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You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you're going, because you might not get there. –Yogi Berra

*

The Padres end the 2019 season in Game 7 of the NLCS and it feels like the end of something special. Like the end of a bittersweet fairytale, when the lights go down for the last time, Ginny Baker has the sense that there was magic on that field. There might be again. Almost certainly there will be, but six weeks later, she still has no idea if it will be for her.

Ginny had been carelessly certain that she’d be back in San Diego after her option year. It didn’t even seem to matter that the Padres exited the playoffs in the NLDS in 2018, the year after winning the World Series. Mike Lawson had just finished his retirement season and the team still had an optimistic future without him. Everything had just made sense then: her career, her friendships, her family had all settled into a comfortable pattern. Even the things that troubled her first season in the majors seemed like a distant memory. It had all seemed so certain, in the ways that it just doesn’t anymore.

It isn’t that Ginny doesn’t expect to get an offer from Padres management well before Christmas. The longer it is before she receives one, however, the more she watches trade news with interest, wondering whether they’re planning to move forward without her. At least, that was what it was at first. Now Ginny wonders whether she’s missing out by keeping her hope set on San Diego instead of entertaining the stack of other offers Amelia keeps in her briefcase.

“Let me handle the contract negotiations,” Amelia had told her when they met for the first time after the season ended, when she’d had a chance to sleep in for the single week she allows herself during the offseason before she goes back to the gym. Sitting out long meetings with Charlie and Oscar suits her just fine.

But the longer it takes, the less secure Ginny feels in just letting it go and waiting. The basic contract she’d been offered back when she was barely a high school graduate seemed like a dream at the time. No one knew if she was the real deal, or if she’d just end up a burned out publicity stunt. But Ginny is a World Series winning pitcher now. She’s played on three playoff teams in the four years since she was called up to the majors. She’s proven that she is, in fact, the real deal, which is why waiting over a month after the postseason for a meaningful deal is eating her.

Hard work is something Ginny can handle. Protracted waiting isn’t.

Instead of calling Amelia for some peace of mind, or bothering Blip with her nagging anxiety, Ginny throws herself into long hours with her trainer, even if it means regretfully turning down both her mother’s gentle suggestion of a family Thanksgiving and Livan’s invitation to come visit him in Miami for a few days.

“It would be a good way to let out some steam,” Livan explains seriously when he FaceTimes her, looking skeptically at the free weights behind Ginny. By contrast, she can hear the crash of surf from the ocean just beyond his house, Isabella’s musical laughter when she calls for Livan from the balcony. “You need a vacation, Baker.”

He’s not wrong. Ginny can’t remember the last time she actually went on vacation that had nothing to do with baseball. Puerto Rico in 2015 had been all about winter ball, and that’s the last time she remembers actually getting to spend a few hours sunning on the beach. On the other hand, she knows that she won’t be able to enjoy it if she goes now. All she’ll do is velcro herself to her phone and wait for contract news from San Diego, and that seems like the opposite of a relaxing vacation. Never mind calling her mother for advice, even though Ginny wants to. The unsteady détente she has with her mother and Will is hinged on pretending she isn’t a baseball superstar.

By the time Sunday dinner at Al’s rolls around in mid-December, Ginny feels exhausted with being alone in her own head. Too exhausted to stop herself from sharing a little of her contract anxiety, since escaping it is out of the question. She drives over long before any of the other regulars could possibly turn up. When she sees the curtains by the front door flutter a full second before Al opens the door for her, it feels a little like exhaling a weight off her shoulders.

Al is spry for sixty-eight, even after eighteen years catching in San Francisco and a couple dozen years coaching. He quietly retired after the ‘17 World Series, but instead of disappearing off into retirement, he started inviting her to Sunday dinner. Keeping a bunch of younger people around was probably going to keep him alive longer, or so he’d said. Loneliness, Ginny knows, is a powerful thing.

“You’re early,” Al tells her when he shuts the door, wagging one gnarled finger in her direction. “Means you’re going to be rolling pasta for me.”

“I don’t mind,” she says, tucking her hands into the pockets of her jeans and looking around the kitchen. “As long as you don’t mind if I screw it up.”

He waves a hand dismissively. “It’s easy.”

Ginny doubts that, but Al is patient in his retirement. He shows her how to use his pasta roller by pushing out a few lopsided sheets and gives her a satisfied nod while circling the kitchen, setting out wine and olives. For a while, he doesn’t say anything at all to her, and Ginny is grateful for it. But when she finishes with the pasta, leaving little nests of shredded dough to dry on the counter, Ginny dusts flour from her hands and leans against the counter.

“I heard San Francisco signed a new pitcher,” she says lightly, because she’s been breathing trade news for weeks and it’s all she can think to make conversation about now.

Al looks up at her from polishing one of his crystal wine glasses, and it’s like he can see right through her when he asks, “You worried about the contracts?”

