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It had started the same way it had ended, and Christen could recognize the sick, twisted poetry in that. She could recognize it and then she could allow herself to pour another glass of wine because even if it was symmetrical and poetic, it was also fucking heartbreaking. 

It had started with the slamming of a door and it had ended with one. A different door in a completely different place, with a completely different outcome. 

The first slamming door, the door to her Constitutional Law class, had brought Tobin Heath into her life. The final slamming door was the one to their small but quaint D.C. apartment, which had taken Tobin Heath out of her life.

One door brought her love, the other door brought her heartbreak, but both were shut, just like the matter of her marriage to Tobin Heath. 

Shut, done, over, ended.

Tobin cringed as soon as the door slammed behind her. She waved awkwardly and apologetically toward the professor at the front of the room before scrambling toward the nearest empty seat. She ignored the glare she could feel the professor sending her way and instead dug through her bag for the insanely expensive book on trauma’s effect on the human body. 

“He’s just going over the syllabus today, right?” Tobin whispered, slowly turning her head to look at- 

The most beautiful woman she’d ever seen was sitting next to her, focused on the professor and not Tobin’s lack of composure. One glance was all it took. One glance at the woman’s dark curls and sharp jawline and soft smile and Tobin knew that she’d just met her wife. 

“Page three,” the woman whispered back, not sparing Tobin a second glance as she took notes in the margin of her syllabus.

“Of the…syllabus or the book?” Tobin asked, fighting off the insane urge to reach out and take this stranger’s hand. 

“Syllabus. He’s going over the requirements for the History of Law project.”

“Oh…” Tobin faltered, looking at the book in front of her and feeling her brow furrow. This was definitely not the class on trauma in the body. “Cool. Great.” 

“It’s only fifteen percent of the grade. The midterm is what you should look out for,” the woman said as her pen glided across the page, her eyes still on the professor.

“Thanks, you’re a lifesaver,” Tobin grinned, leaning back in her seat and officially deciding that she could move her schedule around and take the trauma class next semester. 

“Now look next to you, that’s your partner for the project. Introduce yourselves. Ten seconds and I start the lecture on the branches of government,” the professor said in his gruff voice.

Capping her pen, Christen finally looked to her right and felt her breath get lodged in her throat. She was completely caught in the tide of two warm brown eyes and an easy smile, and suddenly, she had never felt so relaxed in a classroom in all of her life. Those eyes felt like coming home. 

“Hi, I’m Christen,” she heard herself saying, somehow able to form words as her heart raced and her entire existence became inexplicably tethered to the woman sitting next to her.

“I’m yours- TOBIN! I’m Tobin. Sorry,” Tobin blurted out, considering yanking the front of her sweatshirt up and over her face. 

Christen felt her brows lift in surprise at the stumbled over words. A chuckle left her lips when Tobin blushed and averted her gaze, suddenly becoming the most endearing and interesting person Christen had ever met.

“Sorry, I can change seats,” Tobin laughed weakly. 

“Why would you do that?’ Christen wondered with a small smile. “I think we’re off to a great start,” she added, holding out her hand for Tobin to shake, knowing that with this touch, she was going to be more than just interested, she was going to be hooked, lined, and sinkered. 

“It’s nice to meet you, Christen,” Tobin said, taking Christen’s offered hand in her own and feeling her world tilt on its axis. 

“I’ll see your nice and raise you a ‘lovely’ and a ‘wonderful,’” Christen replied, unwilling to be the one to pull her hand away first, unwilling to break the contact that simply confirmed that this moment she was suspended in was fated, written in some cosmic book by God herself.

“I should show up late more often,” Tobin murmured, unable to drop Christen’s hand either. She knew she had a dorky smile on her face, but she couldn’t help it. She’d stumbled into the wrong class, and suddenly here she was on the precipice of everything, holding a hand that belonged to someone who might just be her whole world. 

Christen hadn’t thought about those doors in a long time. She didn’t need to. Or rather, she didn’t have the time to. 

Working seventy hours a week as one of the best public defender’s in the nation’s capitol barely left Christen enough time to shower, sleep, and eat on a daily basis. She woke up every morning at five thirty, took a run past the monuments and the Lincoln Memorial, then made it into the office by seven. She was the first one in and the last one out every single day. She never strayed from jewel-tone power pantsuits and always had four cups of coffee, at the very minimum. 

Her life was predictable, mundane. Empty. No, not empty. It couldn’t be empty, not when she had a career. A career she truly loved. A career that had cost her quite a lot. A career you could pry from her cold dead hands. 

So, Christen didn’t have time to think about doors, open or closed or slammed. She barely had the wherewithal to remember her best friend was engaged and the party was tomorrow. She barely had the energy to get on a plane to Orlando on Friday night and check herself into the hotel room Ashlyn had booked for her. 

But maybe she should have thought about those doors. Maybe she should have prepared herself a little more because this engagement party wasn’t just an excuse to drink mimosas with some old friends and catch up with people who’d moved to Florida while she'd stayed in D.C.

It was more than that. 

This engagement party was the opening of a door. A door she wasn’t ready for. A door that she hadn’t seen in three years. A door that wasn’t really a door at all. A door that was her ex-wife, looking both the same and impossibly different, standing by the gift table with a bottle held casually in her ring-less left hand.

“Hi, I’m early,” Tobin said as soon as Christen opened her dorm room door. 

“Hi early, I’m hungry. Is that pizza?” Christen asked, her green eyes widening in excitement.

“It is, and I wasn’t sure if you were underage or into drinking, so I brought sparkling water. All the bubbles and none of the troubles,” Tobin grinned, lifting up a pack of Topo Chico. 

“I’m 19 and very into bubbles sans troubles,” Christen chuckled, holding open the door for Tobin to come in.

“Fantastic,” Tobin breathed out as she crossed the threshold into Christen’s room. She’d changed outfits six times, and this wasn’t even a date. They were working on their project together…for a class that Tobin wasn’t even enrolled in technically.

“I’m set up in the common room. My roommate is out with her boyfriend’s brother who is also like her boyfriend, so we shouldn’t be disturbed,” Christen explained, shutting the door with an eye roll for her absent, yet still annoying, roommate.

“That sounds like an interesting roommate,” Tobin hummed, placing the pizza and water on the common room table and finding a seat. She then quickly stood up before awkwardly sitting down again, stopping herself from pulling out a chair for Christen and acting like this was more than simultaneous homework. 

“Final choice? Or do you want me to play some music while you pick a spot?” Christen asked with a smirk playing at her lips, her arms crossed over chest as she leaned against the wall.

“Musical chairs, right?” Tobin chuckled weakly. 

Christen made her way over to the table, finding the empty chair by Tobin’s left and sinking into it. She leaned her elbows onto the table and fixed Tobin with a soft look, her smirk bleeding into something sweeter.

“The project won’t be hard, I promise. I’ve already done a lot of the preliminary research. It’ll be a breeze,” Christen assured, attributing Tobin’s nerves to academics and not daring to believe they had anything to do with her. Not when her hair was in a messy bun and her glasses were perched on her nose and her oversized Georgetown Law sweatshirt had a small hole in the neck of it.

“You’re pre-law, aren’t you?” Tobin asked softly, suffering with butterflies in her stomach as Christen looked at her. Those butterflies hadn’t left Tobin alone since she’d met Christen, and now, seeing Christen in her thick-framed glasses and a cozy sweatshirt, Tobin was all the more ready to just call her parents, let them know she was screwed and that they’d have a daughter-in-law if Tobin ever got up the nerve to say something about more than law. 

“Yeah. Mostly everyone in Bing’s class is,” Christen replied. 

“Cool, cool,” Tobin nodded, tapping her fingers on the Constitutional Law textbook she’d spent a chunk of her bank account on. 

“Are you in Post-War Politics with Matthews too?” Christen wondered, getting a little lost in the flecks of gold around Tobin’s irises and having to forcibly shake her head to refocus.

“Who is Matthew?” Tobin asked, scrunching her forehead in confusion. 

“Matthews,” Christen corrected with a smile. “Every sophomore pre-law student has her. She’s intense.”

“I’m a psych major,” Tobin clarified, mentally kicking herself for thinking about tucking a loose curl behind Christen’s ear. 

Christen felt her brows knit together in confusion. “Oh, sorry, I just assumed you were also…”

“It’s a logical assumption. You got the least-knowledgeable partner,” Tobin replied with a sheepish smile. 

“Not from where I’m sitting,” Christen offered in reply, her shoulders lifting into a small shrug as the corner of her mouth twitched up into a smile.

“All I know about law I learned from watching School House Rock, but I think Bing would veto me singing that to the class,” Tobin joked with a lopsided smile. 

Christen waved a hand encouragingly, sitting back comfortably in her seat. “Go on. Sing a few bars. Show me what you got.”

“I was nervous to bring you a pizza. I think singing will have to wait until I’m watching you cram for the midterm at least,” Tobin scoffed, crossing her arms over her chest. 

“Won’t you be cramming with me?” Christen wondered with a sparkle in her green eyes.

“I’ll bring you pizza and keep you company while you cram,” Tobin nodded. “Cramming isn’t really my style. I’m more of an osmosis studier.” 

“Ah, one of those,” Christen hummed with a nod.

“We’re a rare breed,” Tobin shrugged. 

With another dazzling smile, Christen asked, “Why were you nervous to bring me a pizza?” 

“Uhhh…some people don’t like…cheese,” Tobin answered, suddenly opening her book and feigning interest in a page that pretty much looked like gibberish. 

“And here I was nervous because you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” Christen said simply, like she hadn’t just taken Tobin’s breath away with the compliment. She pulled her index cards and textbook closer before dropping her attention to them. “I thought we could focus on the Declaration of Sentiments from the Seneca Falls Convention. While not enshrined in law, it was an important work of- Tobin? Are you okay?” she asked, looking up to find Tobin’s mouth hanging open and a dumbstruck look on her face.

“Mhm. Yep. Yeah,” Tobin forced out, nodding her head and reaching for a bottle. “Forgot these aren’t twist off,” she muttered as she tried to open the bottle. 

Christen managed an enamored smile as she gently took the bottle out of Tobin’s hand. She held Tobin’s gaze as she propped the edge of the cap on the corner of the table and pushed down on the neck of the bottle, uncapping it quickly and without needing to get up for an opener.

“Like I was saying, the Seneca Falls Convention might be the place to start,” Christen continued, handing Tobin the open bottle and looking back down at the textbook.

Tobin would spend the next week of her life trying to remember what all Christen had said, not just because she’d wanted to remember the entire afternoon she’d spent with Christen but also because she was clearly not pulling her weight on the project. But it was hard to remember anything other than the way Christen talked with her hands when she was fired up or the way her voice got a tiny bit louder when she was excited about an idea. It was hard to pay attention when Christen, who was a goddess walking amongst humans, thought she was beautiful. 

All Tobin really could remember was the light blush on Christen’s cheeks when she had packed her stuff up to leave, shouted the words ‘I’ve never seen someone as beautiful as you,’ and then raced out of Christen’s room, leaving her expensive textbook on the table in her haste. 

Tobin felt the bubbles from her cider hit her throat at just the wrong moment. Her eyes locked on Christen across the room, the bubbles stung her throat and lungs, and she felt herself tense up, a cough rising up from her chest, trying to clear her airway and keep her alive. 

It was the first time she’d seen her ex-wife in person since signing the divorce papers. And three years had done nothing to quell the raw pain that just the thought of Christen unleashed. Three years of working and self-reflecting and letting her family kick her ass about it and everything still felt like her own personal hell, her own slow death. 

“Shit, Tobs, you okay?” Ali asked, gently patting Tobin on the back.

“Wrong pipe,” Tobin mumbled, setting the cider down and shoving the bottle away to avoid aspirating again. “Want me to put anything in the oven or keep your grandma company?” she offered, praying for an out. 

Ali didn’t need to look to know. She could read it in the ghosts in Tobin’s eyes and in the phantom frown she wore on her face. Christen was here and Tobin was about to break.

“I think we need more ice. Take my car,” Ali murmured. “Keys are on the counter.” 

“Can’t have a party without ice,” Tobin nodded, swallowing down the huge lump in her throat. 

“Clearly. She’s in the room,” Ali grumbled, using a gentle hand to push Tobin in the direction of the kitchen.

All Tobin could do was nod as she moved away from Ali and toward the kitchen counter. She didn’t need Ali to be on her side. Ali was a true friend, the best friend, her ride or die. And that was why Ali called Christen icy and cold in an effort to make Tobin feel justified. 

As sweet as the intention was, though, Tobin didn’t need it. She’d never thought of Christen as icy. She’d never seen Christen as unfeeling. She wasn’t even sure, after three years of intense therapy, that she could blame Christen for much. And that hurt more. 

It was easy to be angry. It was easy to burn birthday cards that Christen had signed after a few too many screwdrivers had been drunk. It was easy to blame Christen for not prioritizing them. It was easy to curse the world or fate for making her wander into the wrong lecture hall. 

It was harder to realize that she’d been at fault. It was more painful to understand that she’d been the person trapping Christen in a marriage that brought no joy. 

So, she took the long way to the furthest grocery store in Orlando. She listened to Adele sing ‘Make You Feel My Love’ in the parking lot because she was a masochist and they’d danced to that in their first apartment together. 

She took her time and got used to the lump in her throat that was likely going to live there for the next year since Christen was going to be a part of Ali and Ashlyn’s wedding festivities. 

And she did it all without crying. 

After the first year of numbness and the second year of constantly crying, Tobin had finally mastered the art of feeling incredible levels of pain and keeping it together. It was a skill that was coming in handy now that she and Christen were maids of honor opposite one another, something that Ali had failed to mention until the engagement party was already planned. 

Tobin carried the slightly melted ice into the backyard where a cooler was sitting. She ignored the way her stomach churned when she saw the bottles of Topo Chico in the cooler and instead poured the ice over it, wishing that she could crawl inside, wedge herself between a couple of the bottles and close the cooler, disappearing from the party entirely. 

There wasn’t anything spectacular about the day. It was raining, and it was unseasonably cold. Christen’s favorite coffee shop was closed, and she’d gotten an A minus on a paper. 

But it was made a little more lovely by coming back to her dorm and finding Tobin waiting for her there, curled up in bed and snoring lightly. 

She toed off her shoes and shrugged out of her rain jacket, pausing only to slip into one of the many sweaters of Tobin’s she’d stolen and now kept in her closet, before crawling into bed. She molded herself to Tobin’s back, slipping a hand beneath the hem of Tobin’s shirt and settling it against her stomach as her nose pressed against the back of Tobin’s neck. 

They simply laid there. Minutes, hours, millenia could have passed, but Christen wouldn’t have noticed. She barely noticed a thing about the outside world when Tobin was in her arms. What was the world out there when she had her world right here?

“I love you,” she whispered, knowing it was too soon and too wild a notion to actually say in the light of day to Tobin’s face. She whispered it into the neck of Tobin’s shirt and pulled Tobin even closer, repeating the three words that had been in her heart since Tobin had tried to twist a cap off a Topo Chico during their very first study date. The three words that made this unspectacular day into one she would never be able to forget. “I love you in a way I can’t even understand.”

“I’ve been going to a law class that I’m not even enrolled in because I fell in love with the woman I sat next to,” Tobin admitted in a raspy, sleepy voice. 

“Tobin, you’re not enrolled in Con Law?!” Christen gasped, leaning up on her elbow to look down at the sleepy smile on Tobin’s face.

“I thought it was Trauma in the Human Body with Professor Tran,” Tobin chuckled, reaching up and brushing her fingers along Christen’s cheek. 

“But you’ve been- it’s been three months,” Christen whispered.

“I’m in love with you,” Tobin shrugged. “What’s a few hours of boring lectures? I’m not taking the final, though.” 

“God, I love you,” Christen said before leaning down to place her lips on Tobin’s, pouring every ounce of love and care and commitment she felt into the kiss. “I’m so in love with you,” she whispered against Tobin’s lips between every kiss, almost unable to continue kissing the woman she loved because she couldn’t stop smiling.

She didn’t stop smiling for a long, long time.

And then one day, she did.

Christen counted to seven as she inhaled, then to five as she held her breath, and finally to seven as she exhaled. She continued the breathing routine, hoping it would ward off the looming migraine and the waves of nausea that had brought her to the bathroom and had her almost curled up in the fetal position on the soft rug.

She could do this. She could do this. 

She could socialize and celebrate her best friend’s engagement to her ex-wife’s best friend without losing her lunch. She could and she would. 

In five more minutes.

Christen had gone through the five stages of grief. She’d done denial. She’d spent months denying the signature on the dotted line and the implications behind it. She’d spent weeks denying the inevitable, waiting for a hail mary, waiting for a last-minute change, a last-minute decision to fight for something instead of against her. But it never came. 

So then came the anger. The kind of anger that made her break things and burn things and block phone numbers. The kind of anger that had tainted every single good memory they’d ever shared. It had been her constant shadow for over a year. It was exhausting to be angry that long but it beat bargaining. Everything beat bargaining and the stupid fucking hope it had given her. 

Hope that had led her onto a plane to Orlando, two years after the divorce was finalized. Hope that had taken her to a business district, the address given to her by a reluctant Ashlyn. Hope that had led her into a nice building with nice carpeted floors and Tobin’s name on the plaque outside of her office. Hope that had been foolish to feel in the first place.

Because she didn’t go in. She couldn’t. She stared at the piece of black tape covering half of their last name- no, not her last name anymore, and Christen hit depression.

Seeing Heath without the hyphen and the Press after it sent Christen away from hope’s clutches and into the pit of despair.

Depression was horrible but it beat the hope. It was over-working and nearly passing out at the office one day because she hadn’t remembered to sleep or eat for a few days. It was horrible but it wasn’t hope. Anything was better than hope.

She’d hit acceptance, sort of. She was there some days and some days she was right back at anger, regressing and skipping right over the hope that bargaining promised. That was where she existed now, hovering between anger and depression with acceptance on the horizon. 

A horizon that felt miles and miles away with her cheek pressed to the fluffy blue bathmat and tears burning her eyes and her stomach rolling continuously.

She’d gone through the five stages of grief, for the most part. But seeing Tobin today had done more than irritate a healed scar. It had cracked open a still-gaping wound, leaving Christen paralyzed and terrified and furious. Really freaking furious. Furious enough not to be sent into hiding on what should be a celebratory day.

So, Christen pushed up off of the floor and into a seated position, continuing the breathing pattern a few more times before she would be ready to leave the confines of the guest bathroom. 

In for seven, hold for five, out for seven. In for seven, hold for five, out for seven. In for seven-

“Hey,” Ashlyn called through the bathroom door. “Can I come in?” 

Christen reached up to flick the lock before leaning back against the wall, her knees tucked to her chest.

“Press,” Ashlyn whispered, locking the door and sitting down next to Christen. 

“Nice rug in here. Matches the towels I got you,” Christen observed, her eyes fixated on the crack in the marble of the bathroom countertop in front of her.

“You don’t have to pretend to be fine. Seeing her is hard, even if she looks like she’s aged a lot more than three years,” Ashlyn sighed, wrapping an arm around Christen and kissing the side of her head. 

“She doesn’t,” Christen replied with a sad smile, leaning into Ashlyn’s side. “Would have appreciated a heads up though, since I’m assuming she wasn’t a last-minute invite.”

“I didn’t think she’d come. She’s kind of the captain of avoiding big parties. If it’s too much, Ali and I can rethink having bridal parties. Maybe we can just use you and Kyle or something.” 

“You two shouldn’t pay the price for our mistakes,” Christen observed, the thumb of her left hand subconsciously moving to her ring finger to spin the wedding band that hadn’t been there for years.

“Her hair looks kinda dry,” Ashlyn offered, giving Christen any kind of fault to focus on. “And the outfit’s a choice.” 

“Sure, Ash. Whatever you say,” Christen murmured, knowing in her heart that Tobin looked as perfect as the day she’d met her, and every day they’d spent together after that. It made the pain from the dagger embedded in her heart, put there by emotional unavailability and a lack of effort, grow tenfold.

“I’m just saying you’re hotter,” Ashlyn reinforced as she knocked her shoulder into Christen’s. 

Christen managed a weak chuckle and then turned her head to drop her forehead against Ashlyn’s shoulder.

“She looked…okay, and I hate that because I’m not. I’m not even close,” Christen sighed.

“She’s definitely not okay,” Ashlyn scoffed. “Ali talks her down like three times a week.” 

“Whatever you say,” Christen repeated, letting out another sigh before forcing herself to her feet. “Time to face the music, I guess.”

“Want me to run interference? I can ask her to stay out back.” 

Christen shook her head and steeled herself for the inevitable meeting, for the inevitable opening of the door. There was no avoiding it. There was nothing to be done.

“Go enjoy being engaged. I’ll be fine,” Christen promised.

“Send me a signal if you need me,” Ashlyn replied, following Christen to her feet. 

With a final nod and as confident of a smile as she could muster, Christen opened the door.

“You’re in the clear,” Tobin sing-songed as soon as Christen opened her dorm room door. “While he’s never experienced it, Professor Bing said you’ll get full credit. Our presentations were very impressive, apparently, and he hopes I enjoyed the class.” 

Christen threw her arms around Tobin and pulled her in for a hug, the peace, and comfort that came from Tobin’s embrace immediately soothing her. 

“Baby, you’re amazing,” Christen whispered. 

“He suggested I don’t do it again,” Tobin added with a soft laugh as her arms instinctually settled around Christen’s waist. “The things we do for love, though.” 

“Speaking of…” Christen trailed off, leaning back to shoot Tobin a weak smile. 

“Yes?” 

“How would you feel about maybe possibly potentially coming to L.A. for New Year’s to meet my family?” Christen rushed out, her cheeks aflame and her pulse racing. 

Tobin felt her stomach flip with slight nerves. She’d only spoken to Christen’s mom once on accident because Christen had asked her to answer her phone, thinking it was the library calling about an available book. She’d introduced herself to Stacy and then answered the FaceTime call Stacy quickly requested, wanting to see Christen’s girlfriend’s face. 

“You want me to meet them?” Tobin asked as she absentmindedly brushed her fingers behind Christen’s ears, tucking curls back as she did. 

“Yeah,” Christen whispered, a little shy. For someone who could so brazenly say things, there were other moments, moments like this one, where her nerves got the better of her. “Only if you want to.”

“Would they mind if I fly in on the 28th?” Tobin asked, already leaning forward and resting her forehead against Christen’s. 

“You don’t need to,” Christen replied, nuzzling her nose along Tobin’s. 

“Would they mind?” Tobin repeated. 

“No. They wanted you to come for Christmas but I steered them in a more appropriate and logical direction,” Christen murmured. 

“I want to be there for your birthday. You only turn twenty once,” Tobin whispered, breathing in the comforting smell of Christen’s face soap. 

“I want you to be there for all of them,” Christen admitted, moving so she could bury her face in the crook of Tobin’s neck, clinging to the woman in her arms and wishing for forever, knowing she’d found the person she wanted to spend it with. 

“Maybe next semester you can meet mine? My mom’s been begging me to bring you to the house for lunch or something,” Tobin hummed, finding the back of Christen’s neck with her hand and massaging the muscles there. 

“I’d love to,” Christen said, her words muffled by the material of Tobin’s sweatshirt. 

“They’re gonna love you. They already do,” Tobin whispered into Christen’s hair. 

“Same with my parents,” Christen chuckled, tightening her arms around Tobin. “They keep bugging me about your favorite foods so we can have them stocked at the house.”

“Should I bring something? I should probably Christmas shop for them, right?” 

“No, baby, you don’t need to. But there is something you definitely need to bring,” Christen hummed, angling her head to brush her lips across the side of Tobin’s throat. 

“I brought pizza to our first study session. I don’t come empty-handed. What is it?” Tobin asked, slipping her hands under the hem of Christen’s shirt to feel her skin. 

“It’s something you definitely can’t leave home without. Something you need to make sure makes the trip,” Christen mumbled against Tobin’s neck, punctuating her words with brushes of her lips and tongue. 

“What’s that, baby?” 

Christen tucked her pointed fingers into the waistband of Tobin’s joggers, backing them up toward her bedroom as her mouth continued to work. 

“My birthday gift, obviously,” Christen replied teasingly, flicking her tongue over Tobin’s racing pulse point as she pulled Tobin through the doorway, kicking the door closed behind them. 

Tobin felt her lungs ache and her head throb as soon as the bathroom door opened and Christen walked out. 

In a way, nothing had changed since college. Back then, Tobin had always watched Christen. She’d been unable to take her eyes off of Christen, too in love, too infatuated by a woman who somehow loved her back. 

Everything had changed though. Tobin used to watch Christen, dying for Christen to wander over to her, hoping that Christen would look up and see that Tobin was smiling at her. Now, Tobin was watching because if Christen orbited any closer, she was sure she’d have a panic attack or get sick or break down. She was sure that if Christen stepped closer, if she heard Christen’s perfectly smooth voice, she’d go straight back to feeling like she had a year ago or two years ago, or even yesterday, unable to pull herself out of bed for anything other than to feed the cat she’d bought after the divorce. 

“Umm…I’m going to go find Ali,” Ashlyn mumbled, offering Christen a squeeze on her shoulder and sending a withering glare at Tobin before moving down the hallway. 

But all Christen could do was stare. She couldn’t form words, she couldn’t form thoughts really. Converting oxygen into carbon dioxide even felt a little challenging when the first deep breath she took in brought with it hints of blue spruce and something Christen had always likened to home, something sweet like sunshine. 

Christen crossed her arms over her chest and skittered her eyes away from Tobin’s, taking a small step out of the doorway of the bathroom. She searched for something to say, before realizing she wasn’t sure she wanted to say anything. Saying things had gotten them here in the first place. Saying things and not saying things. She was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t in Tobin’s eyes, eyes that were still locked on her. She didn’t dare look further than those brown eyes. She might not survive it. 

“All yours,” Christen managed, taking another step down the hallway and then another, turning away from Tobin as she put one foot in front of the other, reminding herself and her body how to function normally despite the world feeling completely off-kilter. 

Tobin rushed into the bathroom as the hors d’oeuvres that she’d eaten before Christen’s arrival rose up in her stomach. She slammed the door and locked it, feeling her stomach twist in pain and her body start to sweat as Christen’s slightly citrus perfume and a hint of vanilla filled her nose. 

She couldn’t do this. 

She’d told Ali that she could because Ali had been her rock, and she wanted her and Ashlyn’s wedding to be perfect. She’d wanted to be able to put her own pain aside and do something for her best friend. 

Maybe she’d also wanted to see Christen. Maybe she’d wanted to punish herself in a way. Maybe she’d wanted to feel the incredible pain because she’d wanted to feel something, anything. 

Now she felt too much. 

They didn’t fight. When they told her parents and siblings and other couples, they got weird looks and furrowed brows. They got confusion. 

Sitting on the large sectional couch in her parent’s living room on New Year’s Eve, tucked under Tobin’s arm and leaning into her girlfriend’s side, they got confusion still. And their confusion made Christen confused. 

“Come on, not even like one little spat? Christen is annoying. You’ve got to find her annoying,” Tyler said, her expression one of disbelief. 

“We don’t usually disagree,” Tobin shrugged, squeezing Christen closer and meeting the confusion with a small smile. 

“Fighting isn’t always about disagreeing,” Stacy observed sagely. “But I see your point, Tobin.”

“She’s grumpy in the mornings. Doesn’t that bother you? Get under your skin?” Channing asked, following in her oldest sister’s footsteps and asking the hard-hitting questions. 

“Are you trying to get us to fight?” Christen asked with a huff of frustrated laughter. 

“I think it’s cute,” Tobin chuckled, turning her head and making a face at Christen. “She’s usually so confident and happy and put together. The grumpy mornings are pretty adorable.” 

Christen beamed under the compliments and made a face back at Tobin before looking at her family. 

“Satisfied?” Christen wondered. “Because it doesn’t feel weird to not fight. We see some couples who just scream at each other all the time. That can’t be better than this.”

“You’re right. It’s not better. Just make sure you know how to have an argument. It’s the secret to a perfect relationship,” Cody grinned. 

“That’s literally what Chris is studying,” Tobin teased. 

“And you’re studying psych, so we’re extra prepared,” Christen nodded, snuggling even closer and finding Tobin’s free hand on top of the blanket over their laps.

“I’ll psychoanalyze her while she backs me into a corner that I can’t argue my way out of,” Tobin tacked on, making the Presses laugh. 

“See? We know how to have an argument,” Christen chuckled. “We’re set.”

“Well, we’re very happy to have you then, Tobin,” Stacy said, offering a genuine smile to her daughter’s girlfriend. “And if she backs you into a corner, let me know. There might be a way to flip the script. I’ve had a lot of practice.” 

Christen didn’t remember much of the party. There were games and presents and the official announcement of her and Tobin as the maids, not matrons like they would have been, of honor.

She had a few mimosas and played a painful game of ‘spot Tobin before she spots me, then sprint out of the room.’ It proved to be an efficient way to pass the time. The party ended quicker than Christen expected it to, leaving her to help Ashlyn put away leftovers into Tupperware containers once the guests were gone.

They didn’t talk. That was one of the things she loved most about Ashlyn. The woman could read her almost better than anyone. She knew when silence was preferred, like it was now.

The mimosas she’d had didn’t help the toeing of the line between depression and anger. They didn’t help the regression and freefall back into the arms of despair that Christen had worked so hard to free herself from. They didn’t help. In fact, they only aided the dark, twisty, thorny ball of frustration in her chest, the one she could feel with every deep breath.

The one that led her to accidentally shatter a wine glass in her firm grip, the shards falling into the soapy water in the sink.

“God, Ash, I’m sorry,” Christen sighed, reaching out to shut off the water.

“It’s just a glass,” Ashlyn replied, already reaching for Christen’s hand with a dish towel to stop the small cut from bleeding. 

 “You want me to dump out the coolers out back?” Tobin asked, pausing at the doorway that led into the kitchen, her eyes stuck on Christen. She hated that she cared. She hated that she wanted to offer help. And she hated that she was still heartbroken at the reality that Christen didn’t want her help. 

Christen didn’t want anything to do with her. 

“Whatever,” Ashlyn replied, her focus completely on Christen.

“I’m fine, I’m fine ,” Christen said, taking the towel from Ashlyn and holding it over the cut herself. 

It was a desire to avoid showing weakness. She knew that. She could recognize that. The last time she’d been vulnerable, baring weaknesses left and right, she’d gotten destroyed. So even though it was just a stupid cut from a stupid broken glass, Christen didn’t let it become a chink in her armor. She simply staunched the flow of blood with an unseasonable Christmas dish towel and found herself meeting Tobin’s hard gaze with a hardened gaze of her own.

“So is that a yes or a no?” Tobin asked, staring at Christen but asking Ashlyn. 

“It’s a ‘whatever gets you out of this kitchen the fastest,’” Ashlyn huffed, turning back to the leftovers and the Tupperware.

“Ash, why don’t you go do it,” Christen suggested softly, her voice contrasted by the stony expression on her face.

“You don’t need to piss your friend off more,” Tobin mumbled, stepping back from the kitchen doorway as her skin warmed up with all the anger and hurt and horror that she’d felt for three years. 

Tobin bumped into Ali, who was making her way to the kitchen. Ali took one look at the sight before her, the slightly bloody towel clutched in Christen’s hand, the tension in Tobin’s frame, the protective fire in Ashlyn’s eyes, and decided to intervene.

“Christen get yourself a Band-Aid, Tobin stay here, and honey, you’re with me. Outside,” Ali declared, her tone leaving little room for argument. “We’re getting married and I don’t want our entire wedding saga to be World War III.”

“That’s up to Tobin, now, isn’t it?” Ashlyn hummed as she pushed past Tobin to join her fiancée. 

“Outside,” Ali repeated, following Ashlyn toward the backdoor, the sounds of their loving bickering fading into the background as the sliding glass door shut behind them. 

Christen made herself busy. She couldn’t keep leaning against the sink, staring at the ghost of someone she once had bared every part of herself and her soul to. She left the dish towel on the counter and pulled open the cupboard near the sink, taking a Band-Aid out.

“There’s Neosporin in the third drawer from the right,” Tobin forced out, making her jaw ache as she clenched it. 

“I don’t need it,” Christen replied in a tight voice.

“Sure.” 

“Yep.”

“It would heal faster if you used it,” Tobin said, unable to stop herself. It was as if speaking words, no matter how meaningless, would tether her to Christen again somehow. 

Christen felt a scoff leave her lips as she wrapped the bandage around her left ring finger, the irony not lost on her as the Band-Aid slid into place and her ex-wife talked about healing.

“Healing’s a myth,” Christen managed to reply, balling up the trash and depositing it in the bin under the sink, her back still to Tobin.

“Not according to science,” Tobin muttered under her breath, feeling awkward just standing in the doorway. She’d felt like this before. During their fights or when Christen asked for things she wasn’t positive she could give. There was always an overwhelming awkwardness, a realization that she had no idea what she was doing. 

“Is that what you delude your clients into believing? Wounds are healed by science?” Christen found herself snapping back, the familiar irritation blooming in her chest.

“I don’t delude anyone,” Tobin replied, her jaw clenching even tighter. 

“No, you just pour everything you have into them, leaving nothing for anyone else.”

“It’s easy to pour everything into work when all you have is an empty house to come home to. You should know what that’s like, right?” Tobin hissed, too angry to realize that her guilt would keep her up all night. 

Christen whirled around, her green eyes flashing dangerously as her hands gripped the counter behind her.

“Better an empty house than an empty marriage,” Christen replied fiercely.

“I think that may be the first thing we’ve ever agreed on,” Tobin practically growled. “I’d take an empty house over being married to a workaholic robot.” 

The words did more damage than mere ice in Christen’s veins and tiny daggers to her heart. They were icebergs and machetes. They left destruction in their wake. 

“Better a workaholic robot than an unfeeling, emotionally unavailable hypocrite.”

“Trust me, it was felt. I hope your next wife enjoys being ignored,” Tobin spat back. 

“I hope your next wife enjoys feeling unwanted and unworthy of your effort,” Christen ground out, her eyes stinging and her teeth clenched tightly together. “ Trust me , it was felt,” she added, parroting Tobin’s words back to her mockingly.

Tobin felt like her entire body was being ripped open, like her whole body was a wound that hadn’t healed. It had been picked at and prodded, and now, three years later, it was wide open and gushing again. 

She was fairly certain that one breath of air would send her crashing down to her second year as a divorcée, unable to stop crying or take deep breaths, standing on her mother’s front porch and begging her to make it stop. 

So, she did what she was good at. She turned around and walked down the hallway, closing the front door behind her, and almost made it to her car before her chest broke open and sent tears careening down her face. 

Tobin had been stressed for the past three weeks. On the one hand, she’d been incredibly proud. The two of them were graduating with honors. Christen was in a dozen honors societies, draped in stoles and medals when she tried on her graduation gown. 

But there was a sense of anxiety because their college years were over. And now, they were looking at schools on both coasts. Christen was dead set on staying at Georgetown, and while Tobin had applied to their grad program, she wasn’t so sure she’d get in or be able to swing the cost. 

She hadn’t said it yet, neither of them had, but it was in the air. What would they do if they weren’t in the same place? 

Tobin wasn’t sure about any of her grad school options. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to give GW a shot or move all of her stuff to Portland or Seattle. She wasn’t sure if going to school in Florida just for in-state tuition was the best call. 

The only thing she was absolutely 100% sure about was that she didn’t want to go anywhere without Christen. She was sure, without a shadow of a doubt, that she could be happy anywhere if she could fall asleep with Christen in her arms and wake up to the smell of Christen’s shampoo. 

They hadn’t had the conversation, so Tobin was doing something she rarely did. She was taking a note out of Christen’s book and attempting to be a little bit more brazen and straightforward. 

She beat Christen back to their now shared dorm room and pulled out every single acceptance letter she’d received, laying them out on the floor and quietly going over the words she needed to say. 

And then she heard Christen and forgot all the eloquent words she’d prepared. 

“Yeah, Mom, I’ll tell her. Mhm, I love you too,” Christen said into the phone she had trapped between her cheek and her shoulder, closing the door behind her. With a tired sigh, she ended the call and dropped her phone and book bag onto the coffee table. “Baby? You here?” she called out as she collapsed onto their lumpy futon.

“In our room!” Tobin replied as her heart thudded faster in her chest. 

Christen groaned as she pushed herself to her feet and shuffled over to their bedroom. 

“My Mom told me to remind you that- what’s this?” Christen asked as she looked at the papers strewn about on the floor and the nervous way Tobin was fidgeting in the middle of the room.

“I’m…laying it all out,” Tobin murmured, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. 

“Okay…” Christen trailed off, still holding a confused wrinkle between her brows and hovering in the doorframe.

“Here’s the thing, I think it could be fun to live in Portland or Seattle or L.A. I think we could do a lot of the things we love. We could go on hikes and maybe get bikes and bike around our neighborhood or to the beach or something. I think that would be fun, and I’ve gotten into schools there. But if you want to be here, then I’m here. At the end of the day, I just want to stay with you and be with you. If that’s clingy or you want me to chill, say the word, but I don’t want to be anywhere without you. I’m…You’re it. We’re still young, and we have a lot ahead of us, but you’re it, and I don’t want to wait another two or three or four years to have a life with you once school’s over. So I’m laying it out. Just so you…know where I am.” 

Christen felt tears pool in her eyes at the rambling, impassioned words, at the devotion they communicated. She found herself looking at every acceptance letter on the ground before moving her watery gaze back to meet Tobin’s.

“This is where you’re at?” Christen whispered like she couldn’t quite believe it.

“Yeah, I love you. Wherever we live, I just want to love you,” Tobin whispered back, feeling her own eyes sting. 

