommon. You can’t seriously be considering letting this…thing continue?”
“Chemistry?” Tobin repeated, still completely confused and floored at his first statement. There was absolutely no way anyone thought they had chemistry. Christen hated her, and honestly, after working with her, Tobin wasn’t crazy about Christen either.
“Head back downstairs and start working with Dunn and Omar on this new direction for The Emerald View . Less structure, more chemistry,” Larry said with another large grin. “Keep up the good work you two!”
“Chemistry?” Tobin muttered to herself as she pushed up from her seat.
“Enough with that stupid word,” Christen sighed, getting up from her chair as well. “Repeating it won’t make it any less weird.”
“You two are a riot,” Larry chuckled, making both women scrunch their foreheads in confusion.
“Cute how you thought I’d get fired,” Tobin hummed as soon as the two of them stepped into the elevator.
“Cute how a single word utterly shocked you to your core,” Christen quipped in reply, leaning back against the wall of the elevator, her arms crossed over her chest.
“What? People thinking you and I have chemistry doesn’t weird you out?” Tobin huffed, arching an eyebrow and looking over at Christen.
“Chemistry doesn’t exist. What people saw this morning was a well-acted ignoring of my dislike for you clashing with your inflated sense of self. We don’t have chemistry. We have a morning show,” Christen replied, squeezing her elbows as she tightened her arms across her chest. “Might as well try to make it great.”
“Never thought I’d have a morning show,” Tobin smirked, deciding to quit trying to win Christen over. “Mornings with Tobin, not just for a select few now.”
All Christen could muster was a tired groan as the elevator took them back downstairs.
we hope you are as excited as we are about this new fic and new world! thanks for joining us on another journey...
sam & emma
Chapter 2: long drive
couch-ship, classic cocky asshole behavior, and chemistry
For our friend who needed this chapter and for one of our youngling's birthdays. Hope you have a great rest of your Wednesday! Much love!
“See, you beat me to the couch today,” Tobin teased, sauntering over to the couch in a black jumpsuit. “Isn’t racing to see who gets the spot fun?”
Christen merely hummed noncommittally as she sipped at her coffee, her eyes on the book in her lap.
“Are we doing book club today?” Tobin asked, dropping down onto the couch and draping her arm over the back of it.
“No. You pitched a segment on getting personal, and that’s what’s on the docket today,” Christen replied stiffly, completely dreading this unscripted hour to come.
“I should really read Crystal’s emails,” Tobin sighed softly, letting her eyes flutter shut.
“Must be taxing to actually have to do the work associated with this job,” Christen observed, shutting her book and sliding it behind a cushion on the couch so the camera wouldn’t pick it up.
“You’re telling me,” Tobin grinned. “I’m excited to get personal today, Press.”
“That makes one of us.”
“You’re saying you have no interest in getting to know me at all? Some people would kill to be in your seat,” Tobin said, knowing for a fact that it would annoy Christen.
Which it did. Christen’s jaw tightened and her posture stiffened.
“I’m sensing a theme. People killing to spend time with you, breathe the same air as you. Is that supposed to make me feel special? That people would kill to be in my shoes?”
“Does it?” Tobin asked as she knocked her knee into Christen’s.
Christen glared at Tobin’s knee, like having it touch her offended her at a visceral level.
“No,” Christen said curtly.
“You’re not like the other girls, Press,” Tobin sing-songed.
“Do you have any idea how terribly sexist that remark is?” Christen asked, pressing her fingers against her forehead and letting her eyes fall shut in frustration.
“I’m a woman,” Tobin said, pointing a finger at herself.
“Women can still be sexist to other women.”
“It’s part of my charm, I guess.”
“Sexism?” Christen scoffed incredulously, her eyes opening once more to look over at her co-host. “It’s a wonder you’re so in demand with an attitude like that.”
“I don’t think it’s my attitude that keeps people interested,” Tobin replied, feeling her stomach churn and her chest clench.
“Ten seconds to go!” Crystal’s voice echoed around the studio, sparing Christen another dry retort for Tobin.
Christen readjusted herself on the couch, did her pre-show ritual, and then found herself about to fall back on the familiar greeting she’d been giving for three years. But then she remembered that had changed too. So, she stayed silent as Tobin started their new greeting.
“Wake up and smell the coffee, Seattle. I’m Tobin Heath, and this is my co-host-”
“-Christen Press. And together, we’ve got the chemistry to brighten up your morning,” Christen said with a fake smile for the camera, loathing the new greeting Larry had approved with every fiber of her being. “Today, we’ve got a fun hour lined up for you all.”
“Here’s the funny thing about our working relationship,” Tobin continued with a lopsided smile. “We’re basically work wives but have no answers to any trivia about one another. I don’t know Christen Press at all, other than that she doesn’t like pineapple.”
“And that’s all her fault, really. I’m great at trivia,” Christen replied smoothly with that fake smile still on her face.
“Okay, Press, where was I born?”
“The United States of America. See? I’m great at trivia.”
“Cute,” Tobin snorted.
“Thankfully, we aren’t going to bore you with trivial trivia,” Christen read off the teleprompter, the writing having significantly improved since their rebranding. “We’re into the hard-hitting stuff here. So, Heath, you’re up,” she continued, pivoting to face Tobin on the couch. “Ask me anything. Within reason.”
“It’s the within reason that keeps me from getting into trouble, isn’t it?” Tobin smirked, knocking her knee into Christen’s again.
“It’s what keeps us from having to cut to an early commercial,” Christen said, her smile growing a little tight at the contact.
“Okay, Press,” Tobin sighed, closing her eyes as if she were in deep thought. “What’s your biggest, daily challenge?”
“You mean besides this?” Christen asked, her tone full of teasing for their audience but her eyes betraying the truth for only Tobin to see.
“Yeah, besides me,” Tobin nodded, feeling that same churning in her stomach and aching in her chest.
Christen hummed in thought, running her index finger along the bridge of her nose for a few moments. And then her fake smile grew a little shy.
“Falling asleep content,” she replied simply. “What about you?”
“You have trouble falling asleep?” Tobin pried, cocking her head to the side slightly.
“When our days start as early as ours do, it’s tough to fall asleep at seven in the evening,” Christen joked, her smile morphing back into the one she used in front of the cameras. “But I manage.”
“I do have trouble getting up for work sometimes, so that’s a daily challenge,” Tobin admitted sheepishly.
“Never goes away. You all try waking up at three thirty every day but Sunday,” Christen commented with a nod at the camera, addressing their audience.
“Well that’d be a fun challenge, but I think our viewers would sleep through our program if they attempted it,” Tobin teased.
“And miss all of this excitement? The horror. Speaking of, your daily challenge, Heath?”
“Can’t I also say sleep?” Tobin asked.
“Let me just consult the experts,” Christen replied, holding two fingers up to her ear and pretending to listen in. She hummed and hawed for a few moments before fixing Tobin with a look. “Sadly, they’ve told me that is against the couch-ship rules.”
“All right, but no laughing. My daily challenge has to be picking between a sweet or savory breakfast,” Tobin answered, a genuine blush on her cheeks.
Christen didn’t even try to hold in her snort. “When we come back from this commercial break, we’re diving into more personal questions. We’ll be right back,” she said, signing them off for a forty-five second commercial break.
Immediately, Christen scooted all the way over toward the arm of the couch, away from the near middle she sat in during the show. She didn’t have to grin and bear it for the next forty-five seconds. Instead, she let her shoulders drop as she rubbed her thumb across the wrist of her opposite arm, breathing deeply.
“Next time, run the question by me first,” she managed to say, not even bothering to look over at Tobin.
“I thought that one was okay,” Tobin said, her forehead scrunching in confusion.
“What else do you have up your sleeve?”
“I don’t know,” Tobin mumbled, scratching the side of her neck.
“You mean you didn’t prep for the segment you pitched? You- we’re on the air!” Christen replied, more than a little exasperated as she rubbed at her wrist beneath her watch band.
“No, I did. I prepped. I just- It’s better when it’s natural,” Tobin tried to explain.
Christen shook her head with a scoff. “The forced ‘work wife’ bullshit we put on for everyone isn’t natural. So, prep next time.”
These moments compared to their on-air moments were like oil and water, like fire and ice. They were completely different versions of themselves for the cameras and for one another. They had supposed chemistry for the public and irritable disdain for one another in private.
“You’re next, so you don’t have to worry,” Tobin grumbled, sinking into her spot on the couch and letting affirmations spin through her head.
They didn’t help.
A minute later, the cameras were back on and Christen was asking her personal question.
“If you could get the answer to one burning question you’ve got, what would the question be?” Christen asked, feigning interest as she leaned her weight on her elbow on her knee, her chin propped in her hand and her attention on Tobin.
Tobin felt her entire body freeze up. She wasn’t even sure if there was still a fake smile plastered to her face. She wasn’t sure if she was even still sitting on the couch. Her ears were ringing just like they always did when her therapist asked her: What is it about this question that won’t let you go?
Tobin had an answer. She had one singular answer, and she’d never say it out loud. Not on live TV. Not to Christen Press. Not to anyone other than Dr. Colter.
Because of that one singular answer, the one that was echoing around in her head, banging like a drum in her ears, Tobin couldn’t think of another answer. She couldn’t think of anything to say. She could feel her eyes glazing over and her hand tensing on the back of the couch. She could sense Crystal and the rest of the crew stressing behind the camera, willing her to unmute herself.
With a barely noticeable crinkle of confusion in her brow, Christen breezed past the question after suffering through seven seconds of dead air.
“Sad to say this, dear viewers, but this happens quite often. I tend to stump Heath with my brilliance,” Christen covered, only slightly awkward as she chuckled.
“That’s true,” Tobin mumbled, nodding and reaching for the coffee mug next to her that was filled with water.
“Since my baffling brilliance only works based on proximity, maybe some of you out there can share your questions with us. Call in to the number at the bottom of your screen and we will begin our Q and A portion of the program,” Christen added with a smile for the camera.
I am confident. I am smart. I am funny. I am kind. I am desirable. I am worth people’s time. I am confident. I am smart. I am funny. I am kind. I am desirable. I am worth people’s time. I am confident. I am smart. I am funny. I am kind. I am desirable. I am worth people’s time.
Tobin finished her mug of water in another gulp and then set it back down on the table beside her side of the couch.
Getting a signal from Crystal, Christen continued since Tobin was still oddly silent on the opposite end of the couch.
“We’ve got Brenda from Spokane on the line. Hi Brenda,” Christen greeted with a warm, genuine smile.
“Hi,” Brenda replied. “I’m live on the air?”
Christen chuckled and nodded. “Welcome to The Emerald View , Brenda.”
“Gosh, that’s so cool,” Brenda gushed. “Okay, um…I just wanted to say that you two are the highlight of my day. And I wanted to ask how you enjoy working with one another because we certainly enjoy watching you.”
Christen shot Tobin a pointed look, asking her to take the lead on this one. Since when it really came down to it, this whole situation was sort of all Tobin’s fault.
“We’re really glad you enjoy watching,” Tobin responded with a soft smile, one that didn’t fully reach her eyes. “Press and I are really grateful that we get to work together. Behind the bantering is a lot of respect, and I’m glad I get to do this every day,” she said, knowing it was somewhat of a lie but just wanting to get through today.
“Life is full of unexpected moments and this is certainly one of those. I find there is a lot of beauty in the unexpected. It’s a joy to share the couch with her,” Christen tacked on, some genuineness bleeding into the response.
“Thanks for calling in,” Tobin said with a slightly bigger but less genuine smile. “Our next caller is Greta from Grand Rapids.”
“Hey you two! Love your show. My wife and I watch it every morning. My question that I’ve always wanted answered is: which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
The question had the desired effect, causing both Christen and Tobin to laugh, the sounds not forced or fake.
“That’s a tricky one,” Tobin chuckled. “But I guarantee that Press and I will disagree on it.”
“When in doubt, the answer is always that Heath and I will disagree,” Christen chimed in.
“Thanks,” Tobin murmured as Erica helped take her mic off, the last thing she needed to do before leaving the studio, changing clothes, and driving to her therapist’s office.
Christen was already on her feet and about to leave the stage when she paused and turned back to face Tobin.
“Are you- are you good?” Christen asked, the words uttered with a tinge of concern that felt foreign as she sent them across the stage to her co-host.
“Yeah, all good,” Tobin mumbled, giving Christen a thumbs up.
“Good. Don’t freeze for seven seconds again. Messes things up,” Christen replied, her voice missing its usual bite.
“Sorry,” Tobin muttered, unable to meet Christen’s eyes.
“I’ll see you tomorrow I guess,” Christen offered, the cordial dismissal feeling odd as well.
“Yep,” Tobin agreed, busying herself by piling her hair into a messy bun.
“Okay, yeah, bye,” Christen managed before walking off, all without looking over her shoulder at Tobin, unsure why the haunted look in those brown eyes made her want to stay.
It took Tobin approximately forty minutes to get changed and drive to Dr. Colter’s office. She had to wait another ten minutes for Dr. Colter’s previous client to finish their session. And then, she settled into her favorite chair and pulled a plushy, decorative pillow into her lap.
“Did you watch the morning show?” Tobin asked, not bothering with superfluous greetings. They’d stopped being formal after the first year of appointments.
“Do you want to talk about the morning show?” Dr. Colter replied with an open expression and the barest hint of a smile playing at her lips. She was used to the barging in and the questions. She was used to Tobin after all these years.
“I froze at work,” Tobin mumbled as she sank back into the chair and fiddled with the pillow she was holding.
“Tell me what happened,” Dr. Colter said softly.
“My co-anchor asked me if I had a burning question I was dying to know the answer to,” Tobin replied, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. “I’m sure you can imagine where my brain went.”
“Enlighten me anyway.”
“I’ve spent three years asking you the same question,” Tobin said, raising her eyebrows challengingly. “Sometimes the therapy questions suck, you know?”
“You’re not paying me, I’m not on the clock, and you’re sitting across from me as a friend. Enlighten me as to why you had a hard day today, Tobin,” Dr. Colter murmured, her eyes kind.
“I still don’t get it,” Tobin shrugged softly, hating the ache in the back of her throat.
“Why you want the answer, or why the situation arose and brought about the want for the answer?”
“Both,” Tobin answered, a sad smile on her lips.
“Why do you think you need to ask the question in the first place?”
“If someone you trust enough to intertwine your life with theirs is able to leave you without reason, what’s stopping every other person on the planet?” Tobin asked, letting the pressure behind her eyes burn.
“That’s not the same question you’ve always come to me with. You’ve always wondered why she left. Not why she left you and what that means for you ,” Dr. Colter replied gently, handing over a box of tissues. “It took you three years to get there.”
“Gold star for me. I’ll go update my Yelp review for you,” Tobin joked weakly.
Dr. Colter was quiet for a few moments, watching Tobin stubbornly wipe at the tears in her eyes.
“Do you think you’d be happy if you’d married her?” she finally asked.
“She probably would have left me anyway, and then I’d have divorce papers to deal with, right?”
“Do you think you’ll ever forgive her?”
“I just- I don’t even think I’m angry with her anymore,” Tobin admitted at a whisper. “I just want to know- I wish I knew what I did. I wouldn’t do it again.”
“What if it wasn’t you who did anything?” Dr. Colter suggested, broaching something she’d mentioned a few times before with little success.
“You don’t hurt someone like that if they didn’t hurt you first,” Tobin said with a shake of her head. “You don’t just fall out of love with people like that. That can’t be true because if you fall out of love like that then everything just sucks and love isn’t even real.”
Dr. Colter backed off that line of questioning just like she always did when she sensed that Tobin still wasn’t ready for this.
“You deserve answers, Tobin. Just maybe think about the questions you’re asking to get them. I’ll see you Monday?”
“Sorry for barging in,” Tobin sighed, standing up from the chair.
“Friends are allowed. Stop by any time,” Dr. Colter replied with a smile.
“I’ll see you Monday,” Tobin echoed, walking out of Dr. Colter’s office feeling like she could breathe a tiny bit better despite the swirling thoughts in her head.
Christen loudly chewed on a piece of celery, gazing across the small park she and Crystal ate their lunches in when the weather was nice, her mind a million miles away from the park and the conversation and the celery.
“So that’s when I decided I’d get a tattoo of Larry’s face on my bicep,” Crystal said, gauging whether or not Christen was listening.
Christen’s eyes widened comically as she whipped her head around, fixing Crystal with a shocked look.
“Did you hear a word I said about Pierre’s family coming to visit?” Crystal huffed.
“Yes,” Christen replied with a weak grimace. “Kind of? I’m sorry. Start over.”
“Where are you?” Crystal asked, smiling softly at her best friend.
Christen sighed and bit off another mouthful of celery with a crunch.
“Why do I actively hate her again?” she asked quietly, making sure not to look at Crystal as she said it. She knew the slight flush creeping up her neck would give her away, and her scarf could only hide so much. It definitely couldn’t hide the fact that she hadn't been able to stop thinking about that vulnerable look in Tobin’s eyes from their Q&A last week.
Three weeks on the show together and Tobin had wormed her way back into Christen’s thoughts. It was infuriating.
“Uh…something about her using her fame to climb a ladder that you’ve put sweat and tears into climbing?” Crystal answered. “That and you used to have a crush on her. Like a huge crush. Which crashed and burned thanks to the elevator incident. And she’s a cocky asshole. And she annoys you regularly. Am I missing something?”
“Nope. Sums it up,” Christen sighed, taking another loud, crunchy bite of celery.
“But she’s wearing you down?” Crystal wondered aloud.
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m going soft. Or maybe I need to double down. Stick to my anger and irritation,” Christen mused, finally looking over at Crystal.
“Doubling down is hard when she keeps bringing bagels on Mondays and insisting that people call it Beginning of the Week Bagel Breakdown,” Crystal hummed, reaching out and squeezing Christen’s knee.
“She’s still an annoying, cocky asshole who was unnecessarily rude to me on multiple occasions,” Christen reasoned, trying to double down despite the bagel reminder. But they were damn good bagels and Christen was only human.
“You’re right. She’s a jerk. We can totally keep hating her,” Crystal agreed.
“Totally,” Christen echoed weakly.
“I heard she took Diane from the writers’ room on a date last Saturday,” Crystal said, hoping she’d make Christen feel better.
“Annoying, cocky, womanizing asshole,” Christen grumbled, the sting in her chest making itself known for the first time in a long while. But this wasn’t irritation or frustration. It felt like something akin to jealousy.
“I heard the date was a real dud.”
“For Diane or for Heath?”
“For Diane. I’m not sure about how Tobin felt about it. Diane said Tobin dropped her off without even a cheek kiss,” Crystal informed, watching her friend’s interest grow.
“Huh,” Christen hummed. “Not such a giver after all.”
“Diane said Tobin must be super Christian or something because, and I’m quoting her here, ‘no one could refuse her in the dress she wore unless they’d made a pact with Jesus,’” Crystal snorted, enjoying the gossip.
“She did not say that,” Christen laughed.
“Yes, she did,” Crystal nodded, her laugh only growing. “And apparently she asked Tobin to come inside like three times before giving up.”
“Classic cocky asshole behavior. Absolutely zero follow through,” Christen said, her own laughter growing as well.
“You’ve got her pegged, don’t you?” Crystal chuckled, letting out one last long breathy laugh.
“I feel so much better now. The dislike is back and I feel like myself again,” Christen hummed happily, picking up another piece of celery and dipping it into some peanut butter.
“You’re welcome,” Crystal grinned. “Gotta admit the bagels are good, though.”
“Damn good bagels,” Christen said with a grumpy huff. “I caved and had one this morning. I ate it in the wardrobe department away from prying eyes.”
“Away from Tobin. You don’t want to give her the satisfaction, I’m sure.”
“Naturally,” Christen agreed with a wink.
“Wait…we’re doing this for a lightning cage?” Tobin asked, dropping into a chair after handing bagels to Omar.
“Didn’t you read my email?” Crystal sighed as she pressed her fingers against her closed eyes. “It’s a metaphor for the electric chemistry you both have.”
Tobin made a gagging noise while Christen dropped her head onto her arms at the conference table.
“Chemistry?” Tobin mumbled, more to herself than to anyone else.
“If you say that word one more time, I’m throwing a bagel at you,” Christen grumbled, her words slightly muffled against her crossed arms.
“Chemistry,” Tobin whispered, readying herself to catch a bagel.
Christen lifted her head, narrowed her eyes at Tobin, and whipped a bagel from the box in Tobin’s direction all while glaring.
“It’s not called a lightning cage. It’s called a Faraday cage,” Christen corrected, rolling her eyes when Tobin caught the bagel easily.
“Pretty sure it’s just a lightning cage,” Tobin garbled through her bite of bagel. “It’s pretty cool actually.”
“I’m not getting in it,” Christen declared, a sense of finality in her voice. “And it’s a Faraday cage. Trust me. I know what I’m talking about.”
“Are you afraid of the lightning cage?” Tobin asked, still munching on the bagel Christen had thrown.
“I think anyone with a healthy appreciation for their mortality would be afraid to get into a metal cage like that.”
“Nope, I trust Tesla,” Tobin smirked. “Zap me, please. Hey, if I die, would you guys do a memorial episode for me?”
Despite Crystal’s reassurances and her almost daily reminder that she could dislike Tobin and was completely entitled to it, Tobin’s words caused Christen’s stomach to roll. Christen chose to take a sip of crappy, lukewarm coffee instead of answering.
“Nobody is dying. It’s completely safe and your viewers will love it. You two do get somewhat final approval for the tag line for the episode,” Crystal informed, eyeing Christen curiously for a moment before getting back to business.
“You mean, you’re going to tell us what Larry and the suits upstairs want it to be,” Christen said with a sigh, every part of her rejecting this idea and the proximity it would bring her to Tobin.
“You want to know a fun fact about the lightning cage?” Tobin asked with a goofy smile on her face.
“Faraday cage,” Christen corrected with a huff before zeroing in on Crystal. “What’s the tag line?”
“SNN puts the T and C in electricity.”
“Cuuuuute,” Tobin sing-songed. “Want to know a fun fact about the lightning cage, Press?”
“There is not a single part of me that wants to know anything you have to tell me,” Christen shot back, briefly meeting Tobin’s eyes and noting that they looked brighter again. The heaviness wasn’t there anymore. Not that she cared.
“Okay, I’ll just wait until you’re interested,” Tobin grinned, practically bouncing on the balls of her feet with anticipation.
Christen barely suppressed an eye roll. “I wouldn’t suggest holding your breath while you wait. We’d get to the memorial episode faster than the Faraday cage will get you there.”
“I’ll just wait and tell you when we’re sitting in the cage. It’ll make you sweat,” Tobin hummed, her smirk growing.
“You couldn’t possibly make me sweat,” Christen argued tiredly, rubbing at the skin beneath her watch band with her thumb. “We done here?” she asked Crystal. “Sounds like I have to pack a bag for wherever this Faraday cage is and I’d like to go home.”
“It’s in Bellingham, and I’m positive I could make you sweat…in multiple situations,” Tobin replied, reaching for the cream cheese and smearing it on a bite of bagel.
Christen pushed her chair back and tossed her styrofoam cup into the trash can.
“That’s not what I heard,” Christen replied breezily before clapping her hands together. “So we leave, what- tomorrow? Wednesday?”
“Tomorrow after the show,” Crystal informed, trying to ignore the slightly caught-off-guard look from Tobin.
“Lovely,” Christen said as she waltzed out of the room, feeling like she’d won the most recent round of verbal sparring with Tobin after that comment.
“That traffic does look awful, so be safe on your commute this morning, Seattle,” Christen said with the familiar, fake smile she always had for the camera. But despite her better judgement, she did find that her fake smile was softer now. It was less forced, more genuine. But just barely.
“And make sure you use your turn signals if you don’t want Press to honk at you on her way home,” Tobin added.
“My Triumph isn’t equipped with a horn. But please do use those turn signals,” Christen hummed with a slightly forced chuckle.
“I could’ve sworn you honked at me yesterday,” Tobin teased with a smirk. “Was that just you yelling at me to read work emails?”
Christen stifled an eye roll and offered Tobin a faux-affectionate shake of her head. “The world may never know, and that finishes up our hour this morning. I’m Christen Press and my co-host and I want to thank you for waking up with us. We will see you tomorrow for our first out-of-studio segment. We will be hopping into a Faraday cage to see if electricity can exist on more than just this stage in downtown Seattle.”
“Lightning cage,” Tobin corrected with a beaming smile for the camera.
“Faraday cage,” Christen shook her head, managing to keep her annoyed groan inside as they finished the show. “See you tomorrow, Emerald City. Grab another cup of coffee and have a joy-filled day.”
“And we’re off the air!” Crystal called out, sending the crew into a flurry of movement.
“I really think it’s a lightning cage,” Tobin insisted, pulling her mic off of her blazer.
“Congratulations on really thinking,” Christen replied sarcastically, pulling her mic off of the shoulder of her green dress and reaching back to unclip the wires and box that picked up her sound for the cameras.
“You know what,” Tobin sighed. “I’ll bet you. I bet that this exhibit says lightning cage, not Friday whatever cage.”
“Faraday,” Christen huffed, the correction leaving her without thought. “And I’ll bet it does say Faraday. It’s the correct term for the cage, so they should have the correct term on the exhibit.”
“It’s a kids’ science museum,” Tobin scoffed. “Not everyone has to be an overachiever. Name your terms. I’m gonna win.”
“You brought it up. You name the terms,” Christen countered, feeling almost juvenile.