“Amelia’s got the contracts,” Ginny responds mechanically, even though she explicitly decided to come over to get some perspective on all this from someone who might know. And the contracts aren’t exactly the problem. Even Ginny knows that. It’s what they represent: belonging, meaning, the smallest idea of what she’s doing with her life.

Al examines the crystal between his fingers, then at Ginny with the same scrutiny. Then, as if he sees a spot that needs buffing out, Al scrubs one hand over his lined forehead and sighs, “Walk with me, Baker.”

Ginny does, out the back door and down the terrace to the bench in the garden, but still jerks a thumb over her shoulder. “What about dinner?”

“It’s bolognese,” Al shrugs when he sinks onto the bench, as if that explains everything. His eyes track over the edge of the hillside, all the way down to the ocean. The waves glow in the early evening light, spilling like froth over the sand for miles and miles. It’s ethereal, like something out of an elaborate dream.

It’s suitably dramatic for the kind of conversation Ginny came to Al to have.

“You remember we had this talk a few times,” Al begins without waiting. “Seems like you need a refresher.”

“I need a vacation,” admits Ginny, scraping her trim fingernails along her scalp and tugging at her hair. “But I won’t enjoy it.”

“That’s not it,” says Al with maddening patience. He waits, saying nothing and watching her face expectantly for Ginny to arrive at the very thing she’s been agonizing about since the All Star break, when the season stops feeling like it’s only getting started and feels like it’s hurtling toward the end.

And Ginny – Ginny is frustrated, electric with the emotion and has been for weeks now. So, she breaks. “I pitched like lightning this year, Al. I won a ring with this team two years ago. And now–”

“Yeah,” he says with a slow, bobbing nod meant to encourage her. “You’ve come a long way in the last few years.”

“So, why haven’t they called me with a deal?” The old, gnawing feeling swells in her chest, afraid that she already knows the answer. The same answer they gave before. The same reason twenty-nine other teams didn’t draft her, didn’t scout her. Just the Padres. And now all she’s gotten from them is a qualifying offer, a gesture that’s as much to protect them as an opening gambit to their negotiations. “Is it the same tired ass reason it’s always been?”

“Maybe,” says Al with unswerving honesty, still nodding like he’s thinking this through. “I bet they’re not hot on the accommodations in the clubhouse. I hope you’re not listening to the sportscasters on TV, either.”

“The ones speculating if I’m a little girl who had my fun? Or the ones speculating on whether I’ve got a baby bump?” The question of the year – what will Ginny Baker do now she’s broken the glass ceiling in baseball? – is as persistent as it is horrible. Worse still, Ginny wants to know the answer, too.

“Yeah, like I said: don’t listen to them.” Al waves a hand dismissively toward the ocean. “Miami’s probably seriously interested. They’re still looking for some depth in their rotation. They never really recovered after Fernandez.” His eyes slide toward her, appraising her reaction when he continues, “You’d be a hell of a lot closer to home.”

Yes, Al knows what this is all about.

“I don’t really want to go back to North Carolina.” For a lot of reasons, Ginny thinks, that start and end with a bad night eight years before, what should have been one of the brightest spots in her life. She ducks her head, rubs her fingers over her lips as she thinks. “I’ve lived in San Diego for so long. San Antonio and El Paso before that. But I didn’t think…” She trails off, not knowing how to finish.

“You didn’t think you’d get so attached?” Al shrugs. “That’s baseball. You pick a favorite town and you hope they want you to stay. But I knew players who loved getting traded. They meet new people, make new friends, live in new places. It’s part of the experience for them.”

“I don’t think I’m like that,” says Ginny slowly, but she doesn’t think she’s the other way, either: stubbornly sticking to one place forever because she never wants anything to change.

“There’s the Dodgers, then,” Al breaks into her diverging thoughts. “They’re blowing out Kershaw’s arm, so they’ll be looking for someone to pick up some of the slack for him. You’d stay close to here, at least. You might enjoy playing in Toronto. Kansas City, Seattle, Boston. Any of those are good teams for you.”

Ginny tries to shrug it off, like that all sounds fine to her, but it irritates her. And there’s not a damn thing she can do about it, which is probably why Al brought her out here in the first place. Finally, she scrubs her hands over her eyes.

“How did you decide what you wanted out of life, Al?” There it is, the question under it all. Al doesn’t look even the least bit surprised by it, either.

“I didn’t.”

“Then how did it all work out for you?”

Al grunts by way of answer, shuffling around in the dry grass like he does when he’s about to say something she won’t like. “Well,” he finally sighs, “it did for a little while, right? Then it didn’t. Then it did. That’s sort of how life is. You’re just a ship in the ocean, taking the good and the bad. You look for some kind of north star and – well, you didn’t come here for an extended metaphor. Have you talked to Lawson about this?”

Ginny frowns distantly, knitting her eyebrows together. “No,” she says immediately, her voice going high with surprise. “No,” she repeats slowly. “I didn’t think Mike could really… help, you know?”