Christen crossed the space between them on slightly shaky legs and crashed into Tobin, her lips slotting with Tobin’s and her arms encircling Tobin’s waist. She kissed Tobin because what else was there to do? Tobin had laid it all out, answering every question Christen had and silencing every worry she’d been plagued with. 

And now it was her turn. 

“Marry me someday,” Christen murmured, holding Tobin tightly against her. 

“Please,” Tobin croaked, already lost to the happy tears and the complete adoration she felt for the woman in her arms. 

“Marry me after grad school and law school and our first shitty apartment. Just marry me,” Christen replied, whispering the words against Tobin’s lips.

“I’d marry you today,” Tobin admitted quietly, tracing her fingers over every part of Christen’s body. 

“I would too…but we should probably graduate first,” Christen chuckled, kissing Tobin once, twice, three times just because she could, just because she loved Tobin with everything she had and everything she was. 

Tobin rang her mom's doorbell three times, waiting for the sobs to stop breaking out of her, ripping up from her throat and coming out in animalistic cries. 

In a flutter of activity, the door was flung open and Cindy was immediately wrapping Tobin in her arms.

“Sweetie, what happened?” Cindy murmured, rubbing her hands up and down Tobin’s back soothingly.

“I thought I could-” Tobin tried to get out, another cry breaking her voice mid-sentence. 

“Come inside,” Cindy instructed gently, pulling Tobin through the door and down the hall, settling them on the couch in the living room. Cindy cradled her daughter against her chest, the force of Tobin’s sobs shaking the two of them. “Match my breathing, sweetie. Nice and deep inhale, nice and deep exhale.”

“Mom,” Tobin choked out, clutching tightly to her mom’s shirt. 

“I know,” Cindy cooed, not needing to ask to understand. There was only one person in the world who could shatter Tobin like this and reduce her to an inconsolable mess. “I know, Tobs. I know and I’m sorry.”

“I hate that I-” Tobin whimpered, finally sucking in a shaky breath. 

“There it is. Deep breaths,” Cindy whispered, continuing to rub soothing circles along Tobin’s back.

“I don’t want to love her,” Tobin murmured as tears rose to the surface and sent another sob out of her throat. 

Cindy let out a long sigh and simply held Tobin tighter, knowing there was nothing she could say that hadn’t already been said before. 

“I know, sweetie.”

“She hates me, and I just want to- I wish I could hate her back,” Tobin croaked into her mom’s shoulder. 

“Don’t wish for hate,” Cindy admonished quietly. “You can wish for a lot of things, Tobs, but you can never wish for that.”

“She looks the same. And different. But a lot the same,” Tobin murmured, feeling the tears start to run out and a hollow ache replace them in her chest. 

Cindy felt a sad half-smile make its way onto her face. “Time isn’t always unkind,” she replied. “Did you…talk to her?”

“I shouldn’t have,” Tobin sighed, leaning back onto a couch cushion and staring at her mom through stinging eyes. 

“Why not?” was her mother’s kind reply.

“I was unkind. She was unkind back. It…I think it makes me more sure that I was…I think I’m the villain in her story,” Tobin answered, her voice quieter than a whisper. 

“There are no heroes in a divorce, sweetie. I think you can take my word on that,” Cindy replied solemnly. 

“She said I made her feel unwanted and unworthy of effort,” Tobin forced out, her chest throbbing with guilt and pain and shame.  

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but…she sort of did the same thing to you, didn’t she?” Cindy asked gently, taking Tobin’s hands in her own and holding them. 

Tobin just shrugged, feeling her headache reach a new peak, one she called the level of shutting down. She’d often reached that level with Christen during their marriage.

“Why don’t you go lie down in the guest room, hmm? I’ll fix us some tea,” Cindy offered, sensing the wall her daughter was putting up and wisely backing away from it.

Tobin silently stood up, closing her swollen eyes for a moment before she found her voice again. 

“I think I’ll just sleep. We can have tea tomorrow.” 

“Okay, sweetie. Sleep well,” Cindy replied, knowing full well Tobin would have a restless night ahead of her. 

“You too. Sorry I woke you up.” 

“Never apologize for needing me,” Cindy waved off, offering Tobin a reassuring smile. 

Tobin crawled under the covers in the guest room, burying her face in the familiar sheets. This had been her room for the first year of her divorce. She hadn’t had anywhere to go. She’d been too afraid to find a place alone. She’d been too afraid to feel the gaping emptiness. She was still afraid. She’d bought a cat because she was still afraid to sleep alone. She’d needed the weight of something, some other living thing, just to be able to close her eyes at night. 

But as much as Milton tried to keep her company, as cuddly and loud and playful as the cat was, she hadn’t slept a full night’s sleep since her last one in bed with Christen. 

Tonight would be no different. 


“I didn’t say anything we haven’t already said to each other a hundred times,” Christen grumbled, unable to stomach looking at the judgemental glare of Ali or the sympathetic one of Ashlyn.

“She’s fragile,” Ali muttered, grabbing the bloody dish towel and submerging it in the sink with stain remover. 

“I’m fucking fragile but I don’t see you coming to my defense, Ali,” Christen snapped.

“Do you want us both to be on your side? We were there for both of you. It just so happens that I got the honor of holding Tobin together and Ash flew to D.C. for you. You want me to be on your side and just tell Tobin her feelings aren’t as valid?” Ali countered, arching a brow at Christen. 

“That’s not what I said,” Christen replied, her jaw tightening as she crossed her arms over her chest defensively.

“There are towels in the guest room for you. Put Neosporin on your finger before it falls off,” Ali huffed, wiping her hands on a clean dish towel. 

“I’m not staying where I’m unwanted. The woman you won in the divorce taught me that lesson,” Christen said, her voice hard and hoarse.

“You’re wanted,” Ashlyn interjected. 

“I’m going back to the hotel. I’ll see you both tomorrow,” Christen sighed, pushing off the counter, ready to walk out of the kitchen.

“Come on, Press,” Ashlyn begged, reaching out for Christen’s arm. “Ali’s the one who said you could stay here.” 

Christen took a deep breath and met Ali’s gaze, fighting off the urge to shrink and cower. And then she felt the fight drain out of her completely, leaving her weak and exhausted. 

“I’m sorry. This isn’t fair to you. Either of you.”

“It isn’t fair, but we love you both, and we want you here if that’s manageable,” Ali sighed, meeting Christen’s eyes with the first sign of tenderness that she had in years. 

“All I know how to do is manage,” Christen replied bitterly, offering Ali and then Ashlyn the shadow of a pained smile before she breezed out of the kitchen.

“This might be one of our stupidest ideas yet, honey,” Ashlyn sighed, sliding an arm around Ali’s waist.

“It’s the biggest argument you and I ever have. I think we should handle it before saying ‘I do,’” Ali hummed. 

“Handling it by forcing them to interact as our maids of honor after three years of radio silence?” Ashlyn replied, still a little on the fence.

“They have to interact if there’ll ever be a chance for them to get back together.” 

“That’s a long, windy road from the looks of things.”

“I’m a patient woman, and you and I agreed that they’re miserable without one another,” Ali sighed, leaning further into Ashlyn’s side. 

“You’re stubborn too. I love you and your crazy ideas,” Ashlyn murmured.

“I love you. Now, stop glaring at Tobin. She’s fragile.” 

“Stop glaring at Press. She’s fragile too even if she hides it better.”

“I was just very nice,” Ali gasped playfully, turning to kiss Ashlyn’s cheek. 

So nice,” Ashlyn agreed, angling her head to capture Ali’s lips in a sweet kiss.

The first year of law school was a blur of Prezi, flashcards, highlighters of every color, and Tobin. Always Tobin. 

Christen had never known exhaustion quite like that. The hours, the workload. It had her stumbling a time or two, wondering if she was cut out for this. But then Tobin, always Tobin, would swoop in with words of love and encouragement, sometimes a neck rub, sometimes the offer to run through cases with her.

She knew she survived 1L because of Tobin, and so, she planned on thanking her for that. 

“You’re positive that she thinks you two are going to the movies?” Christen asked Ali for the tenth time, chewing her thumbnail as she looked at the outfit options laid out on her bed.

“Pinky promise. She picked out the movie,” Ali nodded, beaming at her friend. “Stop stressing.” 

“Okay, okay. And you have the address, right?”

“I do,” Ali laughed. 

Christen ran her hands over her face and nodded, shooting Ali a desperately nervous look.

“What if she laughs? What if she hates it? What if I’m actually a very unromantic person and this is the stupidest idea ever?”

“I have never met two people more head over heels than you guys. It’s kinda gross. She won’t laugh or hate it. She loves everything you do,” Ali assured, reaching out to hold onto Christen’s shoulders and steady her. 

“I mean it’s not like I’m asking her to marry me or anything. Just celebrating her and then casually discussing having to stay in D.C. permanently because of the internship pipeline through the Public Defender’s office,” Christen sighed.

“She’d say yes if you asked,” Ali sing-songed. 

“She has to wait a few more months. I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to her parents yet,” Christen replied with a smile, one that made her tension leave her and her entire body loosen up.

“Just be honest and tell her you don’t want to do life without her. She feels the same way,” Ali said with an easy, calming smile. 

Nodding, Christen let out a long breath. “Okay, you need to go. Pick her up, pretend like you’re driving to the movies, and then-”

“I know the plan. Deep breaths,” Ali chuckled, stepping back and grabbing her purse.  

Christen wasn’t able to take deep breaths. She was nervous until she was standing at the start of the dirt path that led to her hopefully romantic destination, and Ali’s car came into view. 

She waved and couldn’t help but chuckle a little at the confused expression on Tobin’s face. It wasn’t like Christen could blame her. They were in the woods of Maryland on the outskirts of Ali’s family’s property.

“This isn’t a movie,” Tobin’s voice filtered out of the car as soon as Ali opened her door. 

“Not yet,” Christen beamed, nervously running her hands over the material of her jeans.

“I’m guessing Ali isn’t joining us?” Tobin asked as she hopped out of the car, a huge smile on her face. 

Christen just shook her head with a soft look on her face and held out her hand, waiting for Tobin to join her. When Tobin did, she shot Ali a wave and got a thumb’s up in response, before leading Tobin down the dirt path. 

They didn’t have far to walk. It only took them about thirty seconds to step into the clearing that Christen had outfitted for their date. Three years together and Christen was still trying to be romantic, still trying to make Tobin feel loved.

She’d borrowed a friend’s truck and filled the large truck bed with pillows and blankets and enough soft things for them to be comfortable. On the top of the truck was a projector, and across from the truck was a large, inflatable movie screen. It was set up for them to watch a movie together under the stars, something Christen had remembered Tobin confessing wanting to do someday.

She nervously led Tobin over to the truck bed and then gestured for Tobin to hop up first. 

“Your movie awaits,” Christen said with a smile.

“You’re amazing,” Tobin gasped, looking with wide eyes at the set-up. 

“I see your amazing and raise you a, ‘you’re perfect’ and ‘you deserve to be loved like this,’” Christen whispered, squeezing Tobin’s hand in her own.

“You’re perfect,” Tobin sighed, wrapping herself around Christen as easily as she always did. “What movie did you choose?” 

“Your favorite, of course,” Christen hummed, sinking into the embrace and dropping a series of kisses along Tobin’s cheek and up to her temple. 

“But you said I killed The Proposal for you,” Tobin grinned, turning her head to catch Christen’s lips with her own.  

Christen hummed into the kiss, lingering in the sweetness that always accompanied the feeling of Tobin’s lips pressed against her own. 

“I’d do anything, watch anything, suffer through all DJ Easy Rock sing-alongs, just for you. Always for you.”

“I just love Betty White,” Tobin murmured. “I love you more, but I love Betty.” 

With a soft laugh, Christen pulled Tobin with her and got them settled in the pile of pillows and blankets, pulling a thick comforter over their laps once they were situated. She grabbed the remote for the projector and started the film, the speakers were set up next to the car filling the quiet summer night air around them with the sounds of the movie. 

“There is one thing,” Christen said softly, her arm draped across Tobin’s shoulders and holding her close as the movie played. 

“What’s that?” Tobin sighed happily against Christen’s chest. 

“I got the internship, but…I’m going to turn it down,” Christen replied, deciding at this moment what she was going to do. “It would lock us into D.C. for two years after I finish my degree and that’s too much of an ask.”

“Do you like the internship enough to do it for work after school?” Tobin asked after a beat of silence. 

“It’s why I wanted to go to Georgetown Law in the first place.”

“Then, I guess we live in D.C. for a little bit longer.” 

“Baby,” Christen sighed, “that’s not fair to you.”

“You shouldn’t give up an internship or job that you like,” Tobin shrugged. “I can look at options here.” 

Christen tucked her nose into Tobin’s soft waves and let out a long breath, her fingers tracing nonsensical patterns on Tobin’s shoulder.

“I love you, and I want to build a life together somewhere we both want,” Christen murmured.

“Were you trying to butter me up?” Tobin asked with a soft laugh. 

“No! I really was just trying to thank you for getting me through this first year…but I heard about the internship today and I didn’t want to not talk about it.”

“What’s two years? Plus you get job experience and good references for wherever we decide to go,” Tobin hummed. In the grand scheme of things two years in a city she didn’t like but with someone she adored wouldn’t be a sacrifice. 

“Yeah?” Christen whispered, her pointer finger tracing a heart into the shoulder of  Tobin’s long sleeve t-shirt.

“People need therapy in D.C. probably more than anywhere else,” Tobin chuckled before dropping a kiss to Christen’s collarbone. 

Christen huffed out a laugh in response and felt her anxieties and worries melt away. 

“You are the best girlfriend in the entire world,” Christen grinned.

“For now,” Tobin whispered, burrowing closer to Christen and thinking about the ring box she had in her sock drawer. 

“Slow your roll, baby. I haven’t talked to Cindy and Jeff yet,” Christen hummed, her smile never falling.

“Slowpoke,” Tobin teased quietly. 

“This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever had,” Christen huffed, shuffling on the front porch of a house she’d been to plenty of times. But there was no turning back now.

After a shower and a quiet dinner with Ashlyn and Ali last night, where she promised to try to make their wedding go off without a hitch, Christen realized it would require something of her here in Orlando before she went back to D.C. Something before the planning for the bridal showers and the bachelorette parties began. It required a bridge instead of a door, and Christen was praying she could find one.

So, she’d sucked it up, checked her pride, steeled herself, and showed up at her ex-mother-in-law’s door because she had no idea where else to go.

With two sharp knocks, Christen took a step back and rocked on the balls of her feet, her hands stuffed into the pockets of her light jacket. 

“Christen?” Cindy asked, slipping out onto the porch and shutting the door behind her. 

Christen froze for just a second, flooded by memories of warm embraces and tender forehead kisses and whispered ‘You make her shine’ comments. But then she shook herself out of it. She was here for Ashlyn…and Ali. She was here for them and not for her.

“We’re both maids of honor and I’m here to call a cease-fire,” Christen blurted out, her cheeks flaming and her face pulled into a worried expression.

“Would you like to come in and have some tea?” Cindy asked, surprising them both by stepping forward and wrapping Christen in a hug. 

“Umm…” Christen trailed off, tentatively folding her arms around Tobin’s mom and awkwardly hugging her back. “I probably shouldn’t. Last time I was here I threw a shoe at your daughter's head. Not my finest moment.”

“She’s asleep still,” Cindy chuckled, holding on tightly so that Christen could be the first to let go. 

But in an unconscious decision that added to the tally of surprises this morning, Christen didn’t let go. Not yet. She couldn’t remember the last hug she’d gotten. Probably one from Ashlyn. She didn’t really hug anybody anymore.

Her arms were tailor-made to perfectly wrap around one person and that person was asleep, inside. Hugging anybody else felt unnatural, slightly off. 

And yet she didn’t step out of the hug. She held on for dear life and felt her broken heart shatter then stitch part of itself back together again in the arms of her ex-mother-in-law.

“I’m sorry,” Christen whispered, saying words she hadn’t meant to say, but ones that had found their way past her defenses anyway. “I’m really sorry.”

“I don’t need an apology from you. Although you did throw a shoe at a human I created, so I’ll accept the apology and forgive that.”

Christen chuckled weakly and finally stepped out of the hug, finding that her cheeks were wet.

“You want to come in? I still have that chamomile tea you like,” Cindy offered, smiling softly at a woman she’d never stopped considering a daughter. 

“Sure,” Christen replied with a small nod, wiping at her cheeks with the sleeve of her jacket and then following Tobin’s mom inside.

She found her feet following a familiar path to the hooks near the door to hang up her jacket and slip off her shoes. She walked across hardwood floors and carpets that made her chest ache before settling at a stool at the kitchen counter, nervously tapping her fingers across the granite.

“Are you still in D.C.?” Cindy asked as she busied herself with the kettle on the stove. 

“Yes. I never left the Public Defender’s Office,” Christen replied, feeling simultaneously at ease and on edge in this house, with her ex-mother-in-law making her favorite tea, with Tobin asleep somewhere nearby.

“Do you still like it? You were always extremely passionate about it,” Cindy wondered. 

“I love my job, but some days I…I really don’t like it, if that makes sense,” Christen replied honestly.

“I can understand that. Sometimes I felt that way with four little kids running around the house,” Cindy laughed softly, pulling out two mugs and tea bags. “Your job just pays better.” 

“Monetarily,” Christen agreed with a flicker of sadness across her features.

“You’re still young. I think you’ll be a great mom someday,” Cindy hummed, catching the sadness easily. “I finally got a granddaughter,” she added, pulling a picture off the fridge and handing it to Christen. 

Christen felt a small, genuine smile chase away the sadness for a moment, reaching out for the photograph. It was of Tobin, of course, but the woman she’d once known and loved was holding a tiny bundle in her arms, looking simultaneously floored and enamored.

“She’s beautiful,” Christen complimented easily, handing the photo back. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” Cindy replied, hanging the picture on the fridge with a magnet. 

“How are you doing?” Christen asked, finding herself curious about what the past three years had looked like for Cindy Heath.

“I’m good. I’ve been thinking of moving to South Carolina, actually,” Cindy admitted. 

“I thought you loved it here.”

“I do in some ways, but I’ve found a nice place near the beach. Jeffrey’s there, sitting on a ring, and I want to be close for that.” 

Christen nodded, the familiar sting of guilt swirling around in her stomach since the last Heath marriage hadn’t ended so nicely and it was definitely partially her fault.

“I’m sure he would love that,” Christen replied, not actually knowing if that was the case, but feeling like it was the thing to say in situations like these. Not that situations like these came around often. She would never have guessed, even a few days ago, that she’d be in Cindy’s kitchen about to drink chamomile tea while she waited for her ex-wife to wake up. Life was funny like that.

“I’m sure he’ll tell me to stop hovering. The only person who lets me hover is Tobin,” Cindy replied, leaning her arms on the counter. 

The utterance of the name caused a visceral reaction in Christen. Her shoulders stiffened and her posture grew rigid, her palms tightening into fists on the countertop.

“Have you been taking care of you, sweetheart?” Cindy asked softly, reaching out for Christen’s hand and smoothing out the fist that Christen had unconsciously made. 

“Of course,” Christen replied automatically.

“Eating good meals? Sleeping at night? Resting?” 

Christen bobbed her head up and down in response, unable to find her voice when Cindy was still gently coaxing her hands out of their tight fists.

“You’re as good at lying as she is,” Cindy huffed, shaking her head. 

“I know,” Christen said with a sad smile. 

“So, little sleep? I can tell you aren’t eating enough. We have some muffins that Katie dropped off,” Cindy said, not waiting for a response as she moved to get them from the counter. 

“You don’t have to-” Christen faltered and sighed as a tray of muffins appeared on the counter in front of her.

“You still like chocolate?” 

“You don’t have to do this, Mrs. Heath,” Christen managed with another shake of her head. The kindness was proving tough to swallow. Kindness she didn’t deserve.

“I don’t know everything that happened. I don’t know what kind of hurt my daughter caused you or all that you did that hurt her. I do know that I gave you my blessing to become a daughter to me. That doesn’t change,” Cindy sighed, tilting her head as a sadness spread across her features. 

The kettle whistled at just the right time, giving Cindy a reason to turn around and Christen a moment to compose herself. 

But whatever composure Christen had managed, whatever tenuous grasp she had on her emotions and the tears welling up in her eyes, slipped away when heavy footsteps sounded on the staircase.

Christen froze, knowing what was to come. She froze and she panicked and she would have bolted if not for the mug of hot tea put in front of her and the gentle touch Cindy left on her wrist.

“She can hear from upstairs. And she’ll be on her best behavior if she ever wants me to cat sit for her again,” Cindy promised, dropping a kiss to Christen’s forehead. 

Before Christen could process that Tobin Heath, self-proclaimed lover of dogs and only dogs, had a cat , those footfalls paused at the base of the stairs. 

“Good morning, sweetie. Coffee or tea?” Cindy asked, filling in the silence for both women. 

Tobin seemed to realize that her feet worked again. She muttered a ‘morning’ on her way to the coffee pot. She didn’t dare look up at the woman sitting at the kitchen counter, not when her eyes were raw from the night before and her bedhead was definitely at its worst.

“I think I’m going to go for a walk. I’ll leave you two here. If anything goes amiss, the number for nine-one-one is nine-one-one,” Cindy said, kissing the back of Tobin’s head and then offering Christen one final smile before grabbing a jacket and leaving. 

In the wake of the front door slamming shut, an awkward, heavy silence descended. A silence Christen wasn’t sure how to fill but was sure she had to be the one to fill it, since she was the one behind enemy lines.

“They want to have two bridal showers, one here and one in Maryland. Given that two would require more…time spent in each other’s presence, I thought it prudent to-”

“You don’t have to do that,” Tobin mumbled, her back still turned as she walked to the fridge for creamer. 

“Do what?” Christen huffed, a little irritated at having been interrupted.

“You’re talking to me like I’m a judge or something,” Tobin answered, slowly stirring her coffee and taking deep breaths to get the courage to turn around. 

“Should be a familiar role for you. Since you were judge, jury, and executioner for our marriage,” Christen snapped, hating that it always came back to this. Fighting. It always circled back to barbed statements and carelessly cruel comments no matter how hard they tried for the opposite.

“You’re the one who filed for divorce,” Tobin growled, finally turning around, puffy eyes be damned. 

“You’re the one who signed the papers,” Christen shot back, her grip on her mug of chamomile tea warming her hands and keeping her grounded.

Tobin could feel her jaw tighten as she stood there, her hands holding onto the counter. “Continue then, counselor.” 

Christen’s hands tightened around the mug in her hand, surprised that it didn’t shatter under the strain of her grip. The derision dripping from Tobin’s words made her want to hurl another shoe, but she checked the anger and retreated to what she always went to. Work.

“I thought it would be prudent to extend an olive branch to ensure our friends’ wedding goes as smoothly as possible. If you would be agreeable to that, we can put a pause on the…arguments and just focus on Ash and Ali,” Christen said, her voice taking on a professional edge.

“Well put, counselor. Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Jesus, Tobin,” Christen huffed. “I came over here-”

“Didn’t you basically file for no more arguments when you asked me to get the fuck out of your life by leaving a piece of paper on our bed?” Tobin asked, her jaw aching and her chest already heaving. 

“That bed and our marriage were empty long before I put paperwork on it,” Christen replied tersely.

“Oh, I know. I was the one waking up alone,” Tobin argued right back. 

“I was the one actually alone. It didn’t matter if I made it home because you weren't there. You were never there!” Christen seethed, fighting fire with fire, matching Tobin shot for shot.

“I was always there! I was the one trying !” Tobin countered, trying to keep her voice from breaking as she shot back. 

The line of arguments was predictable. They always argued in circles. It was always who left first and who tried harder and who didn’t try hard enough. It was never finding a point of agreement, always a point of contention. It was always the same and Christen hated it. 

“That’s what you call trying? Refusing to talk to me, refusing to open up, to get intimate and honest? That was you trying? Putting up wall after fucking wall until there was so much space between us that I couldn’t even remember the last time you touched me?”

“I didn’t touch you because you weren’t there,” Tobin hissed. “And when you were there, you were thinking about work, doing work, or calling someone who was still at work.” 

“And you would rather fix everyone else's marriages but ours,” Christen said, flinging the angry words across the kitchen. “I’m not innocent here, I know that. But it takes two to break a marriage this bad.”

“Obviously,” Tobin scoffed, her word harsh but the wind slightly out of her sails. 

Christen couldn't keep in the frustrated growl. She pushed the stool back and got to her feet.

“Still shutting down. Typical,” Christen huffed, moving down the hall toward her coat and her shoes.

“What does that mean? I just agreed with you,” Tobin grumbled, knowing fully well what Christen meant. 

“No, you didn’t! You put up another wall because what I said made you uncomfortable. And if there’s one thing you hate, it’s being uncomfortable,” Christen replied, sliding into her jacket and putting on her shoes.

“I guess we better be civil then. I’d hate to be uncomfortable in front of the blushing brides,” Tobin replied, still holding onto the kitchen counter for dear life. 

Christen grabbed her purse from the small table and then turned to glare at Tobin down the hallway. 

“Civil was off the table a while ago. The best we can hope for now is avoidance. You’re good at that too as I recall,” Christen said as she turned to the door, yanking it open with enough force to momentarily consider sending Cindy a text to apologize.

“Avoidance?” Tobin barked out a laugh. “You shipped my things in a pod to avoid seeing my face-” 

Christen slammed the door, cutting off any further words from Tobin and keeping herself from shouting a response, the chasm in her heart aching to rewrite the narrative. She’d shipped Tobin’s things because seeing Tobin again would have broken something in her she would never be able to fix. Something that had broken when she’d walked into Ashlyn and Ali’s party yesterday. Something that felt as unfixable as it had the day she’d come home to see Tobin’s signature on the divorce papers.

“I’m proud of her. I really am,” Tobin insisted as she sat with Ali in one of their favorite coffee shops. 

“Are you trying to convince me or yourself?” Ali asked with an arched brow.

“I don’t need to convince myself to be proud. I need to convince myself to like it here,” Tobin said with a grimace. 

“You don’t have to like it here. You just have to love her more than you hate it.”

“I do,” Tobin said quickly. “I love her more than anything.” 

“Why do I feel like there’s a J-Lo-sized but coming…” Ali trailed off, pausing with her coffee held in front of her mouth.

“It isn’t a but. I- already I’m gonna be finished with school a year before her. I feel like I talked myself into being okay with one extra year in a tiny apartment with no backyard. But…then she asked for two or three more. And I can do that. I’ll do that if it makes her happy. I just wish you and Ash weren’t leaving.” 

“I know, Tobs,” Ali sighed, her face falling. “But we both got great offers down there. We’re lucky because we’re both happy with the place and each other. I just want that for you and Chris too.”

“I am happy with her,” Tobin replied without hesitation. “Just expect me to call and repeatedly ask you how your backyard is.” 

“I will,” Ali promised with a nod, reaching out to lay a hand on top of Tobin’s. “Take care of yourself, okay?”

“Hey, I’m doing great,” Tobin said with a tight smile. “I passed my thesis. I’m gonna therapize the entire city.” 

“The city’s doomed,” Ali joked, squeezing Tobin’s hand. “Will you- will you just promise me something?”

“What’s that?” 

“In six months when you’re working and Chris is busy with school becoming the best lawyer ever, remember the happy when it gets hard, okay?”

“I will,” Tobin promised. “It’s easy to remember the happy with her.” 

Tobin sent Ali on her way after Ali insisted on paying for their coffees. She wandered the streets of D.C., trying to see them like she had when she’d first moved for school. There wasn’t anything bad about the city. It was exciting and convenient. It was where she’d fallen in love with Christen. 

It just wasn’t where she’d envisioned spending so much time. Maybe she was boring, but she’d always wanted to live in a city that was a little more spread out, where she and Christen could have a dog and a yard and more than a one-bedroom apartment. 

She’d suggested moving to Virginia a couple of times, but Christen had made a face at the prospect of commuting so far to school. So, Tobin hadn’t mentioned it again. She could do D.C. for three more years. 

When she got to their apartment, Christen was holed up on the couch, noise-canceling headphones on her head and a huge book open on her lap. 

“Hey,” Tobin greeted, not getting a response until she was leaning over and dropping a kiss to Christen’s head. 

“Hi, baby,” Christen hummed, taking off her headphones. She turned to shoot Tobin a quick smile before looking back down at her textbook.

“How’s the studying going?” Tobin asked, dropping down onto the couch next to Christen, the shiny engagement ring she’d been hiding now on Christen’s finger. 

“I had a breakdown thirty minutes ago but I rallied,” Christen sighed, grabbing a highlighter and running the marker over a few sentences.

“Have you stopped to eat anything?” Tobin wondered as she nuzzled her nose along Christen’s neck. 

“I had something recently, at like ten-thirty,” Christen replied a little distractedly.

“Baby, it’s three,” Tobin whispered. “I’ll whip something up.” 

“No, stay,” Christen said, reaching out to hold onto Tobin’s leg to keep her close.

“I’ll order something then,” Tobin chuckled, pulling out her phone to order from Christen’s favorite restaurant. 

Christen let out a sigh of relief and went back to her textbook, her hand staying on Tobin’s thigh. 

“Did you get a chance to read it?” Tobin asked quietly, her hand moving up and down Christen’s back. 

“Read what?”

“My thesis.” 

Christen winced and offered Tobin an apologetic half-smile. “It’s printed out and waiting for me on my bedside table. I just haven’t yet.”

“It’s okay,” Tobin said with a shake of her head. 

“I will read it,” Christen promised.

“Work on your book and your lawyer-making stuff,” Tobin hummed, pressing another kiss to Christen’s temple. “I think I’m gonna shower.” 

“If you wait ten minutes, I’ll shower with you,” Christen offered with a wiggle of her brows.

“Sounds good,” Tobin grinned, spending a few minutes peppering a few more kisses along Christen’s neck before she slipped from the couch to get the shower ready. Only Christen never showed. 

That was the first time Tobin had ever felt like she came second: in the shower, alone, her graduate thesis on the bedside table and Christen lost in a world without time. 

“Do you think you’d feel comfortable sharing when you last felt seen by your partner?” Tobin asked, offering a soft smile despite the way her job was literally making all of her feelings worse. 

Linda fiddled with her wedding ring and Jonathan continued to sweat through his shirt, neither one of them jumping to answer. 

“It can be as simple as a glance or a kind word,” Tobin prompted. 

“Our wedding day,” Linda said finally, her voice frail and thin.

“What was it about that day?” Tobin asked, keeping her face calm and supportive. 

Linda primly crossed her legs and looked out the window of Tobin’s office. “It was the last day I felt like the only woman on earth to him. After that, I felt common. Unspecial.”

“Jonathan, do you think Linda’s special?” Tobin asked, turning her attention to the man in front of her. 

“Of course I do,” Jonathan huffed, his arms crossed defensively over his chest, a thin sheen of perspiration on his forehead below his floppy brown hair. 

“Is it something specific? Why her? What made you want to marry her above everyone else?” 

Jonathan uncrossed his arms and looked over at Linda, the sparkle of something in his eyes as he gazed at her.

“It might seem stupid to you, Doc, but I wanted to marry her because she set out socks for me to sleep in every night.”

“That’s not stupid at all. That sounds really thoughtful,” Tobin assured. 

“I never even told her that I couldn’t fall asleep without socks on. She just noticed and started setting them out for me. Even started buying me funny ones with jokes on ‘em,” Jonathan added, his posture completely softening and opening up as he spoke.

“I think people often get so bogged down by the mundane that we forget to remember the special, even if it seems everyday. I think sometimes we forget to be grateful for the everyday stuff, like socks,” Tobin hummed. 

“How can I be more grateful? How can I show her I am? Because I want to,” Jonathan asked, pleading eyes moving to Tobin and away from Linda.

“Thank you’s go a long way,” Tobin said, her voice still slow and even. “I have a couple of lists for you to take home as fun homework. But you have to promise me to follow the instructions to the letter.” 

“We promise,” Linda assured with a small nod.

“The first list is the fun list,” Tobin said, leaning forward to pass them each a list. “They’re fun questions about your own memories. You can talk about your wedding, your first date, your kids.” 

Jonathan reached question nine and cleared his throat. “We don’t have to share these with you, right? Because nine seems a little personal.”

“It’s just for you,” Tobin laughed, only helping to ease the tension in the room. “You don’t need to write anything down. Just take time with one another, no interruptions, and talk.” 

“What if talking doesn’t work? What if your lists don’t work? What then?” Linda queried, a flash of uncertainty on her face. 

“My lists will work if you follow the number one rule. If you or Jonathan think of anything negative while going over the fun list, don’t say it. Write it down in a journal and bring it in to talk about. Don’t ruin fun. If you need a timeout, take it. If you want to do the questions slowly, do that. But write down anything negative and save it for our meeting. Maybe we’ll save the second list for next week and make this week just a fun one.” 

“Marriage is supposed to be fun, right?” Jonathan asked with a small laugh, earning a smile from his wife.

“Fun but also work. You both have to decide if you want this,” Tobin replied, keeping her small smile on her face despite the throbbing in her chest. 

Linda and Jonathan bridged the small gap between them, their hands finding one another’s.

“I do,” Linda affirmed. 

“I do too,” Jonathan echoed. 

“I think you two can get on track. Just put in the work, and remember to enjoy one another,” Tobin added, finally looking away from the clasped hands. It was too much. “So, I’ll see you both next week?” 

“Can I ask you something, Doc?” 

“Of course,” Tobin nodded, getting up from her armchair and moving around the room to her desk. 

“Did all this list and listening stuff work for you and your partner? I guess I’m just looking for a success story,” Jonathan said with a sheepish smile. 

“I’m actually single,” Tobin forced out. “But I’ll definitely be using the fun list for any future relationships. The lists have been successful for my clients, I promise.” 

With matching nods and smiles, Jonathan and Linda got to their feet and left the office, ready to come back next week at the same time.

She hadn’t actually lied. She was single, and the lists hadn’t been on her radar when she and Christen had imploded. Even still, there was a familiar guilt sitting low in her stomach. It was there after every single session with a couple. 

It was there screaming, ‘you’re a fraud ’ over and over and over again. 

The truth of the matter was that exercises and lists didn’t save marriages, the people in them did. And Christen was right. Tobin was a hypocrite, preaching about communication and respect and love when none of her previous experience even hinted at that. 

She’d written her Ph.D. thesis about these stupid lists, two years after her divorce, crying the entire time. They were proven effective but only if the people using them were invested. 

She wrote the lists, but in her experience, she hadn’t even been equipped to be invested. 

Trying to finish planning a wedding and study for the Boards was a recipe for stress. But surprisingly, Christen wasn’t stressed. She was marrying the love of her life and the end of law school was on the horizon. 

She only wished she knew how Tobin was feeling. There were only so many times she could hear the words ‘I’m great!’ and not want to throw a shoe or something crazy like that. Because she knew Tobin wasn’t great, she just wasn't sure what she was. 

“Tobin?” Christen called out, leaning against the doorframe and eyeing the woman sitting up in bed, a handful of psychology journals spread out around her. 

“Hey, baby,” Tobin hummed, glancing up from the journals. “Are you finished studying for the night?” 

“Yeah, I was wondering if you wanted to take a walk with me?” Christen asked, subconsciously running her thumb along the inside ridge of the engagement ring on her finger. 

“Sure,” Tobin nodded, pushing a couple journals out of her lap. “Is everything okay?” 

“That’s what I was going to ask you,” Christen chuckled, tangling their fingers together and pulling Tobin to the door. “You stole my line.”

“I asked you first,” Tobin whispered, lifting Christen’s hand up and pressing a kiss to each knuckle. 

The words and the kisses were sweet. They always were from Tobin. But sometimes Christen just wanted a straight answer. Sometimes Christen wanted Tobin not to put up walls but build bridges. Sometimes Christen wanted Tobin to let her in just a little more. 

But all Christen did was smile and grab a scarf because she knew Tobin would be cold. She ignored the small voice inside because she was happy. She was marrying the love of her life and finishing law school soon. Her dreams were all coming true. 

“I’m feeling great about my final exams and how the year’s wrapping up. I’m getting very very ready to finally marry you. And I’m thinking I want pizza for dinner. How are you?” Christen wondered, leading them out of the apartment and to the staircase that led down to the lobby. 

“Are you stressed about the Board?”   Tobin asked, swinging their hands back and forth. 

“That’s an interesting emotion to feel,” Christen teased. “Come on, how are you?”

“I’m great,” Tobin shrugged, wrapping the scarf more fully around her neck. 

Christen waited and waited and waited some more. But those two words were the only words Tobin provided as an answer. 

“You know you can talk to me, right? If you’re ever not great? I’m going to be your wife and I care about how you’re feeling,” Christen whispered, bringing their clasped hands to her lips so she could kiss Tobin’s knuckles. 

Tobin nodded and then leaned in to kiss Christen’s cheek. “I’m very excited to marry you and for you to never have to study for the Board again.” 

It still wasn’t what Christen was looking for, but it was fine. Tobin was great and she was great and they were getting married. Nothing to worry about. 

“As you can see, the prosecution failed to prove their case. In fact, they failed to even put one together worthy of your time. It was ham-handled and fumbled. The facts were off, the witnesses unsound, the science sketchy at best. So I ask you, members of the jury -- what’s the story that makes sense here? The ham-handled, fumbled bag of lies from the prosecution? Or the fact that my client was two states away for the birth of her nephew and nowhere near the scene of the crime? You’ve seen the photos. She’s got a gorgeous nephew, and she was there to see him take his first breath. That’s the story that makes sense here. The Defense rests,” Christen said with one final professionally practiced smile for the jury before taking a seat next to her client. 

She wasn’t expecting to win the case. Nobody in the courtroom expected her to. She was going up against a brutal prosecution team with more resources and time than she could even dream of. But her client was innocent. They weren’t always, but this one was. And Christen fought like hell to prove it. 