“Fine, if I win, you have to sit through a meal with me without any distractions. No work or phones or anything else,” Tobin smirked.
Christen’s face twisted up in disgust. “Absolutely not. We’d kill each other before the bread was served.”
“I didn’t take you for someone who’d be scared of a bet,” Tobin hummed, tugging off her blazer and leaving herself in a white camisole.
Christen’s eyes flashed dangerously green as her jaw snapped shut.
“Fine. When I win, you have to tell me the question you want answered. The one that froze you on national television.”
Tobin arched a brow and felt her chest tighten painfully.
“Take it or leave it,” Christen added, standing up from her spot on the couch.
“Hope you like Italian,” Tobin replied, standing up and giving Christen a wink.
“Hope you like honesty. Try selling that for a change,” Christen tossed over her shoulder as she walked off the stage, her heels clicking across the floor.
Despite the uneasiness she felt in her chest, Tobin was determined to win this bet. She was determined to keep her secrets a secret. And she was determined to keep doing what Dr. Colter had suggested. She’d date. She’d put herself out there.
She just wasn’t really sure why she’d suggested a date with Christen.
“Nope. No way,” Christen said with a shake of her head. She stood next to one of two large sprinter vans that she and the crew from The Emerald View would be taking to Bellingham, shaking her head at Crystal. “There are two vans. She can be in that one and I’ll be in this one.”
“All the gear is in one. You two are in the other one with wardrobe back ups and lunch,” Crystal replied, clutching her coffee close like a lifeline.
“Can’t we just strap her to the roof?” Christen suggested with a joking half-smile but a somewhat serious glint in her eyes.
“You want to use straps?” Tobin asked, appearing at Crystal’s side with her signature smirk.
Christen simply rolled her eyes and grabbed her duffel bag from the ground. She moved around the sprinter van and hopped into the backseat, next to a rack of clothes and a box of burgers and fries that smelled good, even for nine in the morning.
She leaned her temple against the cool glass of the window, her thumb moving across her skin under her watch band. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe through the irritation that was so much a part of her daily life now, she didn’t know a life without it. And yet there was still that lingering flicker of something more than irritation, something she was desperate not to sink into.
“Am I driving?” Tobin asked as she tossed her duffel into the free seat next to Christen.
From outside the van, Crystal scoffed. “Omar’s driving. You two are in the back for talent time.”
“I love talent time,” Tobin grinned, sliding into the seat and moving her duffel onto the floor. “How’re you doing, Press? Craving Italian food?”
Christen sighed and opened her eyes, shooting Tobin a withering glare. “Do you ever stop talking?”
“Nah, I’m pretty chatty all the time,” Tobin replied, already drumming her hands on the back of the seat in front of her.
“Just not about real things. Like that question you want answered,” Christen pointed out, trying not to let the annoying beat of Tobin’s hands grate on her already frayed nerves.
Tobin let out a long breath and then leaned back in her seat, affirmations and breathing techniques filling her head as Omar started the car.
She didn’t like that she still felt tense after three years. She didn’t like that peach colored things still made her cringe a little. She didn’t like that she still slipped down random grocery store aisles, trying to hide from strangers who had blonde curls or who wore beanies with pom poms on top. She didn’t like it, but she hadn’t found a way to speed up the process she’d started with Dr. Colter three years ago. It was slow and painful and made her freeze on live TV.
“If you could just maintain this quiet for the next hour, I’d really appreciate it,” Christen said tiredly, dropping her head onto the window again, completely unaware of the war being waged beside her.
Tobin nodded but slipped her sneakers off and pulled her feet into her seat, very aware that it would bother Christen.
“Good Lord,” Christen grumbled, rubbing at her wrist again as she pressed her temple into the window.
“Omar, can you turn up the music? I can still hear Press judging,” Tobin asked, rolling her eyes at Christen’s expected reaction.
“80s on 8 here we come!” Omar grinned, jamming to the song that came over the radio as he drove the sprinter van.
“You’re crinkling too loud,” Christen snapped, narrowing her eyes at the candy wrapper in Tobin’s hand. It had been less than an hour and Christen already considered this the most tortuous car ride she’d ever taken.
Tobin just held up her hands and crinkled the wrapper even more, not speaking but doing everything in her power to be annoying.
“Literal child,” Christen huffed, dropping her temple back to the window and grumbling nonsensical words under her breath.
“Would you like one?” Tobin asked, offering a Jolly Rancher to Christen.
“Bite me,” Christen growled, pulling her jacket tighter around herself.
“I’ll even give you a blue one,” Tobin sing-songed. “That’s the best flavor.”
“Omar, you want one?” Tobin asked, leaning forward with the bag of Jolly Ranchers.
“Hit me with a green apple,” Omar said with his hand held back toward Tobin. “You should try one, Christen,” he added, earning another huff from Christen.
“Green apple’s a solid choice,” Tobin hummed, unwrapping one for Omar. “Press is too stubborn to take anything from me.”
“I don’t want anything from you. That has nothing to do with stubbornness,” Christen protested defensively.
“So, if Omar had candy and he offered it to you, you wouldn’t take it?” Tobin asked.
“I’d take it in a heartbeat.”
“Here, Omar, you can have these,” Tobin said, handing Omar a handful of Jolly Ranchers. “They’re yours now.”
Omar let out a laugh and then looked in the rearview mirror. “You want a Jolly Rancher, Christen?”
Christen clenched her jaw and then held out her hand. “I don’t care what flavor. Thanks.”
“I hear blue’s really good,” Tobin mumbled, unable not to smirk as Omar passed Christen a blue Jolly Rancher.
“You two,” Omar chuckled with a shake of his head.
Christen took the Jolly Rancher and unwrapped it. Before popping it into her mouth, she paused. If Tobin could be childish and annoying, so could she. So, she licked one side of the Jolly Rancher and then leaned over to stick it on Tobin’s cheek.
“You really do pop in blue,” she smirked before settling back in her seat.
Tobin just shrugged, ignoring the frustration that bubbled in her chest. She pulled the candy off of her cheek and popped it into her mouth, acting as unfazed as she possibly could.
“You two,” Omar echoed again with another chuckle. “We’ll be there in 45 minutes. Hands and Jollys to yourselves.”
“Yeah, Press. Hands to yourself. I know it’s hard,” Tobin said, batting her eyelashes in Christen’s direction.
“Apparently, it’s easy to keep yours to yourself. With everyone ,” Christen quipped, pursing her lips.
“What the heck does that mean?” Tobin huffed, turning in her seat to face Christen.
Christen shrugged nonchalantly with a challenging glint in her green eyes because now she was the one in the driver’s seat, now she was the one getting under Tobin’s skin and not the other way around.
“No, what does that mean?” Tobin repeated, narrowing her eyes at Christen.
Christen’s smirk simply grew in time with Tobin’s level of irritation as she continued to refuse to answer.
“You’re an ass,” Tobin grumbled as she re-situated herself in her seat.
“ Me ?” Christen scoffed.
“Try looking in a mirror.”
“What have I ever done? You’ve been an ass since day one,” Tobin argued as she dug through the bag of candy for another blue Jolly Rancher.
“The fact that you don’t even-” Christen stopped herself, the words getting caught behind the frustrated lump in her throat. “ You’ve been an ass since day one. Not me.”
“What did I do?” Tobin scoffed.
“All right, kiddos,” Omar chuckled weakly. “Who wants to play the license plate game?”
“Wow wow wow,” Tobin gasped, putting her arm out to stop Christen from walking past the sign. “Press, that looks like the words lightning cage!”
Christen stilled and looked at the sign, her shoulders slumping in defeat.
“Whatever,” she grumbled, following Crystal as they made their way through the museum to meet with the museum director.
“I don’t even have to use my secret weapon,” Tobin grinned, pulling a sticky note from her pocket with the word lightning scrawled across it. She stuck the note right below the neck of Christen’s sweater, tapping it twice to get it to stick.
Christen growled and ripped the sticky note off of her sweater. She balled it up and tossed it in the trash.
“You get a thirty-minute meal. Not a minute more. Also, fuck you for making this bet in the first place.”
“I said dinner. I didn’t say you could fuck me,” Tobin teased, moving quickly away from Christen so she wouldn’t get hit.
“You are such a little-” Christen started to say but quickly stopped when Crystal held up a hand. Not a moment later, the museum director walked up with a sunny smile on her face, her eyes immediately zeroing in on Tobin.
“Hi, welcome to Spark Museum of Electrical Invention. I’m Carrie,” she introduced, reaching out a hand for Tobin to shake.
“Tobin Heath. Thanks for having us,” Tobin replied, shaking Carrie’s hand and flashing a bright smile.
Christen barely suppressed an eye roll at the interaction. She truly had no idea why women threw themselves at Tobin like darts at a board. It was unfathomable . She truly had no idea. Nope. None at all.
“This is my partner, Christen Press,” Tobin introduced, gesturing toward Christen.
“Co-host,” Christen corrected smoothly, offering Carrie a fake smile. “It’s a pleasure to be here.”
“Carrie, do you know of any good Italian restaurants nearby?” Tobin asked with a lopsided smile.
“Focus,” Crystal chastised quietly as she was the last to shake hands with Carrie. “I hope you got the email my team sent over?”
“I did, and we’ve closed off the lightning cage for you all for the morning. And, yes, I can recommend an Italian place,” Carrie chuckled, smiling fondly at Tobin. “I can show you the space and let you give the cage a try before going live tomorrow.”
“Wonderful!” Crystal grinned. “Lead the way,” she added before turning to glare at both Christen and Tobin. “Best behavior please?”
“Why are you looking at me? She’s the problem,” Christen sighed, stuffing her hands into her coat pockets.
“The director likes me. I’m the solution, not the problem,” Tobin smirked, knocking her shoulder into Christen’s.
“ Both of you. Best. Behavior,” Crystal repeated before following Carrie.
“You want to know my fun fact about the lightning cage now?” Tobin whispered to Christen.
“No, but I bet you can tell Carrie about it when you drop her at her door and refuse her advances despite being a self-proclaimed womanizer,” Christen chirped before waltzing after Crystal.
Tobin’s forehead comically scrunched in confusion. She followed slowly after Christen, not sure what Christen was referencing or where she’d heard that.
The fact was that Tobin had never proclaimed herself to be a womanizer. She’d been given that title. She’d been written about and photographed with friends, and the story had been spun. And when things had fallen apart, when she’d felt most confused about her own self, she’d leaned on that false version of herself. She’d sunk into the role people wanted her to play. But even now, after years of pretending, she still couldn’t follow through. At her core, she was her old self. But using the womanizing Tobin to protect what was core was a means of survival.
“Tobin, would you like to see inside the cage?” Carrie called out with a smile, causing Christen to roll her eyes.
“Sure,” Tobin mumbled, offering a tight smile to Carrie.
“Be sure to tell her your fun fact,” Christen hissed as Tobin passed her.
“Nope, that’s just for you,” Tobin replied, winking at Christen despite the tightness in her chest.
“Be still my beating heart,” Christen scoffed sarcastically, leaning against the wall with her arms crossed.
Tobin stepped into the cage and took a seat, letting Carrie shut the cage behind her. She waited while Carrie set up the exhibit and sent lightning bolts toward the cage from a Tesla coil.
And Tobin really hoped that she hid the sudden anxiety well. She really hoped that the way her body jumped at the first lightning strike wasn’t obvious through the mesh metal cage.
She knew she’d never hear the end of it from Christen, which was perhaps what made Christen so interesting. Christen wanted nothing from her and nothing to do with her, and while that occasionally made Tobin feel a little bummed, it also made her hopeful that someone existed who might just want her for her and not for an image or net worth.
So, maybe she wanted Christen to think she was cool enough to not cringe at lightning, even though she was realizing that Christen only thought honesty and transparency were cool, two things she was terrible at showing.
“She’s terrified,” Christen commented bluntly to Crystal.
“Yep,” Crystal nodded as her face morphed into a grimace.
“Not that I care or anything, but maybe ask Carrie to stop,” Christen said casually, holding back a wince when Tobin offered Carrie a weak thumbs up.
“Really? I thought you’d want to torture her,” Crystal hummed, raising an eyebrow at Christen.
“I owe her dinner. I’ll torture her then.”
“Hey, Carrie?” Crystal called out. “I think some of the crew wants to try! Tobin and Christen can have their turn tomorrow.”
“Sure thing!” Carrie yelled, turning the device off and shutting everything down. She unlocked the cage and held out a hand for a shaky looking Tobin with a smile on her face. “Enjoy yourself, Tobin?”
“Yep, that was super cool. Thanks,” Tobin answered, jumping out of the cage and moving away from it almost as quickly as she once moved on the soccer field.
“Anytime. Kids really get a kick out of it,” Carrie grinned.
“I’ll bet they do,” Tobin replied, fiddling with her hair instead of looking around at her co-workers.
Christen cleared her throat and caught Carrie’s attention. “Could we look around at the rest of the museum while you and Crystal stay with the crew? I’d like to get a feel for the space.”
She had no idea why she’d just said that. Okay, that was a lie. She did have an idea. A small inkling of an idea. But she wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it. She was just asking Carrie this question to offer her co-host a way out of the room, to get them away from the machine and the people here. She was being kind when Tobin hadn’t been kind first. Nothing more than that.
Seeing Tobin shifty and scared and vulnerable wasn’t cracking her hard shell. Not at all.
“Sure thing,” Carrie said, smiling kindly as Omar got into the cage to test it out.
Christen didn’t wait for Tobin, unsure if she’d even follow. She simply moved away from the exhibit and started walking toward the space exhibit.
Tobin followed silently, completely sure that Christen had seen the fear all over her face. She shuffled a few feet behind Christen, her embarrassment obvious in her flushed cheeks.
Christen came to a stop under a large display of their solar system, a projector working to immerse the museum attendees in space. All above them was inky blackness and domineering planets. It looked infinite, the projection. Christen stood with her head tilted back and a shaky anxiety in her stomach, feeling Tobin come to a stop next to her.
“For the next twenty seconds, I don’t actively despise you, okay?” Christen said quietly, her hands balled into fists in her pockets.
“Okay,” Tobin mumbled, scratching the side of her neck awkwardly.
“Space scares the absolute daylights out of me. I once sat in a planetarium for hours trying to convince myself I wasn’t scared. All I did was have an anxiety attack in the dark by myself.”
“Space is scary,” Tobin murmured in agreement, her head tilted up.
“Doing something you’re scared of in spite of that fear isn’t brave. Being brave is not forcing yourself into a scary situation you know you don’t want to be in in the first place,” Christen offered quietly, swallowing thickly and looking away from the projection above them. “You don’t have to go into the cage with me tomorrow. It’ll probably look better if you’re the one who turns the coils on while I’m inside, anyway.”
“I don’t mind going in there with you,” Tobin whispered past the lump in her throat.
“Don’t read into it, but I mind if you come in there with me, knowing you don’t want to be there in the first place.”
“Probably saves you from catching cooties or whatever too,” Tobin added, smiling weakly as she stared up. “And in that case…I- uh…I mind if you eat a meal with me, knowing you don’t want to be there, so consider the bet void.”
Christen sat with the words for a bit, mulling them over as she breathed through the lingering tightness in her chest from looking up at the projection of space. Finally, she sighed heavily.
“You’re paying, and I’m ordering a very expensive bottle of wine,” Christen mumbled, walking away without waiting for a response from Tobin.
Chapter 3: 'round and 'round
past conversations, prickly, and plus ones
for those who asked, for those who came to our inboxes sad about Alexia or the state of the world, this is for you. sending you light and hope today and all days ✨
Tobin couldn’t completely figure out why her stomach was flipping or why her heart was thudding in her chest the way it was. She couldn’t completely understand why she’d actually thought before getting dressed, why she’d worn her favorite blue button-up, why she’d forgone the leather jacket for a nicer pea coat.
But waiting for Christen in the lobby of the hotel only made the antsiness worse. It only made her heart thrum even more when the elevator doors dinged and strangers got off of them instead of Christen.
This wasn’t a date. Christen had made it very clear that she didn’t like Tobin. She’d made it clear that she hated Tobin most of the time. But that truth didn’t stop Tobin from feeling like she was going on a date that she actually cared about, something she hadn’t done in years.
This antsiness was dangerous. This feeling of hope bubbling in her chest was horribly dangerous. This feeling that was part desire and maybe part curiosity would probably kill her. So, she had half a mind to just cancel the dinner, send an expensive bottle of wine to Christen’s hotel room, call it a day, and let Christen hate her even more.
And then she saw her.
Christen was in a black dress that seemed like the perfect balance of everything. It wasn’t too fancy or casual. It wasn’t super revealing or super modest. It hugged natural curves and flattered her perfectly, and Tobin pretty much gave up all hope the minute she saw her in it.
The minute she saw her, Tobin knew. She was screwed.
“Heath,” Christen greeted, her expression hard to read.
“Yep, hi,” Tobin mumbled, snapping her eyes away from Christen and glancing around the lobby once before finding Christen’s eyes.
“Twenty nine minutes and fifty seven seconds left. Want to get moving?” Christen asked, willing her eyes not to take in Tobin’s outfit and her voice to remain aloof and distanced.
“Yeah,” Tobin nodded, leading the way to the front of the hotel where her Uber was arriving to drive them to a restaurant that had the most expensive wine options she could find.
Christen stayed silent the entire drive, the entire way to the table, and had been silent for the entirety of their time scanning the menu. She chose silence because silence was safe. The way she’d felt a flicker of concern in the wake of the lightning cage today was not safe. She needed to remember that Tobin herself was not safe.
Tobin was a cocky asshole who’d singlehandedly knocked Christen down and made her feel smaller than a grain of sand three years ago in a Seattle News Network elevator. She had to remember that. Which was getting challenging in light of the clear nerves on Tobin’s usually confident face and the way her blue shirt fit her like a dream.
“How do you pronounce gnocchi?” Tobin asked, finally breaking the silence.
“Hard ‘g’ like gong or gift,” Christen replied smoothly, unable not to fall back on their bickering as she knowingly led Tobin astray.
“Really?” Tobin asked, cocking her head to the side slightly.
“Yes, and it’s going to be super sunny all year in Seattle and the Mariners will have a winning season,” Christen deadpanned, her eyes moving over the wine menu.
Tobin nodded as a small laugh slipped from her lips and let her lose some nerves.
“I got to play in Italy a few times, but I was always afraid to order gnocchi because I can never decide how to say it,” Tobin admitted quietly, messing with her silverware.
More silence. Christen chewed on her bottom lip as she flipped to the last page of the wine menu, looking for the most expensive one.
“My sister makes really good sangria,” Tobin mumbled, scratching at her neck, right below her ear.
“Heath,” Christen sighed, shutting the wine menu with a snap as she finally, for the first time since they sat down, looked up at Tobin.
“I’m sorry,” Tobin replied automatically.
Christen’s eyes widened marginally at the apology, since she’d never heard one from Tobin before. She also was a little surprised at the softness in Tobin’s voice, so used to hearing biting sarcasm or charming cockiness.
“Well- umm- there’s no point in suffering more than we clearly are. We have seventeen minutes left until our deal is done, so I’ll order wine and you can stop trying to act like this is…normal for us. Because it isn’t,” Christen said as she set the wine menu down.
“I said the bet could be void. I can- Why don’t you just get what you want and tell me what to Venmo you,” Tobin offered, feeling her jaw tense up as she reached for her jacket.
Christen wasn’t sure what made her do it. Or, she pretended like she wasn’t sure. She pretended like the thought of Tobin leaving right now didn’t make her heart tighten uncomfortably in her chest.
And while she pretended, she extended a hand across the table, as if reaching to stop Tobin from leaving.
“Wait,” Christen blurted out, her voice soft.
She saw the confusion on Tobin’s face mix with a flash of hope, and surprised herself by extending an olive branch to try and get Tobin to stay.
“We met on your first day at SNN, three years ago.”
“What?” Tobin asked, leaving the jacket be and focusing on Christen again.
Christen looked away from Tobin’s gaze, her throat bobbing as she swallowed.
“In the elevator. I was heading up to interview for the investigative journalism team and you were…going somewhere. Probably to accept their job offer. I don’t know,” Christen replied, her voice a little tight.
“I’m sorry that I don’t remember,” Tobin murmured as she searched her brain for a memory.
“Most days I don’t remember anything else,” Christen admitted with a shrug, swallowing thickly again.
“I assume I was a jerk,” Tobin cringed, pushing her hair away from her face.
Christen smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes. It was sad, a little jaded too. Full of pain.
“I tried to make small talk. I’m not that good at it around people who make me nervous,” Christen said quietly, her eyes glazing over as she moved into the memory, the embarrassment and hurt still fresh even after all this time. “It was after my third bumbling attempt to ask you how your day had been going that you told me to fuck off and stop pretending like I cared. I wasn’t anyone special. I was taking the same elevator as you and that was the only point of contact the paths of our lives would ever have. You were going up and I wasn’t. I got off on the seventh floor and you went all the way up to the executive level to, I assume, accept their job offer. I was rejected from the investigative journalism team and sent back to the morning show.”
“Jesus Christ,” Tobin muttered under her breath, pressing the heel of her hand against her forehead. “I’m really sorry,” she added, looking up at Christen with wide, apologetic eyes.
“I had a poster of you. I went to OL Reign games. But that night I went home and threw everything away,” Christen replied, her voice still tight.
“Rightfully so,” Tobin grimaced.
Christen dared not venture any further into the memory. She simply shrugged again and took a sip of her water.
“I don’t- I don’t remember because I don’t remember anything that happened that year,” Tobin said, her voice almost at a whisper.
“It’s fine. I’m not- I’m actually not feeling great, so I’m gonna go,” Christen mumbled, alarmed by the sudden stinging at the corners of her eyes. She hurriedly gathered her purse and got to her feet, unsteady after opening up an old wound in front of the very person who’d inflicted it.
“I can call you an Uber,” Tobin offered.
“That won’t be necessary,” Christen replied quickly, still not looking at Tobin as she hesitated at the corner of the table. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Christen,” Tobin confirmed, hardly breathing through the guilt and shame that filled her chest.
Christen walked away from the table, not bothering to look back. She didn’t cry. Not once. She’d cried too many times about it over the years.
And despite voicing it to Tobin and hearing Tobin’s apologies, Christen still didn’t feel better. She still felt unspecial, getting off on the seventh floor. She still felt like shit because she’d failed to mention that Tobin had said one additional comment, one thing she was grateful Tobin didn’t remember saying.
Tobin had seen her crush clear as day, written across her face, her heart easy to see on her sleeve. Tobin had called her out on it, and told her she was wasting her time since that would never happen either. She was wasting her time on Tobin and on trying to ride the elevator to the executive level.
Those words still stung as Christen tried to will herself to sleep, discontent about the evening and her regressing back to old feelings making it difficult to sink into unconsciousness.
Tobin couldn’t focus on Carrie or on Crystal or on Omar or on the giant cage in the center of the room. She didn’t hear Stella’s jokes as she did her makeup or Jess’s suggestion about a French tuck.
All she could think about was how she’d hurt someone without even remembering it, how she’d crushed someone’s feelings and couldn’t bring back the memory. She was the bad guy, and she couldn’t even remember it. It made her wonder just how many people she’d hurt without knowing or caring that first year.
All she could think about was Christen.
“-and remember everyone, don’t try this at home,” Christen grinned, looking directly at the camera as she sat down in the cage and got comfortable.
“Hasn’t everyone wanted to do this to their work-wives and husbands before? Or real wives and husbands and partners?” Tobin asked with a fake laugh as she flipped the switch to start the lightning.
“Not me!” Christen yelled over the sounds of the electricity, trying to cling to the banter that now felt awkward and stilted for the camera. It was difficult to fight fire with fire and to bring banter to the table when Tobin kept looking at her with apologies and pity in her eyes.
Christen was sure now, more than ever, that she shouldn’t have said anything. She should have trusted that, in time, the wound would heal and she’d make it higher than the seventh floor. She shouldn’t have opened herself up like this. Not to Tobin.
“This is such a rush!” she added, holding up a thumbs up for the camerawoman outside of the cage.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself,” Tobin said, watching Christen intently like she had been all morning. Christen stared right back, her smile still on for the camera, but her eyes guarded.
“Your cue, Tobin,” Crystal whispered at a hiss, gesturing at the small teleprompter they’d brought with them. She didn’t need another seven second freeze on camera when the other co-host was stuck in a lightning cage.
“We can’t guarantee that they’ll let you send lightning bolts at your friends and family, but if you want to give the cage a shot, Spark Museum is open seven days a week from 8:00 to 5:00,” Tobin read off, smiling for the camera.
“Thanks for joining us this morning! Go grab that second cup of coffee!” Christen yelled from the cage as electricity sparked around the metal cage.
Tobin’s shoulders slumped as soon as they weren’t live anymore. Her smile faded, and she made sure to busy herself with her mic.
“All good, Heath?” Omar asked as he helped the sound person disconnect the equipment.
“Yep, all good,” Tobin nodded, just wanting to be unhooked so she could leave.
“Crystal wants to see you before you scram,” Omar replied with a small smile.
“Awesome,” Tobin sighed weakly, looking over at where Crystal and Christen were standing.
Crystal beckoned Tobin over, and when Christen realized Tobin was approaching, she awkwardly cleared her throat and slipped away, leaving Tobin and Crystal alone.
“Can we talk?” Crystal asked with a polite smile.
“Sure,” Tobin answered, trying not to track Christen with her eyes. “What’s up?”