She once asked Mike why he stayed in San Diego for so long, when he’d had countless opportunities to leave for a bigger market, and all she remembers is the distant look in his eyes when he said that he didn’t like moving on to the next place. Even at the time, it seemed like something too personal to poke fun at, but Ginny had decided that it just meant that Mike was stubborn, too attached to what he was used to, and talented enough that he could have whatever he wanted.

Al’s expression is pointed enough that Ginny feels a stab of guilt, like she’s missed something staggeringly obvious to everyone but her.

Ginny could never replace three seasons of pitching to Mike. Whatever awkwardness there had been when she’d played her last game of the 2016 season was gone by the end of the next. All the complicated attraction between them had been settled, locked up and put aside and forgotten entirely as far as Ginny was concerned. After that was done, they could build the kind of friendship that made it easy to work together, that even seemed to improve the whole team’s play. When they won their World Series, Mike barely needed to call pitches, Ginny had them set up before he could make the call. By the end of Mike’s last season, it was an open secret that they had a spooky kind of connection that was rare, even for pitchers and catchers. What could she possibly be missing out on, with that kind of relationship?

It was no surprise that everything would change when he did retire. It had changed in a lot of ways, but Mike texts her after every game with a blow-by-blow review of her pitching, and Ginny calls him at least once a week.

“Ginny,” says Al very seriously, his hands resting in his pockets as he looks out at the ocean. Beneath them, lights wink on as dusk settles like a curtain over the coast. “The Padres are going to make you an offer. Oscar wants you to stay. Maxine wants you to stay. Charlie thinks he can quantify the exact percentage you contribute to the team’s success.”

That, at least, makes her laugh. She tips her head back, hair bouncing, teeth flashing at the whole-body effort of it. It helps to laugh. Only a little, but it does. “Yeah, what does that look like?”

“The trend, on average, is upward,” Al says in an alarmingly accurate impression of Charlie, his mouth quirking with an impish sort of smile. “Come on and help me finish dinner, Baker. You can ask Lawson what he thinks whenever he shows up.”

*

Despite the dig at his bad habit for running late, Mike arrives in time to help set the table, loudly explaining the definition of a podcast to Al in the kitchen and grinning at Ginny while she stifles her laughter into a wine glass. Al puts on Sinatra and serves the crowd of guests on his wedding china. Ginny asked him once why he didn’t save it for special occasions, but Al only shrugged and told her that it made him think of his wife and he didn’t see any use in keeping it shut up in a cabinet. And anyway, he considers Sunday dinner the most special occasion.

Ginny thinks, not for the first time, that Anna Luongo must have been a particularly dynamic woman. Even in death it seems like she’s an anchor for Al. No wonder Al never felt anxious about where his life was going.

The thought snags like a thread on a nail, threatening to unravel something inside her if she doesn’t shut it up quickly. An old wish that she’s crushed under eight years of bitter work and unwavering ambition to achieve a dream. Dating aside, Ginny has never asked herself whether settling down is something she really wants. Not since a Padres scout stopped her and her father after the high school baseball championship. Maybe longer. Maybe she’s never really thought much about it at all.

“Something on your mind, Baker?”

“What?” Ginny looks up from her plate and finds Mike hovering a bottle of wine over her glass, apparently offering to refill it.

“Just wondering if you were going to join us for dinner tonight.”

She thinks of the conversation with Al outside and chews on the inside of her lip. From the shift in Mike’s expression toward concern, she’s plainly telegraphing her every thought to him. “Yeah, actually,” she admits, and taps the bowl of her glass to signal him to pour. “It’s not great dinner conversation, though.”

“Try me.”

Mike has this way of turning his whole attention onto someone and making them feel like they’re the most important person, like their concerns are the only things that matter. Ginny thinks it’s a little intense, but she can’t deny that it’s flattering, too. The kind of thing that makes Mike Lawson magnetic, the kind of person who can make other people fall in love with with him easily, over and over again.

Clearing her throat, Ginny lifts her glass for a deep drink she suddenly needs quite badly. On the far end of the table, Oscar has his head dipped low to listen to Al’s second daughter. When she finishes, they both laugh brightly, the sound briefly cutting through the noise of the party. Her stomach lurches. “Honestly, Mike. It’s contract stuff.”

“Oh.” Mike’s expression eases into a reassuring smile. “Don’t even worry about it. That’s nothing.”

“To you, Mr. San Diego,” retorts Ginny, rolling her eyes. “You’ve got a key to the city. When did you ever have to worry about contracts?”

“I usually didn’t. I had an agent for that.”

“Mmhmm,” she hums. “And Amelia’s handling it, which is why it’s dumb that I’m even freaking out.”

For a few seconds it looks like Mike won’t let it go, but he scans the table quickly before squeezing her forearm in a quick, comforting gesture that leaves a lingering spark all along her skin long after he moves his hand away. “Let me know if you want to talk about it,” he tells her in a quiet voice. “Okay?”