She just hoped she’d done enough. 

The jury deliberated for only two hours before coming back with a verdict of ‘not guilty’ on all charges. 

She’d done enough. 

The exhale Christen let out in relief was rivaled only by the tears of joy from her client. There was nothing that beat this feeling. 

It was bigger than joy. It was euphoric, the sense of justice and success and pride she felt after winning a case where the odds were stacked against her. It had her buzzing, smiling from ear to ear as she took a cab across town to her apartment. She felt untouchable. She felt like she was flying. 

But then she walked into a dark, quiet, lonely apartment and Christen realized all this elation, this pride, this euphoria, it had nowhere to go. She had no one to share it with. 

It crashed down hard around her, leaving her emptier than she’d felt walking away from Cindy’s house a week ago. 

She’d sacrificed everything for this job. Her family, her friendships, her marriage. And for what? Huge victories and justices, sure. But nobody to share it with. She was alone on the mountaintop and for the first time ever, Christen wondered if the view was worth the destruction she’d left in the wake of her climb. 

With a heavy sigh and a heavy heart, Christen shed her coat and hung up her purse. She kicked off the heels that always made her feet hurt. And then she went to the hall closet, somewhere she rarely if ever ventured. It was someplace she hadn’t gone since the bargaining stage of grief. 

It took her a second to find it on the shelf, but when she did, a broken whimper left her lips, one she couldn’t stop no matter how hard she tried. 

She carried the Constitutional Law textbook over to the couch, the one Tobin had left behind on their first study date, and set it down in her lap. She reverently flipped each page, the doodles and the notes in the margins calling up memories and phantom touches and an ache so powerful Christen was certain it would swallow her whole. It was an ache that had her tucking the closed book to her chest and curling up on the couch with it. 

And in the morning when she woke up on the couch with the textbook still in her arms, Christen ignored the tear stains on the pages and put it back in the hall closet, slamming that door to try and put an end to the ache she knew would never go away. 

Tobin put away the leftovers from a dinner for two that only she had actually eaten. She hadn’t stomached much, too achy and frustrated and hurt to really eat. 

She’d gotten home from work earlier than usual thanks to a canceled appointment, and she’d wanted to surprise Christen. Their relationship was strained with heavy workloads and a move to a slightly bigger apartment near DuPont Circle. 

Tobin knew dinner wouldn’t solve everything, but quality time would be nice. It was her way to reach out. It was a way to try and bridge something that seemed to have drastically put space between them. 

The intention made the unshared meal taste bland. It made Tobin’s chest feel hollow, which was foreign in their relationship. It made her head ache and her body feel like it would cave in on itself. 

So, she did what she could. She crawled into their bed and closed her eyes, willing away any stinging because she wasn’t going to cry over her wife’s long day at work. They would be fine once things started to slow down. 

That was the first night Tobin had felt like a fraud. She was a therapist, someone who helped people solve problems. She helped clients through crises and serious loss. She knew what was healthy and what wasn’t. And still, when she heard Christen come home, she kept her eyes shut, too afraid to lose it if she voiced what was really going through her head, too scared to fall apart if she opened her mouth. 

Tobin couldn’t handle going into the city with Ali and Ashlyn. She was Ali’s maid of honor, so she’d made the trip to Maryland and agreed to stay at Ali’s parents’ house, but she couldn’t go to D.C. 

She knew it would be too much because she had memories in every single corner of the city. She knew the gaping hole in her chest would just ache and rip even more if she walked around D.C., spotting her old apartments and noticing specific streets where she and Christen had paused to window shop or kiss or literally anything else. The city was Christen, and Christen had won that in the divorce fair and square. 

So, she stayed with Ali’s mom, putting tea lights in mason jars and cutting out tissue paper hearts to sprinkle on tabletops in the backyard. 

Ali’s mom, Debbie, was decent company in that she could talk for the both of them. Tobin just sat and listened, nodding her head every few minutes and accepting any and all food or drinks that Debbie pushed her way. 

It was only painful when her eyes shifted, glancing out the window at the expanse of farmland. It only hurt because she knew that just beyond the trees that she could see through the window, there was an open field that had once been an outdoor movie theater. 

It was better than being in D.C. but not by much. 

“Why don’t you go help hang the lights, dear,” Debbie suggested, gently taking the scissors and the eviscerated pieces of tissue paper away from Tobin. 

“Is Kyle outside?” Tobin asked, glancing at the window again. 

“I'm not sure. He might be. I know Ali and Ashlyn are picking up the cupcakes on their way back.”

“You want me to stop ruining the tissue paper?” Tobin asked with a soft laugh. 

Debbie offered Tobin a small smile and gestured with her head at the back door. “The lights have to criss-cross over the tables. The spokes are already in the ground.”

“I’ll give Kyle words of encouragement,” Tobin grinned, making her way out to the back patio. She pulled the door tightly behind her before looking up. 

A rookie mistake. 

Her eyes met green ones, and every ounce of repair she’d done for the past two months since seeing Christen at her mom’s house flew out the window. If it were a physical wound, she knew she’d be splayed out on the patio by now. 

“Debbie sent me out to help,” Tobin mumbled. 

“You can tell her I’ve got it,” Christen replied in a tight voice, sliding the loops of lights around her arm and then climbing the small step ladder next to the first spoke. 

“When did you get here?” Tobin asked, confused about how she hadn’t seen Christen despite having spent the night. 

“Five minutes ago. I went around the back.”

“Right…” 

Christen simply started hanging the lights, focusing on the instructions Kyle had given her before ditching her to decorate alone. She plugged one end into the extension cord on the spoke and then tossed the string of lights onto the grass, climbing down the step ladder. 

She got lost in it. The simple task of hanging lights. She got lost in it enough that she was about to delude herself into thinking Tobin had left or gone inside. 

But then Tobin broke the silence and she was harshly reminded of Tobin’s presence. 

“You’re tangled,” Tobin murmured, reaching out for a section of lights that was still dangling from Christen’s hand. 

“I’m not,” Christen replied with a huff, climbing the ladder again. 

“Your lights are tangled. There’s a knot right there,” Tobin sighed, pointing at the knotted wire. 

“It’s fine,” Christen said as she wrapped the string of lights twice around the top of the spoke, securing it with a zip tie. “I got this. I don’t need help.”

“It's just a knot,” Tobin continued, looking at the way the lights on the knotted wire clumped awkwardly. “I can fix it in just a few seconds.” 

“Jesus. Just do it. Do whatever you want,” Christen grumbled in exasperation, hopping off the step ladder carelessly and ditching the string of lights in the grass.  

“She sent me out to help,” Tobin sighed, grabbing the lights to untangle them. “You don’t have to do everything alone.” 

“I got good at it,” Christen replied in a bitter voice, moving away from the lights and the stepladder and Tobin, choosing to settle at a table and start to fold the napkins laying in the middle of it. 

“That makes two of us,” Tobin muttered as she got the knot out of the cord. 

“Self-imposed isolation doesn’t scrounge up the pity you’re looking for,” Christen said, smoothing out a wrinkle in the napkin and setting it aside. 

“I don’t know why I have to keep reminding you that you’re the one who asked for the isolation. And I don’t think you’re capable of even pitying someone else,” Tobin replied, keeping her voice as calm as possible as she finished up another section of lights. 

The arguments were the same, and so was the pain, but somehow, they always found new ways to hurt one another. New lows to reach. Implying heartlessness and a lack of feeling was a new low, and it had Christen struggling to keep a grasp on the dark, twisty ball of rage in her chest. 

“I might have filed for divorce, but you left our marriage long before I did. It wasn’t sunshine and rainbows and easy, so you stopped trying. And you’re right, that’s not worthy of my pity. Your lack of effort isn’t worth the investment,” Christen managed to reply, pulling her fists into her lap to keep from balling up the napkins she was trying to fold. 

“Then why the hell are you investing effort into blaming me? If you’re so sure that I’m the bad guy, why the hell are you wasting the oxygen on someone so unworthy of effort or investment?” Tobin snapped, fixing the lights to the last spoke and hopping off the ladder. 

“We were together for almost eight years. That doesn’t just disappear because I had the guts to do what you clearly wanted to do,” Christen countered, her cheeks flushed and her eyes alight with rage and hurt. “Hate me all you want for that, but you’re welcome. You didn’t have to keep pretending.”

“Wow, you’re such a saint. Thank you so much for taking eight years and not even having the decency to hand me the papers yourself,” Tobin replied, her voice full of vitriol and sarcasm. 

“Even if you were there, even if I’d put those papers into your hands, you wouldn’t have been there with me. You were never there with me, Tobin. Ever.”

“Then why’d you marry me in the first place?” 

It wasn’t an offensive or rude question on the surface, but it had Christen shooting to her feet and stalking across the grass, getting into Tobin’s space, her words and body language defensive. 

“Don’t,” Christen said coolly, her eyes narrowed. “Fight with me all you want about those last few years but don’t you dare bring anything else into it.”

“You already did. Why marry someone who’s never there? Why take someone who’s never there home to meet the parents?” Tobin pushed, not backing away from Christen despite the smell of Christen’s perfume making her body throb with pain. 

“Because I was hoping to be enough for you to want to be there,” Christen snapped, the words honest and raw, her voice breaking just a bit as she said them. 

“Work was more fulfilling to you. I’m aware,” Tobin responded, wishing she had vitriol to back up her words but feeling nothing but that ever-present pain. 

“No. It wasn’t,” Christen said with a shake of her head, spinning on her heel and walking quickly across the backyard. 

She could barely breathe around the lump in her throat as she pushed through the back door and found a window seat in the sitting room to drop down onto. She tried to do her deep breathing routine, but even that wasn’t enough this time. So she just sat there and ignored the wetness on her cheeks and the pain from her teeth digging into her bottom lip so her sobs wouldn’t be heard. She just sat there and she hurt. 

Christen wasn’t dumb or willfully ignoring the obvious. 

She knew her job was creating problems. The hours, the workload, the emails and calls after hours. It was taking a toll on her and on Tobin and on their marriage. They’d been married just three months and Christen wasn’t sure when they’d last spent the weekend together, just the two of them. It wasn’t the way to start their forever, and she knew that. 

So, she collected - favors, time off, and IOUs. She collected enough to earn herself forty-eight hours free from all work just in time for the sixth anniversary of the day they’d met. 

When her alarm clock went off at eight on Saturday morning, Christen woke up with a smile. It was the first time she’d done that since their brief honeymoon trip to the South Carolina coast. 

Christen turned the alarm off and rolled over in bed, tucking her knees in behind Tobin’s bent ones and pressing her front against Tobin’s back. She reached over Tobin and pulled Tobin’s left hand away from the comforter, bringing it to her lips so she could leave a kiss on the gold wedding band around Tobin’s ring finger. 

Tobin let out a few incoherent mumbles as she squirmed back into Christen’s space, sinking into the warmth there. 

“You’re gonna be late.” 

“No, I’m not,” Christen whispered, kissing the wedding band around Tobin’s ring finger again. 

“Late start?” Tobin hummed. 

“No start. I’m off this weekend,” Christen replied, flipping Tobin’s hand over to start kissing across her palm and the pads of her fingertips.

Tobin turned her head and cracked her eyes open enough to look at her wife. She definitely didn’t mean to look skeptical, but she had a feeling she did. 

“Ah, I’m still asleep,” Tobin teased quietly. 

Christen chuckled and kissed down to Tobin’s wrist, then got more comfortable to continue her path. She rolled over on top of Tobin, her lips moving from Tobin’s wrist to her forearm, then to the crook of her elbow and up to her bicep. 

“I’ve got the whole weekend off. I took one day unpaid and traded the rest of the hours with people I now owe baked goods and favors to, but it’s worth it,” Christen murmured into Tobin’s skin, thankful her wife loved to sleep in tank tops so she had more skin to kiss. 

“I’ll bake them whatever they want,” Tobin whispered as her arms wound around Christen and pulled her impossibly closer. 

“I missed you,” Christen whispered back, her lips now ghosting across Tobin’s collarbone and up the slope of her neck.

“I missed you,” Tobin sighed as she slipped her hands under Christen’s shirt to find her warm, smooth skin. 

“I know, baby. I’m sorry,” Christen murmured, running the tip of her nose along Tobin’s neck before dropping a few more kisses there. “I’m sorry I’m gone so much. I’m sorry this is hard. I’m really, really sorry.”

“You don’t need to be sorry,” Tobin said with a shake of her head. “It’s your dream job.” 

“Doesn’t make it any easier on you. Now, shhh, I’m apologizing,” Christen hummed, nipping at Tobin’s pulse point and then soothing it with her tongue. 

“I love waking up with you,” Tobin breathed out, trailing her hands up and down Christen’s back. 

“I do too, baby,” Christen whispered. “Good morning.”

She kissed up Tobin’s neck, across her jaw, and finally met her lips. She lingered in a kiss she hadn’t had time to linger in for a while. 

So this morning, she lingered. 

She spent time stripping Tobin out of her tank top and briefs, leaving kisses in her wake. She spent time relearning parts of her wife that she’d unfortunately forgotten about. The ticklish spot under her left breast, the spot that always earned her a breathless moan above Tobin’s right hip bone. She learned and she tried to cleanse herself of the guilt she’d been harboring. Because she knew it was her fault that she’d forgotten and had to relearn. 

As she settled between Tobin’s legs, Tobin’s briefs stuck around her left ankle, Christen gently coaxed Tobin to the edge and then over it. One, twice, three times. 

She’d been planning for more. She wanted to give more, especially when she felt like all she kept doing was taking. Taking time away from her wife, taking time and energy away from their home and their life. She wanted to give. She had two days to give and she hoped it was enough.

But Tobin tugged her back up before she could give a fourth and Christen was powerless to resist. So, she passed the sensitive spot above Tobin’s right hip and the ticklish spot beneath her left breast before settling on top of her wife. 

“I love you in a way I can’t even understand,” Christen whispered past the lump in her throat and the emotions swirling in her chest. “I love you so much,” she added before leaning down to pour every part of herself into the kiss she left on Tobin’s lips. 

“It’s my turn to show you,” Tobin whispered back, forcing away the stinging in her eyes as she rolled Christen over in bed and hovered over her. “I love you more than I’ve ever loved another soul.” 

Christen reached up to run her thumb beneath Tobin’s right eye, catching the lone tear that had slipped through.

“I’ll do a better job of showing you I feel the same way.”

Tobin buried her face in the crook of Christen’s neck, kissing every inch of skin she could find, while her hands pushed Christen’s t-shirt up. 

There was a new sense of relief filling Tobin’s body. Christen knew. Christen could tell that things felt off, but they were still a unit. She wasn’t sitting alone in a marriage, waiting for her wife to come home. 

It made her chest ache and her throat get thick. The emotions she’d been stomaching for months had been given permission to rise up. She stuffed them down with each kiss and touch, not wanting to make Christen feel bad, not when she was clearly aware that things weren’t perfect. 

They tried to avoid one another, trying to pass like ships in the night. Except, the sea they were traversing was stormy at best, and there was only so much avoidance possible at a bridal shower with thirty people.

Terse, clipped words were shared over cupcakes and macaroons until Ali swooped in and took Tobin away from the dessert table, leaving Christen to finish setting things up. 

An uncomfortable silence hung between them as Ali and Ashlyn opened gifts, Christen taking dutiful notes on who the gifts were from with Tobin grumbling under her breath about Christen being a ‘control freak.’ 

The ghosts of their argument earlier followed their every move around the party, working to dampen the joy of the day. They were like a vacuum for the happiness, a black hole for the love that should have been all around.

And it was exhausting. Pretending to have it all together. Pretending like she was excited for her best friend to get married when her own marriage had exploded. Pretending like being in the same five feet of space as Tobin wasn’t like sticking a white-hot branding iron down her throat. 

Christen was just exhausted.

So, when the guests were gone and all that was left to do was clean up, Christen shut the door to the sitting room where the happy couple had opened gifts and sank onto the couch, an empty trash bag and piles of wrapping paper on the ground around her.  She dropped her face into her hands and stopped pretending. She let the weight of it all slump her shoulders and weigh heavily on her heart.

Tobin wandered into the room intent on picking up the wrapping paper and taking it to the trash like Ali had requested, but then she saw her ex-wife, caving in on herself, and felt herself redirect towards the couch. It was autopilot. She blamed it on the love she couldn’t stop feeling, the love that had never gone away no matter how hard she tried. 

She sank onto the couch a few feet away from Christen, unable to find words. She felt like she’d been grappling for words since Christen had told her that work wasn’t more fulfilling. It was like those words from Christen had sent her into some alternate universe. All she’d ever wanted in their marriage was for it to be a priority. 

They’d both missed the mark on that. 

So, wordlessly, Tobin leaned forward and grabbed the box of tissues that was still sitting on the ottoman. She slid it along the couch cushion toward Christen and stayed seated, not wanting to leave when Christen was outwardly hurting. 

“If you want to go another ten rounds, give me a few minutes. I’m tired,” Christen said, her words muffled behind the hands covering her face.

“I’m exhausted,” Tobin whispered, sinking back into the couch as her own chest ached and sent a lump further up her throat. 

“Me too.”

“Being angry all the time is exhausting.” 

“Yeah,” Christen agreed, pushing her hands through her hair before reaching out for a tissue. She wiped at the tear stains on her cheeks, not even sure when they’d been made, when she’d started crying or when she’d finished. 

“I shouldn’t have called you a control freak. The list for thank you notes is smart. Perry did it for…” Tobin mumbled, the ‘us’ dying on her tongue. 

“I remember. It’s what made me think of it,” Christen replied with a sigh.

“I’m…sorry for the rude comments,” Tobin said, trying to push the ache away and mend whatever she could, if not for her and Christen’s sake, then for Ali and Ashlyn’s wedding. 

Christen whipped her head around fast enough for her head to spin a little bit. In all of their fights, in all of their harsh words and biting jeers, they’d never apologized. They just attacked and fled the field of battle before apologies could be considered, let alone made. 

“I’m…sorry too. I shouldn’t have said you’re welcome,” Christen said quietly, wincing at the choice of words from earlier.

“It wasn’t a favor,” Tobin forced out, referencing their entire divorce. None of it had been wanted on her end. A favor would have been to plan more quality time or go to a marriage counselor once a week. 

Christen ignored the impulse to slide back into old habits, to challenge why Tobin had made her feel like those divorce papers were the breath of fresh air Tobin had been waiting for. Instead, she focused on something neutral. 

“Do you think they’ll last?” Christen wondered.

“I hope so,” Tobin nodded. “I’ve seen them fight with one another, and it makes me a little jealous.” 

“Me too. I’d never tell my Dad this, but he was right. The recipe for success is to know how to argue. They both clearly know how to fight, so they’ll probably be fine,” Christen replied, regret blooming in her chest because she and Tobin had never learned how. They’d merely learned how to hurl insults and angry words at one another.

“Fighting isn’t always about disagreeing,” Tobin added, remembering Stacy’s words perfectly. 

“We never learned that,” Christen murmured, swallowing her surprise at Tobin’s ability to recall something her mother had said a decade ago. 

“We were a lot younger,” Tobin replied. It was a weak justification that didn’t really justify anything. 

“Naive too,” Christen whispered, clutching the tissue in her hand, still not looking over at Tobin.

“Rose-colored glasses,” Tobin added, picking at the already unopened wound she carried. 

Christen released a long breath and finally turned her head to look over at Tobin. The tears in her eyes were mirrored by the ones in Tobin’s.

“They deserve their best chance, which means we can’t-” Christen faltered, unsure how to say it.

“Suck all the joy out of the room,” Tobin supplied. 

Christen nodded and swallowed thickly. “You were there, you know. More than I gave you credit for. Heartbreak is a hell of a fractured lens to use to look back on things, and it distorted reality for me for a bit. I’m sorry for that too,” she offered, the olive branch no more than a broken, twisted twig but still sitting between them all the same. With another nod, Christen got to her feet and picked up the trash bag, starting to shove the torn wrapping paper into it.

“I am a hypocrite,” Tobin croaked, unable to keep a steady voice. “I tell people to be open all the time like I’m some kind of professional when if I’d been more open it might have…I’ve been throwing stones from a glass house. And I’m sorry for that.” 

For all the ground the acknowledgments of fault were covering between them, it left Christen even more emotionally raw, even more exhausted. When there was no anger between them, there was heartbreak and hurt and Christen found that more painful.

So, she simply acknowledged Tobin’s words by turning to shoot Tobin a look of gratitude over her shoulder before turning back to the piles of trash. 

“Would you get the pile on the other side of the couch?” she asked, extending another broken, twisted twig in Tobin’s direction, knowing it would probably crumple under the weight of their mistakes and regrets and pain, but extending it anyway. For Ali and Ashlyn. For Tobin. She didn’t deserve the second chance, but they all did.

Tobin dutifully got up from the couch and started to pick up the wrapping paper. She’d accept a broken, mangled twig if that was what was offered. 

“You missed them,” Tobin said as soon as Christen came through the door into their apartment, an hour after her sisters had left. 

Christen hung her head and slipped out of her heels, immediately going into the kitchen and grabbing the half-finished bottle of wine to pour herself a glass.

“Dinner’s in the microwave,” Tobin mumbled, trying to hold back the frustrated tears that had escaped earlier that evening. 

“Did I miss the chance to eat with you, too?” Christen asked, her warring feelings of guilt and irritation making her stomach churn.

“I ate with them. They came for dinner. My nephew’s cute, by the way,” Tobin replied, shutting the fridge once the leftovers were put away. 

“We were going over the briefs. We’re in court first thing tomorrow and it’s my first solo opening argument,” Christen said after taking a long sip of wine.

“Good luck,” Tobin said as she moved around Christen, starting the dishwasher. 

“I’ll see them next time they’re in town, I promise,” Christen sighed, watching her wife shuffle around her.

“Okay,” Tobin nodded before moving out of the kitchen. She didn’t want to explode. She didn’t want a mess of emotions to spill out of her. She didn’t want to be swallowed whole by the hurt in her body. 

“How was your day?” Christen asked, cradling her wine glass to her chest and feeling even further away from her wife than the mere ten feet between them.

“It was fine,” Tobin answered, still trying to button up the real emotion inside. If Christen knew she was hurting her, it would hurt Christen. So, she held it in. 

“Did Tucker like the onesie we got him?” Christen said, throwing out another question, knowing she’d probably only get a few words as an answer. Tobin was good at that. A non-response that told her nothing.

“Perry liked it, so I guess that means he does,” Tobin shrugged. 

“I’m sorry I was late and I missed them,” Christen sighed.

“I reminded you,” Tobin said, locking eyes with Christen finally. “Twice.” 

“Time got away from me. I’m sorry,” Christen replied, her face drawn into an apology.

“I know. Time does that,” Tobin mumbled, thinking of the work parties she’d gone to alone and the dinners with friends Christen had missed, and the nights when Christen stayed at the kitchen table to do extra work instead of coming to bed. 

“You’re upset,” Christen observed, dropping the wine glass onto the counter.

“I’m…frustrated.” 

Christen nodded and moved out of the kitchen, joining Tobin in the living room. She stepped into Tobin’s space, wrapping her arms around Tobin’s middle and tucking her face into Tobin’s hair.

“I know. What can I do?” Christen asked, waiting for Tobin to hold her back, waiting for Tobin to give her an answer that wasn’t vague or built a wall between them.

“I- I don’t know,” Tobin whispered, practically choking on that obnoxious lump in her throat. “It’s your dream job.” 

And then, right on cue, Christen’s phone started ringing. Her arms tensed around Tobin, the instinct to answer her phone almost powerful enough to send her running back to where she’d left her purse by the door.

“Just answer it,” Tobin sighed, squeezing her eyes tightly shut. 

“It’s okay. I don’t have to,” Christen replied quickly.

“Do you want to?” 

“I want you to not feel frustrated,” Christen said, tightening her hold on Tobin.

“That’s not an answer. Just get the phone if you want to answer it,” Tobin replied, feeling herself on the brink of losing it. “I’m gonna get ready for bed.” 

Feeling Tobin extricate herself from her arms wasn’t enough to send Christen running for the phone. The sound of their bedroom door shutting, the finality to it, had Christen sighing and moving back toward her purse, answering the call from the other attorney on the case with a profound feeling of having lost something she wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to get back.

“I understand that, Alan,” Tobin said softly, pacing across Ali and Ashlyn’s backyard while Christen, Ali, Ashlyn, and one of Ashlyn’s mom’s friends set up inside. “I think the best thing to do right now is practice a few of those coping techniques we talked about last week.” 

It felt weird to be on a work-related call with Christen visible through the back window. 

The breathing thing is bullshit. Seven in, hold for five, out for seven? I’m not a yogi! I just lost my wife and you have me communing with nature for chrissakes.”

“I know, it’s bullshit, all right?” Tobin leveled with him, dropping down onto a step on the back deck. “It’s absolute bullshit. Your world is completely changed. I know that. Breathing won’t fix that.” 

You can’t possibly know. It feels like I’ve lost a part of myself that I’ll never find again,” came Alan’s response through the phone.

“You’re right. I don’t know what it feels to lose like you’ve lost, but I have lost. When I lost my wife, I…I felt like every single dream I had, had been ripped out of my hands. I felt like I’d lost myself, like the me that I knew wasn’t there. I felt like I’d died and was living in another person’s body,” Tobin explained, breaking every rule she had about keeping her life out of her practice. 

I’m sorry about that. I am. I…I don’t think I’ll ever feel whole again.

“You won’t feel like you did ever again. I won’t lie to you and tell you will. But if you choose to, you’ll feel like a new version of yourself. You’ll carry Diane as a part of you in everything you do. She’ll be a part of every decision and every choice. And I guarantee that the Diane still sitting in you just wants you to breathe. The breathing won’t fix anything, but it’ll keep you here. It’ll give you the time to grieve and feel it all. You have to feel it all before you become someone new.” 

After a few moments of silence, Alan replied, “ Okay. I’ll try the breathing. For…for my Diane.

“For both of you. Why don’t we schedule another session earlier in the week? I have an open time on Tuesday at 11:30. That way, we don’t have to wait until Friday,” Tobin offered quietly. 

I’ll take it. Thank you.

“I’ll see you then,” Tobin replied before hanging up the call and getting up from her spot. 

She couldn’t see Christen through the window anymore, but now there was a steaming cup of coffee on the patio table. 

Tobin knew it was Christen’s doing. Christen had regularly fixed her coffee during their relationship. She always fixed the perfect cup of coffee, just the right amount of milk at the right temperature. It was a gift, and Tobin had spent the last three years trying not to miss it. 

She’d failed. That was made obvious when she took a sip and let out a soft groan. 

She cradled the mug close as she walked back into the house, searching for Christen. 

“Thank you,” she whispered once she finally found Christen in the entry, setting out party favors. 

Christen didn’t look up, but she did offer a nod. “You’re welcome,” she said quietly in response.

“It’s still the best coffee,” Tobin added, reaching out to help organize with Christen. 

“It’s just a dash of cinnamon in the heated milk,” Christen explained like she hadn’t already said that to Tobin a hundred times before, just with more love and care in her voice than she had now.

“I know, but it’s still the best.” 

“It sounded like you needed it. So,” Christen shrugged.

“My patient’s wife died,” Tobin explained. 

“I heard. I’m sorry for his loss,” Christen replied, a wave of sadness weighing her down as she reorganized the favors.

“Me too,” Tobin hummed. “I’m messing with your organization, aren’t I?” 

For the first time in longer than Christen could remember, she laughed. It felt foreign falling from her lips, especially in the wake of something Tobin said. But she laughed all the same, startling them both. 

“Yes, but it’s…fine,” Christen finally replied when her short bout of laughter died out.

“I’ll stop messing with it,” Tobin grinned, the quirk of her lips just as foreign as Christen’s laugh. 

The smile had Christen wanting to ask about something, something she’d heard Tobin say to this grieving widower. Something about new versions and if Tobin herself had found one. But instead, she bit her tongue and offered Tobin as much of a smile as she could muster, which probably wasn’t more than a pained grimace.

“You could put the ‘Welcome’ sign on the front door. Ali was supposed to but Ash dragged her off somewhere for some alone time,” Christen replied with an affectionate eye-roll.

“I can do that,” Tobin hummed. “Your organization looks nice,” she added as she moved to get the sign out of the front closet. 

“Cordiality doesn’t require compliments. I won’t bite your head off without them,” Christen said, her hands stilling on one of the bags of favors.

“I was just being honest,” Tobin replied, shrugging as if the compliment was as natural as it once had been. 

After taking a deep breath, Christen continued reorganizing the slight mess Tobin had made of the party favors.

“You’re really good at your job. That’s what it sounded like to me, anyway.”

“Thank you. I broke several rules by even taking the call,” Tobin chuckled, pulling open the front door to situate the sign on it. 

“He sounded like he needed the rules to be broken,” Christen murmured, finally finished with the favors.

“I thought so too,” Tobin agreed as she fixed the ‘Welcome’ sign on a hook that typically held wreaths. 

“I think that was it for set-up,” Christen said, awkwardly hovering in the entryway now that there were no tasks between them.

“Did Ash convince Ali to play that weird couples’ game?” Tobin asked, shutting the front door now that the sign was up. 

At the clear sounds of muffled laughter and moans from a room nearby, Christen grimaced but managed a small smile.

“That’s probably what she’s trying to do now.”

“Fantastic, do you want to go outside?” 

Christen couldn’t help the surprised lift of her eyebrows at the implication of them doing something together, of Tobin asking her to join her, at the possibility of shared time without shared fighting or anger. 

“You can- if you want to go outside, I’ll just find some earplugs or something and stay in,” Christen said uncertainly. 

“I was asking if you’d like to go outside…with me? Unless that sounds unbearable.” 

“Lead the way,” Christen found herself answering despite the mocking voice inside of her that said this newfound common ground and peace wouldn't last. There were still too many open wounds, too much pain between them. She ignored that voice and followed Tobin outside.

Christen had gotten two hours for lunch, something that rarely if ever happened. So, she decided to get tacos from her and Tobin’s favorite food truck and surprise Tobin at work.

They were spending less and less time together, and the time they did spend together, Christen felt like she was doing backflips and cartwheels to try and engage Tobin in a conversation that Tobin seemed very disinterested in having. 

But Christen was trying. She was sure that she was. She did try to talk and come home at a good hour. She tried

So, she bought the tacos and stopped at a coffee shop one of her friends from undergrad ran to make Tobin a special cup of coffee, and then found her way to the brick building that housed the counseling office Tobin worked at. 

Christen started finding the bitter irony of Tobin’s profession recently. Tobin spent her days counseling newlyweds and people who’d been married for twenty years, helping them connect and find common ground. But whenever Christen came home to connect and find common ground, Tobin didn’t come to the table. She didn’t engage or discuss. She shut down.

Not today, though. With tacos and Tobin’s favorite kind of coffee, double espresso with heated milk and a dash of cinnamon, Christen was ready to connect. She was desperate to. 

She smiled at the secretary who only recognized her because of the wedding photo Tobin kept on her desk and not because she came around often enough for familiarity. She paused outside of Tobin’s office, seeing the sign on the door that she was in a session. With a sigh, Christen sank into the chair right next to Tobin’s door and waited.

When she picked up the sounds of conversation within the office, she realized the door was cracked.

“You’re going to have to tell him what you need, Grace. He can’t read your mind, no matter how much you want him to. If you can’t say it, maybe the next time you get frustrated, write it down. Sometimes it’s easier to read things aloud than to voice a hurt on the spot,” Tobin suggested, swallowing down the hypocrisy and keeping a smile on her face. 

“I just want him to stop shutting down and shutting me out. Anytime I try to talk, it’s like I’m talking to a wall.”

Christen kept in the huff of agreement. She felt the same way. And to hear her wife so profoundly understand this random couple’s issue and help them made Christen upset. Irrationally so, but upset nonetheless, which led her to think that Tobin could do with a dose of her own medicine.

“I imagine there’s a reason he doesn’t feel able to voice his feelings,” Tobin replied. “That’s not a reason for him to get away with not sharing, but there’s a reason behind everything.” 

“What’s your reason? Do you even have one?” Grace asked.

“Grace,” Tobin interjected, not wanting Kevin to feel cornered. “Kevin, what does it feel like when Grace asks you something that might be vulnerable?” 

“I…I’m not used to conflict. I didn’t grow up that way. I guess it makes me nervous,” Kevin answered. 

“So the fact that my parents were divorced by the time I was a teenager makes me better equipped to deal with conflict?” Grace threw out.

“That’s not what I said,” Kevin mumbled. 

“Grace, your parents’ divorce was extremely difficult to watch, I’m sure,” Tobin interrupted. 

“Of course it was. How can two people who love each other that much fall apart?”

“I would imagine it felt unfathomable,” Tobin hummed. “Kevin, do you think your parents had a happy marriage?”  

“No,” Kevin replied without hesitation. 

“I’m gonna make an assumption, and you can tell me if I’m wrong,” Tobin said to her clients. 

Christen waited on the edge of her seat for the assumption, listening with a twisted mix of curiosity and frustration.

“Grace, it sounds like your parents modeled disagreements and arguments, even if they ended in divorce, so you’re comfortable with voicing negative or difficult feelings. It sounds to me like Kevin’s parents modeled silence and hidden emotions instead. It’ll be a challenge, but I think you both need to recognize those different childhood experiences and push past your first instinct.” 

“Okay sure, but how do we get from recognizing to talking about it? I just want him to talk to me. To talk with me,” Grace sighed.

“Kevin, she’s asking you to be in this marriage with her. Is there something she can do to make you feel safer to voice what you’re feeling?” 

“I don’t want to feel like I’m gonna lose her. The anger makes me feel like I’m about to be left,” Kevin replied so quietly Christen had to lean closer to the cracked door to hear him.

“Is holding back on anger something you’re willing to try, Grace?” Tobin asked, forcing her voice not to shake at the familiarity of Kevin’s words. 

“Yes. I can do that for us,” Grace replied.

“Kevin, you’re gonna have to be vulnerable for Grace,” Tobin added gently. 

Christen couldn’t listen any longer. The hypocrisy was too much to bear. She felt like she’d been begging and pleading and asking without anger for that vulnerability Tobin so easily prescribed to these strangers.

So, she left the tacos and the coffee on the seat and quickly hurried out of the office, not offering the kind secretary a second glance.

The words ate at her for the rest of the day, turning over and over in her mind. The words she’d heard, the words Tobin had said. The words she was certain applied to their marriage more so than Grace and Kevin’s. 

The pit that formed in her stomach during her lunch break and subsequent spiraling had her leaving work right on time for the first time in months. It had her making her way to their apartment, getting in the door before Tobin had even gotten there. 

She was going to ignore the hypocrisy and hold back the anger. She was going to ask Tobin to be vulnerable with her. She was going to try, even if she felt lost and hurt and confused. Impossibly confused.

“Jeez, you scared me,” Tobin yelped when she walked in and Christen was already there. 

“Sorry,” Christen replied automatically, looking up from her phone.

“Sorry? For coming home early?” Tobin asked as she hung up her coat and bag. 

“I guess?” Christen shrugged, finishing the take-out order on her phone before dropping it onto the counter. “And for scaring you because I’m home.”

“Thank you for lunch today. And the perfect coffee,” Tobin said, crossing the room to press a kiss to Christen’s lips. “I wish I’d gotten to eat with you and thank you in the moment.” 

“Sure thing,” Christen replied, muscle memory allowing her to kiss Tobin back, the pit still in her stomach. “You sounded busy when I showed up. I didn’t want to bother you when you were with clients.”

“Sorry,” Tobin murmured, not wanting Christen to feel second place to work. She knew what it felt like. 

“It’s okay. I’m not mad,” Christen said, her hands settling on Tobin’s hips as she leaned back against the counter. “It sounded interesting though. The clients and what you were telling them.”

“Listening in?” Tobin tsked, not serious or upset in the slightest. 

“Oops?” Christen replied with a shrug and the hint of a smile. “I know I shouldn’t have but…what you said about vulnerability was nice. Do you think it will help?”

“I don’t know,” Tobin hummed, trying not to tense up. “It’s hard to be vulnerable.” 

“Even with the person you want to spend forever with?” Christen pressed, keeping her touch gentle and her words soft, trying not to let the hope she felt in her chest bleed into her expression.

“Probably especially with, right?” 

“So…Grace and Kevin are screwed then? Just because it’s hard?” Christen wondered, the flicker of hope wavering slightly.

“No, they’re just…they have a lot to wade through,” Tobin said, swallowing thickly. 

“How can they wade if only one of them is willing to jump in?” Christen sighed, her hands falling from Tobin’s hips.

“They both want to. They’re both coming to therapy.” 

“Maybe we should try it sometime,” Christen replied in defeat, stepping around Tobin and walking toward their bedroom. “Food will be here in an hour,” she called softly over her shoulder, the hope extinguished and the pit in her stomach starting to feel more like a sinking stone, one riddled with worry and fear.

“Dinner’s ready,” Christen said, poking her head into the living room where Ali, Ashlyn, and Tobin were sitting, watching T.V. “Which means the take-out got here and I unloaded it from the bag.”

“Thank you,” Tobin replied before the others could, a small smile playing at her lips just at the memory of Christen trying to learn how to cook. 

Christen was still unsure how to deal with her and Tobin’s recent movement toward politeness, so she simply offered a hum and then went back into the kitchen, leaving the three women to get up from their comfortable spots. 

Ali gave Ashlyn a pointed look, some unspoken discussion happening between them before Ashlyn let out a dramatic, almost rehearsed, sigh.

“Damn, I totally forgot. Ali and I have plans,” Ashlyn declared, getting to her feet and holding out a hand for Ali to help her up.

“What?” Tobin asked, getting to her feet immediately. 

“Yeah, my boss-” Ashlyn began.