“As your producer, I’m telling you to pick it up a little. You were missing the twinkle in your eyes today.”
“Right, I know. That won’t happen again,” Tobin assured, tugging at her shirt.
“As Christen’s best friend, I’m telling you to stop shooting her your pitiful puppy dog eyes,” Crystal said, leveling Tobin with a warning look.
“Didn’t mean to do that,” Tobin mumbled, glancing down at her shoes.
“Mhm,” Crystal hummed, looking unconvinced. “Would you like to ride in the crew van on the way back?”
“Would that make her happy?” Tobin asked.
Crystal’s hard, protective gaze softened a little in surprise at the genuine care in Tobin’s voice.
“I don’t think Christen knows what will make her happy. You can…drive if you promise not to crash the van. I’ll leave the choice up to her on which car she rides in.”
“I’m an excellent driver,” Tobin promised, holding out a pinky.
Crystal softened further and accepted the pinky, completing the pinky promise. “Go get ‘em tiger.”
Tobin held up a weak thumbs-up and then wandered back to where Jess had set up a wardrobe area, already trying to figure out what she could say to Christen.
“Jess!” Christen’s voice called out, a twinge of exasperation in her words.
“Jess isn’t here. I think she’s helping Stella,” Tobin answered, slowly slipping her shoes off.
“Perfect,” Christen grumbled from inside the make-shift dressing room.
“Do you need help?” Tobin asked softly.
A moment later, Tobin heard the audible sound of ripping fabric.
“Damn it,” Christen sighed.
“Christen,” Tobin murmured, pressing her hand against her forehead. “I can help. I’ll close my eyes.”
The curtain was yanked open, revealing Christen holding the front of the dress against her chest, the zipper along the back snagged on the fabric of the dress.
“Caught zipper?” Tobin asked with her eyes squeezed shut and her hands held out in front of her.
“Yes,” Christen replied curtly, turning around so Tobin’s outstretched hands would find the zipper. “Just look. I’m clothed and I don’t want you ripping the dress further.”
Tobin opened her eyes and reached out for the dress. She carefully held onto the zipper and slowly maneuvered the fabric out from the zipper’s grasp. And when her fingers slipped against Christen’s skin, she felt an electric current that scared her more than the Tesla coils.
“You did a really good job today. Sorry I wasn’t up to snuff,” she mumbled right before freeing the zipper and taking a step back.
“You did fine,” Christen replied, her voice coming out higher-pitched and breathier than normal.
“You’re all set,” Tobin whispered, swallowing thickly and scratching at the side of her neck for the millionth time that day.
Christen pulled the curtain closed behind her, her eyes meeting Tobin’s briefly before she was hidden inside of the dressing room once more.
“Thank you,” Christen called through the curtain as she peeled the dress off and slipped into her jeans, throwing on a comfy cable knit sweater and her Uggs as well.
“No problem,” Tobin replied, gathering her own jeans and sweatshirt to change into.
Christen stepped out from behind the curtain and kept her eyes downcast. “All yours,” she said softly, sidestepping Tobin to grab the hanger from the rack for her somewhat ruined dress.
“I was gonna drive one of the vans,” Tobin murmured, forcing herself not to chicken out. “If you want to join.”
“You don’t have to do this whole thing you’re doing,” Christen replied stiffly, hating the way she could practically feel the pity hanging from Tobin’s every word.
“I want to…talk. No pity, not to be an ass or apologize again, but I want to talk, and if that’s something you’d hate, say the word, and I’ll ride with the crew,” Tobin explained, resisting the urge to mess with her hair.
Christen could feel herself agreeing before fully thinking through the consequences of it.
“I’ll meet you at the van. Make sure to use your turn signals.”
And with that, Christen was gone, walking quickly away from the wardrobe set-up.
Tobin nervously drummed her fingers on the steering wheel as she waited for Christen to join her. There were two coffees in the cup holders and a bag with two muffins on the dashboard. Tobin had the heat cranked up and Christen’s seat warmer on, and she was freaking out to say the least.
That was probably why her affirmations weren’t as silent as they usually were, falling from her lips instead of spinning in her head.
“I am confident. I am smart. I am funny. I am kind. I am desirable. I am worth people’s time . I am confident. I am smart. I am funny. I am kind. I am desirable. I am worth people’s time . I am confident. I am smart. I am funny. I am kind. I am desirable. I am worth people’s time-”
“I can go back inside if you want to continue with your…pre-driving mantra?” Christen offered, hovering just outside of the open passenger’s side door, her brow furrowed in confusion.
Tobin immediately snapped her mouth shut and smacked her forehead against the steering wheel, her cheeks turning a dark red.
“Nope, all good to go,” she muttered, silently tugging her hood up.
“Are we waiting on someone else?” Christen wondered, looking at the coffees and the snacks.
“No, just us,” Tobin replied, nervously adjusting mirrors. “Unless you want someone else to ride in the back.”
“No, I- I was just curious about all the food and the coffees. I assumed they were for someone else,” Christen mumbled, finally sliding into the warm car and shutting the door behind her.
“I like to snack a lot. I thought you might want breakfast or second breakfast if you eat before the morning show,” Tobin explained as she buckled her seatbelt.
“Oh,” Christen hummed, hastening to buckle her seatbelt too, ignoring the slight uptick in her heart rate at the thoughtfulness. “Thank you.”
“I got apple streusel and pumpkin,” Tobin said, nodding at the bag of muffins.
“Because I was 95% sure those were your favorites but now I’m down to 80% based off of the confused look you have…maybe 70%,” Tobin answered, cringing a little at the idea of misremembering something else.
“How did you- oh, the muffin segment,” Christen sighed, getting comfortable in the passenger’s seat despite the uncomfortable feelings swirling around inside of her. “Well, thank you times two.”
“I also got a hazelnut soy latte because you ordered that once, but I don’t even know if that’s your thing. We can stop on the way,” Tobin continued, pulling away from the curb and following the crew van.
Christen didn’t offer a response. She couldn’t. She felt like she’d been dropped into the Twilight Zone, where up was now down and the person she’d spent three years actively despising for being rude was being kind. It was discombobulating at best.
So instead, she stayed quiet as her mind worked and her heart raced, watching the trees pass by her window, her thumb rubbing across the skin under her watch band in quick, jerky swipes.
“It isn’t an excuse, but I was…I was in a really dark place when we first met. If I hadn’t been, I hope I wouldn’t have said something like that or that I would have apologized sooner. But you should know it was all me and my issues, not you,” Tobin said after a long moment of silent driving.
Christen had spent too long believing the opposite, so she offered a soft hum in reply instead of voicing a lie like, I believe you .
“You stumbled into me when I was self-destructing,” Tobin mumbled. “I know that doesn’t make anything right or better.”
“Why were you self-destructing?” Christen wondered, her voice quiet and her eyes trained on the passing scenery. “If I’m allowed to ask.”
Tobin sucked in a deep lungful of air and tightened her grip on the steering wheel.
“I- You know the saying ‘hurt people, hurt people?’” Tobin asked, clenching and unclenching her jaw as she answered something honestly for the first time in three years.
“Who hurt you?”
“The person I was seeing at the time…who also happened to be engaged to me. She left,” Tobin mumbled, reaching out for her coffee and taking a sip to clear her throat.
“I’m sorry,” Christen replied, genuinely meaning it despite the aching wound in her chest.
“I’m sorry I hurt you,” Tobin sighed.
“It happens,” Christen shrugged, fiddling with the band of her watch. “Don’t worry about it.”
“No, it was horrible and harmful and so unnecessary,” Tobin argued with a shake of her head. “I’m really sorry. For how I acted and how I’ve been acting. I’m- You’re incredibly thoughtful and talented and way more suited to this line of work than anyone else I know.”
“You don’t have to say that. It’s…it’s fine,” Christen mumbled, fidgeting a little in her seat at the sudden turn toward sincerity, something they’d never shared between them before.
“It’s true. I’m not just saying it,” Tobin insisted. “I know I have the asshole persona down to a science, but I’m being serious. I’m not putting on a front or something.”
“You’re not just selling this apology act to get my forgiveness so you can, I don’t know, sleep better at night?”
“I’m apologizing because I’m really hoping I can repair what I broke in the first place,” Tobin promised. “You know I don’t sleep well anyway.”
“There was nothing to break. We didn’t know each other. You didn’t owe me anything,” Christen brushed off, still not wanting to accept the apology, still not wanting to build this bridge. She didn’t know what would happen once it was built. Or, maybe she did know what would happen and she was desperate for it not to happen.
“You’re another person on this planet. I owed you kindness,” Tobin said softly.
“Well…thank you for the coffee and the food and the apology. I appreciate it,” Christen murmured, her shoulders a little tense as she rubbed at her wrist.
“I’m sorry also that I tried to bet you into eating dinner with me,” Tobin added with another apologetic look across the car.
“I’m sorry I’ve been a jerk for three years and left dinner early last night,” Christen shrugged, feigning nonchalance as she tousled her curls and then went back to rubbing her wrist.
“Well, I’d hate me too if I were in your shoes and the person I hated was now my co-host and trying to take me out to dinner,” Tobin joked, albeit weakly.
“Yeah, well- You didn’t always make it easy to hate you,” Christen replied, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth.
“Was it the dazzling smile or the cocky attitude?” Tobin asked, chuckling quietly.
“Yes,” Christen offered in response, shooting Tobin a tight half-smile.
“Would you believe me if I said I’m not always a royal ass?” Tobin wondered.
“An hour ago, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Christen admitted honestly, looking back over at Tobin as she spoke. “But that was an hour ago.”
“It was the muffins, right?” Tobin grinned as she glanced over at Christen.
Christen simply returned Tobin’s smile and then dropped her gaze to her lap, feeling a familiar heat in her cheeks she hadn’t felt in a long time.
It was the sight of that blush that had Tobin suddenly pulling off the highway, finding the nearest parking lot which happened to be a Lowe’s. She put the car in park and before Christen could ask what they were doing, Tobin found her voice.
“What were you…What did you say in the elevator?” Tobin asked as she turned to face Christen and gave Christen her full focus, wishing more than anything she could remember.
“Nothing important,” Christen deflected smoothly, reaching for her coffee, unnerved by the way Tobin was looking at her.
“Nothing important or nothing you want to say again?” Tobin pressed.
With a sigh, Christen took another sip of coffee and then put the cup back in the cup holder. She took a deep breath, released it noisily, and then let her eyes fall shut.
“Hi, you don’t know me at all but I just wanted to tell you that I loved the way you played the game. You were so fun to watch and I’ve always admired you for everything you do on the field, as well as off of it. I don’t know what you’re doing here, but if you’re here for a job, I hope you get it. It would be great to work together…and then I stumbled through some painfully awkward attempts at filling the ensuing silence from you. I must have come off very green and nervous, because then you were saying everything I already told you about. And…that’s about it,” Christen finished with a small clear of her throat.
The subsequent silence only made Christen’s cheeks burn with the same embarrassment she’d felt three years ago.
But then Tobin spoke.
“Hi, I actually do know you,” Tobin replied softly. “I used to watch your morning show when I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. I’m really glad you liked watching my games. To be honest, it took me a long time to feel okay about walking away from the game. And it took me even longer to feel comfortable sitting in front of a camera and telling people about games. Working with you would be a dream, but I have a feeling you’ll make me look green in comparison. I have no idea what I’m doing. Like to the point where I repeat affirmations to myself when I’m trying to be honest with people. Should I keep filling the silence?”
Christen marveled at the woman in front of her, how she was so markedly different from the one she’d seen in the elevator three years ago, from the one she’d done the morning show with earlier today. She seemed more honest somehow. More real. There wasn’t anything being sold and Christen found herself smiling again.
“How about a clean slate? We start fresh and keep filling the silence however we see fit?”
“Yeah?” Tobin asked, her voice completely awestruck at the response.
“If you want,” Christen shrugged, feigning nonchalance.
“Did you really have a poster of me?” Tobin asked, leaning an elbow on the console and giving Christen the most playful smirk she had.
Christen flushed and kept her head bowed. “That’s what you remember from all that?”
“Which poster?” Tobin wondered, resting her chin in her hand and getting that much closer to Christen.
“Take that cockiness out of your tone. It wasn’t the body issue,” Christen scoffed, lifting her eyes and realizing how close they were now.
“Which means you’ve seen the body issue,” Tobin teased quietly.
“No,” Christen spluttered.
“Where did you keep the poster?” Tobin asked with another playful smile.
“Umm- somewhere very normal. So…did you need to stop for some paint or wood or something?” Christen asked, changing the subject as she leaned back, putting space between them.
“Nope, but I’m surprised Crystal hasn’t found us yet,” Tobin sighed, sitting up straight again and looking around the parking lot. “Or Jess since we have the entirety of our wardrobe selections.”
“Back corner of the lot,” Christen said, pointing at the rearview mirror and the view it offered of the parking lot behind them.
“Fantastic,” Tobin muttered.
“Come on,” Christen announced, opening the passenger's side door and hopping out.
“Uh…what are you remodeling?”
“Do you trust me?” Christen asked, leaning back into the car and offering Tobin a small, hopeful smile.
“Surprisingly,” Tobin teased with a smirk.
“Then come on.”
“It is so nice to be back in the studio,” Christen commented, looking away from the camera and over at Tobin.
She felt that same pull low in her gut she always did whenever she looked at Tobin, but now she didn’t have to mask it with annoyance or irritation. Now she could feel it. Their fresh start allowed her to feel it without guilt.
They’d parted ways yesterday, almost shy and stumbling over their words, spared any further awkwardness when Crystal swept Christen away.
But now they were together again. Under the hot studio lights with their purchases from Lowe’s on the coffee table in front of them, smiles passing between them easily. Real ones. Genuine ones.
“It’s extremely nice to be back. I’m definitely not as brave when it comes to lightning cages as you are,” Tobin replied, smiling at Christen in a genuine way, not for cameras or an audience.
“Just in sprinter vans. But that's a story for another time because in front of us we have two plants,” Christen tacked on smoothly, gesturing at the two potted plants on the coffee table.
“Irma and Wade…names pending,” Tobin added with a lopsided smile.
“We thought our couch-ship deserved something special for going on the road and surviving. So we bought plants that represent it. As you can see, we got very different ones,” Christen chuckled.
“I bought the one I thought was most similar to Press,” Tobin smirked, pointing at the prickly cactus on the table.
“Hilariously, I did the same thing. I got one that most resembled Heath,” Christen grinned, pointing at the orchid beside the cactus. “Orchids are known to be one of the most high-maintenance plants and require lots of attention. Sound familiar?”
“I should have bought a Venus fly trap instead, vicious woman,” Tobin huffed, draping an arm along the back of the couch and rolling her eyes.
“But you captured me so well with the cactus,” Christen said with a playful quirk in her eyebrow.
“Prickly,” Tobin agreed, flashing another smile at the camera.
“She’s an orchid, I’m a cactus, and what are you, Seattle? Phone in for our Q and A period coming up after this,” Christen added with a matching smile for the camera.
“High-maintenance,” Tobin scoffed, crossing her legs and sitting still while Stella touched up her makeup.
“Prickly?” Christen shot back, taking a sip of water from her mug and choosing not to scoot as far away like she usually did on commercial breaks. She backed up, but not as much as she typically did.
“You have been known to be prickly,” Tobin said with a wink.
“If the plant fits,” Christen shrugged with a teasing smile.
“So…” Tobin hummed as Stella moved over to Christen, a makeup brush poised.
“Do finish that trailed off sentence in your own time,” Christen replied as she closed her eyes and let Stella touch up her makeup quickly.
“It’s not in our segment, but have you heard about the light show they’re doing at Chihuly Garden and Glass?” Tobin asked, filling the silence despite the way her heart was doing acrobatics.
“Are you about to pivot us away from the flower Q and A?” Christen sighed with a roll of her eyes, but this time, it came off more endeared than annoyed.
“Not unless it would annoy you,” Tobin grinned.
“You always annoy me.”
“How true,” Tobin sighed, almost fondly. “And here I was about to offer you a ticket.”
“One ticket. Singular? As in, I won’t be your plus one?” Christen clarified with an arched brow, sipping her water again.
“Would you like to be my plus one?” Tobin smirked, raising her eyebrows at Christen.
Christen pursed her lips and then set her mug of water down, scooting closer to Tobin again. She gestured for Tobin to lean in with a crook of her pointer finger.
“Don’t be so forward, Press. You might scare the crew,” Tobin whispered as she scooted closer.
“I would rather spend twenty-four uninterrupted hours with Steve than be your plus one,” Christen whispered back with a sweet smile, but the look in her eyes took the sting out of her words. They’d agreed on a fresh start and even if things were smoothed out between them, Christen couldn’t help but lean into this banter. It was charged and exciting, and without the anger that usually accompanied it, the banter felt fun.
“I wasn’t aware that you and Steve were still so close,” Tobin chuckled.
“I loathe the man. Should help you gauge how I feel about you,” Christen teased as she leaned away and grabbed her mug again.
“I guess, I’ll offer the extra ticket to Stella,” Tobin hummed, holding back a playful smile.
Christen snorted and shook her head as she sipped her water. She saw Crystal signal her, letting her know it was almost time to go back on air.
“Almost back on,” Christen murmured to Tobin before setting her mug down and scooting close again.
“Hey, Stella, do you think I’ll ever be on Press’ list?” Tobin asked as Crystal continued counting them down.
Stella let out a loud laugh and hurried away from the stage.
“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Christen said with a playful smile for Tobin before looking at Camera Two.
“I’ll leave your ticket in your mail slot,” Tobin mumbled under her breath before plastering a smile onto her face.
Tobin knocked on the office door, checking her watch again to make sure she wasn’t knocking too early. She couldn’t help but tap her feet and fidget with the sleeves of her coat. She couldn’t help it because she’d spent her entire morning shamelessly flirting with Christen and enjoying every moment of it. She’d shoved the extra ticket into Christen’s mail slot in the lounge at SNN and then raced out of the building, a blush heating her cheeks like she was a teenager with a crush on someone at school.
“You’re right on time,” Dr. Colter assured as she opened the door, giving Tobin a knowing smile.
“Great, cool, awesome,” Tobin nodded, holding out the coffee she’d picked up for Dr. Colter on her way over.
Dr. Colter hid her surprise at Tobin’s display of nerves well, taking the coffee and gesturing for Tobin to take a seat.
“How are you today, Tobin?”
“I’m good,” Tobin exhaled, setting her own coffee down on the small table next to the couch she always sat on and then pulling off her coat.
Dr. Colter nodded and settled into her chair, giving Tobin the time and space to continue.
“I’ve had like…five of these,” Tobin added, lifting up her coffee cup.
Dr. Colter nodded again, folding her hands in her lap and keeping her typical, open expression on her face.
“How’re you doing today?” Tobin asked, one of her legs beginning to bounce.
“I have this urge to hazard a guess as to why you’re here,” Dr. Colter admitted with a small smile.
“It’s my regular appointment time.”
“But this is not your regular emotional state during your regular appointment time.”
“What’s your guess?” Tobin wondered, her stomach still flipping in a way that absolutely terrified her but also made her feel this uncontrollable, giddy happiness.
“Who is she?” Dr. Colter countered with a soft smile.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Tobin mumbled, the blush in her cheeks giving her away.
Dr. Colter simply took a sip of coffee and remained silent again, giving Tobin the space once more to speak.
“Christen,” Tobin said simply, a lump forming in her throat as she said her name aloud.
“Your co-host?” Dr. Colter clarified, giving nothing away with her tone or expression.
“Yeah,” Tobin nodded, setting her coffee down and pushing a hand through her hair. “You don’t need to warn me about dating a coworker. I’m sure there’s an HR form we’d have to fill out, but she’d have to actually enjoy my presence to do that.”
“She doesn’t like you?”
“I think she does…now? She more than tolerates me now.”
“Tell me more about that,” Dr. Colter encouraged with a nod.
“I- Well, you remember how I was three years ago,” Tobin said, feeling her chest flood with guilt and shame and disappointment. She hadn’t been good to anyone three years ago. She’d pushed everyone away. She’d stopped caring about every single person on the face of the earth. She’d lost compassion and replaced it with anger and blame and bitterness.
“I do. Did you two cross paths then?”
“In the elevator at work. Right when I started at SNN. I don’t even remember the interaction,” Tobin admitted, her eyes moving to stare at her coffee cup so she wouldn’t have to meet Dr. Colter’s understanding gaze.
“But she does,” Dr. Colter guessed, reading the guilt on Tobin’s face easily.
“She was a fan, and she was trying to be nice, and I told her to fuck off in pretty much the most hurtful way I could,” Tobin mumbled, picking at her cuticle as she explained.
“That must have been painful,” Dr. Colter murmured.
“Yeah,” Tobin nodded. She’d been wondering for the past day if she would have the same kind of grace as Christen if the roles were reversed, if she would be able to forgive and start over.
“For the both of you.”
“I think I was probably too drunk or pissed off at the time to really register anything.”
“I meant, it must have been a painful reminder of what you’d gone through whenever you found out about this interaction,” Dr. Colter said in reply.
“Certainly made me feel like the bad guy,” Tobin sighed, looking up at Dr. Colter finally.
“So who are you going to be now?”
“She said we could start over with a clean slate,” Tobin explained.
“That doesn’t answer my question,” Dr. Colter chuckled.
“I mean, obviously, I’ll be a nicer person this time around.”
“Sure,” Dr. Colter nodded.
“I’ll be…I guess it depends on what she wants. And what I want.”
“Exactly. Who do you want to be, Tobin?” Dr. Colter encouraged gently, setting her coffee down.
“I don’t…” Tobin exhaled, running another hand through her hair. “Here’s the thing. I’ve been sucking at dating for the past year and a half because I don’t usually care about who I’m dating. And honestly, usually they don’t care about me either. They either like the fame or have heard some rumor about me that’s most likely false and want to see if it’s true. And she’s different.”
“Well, why don’t you start by being someone who cares, and see where that takes you?”
“I do care. A lot,” Tobin admitted, her stomach flipping again at those words.
“Then keep caring. Keep being honest, with yourself and with her.”
“She might not…” Tobin trailed off, suddenly picturing the piles of wedding gifts she’d had to return on her own.
Dr. Colter managed a sympathetic smile. “She might not. But isn’t the only way to know, to try?”
“And if she doesn’t? Where does that leave me?”
“One step closer to finding someone who does,” Dr. Colter answered simply.
“Feeling something for someone is kind of the most terrifying thing in the world,” Tobin huffed, fixing a tense smile on her face.
“It is,” Dr. Colter conceded. “But it’s also one of the most wonderful things in the world.”
“I don’t want to mess up the same way again,” Tobin nearly whispered before sipping from her coffee, hoping to distract herself from the very real, very serious statement she’d just let slip.
“I say this to you every week, but try to imagine that it wasn’t something you did. The decision to leave was not one you made for her. She made it on her own. I will also add, that if you want there to be something with Christen, you can’t compare the two relationships. You can’t carry that baggage into this moment with someone new. She doesn’t deserve that, and neither do you. You two won’t have your best chance if you’re stuck with one eye on the rearview mirror.”
Tobin nodded in understanding. She felt her stomach sink at the thought of not having a chance, of not giving herself the best chance at something, hopefully with Christen. For the first time in just over three years, Tobin wanted to move forward, away from the past. She wanted to give herself a chance at something new, albeit terrifying.
“What is the first thing you notice about her every day?” Dr. Colter wondered, pivoting slightly to alleviate the heaviness she could see weighing Tobin down.
“If I catch sight of her outside of the studio, she has this look on her face like…like she’s enjoying herself, at four in the morning. I don’t know anyone who does, but there’s this smile that she has before she’s inside, before she’s seen anyone else, like the morning’s just hers. And when she gets inside, she’s got this routine where she says hi to everyone, even me now, and puts away her umbrella and jacket and purse, and I swear that sometimes I hear her humming. I don’t know what the song is, but I think she hums. And before the show starts she does this adorable thing where she clicks her heels together. It’s ironic too, since we’re the Emerald View, but it might be the cutest thing I see every morning. Yesterday, she told me this joke about…”
Dr. Colter sat back with a smile as Tobin continued talking about Christen, far surpassing the breadth of the question.
Christen kept her eyes open as she moved through the garden toward the Glasshouse of Chihuly Garden and Glass.
She hadn’t let herself think too hard about taking the ticket from her mail slot. It was all in pursuit of this fresh start and clean slate. Spending time together outside of work would help continue to smooth things over. It had nothing to do with the dangerous quickening of her heart or the blush she could feel in her cheeks anytime she thought about their heartfelt moment in the truck after the Faraday cage.
She pulled the sides of her coat tighter around herself and stepped inside, letting out a sigh of relief when she felt how warm it was inside.
And when she spied Tobin entranced by a colorful piece of glasswork not too far from where she was standing, Christen felt the corner of her mouth twitch up into a smile.
Christen slowly erased the space between them, moving to the opposite side of the piece from Tobin, lifting her gaze to the piece and feigning concentration. She knew it was only a matter of time before Tobin noticed her. She did wear blue after all.
“And I thought this was the best piece of art in here,” Tobin hummed as soon as she’d circled around the sculpture and stopped at Christen’s side, a playful smile on her lips as soon as she saw Christen roll her eyes.
“God, do lines like that actually work on women?” Christen wondered, ignoring the way her heart skipped a beat in her chest at the comment.
“The ones who’ve already decided that they want to go home with me before I’ve even opened my mouth, yes,” Tobin nodded, answering honestly.