Ginny presses her mouth together in a not-quite-smile and nods. “Tell me about life on the outside,” she presses instead, desperate for something else to talk about.

He does. There’s his podcast and the blog he does with Jeter, unrestrained by the persona the networks wanted him to fill, the four month relationship he had with a philanthropist he met at a charity event. There’s a certain quietness about Mike now, like he’s not trying to prove himself anymore. Like he’s made peace with himself, and can finally be happy. It’s funny – Ginny doesn’t remember seeing him that way any other time.

Ginny’s tried to live life off the mound, but, even though she’s made peace with baseball being the center of her universe, she still doesn’t really know how. But if Mike Lawson can live happily without it, then maybe – maybe she can one day, too.

*

Mike hates golfing. Mostly, Ginny thinks he hates anything he doesn't instantly excel at. He still comes with her once a month, a holdover activity from that first off season, when Ginny finished rehabbing a strained elbow and Mike's ex-wife left him for the second time. For good.

So, they'd needed each other back then, and they still do now. Golfing is just the excuse they make to make sure neither of them ever get so bad off again.

“Is that contract stuff still eating you?” Mike asks on Tuesday, when they're on the third hole. They've covered the basic stuff worth catching up on, the stuff they missed during dinner: the Sanders twins Christmas lists and Evelyn's upcoming graduation in the spring, how Blip had confessed to Ginny that he was glad the season ended quickly enough for him to help her through midterms.

Ginny just hums, saving her answer for when she's finished lining up the ball. “Yeah, sort of.”

“You know,” Mike says, lining up his shot next with his feet all wrong. Ginny knows before he swings that it’s going to drive too far to the left. But he looks over his shoulder at her with his eyebrows pinched together thoughtfully and says, “If there’s anything I can do to help…”

“I'd let you know immediately, I promise.”

“Would you?”

Not if it might ruin what they have.

The idea that she's worried about losing Mike – even just this casually friendly thing they have – strikes Ginny like a bolt from the blue. She's left to wonder if she's had the wrong handle on this, the last few years of their relationship. That maybe she's not as over the intensity of her feelings as she thought. She'd fallen for Mike – the real one – because of that intensity, and not just because she was vulnerable. Ginny knows herself better now. It's not that simple for her to fall in love. She hasn't fallen in love with anyone since then.

“I don't know. Probably.”

Maybe Mike was acquiescing to her wishes back in 2016. Maybe Ginny didn't really want to never talk about it again. Maybe it doesn't matter anymore.

“You don't trust me?” Mike collects his things and gives her shoulder a bump with his. “Baker.”

Ginny bumps him back. “I trust you, Lawson. But like I said the other night, it's different for me than it was for you. Let me figure it out, okay?”

It's not lying, but it's not the most transparent she's ever been with him. Besides that, what would she hope to accomplish by laying it all out for him?

Mike looks momentarily troubled, like he wants to call her out on her obvious deflection, but he only looks back to the green ahead of them. “Well, then let's go see just how close to the moon I hit that ball.”

*

Wednesday morning, Amelia calls to ask if she’s free to go over a few things. Since Ginny has broken two punching bags in as many months, and because anything is better than stewing in her own head, she tells Amelia to come over as soon as she’s ready.

Amelia is all smiles when she steps off the elevator and into Ginny’s enormous apartment. She shifts her heavy, leather bag on her shoulder and heads straight for the living room while Ginny withdraws to make coffee.

“I had dinner at Al’s house on Sunday night,” she says cautiously when she sets down a cup of coffee – steaming, swirled with cream – on the table beside Amelia and paces behind her.

“Oh,” says Amelia with a note of bright surprise over the rim of her mug. “How was it? I was under the impression it was a normal thing you did.”

“It is.” Ginny shrugs and looks out her window absently. “I think Al knew the contracts were getting to me, thought.”

“Ginny.” Amelia sets aside her coffee, but Ginny holds up a hand to stop her. The last few years have changed everything about their relationship. Amelia can’t even really just say she’s a public relations professional for Ginny, and she’s not a Hollywood agent anymore. Over the last year and a half, Amelia obsessively taught herself everything about baseball, about the teams that might offer for Ginny. None of her other clients have needs like Ginny’s, but none of them have the kind of working relationship Ginny needs from Amelia, either. There had been no one to help her navigate scouts and GMs and the overwhelming bigness of the majors before, but Amelia’s trying her hardest to be the kind of agent who can do just that.

“I know you’ve got the contracts managed,” begins Ginny with a deep inhale. “And I trust you, but I need to be more involved in all this.”

Amelia sits up a little straighter, her fingers twitching toward the briefcase at her feet. Ginny knows that the team offers are kept in neatly organized file folders, color coded and organized in the order Amelia thinks they should be considered. She hasn’t brought them out in front of Ginny before, because she’s trying to play it casual to keep from overwhelming Ginny with the options before they’re settled.