“My friend-” Ali said at the same time.

“My boss, who is her- uhh- friend, invited us out for drinks to celebrate the impending nuptials,” Ashlyn rushed to explain. 

“We completely spaced, sorry! Leftovers go in the fridge, Tobs,” Ali added, pulling Ashlyn toward the door.

“But…Chris made you dinner,” Tobin argued, reaching out for Ali. 

“You guys threw us a great shower today. Thanks so much, bye!” Ashlyn called out as she and Ali all but sprinted out the front door.

“What the heck,” Tobin huffed, standing in the entry, completely confused. 

Christen poked her head out of the kitchen again, her brow furrowed. “Was that the door? Are you…leaving?”

“Ash and Ali left,” Tobin answered, turning around to look at Christen. 

Christen felt her eyes widen at the information, something akin to nerves fluttering around in her stomach. 

“Oh.”

“Can we still eat?” Tobin asked, shifting a little awkwardly on her feet. 

“Might as well, so it doesn’t go to waste,” Christen replied, clearing her throat and then moving back into the kitchen. 

Christen took a few deep breaths as she put two of the four plates away, trying to find some solid ground to stand on. She knew the anger was gone for the time being and the wounds were unhealed, she knew there was unfinished business and sticky topics to get unstuck, but she didn’t know what else to say. So much of their final few months together had been spent arguing, and so much of these past few months back in each other’s lives even tangentially had been spent arguing, that Christen wasn’t exactly sure how else to fill the silence. All she knew was that she was finally being honest with herself enough to admit that she wanted to fill the silence. 

“Here,” Christen said, holding out a plate for Tobin, who was silently hovering in the doorframe.

“Thanks. Table? Couch? Deck outside?” Tobin asked, waiting for Christen to decide. 

“It’s a nice night outside,” Christen observed, letting Tobin plate her food first.

“The warm weather’s the best thing about Florida, just not in the summer,” Tobin hummed, plating what Christen had ordered. 

“I’m envious it’s warm here right now,” Christen admitted, starting to scoop food onto her plate from the take-out containers.

“It’s about the only good thing about Florida,” Tobin added as she opened a wine fridge under the counter. “Do you still prefer red?” 

“You don’t, or…didn’t. So, I can stick with water,” Christen offered. 

“I’m actually a little more wine cultured,” Tobin chuckled, grabbing a bottle of Pinot. “Emphasis on a little.” 

“Not from where I’m standing,” Christen replied, the achingly familiar words leaving her without permission. After a slight wince, she added, “You picked a nice bottle, I mean.”

“Jeffy got me a book for Christmas a couple of years ago,” Tobin explained, pulling down two glasses and pouring them both some wine. 

“Thank you,” Christen murmured, taking the offered glass from Tobin, still feeling around for solid ground in this unknown landscape.

Tobin led the way out onto the back deck, taking a seat at the patio table and simultaneously taking a deep, settling breath. 

“Is the taco place still open?” Tobin asked, looking at Christen instead of starting on dinner. 

Christen shook her head, a flicker of sadness flashing across her features. She pushed the pasta around on her plate and let out a long breath. 

“They didn’t make it, even with me stopping by every other day,” Christen replied, her eyes finally rising from her plate to meet Tobin’s.

“I loved that place,” Tobin murmured, reaching for her fork with matching sadness on her own face. 

“I know,” Christen acknowledged, grabbing her wine. She took a healthy sip before setting the glass back down, uncertainty still making her hesitate to say things or broach topics or just sink into the conversation Tobin was single-handedly carrying.

“I-” Tobin paused, sucking in a deep breath and then letting it out. “I’m really sorry that I made you feel unworthy of effort. It’ll always be what I’m most sorry for.” 

Christen swallowed thickly and wished she’d chugged the whole goddamn bottle of wine before Tobin decided to venture into the woods of their broken marriage. The words made her stomach flip and her heart ache, her hands instinctively curling into protective fists on the tabletop.

With her eyes locked on her plate, Christen found it in herself to reply, “It happened. It’s in the past. It’s fine.”

“No it isn’t,” Tobin said softly, nothing harsh in her voice. “Every single thing I did and said and felt in the past, I’ve carried with me into the present. I know it isn’t fine.” 

“Wouldn’t it be so much easier if it was though?” Christen whispered, her voice weak.

“It would be. We’d probably still be married if it had been fine.” 

“I don’t know, I still work seventy hours a week,” Christen shrugged, willing her hands to unclench but not finding it a possibility with every soft word that came out of her ex-wife’s mouth.

“How are you sleeping with that much work?” Tobin asked, her eyebrows raised in worry. 

“I keep a pillow in my desk drawer and usually hit peak exhaustion after three days of poor sleep, so I can just pass out anywhere,” Christen replied, seeking refuge in another large gulp of wine.

“You don’t go home?” Tobin asked, guilt and worry clawing their way up her chest. 

“What’s there to go home to?”

Tobin nodded and let out a soft hum as she pushed her fork across her plate. 

“Some days I used to watch the clock, praying that another call or case wouldn’t come in so I could go home to- back when we-” Christen faltered, draining the last of her wine and setting the glass down carefully. “Nowadays, I pray for another call or case so I don’t have to go back to my apartment.”

“I used to drive past your work on the way home,” Tobin admitted, feeling her lips turn down and her eyes sting. 

“I didn’t know that,” Christen replied with a small flash of surprise on her face, her hands loosening just a bit.

“I should’ve told you,” Tobin said with a tiny shrug. “I kept a lot of things to myself that I shouldn’t have.” 

“We were good at not talking about things. Sweeping them under the rug,” Christen murmured, pushing her plate away, unable to stomach anything more than this heavy conversation right now.

“Sometimes I-” Tobin started, taking a sip of wine to dislodge the lump in her throat. “Sometimes I’d pretend to be asleep when you came home because I didn’t want you to see me sad.” 

Christen let out a hum of acknowledgement, the words making the pain behind her eyes worsen, stealing the breath from her lungs. After a moment or two of deliberation, without replying to what Tobin had admitted, she got to her feet and went back inside.

Tobin pushed her plate forward and leaned forward to press her face into her hands. This was what she had been worried about during their marriage, saying something brutally honest and watching Christen walk away because of it. 

A few seconds later, Christen returned with the opened bottle of wine, topping both of their glasses off before sitting back down. 

“This is three years overdue. I’m not doing it without more wine,” Christen said by way of explanation, pulling her wine glass to her chest. 

“That’s a good call,” Tobin said, barking out a laugh as the relief that Christen wasn’t walking away filled her chest. 

Christen was quiet for a few moments, ignoring the way Tobin’s words hurt her and instead focusing on Tobin’s hurt behind the words instead. 

“I knew you were sad and unhappy,” Christen mumbled. 

“I knew you were unhappy,” Tobin replied. “And frustrated. I was frustrating.” 

“I knew you weren’t actually asleep,” Christen admitted with a flash of guilt across her face. “Your breathing’s different when you’re in deep sleep. I- I just never called you out on it.”

“Why?” Tobin asked, reaching out to pour more wine into her glass. 

“Because you let me hold you. You pretended to be asleep and I pretended that coming to bed and holding you until you actually fell asleep was enough to fix things,” Christen murmured in reply.

“Even when I was sad, I wanted you,” Tobin whispered, aching as she said the words, the same way she’d ached with Christen’s arms around her. 

“That’s something else we agree on,” Christen said as she took a long sip of wine, the Pinot staining her lips and her tongue a deep red.

“Can I ask you something, and you can tell me to fuck off if you want?” 

The corner of Christen’s mouth twitched up into the ghost of a smile at the question. She nodded and waited, oddly nervous about the question to come.

“Why did you stay late at work so often?” Tobin asked, her voice less bitter than it ever had been, sounding more curious than anything else. 

Christen took her time answering, not wanting a knee-jerk response to undo this raw honesty they’d somehow stumbled upon tonight.

“At first, I didn’t have a choice. I was being worked to the bone, everyone at the office was. We were understaffed and overloaded with cases. And everyone told me to just stick with it. To suck it up. It would slow down eventually. So…I believed them. I assumed it would slow down, and I assumed I could keep putting our marriage on the back burner because I thought it was strong enough to survive that,” Christen explained, her voice slow and full of regret. She took a moment and sipped her wine, hoping the burn of tears would recede.

“I wish you’d told me that. I wish I’d asked,” Tobin murmured. 

“And then it did slow down,” Christen whispered, her face falling a little with the admission. She swirled her wine around, watching the dregs of it streak down the inside of the glass. “I was so excited when we’d gotten through the backload of cases. I remember I got to leave work at six thirty that day, which hadn’t happened in a long time. I picked up a bottle of prosecco on the way home because we didn’t have enough for champagne, but I wanted it to be special. We…we didn’t drink it. That was the first night we fought. Big and ugly. I slept on the couch.”

“I didn’t sleep,” Tobin replied, the memory seared into her brain. “And you probably hated my guts because I spent my day talking to people about sharing their feelings and I didn’t give you that.”

“If memory serves, you didn’t have any trouble telling me how you were feeling that night,” Christen commented, the memory as fresh and painful as if it had happened yesterday and not four years prior.

“I didn’t tell you how I was feeling. I exploded blame all over you,” Tobin sighed, running a hand over her face. 

“And I started hiding from the blame at work. We were busy, sure, but not as busy as I made it seem. It…it was hard to come home when I knew I would just disappoint you,” Christen replied, blinking her eyes rapidly to will away the tears as she finally took another sip of wine.

“I’m sorry,” Tobin whispered, squeezing her own eyes shut as her heart throbbed painfully in her chest. 

Christen jerked her head in a quick shake, shoving away the apology. “You were made to feel like you weren’t a priority, and then I just kept confirming that for you with my actions. I’m sorry.”

“You were wanted and worthy of effort,” Tobin promised, her voice quieter than a whisper. “I should have opened myself up to you.” 

“I should have done a lot of things that I didn’t. Hindsight gives you a pretty clear picture of how badly you fucked up,” Christen observed a little bitterly.

“What’s ironic is…I was so terrified to tell you how I was feeling because I didn’t want to lose you,” Tobin admitted, brushing her fingers over the table. 

“I think I lost you first,” Christen whispered, her brows furrowed and her eyes sadder than Tobin had ever seen them. “I can finally admit that.”

“I didn’t…want to sign it,” Tobin said, letting the shame and the guilt bury her. 

“But you did,” Christen pointed out quietly, abandoning the wine glass on the table since the wine wasn’t helping to dilute or block the pain she could feel radiating through her entire body.

“I thought that the person I love the most felt trapped in a marriage,” Tobin explained with a shaky voice. 

“And I thought I was trapping the person I love the most in a marriage she didn’t feel safe enough to be vulnerable in,” Christen murmured. The words settled between them for a moment before Christen was clearing her throat and pushing back from the table. “Let me go see about another bottle or something,” she managed, fleeing toward the house, the echo of her use of the word ‘love’ instead of ‘loved’ haunting her every step.

“Chris,” Tobin interjected, pushing up from her seat to follow her. 

“It’s okay, I’ll be right back,” Christen croaked, stepping into the house, unwilling to look back and see Tobin following behind her. She couldn’t take it. Not after the way Tobin had finally said her name, softly and with something that sounded so much like love it had tears pooling in Christen’s eyes.

Tobin followed after Christen, bracing herself for Christen to tell her to stop or to leave her alone. She reached out and grabbed the sleeve of Christen’s sweater, tugging gently. As Christen turned around, Tobin swallowed the lump in her throat one more time before wrapping her arms around her ex-wife, welcoming the ache that the familiar smell and feel of Christen in her arms brought. 

“You don’t have to-” Christen choked out, shaking in Tobin’s arms as she tried to keep control of the tidal wave of emotions threatening to consume her.

“Did you hear everything I said?” Tobin whispered through a cracking voice. “I want to.” 

Those three words broke something in Christen, something that needed to break. With nothing holding her back any longer, Christen finally gave herself permission to shatter in Tobin’s arms. She clung to the material of Tobin’s t-shirt and buried her face in Tobin’s neck. She finally let herself cry, deep, heaving, heartbroken sobs.

And through it all, Tobin simply held her.

Christen wasn’t sure how long they stood there, simply holding each other and crying in each other’s arms. It was long enough for Christen’s arms to start to ache, but she welcomed the ache. She welcomed it because she’d finally found solid ground to stand on.

But at some point, they both mutually agreed to part. They both wiped at the tracks of their tears on their cheeks and shared slightly awkward half-smiles of understanding.

“Shoulda done that three years ago,” Tobin said, breaking the silence. Without thought, she reached up and tucked a stray curl back behind Christen’s ear. 

Christen’s breath audibly caught in her throat at the gesture, the sound a little wet due to the tears still gathered in her green eyes.

“We weren’t ready for it then,” Christen replied, her voice hoarse and thick, her eyes dancing between Tobin’s. 

“I know.” 

“I probably would have thrown another shoe if we’d tried,” Christen said, the ghost of a smile playing at her lips.

“I’m glad your aim was off,” Tobin chuckled, dying to reach out and even just brush her fingers along the back of Christen’s hand. 

“I missed on purpose, even if I didn’t want to admit that at the moment.”

“Yeah?” 

“I never would have hurt you on purpose. Despite what the end results were, it was never what I wanted to do,” Christen murmured.

“I never meant to hurt you,” Tobin agreed. “Even though I did.” 

“We got good at it,” Christen observed sadly, her green eyes dimming, her arms rising to cross over her chest. “Hurting each other.”

“Do you ever think that…” Tobin faltered. 

“I couldn’t ever let myself think like that,” Christen answered the unspoken question softly.

“I’ve been to a lot of therapy. My therapist is a hardass, so now I think a lot,” Tobin murmured, adjusting the neck of her t-shirt to give her hands something to do. 

“That’s good, Tobin. That’s really good,” Christen replied, her eyes falling to the nervous movement of Tobin’s hands.

“Yeah,” Tobin nodded, clearing her throat and shifting on her feet. “I can do dishes,” she offered, not knowing if Christen wanted to hear anything more. It had already been heavy and full. They’d passed cathartic and hit something deeper. 

“We can leave the dishes for them. They ditched my home-cooked meal,” Christen said, unwilling to relinquish the vulnerability she'd always asked for from Tobin now that she’d gotten a taste of it.

“I stay up at night wondering if we were the right people at the wrong time,” Tobin whispered, letting the vulnerability flow. 

“I think we need another bottle if we’re going down the road of what keeps us up at night,” Christen replied, the flash of a genuine smile making its way onto her face.

“Couch?” Tobin asked, following Christen to the collection of wine Ash and Ali kept. 

“Umm, sure,” Christen nodded, taking a moment to collect herself as she picked out another bottle. When she finally stood up, a bottle of Cabernet in hand, Tobin had cleared their plates and brought the wine glasses over to the couch. 

Tobin sat near the arm of the couch, giving Christen plenty of room. She shot a soft smile in Christen’s direction but didn’t push with another question, wanting Christen to get situated and comfortable in a situation that was far from fully comfortable. 

“I, uhh, don’t mean to sound rude, but I’m a little surprised you’re still here,” Christen said after a few moments.

“Oh…I can go,” Tobin said, her eyebrows furrowing in confusion. 

“No! I didn’t mean-” Christen paused, running a hand over her face. “I just meant that you used to run from discomfort. Literally. Your running shoes were by the door the entire final year we were…”

“Married,” Tobin finished for her. “I’ve been working on that. I- My therapist asked me what my greatest regrets were. It was always running,” Tobin explained, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear subconsciously. 

“I didn’t make it fun to stick around, so I don’t blame you,” Christen shrugged, a little self-deprecatingly.

“I just missed you,” Tobin replied with a shake of her head. “I didn’t know what I’d done wrong, but I missed my…wife, and I was too afraid to tell you.” 

Christen poured herself more wine, finally feeling the corners of her mind go fuzzy, something she welcomed. She knew this was good. This was progress. But it was still painful. She knew she had a night of crying ahead of her. Maybe even a few days of it.

But for now, she took a sip of wine and then twirled the stem between her thumb and forefinger.

“I came here once. To Orlando,” Christen admitted quietly, following in the footsteps of Tobin’s vulnerability.

“When?”

“A little over a year ago,” Christen said into her wine glass, not sure what she’d see on Tobin’s face if she looked over at her ex-wife.

“To see Ash?” Tobin asked, unable to stomp out the hope that rose in her body.  Christen simply shook her head, giving Tobin the answer she was hoping for.

“I made it all the way to your office.”

Tobin let a shaky breath slip from her lips. “I wish you’d come in, but I’m kind of glad you didn’t. I would’ve been a jerk, I’m sure.” 

“No more than I would have been. I- I couldn’t get past the nameplate,” Christen replied, her forehead furrowing at the memory.

“I’m gonna assume it’s not the Dr. on the nameplate that hurt you,” Tobin sighed, pressing the heel of her hand against her forehead. 

Christen shook her head again, a small smile tugging at her lips. “I always knew you’d get there,” she said, the smile faltering a bit. “It was just hard to see your name without mine.” 

“It is hard,” Tobin mumbled, still leaning forward against her hand. “I haven’t been to D.C. since.” 

“Can’t say I blame you. You always hated it there,” Christen observed, abandoning her wine because the last thing she wanted to be was too drunk to remember this conversation.

“I didn’t hate it,” Tobin defended weakly. 

“You kinda did,” Christen said with a chuckle.

“I just didn’t see myself settling there,” Tobin shrugged. “I wanted a yard and a dog and a park for our…”

Christen swallowed thickly and cursed her decision not a moment ago to forego the rest of her wine.

“We should have talked about that,” Christen sighed. “Instead of screaming about it.”

“Is that where you want to settle?” Tobin asked, cocking her head to the side. 

“I don’t know anymore,” Christen admitted softly. “I don’t- I can’t find the answers because even the questions don’t make sense anymore.”

“I don’t want to stay here either,” Tobin hummed, turning her body on the couch to fully face Christen. 

“Where would you go?” Christen wondered, her eyes meeting Tobin’s as she tucked a leg beneath her on the couch, realizing in all the years they’d been together, she’d never asked Tobin this question.

“I’m not so sure. You know what I’d like to do?” Tobin asked, a genuinely excited look on her face, one she hadn’t had since the beginning of their marriage. 

“What?” Christen asked, her smile softening as she gazed over at Tobin.

“I want to visit all the cities I find interesting during the summer, even if it takes a few different vacation days from work,” Tobin answered. “Portland, Seattle, Denver, L.A. to see your parents maybe.” 

“I’m sure they’d love to see you,” Christen said, the excitement she shared with Tobin waning at the mention of her family.

“Your dad yelled at me over the phone, and then your mom sent me an apology letter,” Tobin said, a tiny smile on her lips. 

“That sounds like them,” Christen replied cryptically, her eyes falling from Tobin’s.

“What?” Tobin wondered as soon as she saw the shift in Christen’s face. 

“Just haven't talked to them in a bit, that’s all.”

“I was worried about you. I was angry, obviously, but I know you. You tend to cut yourself off…no offense,” Tobin mumbled. 

“The truth hurts less than comfortable lies,” Christen shrugged, picking at a loose thread in her sweater.

“I’m trapping my mom here. She wants to move, and she’s too afraid to leave me,” Tobin admitted, revealing her truth from the past three years.  

“You let her hover and that makes her feel needed,” Christen replied, recalling what Cindy had told her a few months ago.

“I lived with her the first year,” Tobin said quietly. “I scared her. I think it’s past her feeling needed.” 

“Then let her go,” Christen murmured simply, finally meeting Tobin’s eyes again.

“Then all I have is a cat,” Tobin laughed softly. 

“That’s more than a lot of people have. It’s something, at least.”

“I’m sorry,” Tobin breathed out, well aware that Christen was alone. 

“What was that thing I said, something about self-imposed isolation not being deserving of pity?” Christen sighed, clearly referencing herself this time.

“I don’t pity you. I feel for you. You and I are the only people who know what we experienced, the beautiful parts and the brutal ones,” Tobin hummed. 

“I’m glad you had your mom and Ali,” Christen said quietly, dropping her focus to the loose thread again. “And whatever your cat’s name is.”

“Milton,” Tobin replied. “He’s a monster. I don’t know why people get cats.” 

“I never expected you would,” Christeen admitted with a chuckle. “You never were a cat person, but I guess that could have changed when I wasn’t looking.”

“I just can’t sleep alone,” Tobin whispered, a tiny blush heating her cheeks. 

“And that led you to a…cat?” Christen wondered, arching a brow in Tobin’s direction, amusement lighting up her face.

“A dog’s a little more work, and I couldn’t…I didn’t know if I had a daily walk in me, as pathetic as that sounds,” Tobin mumbled. 

“It’s not,” Christen shook her head. “It sounds decently self-aware and healthy.”

“Have you been home since?” Tobin asked gently, unconsciously shifting closer. 

“No,” Christen whispered, her throat growing thick with the admission.

“It’s too hard?” 

“I might have convinced myself that you were the bad guy, the reason things fell apart, but my family never bought that. They saw through me. So, after a few phone calls where I was told in a lot of different ways that I’d royally messed up not just my life, but everyone else’s, I stopped calling. I didn’t want their judgement and I didn’t deserve their support,” Christen replied, her words heavy and her shoulders slumped.

“At first, I blamed you too,” Tobin murmured. 

“Deservedly so.”

“No,” Tobin said with a quick shake of her head. “I think it took me a year to figure out that I was the bad guy.” 

“Are we going to start fighting about who was actually the bad guy now?” Christen asked with a weak smile.

“No, I think we were both helplessly good and completely unequipped to deal with the hard stuff,” Tobin answered with an amused look on her face. 

Christen let out a soft hum and nodded, running a hand through her hair as she pondered Tobin’s words and dropped her hand to the couch cushion between them once she’d pushed the curls from her face.

Tobin reached out and brushed the tips of her fingers against Christen’s hand. “I’m sorry they made you feel judged. I’m sorry you were alone.” 

“It’s okay,” Christen whispered, feeling electricity in the wake of Tobin’s touch, itching to reach out and tangle their fingers together.

“It’s not,” Tobin whispered back, flipping Christen’s hand over and trailing her finger along Christen’s palm. “You deserved to be held.” 

Christen felt a stuttered breath escape her at the touch and at the words. Part of her wanted Tobin to stop, to not say anything more, to retract her gentle touch because it was bordering on too much. But another part of her, the stronger part right now, never wanted the touch to end.  

She hadn’t been touched like this in years.

...

“A promotion?” Tobin asked through the tightest clenched jaw she’d ever had. 

Christen let out a sigh, a long, exhausted sigh, and then crossed her arms, feeling her hands tighten into fists. “Congrats, Chris. This is so great. This is what you’ve been working for. Oh, thanks, baby. Your support means the world to me.”

“You-You said it was a two-year job offer, that it would give you good experience for the next one,” Tobin said, feeling her head throb with the news. 

“Technically, that’s what you said. But they offered me more money and more stability in the office,” Christen replied.

“I thought we were gonna pick a place to live. A new place. Our place,” Tobin mumbled, feeling numb and raw and broken beyond repair. 

“Moving out of D.C. won’t magically fix us, Tobin,” Christen snapped.

“Keeping promises probably wouldn’t hurt,” Tobin threw back at Christen. 

“Like you’re so good at keeping yours,” Christen huffed, her eyes narrowing as they verbally volleyed across the kitchen. Yesterday it was the bedroom. The day before that, the living room. Tomorrow, it would probably be the bathroom or whatever other room they deemed worthy to have a front row seat to their uncoupling.

“I keep all my promises. I come home for dinner. I go to work parties with you. I pick your family up from the airport. I’m always here. I’m here when I say I’ll be here!” 

Christen let out a noise of exasperation, the sound tearing out of her without permission. 

“You stood across from me, in front of everyone we love, and promised that you’d bare your soul to me, that you’d live a life of honesty and vulnerability with me. So yeah, you’re here for dinner and at parties and you go to the airport, but you’re not actually here! You’re not honest or vulnerable. Tell me, when was the last time you bared your soul to me?”

“I don’t want to live here, and you know that. There, that’s how my soul feels!” 

“That’s such bullshit, Tobin! You can’t even be open with me. With your wife. What does that say?” Christen huffed.

“Maybe that it’s hard to be open and honest with a stranger!” Tobin yelled back, too frustrated and hurt to think rationally, to try and solve something. 

“Do you even hear yourself? Are you so high and mighty that you can’t even see that you’re the stranger here?” Christen hurled across the kitchen, anger and frustration making her face flush and her hands shake.

“Chris, just don’t take the promotion,” Tobin croaked, her voice raw and exhausted. “Don’t tie us here. We can…we can go somewhere else. We can do the therapy you wanted to try.” 

“Can we?” Christen asked, completely defeated. “A new place won’t suddenly make you more open or vulnerable. A new place won’t reduce my working hours.”

“You already took the job, didn’t you?” Tobin asked, blinking back the stinging in her eyes. 

“No!” Christen said quickly. “Of course not.”

“But you want to.” 

Christen ran her hands over her hair, pushing it down in an act of irritation. “Is that what you want to hear? You want me to say that I want this job?”

Instead of saying the truth, instead of breaking down and finally saying, ‘I can’t breathe in this city smog. I hate my job here. Please tell me if I matter. Please tell me if the job is more important. Please tell me if we matter,’ Tobin squeezed her eyes shut and pushed the pain in her chest down. 

“If you decide to stay here, I don’t know if I can do it,” Tobin choked out. 

Christen went stock-still, her mind and her heart going silent. Surely it wasn’t what it sounded like. Surely, they weren’t this far gone. But as Christen looked across the kitchen at her wife, she had the sinking realization that they were this far gone. It was exactly what it sounded like.

“You…you don’t mean that,” Christen whispered.

“I stayed here for you. I…why can’t you even entertain going somewhere for me?” Tobin asked, her eyes narrowed and watery. 

“Can you honestly tell me that if we move to, I don’t know, St. Louis or something, you would be in this marriage with me more than you are now? I don’t even know who you are anymore because you won’t let me in! That doesn't change because of a fucking zip code.”

“I need to walk,” Tobin muttered, turning away and heading for the front door. She closed it with a slam, only letting herself break down once she was in the hallway of their apartment. 

Perhaps if she had known that within the week, she’d find divorce papers in their bedroom, she would have stayed and tried to find common ground. 

Tobin paced around her apartment with her phone in her hands, staring at a contact she hadn’t personally used in three years. She’d been in group texts with Christen and Ali recently, but that was it. She hadn’t actually reached out to Christen herself. She hadn’t felt like she was allowed to. 

But they’d been more than cordial at Ali and Ashlyn’s house a week ago. They’d been honest and open. And there was something. There was a spark of something original, something core to their relationship that years of arguing and a divorce couldn’t burn out. 

They’d sat on the couch hand and hand, inching closer and closer that night. They’d talked until they were yawning, and even then, they’d stayed together, a blanket spread over their laps. Christen had told her about work. Tobin had talked to Christen about starting her own practice. They’d caught up. 

And when Ali had come home and woken Tobin up, she hadn’t been able to stop the butterflies from erupting in her stomach at the feeling of Christen’s head on her shoulder, her ex-wife asleep against her. 

She hadn’t wanted to leave. 

So, now she was trying to figure out if she was allowed, if she had any right to message Christen, to check in, to talk to the person she loved most still, after all these years. 

She changed her mind six times before settling on a generic greeting, and then she pressed send, hoping just like she had as a sophomore in college that Christen would text back. 

 

Tobin [5:50PM] 

Hey

 

Christen [5:52PM]

Who’s this?

Christen [5:52PM]

Kidding. Bad joke. Hi. Sorry, I don’t know why I did that.

 

Tobin [5:53PM] 

Ha. Ha. 

Tobin [5:53PM] 

Thank you for the momentary panic

 

Christen [5:53PM]

Sorry, again. 

 

Tobin [5:53PM] 

It was funny…in hindsight 

 

Christen [5:53PM]

Hindsight’s been nice to us recently. We should write her a thank you note.

 

Tobin [5:54PM] 

We can draft it when we’re at the beach, holding back Ash and Ali’s hair while they throw up. That’s our job, right? 

 

Christen [5:54PM]

We can just get good hair ties and slip out for them to puke in peace.

 

Tobin [5:54PM] 

Maybe it’s a bit early to ask, but what do you think about a beach walk? 

 

Tobin watched the three dots appear and then disappear on her screen. She threw herself onto her couch, still in her pantsuit from work, and groaned into the cushion. It was a gamble, probably a stupid one. And now she’d probably ruined any chance of reconnecting with Christen even as a friend, forget romantically. 

 

Christen [5:58PM]

Considering it’s the same beach we went to for our honeymoon, I would say the chances of a walk are looking good.

 

Tobin [5:59PM] 

We hardly saw the beach on our honeymoon 

 

Christen [6:00PM]

I don’t recall you complaining

 

Tobin [6:00PM] 

In what world would I complain? You’ve always been gifted 

Tobin [6:00PM]

Fuck sorry. Sorry. 

Tobin [6:05PM]

I’m drunk. Just pretend I didn’t say it. 

 

Christen [6:07PM]

You’re not. It’s 6PM on a Monday.

Christen [6:07PM]

It’s okay. Really.

 

Tobin [6:10PM]

So…I got the banner for the Airbnb, and I’ll pick up the cupcakes and alcohol when I get there

 

Christen [6:10PM]

Returning to MOH duties to avoid accidentally flirting with your ex-wife. Smooth. 

 

Tobin [6:10PM]

I don’t want to freak my ex-wife out, so yes

 

Christen [6:11PM]

I can get the alcohol when I get there. You just have to get the cupcakes.

 

Tobin [6:11PM]

Sounds good 

Tobin [6:11PM]

How’s work? Don’t pretend you’re not there. 

 

Christen [6:11PM]

ATTACHMENT: 1 IMAGE

 

Tobin [6:11PM]

Woooow fancy apartment. I’m glad you’re home and not overworking yourself 

 

Christen [6:12PM]

You told me to take better care of myself. So did your Mom. I decided to listen. 

 

Tobin [6:12PM]

I’m glad you did. What’s for dinner?

 

Christen [6:12PM]

Pizza. What about for you?

 

Tobin [6:12PM]

I made tacos. It’s my attempt at keeping our taco place alive. They aren’t as good 👎

 

Christen [6:13PM]

I’m sure they’re good.

Christen [6:13PM]

And you didn’t freak me out earlier. You just caught me off guard.

Christen [6:13PM]

I wanted you to know that.

 

Tobin [6:13PM]

Good to know

 

Christen [6:13PM]

I’m sorry, I have closing arguments to prepare for. But can I text you later? Or tomorrow? Or I can wait until right before the bachelorette trip? Whatever works for you.

 

Tobin [6:13PM]

Whenever you have time. I’m here 

 

Christen [6:13PM]

I know you are. I’ll text you later tonight.

 

Tobin busied herself with dinner, trying another taco recipe that likely would not be quite as good as their old place in D.C. She then changed into sweats before feeding Milton. It was quiet and still but it didn’t hurt as much as it usually did. It didn’t feel painfully hollow like it had for the past three years. 



Christen [9:27PM]

Thank you, by the way. For reaching out. I don’t know if I ever would have found the courage to do it. Good night, Tobin. Maybe I’ll be the one to find the courage tomorrow.

 

Tobin [9:30PM]

Good night. And good luck tomorrow 

 

Tobin had no clue, but that night was the first night Christen had slept soundly in years. 

“Take the medicine, you stubborn woman,” Christen said with a chuckle, holding out her hand with the Dayquil in her palm to show Tobin.

“I’m not stubborn,” Tobin mumbled, her voice congested and nasally. 

“You are and I love you,” Christen replied, grinning at the adorableness of tissues stuffed up Tobin’s nose as she set the Dayquil on the bedside table.

“I love you. You’re so beautiful,” Tobin cooed, reaching for any part of Christen she could touch. 

Christen tsked and tucked Tobin back under the blankets, not letting any body part poke out or go uncovered. 

“I’ll be back with your soup and juice so you can take your medicine. Stay in your burrito,” Christen instructed with a kiss left on Tobin’s clammy forehead.

“I want my sexy girlfriend in my blanket burrito,” Tobin pouted. 

“I’ll be right back,” Christen promised, leaving a few more kisses on Tobin’s forehead.

“Pinky promise?” Tobin asked, moving her hand out to hold her pinky toward Christen. 

Christen smiled and locked her pinky with Tobin’s for a moment, giving her forehead one final kiss before Christen walked out of their bedroom of their college apartment. She poured the soup she’d ordered from a diner nearby into a bowl and then got Tobin a glass of orange juice. She loaded them up onto a tray and carried it back toward the bedroom, stopping to pull a flower out of the bouquet she’d bought a day ago just because and put it on the tray.

“All right, you can take the medicine after-” Christen’s words died in her throat when she stepped back into the bedroom and saw that Tobin had broken out of her blanket burrito. But what really gave her pause was the navy blue velvet box sitting on the comforter in front of Tobin, the one she’d painstakingly been keeping hidden in her bedside table drawer.

“I was looking for chapstick, I promise,” Tobin whispered, looking up with wide, apologetic eyes. 

Christen had imagined this moment in a lot of different ways: at a fancy restaurant, on a picnic in the park, on their couch, in the classroom at Georgetown where they’d first met. She’d never imagined holding a tray of soup, Tobin with tissues stuffed up her nose, stumbling upon the box by accident. 

But at that moment, Christen realized no matter what she had come up with, this was perfect. 

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t put it back and pretend. I’m a terrible liar, even by omission,” Tobin apologized quickly, grabbing the box.  

Christen simply shook her head and set the tray down at the foot of their bed. She gently took the ring box out of Tobin’s hand and settled on the edge of the mattress, right next to where Tobin was sitting up in bed.

“I don't want to put it back. I’ve been trying to figure out the right moment, and…this is it. A moment of love, of care. This is the moment,” Christen said softly, reaching up and brushing a few flyaways away from Tobin’s forehead. “This is our moment.”

“I look like crap,” Tobin croaked as she leaned into Christen’s touch. 

“You are still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” Christen replied with a smile. “Stuffy nose and tissues and all.”

“You’re the most beautiful person in the universe,” Tobin murmured, twisting her fingers in Christen’s shirt. 

Christen took a steadying breath, tenderly removing the tissues from Tobin’s face so she could see her better. When they were discarded on the bed, Christen lifted a shaky hand to cradle Tobin’s cheek, smoothing her thumb along Tobin’s cheekbone.  

“From the moment we met, I’ve known we have something special. This kind of love doesn’t come around every day. It’s deep and real and it makes me feel safer than I ever have before. You’re the first person I want to see when I wake up and the last person I say good night to before I go to sleep. You’re the one I want next to me every day, for the rest of our lives,” Christen whispered, smiling through the tears that pooled in her eyes. “A long time ago, I asked you to marry me someday. And today, I’m asking you to marry me, not just someday, but today. I’m asking you to wear this ring and spend forever with me because I want nothing more than to spend it with you.”

“Spending my life with you is my biggest dream,” Tobin admitted, blinking away the first happy tear of the day. 

“It’s my dream come true,” Christen murmured. “Will you make it come true with me? Will you marry me, Tobin?”

“Yes,” Tobin nodded, pressing kisses across Christen’s shoulder and toward her neck. “But there’s something I need you to do,” 

“Anything, baby,” Christen breathed out. 

“Will you open my sock drawer and reach into the back right corner?” Tobin asked, nuzzling her nose against Christen’s neck. 

Christen couldn’t help but turn her head and bend down to capture Tobin’s lips, infectious cold be damned. 

“Of course,” Christen hummed, hopping to her feet and moving to Tobin’s dresser, opening the sock drawer and finding the black box in the back corner. 

Christen returned to the bed and placed the box into Tobin’s hand, already feeling the handful of tears she hadn’t shed while she’d proposed well up in her eyes. They were both now holding ring boxes, and Christen had said her part, but now Tobin got to say hers.

“I didn’t believe in fate before I met you. But the best thing that’s ever happened to me is stumbling into the wrong class sophomore year. And as weird as it sounds, I saw you, and I thought, there’s my wife. I’m gonna marry her.”

Tobin opened the box, revealing a classic looking, while somehow still unique, diamond ring. 

“You’re my favorite person in the entire world, my best friend, the love of my life. I want to spend every day with you by my side. I want to fall asleep with you and see you first in the morning. I want to hold you when you’re lonely and take care of you when you’re sick. I want to be yours for the rest of my life, and I’m hoping that you’ll be mine. Will you marry me?” 

Christen ignored the tears streaming down her face and opened the box in her own hand, revealing the simple engagement ring she hadn’t shown anyone yet, despite both of their moms begging to see it.

“Yes. A million times yes,” Christen blubbered in response, surging forward to kiss Tobin, the kiss a little messy and completely full of joy. “Always yes.”

“You’re gonna get sick,” Tobin warned half-heartedly. 

“I don’t care,” Christen mumbled against Tobin’s lips. “I hear someone wants to take care of me if that happens.”

“In sickness and in health,” Tobin murmured, tugging Christen close and finding her lips again. 

“Oh goodness, the rings,” Christen chuckled, not getting carried away in the kiss like she wanted to. Instead, she leaned back and pulled the band she’d bought just for Tobin out of the box. “May I put it on for you and then keep kissing you?”

“Please. For the rest of our lives,” Tobin nodded, holding out her left hand and grabbing the ring she’d bought for Christen with her right hand. 

They exchanged rings, giggling and kissing and sinking into how right the moment felt. How fated it all was turning out to be. With only hope for their futures, their lips met once more, rings on their fingers and delusions of happily ever after shared.

“It’s just texts here and there. The occasional long phone call,” Christen explained, skimming through some papers and evidence for her upcoming trial, her phone on speaker to keep her hands free.

“Mhm,” Ashlyn hummed disbelievingly. 