“Such a shame,” Christen sighed, turning back to look at the piece. “I think your game has suffered from their blind exuberance. You haven’t really been challenged enough.”
“It’s a good thing you took me up on the extra ticket, then. I’m sure you’ll challenge me as much as you possibly can.”
“What was that thing you said, I’m not like the other women?” Christen asked, a teasing lilt to her voice.
“I was told that was sexist,” Tobin whispered, leaning closer than necessary.
“Aww, you can teach an annoying dog new tricks,” Christen cooed, patting Tobin on the cheek and then brushing past her, walking to another sculpture nearby, knowing Tobin would follow.
“You definitely pop in blue,” Tobin complimented, following after her.
“I know,” Christen hummed.
“Did you wear it for me?” Tobin smirked.
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
“That’s all I know how to do, Press. You, of all people, know that.”
“How could I ever forget?” Christen sighed, her green eyes sparkling with amusement. “Would you mind?” she added, turning and gesturing for Tobin to help her out of her long royal blue coat.
“Of course,” Tobin hummed, holding onto the shoulders of the coat.
Christen shrugged out of the coat and turned, taking the coat from Tobin’s hands and feeling her lips twitch into a smirk at the way Tobin’s eyes raked over the short black and white dress she had put on. It was worth the slight chill she’d gotten walking around outside in an unseasonable outfit. It was worth it all to see that look on Tobin’s face.
“Have you been watering your orchid?” Christen wondered, her tone and expression innocent.
“Your orchid. The one I took time and care to select for you at Lowe’s,” Christen explained, her smirk growing as Tobin’s eyes remained focused on the neckline of the dress.
“I gave it an ice cube,” Tobin answered, blinking slowly and then pulling her eyes back up to Christen’s face.
“You should have taken one for yourself too. You look flushed,” Christen observed, her attention moving to the sculpture as she started to walk slowly around it.
Tobin let out a strangled breath before following Christen again. “Let’s just say that if they’d made one, I probably would have had a poster of you too,” she whispered.
“Yours was above my bed,” Christen whispered back, shooting Tobin an amused half-smile before looking back at the glass sculpture.
Tobin felt her mouth go dry at that piece of information. She couldn’t help but wonder…
“Would you really like the answer to that question?” Christen asked with an arched brow as a smirk returned to her face.
Tobin thought for a second, her eyebrows moving up her forehead. It was way too forward and personal, but she couldn’t stop the automatic way her head was nodding.
“You weren’t on the wall of the shower, so you’ll never know,” Christen murmured, continuing to flirt with this dangerous line, to play this dangerous game. She couldn’t help herself. Their banter was fun now, their chemistry wasn’t just for the cameras. It was in every charged moment they spent with one another and Christen was helpless to resist it.
“A shower fan, I see,” Tobin observed, hoping her voice didn’t sound as choked or husky as she felt.
“Or a good bath. There’s nothing like it,” Christen hummed.
“I haven’t taken a bath in…four years?” Tobin mused, looking at the sculpture in front of them and admiring the mix of colors.
“That’s the saddest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
Tobin let out a soft laugh, her lips quirking up into an easy smile.
“Be sorry if you don’t take steps to remedy that. A bath is a luxury you should be able to afford, Miss Ex-Professional Athlete,” Christen replied, sharing in Tobin’s laughter and easy smile.
“I took them after games. I didn’t see a reason to when I stopped playing,” Tobin shrugged, no pain or regret in her voice.
“You mean, verbally sparring with me every morning isn’t a workout?” Christen wondered, tilting her head to the side in thought as she looked over at Tobin.
“You have a good point,” Tobin snorted, her smile growing. “I’ll reward myself with a bath when I go home.”
“How do you unwind?” Christen wondered, the two of them falling into step as they moved to another glass sculpture.
“Oh, you know…the usual. Wining and dining. Sex. Trips to art museums with women,” Tobin answered, feeling her arm prickle with warmth as it brushed against Christen’s.
“What do you really do?” Christen challenged, easily reading the dodged answer for what it was.
“Real answer?” Tobin asked, looking over at Christen.
“Real answer,” Christen nodded, keeping her eyes locked with Tobin’s.
“I color,” Tobin murmured, a light blush heating her cheeks.
“Color?” Christen repeated in surprise, not having expected anything like that from Tobin.
“Like…I get adult coloring books and color in them. I listen to music sometimes while I do it.”
“Adult as in…pornographic?” Christen wondered, her eyes sparkling with amusement.
“Adult as in too difficult for little children to color. You really must think I’m sex-crazed, don’t you?” Tobin snorted, her eyes now crinkling with amusement.
“No! I just- sorry,” Christen chuckled, blushing lightly as she turned back to the sculpture. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that.”
“I think you imagine that I’m a lot more interesting than I am,” Tobin whispered, her smile softening into something lopsided and relaxed.
“I think it would be dangerous to underestimate how interesting you are,” Christen whispered in reply, her cheeks burning in a darker blush under Tobin’s watchful gaze.
“How do you unwind?” Tobin asked, ignoring the shiver that ran down her spine.
“Wining and dining. Sex. Art museums,” Christen murmured with a teasing lilt in her voice, trying to get her blush under control as she lifted a hand to her cheek and pressed the backs of her fingers against it.
“Real answer?” Tobin prompted, her stomach flipping at just how easy it was to talk to Christen, to tease one another.
“I read. Voraciously. Everything from poems and short stories, to the classics, to biographical nonfiction. I like to go thrifting for clothes. Clothes that you can’t get anywhere else. Things that are unique, you know? That have a story. I have been on a mission to try every coffee place in Seattle. I’ve barely scratched the surface and I’ve lived here for years. I take my Triumph as far as I can go on one single tank of gas. I…I try it all, really. But nothing has really helped me be content just yet. I get close, on nights when I take a bath with a glass of wine and a good book. But I don’t think I’ve ever let myself fully unwind,” Christen admitted, finding that the words were just spilling out of her, a little recklessly.
“Have you tried mindless video games?” Tobin asked, completely mesmerized by Christen’s voice and every word that slipped from her lips.
“I can’t say that I have,” Christen chuckled, pushing the backs of her fingers against her blush as she felt it start to recede.
“You’re invited to come over sometime and use my Xbox,” Tobin offered.
“Think that’ll help?” Christen wondered, chancing a look over at Tobin now that her blush was gone and she felt a little more in control of her emotions.
“I’ll give it my best shot,” Tobin replied with a small shrug.
“I might take you up on that,” Christen murmured before turning back to the sculpture, feeling Tobin’s shoulder brush against hers as Tobin turned toward the sculpture as well, bringing a smile to her face.
Chapter 4: midnight
seance, sex on the beach, and segment with advice
new day, new chapter! heading back to Seattle to check up on our fav co-hosts...
Christen flipped through the notes for the week of segments, chuckling at the segment scheduled for the final day of October.
“Ghost tour?” Christen asked, lifting her gaze from the paper to look at Crystal, catching her mid bite of one of the bagels that Tobin had brought. “Why are we doing that?”
“Halloween,” Crystal answered with a similarly amused smile after swallowing her bite of bagel. “Our viewers loved our lightning cage visit, so we’ve scheduled some fun segments outside of the studio.”
“Is the goal tourism? Advertisement? It won’t be scary, so I doubt it will be for entertainment,” Christen pointed out, sipping the crappy coffee and then shooting a quick look over at Tobin, finding the furrow in her brow intriguing.
“Oh, it’ll be scary,” Omar laughed, patting Tobin on the back. “Stella and I did it last week.”
“Don’t tell me you both believe in ghosts, Omar,” Crystal said with a laugh, tossing Christen a bagel when she asked for it.
“Absolutely,” Omar replied with a serious nod.
“These walks are designed to ramp up the scare and downplay the truth. It’s not really that scary,” Christen chuckled with a shake of her head. “It’s a performance.”
“Is it at night?” Tobin asked, clearing her throat as she voiced the question.
“Yes. We will shoot it the night of the thirtieth, then play it the morning of Halloween so we all can have a day off,” Crystal answered, earning herself cheers and hoots from the gathered crew.
“Cool, cool,” Tobin nodded, looking back down at the information with a continued furrow between her eyebrows.
“Do you want to do something else?” Christen asked, directing her question to Tobin, who sat at the table near her, a few seats away.
“No, it’s fine. Ghosts are very…halloween-y,” Tobin replied with a shake of her head.
“And this morning, we are hyping the segment, so we will be telling ghost stories between the two of you and then taking callers with ghost stories. So prepare for spooky,” Crystal interjected, getting to her feet. “Talent off to make-up and wardrobe. We’re on in under an hour.”
With everyone dismissed, the meeting room cleared out, both Tobin and Christen falling into step outside the room as they both headed to the wardrobe department.
“You afraid of ghosts, Heath?” Christen wondered, knocking her shoulder into Tobin’s with a smile.
“Me?” Tobin scoffed, shaking her head quickly. “No way.”
“Good. Because I’ve got a ghost story that would make the most nonbeliever a believer,” Christen hummed, sticking her hands into the pocket of her sweatshirt.
“I thought you sounded like a nonbeliever in there.”
“I’m not a believer and I’m also not a nonbeliever,” Christen chuckled, waggling her brows playfully. “I’ve just got this story that’ll make your the hair on your arms stand up.
“Great,” Tobin hummed, scratching at the back of her neck.
“Scared?” Christen wondered, pursing her lips in amusement.
“Ghosts…maybe give me a bit of a scare, okay?” Tobin admitted, clearing her throat once more.
Christen grabbed a hold of Tobin’s sleeve and pulled her to a stop, bringing them face to face in the hallway.
“I can tell Crystal to send us on…a pumpkin pie tasting tour instead,” Christen offered in a quiet voice.
“It’s fine,” Tobin waved off. “She’s already got it planned. If I wanted to argue for something else, I should have read the schedule last week.”
“Plans can change. They can change today,” Christen murmured, holding Tobin’s gaze as she kept a hold of Tobin’s sleeve, running it between her pointer finger and thumb.
“It’s just a ghost tour. I’ll keep it together,” Tobin assured quietly.
“You sure?” Christen asked, giving Tobin one final moment to back out.
“I will be a grown-up adult woman, and then I will go home and leave all the lights on, curl up under a blanket, and watch a harmless Disney movie.”
Christen cracked a smile, her eyes crinkling. “I’ll bring you a coffee the next morning. Check in on you,” she offered, finally dropping her hand away from Tobin’s sleeve.
“Oh? You want to just find a breakfast place at a reasonable hour? Really celebrate the holiday?” Tobin asked, cocking her head to the side.
“We could do that,” Christen nodded, her smile growing. “Maybe a haunted bakery or something.”
“Sounds spooktacular,” Tobin hummed, sending a wink in Christen’s direction.
Christen let out a soft laugh as she led the way to wardrobe.
“I lied. I like pumpkin pie. Let’s do pumpkin pie,” Tobin whispered as soon as the lights were shut off and then turned on again.
“You’re going to be fine,” Christen whispered back, knocking her shoulder into Tobin’s. “Hold my hand if you get scared.”
“I’m brave. I’m strong. I’m fully capable of being an adult,” Tobin muttered, making up new affirmations.
Christen knocked her shoulder into Tobin’s again, looking around the Moore Theater, the first stop on the walking ghost tour they were on this evening. They had two camerawomen with them, aimed at recording their reactions to the stops on the tour.
The tour guide, a young man named Calvin, led them around the Moore Theater, describing how Mr. Moore himself haunted the theater, checking to see if audiences were entertained. He was seen as a benevolent spirit, something Calvin assured them a few times. But he did inform them that in the 70s, there was an interrupted seance, which kept a ghost portal open to any spirits that wished to pass through it.
Christen was trying to focus on the history lesson from Calvin, when she felt Tobin tense beside her, their shoulders coming into contact.
“Good?” Christen murmured, covering her mic with her hand so it wouldn’t pick up her voice.
Tobin nodded, but her eyes were wide and moving around the room.
“And anything can come through this portal, in any moment it chooses. Would you like to visit the location of the seance?” Calvin offered.
“Of course!” Christen assured, waggling her brows excitedly for camera one as she moved to follow Calvin, hearing Tobin shuffle behind her.
Calvin led them to the stage, directing them to the middle of it. “Behold. The portal,” Calvin said dramatically, gesturing right at center stage. “I’ll give you all a moment to get acquainted with it.”
Christen eyed the teleprompter that the camerawoman with camera one held up, reading the words off.
“This first stop on the ghost tour is just the beginning. It gets even spookier than a ghost portal, which we hope you’ll stick around to see,” Christen said, keeping a smile on her face. “How are you feeling about this, Heath?”
Tobin held up a thumbs up and forced a smile for the camera. “I’m so ready to be scared.”
Just then, the lights in the theater went out, something the camerawomen had prepared for, keeping Tobin and Christen illuminated with small lights.
“Spooky,” Christen chuckled, making a slow circle to see if anything was visible in the near darkness. “How’s the scared level looking for you? Because I’m feeling like Calvin just cut the lights to be funny.”
“I hate it here,” Tobin muttered under her breath, crossing her arms defensively over her chest.
It only took a moment. And maybe if Tobin had been thinking logically, she would have called it a draft. But the air around her right elbow suddenly felt cold, and then she felt just the slightest brush of something…maybe a hand.
A scream left Tobin’s lips in an instant, and she was hurrying across the stage and away from the spot she’d been occupying, a blush heating her cheeks at the ridiculousness of the entire situation. The blush got even worse when she realized she’d gone straight across the room and latched onto Christen’s hand.
“And it seems to me like we’ve had our first paranormal experience. Let’s hope my co-host can survive the next four stops,” Christen said for the camera, giving Tobin’s hand a reassuring squeeze.
“We’re out,” one of their camerawoman instructed. The lights from the cameras remained trained on them as the recording stopped, both camerawomen taking a short break.
“Well, your lung capacity is something,” Christen murmured, turning to look at Tobin as she squeezed her hand gently again, not daring to let go when her heart was fluttering at the feeling of Tobin’s hand in her own.
“This was a sadistic idea. Who pitched this?” Tobin whined, not caring in the slightest about being ‘cool’ anymore.
“Four more to go. Then we’re done,” Christen promised, her thumb moving across the back of Tobin’s hand.
“I’m never gonna sleep,” Tobin sighed, hanging her head for a moment before she really felt a hand on her shoulder. “Jesus!” she yelped, spinning around and seeing Calvin. “Warn a person, dude. Not cool!”
“Sorry,” Calvin chuckled. “We blew a fuse. We can head on to the next stop on the tour. Unless you’re too…scared?”
“We’re not scared, thank you,” Christen huffed, signaling for the camerawomen to start rolling again. “Onward, Calvin,” she said, turning to shoot a smile at camera two before pulling on Tobin’s hand so they could follow their tour guide.
An hour, five stops, twelve screams, and one moment where Tobin almost jumped into Christen’s arms later, the tour was over.
They returned to where they’d all parked near the Moore Theater around midnight, the camerawomen and boom operator leaving quickly with smiles and waves for the two hosts before leaving.
“Not gonna lie, that last place gave me the heebie-jeebies,” Christen said with a shudder, sticking her hands in the pockets of her leather jacket as she and Tobin lingered near her bike and Tobin’s car.
“Did it?” Tobin asked, her eyes wide and unseeing as she remembered the jump scare at the end of the tour.
“Yeah. My heart is still racing,” Christen nodded, taking a hand from her jacket pocket and holding it against her chest, able to feel the way her heart pounded beneath her hand.
Tobin huffed out a pained laugh. “You don’t have to pretend, although I appreciate the attempt.”
“No, seriously. I hate jump scares,” Christen admitted, finding Tobin’s gaze. “I don’t think I’ll sleep tonight.”
“I don’t know if I’ll sleep for the rest of the week,” Tobin chuckled weakly, putting her hand over her own racing heart.
“You made it through. That counts for something,” Christen complimented, managing a smile for Tobin as she put her hand back in her jacket pocket. “I really thought you were going to ditch me when we hit that alley near Pike’s Place.”
“I went into fight or flight, and I froze,” Tobin teased, a small smile slipping onto her face. “Can we carve pumpkins next year?”
“You want to be around next year?” Christen wondered, her eyebrows lifting in surprise, the makings of a smile on her face.
“Uh…unless I’m being fired and haven’t been told yet,” Tobin replied, her forehead scrunching at the surprise on Christen’s face.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Christen rushed to say. “I just- we’re the morning show. Surely, this isn’t the end for someone like you at SSN. We’re a stepping stone, not a destination.”
“I’m not a journalist,” Tobin said, shaking her head in further confusion. “And I don’t see this as a stepping stone.”
“What do you see this as?” Christen wondered, her voice soft, her expression vulnerable.
“At the beginning, I was…upset. I just…didn’t want to talk about anything other than soccer. But honestly, working in sports reporting was miserable. I didn’t enjoy my coworkers. It wasn’t fun to watch people play like I used to. And I didn’t expect to enjoy this kind of reporting. This kind of show. I didn’t expect to like getting up so freaking early and going to work to talk about pretty much everything except what I actually know. I don’t have plans to leave, if that’s what you’re asking,” Tobin answered, meeting Christen’s vulnerability with her own honesty.
“Good,” Christen nodded, clearing some of the emotion from her throat. “I’ve just started getting used to sharing the couch with you. Would hate to have to get used to someone else.”
“I’m sure that’s a very difficult part of the job,” Tobin observed, watching Christen’s face and all the emotions behind her eyes.
“At least you’re not half as bad to look at as some of my other co-hosts,” Christen said with a teasing half-smile.
“Steve,” Tobin hummed, a knowing look on her face as she nodded.
“You’ve got a decent smile too. Much better than Tiffany’s,” Christen added, her tone staying light even as her eyes remained full of emotions that went far deeper than what they were talking about.
“You’re a lot better to look at than Lance from sports reporting,” Tobin grinned, flashing Christen her smile.
“After wardrobe and make-up get to me, I agree,” Christen chuckled.
“No,” Tobin said with a shake of her head. “First thing in the morning before you even get inside and hang up your coat.”
“I think the fear you experienced this evening is getting some wires crossed for you,” Christen said with another soft laugh, her cheeks filing with the faintest blush.
“I think you’re deflecting because you don’t want me to pay you a compliment,” Tobin responded.
“I’m deflecting because…I’m right,” Christen replied stubbornly with a small shrug of her shoulder.
“Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?”
“Not when the beholder thinks of me like a cactus,” Christen murmured with a wink, taking a step back toward her bike. “Breakfast tomorrow?”
“Cacti can be beautiful,” Tobin argued. “Beautiful and prickly and sometimes a little dangerous.”
“I’m thinking…paranormal pumpkin pancakes,” Christen said, avoiding the topic of beauty all together.
“Whatever you want,” Tobin sighed, unable to fathom why someone like Christen didn’t believe she was beautiful.
“I’ll text you the address of the café,” Christen grinned, slipping her helmet on but keeping the visor up so she could see Tobin. “Happy Halloween, you scaredy cat.”
“Happy Halloween. Get home safe,” Tobin echoed, unlocking her car and tossing her jacket into the passenger’s seat.
Christen’s bike roared to life as she turned the handle. She shot Tobin one last smile before flipping the visor down and then peeling out of the parking lot, a blur of leather.
Tobin followed shortly after, heading in the direction of her own home and wondering the entire drive what she could do to hold up a mirror so Christen could just see what she saw.
Tobin tugged at the hem of her navy dress as she got out of the car. It was short and maybe showed a little too much considering it was November, but it was also SNN’s annual gala, and Christen was going to be there.
She was past lying to herself. She was past convincing herself that what she picked out to wear wasn’t, at least in part, chosen for Christen. She’d given up pretending because every day at work just made her like Christen that much more.
She walked into the building, following the signs to the elevator and pushing the button for the top floor where the gala always took place.
Christen slipped into the elevator right as the doors were closing, her hand holding up the skirt of her floor-length dress. When she saw that Tobin was in the elevator with her, she chuckled.
“I had a feeling you’d be in a shade of blue,” Christen murmured as she moved to stand next to Tobin, letting her dress fall back into place.
“I like being predictable,” Tobin teased, smiling over at Christen. “You pop in red,” she added, her smile morphing into a small smirk.
“I know,” Christen replied with a matching smirk, her eyes flicking down to take in the tight-fitting dress clinging to Tobin’s body before meeting her eyes again. “Larry was rather insistent that we both make an appearance tonight. Think he just wants us to show our faces, or does he have something up his sleeve?”
“I really hope he just wants our faces present. I’m aiming to shake some wealthy people’s hands, steal some cream puffs, and then eat them in my sweats at home.”
“I’m just here for the open bar,” Christen replied with a shrug.
“Oh, really?” Tobin asked, turning to look at Christen. “I bet tipsy you is very fun to party with.”
“You won’t get to see her. You have a date with your sweats and absconded cream puffs,” Christen pointed out with a grin.
“Maybe I’ll choose you over cream puffs tonight,” Tobin hummed, letting her eyes move down to take in the dress for just a moment.
“Are you sure? Cream puffs seem like they’d be to die for.”
“I can go to a bakery any day. I’m not sure I can drink with you whenever I feel like it,” Tobin replied.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Christen said quietly, her smile softening for a moment before the elevator dinged.
“What’s your drink of choice?” Tobin asked as they stepped into the party, loud music from a live band echoing throughout the top floor.
“I won’t give you all the answers. Just no dark liquor,” Christen chuckled.
“How do you feel about margaritas?”
“Doesn’t feel like a margarita place to me. Go for something with vodka. That’s the last hint I’ll give you,” Christen murmured with a playful smirk, sliding the back of her hand across Tobin’s before melting into the crowd and joining the party.
Tobin pursed her lips as she headed to the bar. If asked a couple months ago, at the beginning of her time on the morning show, she never would have believed that she’d be guessing what Christen liked, ordering a drink for Christen, and then carrying that drink across a crowded floor in the hopes of satisfying her. The slight desperation to get this right, to satisfy her, in more ways than one, felt dangerous. But she couldn’t bring herself to care.
Tobin liked the banter she shared with Christen. She liked the back and forth game. She liked the teasing. She really liked Christen.
So, Tobin ordered two different drinks, both something she could see Christen possibly drinking, one that was ordered more for the name than the taste. She carried them through the crowd, side-stepping some people dancing and others reaching for hors d’oeuvres. She found Christen near a window at the back of the executive floor, her eyes trained on the rain slipping down the window.
“You wanna have sex on the beach?” Tobin asked at a whisper, almost close enough for her lips to touch the shell of Christen’s ear.
Christen’s eyes widened in shock for a moment, her lips parting. But then she caught sight of Tobin and the drinks in her hands and let out a breathy chuckle.
“I’d rather be a cosmo girl,” Christen said, accepting the reddish-pink drink Tobin subsequently held out for her.
“Hmm…I guess I’ll have sex on the beach then,” Tobin sighed, winking at Christen before she took a sip and stepped to the side, giving Christen more room.
“I’d expect nothing less,” Christen hummed, sipping her drink and keeping her eyes on Tobin the entire time.
“You’re a cosmo woman. I see that,” Tobin nodded, leaning her shoulder against the window.
“Oh, really? What do you see?” Christen challenged, already feeling the vodka and triple sec hit her and make the world seem just a bit fuzzier and a bit funnier, Tobin’s entire being even more enticing too.
“A little fruity, sometimes sweet. You’ve got a…zing to you though.”
Christen pursed her lips in amusement and took another sip of the drink, the sounds of the party around them completely fading away.
“You’re definitely not a sex on the beach woman,” Christen observed, nodding at the orangey-red drink in Tobin’s hand.
“I thought I’d give you options,” Tobin shrugged, having stopped herself after one sip of the sweet drink.
Christen noticed a waiter approaching and smoothly lifted the drink from Tobin’s hand. She handed the drink off to the waiter and offered him a dazzling smile.
“Could I please have a water? Thank you so much,” Christen said, getting a nod and a blush from the young man as he hurried off. She turned back to Tobin and took another sip of her drink.
“Well, he seemed interested in sex on the beach,” Tobin scoffed, rolling her eyes a little at the server.
“He’s bringing you a water. Be nice,” Christen chastised with a playful glint in her green eyes.
“He’s bringing you a water.”
“True, but I’m then passing it off to you. Saved me a trip to the open bar to get you something you’d actually want to drink.”
“Water is my cocktail of choice,” Tobin chuckled, her smile growing.
“I figured as much,” Christen murmured, finishing off her cosmo with a satisfied hum.
“You figured,” Tobin echoed, keeping her eyes on Christen as if she could look long enough and figure Christen out.
Christen’s eyes lost their playfulness for a moment, her expression turning serious.
“I’ve seen some self-destructive spirals before, and they have common ingredients. I figured…it might be the same for you. So I asked for a water,” Christen explained in a soft voice, holding her empty glass against her chest.
“You’re very observant, but I already knew that,” Tobin complimented, not arguing against Christen’s observation at all. She was right. There had definitely been an abundance of alcohol for the first year of her self-destruction. There were still moments of over-indulging. It had led to her removal from the sports segments.
Christen noticed the waiter approach again, and traded her empty glass for the water.
“Thank you,” Christen hummed with another smile before turning back to Tobin, her smile softening. “Here,” she added at a whisper, her complete focus on Tobin.
“Thank you. He’s this close to asking for your number,” Tobin said, holding up her index finger and thumb with very little space between them.
“He’s going to be sorely disappointed when I don’t give it to him then,” Christen replied with a shrug, leaning her shoulder against the windowed wall and starting to spin a ring around her middle finger.