“Are you sure about this, Ginny?”

“I didn’t pay any attention the first time,” she explains, sitting down next to Amelia at last and nudging the briefcase with her foot. “And you saw what happened. I didn’t know which way was up, or what I wanted.”

“Well, good,” says Amelia, reaching for the files in her bag. “Because the Padres sent over their offer this morning.”

“Is that the only one?”

“No, Ginny.” Amelia’s smile is indulgent when she lifts out the files, and suddenly Ginny realizes why she’s been in such a relaxed mood this morning.

Aside from the one from the Padres, there are four serious offers, and a fifth that Amelia thinks can be negotiated into a serious contender. “But I don’t think you want to play in Washington,” she says thoughtfully, dropping her pen on the stack of paper they’re currently considering and finishing her coffee.

“Their pitching staff is pretty deep,” Ginny observes, setting aside the paper in her hands and chewing at the corner of her lip. “Means I don’t have to carry the team.”

“A lot of pitchers cycle through,” Amelia says flatly. “They’re chasing the World Series. You’ll be in and out in a few years.”

“Noted,” says Ginny and closes Amelia’s neatly color-coded file on the Nationals. “What else?”

As Al predicted, Miami makes a competitive offer, which Ginny moves into a pile for serious consideration. She instantly drops the folder for the Padres on top of that without opening it, although Amelia makes a soft noise, like she thinks this is something they should discuss first. She sets the offer from Kansas City on top of the one from Washington, explaining that they’re both a maybe. Amelia picks up the folders for both and drops them in her bag.

“What are you doing?” Ginny frowns. “We still might–”

“If they’re only a maybe, it’s a no for you.”

Ginny sucks in a tight breath, tries to calm herself back down before she pulls the folder for Toronto in front of her, rests her palms on its closed cover.

“It’s a really good offer,” Amelia explains gently, looking between the folder and Ginny’s face. “Toronto would be a big change. You might not get to the World Series again for a while, but…”

“They’ll want to build a team around me,” says Ginny, worrying the inside of her mouth with her teeth. That’s the difference between this one and the other offers. Toronto’s a hard luck team, same as the Padres were for years before the 2017 season. “It would be a big change.”

“So would Miami,” Amelia reminds her, tucking her hair behind her ears and pulling out another file. “You have some draw in L.A., too. A local fanbase. You wouldn’t even have to sell your place or move, if you didn’t want to.”

Ginny swallows hard, looks down at the papers in her fingers, which are now clammy and a little damp with sweat. “I’m not worth this much.”

“You can go anywhere you want, demand as much money as you deserve, and they’ll be grateful that you picked them.” Amelia smiles at her in a way that Ginny has learned is genuinely warm. “You can afford to say no to them if they won’t make you a fair offer, and this is fair. The point is that you get to decide what you want.”

“This is a lot, Amelia.” Ginny shuffles the papers around, feeling like her head is going to split apart.

“You’re a World Series winning pitcher.” But Amelia accepts the cue and gathers everything up into the neat folders she leaves stacked on the corner of Ginny’s counter. “You have some time,” she assures her. “They’ll all understand if you need a day or two to think it over.”

“And you won’t throw out the other offers.” Ginny looks up at Amelia with a quavering frown. It isn’t a question.

“Not until every last detail is hammered out and set in stone when we’re done negotiating with the team you pick.” She beams at her. “I’m really happy for you, Ginny. And as soon as you have an idea where you want to go, let me know. There’s the legal stuff, and we’ll need to think how to hype it on social media.” Her eyes flicker across the folders with a satisfied little smile. “That should shut up the sports shows for a little while.”

So, Amelia’s been watching all the coverage, too.

“Toronto might be too cold for the paparazzi.”

“That’s a point in their favor,” Amelia says, sets her coffee cup in the sink. Her smile drops into a serious expression. “If you need to talk about this at all, call me anytime. You know the deal. Anything you need.”

Ginny leans against her couch, squeezes her hands against the beam across the back. “Mike said the same thing.”

The noise Amelia makes in response is half polite. Ginny knows she and Mike never really smoothed things over after they dated, even though it feels like it was forever ago and Amelia is engaged again.

“I can handle the contracts and announcements when you make up your mind, Ginny.” She surprises Ginny when she snaps her bag closed and diplomatically adds, “But when I think about your rookie season, how hard it was for you to adjust, I could never have helped you get to the place you are now.”

“Is that you telling me I should talk to Mike about the existential stuff?”

“In fifteen years playing for San Diego, he turned down dozens of offers for a lot more than the Padres paid him because he wanted to stay here,” Amelia says with the kind of gently blunted honesty that Ginny likes about her. “I don’t think it would hurt.”