“That’s all it is. We’re just being friendly to make sure your wedding isn’t tainted by us.”

“Really? Because Tobin was humming in my kitchen yesterday.”

Christen pulled her bottom lip between her teeth and tried to ignore the butterflies fluttering around in her stomach. 

“Maybe she had a song stuck in her head,” Christen suggested, uncapping a highlighter and running it over the page. “It’s been known to happen. She hummed ‘Losing My Religion’ for four months non-stop just because she liked the song.”

“She was humming your wedding song,” Ashlyn sighed. “Ed Sheeran’s been stuck in my head for twenty-four hours.”

Christen didn’t have a good answer for that. She didn’t know what there was to say. They were texting and talking on the phone sometimes, and it felt good. It felt more than good. And that was where the danger was. 

“I feel insane,” Christen admitted quietly, abandoning her highlighter and pushing the papers away from her, focusing completely on talking to her best friend.

“For falling for your ex-wife again?” 

“For expecting something different from a path I’ve already walked,” Christen corrected. “I know where it leads, so why go down it again?”

“Do you know where it leads?” Ashlyn asked. 

“We all do,” Christen replied softly.

“Press, do you look at Tobin today and see the same dork you met at nineteen?” Ashlyn wondered, trying to give Christen the support and push she needed. 

“Yes and no,” Christen said, thinking of the ways Tobin had grown up even in the small time they’d been apart. Perhaps heartbreak had forced them both further into adulthood than they would have gotten without it.

“I don’t. She doesn’t piss me off like she did right when you both got divorced. What’s different to you?” 

Christen huffed out a short laugh, her fingers tapping across the table in the conference room as she thought about Ashlyn’s question. 

“She’s bolder. More confident. She doesn’t hesitate in her brush strokes anymore,” Christen said finally after a few moments. “But that doesn’t mean-”

“Has she been telling you how she’s feeling? Not fucking around with sweet words or generic answers?” Ashlyn asked, straightforward as always. 

“Yes,” Christen breathed out, recalling the conversation she’d had with Tobin just last night about how Tobin was struggling with the guilt of keeping her mom anchored to Orlando.

“Here’s what I think. You got divorced because she couldn’t open up. She got divorced because you were choosing work as priority number one, pushing her and your life together to number two. Is that accurate?” 

“Brutal, but accurate,” Christen grumbled.

“Sounds like she’s at least attempting to change the way you needed her to, even if she took her sweet time to do it,” Ashlyn observed. 

Christen let her eyes fall shut and a long breath leave her, leaning her weight onto her arms onto the table. 

“I know it’s scary. I imagine you’re afraid she’ll hurt you again. Or maybe you’re afraid that it’ll blow up and you’ll lose her. Better to have her in your life as a friend than nothing?” 

“Stop knowing me so well,” Christen complained, no bite to her words.

“Do you still love her?” Ashlyn asked softly. 

Christen was silent for a long time, not because she was uncertain about the answer, but because she knew it with a sort of certainty that shouldn’t still be there after the shitstorm they'd gone through.

“She’s Tobin,” Christen finally replied, her voice full of longing and regret. “I’ll never know what it’s like not to love her.”

“Do you want to love her?” Ashlyn murmured into the phone. “Like love her love her.” 

“I don’t know if I deserve a second shot at that.”

“Sweetie, that’s what the two of you get to decide together. No one else is gonna judge that or deem either one of you worthy,” Ashlyn assured. 

“Did you forget my family existed or…?” Christen asked with a bitter laugh.

“They can fuck off, and I bet Tobin would be the first one to tell them that, followed closely by me,” Ashlyn scoffed, rolling her eyes at the idea of anyone voicing a negative comment. 

Christen took another deep breath and continued to tap her fingers across the table, her mind and her heart at war with each other.

“Can I tell you something that I’m technically not allowed to tell you? It’s part of the marriage vault, so if Ali finds out she’ll murder me.” 

“You don’t have to, Ash,” Christen was quick to reply.

“You remember that random ice cream maker that came in the mail the Christmas right after your divorce?” 

“The one you told me you and Ali won on some call-in radio show, yeah,” Christen replied with a nod.

“And do you remember the at-home spa kit you got two years ago?” 

“Yes,” Christen repeated, sensing where this was going.

“And the really comfy meditation chair from this past Christmas?” 

“Oh…I see,” Christen whispered, a lump forming in her throat.

“She didn’t stop caring when she signed the papers. And I don’t think she’ll stop caring regardless of what you decide to do, as friends or more than friends,” Ashlyn said softly, wishing she could teleport to D.C. and hold her best friend. 

“Thanks, Ash. I’ll see you in a few days, okay?” Christen forced past the emotion welling up inside of her.

“I’ll see you soon. Go home early today. Take it easy on yourself for a minute,” Ashlyn cooed through the phone. 

“I’ll try. Love you,” Christen replied softly.

“Love you. See you soon.” 

When Ashlyn hung up, Christen pocketed her phone and felt herself zone out as she leaned back in her chair.

She knew what Ashlyn had wanted to communicate to her with that reveal. And while it made her heart ache in a good way, in a way that made her want to have courage, it also reminded her that Tobin was good . She was good and she’d done the work these past few years. She had made progress and gone to therapy. She was a version of herself that the outside world would call better. 

But Christen wasn’t good or better. She was messy and angry and grieving a broken and lost marriage still. Sure, her pain was soothed by the progress she and Tobin had made recently, by the reintroduction of Tobin into her life. And yet, as Christen sat in the conference room and felt time tick by, she felt the gift reveals have the opposite effect of the one Ashlyn had desired.

They made her somewhat certain that she didn’t deserve a second chance with Tobin.


Tobin hung up the banner that read ‘Bangin’ Brides’ across the entry wall of the Airbnb. She’d already been at the beach house for close to an hour. She’d picked a small bedroom at the back of the house, set up cupcakes in the kitchen, and brought in balloons and the banner. 

It all looked as obnoxious and kitschy as Ali had requested. Christen had texted when she’d landed but was busy getting the alcohol Ashlyn had ordered. 

Tobin couldn’t help that she felt nervous. She couldn’t help that being in the same town where she and Christen had honeymooned, being on regularly talking terms with Christen, and being on the precipice of a weekend in the same house made her jittery. It didn’t help that Christen had seemed a little busier and a little less talkative the past few days. 

“Honey, I’m hooooome!” Ashlyn sing-songed, from the front door, carrying in five suitcases. Ali followed behind her fiancée with an enamored grin on her face. 

“Tobs, you here?” Ali called out.

“Why so much luggage?” Tobin laughed as soon as she saw Ashlyn. 

“Sex toys, dude. Obviously,” Ashlyn rolled her eyes.

“Tell me again why you requested one house for all of us?” Tobin grimaced. 

“She’s kidding. We brought the bridal party gifts and games and stuff for everyone,” Ali chuckled, kissing Ashlyn’s cheek.

“Ash snuck in at least a vibrator,” Tobin mumbled. 

“Oh please, I snuck in two,” Ali winked. “Speaking of, is Chris here yet?”

“How is that speaking of?” Tobin asked. 

“Do I need to remind everyone present about the common room in the dorms at Georgetown incident?” Ashlyn replied, an amused smirk on her face.

“I was there,” Tobin murmured as a dark blush spread across her cheeks. 

“I believe at least two vibrators were involved,” Ashlyn grinned, enjoying teasing Tobin now that there was less need for tension between them.

“She’s not here yet,” Tobin said, bypassing the teasing. 

“Wait at least ten minutes before you jump her,” Ashlyn instructed, carrying the suitcases awkwardly toward the stairs. “Come on, honey, let’s go find the room with the sturdiest bed!”

Tobin blanched at the words, unsure of how to respond since she hadn’t spoken to Christen about moving in that direction and definitely hadn’t mentioned anything to Ashlyn. 

“She’s kidding,” Ali said with a comforting pat on Tobin’s shoulder. “Sort of. Just be kind to both of your hearts.”

“I’m working on doing that,” Tobin replied. “Stop telling your future wife my secrets.” 

“She guessed this all on her own. You were humming Ed Sheeran,” Ali chuckled as she moved toward the stairs.

“It’s quality music!” Tobin called after Ali. 

“What’s quality music?” 

Tobin startled, jumping slightly as Christen spoke. “Um…Ed.” 

“Gotcha,” Christen replied with a small smile, adjusting the box of alcohol in her arms.

“Let me help,” Tobin offered, reaching out for the box. 

“I got it. Just tell me where to put it,” Christen replied, waving off the offer with a small shake of her head.

“Honestly, I just dumped things on the counter,” Tobin said sheepishly. “You’re more of the organizer.” 

“I’m taking the weekend off from that,” Christen hummed with a shrug, depositing the alcohol on the counter.

“That sounds good,” Tobin commented, shoving her hands in her pockets to avoid doing something stupid. “You can pick a bedroom. I’d recommend knocking unless you want to see a lot of Ali and Ash behind one of the doors.”

Christen let out a soft laugh and moved to grab her small duffel from the entryway.

“Thanks,” Christen said, heading toward the staircase. She paused at the bottom of it and turned, shooting Tobin a warm half-smile. “It’s good to see you again.”

“It’s good to see you too,” Tobin grinned, lifting her hand up in an awkward wave and then shoving it into her sweatshirt pocket. 

Christen retreated up the stairs and picked a room on the far side of the house,  down a hallway and across from one other room, far away from the closed doors that definitely were separating the engaged couple from the rest of the house.

When she came back down, she found Tobin in the exact same spot, one hand still tucked into her sweatshirt pocket and an air of uncertainty about her. It had Christen thinking about a nineteen-year-old Tobin and how even despite all the changes, Tobin still held onto some of that endearing awkwardness.

“Did the music stop?” Christen called out softly, leaning against the banister with a playful glint in her green eyes.

“Musical chairs?” Tobin asked, her eyes lighting up at the memory of going over to Christen’s dorm to study for a class she wasn’t enrolled in.  

“Want to take a walk?” Christen wondered.

“Yeah,” Tobin answered, nodding her head toward the back sliding door that had a path that led to the beach. 

They fell into step with one another, their shoes in their hands and their feet in the sand. They walked away from the beach house and down to the water, getting close enough to walk in the firmer sand.

“Do you remember carrying an entire watermelon out to the beach and cutting it while we were just sitting in the sand?” Tobin asked quietly. 

“How we weren’t arrested for carrying a deadly weapon is beyond me,” Christen replied with the hint of a smile on her face.

“It was a serrated bread knife,” Tobin snorted. 

“Still a misdemeanor,” Christen said, shaking her head.

“It was so good, though,” Tobin groaned, remembering just how sweet and cold it was under the hot sun. 

“It was, yeah,” Christen hummed, sticking her hands into the pockets of her jean shorts as they continued walking along the water.

“You uh…was the flight okay?” Tobin asked. 

“That’s not the question you want to ask me,” Christen pointed out, reading her ex-wife easily without even having to look at her.

“Well was it?” Tobin repeated. 

“It was bumpy. What do you want to ask me, Tobin?”

“I was gonna say that you look like you’ve been sleeping more. Unless I’m looking wishfully,” Tobin answered, dragging her toe in the sand to leave a mark in it. 

“I am,” Christen acknowledged. “More and better. You look like you have too.”

“I have,” Tobin agreed. “More and better.” 

“That’s good,” Christen murmured, offering Tobin a smile before looking back out at the ocean.

“But you’re thinking really hard,” Tobin hummed, watching Christen’s face intently. 

“I am. You’ve given me a lot to think about,” Christen replied honestly, flexing her hands in her pockets and watching a wave crash on the beach.

“In a bad way?” Tobin asked, keeping her voice soft and her walking pace slow. 

“No,” Christen said quietly, her response barely audible above the sound of the crashing waves. “In a way I just don’t know if I deserve.”

Tobin stopped walking. Her eyebrows scrunched in confusion, and her lips turned down in thought. She wasn’t certain why Christen felt undeserving of anything. At the end of the day, both of them were responsible for getting divorced. Both of them were responsible for what they’d said to one another and the hurt they’d caused. 

“Why wouldn’t you deserve it?” 

“I didn’t treat it the way I should have the first time. I wonder if I lost the right to,” Christen replied, stopping in the sand and turning to look back at Tobin.

“I didn’t treat it the way I should have the first time. Am I undeserving?” Tobin asked, tilting her head slightly. 

“No, not at all,” Christen said with a shake of her head.

“We went about it different ways, but what makes one person better than the other? Asking who fucked up first is like…asking whether the chicken or the egg came first, right?” Tobin wondered aloud. 

“Sure, but you did the work. You- you became a new version of yourself who-” Christen said, struggling to put it all into words now that she was standing in front of Tobin, those brown eyes as soft and inviting as they were ten years ago.

“I’m just gonna be very straightforward right now, and if I’m overstepping or reading something wrong, let me know,” Tobin said, taking a few steps forward in the sand so she’d be closer to Christen. “If we’re talking about giving us another shot, which I think we are, you should know that we’re going to do work. I’m not hoping to fuck up twice. We will be sitting on a couch talking to someone once a week. We’ll be doing stupid homework assignments that we should have been doing three years ago. And I imagine that you’ll probably have to do some individual work just like I still do.” 

Christen tore her gaze away from Tobin’s, seeking solace in the ocean and the sunset sky, feeling unmoored and entrenched in unknown territory, unsure of how to proceed.

“And if you’re not talking about that, then forget I said it. I can recommend a therapist in D.C. if you’d like to do individual work. I know a couple who specialize in family stuff if that’s helpful,” Tobin added, breathing in for seven, holding it for five, and then releasing it. 

“What if I don’t know what I’m talking about?” Christen whispered to the ocean, to the purple and orange-hued sky, to Tobin.

“You don’t need to know,” Tobin shrugged, offering a small smile. “There’s time.” 

“You’re not going anywhere?” Christen asked, finally looking over at Tobin, her eyes full of fear and longing.

“I’ll stay right here,” Tobin promised, digging her toes into the sand as if she were actually rooting herself there. 

With a small nod, Christen erased the last bit of space between them and sank into Tobin’s arms, allowing herself to find refuge in an embrace she’d gone years without.

“I missed you,” Tobin whispered into Christen’s curls. 

“I missed you every day,” Christen admitted, fisting her hands in the back of Tobin’s sweatshirt.

“I thought about you every single day,” Tobin hummed, tightening her arms around Christen and breathing her in, the ache duller than it had been in years. 

Christen’s whispered, “I did too,” dulled the ache even further. 


One person had to stay sober, and Christen volunteered. She wasn’t just being kind or selfless; she wanted to stay sober. She had too much rolling around inside of her and alcohol wouldn’t help matters. It would lower her inhibitions and make her want to fall back into the arms that had held her on the beach like that was all they ever wanted to do. 

So she was the D.D. and took the bachelorette party from a sangria bar to a club, to another bar, and then to another club. 

Ali and Ashlyn were having the time of their lives. They were in matching ‘Bride to Be’ sashes and cheesy veils. Tobin even seemed to be enjoying herself, letting loose to drink and dance, her face lighting up with a smile Christen hadn’t seen in years, one she’d seen the ghost of ever since their talk on Ali and Ashlyn’s couch a few weeks ago. Everyone else was having fun too. 

The brides to be downed shots and traded sloppy kisses without a care in the world. It reminded Christen of another bachelorette party, with similar sashes and kisses traded without the knowledge that one day they wouldn’t be shared any longer. 

Christen’s face twisted up at the memory, despite the happiness that was a part of it. She pulled the minivan to a stop in front of the beach house and helped the wobbly bachelorette party to the door. She came back and unbuckled Ali while Tobin was struggling to get Ashlyn unbuckled.  

“Did you have fun, Al?” Christen asked, offering the glassy-eyed brunette a smile. 

“So much. My wife is sexy,” Ali slurred, reaching out for Ashlyn but finding Tobin’s arm instead. 

“It’s good you think so,” Christen murmured, redirecting Ali’s hand and placing it into Ashlyn’s. 

“Tobs thinks you’re sexy too. I see it in her eye holes,” Ali whispered loudly. 

Christen felt her cheeks flush at the comment and dared not to look up at Tobin. She simply finished getting Ali’s sash untangled with the seatbelt and then helped her out of the minivan, Tobin and Ashlyn not far behind. 

“Come on, time for bed,” Christen hummed, leading Ali up to the house with a strong arm around her waist, keeping them balanced even as Ali swayed. 

“I’m not going to bed,” Ali whined, leaning fully into Christen’s side. 

“You need to,” Christen chuckled, pushing the door open. 

“I’m gonna kiss my wife,” Ali argued. 

“Okay, you can do that, and then sleep,” Christen replied, directing the group toward the stairs. 

“She starts arguing when she’s wasted,” Tobin informed, almost completely sober now that she was helping to carry Ashlyn up the stairs. 

“I remember,” Christen said with a small smile over her shoulder before getting to the top of the stairs with Ali. “I just don’t remember her being this argumentative.”

“Ali, you’re gonna fall asleep before you even reach a hand out for Ash,” Tobin laughed. 

“I’m going to kiss my wife every night because that’s what wives do,” Ali mumbled, nearly tripping over her feet. “Why are you acting like this is news, Tobs? That’s what wives do.”

“That’s what good ones do, Ali. I never said I was a good one,” Tobin murmured, uncomfortably tugging at the top button of her shirt. 

It was blissfully quiet as Christen and Tobin got Ali and Ashlyn settled in their room. And as promised, the two shared a drunk, giggling kiss before passing out a few seconds later. They left the bedroom quietly, and Christen shut the door behind them, the sounds of Ali and Ashlyn’s harmonized snoring still audible. 

“Thanks for DD-ing,” Tobin said once she and Christen were alone in the hallway. 

“You were a good one,” Christen offered, focusing on what Tobin had said to Ali a few moments ago and wanting to set the record straight. 

“I don’t…I didn’t do what I promised to do,” Tobin replied, shaking her head quickly. 

“That doesn’t undo the good you did,” Christen murmured, crossing her arms over her chest and meeting Tobin’s gaze. 

“You were a good one too, for the record,” Tobin whispered. 

Christen just shot Tobin a sad, disbelieving half-smile, not feeling worthy of the compliment or the praise. 

“You were. You…You’ve always been able to make me feel special and safe with just a look,” Tobin murmured with a tiny shrug. “You’ve made me laugh more than anyone in the world. You made me feel seen and beautiful and known. And some really unproductive arguments and fights don’t erase the good.”

“How can it not, when I was horrible and said horrible things to you? Things I knew would hurt?” Christen wondered quietly. 

“I was horrible and said horrible things to you, knowing they would hurt you,” Tobin countered, cocking her head to the side. 

“How can you just forgive that? Forgive me?” Christen asked in a voice that shook with vulnerability. 

“I guess when you love someone, it’s not so difficult to have grace with the mistakes they’ve made,” Tobin admitted softly. 

The moment was broken by one of Ali’s coworkers stumbling out of their bedroom and into the bathroom in the hallway nearby. Uncertain what else to say, but knowing what she wanted to say sounded a lot like what Tobin had just whispered, Christen turned down the hall toward the room she’d picked. When Tobin fell into step with her, she realized she’d somehow chosen the bedroom across from Tobin’s. Life was funny like that. 

“I’ll see you in the morning,” Christen murmured, pausing outside of their doors, half-turning toward Tobin.

“Sweet dreams,” Tobin hummed, offering Christen a lopsided smile as she reached for her own door. 

“Tobin?” Christen asked, teetering on the precipice of something , without entirely knowing what came next or why she’d even called out to her ex-wife in the darkened hallway. 

“Yeah?” 

Christen hesitated for just a second before erasing the space between them, brushing her lips against Tobin’s cheek impossibly fast, the kiss featherlight. 

“You were good, and I’m trying to find it in myself to believe in me the way you do. Good night,” Christen whispered, backing up toward her room with a fierce blush in her cheeks. 

“You were good, and I’m not gonna leave you alone to figure things out by yourself unless you ask for me to get lost,” Tobin promised quietly. “Good night.” 

With a small smile, Christen opened her bedroom door and slipped inside. The door clicked shut, not slammed, leaving Tobin alone in the hallway. 

It was as if she were a decade younger, holding her hand up to her tingling cheek after the first brush of Christen’s lips. 

There was the same sense of magic and meaning, but this time it was better. This time, she knew Christen deeply, like she knew herself. This time, the love was already there, settled deep in her bones. This time, there was full acceptance, not just expectation or hope. 


Tobin was up before everyone else, making waffles that she was certain Ali and Ashlyn would need in order to ride back into the land of the living. 

She’d added a dash of vanilla extract to her batter, something that Christen had taught her during their first year of marriage and something that she did every time she made waffles now. 

She added chocolate chips into half of the batter for Ali, Christen, and herself and left the other half plain for Ashlyn and anyone else who might want it. 

It was another rare occasion that was becoming less rare where her body felt light, hovering on possibility and deep love. She knew she was humming. She even knew it was one of Christen’s favorite songs, but she was the only one up and far less subject to teasing when Ashlyn’s snoring could still be heard. 

And then footsteps on the stairs joined the symphony of sounds. 

“Isn’t it a little early for this, Mom?” Christen said into the phone pressed to her ear, her expression pinched and tired. She shuffled from the stairs to the back door, still in sweats and Uggs and a flannel that had once belonged to Tobin. She slipped out but left the door cracked, not noticing the commotion in the kitchen as she passed. “Usually you wait until closer to Thanksgiving to guilt-trip me.”

Tobin felt her forehead scrunching at the obvious pain she could hear in Christen’s voice. It was unnecessary pain, unneeded from the people Christen loved. 

“We’re in South Carolina, not California. But even if we were, it’s not like I’d be welcomed home,” Christen sighed in response to whatever Stacy had said on the phone. 

Tobin pulled a waffle off the griddle and padded across the kitchen to the back patio with a full cup of coffee, made the way Christen liked. 

“She’s here, yeah….well, that’s really none of your business,” Christen huffed, leaning her arms onto the railing. “You know what? I probably would have gotten there all on my own without everybody trying to force me into it. I needed time. I needed to- to pick up the pieces. I needed you all to understand that and not choose sides. But I honestly can’t even blame you. I would have picked her side too.”

Tobin quietly set the coffee on the patio table and then reached out, brushing a hand over Christen’s back. 

Christen tensed slightly at the contact but didn’t turn, her focus still on the phone call. “I can’t do this right now. I’ll talk to you later,” she said before pulling the phone away from her ear and burying the instinct to throw it into the sand below. She just dropped the phone onto the railing and covered her face with her hands, taking a deep breath. In for seven, hold for five, out for seven. 

“I’m sorry,” Tobin whispered, slowly brushing her hand in small circles along Christen’s back. 

“You don’t need to apologize for something you have no control over,” Christen managed, her voice shaky and raw, subconsciously leaning back into Tobin’s touch. 

“I want to talk to them,” Tobin murmured. 

“You don’t need to,” Christen replied. 

“I want to. I want them to know that it was both of us. And I also want to give them a very small piece of my mind about giving you a hard time. Maybe Cindy can help me with that,” Tobin hummed, continuing the soft movement of her hand. 

Christen huffed out a strained laugh and looked over her shoulder at Tobin. 

“My hero,” Christen murmured, her tone teasing, the look in her eyes anything but. 

“No, I just need to set the record straight,” Tobin replied, tracing her index finger along Christen’s spine. 

“I say this without malice -- good luck,” Christen said, fighting off a shiver at Tobin’s continued touch. 

“I’m really sorry they hurt you. You really just got bulldozed, didn’t you? First by me and then by them,” Tobin sighed, her tone completely apologetic, full of regret. 

Christen felt a tightness in her chest and a heaviness in her heart because it was finally visible, all that she went through. And the person she wanted to see it most was here and was looking. 

“I survived,” Christen said, repeating words she’d said to Tobin before, but with far less conviction than the last time. Now they came out more like a question than anything else. 

“Chris, just because you’re still breathing doesn’t make any of it okay,” Tobin whispered, stilling her hand but keeping it in contact with Christen’s back. 

“I think you’ve got me starting to believe that,” Christen whispered back. 

“I’ll keep saying it until you tell me to shut up,” Tobin promised, finally moving her hand and leaning against the railing right next to Christen. 

“Get lost, shut up…are you expecting me to say those things to you?” Christen wondered, sliding to the left just a little so their shoulders brushed. 

“It could happen,” Tobin shrugged. “I don’t want to expect it.” 

“Those are two things I never wanted, and I still don’t want them,” Christen admitted, leaning her temple against Tobin’s shoulder and letting her eyes fall shut. “Thank you for being a constant.”

“I wasn’t,” Tobin murmured, familiar shame filling her chest. 

“You are now. That matters.”

“Would you like some ‘forget about hurtful family waffles’?” Tobin asked, nuzzling into Christen’s hair. 

“My favorite, how’d you know?” Christen teased softly. 

“Well, I was married to you for a bit, if you remember,” Tobin teased right back. 

“I could never forget,” Christen said in reply, leaving a barely-there kiss on Tobin’s shoulder before taking a step back toward the house. 


That night, there was no need for a DD since they were staying in to play games and make a dent in the alcohol stash. 

It seemed safe and harmless, drinking wine with old friends and her ex-wife who kept giving her the softest smiles whenever their eyes would meet. Christen was pulled into the feeling that tonight would be safe and harmless, until one of Ali’s coworkers, a delightfully annoying woman named Elaine, suggested a game. 

“Ali and Ashlyn, you’re a pair, and…well you two were married, right? So you have to play against them,” Elaine tipsily declared, gesturing at Tobin and Christen. 

“What’s the game?” Christen asked, and really she shouldn’t have, because the answer had her stomach flipping and her heart pounding. 

“Kiss the coconut! You can’t use your hands and you’ve got to get it from your stomach to your mouths!” Elaine grinned, grabbing two coconuts from the kitchen that someone had brought with them and coming back into the living room. 

“Uhh…what?” Tobin asked, her eyebrows furrowing in confusion. 

“Let me demonstrate,” Elaine replied, pulling Christen up off the couch. She planted herself within inches of Christen and propped the coconut up between their stomachs. “Start like this, right? And then you have to move your bodies to get the coconut up to your mouths!” Elaine continued, doing one too many body rolls in an effort to get the coconut to move up. 

Tobin felt her eyebrows creep up her forehead and her stomach churn at the sight of another woman doing this with her ex-wife. 

“I think she gets it,” Christen said with an embarrassed flush in her cheeks, grabbing the coconut and taking a large step back. 

“We don’t have to-” Ashlyn started to say, only to be cut off by Ali. 

“Come on,” Ali groaned, taking the coconut for her and Ashlyn from Elaine. “I’m sure they remember what the other looks like naked. This is nothing.” 

Christen’s blush deepened as she held the coconut in her hands, awkwardly hovering in the open space between the couch and the TV now that Elaine had flopped back down on the couch. She shot Tobin a look that practically screamed, What do you want to do

“Elaine, I think you should really rethink whether you’re actually straight or not,” Tobin huffed as she got up from the armchair she was sitting in and made her way over to Christen. 

“Already rethinking,” Elaine promised with a laugh and a raise of her wine glass. “I’ll start the timer when you’re all in position!”

Christen couldn’t look away from Tobin’s eyes as she cleared her throat, her feet shuffling uncomfortably. 

“Are you sure?” Christen asked under her breath, only loud enough for Tobin to hear. 

“If you’re okay, then I’m sure,” Tobin nodded, stepping closer to Christen.  

“We have seen each other naked, so,” Christen whispered with a shrug. 

“I’ve spent a large amount of time between your legs if I remember correctly,” Tobin whispered back. 

Christen’s blush deepened even further as they stepped close enough to keep the coconut trapped between their bodies. This was a bad idea. A horrible, bad, terrible idea. She could smell the sunshine again, the one that had always followed Tobin around and mixed in with the blue spruce that lingered in her hair and on her skin and on her clothes. She could see the gold in Tobin’s irises and the way the red wine had stained the inside of Tobin’s bottom lip. They were standing so close together, the game hadn’t even started, and Christen was already certain she wouldn’t survive this. 

It had never been a question of wanting. Like they’d both admitted, even when they were sad or hurt, they still wanted each other. Just like Christen still wanted Tobin now. 

“Rivaled only by the time I spent between yours,” Christen replied brazenly, barely recognizing Elaine's excited ‘Go!’ as the start of the game. 

Tobin moved against Christen, first a little timidly, unsure of what was too much. She’d seen Christen in every kind of intimate scenario. But time had passed, and hearts were in the process of mending. And she wasn’t prepared to ruin the progress they’d made over a game. 

It was a little awkward and uncomfortable, the two of them not really finding a groove compared to Ali and Ashlyn who already had shimmied the coconut up to their chests. It was awkward and uncomfortable until, after a particularly gentle roll of Tobin’s body toward hers that almost sent the coconut falling, Christen let out a snort. A loud, very ‘unladylike’ snort. 

“Baby, I’m trying,” Tobin complained, reaching out for Christen’s hips to steady them both. 

But Christen couldn’t stop laughing. Her snort turned into a chuckle which turned into a full-bodied laugh, and with that laughter, she felt lighter than she had in a long, long time. 

“You’re acting like it’s an egg and it’ll break! I know you can move your body more than that,” Christen laughed, her hands falling to Tobin’s shoulders, her mind and her heart taking the ‘baby’ in stride without even really processing it. It sounded natural and normal, and Christen was having too much fun to question it. 

“You’re just standing still,” Tobin chuckled, rolling her hips with a little bit more gusto and getting the coconut up past their belly buttons. 

Christen let out another loud snort. “It’s about teamwork. Let me show you,” she replied, holding Tobin’s shoulder still while she shifted her body from side to side, zig-zagging the coconut up to their chests while she kept Tobin still. “One works while the other supports.”

“Wait…so you’re over here with the game completely figured out, letting me struggle?” Tobin teased, holding still while Christen moved. 

“Your little body rolls were so cute. I had to let you struggle for a bit,” Christen grinned, pausing when the coconut was right below their breasts. “Okay, you take it now,” she instructed, their bodies completely flush, slotting together like two puzzle pieces made to fit. 

Tobin kept hold of Christen’s hips and tried to move her body like Christen had. Her eyes were trained on the coconut, which coincidentally gave her a decent view of Christen’s chest. She wasn’t complaining. 

“Focus, Tobin,” Christen snorted with a shake of her head. 

“I’m zeroed in,” Tobin murmured, helping the coconut move up toward Christen’s cleavage. 

“Mhm,” Christen replied, not believing Tobin was focused on the coconut one bit.

“You still have the best boobs,” Tobin added once the coconut was past the swell of Christen’s breasts. 

Christen flushed and let out a strangled huff when Tobin’s chest pressed completely against hers, the coconut trapped under their chins now. 

“Yeah, sure,” Christen managed to reply with an eye roll, angling her head down to trap the coconut between her chin and her neck. 

“Is that disbelief?” Tobin asked right before Christen moved the coconut over her lips. 

“What was that? I didn’t quite catch it,” Christen chuckled as she rolled her head to the side and kept the coconut in place with her lips as well. With no more words able to be had between them, only a coconut and charged eye contact, Christen felt her stomach flip again, this time with a want so deep she wasn’t sure what to do with it. 

“Winners! Exes beat brides to be!” Elaine cheered, a chorus of whoops echoing around the beach house, mixing in with the groans from Ali and Ashlyn. 

Tobin squeezed Christen’s hips gently and then reached up to take the coconut out from between them. She fought off the urge to find Christen’s lips with her own, to breathe promises into Christen’s skin, to soothe aches with soft touches. 

Instead, she gave Christen a goofy smile and said, “Looks like we’ve still got it.” 

“Looks like it,” Christen breathed out, subconsciously wetting her bottom lip with her tongue. 

“And you do have the best boobs,” Tobin whispered softly. “No question about it.” 

In Christen’s mind, there were questions. There were so many questions. Questions like, ‘ Why don’t you come upstairs and show me that they’re the best ?’ and ‘ Do you feel this and want this as badly as I do?’  

But she didn’t voice them. Instead, she simply offered Tobin a blushing smile and took a small step back. 

“Thank you,” Christen murmured before moving back to her spot on the couch and picking up her glass of wine. She took a healthy sip and tried to settle her racing heart, which was a pointless effort because the second she looked over at Tobin, at the way her brown eyes had darkened just a little with want, Christen’s heart was racing once again. 

Her heart raced all night. Through more games, through dinner, through gathering around the fire pit on the deck once the sun had set. It felt like every time their eyes met, her breath would catch. Like every time their eyes met, it was like a touch she could feel on her skin. 

By the time everyone was shuffling or stumbling off to bed, Christen was wound up and buzzing with energy. All she knew was that she didn’t want this night to end because tomorrow everyone would go back to their lives and their jobs and she’d go back to being alone again. 

And she didn’t want to be alone. More than that, she wanted to be with Tobin, even if she was still working on feeling like she deserved it. 

“Up for one more drink?” Christen called out, stopping Tobin from climbing the stairs. 

“Sure,” Tobin nodded, turning away from the stairs to look at Christen. “Wine or something else?” 

“I was thinking water so we don’t wake up hungover tomorrow,” Christen chuckled, grabbing two bottles from the fridge and moving toward the back door. 

“That’s much smarter,” Tobin grinned, following after Christen. 

“Mind getting a little sandy?” Christen asked as she slid open the glass door. 

“I love the beach. You’ll never hear me complain about sand,” Tobin hummed, feeling her heart continue to race like it had been all night. 

Christen led the way down across the sand, settling them near the beach house but far enough away from it for some semblance of privacy. She dropped down onto the cool sand, the water bottles beside her, and she patted the spot next to her. 

“For you,” Christen said with a tiny smile before turning her attention to the midnight blue ocean and the moon casting a soft glow over everything its light could reach. 

“Do you remember the hammock at our honeymoon beach house?” Tobin asked softly. 

“I remember having to pay for it after we accidentally but enthusiastically broke it,” Christen said with a huff of laughter. 

“I remember breaking it,” Tobin smirked, knowing full well that it was her fault. She’d been the one kneeling on the ground, her face between Christen’s legs, and her hands tugging too tightly on the fabric hammock. 

“I tried not to remember all the good times, but it was impossible not to. We had too many and my hurt wasn’t strong enough to block out the happy,” Christen whispered, tucking her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. 

“The hurt and the anger were ugly and loud, loud enough to try and block good things out, but I actually think we had more happy moments,” Tobin murmured. 

“Yeah,” Christen breathed out. “I don’t think we were the right people at the wrong time. You said that in Orlando, but I…I disagree.”

“Oh? What’s your theory?” 

Christen grew quiet and watched the waves roll up onto the shore, her heart hammering in her chest. 

“We found each other right when we were meant to, and then we were meant to fall apart the way we did. We never would have seen the issues without that. We wouldn’t be here without that.”

“I’m glad I met you when I did. I’m glad I’ve gotten to know love like that. And I’m…maybe not glad, but somehow grateful that I’ve known hurt like that. I know what can be lost.” 

“Me too,” Christen agreed softly, loosening her arms from around her knees, letting her hands fall to the sand at her sides. “It was the right person at the right time, it just wasn’t going to be linear like we thought.”

“I think I agree with your theory,” Tobin whispered, reaching out and finding the tips of Christen’s fingers with her own. 

Christen bridged the final gap between them, sliding her hand into Tobin’s, their fingers tangling together as easily as they had years ago. 

“I’m still not sure I deserve this,” Christen confessed. 

“Why?” Tobin asked, turning to look at Christen instead of the water. 

“I don’t know if I ever felt, on some level, like I actually deserved you. Even before.”

Tobin felt her eyebrows scrunch together in confusion. She held Christen’s hand closer and turned so that she could look more directly at her. 

“Do you know why?” Tobin wondered, her voice gentler and softer than it had been in years. 

“Probably something to unpack with a trained professional,” Christen sighed, running her thumb along the side of Tobin’s hand. “But it probably boils down to you asking me to give up the one thing that was tearing us apart and me being unwilling to do it.”

“I shouldn’t have asked you to do that,” Tobin replied, frowning at her own past behaviors. “If a patient came into my office and told me that was their plan to fix their marriage, I would have told them that they were shooting themselves in the foot. I shouldn’t have asked you to give up something you love when our marriage was falling apart because we weren’t communicating. You aren’t undeserving for setting a boundary and not letting me cross it.” 

Christen let out a soft hum and offered a small nod in response, her face drawn into thought.

“What if it doesn’t work?” Christen said, the whispered words escaping from a small, hopeful yet terrified piece of her heart. 

“Okay, let’s just…put it out there since we’re alone and there are no distractions. We’ve danced around it and talked vaguely. I don’t want to misunderstand you and argue about things down the road. So, let’s spell it out. What are you hoping will work?” Tobin asked, moving even more so that she was in front of Christen, looking into her eyes. 

“God, it sounds good to hear you talk like that,” Christen admitted with tears in her eyes. After taking a long, deep breath, she added, “I’m…hoping for us. I always have and I always will.”

“Me too,” Tobin murmured, reaching out and running her thumb under Christen’s eye. “What kind of hopes for us?” 

“The kind we got started on five years ago and never finished,” Christen whispered, leaning into Tobin’s touch. 

“Okay,” Tobin nodded, letting her heart race as she opened her mouth to speak again. “When I think of the hopes I have for us, I think of paying for our own, probably smaller, second wedding and finding a really good work-life balance together and getting a dog who won’t kill Milton and maybe a backyard unless you’re sold on the city. In that case, a rooftop maybe.” 

Christen lifted her hand to hold onto Tobin’s that was cradling her cheek, grounding herself with the contact as tears spilled freely from her eyes. 

“I think about going on that city tour that you talked about and finding a better place for the both of us. Our place, not somewhere we’re forced to stay because of my job,” Christen said softly through a few sniffles. 