“He doesn’t make the cut?” Tobin asked, unconsciously moving closer.
Christen shook her head, the movement slow. She pulled her bottom lip between her front teeth as she watched Tobin take another small step closer, further bringing them into their own private bubble at this party.
“Pity for him,” Tobin hummed, wetting her bottom lip as she watched each of Christen’s movements.
“Do you know what people say about you?” Christen wondered, completely caught in Tobin’s gaze.
“I can imagine. What have you heard?”
“Womanizer. More dates than a calendar. Physical…talents beyond the soccer field. A- umm,” Christen cleared her throat, ignoring the blush creeping up her neck. “A giver. But I can’t square those with conflicting reports about total lack of follow through. Somehow, you’re everyone’s favorite player, but to me, it doesn’t actually seem like you are.”
Tobin felt her throat grow thick at the complete honesty in Christen’s voice. Christen was even more observant than she’d imagined. She seemed capable of seeing right through her.
“Sorry, vodka makes me a little too chatty,” Christen added, trying to wave off the comment and retreat from this path at the surprise she could see in Tobin’s eyes.
Tobin nodded slowly and then leaned forward so her lips were once again close to Christen’s ear, making Christen’s breath catch audibly.
“Perhaps if a womanizer is someone who goes on many dates, that would apply to me. But I don’t give without thought. I give when I’m certain I’d like to give, when I’m positive that it will be more than just one night of giving.”
Christen released a short breath, her heart hammering in her chest at Tobin’s words and proximity.
“I see,” Christen managed, her voice coming out a little strangled.
“I don’t sleep around, despite the reputation I’ve seemed to garner,” Tobin added before leaning back again, her shoulder against the window.
“So nobody makes the cut?” Christen wondered, swallowing thickly, still a little dazed from the way it had felt for Tobin’s breath to ghost across the shell of her ear, from the way she could feel Tobin’s body heat from the way they stood so close together.
“Typically, I date a little meaninglessly,” Tobin admitted, lifting her glass of water to take a sip. “The right person would make the cut. Easily.”
“I see,” Christen repeated, wishing she hadn’t finished her drink so fast so she’d have something to hold, something to distract herself with.
“Water?” Tobin offered, holding up her glass.
Christen shook her head and started to spin her ring again, the motion mindless.
“I think I’ll get another drink,” Christen replied, her entire being protesting leaving this back corner and leaving Tobin, but she needed something more to take this edge off. She couldn’t be slipping back into old habits, into old feelings. She shouldn’t be.
“I’ll be here,” Tobin murmured, her eyes stuck on Christen’s, as if she could look long enough for Christen to get the message that she could be the right person, that Tobin already found her meaningful.
Christen took a few more moments before she had to force herself to walk away, breaking their long bout of charged eye contact. She moved toward the open bar and prayed that another cosmo would help her forget the way Tobin’s smile had always made her stomach flip, just like it was starting to do once again.
“I need a word,” Crystal said as soon as Tobin had left the room to head to wardrobe.
Christen sat back down in her chair, placing her empty cup on the conference room table.
“What’s up?” Christen asked, tilting her head to the side with the question.
“This is me speaking mainly as your best friend but also a little as your producer.”
“Okay…” Christen trailed off.
“You need to get this out of your system. Both of you. Just…do the deed,” Crystal sighed, pressing her hand against her forehead.
“I’m sorry, what?” Christen asked in clarification, her forehead furrowing in confusion.
“I saw both of you at the gala last week. I was worried I might not get out of there before you tore each other’s clothes off,” Crystal said, arching an eyebrow at Christen.
Christen felt the lightest blush beat her cheeks as she dropped her eyes away from Crystal’s.
“That’s ridiculous,” Christen scoffed weakly.
“How? How is that ridiculous?”
“Because that’s not- it’s just chemistry. That’s all. You see it every morning for the cameras,” Christen explained as she finally met Crystal’s gaze again, a little stubbornly.
“Really? That’s all?” Crystal huffed, an almost amused smile sliding onto her face. “Tobin Heath stared at your ass for a solid five minutes at the gala when you went to the bar. I watched it. Three people tried to talk to her in that amount of time, and she couldn’t pull her eyes off of you.”
“I- Well- you know I have a great ass. I can’t fault her for having eyes,” Christen replied with a shrug, crossing her arms over her chest.
“You both look like horny teenagers who are dying for your parents to go out of town so you can fuck,” Crystal said as bluntly as possible.
Christen’s eyes widened in shock at the choice of words, causing a scoff to leave her.
“Crystal, it’s not like that. The crush remains in the past and it’s…just chemistry.”
“So you don’t like her? Or want to…get it on?”
Christen rolled her eyes, standing up from the table and snagging her empty coffee cup.
“If you don’t like her, then I need to be talking to her and telling her to keep it together,” Crystal added, standing up with Christen and grabbing her tablet.
“It’s helping the ratings. So just leave it be, right?” Christen said, her stomach dropping at the idea that Crystal would talk to Tobin about this.
“So, you want to torture an obviously into you Heath for…ratings?” Crystal clarified, narrowing her eyes at Christen.
Christen let out a small sigh and checked over her shoulder to ensure they were alone in the conference room and no one was in the hallway outside. When the coast was clear, she stepped closer to Crystal and let her stubbornness melt away, revealing how she truly felt about it.
“Speaking to my best friend, I’m…I’m in deep trouble here and I’m just trying to stay afloat. I don’t know what she feels or where she’s at, but I’m right back where I was three years ago. I’m just glad she hasn’t noticed the stars in my eyes and my heart on my sleeve yet,” Christen admitted at a whisper with an almost sad, half-smile on her face. “But I’m handling it. It’s fine. It helps the ratings, right?”
“Speaking as your best friend, she’s a complete goner for you. The entire crew can see that. I heard Stella complaining about it last week,” Crystal whispered, pulling her friend in for a hug.
“It’s hard to get behind that concept. It’s much easier to long for someone in silence and host a morning show with them, hoping they won’t notice the way you look at them,” Christen sighed, squeezing Crystal in a hug before taking a step back. “But I can see if I can dial the…chemistry down a notch or two for the cameras, if that’s what you’d like as my producer.”
“Chris,” Crystal exhaled, shaking her head. “I don’t care about the cameras. I care about my best friend being happy. And there’s a brunette down the hall with stars in her eyes just for you, and I don’t want you to miss out because you’re scared.”
“Thanks for the advice,” Christen said with a small smile, not planning on heeding that advice one bit. “I need to get to wardrobe.”
“See you out there,” Crystal replied, easily seeing the disbelief in Christen’s face.
Christen tugged at the back of the collar of her blouse, feeling the tag continue to scratch her. She shifted on the orange couch in discomfort as she continued to prep for the show this morning. They were doing an advice day, where callers could phone in with their questions, and she and Tobin would give as much advice as they could.
“You okay?” Tobin asked, reaching without thought to the back of Christen’s collar to try and help poke the tag under the collar.
Christen felt heat prickle across her skin when Tobin’s fingertips brushed against the back of her neck.
“Fine. Just a scratchy tag,” Christen replied, hating that her voice came out so affected, so breathy.
“You want me to pull it off?” Tobin asked, pushing Christen’s curls off of her shoulder.
Christen couldn’t even form words, not when Tobin’s free hand was now cradling the side of her neck and Tobin was pressed nearly completely against her side. She barely managed a nod before she squeezed her eyes shut, hoping her breathing didn’t sound as ragged to Tobin as it did to her.
“You can blame me if Jess gets upset,” Tobin whispered right before tearing the tag off. She kept her arm around the back of the couch as she tucked the tag into the back pocket of her pants.
“Oh, I will,” Christen replied, clearing her throat and returning her focus to the paper in her lap. “But thank you.”
“I’m already on thin ice because I ate a bagel in wardrobe last Wednesday,” Tobin grinned.
“It’s like you’re asking to be punished,” Christen chuckled, sinking into their easy rapport as Crystal’s warning fell to the back of her mind.
“Now, that sounds kinky,” Tobin teased, her index finger brushing against Christen’s shoulder.
Christen let out a warm laugh and ignored the goosebumps that broke out across her skin at the feeling of Tobin’s touch against her shoulder.
“It is advice day, I have to be ready for anything,” Christen hummed, a smirk playing at her lips.
“You’re always prepared,” Tobin complimented, leaning back into the couch.
“For almost anything,” Christen nodded, accepting the mic and battery pack from the sound guy. She clipped the battery back to the waistband of her dark wash jeans at the small of her back and then hooked the mic on the collar of her blouse. “Did you prep?”
“Me? Always,” Tobin nodded, shooting Christen a goofy smile.
“Likely story,” Christen chuckled.
“I’ll try to think on my feet,” Tobin assured.
“Do try,” Christen challenged teasingly, a smirk making its way onto her face.
“You have any lunch plans after this?” Tobin asked, shifting a little so her knees were turned toward Christen, her body completely open to Christen.
“Not a one.”
“Do you want lunch plans after this?”
“Depends on quite a few factors,” Christen replied.
“Care to share so I can try to accommodate?” Tobin asked, watching the crew move around as their minutes before going live dwindled.
“I would, but…” Christen trailed off, noting the time. “We’re about to go live,” she added with a grin. “I’ll keep you in suspense for an hour.”
“You always do,” Tobin huffed, her smile growing as the lights got brighter and Crystal’s countdown became a silent one with her hand.
The familiar jingle played as camera two moved closer to the stage, trained on the two of them.
“Wake up and smell the coffee, Seattle. This is the Emerald View. I’m one half of your favorite morning show team, Christen Press,” Christen introduced, pausing to give Tobin her chance to speak as well.
“And I’m the more obnoxious half, Tobin Heath,” Tobin said, adding in the obnoxious part herself.
“Can’t argue with that word choice. We’ve got a special segment for you this morning. We will be taking calls for the whole hour for something Tobin and I affectionately call, Advice with Us,” Christen continued, reading off the teleprompter and adding a few words here and there to make it flow.
“They shot down my idea of calling it Emerald Explanations and Explorations. I don’t work with an alliterative bunch,” Tobin sighed, feigning disappointment.
“That was miles better than your other suggestion, but we won’t get into that so early in the morning,” Christen ad-libbed, shooting Tobin a smile. “Call the number at the bottom of your screen to get a chance for some advice. But before you all get some advice, Tobin and I will be getting some from each other,” she added, reading off the teleprompter and feeling a flicker of surprise since she hadn’t read about this in the notes for the program.
“Oooh what kind of advice do you need, Press?” Tobin asked.
“I’ll leave you in suspense momentarily, since it seems you also need some advice this morning. What can I help you with, Heath?” Christen countered, her smile never faltering.
“Hmm…have you ever had a crush?” Tobin mused, not letting her racing heart keep her from voicing a somewhat honest request for advice.
“Haven’t we all?” Christen replied, shifting a little on the couch as she looked at the camera and winked before looking back at Tobin.
“I mean, yes,” Tobin chuckled, shooting the camera a smile. “But it seems like crushes get a lot harder after childhood’s over.”
“In what way?” Christen wondered, grabbing her mug of water from the table and taking a sip of it.
“Well, when you’re a kid, you can just write a note and hand it to your crush and run away on the playground. Adulthood’s a lot harder. You have to know if they’re interested. You have to know if you’re their type. You have to know if they're single. You can’t just hand over a note, especially if they’re kind of your friend.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Christen mused, unable not to feel that fluttering in her heart as Tobin continued to speak.
“It’s a conundrum,” Tobin shrugged, putting her other arm on the back of the couch as she relaxed into the cushions.
“Are you admitting to having a crush on live television?” Christen wondered, cradling the mug to her chest as she eyed Tobin curiously.
“Maybe,” Tobin sing-songed, smiling at the camera despite the tiny blush on her cheeks.
“So what advice can I give you?” Christen asked.
“How would you suss out the situation?” Tobin wondered, turning her head to look at Christen.
Christen let out a thoughtful hum as she set her mug down once more.
“I believe that there is only one true way to know for sure whether your crush is requited,” Christen replied, moving her attention between Tobin and camera three. “And this goes for those playground crushes and for crushes in your adulthood as well. It’s fool proof.”
“What’s the secret?” Tobin asked, watching Christen intently.
“The Duchenne smile,” Christen answered simply, offering no other explanation but voicing the words as if she were telling something groundbreaking.
“Excuse me?” Tobin huffed, letting out a soft laugh.
“Have you never heard of this?” Christen wondered, leaning closer to Tobin as if they were gossiping, which in a way, they were. Only they were getting paid for it and doing it on camera for thousands of viewers.
“No, did I miss something in school?”
“Maybe while you were racing away after handing over the note, you missed the way this crush of yours smiled. It’s a completely involuntary smile, not something forced. It’s the most natural expression of enjoyment only experienced in times of genuine happiness. Their eyes crinkle, their face brightens. The Duchenne smile is what you should be looking out for,” Christen advised with a waggle of her brows for Tobin before she looked at the camera. “This advice is for any of you harboring those hidden feelings. If you’re worried about someone feeling the same way, keep an eye out for the way they smile at you. A true smile can’t hide how they truly feel.”
“Interesting,” Tobin hummed, pursing her lips in thought. She couldn’t figure out if she’d gotten that kind of smile from Christen yet. She’d for sure given it.
“And look at that, it’s time for our first caller. Camila, you’re on the air,” Christen greeted, sinking back into the couch and feeling Tobin’s hand brush against her bare shoulder.
“Mine’s kind of similar to Tobin’s actually. It’s definitely a crush. I’ve got a huge crush on someone. And that someone happens to be a coworker. That just complicates everything, right? Would you guys go for it or just try to find feelings somewhere else?” Camila asked, making Crystal clear her throat a little awkwardly.
“Thank you for your question and your vulnerability, Camila,” Christen replied easily, smiling at the camera before looking over at Tobin. “What do you think, Heath?”
“Uh…I think weighing the risk is good. What kind of rules does your workplace have? That’s a good place to start,” Tobin answered, running a hand through her hair.
“None. I…checked,” Camila admitted with an embarrassed laugh.
“That’s good,” Tobin nodded as her heart raced in her chest. “Then…why not go for it, right? Look for that Duc…the smile thingy. Life’s short, and love’s hard to find.”
“Duchenne,” Christen supplied. “And I agree. You can’t control when or where someone comes into your life, but you can control what you do when they do. So I also say go for it. Why not?”
“Oh, awesome. You’re right. I should go for it,” Camila muttered, her voice holding a bit of hysterical excitement.
“And if you ever do decide to say something, don’t follow Tobin’s example. Don’t run,” Christen suggested with a laugh.
“Little Tobin. Young Tobin. She did that. Not this Tobin,” Tobin argued, a pout fixed on her lips.
That only caused Christen to let out another laugh.
“Thank you, Camila, and best of luck!” Christen said with a smile for the camera. “Up next, Roger from Spokane. Hi, Roger and welcome to the Emerald View.”
“You can hear me?” Roger asked, his voice hinting at his older age.
“Yep, we can hear you, Roger. You’re with us. Live,” Tobin answered.
“Well, isn’t that something,” Roger chuckled. “I wasn’t exactly planning on phoning in or anything, but my daughter watches your show and she brought me my newspaper this morning. So when I asked her for some help, she suggested I call you two lovely ladies.”
“What’s your question or situation for us to give hopefully decent advice for?” Tobin asked, smiling at Roger’s sweet voice.
“Tomorrow is my wife’s and my fifty-first wedding anniversary. We’ve done every present in the book, so now I’m a little stumped as to what to get her this year,” Roger admitted with a long sigh. “My mind ain’t what it used to be, so my imagination isn’t helping much. And the Google suggested things I don’t think my June would like.”
“I don’t know if we will be more helpful than Google, but we will certainly try our best to be,” Christen replied, completely charmed by this older gentleman who phoned in. “Have you considered that maybe your gift doesn’t have to be something tangible, like a cookbook or jewelry, but could be more of an experience?”
“Well, I have, but last year I did that, and June had gotten me a very nice watch. I think she was a little disappointed, even though she’d never say that,” Roger sighed.
“Do you know what the traditional present is for a fifty-first wedding anniversary?” Tobin asked, an easy smile on her face.
Christen turned to look at Tobin, surprised that she knew that well enough to advise Roger.
“Can’t say that I do, Ms. Heath.”
“Photographs or cameras. That’s the theme. Depending on your budget, there are a lot of great gifts for that theme,” Tobin hummed, smiling as if Roger were actually there with them.
“Well I’ll be darned. That’s a wonderful suggestion. She’s been wanting to get new photos of us taken. Nice ones, where you ask someone besides your grandson with his iPhone to take them,” Roger replied, sounding a million times lighter.
“If you want to go fancy with picture frames, there’s this cool picture frame that all of your family members can send photos to, no matter where they are. You’ll get new photos in your house all the time,” Tobin suggested, reaching out for her mug of water.
“You could always do both. A photo shoot and a picture frame,” Christen added with a warm smile for the camera. “And if you call the studio back at the end of this hour, I can give you some recommendations on local photographers that won’t break the bank.”
“You two are even sweeter than Chelsea described,” Roger said, his voice sounding like he was just beaming on the other end of the line.
“I’m the sweet one, Roger,” Christen teased, shooting the camera a wink. “I’ll look out for your call.”
“Thank you so much, Ms. Press,” Roger replied. “Bye-bye now.”
“We’ll be taking more calls after this short commercial break,” Tobin said once the line went dead.
“We’re out!” Crystal called, people and cameras already moving in preparation for them to come back from commercial.
Christen held a hand to her chest and turned to shoot Tobin a smile.
“How cute was he?”
“Adorable, but come on, dude. An anniversary comes every 365 days. Don’t wait until the day before,” Tobin sighed, shaking her head.
“Hey, some people only work on a deadline,” Christen pointed out. “Don’t do Roger dirty like that.”
“I love Roger, but we wouldn’t want June to feel like an afterthought.”
“How could she when she’s going to get a free photo shoot done for her anniversary?” Christen countered with a soft smile.
“You are the sweet one,” Tobin hummed, her smile growing and her eyes crinkling in that smile Christen had been talking about.
“Don’t you forget it,” Christen winked, subconsciously leaning in a little towards Tobin.
“Lunch is on me if that helps sway you,” Tobin whispered, leaning right along with Christen.
“I’m not swayed just yet. Keep trying,” Christen whispered back.
“Your choice of cuisine,” Tobin added to sweeten the pot.
“Closer and closer to swayed,” Christen murmured with a small smirk.
“You can…ask me to wait in my car while you eat?” Tobin guessed, her eyebrows scrunching together in confusion.
Christen let out a laugh as she looked over at Tobin with nothing hidden, the stars were in her eyes and her heart was on her sleeve and she knew it was painfully obvious.
“Back in ten!” Crystal called out, shooting Christen a slightly warning look.
“Are you Ducceeny smiling at me?” Tobin asked, softer than a whisper.
“No,” Christen replied, equally as soft. “And it’s Duchenne.”
“So, it’s just me,” Tobin nodded before turning to camera one and smiling brightly. “Welcome back to The Emerald View!”
Christen was completely caught off guard by the statement, barely managing to fix a smile on her face and look at camera one as well.
“Our next caller is Monica from Puget Sound. What can we help you with this morning, Monica?” Christen read off the teleprompter, grateful for the words she didn’t have to think about.
“Well…this is a little weird and maybe awkward, but I’m a baby gay,” Monica said, already chuckling as she spoke.
“Cool,” Tobin nodded, her smile never faltering.
“We’ve all been there,” Christen added, fixing the camera with a reassuring half-smile.
“I’m trying to figure out how exactly you know if you’re a top or a bottom or how you figure out if someone else is a top or bottom. Or is that all just made up?” Monica asked, making Tobin’s cheeks flush even though it wasn’t her question. She couldn’t help that her first thought was of Christen, even if it shouldn’t have been.
“Well, I’m certainly glad we have such an early time slot because this answer is definitely not safe for work,” Christen replied with a soft laugh. “Thank you for asking it, Monica.”
“Thanks, Mon Mon,” Tobin grinned.
“Want to take the reins on this one?” Christen smirked, arching a brow in Tobin’s direction in a slightly challenging manner.
“Oh? Am I the expert?”
“That was a top test, Monica, and Heath didn't pass. So, I’ll start,” Christen said with a smile.
Tobin let out a loud laugh before pushing her mug out of the way and propping her feet up on the coffee table.
“Feet down, you heathen,” Christen chastised with an eye roll before looking at the camera.
“Make me,” Tobin smirked.
“Another top test, one I won’t fail,” Christen replied, smoothly shoving Tobin’s feet off the coffee table. “So, the whole top/bottom business is a complicated topic. I suggest diving into queer discourse and history to get all of the necessary backstory. But, honestly Monica, it seems to me that those are just two more labels people can attach to behaviors or personalities, in and out of the bedroom. If a label works for you, work it and use it. If it doesn’t, don’t stress about it. What matters most is what works for you and your partner,” she added, hoping Stella’s make-up job was covering up the blush in her cheeks and the mic couldn’t pick up the way her heart was pounding.
“So, I shouldn’t be stressing about that,” Monica sighed, her voice sounding relieved.
“Absolutely not. Tastes and preferences and even behaviors change over time. They’re fluid. So, for example, I could have been considered a power bottom in one relationship and then a service top in another, all depending on how I was feeling at the time, what I liked, and who my partner was and what they liked,” Christen explained.
Tobin reached for her mug and started drinking her water, praying that she could dislodge the thickness in her throat at Christen’s response.
“Heath? Anything to add?” Christen asked, arching a brow in Tobin’s direction.
“Nothing at all for Mon Mon?” Christen wondered with a playful glint in her eyes.
“I find that most people enjoy the ability to be both, even if they prefer one over the other. It’s always good to be in a relationship safe and comfortable enough to move between those more concrete labels whenever you feel like it,” Tobin said, forcing out something so she didn’t just look like a deer in the headlights.
“Have fun and explore, and be safe,” Christen added with a nod. “Anything else on your mind, Monica?”
“No, that was perfect. Thank you both,” Monica gushed.
For the next forty minutes, they continued to answer questions, some like Roger’s, and some like Monica’s, leaving the both of them shifting around on the couch and blushing.
Chapter 5: thing that you like
pizza, pants-less, and Pinot
we baaaaaaaack! enjoy y'all, this is a good one...
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“You’re good to go,” Erica said as Tobin handed over her mic.
“Crystal, when Roger calls in, send him to Pete from Seattle Photography. He owes me a favor, so he can do their photoshoot for free,” Christen called out to Crystal as she unclipped the box from her waistband and then unhooked the mic from her blouse.
“So well connected,” Tobin hummed, standing up and stretching her arms over her head.
“His husband sold me the place I’m in,” Christen explained, letting out a long tired breath as she rubbed at the skin beneath her watchband.
“Nice,” Tobin nodded, trying to figure Christen out still, especially after such a long episode of personal questions and requests for advice.
“How do you feel about pizza?” Christen asked, looking over at Tobin despite the hustle and bustle around them as the crew broke down equipment.
“It’s good at lunchtime too. Consider me swayed,” Christen said with a smile as she got to her feet.
“So…what’s your advice?” Tobin asked as the two of them headed out of the studio and down the hall.
“Pardon?” Christen replied, already pulling her blouse out from where it was tucked into the jeans.
“At the beginning of the segment, you gave me advice. What’s your advice request?”
“Oh, I…I don’t know. I couldn’t think of anything to ask,” Christen shrugged, the two of them moving into the wardrobe department and finding it empty.
“Is that true?” Tobin pressed, looking at Christen as she slipped her shoes off and put them on the rack.
Christen shrugged and grabbed her clothes from her chair that she always left them on, not exactly wanting to go down this road when she was already feeling vulnerable and very, very turned on after an hour of leading questions and answers and innuendos.
“You don’t need advice or you don’t want to ask me?” Tobin wondered, slipping out of the blazer she had on and hanging it up. “Real answer?”
Christen ignored the question and walked behind the curtained partition of the dressing room so she could change back into her sweats. She pulled the curtain into place and let out a deep breath once she wasn’t in Tobin’s line of sight.
“Okay, that’s cool,” Tobin continued to speak, unbuckling her belt and tugging her shirt out of her pants. “You can ask other people for advice. I’ll be the pizza person, not the advice person.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to ask you,” Christen said through the curtain, peeling her blouse off and hanging it up.
“You don’t have anything you need advice on, then,” Tobin hummed, tugging her belt off and hanging it up.
“No, I…I guess I don’t know if I want the answer,” Christen replied, shimmying out of her jeans and leaving her in just her bra and underwear.
“All righty,” Tobin mumbled, busying herself with unbuttoning and unzipping her pants.
Christen let out a deep sigh and leaned her forehead against the wall, her eyes falling shut as she lost the battle against saying something she knew she’d regret.
“The real answer is…how could I ask you for advice about… you ?” Christen called out softly, her voice coming out a little husky.
Tobin froze with her shirt off and her pants unzipped. She was silent for a moment before slowly walking across the room and standing near the dressing room.
“I mean…probably in a similar way that I asked for advice about you,” Tobin murmured quietly, bracing herself for whatever kind of rejection might come, whatever discomfort might appear in their work relationship because of the admission.
“That was about me?” Christen wondered softly, turning to look at the curtain separating them as she slipped her over-sized, long sleeve shirt on to somewhat cover herself up.
“Unless you don’t want it to be about you, and I’ll run away on the playground,” Tobin nearly whispered, her throat feeling thick and tight as she got the words out.
“Why run away before you’ve given me a chance to smile?” Christen asked, feeling her heart start to race in her chest at the direction this was heading.