*

Ginny paces around the living room for the better part of an hour after Amelia leaves, staring past the glare of the sun on the glass buildings around. It feels like she’s about to climb out of her skin. She wants a cup of coffee from the cafe a few blocks over to flirt with the cute barista who pretends he doesn’t know Ginny’s name whenever she comes in. She wants to go run until her legs turn to water and lift until her arms get noodly. She wants to knock apart another punching bag.

But she doesn’t summon up the courage to text Mike until later that afternoon, after she calls her mom and talks about nothing at all for thirty minutes. Mike’s been her rock for years now, the grizzled veteran who got her acclimated to the show, her best friend – so why is it so hard to ask him to do more of the same thing he’s been doing since they met for the first time?

Ginny doesn't like the only answer she can come up with.

Amelia brought the contracts today, she taps into her phone, deleting and retyping the same five words at least three times before she sends them.

Mike answers immediately, almost as if he was waiting for her. So, you want to talk about them?

honestly? no.

Too bad, Baker. Then, seconds later. I’ll be over around 8. Mike turns up about twenty minutes earlier than that, while Ginny is still in her cross-trainers and workout pants. She tried to run out her anxiety, but now she just feels amped up and sweaty.

“You’re early,” she greets brightly, pulling her hair back into a ponytail while holding the door open for him.

“You smell like a dirty locker,” he says artlessly, peeling off his jacket and hanging it up himself.

“Want a beer?”

“The usual.”

“You know where they are,” she laughs, disappearing back into her room to change.

When she reemerges, Mike is scowling at the disordered pages laid out on the dark wood of her dining room table. He mumbles under his breath while she opens a beer for herself, occasionally asking pointed questions about things only Amelia would really know, and scribbles on the back of a receipt from his wallet. After a long time, he drops his pen and leans back in his chair, rubbing his hand through his beard.

“Well?” she says, half-expecting him to make the decision for her and call the play. Single finger for her to stay in San Diego, four to leave for Toronto.

“They’re good offers,” says Mike, sounding sincerely impressed when he looks over the table at her. Something’s missing, though. Ginny sees it immediately, the way he’s closing up on her. Whatever it is, when Mike has an inconvenient emotion, he’s either an asshole or all business about it.

“The Dodgers are offering twenty-eight mil over the next four years with an option year for an additional nine, which they’ll take. Standard stuff for someone of your caliber. You could probably negotiate a higher signing bonus because you’re you.”

Her mouth twitches with disbelief: “I know they’re good offers, Mike.”

“Don’t go to L.A.” Apparently, Mike is going for both asshole and business.

“Okay.” Ginny draws out the syllable. This wasn’t the kind of help she had in mind and, by the way he’s looking at her, it isn’t going the way Mike thought it would, either.

“Their new pitching coach is a piece of shit,” he insists with a grim shake of his head, leaning forward onto his elbows the way he used to when he was reviewing hitters with her. “That’s not hyperbole, by the way. He’s a miserable person to be around and he thinks pitch counts are a fantasy. You’ll end up blowing up your arm before you ever get to that option year, and that’s your best case scenario.”

“Wow.” Ginny presses her lips together and stares at the discordant mess he’s left of her contracts. “Uh. All right, so we’ll make L.A. a maybe.”

“Miami isn’t ready for you to play in their clubhouse, either,” he adds, his tone edging closer toward petulance.

“Uh, so which one of these stellar offers should I take, then?”

Mike doesn’t say anything by way of answer, just staring back at Ginny with an expression she’s surprised to find she doesn’t know how to read. Maybe it turns out they don’t know everything about each other. The idea sits badly with Ginny, makes her heart thump uncomfortably inside the cage of her chest.

After a long time, he reaches out with one hand for a sheaf of paper from the middle of the stack, which he holds up to her with that intense expression of his. Her stomach turns again, but Ginny frowns, trying to make out the text before she realizes which one he’s holding.

“Toronto?” Ginny scrapes her chair back and walks to him numbly. Mike hands off the paper to her when she reaches for it, crosses his arms and watches her lean her hip against the table next to him.

It’s the longest contract she’s been offered: six years, forty-eight million. It’s not the most money, but it’s a sure thing. Ginny swallows a knot of tension when she tries to imagine her life six years from now. Six years before, she was twenty years old and working in a coffee shop to make ends meet on her minor league salary in the off-season. Six years from now, she’ll be a veteran player edging into her mid-thirties. The difference between the two versions of herself are like an ocean, and there’s just her in the middle.

“I think this is the one Amelia likes, too,” Ginny says, almost absently.

Mike nods curtly at the paper, as if agreeing with her, but everything about his body language is closed off now. There isn’t a single emotion in his voice when he says, “That’s the best one you’ve got. Ask for a bonus on that option year, though.”

Ginny stares at the paper without actually seeing any of it. Some part of her expected Mike to tell her to stay in San Diego. It’s exactly the same size and shape as the part of her heart that she locked up the day they agreed to never talk about their almost-kiss and whatever it meant. The same piece she thought was long-forgotten, discarded and unimportant. And here she is, yearning for him to tell her to do something that she isn’t even sure she wanted until this moment.