“I think about drinking coffee on a back patio in the mornings before we have to force ourselves to leave for work. And I think about someday, when we’ve got all of our shit together, having a couple of kids and showing them what loving and listening and talking looks like,” Tobin whispered, feeling her eyes sting as the first tears slipped down her cheeks. 

“Oh, baby,” Christen murmured, reaching out to gently wipe away the tears on Tobin’s cheeks, her touch as tender as her words. “I want that too. I want all of it. I want a second chance.”

“I do too,” Tobin replied in a shaky voice, turning her head to kiss Christen’s palm. 

“Yeah?” Christen asked, the start of a beaming smile on her face despite the tears that continued to fall. 

“I’ve wanted a second chance since I signed the stupid papers in the first place,” Tobin admitted in between kisses that she trailed up the inside of Christen’s wrist. 

“I wanted you to fight me on it. I didn’t want you to sign them,” Christen replied, scooting as close as possible to Tobin as their current positions allowed. “I didn’t want to file. I never did.”

“I was scared to fight you on it because I didn’t want you to tell me that you wanted out more than the papers already seemed to say,” Tobin whispered, wrapping her arms around Christen as much as she could. 

“I’m sorry,” Christen whispered back, those two words ones she’d said plenty of times, but as she said them now, she meant them maybe more than she ever had before. “I want in. Please let me in, Tobin. Please .”

“I’m sorry,” Tobin breathed out, practically pulling Christen into her lap as she scrambled for more contact. “I want you in. You’re in. You’re who I want to share everything with. It never felt like we were ex anything. I lost you, but all I’ve ever wanted is you.” 

Without thinking, without doing anything more than listening to her newly-mended heart, Christen surged forward and caught Tobin’s lips in a soft kiss. Her hands rose to frame Tobin’s face as her lips pressed against Tobin’s, a feeling of home rushing through Christen even after she pulled back and leaned her forehead against Tobin’s. 

“How can you have lost me when I’m right here, wanting you back?” Christen said softly, her thumbs moving across Tobin’s cheekbones. 

“I’m not gonna let you go or leave you on your own again. I’m gonna share all of myself with you,” Tobin promised as she tucked a few curls behind Christen’s ears. 

“I see your promise, and raise you one of my own. I’m not going to make you doubt how much you mean to me ever again. You’re always the most important to me,” Christen replied. “I won’t lose sight of that again, but if something happens and I start to slip, don’t let me crash. Help me find my way back.”

“You and I are going to be brutally honest and impossibly kind,” Tobin whispered as she trailed her nose along Christen’s. 

“Yes we are,” Christen echoed. 

“I’ll tell you when I need your time. I’ll set timers for you. We can set alerts. We’ll dig into the messy feelings. You can use my own tactics on me. I’ll give you all my tricks,” Tobin chuckled. 

“And I’ll tell you when I need you to be open and honest with me. I’ll do the work with you and do all the tricks you teach me,” Christen replied with a soft laugh of her own. 

“I love you,” Tobin hummed into the small space between them. 

“I…I love you in a way I finally understand,” Christen whispered, moving a fraction closer and waiting for Tobin to bridge the final gap between them, a warmth in her chest and an untouchable sort of happiness in her heart. 

Like they should have three years ago, Tobin met Christen halfway, finding her lips as easily as she had the very first time they’d kissed at nineteen. She was soft and slow and gentle, pouring all of her love into the kiss as her heart melded back together in her chest. 

“Would it be too quick if I asked you to come to bed with me?” Christen hummed against Tobin’s lips, moving back in for a deeper kiss before Tobin responded. 

“We’ve never been shy about that,” Tobin murmured against Christen’s lips. “Plus, legally, I’m still technically a Heath-Press. Never got around to changing that, so I don’t think coming to bed with you would be crossing a line.”

Christen pulled out of the kiss abruptly at the admission, her eyes wide and her lips parted in surprise. 

“I didn’t want to let go,” Tobin shrugged softly. 

“God, I love you,” Christen managed to say as her eyes filled with fresh tears and she caught Tobin’s lips in a harder kiss this time. 

“I love you too,” Tobin mumbled into Christen’s mouth. 

If asked later how they got from the beach and up to the house, then up to the room Tobin had chosen to sleep in, Christen wouldn’t be able to answer. All she knew was that one moment she was kissing Tobin on the beach and the next she had Tobin pushed up against the glass sliding door that led back into the house, their lips and hands making up for lost time. 

The next moment found them stumbling blindly down the carpeted upstairs hallway, giggling and shushing each other when they bumped into walls or door frames or each other, their lips hardly parting. But once the door to Tobin’s room was shut, Christen felt completely present and in the moment, no longer a victim to the waves of bliss that carried her from the beach all the way up here. 

With both hands cradling Tobin’s cheeks, Christen brought their lips together softly, slowly, like they had all the time in the world to make up for all the time they’d lost. She didn’t rush to get Tobin out of her clothes or get to the bed. 

She didn’t rush. 

She lingered. She indulged

Christen sank her teeth into Tobin’s bottom lip, committing to memory the gasp Tobin let out at the feeling. She swiped her tongue into Tobin’s mouth and remembered that Tobin always tasted like sunshine and mint toothpaste, no matter what. She kept them standing in the middle of the bedroom, a few feet from the bed because she didn’t want to hurry through a single moment of indulgence she had deluded herself into thinking she didn’t deserve. 

“Chris,” Tobin choked out, her voice husky and full of desire. 

“Yeah?” Christen’s response hit Tobin’s parted lips, her hands still cradling Tobin’s face. 

“I haven’t…since,” Tobin mumbled, a blush spreading across her cheeks.

“Me neither,” Christen replied, moving her lips to the blushes in Tobin’s cheeks. 

“Go easy on me.” 

“Whatever you want, whatever you need,” Christen whispered, finally letting her hands fall from Tobin’s face. She trailed her fingertips down Tobin’s neck, the touch featherlight, as she reached the collar of Tobin’s button-up. 

“I mean not too easy. I just…Wait, you either?” Tobin asked, sliding her hands under Christen’s shirt. 

“How could I?” Christen replied simply, nuzzling her nose along Tobin’s as her fingers dropped to the top button and undid it. She laid her palms flat on Tobin’s collarbones, marveling at how warm Tobin always was, having forgotten that in their time spent apart. “I never stopped loving you.”

“I never stopped loving you,” Tobin echoed, backing Christen up toward the bed as her hands pushed Christen’s shirt up and over her head. 

Their lips met easily, as easily as they always did, as Christen’s shirt hit the floor and Tobin’s shirt came next, Christen undoing the buttons with steady hands and then gently pushing it off Tobin’s shoulders.

Tobin carefully lowered Christen onto the bed. She dropped featherlight kisses across Christen’s hips while her fingers undid the button of Christen’s jeans. They found the floor, followed closely by Tobin’s. 

Tobin crawled over Christen, hovering above her and bending down every few moments to press kisses into Christen’s skin. 

She busied herself with finding the small spot at the base of Christen’s neck that always made Christen writhe beneath her. She rediscovered the place on the inside of Christen’s right thigh that sent breathy whimpers from Christen’s lips. She found the place along Christen’s hips that made her arch up into her. They were all things she remembered, places that she’d committed to memory, movements that were as known to her as the simple act of breathing. 

Tobin stripped Christen bare before she peeled her own underwear off, sinking into the open arms of the woman she loved the most. 

“Go easy on me,” Christen whispered, brushing kisses across Tobin’s cheeks and the bridge of her nose. 

“I’m gonna love you the way I’ve been wanting to,” Tobin whispered back, carefully bringing her fingers between Christen’s legs.

As she slowly buried two fingers into the familiar heat at the apex of Christen’s legs, Tobin lifted herself up just slightly to look Christen in the eyes. She watched Christen’s eyes flutter and felt Christen’s hips buck up into her hand. And then Tobin sank down, brushing her lips over Christen’s face and then down her neck. 

“You’re wanted,” she whispered before she took one of Christen’s nipples between her lips. 

Christen was beyond the point of coherent responses. All she could do was moan and sigh and bury her hand in the soft waves at the back of Tobin’s head and the soft sheets beneath her. All she could do was sink into the sensation of being loved completely by the woman she loved completely. 

“You’re worthy of all the effort I have to give,” Tobin added between each kiss that she dropped on Christen’s ribs. 

And when she was finished kissing Christen’s hipbones and her body was situated between Christen’s legs, Tobin pulled her fingers away from Christen. She sucked them clean and pushed Christen’s legs further apart. 

“You deserve to be loved openly and honestly and unapologetically,” Tobin murmured before sinking between Christen’s legs and dragging her tongue through Christen’s folds. 

It didn’t take long. Tobin didn’t think it would for either of them, not when they’d both been going without for three years. A few well-placed flicks of her tongue brought Christen to the edge. Her hand tightened in Tobin’s hair, and her hips rolled faster down into Tobin’s mouth. Just the brush of two of Tobin’s fingers over Christen’s entrance sent her tumbling into ecstasy, loudly and beautifully. 

It took Christen a few moments to come back to herself. She sucked in deep breaths and let them out, trying to remember which way was up and how to function. She didn’t even realize she had tears leaking from the corners of her eyes until Tobin was hovering above her, kissing them away with whispered apologies falling from her lips. 

“They’re good tears. They’re happy. Relieved,” Christen croaked, her voice hoarse. “Grateful.”

“Yeah?” 

“Yes,” Christen confirmed with a radiant smile, her hands tucking a few strands of hair behind Tobin’s ears. “I promise.”

“I love you,” Tobin murmured, sinking into Christen’s touch. 

“I can feel it,” Christen hummed, leaning up to kiss Tobin deeply, letting out a soft groan at the taste of herself on Tobin’s lips. “Would it be all right if I showed you how much I love you now?”

“You can show me whenever you want,” Tobin replied, pecking Christen’s lips again, once, twice, then three times. 

Christen gently rolled them over in bed, moving to hover over Tobin, their bodies flush from head to toe. 

“I missed you,” Christen whispered, dropping her hands to the bed on either side of Tobin’s head, ready to begin her path downward. 

“I missed you so much. There was this ache,” Tobin whispered back, moving her hand to her sternum where the ache had lived for the past three years. 

“Let me take it away,” Christen said as she began the slow, tender process of loving Tobin like she should have a long time ago. 

Her lips traveled to the spot Tobin indicated on her chest, the place the ache had lived. Christen placed kiss after kiss on the spot, whispering apologies and assurances into Tobin’s skin. 

She lingered and indulged, just like she’d started to earlier. Her lips traversed every inch of skin, from the crook of Tobin’s elbow all the way down to her right ankle. And as she charted, she promised. 

“You are wanted and loved,” Christen whispered into Tobin’s ribs. “You are cherished and adored,” she whispered into the top of Tobin’s right thigh. “You will always and forevermore be my top priority,” she whispered before licking a broad stripe through the wet heat pooled between Tobin’s legs. “You’re mine and I’m yours, and I’ll try not to lose my way again,” she promised as she pulled one of Tobin’s legs over her shoulder and set out to bring pleasure to her ex-wife who felt more like her wife in this moment than in most of their actual marriage. 

Her words might have stopped but her promises didn’t. She infused every swipe of her tongue, every suck, every flick, with more promises. Christen made promise after promise as she lovingly sent Tobin careening over the edge, helping Tobin ride out the subsequent waves of pleasure with soft licks and gentle kisses. 

And as she tenderly left kisses behind as she crawled up Tobin’s body, she added more promises to the list. 

“I’m never going to stop loving you and choosing you,” Christen murmured, skirting her lips and tongue over the muscles of Tobin’s stomach before moving up to tease across her breasts. “Never,” she echoed, finishing her path by capturing Tobin’s lips with her own and sinking two fingers between Tobin’s legs, not quite finished with the promises she’d started down there. 

“I will choose you for the rest of my life,” Tobin rasped, holding tightly to Christen as her hips rocked forward. 

“I’ll do the same,” Christen replied, slipping her tongue between Tobin’s parted lips as she danced her touch over Tobin’s clit. 

Her fingers moved in quick circles as her tongue brushed along the roof of Tobin’s mouth, building Tobin back toward the edge once again. And when she dipped lower and sank her two fingers inside of Tobin, she almost wept at the gorgeously broken moan that slipped from Tobin’s mouth into her own. A few crooks of her fingers and swipes of her thumb across Tobin’s clit had Tobin tensing beneath her briefly before completely falling apart, gasped moans hitting Christen’s lips and desperate rolls of Tobin’s hips down into her hand continuing for a few euphoric moments. 

“You’re still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” Christen murmured, slipping her hand out from between Tobin’s legs so she could lick her fingers clean. “Especially when you scream my name like that.”

Tobin let out a weak chuckle as she reached for Christen’s face, pulling her closer in search of her lips. 

“You’re still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” Tobin panted before capturing Christen’s bottom lip between her own. 

Christen sank into the kiss, into the ease with which their lips parted and came together, with no hesitation or missed steps between them. 

There wouldn’t be hesitation or missed steps anymore. Not after tonight. 


Tobin woke up with Christen tucked into her side. She woke up to Christen’s breath ghosting across her collarbones and Christen’s hair tickling her cheek. It had been the best night’s sleep she’d had in years, and it was all due to the woman holding tightly onto her. 

Tobin brushed her lips over Christen’s forehead. She breathed in the slightly citrus scent of Christen’s lotion, the sweetness of Christen’s shampoo, the hint of vanilla she’d never figured out. It was home. It was like finally taking a deep breath. It was a sense of safety she hadn’t felt in an extremely long time. 

She whispered quiet ‘I love yous’ as she nuzzled her face against the top of Christen’s head, burying herself in the warmth and comfort there. 

“I’m not still dreaming, right?” Christen asked, her slight husky morning voice muffled against Tobin’s chest. 

“I hope not,” Tobin murmured, starting to brush her hands along Christen’s back. 

“It was a good one. Best one I’ve had in a while,” Christen yawned, burrowing closer and tucking her face into the juncture between Tobin’s neck and her shoulder. She tightened her arm around Tobin’s waist and further tangled their legs beneath the sheets, losing herself to the peace filling up this moment. 

“I haven’t slept this well in years,” Tobin hummed, pulling the warm covers tighter around them both. 

“Me neither,” Christen replied, angling her head to brush her lips across the base of Tobin’s throat. “Good morning.”

“Good morning, my love,” Tobin breathed out, tilting her head down and finding Christen’s lips. 

Like a fan to the dying embers in a hearth, the kiss ignited the flames prickling beneath Christen’s skin that no amount of time spent loving and touching one another into the early hours of the morning had quelled. 

Christen slowly rolled on top of Tobin, her hands busy brushing along Tobin’s sides and down to her hips as their lips moved against one another’s with ease and passion and care. 

“ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NOT!” Ashlyn called from the hallway, smacking her hand against the door. 

Tobin let out a grumble and tightened her arms around Christen, already rolling her eyes at their friends. 

“Maybe she’ll go away,” Christen murmured, kissing across Tobin’s cheek and down her jaw. 

“Press, we heard you all night long,” Ashlyn added. “We’re all ready for breakfast, and Tobin’s in charge of that. Sanitize yourselves first.” 

“Go out for breakfast!” Christen called out as she lifted off of Tobin to glare at the closed door. 

“Honey, let them get un-divorced,” Ali cooed in the hallway, making Tobin snort and bury her face in Christen’s shoulder. 

“Listen to your almost-wife!” Christen yelled before focusing back in on Tobin, her lips moving across the smile lines at the corner of Tobin’s mouth and the crinkles next to her eyes. 

“Should we see if the Airbnb host will give you two an extra night?” Ali asked, pushing the bedroom door open and poking her head in. 

“Ali,” Tobin growled, covering Christen fully with the bedsheet. 

“Ask for two,” Christen said, undeterred in trailing kisses across Tobin’s face and neck and chest. 

“I’m so happy for you,” Ali whispered, looking a little teary from her spot at the door. 

“Then be super sweet and leave us alone,” Tobin sighed, trying to be serious and focused despite Christen moving lower with her kisses. 

“I’m going. I’m going,” Ali promised with her hands held up in defense. 

“No honey, it sounded more like ‘I’m coming, I’m coming,’” Ashlyn grinned, pulling the door shut. 

“Tobin’s about to,” Ali replied in the hallway, her voice audible through the door. 

Christen chuckled and continued kissing lower and lower. “She’s not wrong,” Christen hummed, nipping playfully at Tobin’s hipbone as she pushed the sheets off of them. 

“I know,” Tobin husked. “You’re a very determined woman.” 

“I missed a lot of chances, so I won’t take any for granted now,” Christen murmured as she dipped her head even lower. 

“You want two more days here?” Tobin rasped, hardly speaking coherently. 

“Mhm,” Christen hummed with her mouth between Tobin’s legs.  

“Can you do- Baby, right there,” Tobin whimpered. 

“I know,” Christen grinned, staying in the spot Tobin wanted her in, moving her tongue faster and quicker now, her hands keeping Tobin’s legs open wide. 

“Can you…take off two days?” 

“Mhm,” Christen hummed again, the vibrations adding even more pleasure to what Christen was already doing with her tongue. 

“Fuck,” Tobin panted, rocking into Christen’s mouth with each swipe of Christen’s tongue. “Baby, I’m…Chris.” Christen’s name slipped from Tobin’s lips in a keening moan right as she fell apart, twitching against Christen’s lips. 

“I worked a lot of overtime, so I have vacation days to spare,” Christen murmured as she kissed Tobin’s spasming inner thighs. 

“You worked too much overtime and need to be worshiped for the next two days. When’s the last time someone massaged your back?” Tobin asked, reaching down and scratching at the back of Christen’s neck to encourage her to come back up. 

Christen chuckled and kissed her way to Tobin’s lips. “A few months ago, I put a tennis ball on the wall and rolled my shoulder out on it. It was disappointing.” 

“Can I take care of you?” Tobin asked, slowly pressing each of her fingers into Christen’s back, finding tense muscles where she touched. 

“Better than anyone I know,” Christen whispered in reply, sinking into Tobin’s arms and letting out a soft groan at the continued pressure against her back. 

“We can have a standing Friday night massage date where this is all we do,” Tobin murmured, moving a hand up to the back of Christen’s neck to massage it gently. “Well…plus making love.” 

Christen’s subsequent groan and going completely boneless in Tobin’s arms was all the confirmation Tobin needed to know how interested she was in all of that. 

“I’d really love that,” Christen mumbled against Tobin’s shoulder, feeling tension seep out of her muscles with every press of Tobin’s fingers against her neck and lower back. 

“Me too. Date nights with you,” Tobin hummed as if it were the most incredible thing Tobin could imagine. 

“Lazy weekends or busy weekends, vacations or staycations with you. Coming home to you,” Christen whispered, wonder and hope in her voice. “I’d really love to come home to you.”

“I’d really love to come home to you. And wake up with you. And hold you while you go over your oral arguments and I pretend to understand it all,” Tobin tacked on. 

Christen pressed her smile into the warm skin of Tobin’s shoulder, a contented sigh leaving her lips. 

“We’re going to do it right this time,” Christen hummed, no trace of fear in her words, only a promise. 

“We are,” Tobin agreed, peppering a few kisses along Christen’s hairline. “I think it would destroy us if we didn’t.” 

“I wouldn’t survive a second time,” Christen admitted quietly.

“Neither would I, so we have to do all the hard work,” Tobin whispered against Christen’s skin. 

“Whatever it takes,” Christen agreed, sinking further into Tobin’s arms.

“First, let me say good morning,” Tobin murmured, rolling Christen over so that she could hover over her. 

“You can say anything you want to,” Christen grinned, reaching up to run the pad of her thumb along the smile lines next to Tobin’s mouth.

“Can I say it down here?” Tobin asked, slowly lowering herself to settle between Christen’s legs. 

“Anywhere,” Christen breathed out, already, fisting a hand in the sheets beside her hip and arching up toward Tobin’s mouth. “Anywhere you want, baby.”

“Here?” Tobin wondered, her tongue already between Christen’s legs. 

“Yes,” Christen gasped, her free hand falling to Tobin’s shoulder, her fingers digging into Tobin’s skin as pleasure zipped up her spine.

Tobin brought Christen up and over the edge, once, twice, and then a third time before she crawled back up the bed, only stopping when the bridal party had returned from breakfast. 

Christen knew it was cowardly to leave the divorce papers on the bed, but she was too tired to even fathom the inevitable fight the papers would lead to. She knew it was cowardly and she did it anyway. 

She left them on the foot of their bed and sought refuge at a co-worker’s place that he shared with his boyfriend. She ate an entire chocolate cake and sobbed her way through The Proposal before falling into a fitful slumber on the couch. 

And when she returned to the apartment she shared with Tobin the next morning to find Tobin’s signature on the divorce papers, Christen shattered. She shattered in a way that had her wondering if she’d ever be whole again.

She was numb for the fallout. 

The arguments about moving out. The arguments about attorneys. The arguments about their arguments. 

And then, three months later, she sat across from Tobin at a conference table, their divorcee papers between them, and she felt something break through the numbness.

She felt regret. She felt regret wash through her at a speed and with such a force that she was surprised she wasn’t laid out on the floor in front of their lawyers and Tobin herself.

But when she went to find her voice, when she went to say something, she looked up at Tobin and saw something mixed in with the heartbreak. She thought she saw relief and it had her momentary regret crawling back into its hole, away from the surface.

Tobin was relieved to be divorcing her and Christen was right back at feeling numb. She wasn’t cruel, she wouldn’t trap Tobin in a marriage when it was obvious Tobin wanted out.

So, they’d signed more paperwork and officially ended their marriage on a Friday evening, without so much as a goodbye before Tobin left the conference room.

If Christen had looked closer, if she’d not just seen what her doubt wanted her to see, she would have noticed the longing in Tobin’s eyes was not a desire to leave, but a desire to stay.

Christen sat up against the headboard, one of Tobin’s t-shirts pulled on with nothing else underneath it. She was stirring slowly-melting ice cream around her bowl and looking at the foot of the bed where Tobin was reclining against a mountain of pillows.

“You’re thinking hard,” Tobin observed, reaching out to squeeze one of Christen’s feet. 

Christen felt a small smile play at her lips at the observation. She set her bowl onto the bedside table and then fixed Tobin with an appraising look.

“I’m going back to D.C. tomorrow and you’re going back to Orlando,” Christen stated, her lips turning down into a frown. “I’m just trying to figure out how everything we’ve talked about and done this weekend fits with the rest of that.”

“Well, I can adjust a little bit for the next month or two and give myself some long weekends,” Tobin offered, continuing to gently squeeze Christen’s foot. 

“My contract is up in two and a half months,” Christen replied, her fingers playing with the hem of the borrowed t-shirt.

“Really?” Tobin asked, not imagining it to be that short. She’d braced herself for a year of flying back and forth or possibly finding a temporary job in the D.C. area. 

“Really,” Christen nodded. “I’ve been taking year-long contracts since…the divorce.”

“Why?” Tobin hummed, rolling closer and reaching her free hand up to trace shapes along Christen’s knee. 

“It was easier to do life in small chunks, to focus on putting one foot in front of the other for a year than it was to fathom waking up in D.C., five years in the future, still alone. I don’t know if that makes sense, but life was easier to manage year by year when I didn’t have you. Long-term plans just didn’t seem manageable anymore.”

“It makes sense,” Tobin murmured before pressing a few kisses to Christen’s ankle. “That’s why I’m still in Orlando.” 

“Not for the weather?” Christen joked lightly, scooting down the bed to get closer to Tobin.

“It’s too hot in the summer. And it’s always sticky,” Tobin chuckled, opening her arms for Christen to fall into. 

“So we…long distance for a few months and then…pick a place?” Christen asked softly, lying half-on top of Tobin, their legs tangled and the fingers of her left hand moving through Tobin’s hair gently.

“We’ll take some ‘pick a place’ trips,” Tobin nodded, leaning forward to kiss Christen. “And we can always pick a place, take year-long contracts, and rent so that if one of us isn’t happy, we aren’t locked in.” 

“Okay,” Christen agreed, brushing her lips across Tobin’s again.

“This isn’t too much?” Tobin asked, winding an arm around Christen and running her fingers over Christen’s lower back. “You love your job.” 

Christen took a moment to gather her thoughts, wanting to be honest and truthful, wanting the start of their second chance to be the right kind of start.

“I do…but I don’t always like it. I need something that lets me make a difference without keeping me from being there for the people I love.” 

“A job that allows you to come home some nights and soak in the bathtub?” Tobin added. 

“A job that allows me to be a wife and a sister and a daughter and a friend. A job that doesn't cost me everything else besides the job,” Christen replied with a small smile. “And lets me come home to you and soak in our bathtub.”

“Do you remember in law school when you and I would get in the bathtub, and I’d quiz you with notecards?” Tobin grinned, pressing her forehead to Christen’s. 

Christen chuckled and replied, “I don’t know how I expected myself to focus with you naked in my arms.”

“It was the idea of being responsible and studying even though I just wanted you to take a break,” Tobin teased. 

“I’ll take breaks this time,” Christen promised, bumping the tip of her nose against Tobin’s. “And I’d like to find a place with a bathtub.”

“Me too,” Tobin sighed happily. “What else do you want?” 

“Can I be honest?” Christen asked.

“Always.” 

“I genuinely don’t care if it’s a house or a townhome or a hut in the woods. I just need you,” Christen admitted softly. “And a bathtub and a backyard, but mainly, just you.”

“And a wine fridge. I saw the way you looked at Ali and Ash’s,” Tobin teased, her smile growing at Christen’s words. 

“You got me, I’d also love a wine fridge,” Christen grinned.

“I just want you,” Tobin murmured, brushing a curl away from Christen’s face. “Can I come visit next weekend? I can be free Thursday and fly back early Monday.” 

“Please,” Christen nodded. “Stay as long as you can,” she added before tucking her face into the crook of Tobin’s neck, a long sigh leaving her lips. “I can’t even fathom leaving you tomorrow. Not now. Not when this feels so fresh and…fragile is not the right word, but you know what I mean.” Christen leaned back and fixed Tobin with a soft look, her green eyes teary.

“I do understand,” Tobin whispered, cradling Christen’s face in her hands. “Letting you go tomorrow is going to kill me because I’m fairly certain the next four days of work are going to be the slowest I’ve ever experienced.”

“Agreed,” Christen grumbled goodnaturedly. “This is going to be torture.”

“Can I take you on a date?” Tobin asked, tracing her nose along Christen’s. 

A beaming smile broke out across Christen’s face, the expression no longer feeling foreign, the radiance of it lighting up the room. 

“That seems fair since I’m the one who asked you out ten years ago,” Christen murmured, sinking into the sweet kiss Tobin offered.

“I don’t know about that,” Tobin argued softly. “I was the one who said I needed studying help.” 

“I recall being the one to ask you to dinner,” Christen countered.

“I was a little shy when we were younger, wasn’t I?” Tobin sighed. 

“You’ve gotten bold,” Christen murmured, kissing across Tobin’s cheek, down to her jaw.

“Bold in a good way?” Tobin asked, letting her eyes flutter shut as Christen kissed her. 

“In the best way,” Christen promised, whispering the words into Tobin’s skin.

“Bold but still dorky and nervous when you smile,” Tobin hummed, a dopey smile on her lips. 

“I can’t possibly make you nervous anymore,” Christen chuckled, nipping gently at one of the hickeys she’d left on Tobin’s throat.

“You regularly make me nervous,” Tobin snorted softly, tangling a hand in the hair at the back of Christen’s head. 

“Why?” Christen asked as she dipped her tongue into the hollow below Tobin’s neck.

“Well, for one, you’re gorgeous,” Tobin husked. “And because…when you know that the person in your arms is the person you want to spend all of your waking moments with and all the sleeping ones too, you get a little nervous and excited. It’s a good nervous. It’s the kind of nervous I feel when I’m telling you a joke and waiting on the edge of my seat to hear you laugh. I love that laugh.” 

Christen felt like her cheeks were aching from the ever-present smile on her face. She lifted up to gaze down at Tobin, her green eyes sparkling and her heart on her sleeve.

“What about the half-asleep moments? Did they make the cut?” Christen teased.

“Those too. Definitely,” Tobin nodded. “All the moments.” 

“I’d love to go on a date with you,” Christen whispered in reply. “It makes me good nervous to think about.”

“Another first date in D.C. It’s like déjà vu,” Tobin hummed. “Should I take you to that fancy place I took you after your last undergrad final?” 

“I was thinking…we could maybe leave this room and do it here? A new start, you know?” Christen said, a hint of nerves in the smile she shot Tobin.

“That’s even better,” Tobin mumbled, placing a few kisses to Christen’s cheeks and nose and lips. “A new start in the same beach town where we started our marriage?” 

“Isn’t that sort of what we’re doing now, for the second time?” Christen hummed.

“Mhm,” Tobin nodded, moving her lips down to Christen’s jaw. 

“So we’re going on a date tonight?” Christen asked with a dreamy smile.

“Yes, would you like to go across the hall and I’ll pick you up? Or do you just want to stay close?” 

Christen let out a soft laugh and tightened her hold on Tobin. “What do you think?”

“I’ve always thought the perk of being married was being able to keep your date close before and after the date,” Tobin whispered against Christen’s pulse point. 

“I love the way you think,” Christen sighed happily.

The happy sighs didn’t stop for the rest of the night. Not through their date, not through the walk back to the beach house hand in hand, not through the hours they spent in bed making up for lost years. 

Tobin fiddled with her leather jacket, feeling on the brink of breaking into a sweat. It didn’t help that Christen was looking like an actual goddess across from her in a long flowy skirt and sweater. She was perusing the menu, and Tobin was on the edge of a breakdown. 

Ten minutes at the table, and Tobin couldn’t even remember what she’d ordered off the menu. She wasn’t even doing a great job of talking, and she could tell based on the furrow between Christen’s eyebrows that she was confusing the woman across from her. 

“Is this a date?” Tobin blurted out finally, her eyes widening when the words left her lips. 

Christen silently appraised the woman in front of her for an agonizing couple of seconds.

“Never mind,” Tobin mumbled, reaching out to fiddle with her silverware. 

“No! No, sorry I just-” Christen let out a long sigh and shook her head, tousling her curls as an embarrassed smile made its way onto her face. “I’ve been asking you out on dates for like two weeks.”

“Wait…really?” Tobin asked, a relieved chuckle slipping from her mouth. 

“Yes, and I was so confused because you seemed like you- but then you kept turning me down and this was my last ditch effort. My last try,” Christen admitted with a matching huff of laughter.

“No, I was…God, I’m glad you asked. I was trying to buck up the courage,” Tobin admitted, shyly moving her hand to the middle of the table. 

“I’m glad I had it for the both of us then,” Christen hummed, meeting Tobin in the middle and sliding her hand on top of Tobin’s, marveling at the fated feel of the shared touch.

“Sorry I accidentally turned you down. If I’d known those were date invites, I would never have accidentally dodged them,” Tobin promised. 

“It’s okay. I’m very determined, and you’re worth the effort,” Christen replied with a radiant smile.

“I have no idea how that’s possible,” Tobin murmured. 

With a glint of that same determination in her green eyes, Christen reached out with her other hand and flipped Tobin’s hand over on the table, starting to trace her pointer finger across Tobin’s palm. Christen’s gaze followed her movements as a light blush filled her cheeks. 

“When I was little, maybe six or seven, I couldn’t sleep so I came downstairs to get some water. I walked into the kitchen and found my parents slow dancing around the kitchen to no music, completely lost in each other’s eyes. I remember asking my mom about it later, what song they were dancing to since I couldn’t hear it. What she told me is something I’ve never forgotten,” Christen said softly and slowly, completely captivating Tobin’s attention with her words and her gentle touch.  “She said, ‘We are the music.’ I didn’t really understand it at seven but…I think I’m starting to, and I didn’t want the chance to dance pass me by, I guess. That is worth all the effort in the world.”

With a soft clear of her throat, Christen finally looked back up at Tobin, her blush even deeper now as she pulled one of her hands away, leaving their clasped hands on the table. 

“Which is something far too deep and revealing to say on a first date,” Christen chuckled. “Sorry.”

“I like deep and revealing,” Tobin replied softly, squeezing Christen’s hand in her own. “And I really like slow dancing.” 

“In that case, what are you doing tomorrow?” Christen asked with a smile. It didn’t matter that their food wasn’t there and the date wasn’t over. She already wanted another one.

“I think tomorrow, I’m taking you on a date,” Tobin answered with a lopsided smile. 

“I think I’d love that.”

“Me too,” Tobin hummed as she ran her thumb along Christen’s fingers. 

Tobin followed the line of people off the plane, carrying only a small duffel bag that she’d packed for the weekend. She’d managed to take Thursday and Friday off, meeting with a couple of clients over the phone instead of in person. She’d also scheduled herself so that she could leave work on Wednesday with enough time to get to the airport and fly to D.C. 

The passengers on her flight looked just as tired as she felt, stumbling through the airport with groggy eyes and slow steps. She hadn’t been in this airport since signing divorce papers. And as excited as she was to see Christen, there was a sadness, something bittersweet about even the colors on the airport floor. She’d been here on the worst day of her life, and now she was back on one of the best. 

Christen had sent her the address to her apartment, and Tobin was grateful, at this hour of the night, that she hadn’t checked a bag that she’d have to wait for. Instead, she could go straight to the taxi line. 

She followed the stream of people down the elevator and then settled in a corner of the baggage claim area to pull up the address once more before going outside to get a cab. 

“These airports have the weirdest floors, right?” came an amused voice behind Tobin.

“What happened to leaving a key in the hall for me and getting sleep?” Tobin asked, turning around to see Christen in comfy sweatpants with her curls piled in a messy bun. 

Christen grinned and simply pulled a key out of her coat pocket in response.

Tobin reached out and tugged the front of Christen’s coat until Christen was close enough to wrap her arms around. 

“You’re always sneaky,” Tobin hummed as she breathed Christen in, tucking her face into Christen’s neck. 

“I just missed you,” Christen whispered, clinging tightly to Tobin and breathing her in too, feeling settled for the first time all week.

“I missed you, baby,” Tobin whispered back. “Did you get a tiny bit of sleep before coming here?” 

“Pillow at the office, remember?” Christen replied softly, having the good sense to sound a little guilty.

“How could I forget?” Tobin grumbled gently. 

“I took a late start tomorrow, though,” Christen murmured, turning her head to brush her lips over any spot she could reach; below Tobin’s ear, the corner of her jaw.

“Thank you for coming to get me,” Tobin breathed out, pressing her lips against Christen’s shoulder. 

“I didn’t want to wait to see you any longer than I already had to.”

“It was a really long week,” Tobin sighed, leaning back just enough to look at Christen’s face. 

“Longest four days ever ,” Christen agreed with an equally long and tired sigh.

“It’s really good to see you. Not on a phone screen,” Tobin grinned, readjusting the duffel on her arm and reaching up to cradle Christen’s cheek in her hand. 

“It’s really good to see you too,” Christen hummed, leaning into Tobin’s touch and then turning her head to kiss Tobin’s palm. “Really, really good.”

“Want to get out of here?” Tobin asked, fairly certain that her lovestruck smile would stay on her face for the whole weekend. 

“I thought you’d never ask,” Christen said, finding Tobin’s hand and threading their fingers together, directing them out of baggage claim and toward her car.


“All right, I think we’re in a good place. Let’s come back at it fresh Monday morning,” Christen decided, bringing the meeting between some paralegals and her co-counsel to an end at five-thirty on the dot. 

“Christen, you mind staying a little bit late to help with the Fields Case?” Cassidy asked, pulling out a few folders she was using for the case. 

“Can’t, I’m sorry. I’m off this weekend,” Christen replied, getting up from the chair and arching her back to stretch it.

“Is everything okay?” 

“Everything’s great,” Christen grinned.

“Oooh, you’ve met someone,” Cassidy gasped, leaning forward on her elbows. 

Christen simply chuckled and pulled on her blazer. “You could say that, yes.”

“I’m so happy for you. It’s been ages,” Cassidy teased, uncapping a pen and spreading paperwork out on the table. 

“See you Monday! Don’t call, text, or email me!” Christen called out as she left the conference room, her hand raised in a wave.

“Enjoy your weekend with your new lady!” Cassidy called back. 

Christen chuckled to herself again as she grabbed her purse from her office and turned the light off. She took the familiar journey home, down the same streets and on the same path, but it was different. She knew she wasn’t going home to an empty apartment. She was going home to Tobin and it had the journey feeling better than it ever had. 

It had her racing up the last flight of stairs, despite her heels, and fumbling with her keys to open the door as fast as possible, not wanting another moment to be spent not by Tobin’s side.

“Hey, it’s me!” she called out, closing the door behind her and discarding her purse on the table near the door. When she didn’t spy Tobin in the living room or the kitchen, Christen slipped out of her heels and padded across her open-concept apartment toward the bedroom. 

She paused just inside the door frame, an enamored smile on her face and a fluttering in her heart that was a little new, in a way something forgotten then found again is new, and she treasured it all the same.

Tobin was under the covers, asleep, her glasses askew on her face and a book open on the bed beside her. If Christen squinted and pretended like this was her Georgetown dorm room, this scene would be a familiar one, so achingly similar to the day she’d come in and confessed her love for the first time. So, with her smile never falling, Christen tip-toed over to the bed and slipped in behind Tobin, molding her body to Tobin’s easily. She gently slipped the glasses from Tobin’s face, kissed Tobin’s shoulder, and then held her, losing herself a little to the slow, familiar intimacy of the moment.

“I’m not enrolled in the class,” Tobin mumbled through a raspy, half-asleep voice, clearly thinking of the same moment, almost ten years ago. 

“I love you,” Christen whispered, tightening her arm around Tobin’s waist and sliding her hand beneath the hem of Tobin’s shirt, her palm flat on Tobin’s stomach. 

“I love you,” Tobin whispered back, lacing her fingers with Christen’s. “How was work?” 