“You said you didn’t do whatever that smile’s called for me,” Tobin mumbled, pushing a nervous hand through her hair.
“You didn’t use the right word. If you’d asked me if I do the Duchenne smile for you, I wouldn’t have said no,” Christen murmured.
“For someone who knows all about this Duchenne smile, I can’t help but wonder why you haven’t noticed that I do it for you all the time,” Tobin breathed out, leaning against the wall, not caring in the slightest that she was partially undressed.
Christen let out a shaky breath, pulling the sleeves of her shirt over her hands as she tilted her temple against the wall, the curtain still a barrier between them.
“You told me that I was being obvious. That I should play it closer to the vest next time.”
“What?” Tobin asked, her forehead scrunching in confusion and her heart sinking at those words.
“In the elevator, three years ago. You- you told me my crush was obvious. That I was wasting my time…crushing on you,” Christen mumbled, her stomach twisting at the admission.
Tobin let out a long sigh as guilt and shame flooded her chest.
“So, I guess I just listened to you really well, and thus, failed to notice your smile,” Christen added softly, an embarrassed flush creeping into her cheeks.
“I’m really sorry I said that,” Tobin whispered, squeezing her eyes shut. She didn’t remember the moment in the elevator, but she believed Christen. There was no doubt in her mind that at that moment, she’d been capable of saying something that harmful.
“It’s fine. It’s in the past,” Christen whispered back, letting out a soft, self-deprecating chuckle. “I’m partially glad you don’t remember it. It was…not my finest moment. Very embarrassing the way I practically threw myself at you.”
Tobin swallowed thickly and let out a long breath, keeping her eyes closed and her forehead pressed against the wall.
“I was- About two months before starting here, I went to the rehearsal dinner for what was supposed to be my wedding by myself. I got an email explaining that she couldn’t go through with it. It’s not an excuse for what I said because I never should have said it, but…I was miserable. And I think I just wanted everyone around me to match that misery. You didn’t do anything wrong in that elevator. I was out of line.”
Christen grabbed the curtain and pulled it open, her eyes finding Tobin’s honest ones, barely even registering that Tobin wasn’t in a shirt.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that she hurt you,” Christen replied, her voice gentle.
“I’m sorry I hurt you,” Tobin said, looking at Christen with apologetic eyes. If she’d worried about not having a chance with Christen before, she was pretty certain of it now.
“It’s okay,” Christen assured. “Really. Honestly, it was more embarrassing than devastating. And I got over it.”
“You remembered it for three years and clearly hated me because of it. It doesn’t have to be okay,” Tobin said, shooting Christen a tense smile. “I’m really sorry.”
“Hate is a strong word,” Christen challenged, trying to reassure Tobin with the softness of her own smile. “I didn’t hate you.”
“You are the sweet one,” Tobin said, pushing off the wall and keeping her small smile in place.
“I really didn’t like you, though,” Christen replied with a soft chuckle. “Immensely disliked you, in fact.”
Tobin let out a tiny huff of a laugh as she nodded. “Rightfully so,” she said in support of Christen’s dislike.
Christen hummed in acknowledgement, flicking her gaze down and finally noticing that Tobin was only in a sports bra, her pants unbuttoned and hanging low on her hips, showing off the elastic waistband of her briefs.
A fierce blush colored Christen’s cheeks as she dropped her eyes immediately to the floor.
“I’m glad I didn’t ask you for advice on camera. I don’t think our audience would know what to do with themselves,” Christen managed, her voice coming out breathy.
“You still didn’t ask me for advice,” Tobin murmured, trying to meet Christen’s eyes.
“Right,” Christen chuckled, pushing a hand through her curls and pointedly avoiding Tobin’s gaze. She felt like a giddy fan again with an all-consuming crush on one of Seattle’s most talented professional athletes, and she was standing in front of said crush in just an oversized t-shirt with an obvious blush in her cheeks.
“Is it…how to get your coworker to stop staring? Or how to get your coworker to stop asking you out on dates that aren’t officially dates? Or how to get your coworker to stop annoying you? Or how to get your coworker to read work emails and actually prep for segments?” Tobin asked, not wanting Christen to feel any sort of embarrassment, not when she’d caused so much painful embarrassment in the past.
“That last one does sound pretty good,” Christen replied with a small smile, finally meeting Tobin’s gaze. “But I’m hoping for some advice on how to…function around you. How to stop getting distracted. How to stop losing my train of thought when you smile at me.”
“I wish I had better advice for you. I can’t figure out how to do that myself just yet,” Tobin explained, her heart thudding against her ribcage.
“It’s maddening, isn’t it?” Christen asked, swallowing thickly as she crossed her arms over her chest.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this distracted,” Tobin agreed with a quick nod, her bottom lip now trapped between her teeth.
Christen flicked her eyes down to Tobin’s lips, the way Tobin was biting it nearly pulling some sort of groan or whine out of her, but Christen held it in. She met Tobin’s gaze again as she leaned her shoulder against the wall.
“I can’t get you out of my head,” Christen admitted softly.
“Neither can I. Not since starting the morning show,” Tobin admitted in return, releasing her bottom lip and then wetting it with a swipe of her tongue.
Christen shook her head, almost like she couldn’t quite believe that. It didn’t feel at all possible that Tobin was speaking the truth, that she’d managed to catch Tobin’s attention by being caustic and rude and biting.
“Will you just- God, just put a shirt on or something,” Christen deflected, her blush never faltering as she pushed a hand through her curls again.
“Is it distracting?” Tobin asked with a playful smirk.
Christen narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips at Tobin’s tone and response. “Possibly,” she replied evasively.
“You’re the one not wearing pants,” Tobin countered, finally letting her eyes look down at Christen’s bare legs.
“You interrupted me,” Christen said, noticing Tobin’s gaze and feeling her skin prickle with heat because of it.
“You opened the curtain.”
“You went heartfelt, how was I supposed to leave it shut?”
“You reminded me of what a dick I was, so how was I supposed to not apologize?” Tobin replied, her lips twitching slightly into a lopsided smile.
“Are we just going to keep going back and forth like this until one of us caves?” Christen asked, wetting her bottom lip with a quick swipe of her tongue.
“Are you gonna cave?” Tobin asked, her eyes moving down to Christen’s legs again.
“Are you?” Christen challenged.
“Is this another top test?” Tobin wondered, stepping just a bit closer.
“Depends. Are you going to fail it?”
An almost competitive glint appeared in Tobin’s eyes. She stepped closer, moving into the dressing room as Christen stepped back.
“What would be considered failing to you?” Tobin asked, tugging the curtain closed behind her.
“You already made it inside. No way to fail now,” Christen replied, her throat bobbing as she swallowed, her back pressed against the wall of the dressing room.
“You don’t want me to leave?” Tobin double checked as she took another step forward, watching Christen’s face.
Christen shook her head slowly, her eyes following Tobin’s every move.
“Even if I do something very much not workplace appropriate?” Tobin added, settling a hand on Christen’s hip.
“If you don’t, I will,” Christen replied, her eyes flashing down to Tobin’s lips before meeting her gaze again.
Tobin nodded before settling her other hand on Christen’s hip, tugging her close and finding Christen’s lips with her own in a kiss that she’d been imagining for months now, a kiss that was heated and desperate and wanting.
Christen felt that mix between a whine and a moan leave her as Tobin kissed her deeply. She wound one arm around Tobin’s shoulders and lifted her other hand to cradle Tobin’s jaw, her lips moving against Tobin’s like they were meant to. She pulled Tobin impossibly close, bringing their bodies flush together, the fabric of Tobin’s dress pants brushing against her bare thighs.
Tobin felt a fire settle low in her gut. It was one she hadn’t felt in an extremely long time. It was a fire that made her left hand move lower, sliding along the side of Christen’s bare leg. It was a fire that only burned hotter as she swiped her tongue along Christen’s bottom lip, as she sucked on Christen’s bottom lip, as she relished in a kiss that she’d wanted in a completely desperate way.
Christen gently rocked her hips into Tobin’s, encouraged to do it again by the hand Tobin had on the side of her bare thigh. As she rocked into Tobin again, nothing more than a slow grind, she parted her lips for Tobin’s tongue and then gently sucked on it once Tobin slid it into her mouth.
This time it was Tobin who let out a soft groan, her hands tightening on Christen’s waist and thigh, the fire in her gut getting hotter with each second. She felt a heat building between her legs after only a minute of kissing Christen. She felt a desire that was overpowering and all-consuming. And it took all of her strength to pull her lips away and press her forehead against Christen’s.
“Pizza,” Tobin muttered, her eyes still screwed shut.
“How the hell are you thinking about food at a time like this?” Christen panted, her fingers flexing against the hinge of Tobin’s jaw.
“Because if I don’t, I’ll want to do something that we really shouldn’t do at work,” Tobin nearly whined, her eyes remaining closed as she sucked in deep breaths.
“We could leave work,” Christen suggested, nuzzling Tobin’s nose as she got her breathing back under control, her lips still tingling.
“For pizza,” Tobin hummed, squeezing Christen’s waist softly.
“Too much?” Christen wondered, immediately moving her hand from Tobin’s cheek and her arm from around Tobin’s shoulders, a flash of guilt tearing through her at having given into the desire and the crackling chemistry between them without waiting to see if that was something Tobin wanted.
Tobin found Christen’s hand and immediately placed it back on her cheek, not wanting Christen to move away or feel uncomfortable.
“I’m not a womanizer,” she admitted, letting her eyes flutter open. “At all.”
“I know. You told me,” Christen murmured softly, her eyes moving between Tobin’s.
“Being…intimate with someone is a little anxiety-provoking after…everything,” Tobin mumbled, a blush spreading across her cheeks.
Christen’s eyes widened in surprise and apology, instantly pushing back against the wall to try and give Tobin a little more room.
“But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to,” Tobin added, trying to stay near Christen. “I want to. I’ve been wanting to. I’ve been wanting you. I just might be slow and out of practice and need a little patience.”
“I can do that,” Christen said with a small nod, realizing she’d probably agree to anything right now with Tobin looking at her like she was, with something more than desire, with something that resembled longing.
“That doesn’t mean I don’t want to kiss you. Or do this,” Tobin chuckled, squeezing Christen’s hip again. “Or eat pizza with you.”
“Let’s get pizza then,” Christen hummed, offering Tobin a soft smile.
“Is this one kind of a date?” Tobin asked, her heart nowhere near settling down.
“Yes, and maybe dinner tomorrow will be a real date,” Christen suggested, her soft smile turning shy for the briefest moment.
“I’ll buy you whatever bottle of wine you want,” Tobin promised, reaching up and brushing her thumb under Christen’s bottom lip where some chapstick was smeared.
Christen dipped her head slightly to place her lips on the pad of Tobin’s thumb, leaving a gentle kiss on it while her eyes held Tobin’s.
“I won’t leave before we order this time,” Christen promised.
“I won’t bet you into going with me,” Tobin assured with a soft, almost awestruck smile.
“I won’t kiss you too well before we leave this dressing room,” Christen added, her smile morphing into a playful smirk.
“You can kiss me as well as you’d like,” Tobin replied, practically sinking into Christen, wanting her again and again and again.
Christen leaned in and found Tobin’s lips with her own, keeping it just shy of desperate so they wouldn’t get carried away and forget about pizza.
“Walk me through this again,” Crystal chuckled, lying down on Christen’s bed and holding onto one of Christen’s pillows as she watched Christen dig through her closet. “When did we stop hating her and start wanting to jump her bones again?”
“Never hated, strongly disliked. Is wearing blue too on the nose?” Christen wondered, pointedly ignoring Crystal’s question as her hands traveled over blue blouses and a blue sweater.
Crystal just laughed, slipping her shoes off since this was going to be a long afternoon.
“I’m sure she’ll like whatever you wear. She’s been staring at you all week.”
Christen blushed and pulled the blue sweater from her closet, walking back over to the bed and dropping it next to the skirt she’d already picked out.
“I told her about what else she said in the elevator, about noticing my crush. One thing led to another and…we kinda, sorta made out in the wardrobe department yesterday, then got pizza for lunch, and both agreed to dinner tonight,” Christen explained, her blush darkening,
“Holy shit,” Crystal huffed, rolling across the bed and reaching out for a gold necklace that was on Christen’s bedside table. “What did she say about the elevator thing?”
“That she was sorry she hurt me,” Christen replied, fighting off a smile at the memory of their conversation and ensuing lack of a conversation.
“And how was the dressing room makeout sesh?” Crystal pried, a large grin on her face.
Christen couldn’t fight off the smile now. “Satisfactory,” she replied with a smirk.
“How was the lunch date?”
“Easy,” Christen hummed, her attention moving back to the outfit she had laid out on the bed. “And she’s a really good kisser. Like, really good. So all around, the talking part was great and the not-talking part was great too.”
“And she’s into you,” Crystal added with a smirk, happy to finally see her friend happy.
“It seems that way. I don’t see how but,” Christen replied as she moved back to the closet to find some shoes.
“You’re sexy and smart and keep her grounded,” Crystal said as she put the necklace on top of the sweater that Christen had picked out.
“I’ve spent the last two months being a bitch and somehow, to her, that was enticing. I just-” Christen sighed, dropping down onto the carpet next to her shoe rack. “It wasn’t really me . I mean it was, in some sense. My mom always told me I had a sharp wit when I was hurt. But…what if she wants this sexy, spicy woman and I’m not her? I’ve got a unicorn night light and Fruity Pebbles in my pantry.”
“Tobin has a serious sweet tooth. I think you’re safe with the Fruity Pebbles,” Crystal grinned, trying to lighten the worry. “And isn’t the thing that led to all of this you being vulnerable and honest about what happened in the past, not you being spicy?”
“Well…yeah,” Christen replied, leaning back against her closet door.
“So, if the date goes terribly, you’ll come over to my place and we’ll binge some reality TV and eat junk food. And if it goes well, then you get to plan another date. Whatever happens, you’ll survive.”
With a nod, Christen grabbed a pair of loafers and got back to her feet, her bottom lip pulled between her teeth and nerves clear on her face.
“Is the womanizer thing freaking you out?” Crystal asked, narrowing her eyes at the loafers.
“She explained it all and no, that’s not freaking me out since it’s not true,” Christen said, eyeing her outfit choice and wincing a little. “I look like I’m going to an interview.”
“I was gonna say that. Let me,” Crystal offered, slipping from the bed and walking into Christen’s closet.
Christen sank down onto the corner of her bed, running her hand across the material of her comforter as she watched Crystal pick out a far better outfit than she had.
“Can’t go wrong with a black dress, and this one isn’t too fancy or revealing. It’s a first date dress,” Crystal offered, holding out one of Christen’s most comfortable dresses.
Christen felt a slow, grateful smile make its way onto her face. This was the dress she’d worn to dinner with Tobin in Bellingham, and now she was getting a second chance at wearing it.
“If you want to stick with some blue, why not a cardigan?” Crystal suggested, pulling a cardigan off of a hanger and tossing it to Christen. She passed some black bootie heels to Christen and then leaned against the open closet door. “You’re gonna do great. What are those affirmations you overheard Tobin saying that you accidentally told me about and then swore me to secrecy about?” she added, smiling at Christen.
“I am confident. I am smart. I am funny. I am kind. I am desirable. I am worth people’s time,” Christen chuckled, standing up from the bed so she could get changed into the much more date-appropriate outfit.
“Take a page out of Tobin’s book, then,” Crystal grinned. “There’s a reason she says it. Why don’t you borrow it?”
Christen nodded and then let out a long breath, her eyes falling shut. “I am confident. I am smart. I am funny. I am kind. I am desirable. I am worth people’s time,” she mumbled under her breath.
“And on that note, I’m gonna leave before she gets here. Would you like me to call at 6:30 with a possible emergency?” Crystal asked, rolling off of Christen’s bed and heading to the door.
“Maybe at 7:00. I’ll text you if I need a call?” Christen chuckled.
“Sounds good,” Crystal hummed, walking back over and placing a kiss on Christen’s forehead before she headed out.
“Thanks, Crys,” Christen murmured, offering her best friend a big smile.
“Anytime!” Crystal called over her shoulder.
Once the door was shut, Christen set out to get ready, slipping into the dress and bootie heels Crystal had picked out for her. Light makeup and the navy blue cardigan completed the look. And by 5:50, Christen was nervously pacing the length of the downstairs floor of her house, repeating Tobin’s affirmations under her breath.
Tobin was early. She’d been parked a few blocks away for ten minutes because showing up twenty minutes early wasn’t something she was willing to do. It had made her too antsy to walk around her kitchen island, repeating her affirmations and praying to somehow come off cooler than she was.
I am confident. I am smart. I am funny. I am kind. I am desirable. I am worth people’s time.
It still spun in her head as she parked her car in front of Christen’s house ten minutes ahead of schedule.
For all she knew, Christen was still getting ready. So, she slowly undid her seatbelt and threw away the gum she’d been chewing in her car trash can. She’d settled on classic mint gum, since Christen didn’t like flavored pineapple. Not that she was expecting to kiss Christen on this date. She didn’t expect anything. Just because they’d kissed before didn’t mean they would now. She had to come in not expecting anything, prepared for anything. Unpreparedness was for idiots, and she was trying not to be that.
She slowly got out of the car with a small bouquet of lilies, doing something she hadn’t done in years and actually walking to the door to pick someone up. She swallowed down the lump in her throat and willed away the tightness in her stomach, especially when she realized she’d only killed two minutes of time and was still eight minutes early.
Tobin ran a hand through her hair once more and then knocked on the door, feeling every single one of her nerves go into overdrive.
“Oh, umm, give me a sec!” came Christen’s voice through the door.
“I can give you eight minutes. Sorry I’m early. There wasn’t traffic,” Tobin mumbled, nervously tugging at the back of her belt.
“No you’re fine! I just-” Christen faltered once she’d opened the door, her eyes finding Tobin on her porch. Her breath got caught in her throat and her eyes widened just marginally, taking in the flowers and the nervous half-smile and the tight-fitting navy blue button up. “I just needed my, umm- Hi.”
“Hi,” Tobin breathed out, resisting the urge to mess with her hair. “You look great…as usual. Not that you don’t look especially great. You always look great. Looking great is usual for you,” she stuttered, suddenly wanting to smack her head against one of the pillars that stood on Christen’s porch.
Christen felt her brow quirk up in amusement as her cheeks heated up at the compliment.
“This is usual?” she asked, unable not to tease just a little.
“Well, the circumstances aren’t,” Tobin replied, succumbing and running a hand through her hair.
“But the…look is?”
“You always look great,” Tobin murmured with blushing cheeks.
“You always look great too,” Christen repeated, a matching blush in her cheeks. “You do pop in blue. Like really pop. I think I’ve mentioned that before.”
“So do you,” Tobin laughed, finally releasing some tension. “I- Here, unless you’re allergic,” she offered, holding out the flowers.
Christen shook her head and took the flowers, bringing them up to her face and smelling them for a moment, her smile growing.
“You’re quite charming when you want to be, did you know that?” Christen asked, leaning back into her house to set the flowers in a vase with water that already held a few flowers.
“Pigs must be flying,” Tobin smirked, her smile goofier than a typical smirk she’d give Christen on camera.
“Hell’s freezing over too,” Christen teased.
Tobin let out another soft laugh and nodded.
“Shall we?” Christen wondered with a shy smile, her thumb moving across the skin under her watch band as she leaned against the doorframe.
“Yes, yeah,” Tobin nodded, taking a huge step back on Christen’s porch.
“Are you…nervous?” Christen wondered, stifling a small laugh when Tobin tripped over her welcome mat and righted herself quickly.
“That obvious?” Tobin chuckled, leaning down to straighten the mat.
“It’s just me,” Christen replied, grabbing her purse and then pulling the front door closed, stepping onto the porch, and joining Tobin. “We see each other every day, and talk every day. It’s…just me,” she repeated with a smile.
“There’s nothing just about you,” Tobin mumbled, stepping down the steps and waiting for Christen.
Christen blushed and moved down the steps, joining Tobin, following her to the car, the two of them exchanging shy glances the whole way. And when Tobin pulled open the passenger’s side door for her, Christen eased the rest of both of their nerves by pulling Tobin in for a quick but deep kiss, kissing Tobin a little senseless before sliding into the car.
“She gets to choose the wine,” Tobin said when their waiter asked for their drink order.
“A bottle of the Ken Wright Pinot, please,” Christen supplied, handing over the wine menu before shooting a smile across the table at Tobin.
“Fancy,” Tobin hummed as she opened her menu. “I assume. I have zero wine knowledge.”
“Me neither,” Christen said at a whisper, winking conspiratorially. “It just sounded nice.”
“Liar, I saw your wine segment,” Tobin snorted.
“You forget how scripted it used to be,” Christen replied with an affectionate eye roll. “I just read words about vintages and vines and full-bodied tastes and had no idea what any of it meant.”
“You’re dying to do a different show, aren’t you?” Tobin asked, tilting her head curiously.
Christen grew pensive, actually thinking about the question instead of brushing it off.
“No,” she said slowly. “But I do wish it was a mix of journalism and what we do now. People need light and happy, and I like being able to give that. But I also wish sometimes we- I mean, the morning show could be the ones to cover the breaking news.”
“Oil spills,” Tobin mumbled with an understanding nod of her head.
“Climate catastrophes, humanitarian crises…and some personal questions from my co-host,” Christen said with a small smile.
“And you went to school for the real journalism, so this is like personal torture,” Tobin observed.
“Again no,” Christen chuckled. “It’s not torture. You don’t have the ability,” she added, quoting something she’d said early on.
Tobin smiled at the soft jab, only pausing in thought when the waiter stopped by to drop off wine and give Tobin the chance to finally order gnocchi.
“But you wouldn’t be as angry if I brought something serious, like a humanitarian crisis, up and took the blame if Larry got mad?”
Christen pursed her lips and then took a sip of her wine before answering.
“We could do it together,” Christen suggested, feeling her heart flutter at the offer and the thoughtfulness behind it. “It’s our morning show, right?”
“Larry’s already threatened to fire me multiple times,” Tobin shrugged, unable not to smile at Christen’s suggestion.
“And people love us,” Christen tacked on, leaning her arms onto the table, bringing herself closer to Tobin as they brainstormed.
“Did you always want to do this? I mean, not this but journalism?” Tobin asked, curiosity finally allowing her to ask.
“Yes,” Christen chuckled with a slight blush. “I did my first news broadcast at four for my family on New Year’s Eve. I’ve always wanted to tell stories and help people. At least, I want to try.”
“I bet that was adorable,” Tobin grinned, her smile way bigger than it was on one of her meaningless dates with practical strangers.
“My co-anchor was Mr. Cuddles and topics ranged from hopes for lunch options the next day to whether the chore chart was fair. It was…well, my parents must love me a lot,” Christen said, her smile mirroring Tobin’s.
“I hope they filmed it,” Tobin replied, raising her eyebrows a little.
“You’ll never see it,” Christen teased.
“Tell that to Mr. and Mrs. Press. I bet I can find an email,” Tobin threatened. “Do they watch our show?”
Christen covered up her slight wince with another sip of wine.
“I feel like I’ve answered a hundred questions. Your turn,” she tossed back instead of answering.
“Is that code for your parents don’t watch it or they do and hate my guts?” Tobin asked with a sheepish smile.
“They don’t watch,” Christen replied with a sad, half-smile. “It’s fine. They’ll watch if I ever make it to the evening news or something.”
“That’s lame,” Tobin said bluntly.
Christen just shrugged and drained the rest of her wine.
“They didn’t send their kid to Princeton for her to run the morning show,” Christen replied.
“Well, my parents didn’t ask for a kid who’d basically major in soccer and then announce that she liked women, but they still watch what I do.”
Christen set her wine glass down, her eyes holding a shine of empathy as she slid her hand across the table and let it rest right beside Tobin’s, remembering Tobin’s words about intimacy. She didn’t touch, but she offered it.
“Is it the fate of daughters to feel like disappointments?” Christen wondered. “Or do we just need to adjust our definition of success?”
“My sisters seem to be big points of pride, but I think that’s just because they made my parents grandparents. But maybe you and I need to rethink success,” Tobin hummed, finding Christen’s hand with her own.
“What does it look like to you?” Christen asked softly, running her thumb across the back of Tobin’s hand.
“Finding happiness,” Tobin mused.
“And finding it with someone who maybe doesn’t give your parents grandchildren or finding it on a news network and not on the soccer field, is that enough?”
“Priorities change. It took me a while to wrap my head around that. It took me a long time to realize that I wouldn’t have my seventeen-year old ankles or knees forever,” Tobin added with a lopsided smile. “But there’s happiness in other things.”
“In other people too,” Christen echoed. “So long as they go along with and support the changing priorities and definitions.”
“I suppose,” Tobin nodded, having never really experienced full, unconditional support from another person.
“Is that news? Pun unintentional,” Christen said with a small smile, squeezing Tobin’s hand gently.
“Yes,” Tobin chuckled.
“But weren’t you engag- I mean, sorry we don’t have to talk about that,” Christen winced slightly. “We can talk about something else. Anything else. Like…do you really think I resemble a cactus? Or what was that lightning cage fun fact?”
“I don’t think you resemble a cactus,” Tobin laughed, finding Christen’s rambling adorable. “The lightning cage was built for Cirque du Soleil but the performer got shocked, so he refused to do the trick. And yes…I was engaged to someone who didn’t support changes like that,” she finished, swallowing a little at the last statement.