“Mike.”

“What?” He looks over her hands at the paper with a pinched expression. “You asked me what I thought.”

“This isn’t what I need help with. I’ve been in the majors for less than three seasons, Mike. I don’t know–”

“You don’t know what? Baker, you’re–”

“I don’t know what I want with my life,” she blurts at last. “And I thought you might.”

“You thought I might know what you want with your life?” Mike echoes her in a maddeningly slow voice, his eyebrows knitted together. No, Ginny doesn’t like this part of Mike that she doesn’t know. She doesn’t like not knowing what it is she’s feeling, either.

“I thought you might help me figure it out, at least. The money is good, the team is ready for it, but that's… that's not all I have to think about, you know?”

“What else is there, Baker?” Mike lifts his chin defiantly, but then he sets down his nearly-untouched beer and pushes away from the table.

“I don’t know,” she sputters, setting aside the contracts. Everything needs to slow down. It feels like she’s losing her mind, like something’s just happened and she doesn’t know what. A shift she can’t see from the mound. A walk-off hit against a perfect pitch. “I just thought you might know how to decide what to do. That you know what it is I’m missing. Isn’t that how you got through…”

“Two bad knees and a divorce?”

“An eighteen year career, a World Series, and a guaranteed first ballot spot into the Hall of Fame is more what I was thinking.” Ginny starts around the table toward him, but Mike’s on his feet and retreating before she can make it more than a few steps.

“Ginny,” Mike begins patiently, then corrects: “Baker. It doesn’t matter. That stuff is just luck. That’s all.”

“It can’t be like that.” Ginny isn’t even fully aware that she’s said it out loud until she sees a pitying twist to Mike’s mouth before he stifles it again. “I just, what? Pick the best contract and see what happens? That’s the advice you’re giving me, Mr. Padres?”

“Yeah,” says Mike, rubbing his hands through his beard and on through his hair. “You can’t just plan the perfect career. Injuries happen. Life happens. You don't get to choose that.”

“I guess not,” says Ginny, but she's pretty sure they aren't talking about the contacts anymore. After a long, long time, she just looks back down at the page. This wasn't as helpful as she thought it would be.

“Thanks, Mike.”

“Let me know what you decide?”

He stands up, obvious regret stifling the movement. Maybe she wasn't all that wrong yesterday. Maybe there is something unfinished between them, and maybe Mike regrets it at least as much as Ginny suddenly knows that she does.

“Of course I will.” Ginny hears herself from somewhere far away, watches Mike collect his things and leave without really experiencing it. She goes through the motions, says what she always says, standing hollowly in the entry of her apartment.

“I’m really happy for you,” says Mike before he leaves, in that way he does when he needs to pretend things are okay. His hand lingers, outstretched toward her before he withdraws it into his pocket, taking a step back in a way that doesn’t feel like he’s really moving away from her at all. He adds, “I just wanted to say that before you go,” and it feels like a hard swing at the bottom of the ninth, third strike, last out.

*

Ginny spends the next couple of days rudderless. Her mother texts her about the Christmas cruise she’s taking, asks her to check on Will while she’s gone, which is code for something that Ginny doesn’t know. Janet doesn’t ask about the contracts, or even where Ginny might be moving to in a few months, even though there’s no way she doesn’t know about it.

Amelia checks in on her only once, preferring to give Ginny the space she needs to think and trusting that Ginny will reach out when she needs. Ginny tells her to start negotiating with Toronto, even if her heart isn’t in it. Her finals over, Evelyn starts blowing up Ginny’s phone with a combination of serious acknowledgements of the contract anxiety, and Pinterest ideas for the Sanders’ upcoming Christmas Eve party.

Mike doesn’t reach out at all.

So, Ginny does the next best thing she can think of: she calls Blip and asks him to get a drink.

“So, what’s going on?” Blip asks when they’re sitting at the bar of his favorite Mexican restaurant. He spins around in the bar stool a quarter of a turn, until he’s only partly facing her and keeping one eye on the Rams game on the TV in the corner.

“How do you know I don’t just want to talk to someone?” Ginny pulls at one wild curl that’s sprung free of her ponytail, twists it around her fingertip.

Blip frowns at her the way he does when he catches one of his boys in a lie. “If you just wanted to talk to somebody, you would have called Evelyn,” he says, nodding at the bartender when she drops a beer in front of him, eyes Ginny curiously until she orders a margarita. “So, it’s something else. You made a decision about the contracts?”

Ginny rubs her fingers over her mouth, wanting to be less transparent about this to everyone around her. About everything. “Yeah,” she says at last. “I did.”

At least, she’s decided on the surface what should be her answer, based on the advice she’s gotten from all the people who she trusts most. But even then, Ginny isn’t sure about it. Toronto might be the best choice, but it doesn’t feel right.