“Good. The new people we hired recently are taking a load off of the rest of us, which is a breath of fresh air,” Christen replied softly, nuzzling her nose along the back of Tobin’s neck.

“I ordered from the Indian place you like,” Tobin hummed, gently shifting in bed so she could face Christen. 

Christen reached up to brush some hair off of Tobin’s forehead, tracing the lines and indents on Tobin’s cheek from the pillow. 

“I feel like we’re dancing to the same music we always have, we’re just a little more balanced this time,” Christen observed, her fingers pushing through the soft hair by Tobin’s temple.  

“It’s a lot more fun to dance when you don’t feel like you’re gonna trip,” Tobin added, leaning into Christen’s touch. 

Christen nodded, her smile softening. “The moves feel the same, but I don’t worry about tripping anymore.”

“I’ll catch you this time,” Tobin promised quietly, leaning just a bit forward to press her forehead against Christen’s. 

“I’ll catch you too. If you need me,” Christen hummed, her eyes fluttering shut as she felt another part of her heart heal. “Did you have an okay day here?”

“I did,” Tobin nodded. “I had two phone appointments with clients and pretty much just hung out. I made brownies. They’re in the kitchen. And your yoga ball’s fun to bounce on.” 

Christen’s laugh filled the bedroom as she tilted her head back so she could smile at Tobin.

“You must have been beyond bored to venture into my yoga stash.”

“It’s a giant bouncy ball in your living room. I’m a child, you know this,” Tobin chuckled, her heart fluttering at how beautiful Christen always was when she laughed. 

“I can leave you and the bouncy ball to your evening if you’d like,” Christen teased.

“No way,” Tobin grumbled playfully, tightening her arms around Christen. “I was counting down the minutes until you came home.” 

Christen hummed happily and leaned down to kiss Tobin, deep and slow, and once their kiss was bordering on something that would lead them to not leave the bedroom for the evening, Christen reluctantly eased them out of the kiss, knowing take-out was on the way.

“I had a thought today on my way home,” Christen murmured against Tobin’s lips, nuzzling her nose along Tobin’s.

“What kind of thought?” Tobin asked, slowly opening her eyes to look at Christen, a playful glint apparent in her eyes.  

“Down, woman, not that kind of thought,” Christen chuckled. “I…I thought about those lists that you used to make for your clients, and I wondered if those might be something we could use?” she finished her question at a whisper.

“I still make those,” Tobin hummed, bumping her nose against Christen’s. “We can use them.” 

“We talked about doing the work and I…I want to do it. I’ll do all the lists with you.”

“The lists are good. They’ll…they’ll keep me open,” Tobin whispered. “I really started making more after we separated. I feel like I made them for you and me, and they just happened to work for clients too.” 

“All the more reason to do them, then,” Christen said in reply.

“Is this you asking me for a list to go with our dinner?” Tobin asked, her smile growing with the question. 

Christen simply waggled her brows and beamed in response.

“A fun list or a hard list?” Tobin wondered, rubbing Christen’s back gently. 

“Is it bad if I choose fun? I just feel like we’ve had a lot of hard and heavy conversations lately, and I don’t want us to lose the silly and goofy and funny because we’re so focused on the hard,” Christen replied softly. 

“I was hoping you’d choose fun,” Tobin grinned, lifting her head up and peppering Christen’s face with kisses. “We can save the harder ones for next time.” 

Christen scrunched her nose adorably at the attention. “Do I need to relinquish you so you can get this fun list from somewhere?”

Tobin let out a playful groan and rolled over, holding Christen in her arms as she stood up and maneuvered her way into the living room where her computer was. 

“Well, this was sexy,” Christen hummed, locking her ankles at the small of Tobin’s back to try and take some of the pressure off of Tobin’s arms hooked under her legs.

“I don’t want to let go,” Tobin chuckled, falling down onto the couch and pulling her computer across the cushion toward them. 

“Sexy and sappy,” Christen amended, situating herself in Tobin’s lap and turning her attention to the computer.

Tobin softly kissed Christen’s shoulder as she pulled up a few ‘fun’ list options from a folder on her desktop. 

“Your choice,” she murmured against the fabric of Christen’s shirt. 

“That one, maybe,” Christen said, pointing at one of the documents on the screen.

“It’s the sex question, isn’t it?” Tobin teased as she closed the other lists and enlarged the one Christen chose. 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Christen replied innocently, her smile giving her away.

“All right, baby, when’s the last time that I made you feel seen?” Tobin asked, reading out the first question. 

Christen let out a thoughtful hum and then looked at Tobin, waiting for Tobin to meet her gaze. And when Tobin did, when those brown eyes met her own, Christen smiled. 

“Right now,” Christen murmured softly.

“What is it about right now?” Tobin asked, reaching up and moving a strand of hair behind one of Christen’s ears. 

“I can’t hide when you’re looking at me like you are now, and you make me feel safe enough not to,” Christen replied, her heartwarming at Tobin’s touch.

“You’ve always made me feel more seen than any other person could,” Tobin hummed, absentmindedly running her hand up and down one of Christen’s legs. 

“When’s the last time I made you feel seen?”

“Besides right now?” Tobin teased quietly. 

“Mhm,” Christen grinned.

“When you picked me up from the airport last night, when we apologized to each other for the first time since the divorce, when we made love, when we made plans for a new future together,” Tobin listed off. 

“What is it I do that makes you feel seen?” Christen wondered, completely focused on Tobin.

“Just a look from you and I feel…known. I’ve never needed anything fancy or some sort of grand gesture. Because you choosing to spend time with me or wanting to talk about our life, makes me feel desired and safe and loved in a way I never imagined,” Tobin explained, continuing to brush her hand over Christen’s leg. 

“Okay, you have gotten good at talking,” Christen murmured with a breathy chuckle, leaning in to kiss Tobin quickly. “And I’m always going to try and make you feel that way.”

“Not talking was how I lost you. I’ll talk until I’m blue in the face if it means there’s an us,” Tobin admitted softly, chasing Christen’s lips for a second kiss. 

“There’s no if about us,” Christen promised, sinking into the kiss Tobin offered.

“Thank goodness.” 

“Can we get distracted for a little?” Christen mumbled against Tobin’s lips, letting herself get swept away by the skillful swipe of  Tobin’s tongue along her bottom lip.

“Mhm, the list will be here,” Tobin hummed, sliding her hands under Christen’s button-up that she’d worn to work. 

“Mom,” Christen choked out into the phone, curled up in bed with the shades drawn and the lights out. She’d been in bed since she’d signed the divorce papers this morning, unable to stomach getting up to do anything other than grieve. 

“Is everything okay? Are you hurt? Is Tobin okay?” Stacy asked, hearing the tone of Christen’s voice on the other end of the line. 

“We- she’s- she signed-” Christen faltered, pressing her face into her pillow, her tears staining the pillowcase.

“Signed what?” 

“Div-” Christen couldn't even bring herself to say the word. “She’s gone. We’re- it’s over. It’s over, Mom.”

Stacy let out a disbelieving laugh. “Honey, an argument doesn’t mean things are over.” 

“A million do. We’re…we’re divorced. We signed the papers today,” Christen whispered brokenly.

“Christen,” Stacy gasped. “When did you…Why didn’t you tell me? You…”

“It didn’t feel real. We were just fighting all the time and I thought it would pass but it didn’t. It just kept getting worse and worse,” Christen replied, fresh tears tracking down her cheeks.

“Married couples fight. That doesn’t mean you get divorced,” Stacy chastised softly. 

Christen felt her jaw tighten at her mother’s words, at the disappointment she could hear in them.

“It’s the two of you. You love each other. I’ve never met two people more over the moon for one another. I…is this a practical joke? I don’t…”

“I wouldn’t joke about this,” Christen snapped. 

“Christen, there are other things you…I could have recommended something if you’d told me.” 

“We tried, Mom. I tried.”

“What did you try?” 

“Enough to know that my wife hated it when I went to work but hated it more when I came home,” Christen said, her voice detached, the hand not holding the phone to her ear starting to grip tightly onto the bed sheets.

“Was it because of the hours? You do work odd hours there. There are other jobs. A marriage is a huge commitment,” Stacy murmured, still in fix-it mode. 

Christen felt her stomach churn with every word her mother said, with every word that made Christen feel worse about this, feel even more guilt and shame.

“I shouldn’t have to give something up to make my marriage work! I shouldn’t- she was- you know what, I don’t need to hear you side with her,” Christen mumbled, her heart breaking anew.

“I’m not siding with anyone. You just don’t throw away a marriage.” 

“You should be on my side! I’m your daughter and you’re acting like this was some whim, like I’m a fool for getting out of a marriage that was suffocating her,” Christen croaked. 

“Did she say that? Christen, your self-imposed isolation isn’t something I can get behind. I think you both could-” 

“I don’t need a lecture, I need my Mom to-” Christen faltered and shook her head. “You know what, I don’t need this and I don’t need you. You’ve clearly picked a side.”

“Honey, I-”

Christen hung up before her mother could say anything else. She chucked her phone off the bed, not caring when she heard it hit the wall, and pulled a pillow to her chest, burying her face in it as sobs consumed her.

“It’s not as nice as your place,” Tobin warned as she carried Christen’s bag up the stairs to her apartment in Orlando, their hands clasped between them. 

“I’m excited to see it,” Christen replied, following Tobin’s lead as they reached the third floor and headed down a hallway toward the apartment on the end.

“That’s very sweet of you,” Tobin chuckled while fishing for her keys in her jacket pocket and fiddling with the lock. 

“I’m honestly most excited about meeting Milton,” Christen admitted, squeezing Tobin’s hand in her own as a soft smile played at her lips.

“He’s a cat, so he’ll either annoy the hell out of you upon entry or run away and annoy you later once he figures out you’re cool,” Tobin grinned, shoving the door open and letting Christen walk in first. 

It was a modest apartment, partly because Tobin had been saving up for something nicer in another city and partly because Christen was the one with the eye for decor. She’d always been better at that kind of thing. 

“He seems to want to annoy me upon entry,” Christen hummed, bending down to greet the gray and black tabby cat currently winding between her legs.

“Sorry,” Tobin sighed as soon as Milton tried to make biscuits in Christen’s sweatpants. 

“Well aren’t you just the sweetest little kitty in the whole world,” Christen cooed, picking Milton up and melting when the cat bumped his face into hers.

“Wait until we’re attempting to sleep,” Tobin grumbled, the look in her eyes betraying the fact that she was actually very fond of the cat. 

“You’ll still be sweet, won’t you?” Christen said, scratching Milton’s tummy and making the cat purr.

“Well, looks like you’ve got a new favorite person, buddy,” Tobin laughed, heading further into the apartment. 

“I want to thank you for taking care of my favorite person,” Christen hummed, carrying the cat and following behind Tobin, scrunching her nose when Milton pawed gently at her face. “I think that earned you cat treats for life or something.”

“He was recently put on a kitty diet. The vet said I was overindulging in throwing cat treats at him,” Tobin smirked, placing Christen’s bag in her bedroom and then winding her arms around Christen’s waist with Milton sprawled, boneless in Christen’s arms. 

“Maybe tummy scratches for life, then,” Christen corrected easily, booping her nose against Milton’s.

“Looks like you like cats,” Tobin murmured before pressing her lips to Christen’s forehead. 

“I still prefer dogs, but this little guy is important to you. So he’s important to me too,” Christen said softly.

“I prefer dogs too, but Milton can hang,” Tobin shrugged. “He kind of grows on you. Plus, I told him to be on his best behavior for you, and it looks like he took it to heart.” 

And then Milton gently bit Christen on the chin and squirmed out of her arms, earning a scoff from Christen.

“I stand corrected,” Tobin gasped, already reaching out for Christen’s face. 

“Little shit,” Christen huffed good-naturedly, rubbing at her chin.

“I’m sorry,” Tobin apologized quickly, looking at the tiny red mark under Christen’s chin. 

“I’m okay, I’m okay,” Christen assured, her hands now free to hold onto Tobin’s waist.

“What an asshole,” Tobin huffed, leaning forward and kissing Christen’s chin.

“I was smothering him. An understandable reaction, I guess,” Christen murmured, sighing happily at the feeling of Tobin’s lips on her skin.

“He’s a whore for attention, positive or negative,” Tobin scoffed, trailing her lips along Christen’s jaw. 

“So am I. Keep doing that,” Christen chuckled, sinking into Tobin’s arms.

“Forever,” Tobin whispered, nipping gently at the corner of Christen’s jaw. 

“I am very ready for this week-long vacation,” Christen groaned, slipping her hands under the hem of Tobin’s cut-off tank top to grip onto Tobin’s bare sides.

“My one appointment on Thursday was canceled too,” Tobin hummed into Christen’s skin before flicking her tongue over Christen’s pulse point. 

“Thursday is what, Seattle?” Christen wondered, her last three working brain cells able to come up with one of their multiple stops, the rest of her brain completely shutting down as Tobin worked.

“Mhm, and the weekend is in L.A.,” Tobin answered. 

Christen tensed just slightly, despite knowing that was their last stop, despite having talked about it at length with Tobin.

“I booked a hotel just in case,” Tobin whispered into Christen’s skin, holding her just a bit tighter. “It’s on the beach.” 

“Oh, good,” Christen murmured, her hands flexing against Tobin’s sides as her eyes squeezed shut.

“Baby, we can just come back here. We can save L.A. for another time,” Tobin assured, leaning her head back to look at Christen. 

Christen let out a long sigh and dropped her forehead to Tobin’s chest, her arms encircling Tobin’s waist.

“We can, but we shouldn’t. It’ll only get harder to go,” Christen whispered.

“What’s your favorite trip you and I have ever been on? In all of our years as a couple,” Tobin asked. 

“Our graduation trip to Germany,” Christen replied without having to think about it. 

“There’s the code word. Germany, and we’ll leave L.A. I was gonna say, if you say the word, I’ll take you to that destination, but that’s a bit far for a weekend,” Tobin grinned. 

“Maybe someday we’ll go back,” Christen replied, the tension leaving her frame at Tobin’s words.

“Honeymoon part two,” Tobin suggested, running her hands over Christen’s back. 

Christen hummed in agreement and then tilted her head back to look at Tobin. “Thank you,” she said softly.

“I can call them,” Tobin offered, kissing Christen gently. “Let them know we’re coming and warn them to be on good behavior.” 

Christen wanted to put up a fight. She wanted not to have all the shit that had passed between her and her family since the divorce shoved onto Tobin’s plate. But she realized that not only did her family probably deserve a heads up, she didn’t need to try and spare Tobin from the reality of it all. They’d started this on the basis of honesty and openness, and they’d have to face reality next weekend anyway. 

“Okay,” Christen agreed with a soft bob of her head. 

“In the meantime,” Tobin whispered, pulling Christen close, “you remember that soup I used to make when you were sad or sick?” 

“With the bow-tie noodles?” Christen wondered, a small smile making its way onto her face.

“I made some while you were on the plane. It’s on the stove, and it’s Friday night, so we have a massage date,” Tobin hummed, desperately wanting to take care of Christen as much as she could before the difficulty that would be the end of this coming week. 

“I was thinking we could mix this Friday night massage up a bit,” Christen replied, ghosting her fingers along Tobin’s lower back.

“How so?”

“I get to give you a massage tonight instead,” Christen grinned.

Tobin kept her hands in her pockets as they walked side by side, taking the long way back to Christen’s dorm. Tobin had offered to walk her back since Christen had invited her on the date in the first place. It had felt fair, and Tobin couldn’t imagine leaving Christen’s side at the restaurant. She just wanted a little more time. She wasn’t sure there would ever be enough time. 

But she was turning out to be just as awkward and unequipped as ever, unsure of what to say or whether she could hold Christen’s hand. She let out a deep breath and released the bottom lip she’d had trapped between her teeth, sure that if she didn’t say something Christen would lose interest. 

“The rowing team wakes up at five in the morning for practice,” she blurted out, using the view of the Potomac as inspiration and immediately cursing herself for thinking of that of all things. 

“Fascinating,” Christen said, trying to keep the amusement out of her voice. 

“I live with one…a rower. My roommate…obviously. She’s kind of the worst,” Tobin mumbled, grimacing at her own words. 

Christen hummed in response and then slipped her hand into Tobin’s coat pocket, sliding their palms against one another’s and taking Tobin’s hand in her own. 

“Would you like to complain about her? I’m a sympathetic ear and a good shoulder to lean on,” Christen offered, keeping pace with Tobin and not making too big a deal out of holding hands in fear of further freaking out the endearingly awkward and nervous girl she was half in love with already. 

“No,” Tobin murmured, her voice a tad shaky but her hand tightening around Christen’s. 

“Would you like me to tell you something that will hopefully make you feel a little less nervous?”

“Me? Nervous?” Tobin teased, her eyes wide and focused on Christen as the two of them slowed down even more. 

“This is the best date I’ve ever been on,” Christen murmured with a shy half-smile. 

“Really?” Tobin asked, stopping immediately and turning to face Christen. 

“Really,” Christen assured, her green eyes locked with Tobin’s. “You are incredible, and every minute I spend with you confirms it.”

Tobin glanced around, a playful smile on her lips. She reached out and lifted the lapels of Christen’s coat as if she were searching for something. She looked over the side of the stone wall separating the sidewalk from the riverbank. She held onto Christen’s shoulders and looked behind her, her smile only growing. 

“Interesting,” Tobin hummed, pushing a few curls from Christen’s shoulder and pretending to look at her ear. 

“What?” Christen chuckled, her nose wrinkled adorably in confusion. 

“They’re just getting incredibly good at hiding equipment on these prank shows,” Tobin joked, her smile growing to its full size and making her eyes crinkle. 

“Prank show?” Christen wondered with another delighted laugh, squeezing Tobin’s hand in her own. 

“Christen Press thinks I’m incredible,” Tobin whispered, her voice full of disbelief. “I must be being pranked. No one’s that lucky.” 

“Did you change your name to no one?” Christen teased, her voice a whisper too as an enamored look crossed her face. “Because you are. And you’re incredible and beautiful and you make my heart race.”

“Can you do me a favor?” Tobin asked, her heart pounding against her ribcage. 

“Anything,” Christen nodded. 

“For the next…maybe thirty seconds, can you pretend that I’m way more suave and way less nervous than I am whenever I’m around you? And just ignore the way my heart’s audibly racing and my hands are kind of clammy,” Tobin mumbled, taking the tiniest step closer. 

“Why would I pretend when those are some of the things that I like most about you? You don’t pretend to be someone you’re not,” Christen murmured, a smile playing at her lips as she moved closer as well. 

“Then I won’t pretend,” Tobin promised, reaching up with one shaky hand and cupping Christen’s cheek. “I know for a fact that the second kiss will be better than the first. I’m an awkward person, but I’m a fast learner, so bear with me.” 

Christen chuckled and fisted a hand in the front of Tobin’s sweater, tugging her forward and pulling her in for a brief kiss, their lips meeting quickly. It was sweet and fast and a little awkward as they hadn’t quite figured each other out yet. And then Christen pulled back, a smile clear on her face. 

“Now we can learn together,” Christen hummed happily. 

With a dazed look on her face and hands that were already grasping for Christen’s hips, Tobin pulled Christen back into her space. She moved slowly and gently, her lips finding Christen’s and slotting even more naturally. It wasn’t desperate or wanting. It was still shy and soft, but Tobin was certain of one thing. 

“I don’t want to kiss any other pair of lips,” she mumbled before her cheeks flushed. “Sorry…I- I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”

“Well, you definitely did,” Christen said softly, nuzzling Tobin’s nose. 

“Pretend I didn’t?” Tobin chuckled weakly, her eyes fluttering shut at Christen’s gentle touch. 

“I never want you to pretend with me,” Christen replied before leaning back in for another kiss, this one a little more confident than the last. “I never want to kiss anybody else, either,” she added, mumbling the words against Tobin’s lips before deepening the kiss with a grip on the back of Tobin’s neck, pulling her impossibly closer. 

Tobin’s arms wrapped fully around Christen’s waist as she sank into the kiss, their kisses slightly less timid, their tongues a tad exploratory, brushing along bottom lips. 

“You can kiss me for as long as you want,” Tobin sighed before she pressed another kiss to Christen’s lips. 

“In that case, want to come back to my dorm?” Christen wondered, bumping the tip of her nose against Tobin’s 

“No rowers there,” Tobin grinned. 

“And my roommate is out with one of her boyfriends for the weekend,” Christen added with a grin of her own. 

“You have a great roommate,” Tobin hummed, finding Christen’s hand with her own and lacing their fingers together. 

Christen couldn’t help the nerves, nor the way the nerves were making her unfocused as she tried to read a brief in the bathtub. The calming string music and lavender essential oils and lit soy candle could only do so much. 

Tobin was going to call her parents later and Christen felt like she was going to pass out. 

She forced herself to take deep breaths, to rationalize that this conversation wouldn’t end poorly, that this happy bubble they had wouldn’t be popped by her family. But rationalizations only went so far when competing with the Press family. 

Letting out a long sigh, Christen tossed the brief onto the fuzzy carpet and sank lower into the bathtub, her eyes shut and her chest rising and falling as she took slow, deep breaths. 

Tobin quietly shut the door. She carried a mug of chamomile tea over to the side of the tub, setting it on the edge. 

“There is nothing they could say to change how I feel about you and about us,” Tobin whispered, kneeling beside the tub, her hand dropping into the water to find Christen’s. 

Christen managed a tight smile for Tobin and easily laced their fingers together. 

“Thanks for the tea,” Christen hummed softly. 

“Baby,” Tobin murmured, lifting Christen’s hand out of the water and pressing her forehead about the back of Christen’s hand. 

“You know, I never talked to them when we were having problems. I never talked about it with anyone. I bottled it up,” Christen replied, a far-off look in her eyes. 

“I didn’t really talk to anyone either. I- I was embarrassed,” Tobin admitted, turning her head and pressing Christen’s hand against her cheek so that she could look at Christen. 

“Yeah,” Christen agreed, swallowing thickly. “So when I called her- my mom, she thought I was joking.” 

Christen let out a somewhat bitter laugh and shook her head, her eyes moving to where Tobin was leaning against her hand. 

“She laughed at me. She waited for the punchline. And then I told her it was real, and she- she asked me why I hadn’t tried harder. Why I was choosing self-imposed isolation over marriage counseling or something. We haven’t had a decent conversation since,” Christen finished at a near whisper. 

Tobin silently let go of Christen’s hand, stood up, and stripped out of her shorts and t-shirt. She gestured with her hands for Christen to scoot forward, and then she sank into the tub behind Christen, wrapping her arms around Christen and dropping a few kisses to Christen’s shoulder. 

“I’m sorry she didn’t hear you when you needed her,” Tobin whispered softly. 

Christen felt her bottom lip wobble as she leaned back into Tobin’s arms, a stinging starting behind her eyes. 

“I’m afraid there won’t be anything you can say, or I can say, to fix it,” Christen admitted, her voice breaking slightly. 

“The ending of our marriage threw me for a loop,” Tobin began, tightening her arms around Christen a little more. “I know it did for you too. We never planned to hurt each other. We were…you and I were always the couple other people talked about when they thought about complete love and adoration. I don’t think that’s changed even if people have stopped using us as an example. Our marriage failing didn’t seem like a possibility to me. There’s no excuse for your mom not holding you when you needed it or listening when you deserved to be heard, but I bet we threw her for a loop.” 

“Probably,” Christen agreed, turning her head to tuck her face into the side of Tobin’s neck. “Thank you for saying all of that, and joining me in here.”

“I will always join you,” Tobin murmured. “I don’t want you to feel alone or cut off from people ever again.” 

 Christen let out a long breath and squirmed impossibly closer to Tobin, running her nose along the column of Tobin’s throat, beyond thankful for the promise but feeling the need to lighten the load between them. It had been heavy for too long. 

“You glowed up, baby, and I got weepier,” Christen observed with a small huff of genuine laughter. “You talk about feelings like it’s your job- oh wait, it is,” she added with a teasing lilt to her voice, kissing the side of Tobin’s neck softly. 

“Me? Glow up?” Tobin scoffed, turning her head to pepper kisses along the side of Christen’s head. “You with the fancy apartment and your lawyer pantsuits and your healthier work-life schedule and…what kind of working out have you been doing? Because you’re like ripped.”

“Turns out, squatting and deadlifting the weight of a failed marriage by yourself is a pretty solid workout,” Christen chuckled.

“Cute,” Tobin sighed, burrowing impossibly closer to Christen. 

“How far you’ve come from that awkward, bumbling sophomore at GU,” Christen sighed wistfully, kissing Tobin’s neck again. “Who searched me for mics and sound equipment by the Potomac, when all she really wanted to do was feel me up.”

“You got me,” Tobin whispered, splaying one of her hands across Christen’s stomach. 

“Some things never change,” Christen whispered back, pressing her smile into Tobin’s skin. 

“Chris,” Tobin hummed, breathing in the sweet smell of Christen’s shampoo. 

“Mhm,” Christen hummed back.

“Call me sappy, but I don’t think I’ll ever do anything more important than love you,” Tobin admitted, her voice quieter than a whisper. 

Christen felt a stuttered breath leave her lips, her eyes falling shut at the admission. 

“Me neither,” Christen said softly. “This will always be my priority. Us. I won’t lose sight of that again.”

“Your and my relationship will be the most important relationship I ever work on,” Tobin agreed, brushing her foot along Christen’s calf. 

“I missed taking baths with you,” Christen breathed out, her lips returning to Tobin’s neck. 

“You want to know something that’s probably alarming to you?” Tobin asked, a teasing lilt in her voice. 

“Oh boy, sure,” Christen chuckled against Tobin’s neck, leaving more kisses there. 

“This is the first bath I’ve taken in three years. I’ve been strictly a shower woman since you,” Tobin admitted, softly brushing her thumb across Christen’s skin. 

“Take it from me, baths alone are lonely and pretty boring,” Christen hummed, flicking her tongue teasingly against Tobin’s pulse point. 

“Baby, are you trying to turn me on before your dad yells at me on the phone?” Tobin asked, a laugh slipping from her lips. 

“I’m trying to turn you on so we can have sex in this bathtub before my parents prove consistent and take your side again,” Christen mumbled, running the flats of her teeth against Tobin’s neck before sitting up a little to attach her lips to the corner of Tobin’s jaw. “A little pleasure before the pain, if you will.”

“Pleasure after too if you’re up for it,” Tobin husked, her hand slipping down between Christen’s legs without hesitation. 

“Always am, baby,” Christen agreed as she nipped gently at the corner of Tobin’s jaw. 

“I love you,” Tobin breathed out as she dragged two fingers through Christen. 

“I love you too,” Christen whispered, moving back down Tobin’s neck and working on sucking a bruise into the side of her throat as pleasure danced up her spine at Tobin’s touch. 


Tobin tugged at the sleeve of her most comfortable sweatshirt and situated her phone against her shoulder as it rang. She shot Christen a small smile, hoping to give the woman on her bed a tiny bit of comfort despite both of them feeling anxious. 

Christen shot Tobin a small smile in return and a weak thumbs up, leaning back against the pillows and doing her best not to panic. 

“You look beautiful,” Tobin whispered as she began to pace at the foot of the bed. 

“I look like I’m about to throw up.”

“You look beautiful,” Tobin repeated, squeezing her eyes shut as the phone rang again and then stopped, Stacy taking a deep breath on the other end of the line. 

Hello ?”

“Hey, Stacy,” Tobin replied, nervously tugging at the strings of her sweatshirt. 

There were a few moments of silence, and then a small, happy laugh. 

Tobin? Is that you? Wow, hi, sweetie!

“Yeah, it’s me. How’re you doing?” 

Oh, good good! I just got some new plants and re-decorated the living room. Cody and I are planning a trip to Hawaii next month. How are you doing? Is everything okay? ” Stacy replied, still sounding delighted if not a little confused as to why Tobin was calling. 

“I bet Hawaii will be nice,” Tobin hummed, yanking even more on the strings of her sweatshirt. 

Christen ran her hands over her face and pushed her hair back, fixing Tobin with a nervous look. 

“You know, Stacy, I’m doing really well. I’ve spent a lot of time working on myself. I don’t want to make the same mistakes that I made with Christen again,” Tobin answered honestly, walking over to the bed and dropping her hand on Christen’s ankle. 

I don’t quite know what you mean. I didn’t exactly get the tell-all from my daughter .”

“Well, I- For a long time, I was a therapist who didn’t know how to open up to the person most important to me, and that was a huge strain on our marriage. Christen needed to know how I was feeling, and I put up walls,” Tobin explained, wanting to paint the picture for Stacy. 

I see. I don’t quite know how you could be open if it wasn’t a true partnership, though. Her job was quite taxing ,” Stacy observed. 

“It was. Neither of us really knew how to navigate the hard stuff. And I was too scared to talk about the hard stuff,” Tobin replied, moving her hand and squeezing Christen’s foot gently. 

Christen gestured for Tobin to put the phone on speaker, setting her jaw and scooting just a little closer to Tobin. 

“Hey, Mom,” Christen greeted, her voice tight. 

“Honey? You’re together? Where are you two?” Stacy asked. 

“We’re in Tobin’s place in Orlando,” Christen explained, a short breath leaving her lips as she sighed. “We’ve been…talking about the hard stuff. We got to a good place with it, and Tobin- we wanted to call you.”

“You…you two are in a good place?” Stacy echoed slowly. 

“Yes,” Christen replied, trying not to let her voice get hard at the disbelief in her mother’s words. 

Tobin set her phone down and crawled further onto the bed, settling in behind Christen just like she had in the bath. 

“When did you decide to give it another shot?” 

“Right around the time you and I spoke on the phone in South Carolina,” Christen managed, sitting stiffly in Tobin’s arms and feeling every bit of defensiveness she had about this with her mother build up inside of her. 

“Did you two talk about it? Did you really cover the hard stuff, like the job situation?” 

Christen sucked in a deep, frustrated breath, trying to keep her grip on Tobin’s knee gentle. 

“We didn’t start our marriage carelessly. We just started it without the tools to care for it the way we should have. I assure you we aren’t beginning this again without a full understanding of one another. We’ve covered the hard stuff,” Tobin answered for them both before she brushed Christen’s hair away from her neck and pressed her lips to the skin there. 

I can’t help but wonder where this initiative was years ago. Christen, you know I never quite understood the rashness of your choice to file for divorce. This feels equally as rash. But if you two are happy…

“That’s enough,” Christen said quietly, her voice dangerously low. 

“Stacy, we didn’t call for your opinion or for permission,” Tobin explained, swallowing down the nerves she had about speaking so bluntly to her sort of ex but not really mother-in-law. 

“Enough, Mom. Please,” Christen added with a plea in her voice. 

“Okay,” Stacy relented quietly. “I’m happy if you’re happy. You know I love you both.” 

Christen bit her tongue, keeping in her immediate reaction and response, choking down the desire to call her mother’s words a pale imitation of support. 

“We were thinking of visiting L.A. this weekend. Maybe we could stop by if you’re free?” Tobin suggested, tightening her hold on Christen. 

Dinner on Sunday. We’ll cook, and…talk ,” Stacy agreed, sounding mixed on the whole thing. “ Travel safe you two. We love you .”

Christen managed a mumbled, “We love you too,” before reaching out to hang up the call. She immediately sat up, leaning her elbows on her knees and dropping her head into her hands. 

Tobin’s hands instinctively rose to massage Christen’s back gently, trying to ease the tension that she knew she wouldn’t be able to ease. 

“I’m sorry,” Tobin whispered quietly as she pressed her thumb into a knot near Christen’s right shoulder blade. 

“We used to talk every day in college. Even in law school. We had a friendship, more than just a mother and daughter relationship. But things between us got bad, and I didn’t want to tell her, and now… if I had, she wouldn’t be like this. She would understand where we were coming from. I did this,” Christen sighed, pressing her hands against her face. 

“The fault is not all yours. It takes at least two people for a relationship to change.”

“I just want my mom, Tobin. I feel like a child, but I just want my mom back,” Christen mumbled, her throat getting thick with emotion. 

“She might need to hear that,” Tobin whispered, running a hand up to the back of Christen’s neck to work on those muscles. “Just like you probably need her to say some things. And if you want me to stop therapizing and just be your wif- your person, just say the word, and I’ll be quiet,” she added, scratching softly at the base of Christen’s head. 

“You’re not therapizing, you’re helping and being open with me. You’re… you’re being my wife in every way I need you to be,” Christen whispered, dropping her hands from her face and looking over her shoulder at Tobin, her eyes watery but a small smile starting to break out across her face. 

“If you and I can repair what we broke, I think that you can get your mom back as a friend and a confidant. Even if it’s painful and hard,” Tobin murmured, nuzzling her nose against Christen’s shoulder. 

Christen nodded and then got up just enough so she could turn around and fall into Tobin’s open arms, tucking her face into the crook of Tobin’s neck. 

“I love you,” Christen hummed quietly, sneaking her arms between Tobin’s back and the bed so she could hold Tobin. 

“I love you so much,” Tobin breathed out, holding Christen close. “And I won’t stop being your wife, regardless of paperwork.” 

“I won’t stop being yours either,” Christen promised, feeling the heaviness from the call with her mom leave her and hope fill her for the first time in a long time. 

“You know that bakery my mom took you to after you asked for her blessing?” Tobin asked, slowly running her fingers up and down Christen’s spine. 

“Best coffee cake in the world,” Christen replied with a happy hum. 

“I bought coffee cake specifically to eat in bed after the call,” Tobin whispered, a small smile on her lips. 

“Oh my Lord, you’re sexy,” Christen groaned, tightening her arms around Tobin. 

“We can hit all the good bakeries and restaurants in L.A. when we need breaks,” Tobin replied, beginning to pepper more kisses along the side of Christen’s head. 

“Getting even sexier,” Christen chuckled, sinking into the moment with Tobin and holding onto the perfection in it. 

“So…I didn’t just call you to talk about classes,” Christen admitted, worrying her thumbnail and biting back a smile as she sat on the couch in her dorm room, on the phone with her mom. 

“I can hear you smiling, honey. What’s going on?” Stacy asked, her voice warm and cheerful, sounds of home. 

“I met someone,” Christen hummed happily, nearly giddy with excitement as she thought back to the date she’d had with Tobin last night. 

“Oh? What kind of someone?” Stacy chuckled, absolutely loving the happiness in her daughter’s voice. 

“Someone I’m bringing home to meet you and someone I know will be around for a long time,” Christen replied. 

“Someone important,” Stacy hummed, no question in her voice. 

“She’s…she’s the music, Mom.”

“She’s the music. That’s a very serious person,” Stacy murmured. “What’s she like? Why is she the music?” 

“She's got the best smile and the kindest eyes. She’s funny and smart. She doesn’t pretend to be someone she’s not. She’s awkwardly nervous at times and goofy. She’s just- she’s beautiful, Mom. How could someone like that not be the music?” Christen wondered, running a hand through her hair as her cheeks started to hurt from smiling so much. 

“She makes you happy. I can hear it over the phone,” Stacy said. 

“So damn happy,” Christen replied with a laugh. 

“I assume she’s head over heels for you. Who wouldn’t be?” Stacy observed, her smile matching Christen’s as she listened. 

Christen was about to answer when a knock came at the door to her dorm. Without saying anything, she got to her feet and walked to the door, pulling it open and feeling her smile grow. 

“Does a box of donuts and a dopey smile mean that?” Christen asked, her eyes crinkling as she beamed at Tobin who stood outside her dorm. 

“Enjoy your music, honey. I can’t wait to meet her,” Stacy whispered. 

“Me neither. I love you, Mom,” Christen replied softly. 

“I love you, my sweet girl.” 

Their first stop had been Ann Arbor, Michigan. While beautiful this time of year,  both of them had quickly agreed that it wasn’t for them. The next stop was Boulder, Colorado. They liked this city much better than Ann Arbor, but it was still missing a little something. The mountains were nice, though. 

And now they were in Seattle. It hadn’t stopped raining since their plane landed this morning, and Christen hated the cold that came with the wetness of rain. You could never get warm and you could never get dry. 

But Tobin’s eyes were bright as she eagerly drove their rental car around downtown and past the Space Needle. So, Christen ignored the chill from the dampness of her sweater and the way her wet socks squished in her shoes and did her best to return Tobin’s excitement. 

“You said there are some opportunities here for you?” Christen asked, watching the rain come down heavily outside of the car. 

“I know a friend from grad school is out here. I could probably work with them for a bit before starting my own practice,” Tobin answered, reaching out for Christen’s hand. 

“That’s great,” Christen replied with a genuine smile, her fingers tangling with Tobin’s easily. 

“As long as you find something that makes you feel amazing,” Tobin nodded, pulling into a quieter neighborhood to look at some houses that they could hardly see through the rain. 

“One of my favorite professors from law school works in the Public Defender’s office out here,” Christen said, narrowing her eyes to try and see the houses through the torrential downpour. 

“That’s great,” Tobin hummed, squinting to look at a house on the corner of the street. 

“Do you…want to go in? It’s an open house,” Christen offered, already preparing herself for the cold and damp feelings to come from the walk to the house from the car. 

“Sure, baby. That sounds fun,” Tobin nodded, pulling the car around and bracing herself to get out of the car and walk through the rain. 

Christen let out a noiseless breath and grabbed her jacket from the backseat. Once they were parked, she got out of the car and hurried around to the driver’s side, holding the jacket above her head to try and protect her from the rain. She held it up and beckoned with her head for Tobin to join her, so they could both be shielded from the rain together. 

“Thanks,” Tobin practically yelled over the pelting rain as she wrapped an arm around Christen to stay close. “I left my jacket at the hotel.” 

“Good thing I remembered mine!” Christen yelled over the rain as well. 