“That is an interesting fact,” Christen acknowledged, growing quiet for a few moments, focusing on the feeling of Tobin’s hand in her own. “And…I’m sorry you didn’t have someone who supported changing priorities and definitions and all that. They weren’t the one for you…which is their loss.”
“I suppose,” Tobin repeated, taking a moment to sip from her wine glass and ease the ache in her chest.
“Is that also news? Pun intended this time,” Christen murmured, cracking a small smile.
“That it’s their loss?” Christen supplied, her smile moving into something a little softer, more empathetic. “Is that news?”
“It’s a work in progress,” Tobin answered honestly, brushing her own thumb along Christen’s hand.
“I hope for continued progress then,” Christen murmured in reply.
“Me too,” Tobin grinned.
Christen mirrored Tobin’s smile and used her free hand to pour them both more wine, biting her tongue to keep from asking any more questions about this topic. Despite her curiosity, she had to remind herself this was kind of like a first official date. It wasn’t the time to unload emotional baggage or dive too deep. Even if it was easy to talk to Tobin, easier than she thought it would be, they should keep it light. Happy.
“The shelter asked if we wanted Wendy back for our Wednesday shows,” Christen smoothly pivoted with a smile.
“Is Wendy going to be nice to me?” Tobin asked with a goofier looking smile. “She was only interested in you last time.”
“I had the treats. Anybody who does is her best friend,” Christen chuckled.
“Do you want her for Wednesdays?” Tobin asked.
“I miss her,” Christen admitted with a small nod. “But if you don’t, we don’t have to-”
“I love dogs,” Tobin assured, with a quick nod. “I really love dogs. She’s welcome on Wednesdays.”
“Yeah?” Christen asked, excitement bleeding into her voice.
“It’s great publicity for the shelter too,” Tobin added, loving that her response had made Christen’s eyes that bright.
“Right? That’s why I brought Wendy on in the first place. She’s from this small shelter downtown and since we started Wednesdays with Wendy, so many dogs have found a home. Except Wendy, unfortunately,” Christen replied, melancholy mixing with her excitement with her final few words.
“Why don’t you adopt her?” Tobin wondered, her interest and awe in the woman across from her only growing as dinner continued.
“I’ve thought about it,” Christen acknowledged. “But I just don’t think- I don’t know. She should be in a house with a family. With love. You know?”
“You’d love her. Dogs don’t need a lot of people. They need a lot of love, and a family can be one person and a dog,” Tobin said, tilting her head to the side as she met Christen’s eyes.
“Maybe that’s my work in progress,” Christen shrugged.
“You could always foster her, but I’ll just let her do the convincing on Wednesdays,” Tobin acquiesced.
“I could but- I don’t do anything halfway. Ever. That’s why I’m hesitant to…let her in. I want to be able to give her everything she deserves,” Christen said softly, saying more with her words than they appeared at first glance. “My yard isn’t fenced, so,” she added to keep things light, a smile tugging at her lips.
“Maybe later then,” Tobin hummed, squeezing Christen’s hand gently.
“Maybe,” Christen nodded with a small smile.
“I didn’t used to do things halfway. I usually don’t unless I really don’t care, but I don’t enjoy doing things halfway,” Tobin said, following Dr. Colter’s advice again and offering something of herself up that she hadn’t before.
“I don’t want to do this halfway. But if your…backyard isn’t fenced or whatever analogy you prefer to use, I understand.”
“I don’t…” Tobin cringed, knowing what was about to come out of her mouth. “I don’t ring doorbells. That’s like the most dick behavior in the world, and my mom would kick my butt, but I text or honk the horn,” she admitted with a guilty blush spreading across her cheeks.
“Is…that a metaphor?” Christen wondered, her forehead wrinkling adorably as she tried to follow what Tobin was saying.
“I rang your doorbell,” Tobin mumbled, her blush darkening at the lack of understanding.
Christen looked across the table at Tobin, her forehead wrinkling for another moment or two before clarity flashed across her features, followed quickly by a light dusting of pink in her cheeks.
“You’re not doing this halfway either?” Christen supplied, her voice lilting at the end so it came out more like a question, inviting Tobin to confirm it if she wanted to.
“No, my intention is to do it the full way,” Tobin nodded.
“So…you want to go all the way with me?” Christen teased, her green eyes sparkling with mirth.
“I was desperately trying not to make that joke,” Tobin laughed, her own eyes crinkling.
“Don’t try so hard next time,” Christen winked, running her pointer finger along the side of Tobin’s. “Despite what I said a while ago, you are pretty funny.”
“Wooow, I’m like..really winning you over,” Tobin smirked playfully.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself. This is a reservation for two, not two plus your ego,” Christen smirked back, their banter easy like always. Only now, it was full of care, of something resembling tenderness. It was playful and flirty and sweet.
“Didn’t you know, there were three at this table?” Tobin gasped. “I thought it was weird you weren’t addressing her, but I didn’t want to say anything and make you feel awkward.”
Christen let out a warm chuckle and squeezed Tobin’s hand in her own.
“I’m really happy I’m here, third-wheeling you and your ego.”
“What time is Crystal supposed to call for a fake emergency?” Tobin asked with a teasing smile on her lips.
“In fifteen minutes,” Christen laughed.
“Good to know,” Tobin chuckled.
Christen used her free hand to grab her phone from her purse, shooting off a quick text to Crystal to tell her no emergency call was needed. She then put her phone back in her purse and smiled.
“I’m all yours. So why don’t you tell me your most embarrassing childhood memory and we can get back to this date,” Christen suggested, reaching out to run her fingertips of her free hand along the back of Tobin’s hand as she waited for Tobin to answer.
“Have you ever seen anyone run straight into a goal post during a goal celebration?” Tobin asked with a huge smile.
“No, but I will accept a reenactment once we leave this restaurant,” Christen smirked.
“Absolutely not,” Tobin snorted. “That’s how I lost a majority of my baby teeth.”
“Oh my God,” Christen laughed, continuing to trace mindless patterns across the back of Tobin’s hand and up her wrist. “Tell me everything. No-teeth Tobin was probably adorable.”
Tobin threw the car into park and slipped out of her seat within seconds. It wasn’t that she wanted the date to end. She didn’t. She just wanted it to end the right way, not like the others, not like she didn’t care.
She pulled open Christen’s door and offered a smile, one that was shyer than intended because of the light blush in her cheeks.
“Thank you,” Christen hummed, sliding her hand into Tobin’s and accepting help out of the car.
“Thank you,” Tobin murmured as they slowly made their way up Christen’s front path and toward the front door.
“For…well it’s probably more than just a second chance, isn’t it? Like a third or fourth one?” Tobin explained.
“Probably, but you don’t have to thank me for that,” Christen replied softly, keeping her hand in Tobin’s as they walked slowly to her door.
“Too late. I just did,” Tobin teased, climbing each step up to Christen’s porch and wishing for a little more time.
“Do you want umm- a drink? Or coffee? Just that. A drink or coffee. Nothing else. I don’t- I don’t want this to end just yet,” Christen stumbled over her words, making her feel like she was in an elevator with Tobin Heath and it was three years ago once more.
With the hint of a smile on her lips Tobin leaned forward and just barely brushed a kiss along Christen’s cheek.“Coffee sounds great,” she added at a whisper.
“Yeah?” Christen breathed out, instinctively leaning into Tobin just a bit as she shivered at the feeling of Tobin’s lips on her cheek.
“Yeah,” Tobin nodded, wrapping an arm around Christen to keep her close, despite knowing that if Christen tried she could probably hear or feel her racing heart.
“Just plain milk and sugar right?” Christen whispered, lingering in Tobin’s space, her forehead pressed against Tobin’s.
“Mhm,” Tobin hummed. “And you like seasonal flavors.”
“I do,” Christen murmured, staying in Tobin’s space for as long as she could on the front porch. “Thanks for noticing.”
“You’re warm,” Tobin mumbled, resting her hand on the back of Christen’s sweater.
“I’ve felt warm all night,” Christen admitted, holding back a sigh when she could feel Tobin’s touch through her sweater.
“Me too,” Tobin agreed with a dopey smile.
“So…coffee?” Christen asked softly, not making any move to go inside, her forehead still against Tobin’s as she lingered.
“Coffee,” Tobin echoed, only shuffling to the door slightly.
Christen kept her hand in Tobin’s as she led her inside, locking the front door behind them as she made her way into the kitchen, Tobin following close behind her. She flipped on lights and toed off her bootie heels.
“Let me just turn the coffee maker on,” Christen murmured, squeezing Tobin’s hand and reluctantly moving away from her.
“Nice house,” Tobin complimented, looking around the warm, vibrant kitchen.
“Thanks. I bought it myself,” Christen teased, adding water to the coffee maker and then grabbing the coffee grounds from the cupboard.
“How very adult of you,” Tobin chuckled while pausing to look at a few pictures on the fridge.
Christen let out a soft chuckle and pushed a few buttons to start the coffee machine.
“This will take a few minutes,” Christen murmured, turning and leaning back against the counter, her hands curled around the edge of the countertop.
“I don’t really go into other people’s houses after dates either,” Tobin admitted, nervously running a hand through her hair. “So that etiquette is lost on me.”
“Are you freaking out just a little bit?” Christen wondered with a soft smile on her face.
“Yep, just a little,” Tobin nodded, her smile sheepish and her cheeks pink.
“It wouldn’t offend me or bother me if you wanted to go. If you aren’t ready for…coffee after a date,” Christen offered in a quiet voice, her eyes locked with Tobin’s.
“I don’t particularly want to go, though,” Tobin replied, finding a seat at Christen’s table and gripping onto the back of the chair as she pulled it out from under the table.
“Is there something I can do to make you feel more comfortable here?” Christen wondered, keeping her distance for now until Tobin stopped looking so skittish.
“No, I- I’m pretty sure this is just something I’ll eventually get comfortable with but will be uncomfortable to start. Not that you make me uncomfortable…or your house. You’re great,” Tobin blurted out, making sure she didn’t offend Christen.
Christen eyed the embarrassed flush in Tobin’s cheeks, a smile making its way onto her face. She held out a hand, a playful quirk in her eyebrow.
“Want to see something? Maybe it’ll help you feel less uncomfortable.”
“Yeah, sure,” Tobin nodded, taking Christen’s offered hand and letting her lead the way.
Christen led them down the hallway and to the sliding glass door that led to the backyard. She opened the door and pulled Tobin through, shutting it behind them. They stood together on her small wooden porch, the dark sky overhead. Before Tobin could ask what they were doing out here, Christen flipped a switch and turned on strings of market lights hung up around the backyard, illuminating the trees and the flowerbeds.
“Go sit,” Christen suggested softly, gesturing at a trio of lounge chairs situated around a small fire pit. “I’ll bring your coffee.”
“So I’m not in your house,” Tobin laughed quietly. “That’s very cute.”
“I have my moments. And I’m hopeful you’ll want to stick around to see some of them,” Christen murmured, squeezing Tobin’s hand before moving back toward the sliding door. “Be right back.”
And Tobin was positive. She knew that she wanted to stick around. She hadn’t been lying or over exaggerating when she’d said she wanted to do this fully. She wanted to go on a second and third and fourth date. She wanted to feel comfortable and safe again with someone, and she wanted that someone to be Christen.
And every single part of that scared her senseless.
first kiss, check. first date, check. what could possibly be next?
we'll update soon! love y'all.
-sam & emma
Chapter 6: wild eyes on the road
signed books, superlatives, and sunrises
we need all the comfort we can get on a day like today. sending healing vibes to the nutmeg Queen, TH ✨
one of many updates to come...
“So I did a thing,” Tobin said as soon as she took her typical seat in Dr. Colter’s office.
“I’d like to buy a few adjectives,” Dr. Colter replied with a chuckle.
“A very cool, extremely scary, hopefully not detrimental thing.”
“You went on a real date, didn’t you?”
“Yes, and not like the dates I’ve been going on to get you off my back. It was with Christen,” Tobin explained, practically jumping out of her seat.
Dr. Colter offered Tobin an amused smile.
“So you two are seeing one another?” Dr. Colter wondered, her lips pursed and her notebook closed as she focused on Tobin.
“Yes. We talked through everything, and I apologized. And now we’re seeing each other…if a lunch date and then a dinner date and a scheduled third date constitutes seeing someone.”
Dr. Colter chuckled and nodded. “It sounds like it to me. How do you feel about the third date?”
“She’s planning it, so I feel less stress in that department but still general jitters,” Tobin replied.
“General jitters are good and normal. What do you like most about her?”
“She’s…real. What I like most is what scares me the most. She’s real and genuine, and she wants real and genuine in return,” Tobin answered around the lump in her throat.
“Are you ready for that?” Dr. Colter asked gently.
“I want to be.”
“But are you ready for that right now?”
“It’s been three years. I’m tired of that one moment controlling everything. I want to be ready, and I want it to be her. She said she’s willing to be patient,” Tobin mumbled, running a hand through her hair.
Dr. Colter silently appraised Tobin for a few moments and asked her final question.
“Are you ready for that for her or are you ready for it for you ?”
“For me. I feel like I’m ready to try. I wouldn’t have asked her out if I didn’t feel ready,” Tobin answered.
“I'm glad, Tobin. I truly am.”
“You’re not just saying that to gas me up?” Tobin wondered, all of her fear and worry evident on her face.
“That would be a highly unethical and terrible thing for someone in my position to do. I’m happy for you as your therapist and I’m happy for you as your friend. Being ready to try is all I’ve ever wanted for you, Tobin.”
“Thank you,” Tobin replied, sinking back into the couch in slight relief. “She’s really beautiful. Inside and out,” she added quietly.
“Does she make you feel that way?” Dr. Colter asked, more as a friend than a therapist, a fond smile on her face.
“Yeah, she does,” Tobin nodded.
“That’s fantastic,” Dr. Colter grinned. “I'd like to add another affirmation to your list then. After I am worth people's time, I want you to say to yourself, ‘I am ready to be worth my own time.’ Think you could do that?”
“I can do that,” Tobin agreed, feeling a familiar lump form in her throat.
“Want to try it once for me?” Dr. Colter asked softly.
Tobin swallowed thickly, not wanting to cry for the millionth time in this office, not today when she felt lighter than she had in years.
“I am ready to be worth my own time,” Tobin echoed, letting the affirmation settle deep in her chest.
“She’s not going to fix you, because you don’t need to be fixed. She’s not going to give you the answer to the question you’ve been torturing yourself with, because that answer isn’t one she has or one you need. She’s hopefully just going to keep making you feel beautiful and worthy. Because you are ,” Dr. Colter said fiercely, holding out a box of tissues. “I’m proud of you and I'm happy for you.”
“I don’t want her to fix anything. That’s not on her. I just…I really like her,” Tobin murmured, unable to stop the small smile that slipped onto her lips.
“I hope your third date goes just as well as the first two,” Dr. Colter said in reply, unable not to exhale deeply in gratitude that Tobin looked so calm and peaceful about this.
“Me too,” Tobin grinned, squeezing the pillow she had in her lap.
Christen kept her eyes on the papers in her hands, situated on her end of the orange couch.
It took everything in her not to look over at where Tobin was getting her makeup touched up by Stella. She didn’t want to see Stella leaning into Tobin’s space. So, she focused on the agenda for the show to come and willed away the slight flicker of jealousy.
They’d agreed to keep it professional at work, but that didn’t mean their flirty banter went anywhere. It was still there, an undercurrent in their daily segments every day so far this week. And if Christen found Tobin annoyingly charming before, now she found Tobin endearingly charming.
It was a lovely combination. Except when Stella was batting her eyelashes and giggling.
Christen rolled her head from side to side then resisted the urge to crumple the papers in her hand. Instead, she kept her eyes downcast as Tobin walked over to the orange couch and flopped down just like she always did.
“I think she missed a spot,” Christen commented nonchalantly.
“Where?” Tobin asked, lifting her hands to her face and feeling for a lack of foundation.
Christen looked up and arched a brow. “It’s a spot she clearly wanted to get.”
“What?” Tobin asked, still moving her hands under her jaw where Stella had applied makeup to match Tobin’s face and neck.
Christen leveled Tobin with a disbelieving look. She then quickly checked their surroundings and finding that they were in a pocket of privacy, she leaned closer.
“You’re not allowed to be this adorably aloof just because we’re seeing each other now. Stella still wants to…score in the Heath goal,” Christen whispered before sitting back and looking back down at the papers in her lap. “And it might not have bothered me before, but it bothers me now.”
“I don’t take people on dates who are dating other people. It’s a rule,” Tobin shrugged, replying nonchalantly. “And I’m kind of busy these days.”
Christen pursed her lips and lifted a hand to tousle her curls as she got comfortable on the couch.
“Busy? Is that so?”
“Mhm,” Tobin nodded. “I have dates to plan and work and a golden retriever to pick up for Wednesdays with Wendy.”
“That is quite the packed schedule,” Christen hummed with a small smile playing at her lips.
“Plus, she’s not on my list,” Tobin whispered, winking over at Christen.
“You have a list?” Christen wondered, her eyes sparkling and her stomach flipping at the wink Tobin shot her.
“Oh, yeah,” Tobin nodded, still keeping her voice conspiratorially quiet.
“Pray tell, who has made it onto such an illustrious list?” Christen asked, her voice matching Tobin’s in volume.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Tobin teased, her smirk morphing into a dopey smile.
“In fact, I would,” Christen grinned.
“It’s a very selective list. So selective, in fact, that only one name is on it right now,” Tobin hummed, running a hand through her hair as she spoke.
“Just one? Must be some person,” Christen murmured, unconsciously sliding closer to Tobin.
“She is,” Tobin replied as she messed with the collar of the button-up Jess had put her in.
Christen clicked her tongue and scooted even closer, knocking Tobin’s hand away.
“You’re wrinkling it,” Christen said softly, straightening Tobin’s collar for her, dragging her fingertips against the side of Tobin’s throat in the process.
“It’s itchy,” Tobin mumbled, feeling her heart speed up with Christen’s touch.
“Do you want to change?” Christen wondered, smoothing the collar out before lifting her eyes to meet Tobin’s.
“Five minutes!” Crystal called out.
“I’m gonna tough it out, it seems,” Tobin chuckled.
“I can stall,” Christen offered with a playful smile as she scooted back to her side of the couch.
“I’d love to see that,” Tobin grinned, “but I think I can manage. Maybe I’ll surprise folks at home and change during a commercial break,” she teased, draping her arm over the back of the couch, her index finger brushing against Christen’s back.
“I’d love to see that,” Christen whispered with a playful smile, fighting off a shiver at Tobin’s touch.
“Oh, really?” Tobin asked, cocking her head to the side and smirking over at Christen.
“I’m sure that’s very shocking,” Christen chuckled, biting back a large smile when she saw their sound guy move onto the stage to get them both situated with mics. “Hey Danny,” she greeted.
“You can keep flirting. Don’t need to stop on my account,” Danny laughed, handing Tobin her mic so she could thread it under her shirt.
“Flirting? Who’s flirting?” Christen wondered with an innocent shrug and a smile.
“I don’t even know how to flirt,” Tobin added, smiling sweetly.
“It’s definitely not in her skill set,” Christen added with a wink for Tobin.
“Whatever she’s doing seems to be working for you,” Danny chuckled, handing over Christen’s mic and then checking to make sure Tobin’s was on.
Christen blushed and clipped the mic to the lapel of her blazer.
“I’m wearing her down,” Tobin said to Danny as she flashed Christen a smile.
“Seems to be working both ways,” Danny offered with a laugh before walking off now that both mics were on and functioning.
“You’re going to get us caught,” Christen whispered to Tobin, covering her mic and fixing her blazer at the same time.
“You were the one fixing my collar, Ms. Handsy,” Tobin whispered back, covering her own mic.
“You were the one making it hard not to be handsy,” Christen shot back with playfully narrowed eyes.
“Mhm,” Tobin hummed with an eye roll.
“I didn’t want you to be itchy,” Christen continued with a smile.
“I’m sure,” Tobin replied, wiggling her eyebrows a little in Christen’s direction. “You’re very thoughtful.”
“I’m nothing if not thoughtful,” Christen grinned.
“The most thoughtful,” Tobin grinned, her index finger brushing against Christen’s shoulder as she spoke.
“How do you feel about seafood?” Christen asked, knowing they had moments before Crystal would start their countdown and wanting to make the most of them.
“I’m a fan,” Tobin answered. “Are you gonna make that joke where you eat something and open your mouth to show me?”
“The goal is for you to find me attractive, so…no,” Christen chuckled, catching Crystal’s eye and giving her a nod.
“I already do,” Tobin whispered, brushing her finger against the back of Christen’s shoulder once more and then turning toward the camera.
Christen’s blush stayed in her cheeks through their introduction and the start of their Tuesday morning show.
They shared blushes back and forth for two weeks. Each of them found time to plan dates. Christen planned a dinner at a seafood restaurant, followed by Tobin taking her to one of her favorite diners, followed by an evening spent baking cookies at Christen’s house.
Each date left Tobin feeling slightly less nervous about planning another one but slightly more terrified at the idea of Christen getting even closer and having a greater ability to wreck her if she left.
The nerves did nothing to curb Tobin’s desire to spend as much time with Christen as possible. It was exhilarating to make Christen laugh, one of her full-bodied laughs that made her reach out for Tobin’s arm to stay standing. It was addicting to feel Christen’s hand in her own or brushing across her back or tucking hair behind her ear. It was incredible to hear what Christen was thinking or ask Christen questions about her life and her thoughts and her dreams.
Everything about Christen was overwhelming in the best way possible, and as scared as it made Tobin sometimes when she was alone in bed at night and over-thought things, the fear didn’t keep her away.
She couldn’t stay away.
“See something you like?” Christen asked, her voice amused as she leaned against the doorframe, her eyes on Tobin and the way she was completely zoned out on her bookshelf.
“Yes,” Tobin grinned, turning her head to look at Christen.
“What caught your eye?” Christen wondered, gesturing at the bookshelf before pushing off the doorframe and setting the wine glasses she’d filled onto the chest near the door of her office.
“You have a book with my face on the cover,” Tobin mumbled, shooting Christen a goofy smile as she pointed at a book about the USWNT’s Olympic Gold Medal win in her last Olympic Games.
“I thought I put that away,” Christen blushed, grabbing the book from the shelf and holding it behind her back.
“You don’t have to hide it,” Tobin chuckled, stepping forward and trying to reach behind Christen.
Christen moved back and avoided Tobin’s grasp, keeping the book behind her back as she dodged Tobin, a small laugh leaving her lips.
“Oh, yes I do!”
“Why’s that?” Tobin laughed, lunging forward and getting an arm around Christen’s waist. “Did you take notes in it?”
“No,” Christen flushed, managing to twist in Tobin’s grasp to keep the book behind her back.
“Did you?” Tobin asked, getting a hand on the book, her body moving even closer to Christen’s.
“No!” Christen protested with a huff of laughter.
“Did you draw little hearts?” Tobin asked with a cocky smirk.
Christen’s back hit the wall, the book and Tobin’s arm trapped behind her back. Her blush deepened, not just from what she was trying to hide in the book, but also from their proximity.
“No,” Christen managed, her eyes locked with Tobin’s as her chest rose and fell rapidly.
“Can I see it?” Tobin whispered, leaning forward and brushing her lips across Christen’s cheek and toward her jaw.
Christen’s breath stuttered as her eyes fluttered shut, a familiar heat prickling across her skin at the feeling of Tobin’s lips.
“Umm, if you- if you want,” Christen breathed out, her voice low and hoarse. She had to remind herself to stay still, not to reach out, not to touch. It was at Tobin’s speed, at Tobin’s pace. Tobin had admitted to feeling anxious about certain things, about being physical and intimate, and Christen respected that. So, she hadn’t initiated anything since their kiss on their first date. Tobin had kissed her a few more times since then, but only briefly, fleetingly.
“Did you take notes?” Tobin repeated, getting the book out of Christen’s grip and setting it on the nearest side table, her other arm wrapping around Christen’s waist.
“You signed it,” Christen mumbled, her cheeks heating even more.
Tobin cocked her head to the side, both arms now around Christen’s waist, keeping Christen pressed against the wall with her body.
“Yes,” Christen whispered, her arms still resting by her sides. “I waited for two hours at a Barnes and Noble near Pike’s Place.”
“Was I an ass?” Tobin asked quietly, tracing her nose along Christen’s cheek.
“No. It was…five or six years ago. You were shy. Sweet. I barely got four words out but you smiled anyway and it was…you’ve got a great smile,” Christen said softly, her hands flexing at her sides as she melted into Tobin’s touch.
“I always felt really uncomfortable at those signings,” Tobin admitted, leaning back to look at Christen but keeping her arms in place around her.
“You hid it well,” Christen complimented.
“I didn’t really understand why people wanted to wait in line for my signature,” Tobin murmured, tracing her fingers along Christen’s spine.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t in line for your signature,” Christen replied, shivering at the feeling of Tobin’s fingers tracing over the back of her sweater.
“Mmm, Carli’s? Megan’s? Ashlyn’s?” Tobin guessed.
“I just really like lines,” Christen teased, finally moving her hands to Tobin’s hips, gently holding onto the woman in front of her.
Tobin’s breath hitched in her throat at the contact, and she sank even closer to Christen. “Lines are fun,” she mumbled, brushing her forehead against Christen’s.
“Totally,” Christen whispered, nuzzling her nose along Tobin’s and keeping her hands still, squeezing Tobin’s hips gently just once. “I like lines, and I had a really big crush on this winger who played for the Reign. So it was worth the wait.”