Tobin tried to keep an open mind as they walked through the house. But her soggy and squeaking shoes were distracting. And when she looked out of the kitchen window to the large front yard, all she could think about were their future children sulking inside instead of playing in the sunshine. 

Christen was smiling, though. She was smiling as the realtor talked about the built-in bookshelves and the granite countertops. She was smiling when the realtor showed them the staged nursery. And Tobin felt herself revert into her quieter, less vulnerable self. She could feel herself building a wall, not to protect herself but to protect Christen from how much she didn’t like this damp, soggy, cold city. 

She’d already expressed hating D.C. She was the reason they were doing this. She didn’t want to be difficult, especially when Christen seemed genuinely happy in the rain and in this particular house. 

“Cool stained glass window,” Tobin complimented as they walked along the upstairs hallway. She didn’t mention that it seemed stupid to have stained glass in a city where the sun would hardly ever shine through it. 

Christen hummed her acknowledgement of the observation as the realtor showed them the master bedroom and the master bathroom. She didn’t mind the size of the room and the bathroom was particularly lovely. But a lovely bathroom in a city she didn’t like in a house she had mixed feelings about wasn’t enough to sway her. 

“Thank you so much for showing us around,” Christen said to the realtor as they all made their way back downstairs. 

“Of course. Take my card. I’ll put in a good word for you both with the owners,” the realtor replied, handing Christen her card. 

“Oh! Thank you,” Christen hummed, feigning enthusiasm as she took the card. 

“There’s a great Mediterranean restaurant right down the street if you’re hungry for lunch,” the realtor suggested as they left. 

“We’re gonna pass on that,” Tobin muttered as they stepped out of the house, rain already pelting them. 

“I agree. Take out in the hotel?” Christen asked as she lifted up the wet jacket and tried to keep the rain from hitting them. 

“That sounds fantastic,” Tobin sighed, walking Christen to her passenger’s side door and then jogging through the rain to get back to her side. 

They both pretended to be excited on the way to the hotel about the city and the opportunities, neither one wanting to disappoint the other. The walking of the proverbial tightrope lasted through returning to the hotel and all through lunch. 

It wasn’t until Tobin had returned from putting their lunch trash out in the hall and Christen was about to ask Tobin to join her in a shower she desperately wanted to take, that Christen realized things felt a little…off. 

She felt uneasy in Tobin’s presence, uncertain about asking her to join her in the shower, and she hadn’t felt that way since before they got divorced. It made her stomach roll and her brow furrow. And when she saw Tobin school her features into something attempting to look excited, Christen realized this couldn’t continue. They couldn’t keep dancing around each other and pretending like this was normal. 

“There’s an energy,” Christen declared suddenly, slipping her watch off and putting it onto the dresser. 

“A what?” Tobin asked as she unbuttoned her shirt. 

“An energy,” Christen repeated, gesturing between the two of them as she slipped out of her still damp socks and dropped them onto the carpeted floor. 

Tobin looked at Christen, and for a moment she thought about keeping that schooled expression on her face, keeping her wall up. But then she looked at Christen, whose eyes were searching and warm and home, and she felt her eyes prickle slightly and her smile fall. 

“Oh, baby, hey,” Christen said quickly, moving across the hotel room. She stepped into Tobin’s space, reaching up to cradle Tobin’s cheeks between her palms. “Hey, hey, hey, what’s going on? It’s not a bad energy, right? Or, not the worst of energies. It’s just an energy, and I wanted to talk about it before it became something like the worst of energies,” she rambled, uncertain why Tobin was so near tears right now. 

“I feel difficult,” Tobin whispered, reaching up and holding onto Christen’s wrists. 

“Why?” Christen wondered, keeping her voice gentle. 

“Because we’re only doing this because of me not liking a city that never did anything wrong to me. And you like it there, and now you’re traveling to all of these cities to find another place even though you love your place already,” Tobin answered, her eyes watery. 

“But it’s not our place, and that’s what we’re looking for here. You’re not difficult, Tobin. You’re not,” Christen assured, leaning forward to kiss away the tears caught in Tobin’s lashes. 

“And now we’re here, and I see you smiling, and you’re talking about jobs and good food and school districts. But it’s so…damp, and what if I never like a place? What if I’m the one who’s unsatisfied and I make you miserable because of that?” Tobin continued, sharing all of her worry now that the wall was down and she was talking. 

Christen pulled back, her face flashing with confusion. 

“Let’s pin the ‘never finding a place and you making me miserable’ thing for a moment. I also think it’s damp here, and you’re the one who’s been smiling and talking about jobs,” Christen pointed out gently, smoothing her thumbs across Tobin’s cheeks. 

“No, I only smiled because you smiled. And you asked me about jobs, so I talked about them,” Tobin replied, her eyebrows scrunching together in confusion. 

“Wait,” Christen said with a shake of her head. “Do you like it here?”

“My feet still feel soggy, and it’s been dreary all day. I heard someone on the plane saying there are 150 days of rain a year,” Tobin answered, her eyes wide and apologetic. 

“I hate it here,” Christen blurted out honestly, instantly looking remorseful for her words. “But if you love it, I can make it work-”

“Oh thank God! I can’t make it work. My skin felt cold and damp all day,” Tobin said with a shake of her head, a tiny laugh bubbling up from her lips. “Baby, this sucks. I know Meredith Gray makes it seem manageable, but I’m not her.” 

“This place is terrible for us! We need the sun,” Christen chuckled, kissing Tobin quickly. “This sucks and we should have just said that from the get go. I’m sorry I didn’t immediately tell you how I felt.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t,” Tobin huffed, practically deflating in Christen’s arms. “I didn’t want to disappoint you.” 

“And I didn’t want to disappoint you ,” Christen sighed, tilting her forehead against Tobin’s. “This feels like an odd sort of progress, though. Right?”

“It does,” Tobin laughed softly as she wound her arms around Christen’s waist. “I just…don’t want you to feel like you’re giving something up by moving. Because maybe I can give D.C. another shot.” 

“I’m not ever going to feel like that,” Christen promised, nuzzling Tobin’s nose. “And I don’t want to stay in D.C. I want a fresh start somewhere with you. Someplace we both like enough.”

“I don’t want either of us to have to just…make it work. I want wherever we live to be a place that we both feel happy and comfortable in,” Tobin murmured. 

“Well, that place is not Seattle,” Christen chuckled quietly. “Want to try Portland next?”

“Sure,” Tobin grinned, placing a quick kiss on Christen’s lips. “Do you want to do a list?” 

“Do you want to see if that shower in there could be a place for us to be together while we do a list?” Christen asked, chasing Tobin’s lips and giving her another kiss. 

“Absolutely,” Tobin nodded, pushing her own shirt off her shoulders and onto the ground. “The good thing about this list is we get to make the entire list up.” 

“Tell me more,” Christen replied with a grin, peeling her leggings off and adding them to the pile of clothes.  

“You get to come up with the first requirement for our future home,” Tobin said as she shimmied her jeans down her legs. 

“Mirror over the bed,” Christen said easily, pulling off her shirt. 

“Ooookay that’s where this list is going,” Tobin snorted. 

“Kidding,” Christen grinned, adding her bra to the pile. “I want a breakfast nook.”

“I can get behind a mirror and a breakfast nook,” Tobin hummed, dropping her boxers to the floor. 

“What tops your list?” Christen asked, pulling off her final stitch of clothing and tossing her underwear on top of Tobin’s discarded boxers. 

“Call me clingy, but…I’ve always imagined a shared home office or at least connected home offices, not that we really work from home a ton, but maybe with…maybe if we have kids,” Tobin answered a little bashfully. 

“When we have kids, we will work from home more,” Christen agreed, her voice soft as she stepped back into Tobin’s space, leaving a kiss right over her heart before looping her arms around Tobin’s neck. “A shared office would be nice.”

“Then I could look at you and that adorable crinkle you get in your forehead when you’re reading briefs,” Tobin murmured, gently cradling Christen’s face. 

“What crinkle?” Christen scoffed playfully. 

“My favorite one,” Tobin grinned, kissing the spot on Christen’s forehead where it always appeared. 

“Mhm,” Christen hummed, backing them up toward the bathroom and the long-awaited warm shower. 

“I want sunshine too,” Tobin mumbled as soon as they hit the warm water. “And warmth.” 

“I want a butcher block countertop,” Christen added, sighing audibly once the warmth of the shower enveloped them. 

“Ooh sexy,” Tobin whispered, finding a spot on Christen’s neck and attaching her lips there. 

“I know you are, but what am I?” Christen teased, her voice a little breathless. 

“Also sexy,” Tobin chuckled against Christen’s skin. 

“I have a good feeling about Portland,” Christen murmured, lolling her head to the side to give Tobin more room to work. 

“Baby,” Tobin whispered, her lips pausing against Christen’s neck. 

“Yeah?”

“I googled it. Portland supposedly gets 156 days of precipitation,” Tobin explained, her arms squeezing Christen gently. 

“Well fuck us right to L.A. then.”

Tobin let out a loud, completely uncontrolled laugh, her eyes crinkling and her head thrown back. 

“Who knows, maybe the vibe will be awesome enough to outweigh the rain,” she chuckled as her laughter died down. 

“And it’s much further away from in-laws,” Christen added with a laugh of her own, holding Tobin close. 

Tobin almost knocked over the coffee mug sitting in front of her plate. She shoved the patio chair back and lurched forward to stop it from falling forward, getting coffee on her hands in the process. 

“Sorry, sorry,” Tobin muttered. 

“Whoa, sweetie, are you all right?” Stacy asked hurriedly, grabbing her napkin and leaning forward to gently take Tobin’s hands in her own and pat them dry. 

“You’re a bit jumpy, Tobs,” Cody chuckled from his spot next to Stacy. 

“I am,” Tobin nodded, finally dropping back into her seat and squeezing her eyes shut in an attempt to settle her churning stomach. “I am jumpy.” 

“Should we have brewed you decaf?” Stacy teased gently, grabbing Cody’s napkin and mopping up the small bit of spilled coffee on the table. 

“That probably wouldn’t have helped,” Tobin laughed weakly, tugging on her coffee-soaked sweatshirt sleeve. 

“You’re doing great,” Cody assured, giving Tobin a knowing smile. “Deep breaths.”

“Thanks,” Tobin murmured, sucking in a deep breath as just a look from Christen’s dad calmed her. “I- I asked you both to wake up obscenely early so that I could talk to you without Christen here. Which probably means you both know what I’m about to say, but I prepared a speech, so bear with me.” 

“Go on, sweetie,” Stacy encouraged with a warm smile, nothing but love and support in her eyes. 

“On our first date, Christen told me about the way you dance in the kitchen without music. She talked about love being two people who are so right for one another that they’re the music together. Since that first date, I have only ever wanted to be that for her and with her. I- It’s cheesy, but I saw your daughter for the first time and knew that I wanted to marry her someday. She’s the most accepting and loving person I know. She can make me laugh harder than any other person, and she calls me out when I need to be called out. She lets me be fully me, and I love her for her genuine, authentic self. It’s been four years, and I still look at your daughter and see the woman I want to marry. I want to make music and be music and even be silent with her for as long as she’ll have me.”

Tobin shifted in her seat slightly, accidentally knocking her knee against the metal patio table and rattling the dishes and making Cody’s fork fall off of his plate. 

“Sorry,” she mumbled again, her cheeks flushing as she searched for her train of thought. 

“Why say sorry when you said everything we could have ever hoped to hear?” Stacy wondered, reaching out and placing her hand on Tobin’s. 

“I know you mean the world to your daughter. You’re her definition of love. So, I’m really hoping you might give me your blessing to ask her to marry me…if I haven’t fumbled too much coffee,” Tobin finished, her breath coming out shorter than it had been earlier as she got even more nervous. 

Both Stacy and Cody shared watery smiles with one another before looking back at Tobin. 

“You’ve had it from the start,” Cody answered. 

“We already consider you part of the family,” Stacy added, squeezing Tobin’s hand. 

“Oh thank God,” Tobin groaned, nearly dropping her forehead onto the table. 

Cody let out a warm chuckle and Stacy got to her feet, pulling Tobin up and into a hug. 

“She’s going to be over the moon,” Stacy murmured, her excitement palpable. 

“I really hope so,” Tobin whispered past the lump in her throat. 

“She’s already over the moon. She’s gonna be in another galaxy,” Cody said, getting up and wrapping his arms around Tobin and Stacy. 

“I love you both,” Tobin mumbled as she let all of the anxiety and nerves she felt that morning seep away. 

“We love you too,” Stacy replied. 

“Not to get all sappy, but my parents didn’t stay together that long. So…you two have shown me a lot about love too,” Tobin admitted, watching Cody get even tearier. 

“Jeez, kid,” Cody huffed, wiping at his eyes. 

“Way to hit us right in the heart,” Stacy added with a wet chuckle, wiping at her own eyes. 

“You guys gotta keep it together,” Tobin teased, using her good sleeve to wipe her eyes. “Chris’ll be down any minute.” 

“What's with the crying?” Christen called out, rubbing the sleep from her eyes as she stepped into the backyard. 

“Your dad showed Tobin that YouTube video of a raccoon trying to wash cotton candy again!” Stacy called back. 

“It disappears out of his little hands,” Cody added with a pout. 

Christen let out a sleepy hum and a yawn, padding across the backyard to wrap her arms around Tobin. 

“Morning,” she mumbled, leaving a quick kiss on Tobin’s cheek before her nose wrinkled. “Why do you smell like coffee?”

“I spilled as usual,” Tobin sighed, sinking into Christen’s arms. 

Christen rolled her eyes affectionately and looked over at her parents. 

“Why do you two look like that? It’s too early to look that happy.”

“I’m just watching my daughter enjoy the music,” Stacy said, raising her hands in defense.  

Christen felt a sleepy smile make its way onto her face, and she squirmed even closer to Tobin. 

“Now that our sleepyhead is up, how about some breakfast,” Cody said, rubbing his hands together and taking his seat back at the table. 

“I love you,” Tobin said as soon as she’d put the rental car in park in front of Christen’s parents’ house. 

“I love you too,” Christen breathed out, smoothing her hand across the thigh of her jeans nervously. 

“Say the word, and we leave. We can leave and come back as many times as you want,” Tobin murmured, focusing on Christen’s nerves despite having nerves of her own. She distinctly remembered Cody telling her never to set foot in his home again when he’d called to yell at her for breaking Christen’s heart. 

“Let’s just get this over with, yeah?” Christen asked, offering Tobin a weak smile even as she clung to Tobin’s hand. 

“We’ll make up for everything that’s about to be said and felt when we’re alone again tonight,” Tobin nodded as she unbuckled her seatbelt. “We can cuddle or do a list or two or just be silent,” she listed off before getting out of the car and walking around to Christen’s door. 

“We can play it by ear, depending on the next few hours,” Christen sighed, taking Tobin’s hand again as she stepped out of the car. 

“Yeah,” Tobin nodded, swallowing down the lump in her throat and holding onto Christen’s hand like it was a lifeline. 

“I know you’re nervous too. But we’re going to be fine,” Christen assured, leading the way up to the front door. 

“I’m- I just want you to be okay,” Tobin breathed out. “And happy. Okay and happy.” 

Christen paused at the front door and turned to face Tobin, bringing their clasped hands up to rest against her chest, right over her heart. 

“I’m more than okay and I’m more than happy. This is going to suck, but we will survive it together.”

Tobin nodded her head a little jerkily and then pressed her lips to the back of Christen’s hand. 

With another deep breath, Christen reached out with her free hand to ring the doorbell, her eyes moving back to Tobin’s once she had. She shot Tobin a tight, reassuring smile. 

“I love you,” Tobin said again right before the door opened revealing Christen’s mom. 

Stacy eyed the two of them for a moment, almost like she had forgotten they were coming together, and then she shook herself out of it and fixed a tentative smile on her face. 

“Hi you two,” she greeted, stepping back and holding the door wide open. 

“Mom,” Christen replied a little stiffly, not letting go of Tobin’s hand as she stepped toward the open front door. 

“Hi,” Tobin mumbled, squeezing Christen’s hand a little tighter as she stepped into a house that she’d once considered a second home. 

Stacy pulled them both in for slightly awkward hugs, one at a time, before leading the way toward the kitchen. 

“Cody, the kids are here!” she called out. 

Cody closed the grill and walked into the house from the patio. His eyes didn’t even seem to register Tobin. He walked straight toward Christen, wrapping her in a hug. 

“I missed you, sweetheart,” Cody whispered before kissing the side of Christen’s head. 

“Missed you too, Dad,” Christen replied, softening into her dad’s hug and returning the embrace with more ease than she had with Stacy’s. 

“Dinner’ll be up soon,” he said, turning around and walking back outside without a word for Tobin. 

“Dad!” Christen called after Cody, an exasperated sigh escaping her. 

“It’s fine,” Tobin mumbled, taking Christen’s hand in her own again and brushing her thumb across it. 

“It’s not,” Christen huffed, tugging on Tobin’s hand and pulling her in the direction of the door that led to the backyard. 

“Maybe we should get him a glass of wine or something first,” Tobin muttered, her nerves increasing tenfold. 

“Nope, come on,” Christen said, stepping into the backyard with Tobin by her side. She walked over to where her dad was stationed at the grill, bopping his head along to the beat of the song coming from the radio. When Christen reached the barbecue, she turned off the radio, causing Cody to turn around and face them. 

“Mo, I’m not gonna pretend like everything’s okay after she broke your heart,” Cody insisted, crossing his arms over his chest. 

“And I’m not going to let you or anyone else pretend it was solely her fault. We broke it together. But now we’re fixing it and we’re making it stronger,” Christen replied, her voice taking on the same tone it always did when she was arguing a case. 

“You told me that Stacy and I were role models for you,” Cody said, finally looking at Tobin. “Where the heck did you learn how to bail like that?” 

“She didn’t bail, Dad,” Christen managed, keeping her voice level. “I filed for divorce. I made that mistake. Me, not her.”

“I shouldn’t have signed,” Tobin interjected, not wanting fault to be placed solely on Christen. 

“Damn right, you shouldn’t have,” Cody scoffed. “You said she was music, that you wanted to love her for as long as possible. And I gave you my blessing. And then you hurt her enough that she didn’t even want to come home.” 

“I didn’t stop loving her even when I stopped being a good wife and partner,” Tobin said softly, swallowing down the feeling of guilt in her chest that Christen had done a great job of chasing away over the past few months. 

Cody harrumphed and then turned his attention to Christen. “You want me to give her a second chance?” he asked, looking like he wanted to do anything but that. 

“You do whatever you want to do, Dad. I just need you to know that we broke it, we’re fixing it, and we are better for it. We both broke promises and made mistakes. We’re going to make plenty more. But we finally learned how to fight and disagree well. Something you tried to teach us a long time ago,” Christen replied, her words decisive but her eyes soft. 

“I’ll be talking to you later,” Cody mumbled, his eyes still narrowed in Tobin’s direction but his voice slightly less on edge. 

“I’ll bring the first aid kit,” Tobin replied, an awkward, small smile on her lips. 

Cody let out a weak huff of laughter and turned back to the grill. 


Dinner was plated and served, wine was poured but untouched, and the silence had now stretched into its tenth minute. 

Beyond small talk to pass the bread and whatnot, the table was quiet as Tobin and Christen sat next to one another, across from Cody and Stacy. 

Christen knew she had to probably be the one to break the silence, to build the bridge between all of them. So, she took a long sip of wine, squeezed Tobin’s knee under the table, and looked up at her parents. 

“I should have told you when Tobin and I started having problems. But I was too proud to admit it and I understand that in being too proud, it made it seem like our divorce was rash. But I truly believe we needed to go through that to get to where we are now. I was too proud to admit to you my marriage was failing, and I lost the two of you because of it. And I’m- I’m sorry,” Christen said softly, forcing the words past the lump in her throat. 

“Honey, you could have come to us. We might have been able to…We could have at least made you feel less alone,” Stacy replied, her voice just as quiet. 

“I didn’t feel like I could have. You seemed disappointed in me, for losing Tobin. And I felt like a disappointment to so many others, I couldn’t feel that way with you. So…I cut you out as best I could,” Christen managed, her grip on Tobin’s knee tightening as her emotions built within her. 

“I did think it was rash because I didn’t know what had been going on. I still don’t, but my first response was…I let my surprise get the better of me, and I’m sorry I made you feel like I was disappointed,” Stacy murmured, staring at Christen with wide eyes. 

Christen nodded in acknowledgement of her mom’s words and dropped her eyes to the plate in front of her, unsure what to say now. 

“I thought it was rash,” Cody admitted from his spot at the table, his eyes downcast. “And…because of that, I might have assumed Tobin cheated or something equally bad.”

“She didn’t,” Christen defended fiercely, narrowing her eyes at her dad. 

“Then…apologies for calling to yell at you and then for leaving those voicemails,” Cody apologized, glancing up at Tobin. 

“Don’t worry about it,” Tobin said, waving a hand as if it were forgotten. 

“Voicemails? Cody,” Stacy chastised, moving her eyes away from Christen to glare at her husband for a moment. 

“Yeah, voicemails? Come on,” Christen sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. 

“And for the monthly subscription for cheaters’ self-help books I got delivered to you,” Cody added, a grimace on his face. 

“Dad!” Christen huffed, dropping her hand and fixing Cody with a scandalized look. 

“And for getting you on the contact list for all those spam calls,” Cody muttered, making Tobin gasp. 

“That was you ? They’re still calling me and trying to sell me health insurance that I don’t need and help with federal loans that I don’t have,” Tobin sighed, closing her eyes as she thought about the amount of rage she felt when over half of her calls in a day were robocalls. 

“That’s too far, Dad. Really?” Christen complained, stroking her thumb in soothing circles on Tobin’s knee under the table. 

Cody had the sense to look sheepish as he mumbled another apology. And then Tobin let out a soft laugh, her lips quirking up into a genuine smile. 

“Remind me never to fake cheat on your daughter again,” she laughed, rubbing her face with her hands. 

Cody let out a snort, which quickly turned into soft laughter. Christen and Stacy joined in soon after, and then all of them were chuckling at the hilarity of the situation. 

“I would never cheat on her. I may have shut myself off and sulked without communicating, but I’d never betray her like that,” Tobin promised, finding Christen’s hand under the table. 

“I know, kid,” Cody nodded, letting his laughter die out. “It’s… it’s good to see you. Both of you. Being happy again.”

“Back to being the music?” Stacy asked softly. 

Christen gently squeezed Tobin’s hand and looked over at her mom. 

“Yes,” she hummed in reply. 

“I don’t think we ever stopped. We just played some really angry music for a little too long,” Tobin murmured, spelling out the word ‘love’ on Christen’s palm. 

The corner of Christen’s mouth twitched up into an amused smile at Tobin’s words and Tobin’s touch, closing her hand playfully to trap Tobin’s finger. 

“Screamo music,” Christen agreed. “And some really sad Adele music too.”

“Adele really gets you through it, right?” Tobin grinned, leaning over enough to kiss Christen’s shoulder. 

“Adele and Ed,” Christen chuckled, kissing the top of Tobin’s head while she was close by. 

“Taylor and Harry,” Tobin added to the list. 

“I only recognize Adele,” Cody mumbled to Stacy.  “Who are those other people?”

“Ed’s the one who sang their wedding song,” Stacy whispered back. 

“Ah, right right,” Cody hummed, looking across the table at where Tobin and Christen were busy looking into each other’s eyes and smiling softly at them.  

“Are you two thinking another wedding? Or are you just dating to see how it goes?” Stacy asked, following Cody’s gaze and softening even more when she saw her daughter and daughter-in-law staring at one another like they had as college sophomores. 

“I told you that I wanted to marry your daughter when I first saw her,” Tobin replied without turning away from Christen. “There’s no seeing how it goes. It’s just putting in the work to make it go right this time.”

“Probably no big second wedding, just a small redo of vows and a celebration of making it go right this time,” Christen echoed, gazing tenderly at Tobin, her smile full of wonder and gratitude. 

“Are you going back to D.C.?” Stacy asked, looking over at Tobin. 

“We’re talking about starting somewhere new. Picking a place that we both really love and see a future in,” Tobin answered. 

“We’re headed to Portland tomorrow,” Christen tacked on, smiling once more at Tobin before looking over at her mom. 

“Back on the west coast,” Stacy sighed with relief, a bright smile on her face. 

“Maybe,” Tobin nodded. “We’ve sort of been flying everywhere this past week to see what feels right. And then we’ll probably take some time off work and spend a little extra time in our top contenders.” 

“Sounds like you two have got it figured out,” Cody commented, taking a sip of his wine and then tilting his glass in the direction of Christen and Tobin. 

“We are getting there,” Christen hummed, finally feeling relaxed and like this was not just a fresh start with Tobin, but with her parents as well. 

“Why does your friend keep staring at my friend?” Christen whispered to Tobin, the two of them sitting in the library on a study date, while Ashlyn and Ali both studied nearby at separate tables. 

“Uhh…I don’t know,” Tobin whispered back, looking away from Christen and toward Ali. 

“She isn’t even being subtle,” Christen pointed out, moving her eyes between Ali and Ashlyn. 

“Maybe she thinks your friend’s eating too loudly,” Tobin shrugged, tangling her fingers with Christen’s. 

“Maybe she’s being weird,” Christen chuckled, pulling their clasped hands up to her lips and kissing the back of Tobin’s hand. 

“Maybe your friend’s her type,” Tobin mumbled, a tiny smirk on her lips. 

“Maybe we should introduce them,” Christen replied with a smirk of her own.

“Hey, Al?” Tobin said a little too loudly, getting glares from a few neighboring students.  

Ali whipped her head around, a blush filling her cheeks as she looked away from Ashlyn and over at Tobin and Christen. 

“What?” Ali whispered. 

“Chris and I are thinking about getting some dinner from that really good sushi place. Do you and Ash want to come?” Tobin asked, schooling her features to keep the mischief off her face. 

“Uh… who?” Ali wondered, feigning like she had no idea who Ashlyn was even if she’d been staring at Ashlyn for the better part of an hour and had hung out with them all in a big group a few times. 

“Chris has her own Ali. That’s Ash,” Tobin said, pointing across the table. 

Christen buried her face in Tobin’s shoulder to hide her laughter and her smile. 

“Oh…hi,” Ali greeted weakly nodding at Ashlyn who was now looking between the group of them. 

“Hey,” Ashlyn mumbled, her own cheeks flushing. 

“So…dinner?” Tobin asked, hiding her goofy smile by burying her face in Christen’s hair.  

“If Ashlyn wants to,” Ali mumbled with a weak smile for Ashlyn. 

“I’d be into it if you… want to?” Ashlyn asked, shooting Ali a hopeful look. 

“Sweet! Let’s get out of here,” Tobin laughed, drumming her hands on the table before stacking her books and Christen’s. 

“Do you want some help with your books?” Ashlyn offered, slinging her bag over her shoulder as she moved over to Ali’s table. 

“Oh…um…sure,” Ali nodded, her cheeks now a dark red. 

“First double date,” Tobin whispered to Christen as they gathered their bags. 

“Could turn out nicely,” Christen whispered back, waggling her brows in Tobin’s direction. 

“Is Ash worthy of Ali?” Tobin asked, wrapping her arm around Christen’s waist as they headed to the library exit. 

“Is Ali worthy of Ash?” Christen countered, kissing Tobin’s cheek. 

“Obviously,” Tobin scoffed. “Ali’s exceptionally good.” 

“So is Ash,” Christen chuckled. “I think they’d be well matched.”

“Then I won’t feel quite so bad when I ditch Ali to go over to yours,” Tobin teased, squeezing Christen closer. 

“Am I not enticing enough on my own to ditch her?” Christen asked in mock offense. 

“Oh, you are. Notice that me feeling a little bad about ditching Ali doesn’t dissuade me from doing it,” Tobin grinned. “Speaking of which…my roommate’s visiting her parents this weekend. You want to stay over?” 

“Absolutely,” Christen beamed, kissing Tobin soundly and making both Ali and Ashlyn grumble and complain nearby. 

“They’ll be doing it to us in no time,” Tobin huffed, stealing another quick kiss and almost tripping over the edge of the rug at the front of the library. 

“You ready?” Christen asked softly, keeping a hold on her emotions as she fixed the lapel of Ashlyn’s tuxedo jacket. 

“I’m not completely sure if I’m gonna shit myself or cry, to be honest. Don’t tell Ali I said that. Or Tobin. She can’t keep her mouth shut when it comes to Ali.” 

“I won’t tell her,” Christen chuckled. “Can I get you anything? A shot? A tissue?”

“Tobin gave me a package of them this morning,” Ashlyn said, pulling the tissue packet out of her pocket. 

“I gave one to Ali,” Christen replied with a smile. 

“I think I’ll feel better when I see her,” Ashlyn said, picking up her water bottle and taking a sip. 

“Trust me, you will,” Christen murmured, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear and then reaching for her flute of champagne. 

“She probably looks really hot,” Ashlyn muttered, double-checking that her clothes were all in place and her tie was straight. 

“So do you,” Christen complimented with a wink. 

“Thanks, so do you,” Ashlyn chuckled, her eyes just as teary as they had been all morning. 

Christen shrugged and looked down at the dress Ashlyn had picked out for her to wear. 

“Tobin’s gonna look stupid in all the pictures because she’ll be ogling you,” Ashlyn added with another watery laugh. 

“I don’t know about that,” Christen rolled her eyes, fighting off a smile. 

“Are you happy?” Ashlyn asked. 

“Beyond,” Christen nodded, taking another sip of champagne, her heart fluttering in her chest. 

“You’re happy about the Portland move?” 

Christen’s smile was answer enough, but she added, “Very,” in a soft voice. 

“Is she worthy of you?” Ashlyn asked, wanting her best friend to finally be happy, especially on her wedding day. 

“I think we’re trying to be worthy of each other and of ourselves,” Christen observed thoughtfully. 

“Is she worthy of you?” Ashlyn repeated, rolling her eyes at the answer. 

“She always has been,” Christen said with a nod. 

“And the marriage counselor you found doesn’t suck?” 

“Nicole kicks our asses,” Christen replied, letting out a laugh. “But it’s going really well.”

“I just want you to be happy. I want you to be really happy. Both of you, but don’t tell Tobin I said that.” 

“We are, and you and Ali will be too,” Christen grinned, pulling Ashlyn in for a tight hug. 

“It was Ali’s idea,” Ashlyn mumbled, sinking into Christen’s arms, referencing the situation where both Christen and Tobin had been made their maids of honor. 

“I know,” Christen hummed in reply. “Remind me to thank her.”

“She’s smart,” Ashlyn croaked. “Way too smart for me sometimes.” 

“You’re perfect for each other,” Christen disagreed, reaching out for a tissue and offering it to Ashlyn. “Ready to get married?”

“Yeah,” Ashlyn nodded. “I’ve been ready.” 

Christen and Ashlyn joined Ashlyn’s parents and made their way to the front of the ceremony hall, standing at the front of the altar together. 

And when the music started and Tobin stepped out to walk down the aisle after Ali’s brother, Christen had never felt more certain about anything in her entire life. That was her wife, in a matching bridesmaid’s dress and slightly flushed cheeks from champagne and a smile on her face like she was a little uncomfortable with all the eyes on her. 

That was her wife and it was only confirmed for her when Tobin’s eyes met her own and that slightly uncomfortable smile moved into something awestruck. 

‘Hi’ Christen mouthed to Tobin as she reached the end of the aisle. 

Tobin’s smile grew into one that was beaming. They’d only been apart for a few hours, having left one another at the hotel that morning to get ready with their respective brides. 

Tobin waved with two fingers, trying to be subtle as she held her bouquet, but her face said it all. Her face was completely in love, fully focused on her own wife, not on the two women getting married in front of her. She couldn’t help herself. She couldn’t stop herself from staring at the woman who was her whole world. She couldn’t stop the goofy smile on her face. It was innate. It was like there was music playing and only the two of them could hear it. 


“Do you want to dance?” Christen asked, holding out her hand with a bright smile, coming to a stop next to where Tobin was sitting at a table with Ali’s mom and brother. 

“You don’t even need to ask,” Tobin grinned, sliding out of her seat and taking Christen’s hand. 

Christen led Tobin over to the dance floor, immediately sinking into a natural embrace with their clasped hands between them and her arm looped around Tobin’s neck. 

“You look beautiful,” Tobin hummed, knocking her nose against Christen’s. 

“I was just about to say that,” Christen chuckled, stealing a quick kiss. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

“You’re the most beautiful person on the planet,” Tobin whispered, letting her eyes flutter shut at the feeling of Christen in her arms. 

Christen hummed happily and leaned her forehead against Tobin’s, the two of them swaying slowly to the beat of the romantic song. They were completely caught up in each other, completely caught up in the moment. 

“Ali and Ash chose these dresses because of the pockets,” Tobin murmured softly. 

“I think they also chose them because we make them look good,”  Christen chuckled. 

“When we aren’t in the middle of the dance floor or around other people, even if we’re in the car on the way back to the hotel, will you reach into my pocket?” Tobin asked, her cheeks instantly flushing. “Not in a scandalous way…obviously.” 

“Want me to do it now?” Christen asked quietly, all but whispering the words into the space between their lips. 

“Ash will murder me if I distract anyone from them, and Ali will help her bury the body, so maybe when we aren’t in the middle of the room.” 

“Okay,” Christen breathed out, leaving a quick kiss on Tobin’s lips before pulling back. “Will you reach into mine when we get that moment alone too?”

“Oh?” Tobin wondered, raising her eyebrows and playfully spinning Christen around. 

“I definitely meant it in that way,” Christen teased, laughing as Tobin spun and dipped her. “And the non-suggestive way too.”

“Say no more. I have the code to one of the bridal suites,” Tobin chuckled. 

“Lead the way,” Christen beamed. 

Tobin tangled her fingers with Christen’s and led her off of the dance floor. They dodged Ashlyn trying to hand them both glasses of wine and bypassed Ali’s drunk uncle who was using Ali’s phone to take videos at the wedding. Tobin pulled Christen close as they wandered down the hallway and then typed in the code to unlock the door and stepped into the room where she and Ali had gotten ready with Kyle and a couple of Ali’s childhood friends. 

“Your room is so much bigger than ours,” Christen said with a laugh, swinging their clasped hands between them. 

“Ali brought a lot of stuff. She’s a nervous packer,” Tobin chuckled, turning Christen around again like she had on the dance floor. 

“She is,” Christen agreed, her laughter growing as she was twirled around. 

“You look beautiful,” Tobin murmured, pulling Christen in and beginning to sway slowly. 

“You said that already,” Christen whispered, her arms looping around Tobin’s neck. 

“It’s a dominant thought in my head right now,” Tobin whispered back, settling her hands on Christen’s lower back. 

“Same here,” Christen replied, scratching her nails gently against the back of Tobin’s head. “All I think about is you.”

“What a coincidence,” Tobin hummed, pressing her forehead against Christen’s. “All I think about is you.” 

“Want to reach into my pocket now, baby?” Christen murmured, nuzzling Tobin’s nose. 

“I asked you first,” Tobin grinned, moving one of Christen’s hands down to her hip, right above the built-in pocket. 

“Same time?” Christen wondered, moving Tobin’s free hand to her own hip. 

“Okay,” Tobin nodded, timing her movements to match Christen’s. 

When Christen touched cool metal and the ridged edges of a gem, one she’d already grown impossibly familiar with, she knew they’d thought of the same thing. She smiled and let out a delighted laugh, pulling her wedding band and the engagement ring Tobin had given her out of Tobin’s pocket. They were the rings Christen had mailed back to Tobin after the divorce papers were signed. 

“We’re in sync again,” Christen whispered, smiling but feeling her eyes get a little teary as she held open her hand, showing off both of the rings. 

Tobin pulled out the thick band she’d worn for their entire engagement and marriage, the same one she’d slid across the table at their final meeting with attorneys. She felt her heart ache for something so familiar and personal and loved, something she’d thought she’d lost. 

“You’re my wife, even though we still need to do that paperwork. You’ve been my wife this entire time, and I thought maybe you might miss your ring because I can’t tell you how many times a day for the past three years I’ve tried to spin a ring around my finger that isn’t there,” Tobin explained as she gingerly took Christen’s wedding band and engagement ring out of Christen’s hand and held them up, offering to slide them back on for Christen. 

“You’re my wife in every way, and I have missed these rings more than anything,” Christen admitted, holding out her left hand so Tobin could slide the engagement ring and wedding band back onto her finger. “Would you like yours back? Because I missed being your wife and you being mine.”

“Please,” Tobin breathed out, her voice pleading and her eyes trained on Christen’s. 

Christen slid the band back onto Tobin’s finger, feeling the first tear spill from the corner of her eye. 

“Forever this time,” Christen promised in a soft voice. 

“Forever this time,” Tobin echoed, leaning forward and kissing the tear that had escaped, catching it before it slid further down Christen’s cheek. 

“I just- I really love you,” Christen whispered, managing a wobbly smile as she gazed into Tobin’s eyes. 

“I really love you. I can’t live life without you. You’re my world and my love,” Tobin whispered back, feeling her eyes sting as she spoke. 

“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Christen replied, surging forward and kissing Tobin soundly, the feeling of the rings around her finger a welcome weight, one she had gone far too long without. 


It started the way it had started before, with love and exchanged rings and hopes for forever. 

But this time, there was more. There were weekly meetings with a marriage and family therapist. There were set times for date nights that were never missed. There were conversations that were open and honest and vulnerable. And even when they stumbled, they always righted themselves. They always found their footing. Their solid ground. 

As Tobin pushed open the door to their new house, excitedly talking about the office space she’d found in downtown Portland for her new practice, holding tightly to Christen’s left hand and thumbing the wedding ring there with nothing but love in her eyes, Christen recognized the beautiful poetry in this moment. 

It was starting once more, this time with the opening of a door, a door that would never be closed again.