“You had a crush on me then?” Tobin asked, her voice full of awe.
“Yeah…so there are some hearts in the book but in my defense, I was twenty-four,” Christen blushed, running her thumbs across the soft material of Tobin’s button up.
Tobin couldn’t hold back the dopey smile that spread across her lips or the way her hands were now splayed across Christen’s lower back holding Christen flush against her own body.
“Hearts near pictures of me?” Tobin asked at a whisper, her lips now a breath away from Christen’s.
“No comment,” Christen whispered back, but the smile threatening to break out across her face gave her away.
“So, you’d be completely jazzed if I had an extra jersey and said you could have it?” Tobin chuckled, letting her eyes flutter shut as she sank into this kind of closeness she hadn’t felt with another person in years.
“Jazzed would be underselling it. But you don’t need to- whatever you’re comfortable with,” Christen amended quietly, leaning her head back and away from Tobin’s so she could tilt up to press a soft kiss to Tobin’s forehead. “Whatever you’re comfortable with,” she repeated, whispering the words into Tobin’s skin.
“You want a Reign jersey or a National Team jersey?” Tobin asked, unable to stop herself from leaning forward and kissing the edge of Christen’s jaw.
Christen pressed her smile into Tobin’s hair. “I wouldn’t say no to either,” she hummed.
Tobin grinned before she continued to drop kisses along Christen’s jaw, taking her time once she got to the corner of Christen’s jaw.
“God, Tobin,” Christen breathed out shakily, her grip on Tobin’s hips tightening.
“I really want to kiss you before dinner gets here,” Tobin whispered as she worked her way slowly toward Christen’s lips.
Christen gasped softly when she felt Tobin’s lips move over her chin with no hesitation as she continued upward. Her grip on Tobin’s waist tightened and her heart sped up in anticipation.
“Is that okay?” Tobin asked, hovering a breath away from Christen’s lips.
“Yes,” Christen whispered in reply, not daring to cross the final bit of space between them, knowing it had to be Tobin who did.
Tobin erased the last bit of space, slotting her lips with Christen’s in the gentlest, most intentional kiss she’d ever given. Her arms kept hold of Christen, her fingers continued to move along Christen’s spine, and her lips moved slowly against Christen’s.
The kiss had Christen’s stomach flipping and her heart hammering in her chest. It couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, but it was perfect in its brevity. The brush of their lips was soft, shy. A little hesitant, exploratory.
Breaking the kiss, Christen leaned her forehead against Tobin’s and let out a shaky breath, her lips tingling and her skin prickling and her heart soaring.
“I like kissing you,” Tobin murmured as she bumped her nose against Christen’s.
“I like kissing you . But whatever you’re comfortable with, when you’re comfortable with it,” Christen breathed out, the corner of her mouth lifting into a small smile.
“Where did you come from?” Tobin hummed, reaching up and tucking a curl behind Christen’s ear.
Christen lifted a shoulder and leaned into Tobin’s touch.
“I’ve been here,” Christen replied softly.
“I’m glad you kept the book,” Tobin whispered before pressing another kiss to the corner of Christen’s mouth.
“Me too,” Christen murmured, turning her head to capture Tobin’s lips with her own. She wanted another kiss. And another. And another. She wanted as many as Tobin would give her. Kissing Tobin was a dream.
Tobin felt herself sink into Christen’s arms. Her heart raced each time her lips touched Christen’s. Her entire body felt warm and light, longing to touch and hold and stay in this moment for as long as she could.
In hindsight, it was really only partially Christen’s fault for what happened next. It was on Tobin for being so irresistible and charming and also sweet and shy all at the same time. But it was Christen who moved to deepen the kiss, her hands moving up Tobin’s sides as her tongue swept along Tobin’s bottom lip and into Tobin’s mouth. It was Christen who accelerated things, despite being so cognizant and careful for the past few weeks.
But again, Tobin was irresistible and charming and sweet and shy, and Christen was only human.
It was when Christen’s hands wandered a little further down her back, when they tugged at Tobin’s sweater that Tobin felt her stomach tense slightly.
“Chris,” she mumbled against Christen’s lips.
“Sorry. I’m- I’m sorry,” Christen blurted, dropping her hands quickly down to her sides and moving back so rapidly that she bumped into the wall behind her.
“Don’t be sorry,” Tobin insisted, reaching for Christen’s hands to put them back on her waist. “You’re the one being accommodating. You don’t need to be sorry.”
“You’re very easy to get lost in,” Christen sighed with a small, apologetic half-smile, barely holding onto Tobin’s waist, not wanting to touch too much or too hard.
“I want you to touch,” Tobin whispered, keeping her hands on Christen’s as a slight blush heated her cheeks.
“Where?” Christen whispered back, allowing herself to add a little more pressure with her touch, leaning back into Tobin once more.
“Here is good. I’ll tell you if I need the brakes to be pumped,” Tobin promised, leaning her forehead against Christen’s.
“Hips, good,” Christen acknowledged, nuzzling her nose along Tobin’s. “Ribs?” she asked as she slowly moved her hands up Tobin’s sides, not going too high.
“Good,” Tobin hummed, taking Christen’s bottom lip between her own in a soft kiss.
Christen smiled into the kiss and then moved her lips down Tobin’s cheek.
“Jaw?” she mumbled into Tobin’s skin, her lips painting murals across Tobin’s skin, tracing the hard line of Tobin’s jaw from the left side, right below her ear, all the way over to the right.
“Good,” Tobin breathed out, tightening her grip on Christen.
“Neck?” Christen wondered, continuing her path as she placed gentle kisses along the side of Tobin’s throat, first the right and then the left.
Christen ignored the impulse to suck on Tobin’s neck or flick her tongue across Tobin’s pulse point. Instead, she kept her lips soft as she kissed back up, over Tobin’s jaw, and recaptured Tobin’s lips with her own.
“I’m sorry. I’ll stick to the good,” Christen whispered against Tobin’s lips before sinking back into the next kiss.
“There isn’t good or bad,” Tobin promised. “It’s all good. It’s all more than good.”
“And it’ll be good when you’re ready for more,” Christen added, leaving one final kiss on Tobin’s lips.
“It’ll be more than good. What is it with the use of good? That's such a weak word. That doesn’t explain anything that you do,” Tobin hummed, brushing her thumb along Christen’s bottom lip where some chapstick was smeared.
Christen chuckled and pursed her lips to leave a kiss on the pad of Tobin’s thumb.
“Getting philosophical on me, Tobin?” Christen teased.
“You bring it out of me,” Tobin grinned, keeping one arm around Christen’s waist as she reached for the book. “Now where are these hearts?”
With a groan, Christen buried her face in Tobin’s neck to hide her embarrassed flush.
“How is it not ‘Most Athletic’? That senior year superlative was tailor-made for you!” Christen scoffed with a smile, looking over at Tobin as the cameras rolled on their newest segment.
The writers had suggested a walk down memory lane of high school, and both of them were hard pressed to reject the idea. So now, they were sharing the orange couch in outfits designed by Jess meant to mirror clothes they would have worn in high school, going through memories and old yearbooks for all of Seattle to see. Tobin was in a Letterman jacket and a UNC t-shirt, while Christen was in a Princeton sweater, which was black along with the rest of her clothes. She’d had a bit of a grunge phase for a while in high school, which Jess had loved putting her right back into.
“I was gone most of the time for soccer tournaments, so ‘Most Likely to Miss Graduation’ was actually more accurate,” Tobin shrugged, an amused smile on her face. “I didn’t miss graduation, though. My mom wouldn’t let me.”
Christen laughed and then leaned forward to grab her mug of water from the table in front of the couch.
“If you could give yourself a superlative now, what would it be?” Christen wondered, mindfully having to look at Tobin’s eyes and not let her focus drop to Tobin’s lips.
“I don’t know,” Tobin mused, leaning back against the couch and thinking for a moment. “Maybe ‘Most Likely to Bring Snacks’? I’ve pretty much proven that with Beginning of the Week Bagel Breakdowns.”
“That does strike me as particularly accurate,” Christen replied, her smile softening for Tobin for a moment before she looked back to the camera. “What do you think, Emerald City, what should be Heath’s superlative? Call in with your answers on the next commercial break coming up right now!”
“This is about to be cringy or wildly inappropriate,” Tobin sighed as soon as they went to a commercial break.
“I’m not excited for all the thirsty PTA moms to come after you, but what can we do?” Christen said quietly with a teasing smile.
“PTA moms?” Tobin laughed.
“PTA moms, retired women in their silk pajamas and robes, sports fanatics, early risers. Everyone’s coming out of the woodwork for you and your superlative,” Christen chuckled.
“So, what superlative would you give me?” Tobin asked with a smirk.
Christen covered her mic, mirroring Tobin’s smirk.
“Most Likely to make me-”
“Ten seconds ladies!” Crystal yelled.
“I’ll tell you later. Or show you. Either one,” Christen whispered, shooting Tobin a quick wink before uncovering her mic.
“Our first caller is Jean from Dayton,” Tobin said with a flush in her cheeks and a camera-ready smile on her lips.
“Hi there! I thought long and hard about this, and I have to say that your superlative Ms. Heath would have to be Most Likely to make a girl swoon. You’ve got real gumption!”
Christen hid her smile behind her hand as she watched Tobin’s cheeks fill with a pretty blush.
“Thank you, Jean from Dayton,” Tobin murmured.
“Call in anytime, Jean. You make my co-host blush,” Christen tacked on with a breathy laugh. “In fact, let’s see how many blushes you folks can get from her. I’ll keep a count!”
“Absolutely not,” Tobin scoffed, reaching for her water to cool down. “Let’s talk about your superlatives, Press.”
“No, no, no this is way more fun! Martin from Seattle, you’re next,” Christen hummed, looking into the camera with a smile. “What’s my co-host’s superlative?”
Tobin jerked up in bed at the sound of her phone ringing. For a moment she panicked, thinking that she’d slept in and was missing work. It was dark enough outside to believably be a work morning, but it was Sunday, the one day she attempted to sleep in despite having trouble. And a phone call at 5:10 in the morning was not something she expected.
“Are you okay?” Tobin rasped into the phone.
“Put on something warm that you don’t mind moving in. I’m picking you up in ten,” Christen said cheerily into the phone, sounding very much awake despite the early hour.
“Who hurt you?” Tobin groaned, burrowing back under her covers.
“Come on. Please? For me? I’ll even ride over on the bike,” Christen replied, her voice lilting like she was trying to be persuasive.
“On a bike?” Tobin asked through a yawn.
“ The bike. The Triumph Bonneville,” Christen hummed, her smile evident in her voice.
“No pedaling?” Tobin hummed, sinking into her pillow.
“Nope. We aren’t working until we get where we’re going,” Christen promised. At the sound of Tobin letting out another long hum, she added, “Don't do that. Don't sleepy sigh at me. Get up, get up, get up! I’ll be there in ten, and you better not be in bed.”
“Hmm, I always figured you’d want me in bed someday,” Tobin mumbled, her eyes already closed again as sleep took her.
Ten minutes later, Christen unceremoniously ripped the comforter off the bed, chuckling at the inhuman growl Tobin let out now that her cocoon of warmth was gone.
“Up and at ‘em!” Christen beamed, appreciatively looking at what Tobin’s boxer briefs and sports bra left uncovered.
“Down and at ‘em,” Tobin huffed, tugging the covers back up and reaching for Christen’s hand.
Christen hesitated before tangling their fingers together and perching on the edge of the bed near Tobin’s curled up form.
“Want to stay in bed? Even with the Triumph parked outside?” Christen wondered softly.
“How’d you get into my house?”
“You told me your spare key was under the garden gnome with the mushroom hat. Was that- I just assumed since you told me where it was last week I could use it?” Christen asked, her forehead scrunching. “But now that I say it out loud, that’s sort of like an invasion of privacy, right? So I’ll just go back to the porch and ring the doorbell,” she added, moving to slip her hand out of Tobin’s.
“No,” Tobin whined, holding tighter to Christen’s hand to keep her close.
“It’s really okay. I’m sorry, I-”
“Shhh,” Tobin breathed out, finally blinking her eyes open. “Did you open every door in my house until you found my room?” she asked with a laugh.
Christen’s blush was answer enough as she stayed perched on the edge of the bed, her thumb moving across the back of Tobin’s hand.
“Where’s the bike going?” Tobin asked, rolling so that she was on her back and looking at Christen.
“Discovery Park. If you want. It’s really pretty at dawn,” Christen explained with a small smile, unable not to find Tobin’s bedhead and sleepy grin adorable.
“Ooookay,” Tobin sighed, squirming out from under the covers and sitting up next to Christen. “Do you want coffee while I get dressed?”
Christen shook her head and leaned forward to kiss the corner of Tobin’s mouth.
“I had a cup already. I’ll make you some though. Also, you’re adorable in the morning,” Christen murmured as she left one final kiss at the corner of Tobin’s mouth before leaning back.
“That’s a very sweet lie. Thank you,” Tobin chuckled, slipping from bed and digging through her dresser for a shirt.
“Not a lie. The dried drool and messy hair are doing it for me,” Christen teased, getting up and walking to the bedroom door. “Want to split a banana too? I saw some in your kitchen.”
“Sure,” Tobin grinned, tugging her t-shirt over her head.
Christen offered Tobin one final smile before making her way back downstairs. She flitted around the kitchen, finding the mugs after a long search and then taking a little longer to figure out the coffee machine. But once she had, she watched Tobin’s mug fill up with hot coffee as she tapped her fingers across the countertop.
She let out a startled noise that bled into a happy hum when she felt two arms wind around her middle, Tobin’s face pressed into the back of her neck.
“Good morning,” Tobin whispered into Christen’s skin.
“Good morning,” Christen replied softly, folding her arms over Tobin’s. “Coffee’s almost ready.”
“I half expected to find you with a Gold Medal around your neck,” Tobin teased, dropping a few kisses to the back of Christen’s neck.
“Maybe next time,” Christen chuckled, shivering at the feeling of Tobin’s lips on her skin. “I wasted most of my alone time down here finding your mugs. Over the stove is an interesting place to keep them.”
“I don’t know how to organize kitchens,” Tobin admitted sheepishly.
“It’s endearing,” Christen replied, leaning her head back and angling it to kiss Tobin’s cheek.
“My silverware is in the drawer under the oven,” Tobin added with a goofy smile.
“You’re kidding,” Christen said with a laugh.
“Is that a bad thing?” Tobin asked, burying her face in the side of Christen’s neck.
“It’s a thing about you that makes me like you more,” Christen admitted, loosening one of her hands from Tobin’s arm so she could move the mug away from the coffee machine. “Is your milk in a cupboard somewhere or is the fridge your go-to place?”
“Ha. Ha,” Tobin scoffed, letting Christen go and walking over to the fridge for milk.
“Hey, I wouldn’t judge. To each their own place for their milk,” Christen teased, leaning a hip against the countertop and watching Tobin move around the kitchen.
Tobin pulled out the milk and poured it into her mug, all the while unable to hide the small smile on her lips, one that was there this early in the morning because of Christen and her gentle teasing.
“What are you smiling at?” Christen asked in a soft voice.
“You’re just cute,” Tobin shrugged. “You sure you don’t want coffee?”
“I’m good,” Christen waved off with a smile. “Thanks for letting me bother you this early in the morning on a non-work day.”
“You aren’t bothering me,” Tobin replied, unable to hold back the soft moan at the first taste of her coffee. “Not when you make coffee this good. What did you do?”
Christen’s smile turned playful and bright. “Secret,” she whispered.
“Do you wear a helmet on your bike?” Tobin wondered, asking questions now that she was more awake.
“Of course. I have one for you too if you want to ride with me.”
“Bedhead and helmet hair all in the same day,” Tobin sighed dramatically. “There goes the mystery.”
Christen chuckled as she moved over to where Tobin was standing near the fridge, looping her arms around Tobin’s waist and bumping her nose against Tobin’s gently. Christen caught Tobin’s lips in a quick kiss.
“I like you. Bedhead and helmet hair and all.”
“What sparked the early morning date?” Tobin asked as she left one more kiss on Christen’s lips before quickly drinking her coffee.
“You have to promise not to laugh.”
Tobin silently held out a pinky as she continued to drink, wanting to get out and start the date as soon as possible.
Christen grinned and locked her pinky with Tobin’s.
“I re-read your team’s book the other night and you wrote this part about lighthouses. You said something deep about them that I can’t remember right now. Discovery Park has Lighthouse Loop and I thought we could walk it,” Christen murmured with a shy, half-smile.
“I said something deep about lighthouses?” Tobin asked before she drained the rest of her mug and put it in the sink.
“Yeah. Something about how you liked them because they symbolized both isolation and connectedness. They reminded you that you weren’t alone, even if you thought you were. You were someone’s lighthouse,” Christen replied with a small shrug. “I don’t think I’m remembering it right, but that was the gist, I think?”
Tobin felt her stomach tighten a little at the explanation. She’d said that when she’d been in a committed relationship, thinking about proposing and shopping for rings on free weekends. She’d said that when she’d felt like someone else’s lighthouse, like someone else’s home.
Reading the look on Tobin’s face, Christen was quick to add, “But we don’t have to go. We can- I mean I can leave you to your morning. I didn’t- I just assumed you liked lighthouses? Which again, saying this out loud makes me feel like I didn’t entirely think this morning through.”
“I want to go,” Tobin assured, looping her arms around Christen’s waist. “A sunrise sounds good today.”
“We don’t have to,” Christen repeated, her hands settling on Tobin’s shoulders.
“I want to see the lighthouse,” Tobin promised, leaning forward to kiss Christen softly.
Christen sank into the kiss, following Tobin’s lead and matching her pace. The feeling of Tobin’s lips on her own was familiar now, but it still carried with it a novelty that had her stomach fluttering and her head getting fuzzy.
It was a little dizzying when Tobin kissed her like this, with confidence in her lips and desire in her touch. It reminded her of the dressing room. It had Christen rushing to keep up, not wanting to push too far or too fast. It had her contemplating if seeing the lighthouses was even worth it now that she was pushed up against the kitchen counter and Tobin was holding her with strong hands against her lower back.
“Thank you for waking me up,” Tobin whispered against Christen’s lips.
“Anytime,” Christen whispered back.
“I really like you,” Tobin added, almost quieter than a whisper.
The fluttering in her stomach and the fuzziness in Christen’s head got worse at Tobin’s sweet words. She felt them hit her lips and wrap around her heart, pulling a smile out of her easily.
“I really like you too.”
“Okay, cool. Just checking,” Tobin murmured, slipping an index finger under the hem of Christen’s shirt so that she could feel her skin.
“Was that a worry?” Christen hummed, moving her hands up and down Tobin’s shoulders.
“Of course not,” Tobin said with a shake of her head.
“Tobin,” Christen replied softly. “Was it?”
“No,” Tobin murmured as she buried her face in Christen’s neck.
“Tobin,” Christen tried again, holding her close. “Real answer.”
“I wouldn’t call it a worry,” Tobin shrugged, squirming impossibly closer to Christen.
“What would you call it?”
“Something I’ve…thought about a few times,” Tobin hummed, dropping a kiss to Christen’s neck. “Shall we head out?”
“Hey,” Christen whispered, keeping Tobin close. “What have you thought about?”
“I don’t, like… It freaks me out when I feel like I’m running the race faster than everyone else,” Tobin admitted, forcing down the thickness in her throat and the ache in her chest.
“I’m running it with you. I promise,” Christen replied softly, nuzzling Tobin’s nose. “I’m right here.”
“Sorry,” Tobin hummed, squeezing Christen once and then leaning back.
“Don’t apologize,” Christen whispered, cradling Tobin’s cheeks in her hands. “I’m right here with you.”
Tobin didn’t have words. She didn’t have a proper response to the way Christen always seemed to make her feel. She didn’t have a way to express this odd sense of safety that partially terrified her and partially soothed her.
So, she leaned forward and found Christen’s lips again in a slow, intentional kiss, her hands fisting at the back of Christen’s shirt.
Christen sighed into the kiss and immediately deepened it, slipping her tongue through Tobin’s parted lips as she gripped tightly onto Tobin’s face, keeping her close. They traded kisses for a few more moments in the kitchen before they had to break the kiss to catch their breath.
“How many women’s numbers have you gotten with this bike?” Tobin teased quietly.
“Do you really want to know?” Christen chuckled, stealing one more kiss.
“Maybe not,” Tobin grimaced, leading the way through her house toward the front door.
“Would you believe me if I said none?” Christen wondered, grinning at Tobin as they moved through the front door and out toward the bike parked on the curb.
“Absolutely not. You don’t need the bike to get numbers,” Tobin insisted, locking the door and following Christen to the bike.
“Only number I’m interested in is yours,” Christen hummed, holding out a helmet for Tobin.
Tobin watched Christen park the bike, very aware that she was ogling. There was no way that Christen hadn’t gotten numbers from women with this bike. Especially not when Christen’s hair was completely unaffected by the helmet that she’d worn on the way to Discovery Park. Tobin, on the other hand, had immediately pulled on her orange beanie as soon as she’d pulled off her helmet and her helmet hair had elicited a laugh from Christen.
She watched Christen walk up to meet her at the start of the trail, and as soon as Christen took her hand, Tobin had no regrets about the early wake-up call.
“Come on, the actual view is a few miles in,” Christen hummed with a teasing smile as she squeezed Tobin’s hand gently.
“Agree to disagree,” Tobin smirked.
“Disagree then,” Christen chuckled, leading them down the trail.
“Well, we didn’t have the same view,” Tobin reasoned playfully. “My view was very satisfactory.”
“Only satisfactory? Damn,” Christen playfully sighed, snapping her fingers in an oh well gesture.
“I don’t think I’m supposed to respectfully objectify you, at least aloud, before the twentieth date,” Tobin hummed.
“I thought they changed the rule to the nineteenth date,” Christen mused, swinging their clasped hands between them as they walked among the trees.
“In that case,” Tobin murmured, slowing her pace slightly to glance at Christen’s backside, “your ass on that bike. Wow…”
“Just a wow? I expected more. I wore my best-fitting yoga pants,” Christen teasingly sighed, a light blush in her cheeks.
Feigning a frustrated growl, Tobin tugged Christen close, the two of them almost stumbling off the trail. She slotted her lips with Christen’s, lavishing Christen’s lips with soft kisses and nips and brushes of her tongue. She poured every ounce of desire she had into each kiss and let her hands wander hesitantly down over Christen’s hips, settling low enough on Christen’s back that it couldn’t be considered Christen’s back. It was more than just ‘ wow ,’ and Tobin let her hands and her lips express that.
“I think I’m going to wear these more often,” Christen husked, sucking in deep breaths once she’d disconnected their lips. She pressed her forehead against Tobin’s and kept a light touch against Tobin’s hips, leaning back against the tree Tobin had her pushed up against.
“I won’t complain,” Tobin murmured, slowly moving her hands back up to Christen’s waist but keeping her close.
“I’m definitely not going to either.”
“Good to know,” Tobin hummed, her smirk morphing into something dopey as she took Christen’s hand and led the way back along the trail.
“So…what do you think about the segment proposals for next week?” Christen wondered, still feeling warmth in her cheeks and tingling in her lips as they strolled along the dirt path.
“I think Larry’s lost his mind if he expects me to make a fruit parfait on live TV,” Tobin answered with a roll of her eyes.
Christen chuckled and leaned closer to Tobin. “I might have pitched an alternative to the parfaits.”
“It’s more fun to just wait and see,” Christen teased.
“Are you deviating from our regularly scheduled programming?” Tobin gasped playfully.
“It’s possible,” Christen grinned.
“That’s okay, I have a surprise for you for our Wednesday show,” Tobin said, watching as the sky started to lighten, the sun still not peeking up from the horizon yet.
“For me?” Christen asked quietly, pulling them to a stop near the water and the lighthouse to watch the sunrise.
“Mhm,” Tobin nodded. “I got Crystal’s permission, so don’t worry about me getting either of us into trouble.”
“Wouldn’t want my cohost to go anywhere,” Christen murmured, squeezing Tobin’s hand.
“How the times have changed,” Tobin chuckled, turning her head to press a kiss to the side of Christen’s head.
“Change is the only constant,” Christen observed softly, leaning into Tobin’s touch.
“You’re very wise,” Tobin murmured into Christen’s hair.
“Or maybe I just say things in a certain tone of voice that makes me seem wise and all-knowing,” Christen joked, loosening her hand from Tobin’s so she could wrap her arm around Tobin’s waist.
“I don’t think so,” Tobin whispered, dropping a few more kisses to Christen’s head. “Thank you for waking me up for this,” she added, watching the first bit of sunlight peek over the horizon and shine across the water.
“I thought it would be a nice way to spend a morning together. No cameras, no teleprompters. Just us,” Christen replied, a smile tugging at her lips.
“And surprisingly I still got to sleep in,” Tobin chuckled, squeezing Christen close.
“You would have slept until noon if I hadn’t woken you up, huh?”
“Absolutely not. I wish,” Tobin sighed. “The morning show is ruining that ability for me.”
“At least we look ‘wow’ doing it,” Christen teased, turning her head to drop a kiss to the corner of Tobin’s mouth.
“Just wow?” Tobin teased right back, her lips twitching up into a small smile.
“Wow is just the start,” Christen hummed, dropping soft kisses across Tobin’s cheek.
Tobin turned her head to find Christen’s lips, sinking into the kiss instead of focusing on the sunrise.