“That’s good news, then.” Blip is being deliberately serious, like she’s a nervous animal he doesn’t want to frighten by reacting too strongly. He smiles encouragingly, cuffs her on the shoulder with one hand. “It is, Ginny. Where are you going?”

“Toronto,” Ginny answers, continuing to worry one curl furiously between her fingers, the hair frizzing the more she does. “I think. I didn’t want to–”

“–leave without saying goodbye? You’re damn right you won’t.” Blip turns back toward the bar, looking up at the game flickering on the screens above them. “I’m not going to say I won’t miss you on the team, because I will. But this is going to be good for you.”

“I’ll still be around,” Ginny stammers out, stopping herself short of saying she’s still going to live in San Diego, because she’s not sure that’s true. She’s not sure she wants to live in San Diego, after all. Not if she’s not playing here. How would it feel to call it home without it actually being home? “I’d miss the boys too much to stay away.”

“It’s a shame Toronto’s AL. We’ll never get to play each other.” Blip grins at her, elbows her in the side until Ginny totters over the side of her bar stool.

“Oh, whatever,” she says with a spectacular eye roll. Her heart thumps uncomfortably somewhere deep in the pit of her stomach. “I’ll ruin your batting average.”

“I know all your tricks,” he counters, elbows her again. “I’ll ruin your ERA.”

Her laugh breaks loud and bright over the murmuring din of the bar, fades out slowly until Ginny is left staring at the salt rim on her glass.

“It’s something else, isn’t it?”

“Everyone else makes it look easy,” Ginny admits at last. “Like they know what they want to do, and then it all works out. You and Evelyn–”

“Me and Evelyn have not been one-hundred percent on the same page all the time, as you well know.”

“So, how do you do it?” Ginny bites down on her lip, worrying at the tender edge of it until she’s sure she’s going to make it bleed. “Decide what’s important.”

“We have kids, Ginny,” says Blip in that soft voice of his, like he feels a little sorry for her. “That’s how we decide. What’s going to be best for them? I want to be paid what I’m worth, but nineteen mil in two years? Twenty-one mil? After you make a few million every year, there’s not a huge difference between them.”

He doesn’t say anything while Ginny sips her margarita, staring out the window with a fair approximation of utter misery.

Blip clears his throat at last, pressing his lips together as if he wants to decide if he really wants to say what is about to come out of his mouth. “Is that something you want? Married with kids, balancing that with your career?”

“No,” Ginny says and immediately knows it’s a lie. She clears her throat. “Actually – just – I learned a long time ago that wanting to do something and getting it are totally different things in baseball. I don’t even know how I’d do that, to be honest, Blip.”

“Well,” says Blip with a laugh. “That’s just a defensive shift, Ginny.”

The rest of the evening is smooth. Blip complains about the case of expensive champagne Evelyn ordered for Christmas, then talks up his plans to take her to Paris in the next offseason, after she’s finished school. But Ginny keeps returning to Blip’s earlier question, thinking about getting married, having kids and the kind of life her mother longed for.

And Mike, slotting himself into that other half of that vision.

Jesus, thinks Ginny, stopping herself abruptly. Janet and Bill Baker couldn’t make it work, and her father was retired from the minors, not a major league pitcher entering his prime. She knows so few people who can make this work, and exactly none of them have her particular set of issues to worry about.

Ginny looks at her mostly untouched margarita and jabs at the ice with her spoon. She wonders if Mike ever told Blip about the almost-kiss in 2016. Evelyn knows, and Ginny knows she and Blip talk about everything, so Ginny just always assumed Blip had chosen to butt out. Obviously, since he didn’t immediately murder Mike out of some misplaced protective instinct.

So, she says nothing at all, but she spends the rest of the evening trying to drive away a parade of fantasies. Ginny imagines the mundane details of a potential life in every city that’s offered her a reasonable contract, but in every one there’s the persisting image of Mike beside her in Toronto, Miami, San Diego.

*

It’s not even half-past seven when Ginny’s phone beeps the next morning, alerting her to an incoming text message, and then another. Ginny doesn’t mind getting early messages – she’s been getting up early for practice since middle school and didn’t even give up the habit when her father died. The offseason is an opportunity to prepare for the coming season, even now, and she’s already back from the gym this morning. She flips on her coffee maker and checks her phone, kicking herself for the stab of disappointment when it isn’t Mike. It’s just another message from her mom, and Evelyn with a party question.

She scrolls through her contact list for a long time, wishing she could talk to someone about Mike. Or just talk to Mike about Mike. Instead, she calls Amelia about any updates from Toronto.

“You’re a mess, Baker,” she tells her reflection after Amelia doesn’t answer, folding her hands over her stomach and trying to get comfortable, even though she’s never found an ounce of comfort in just sitting still.

Ginny leaves her phone in her apartment and goes back to the gym, running through her whole workout sequence again. She takes a blistering shower and blasts music from her living room. By the time she finally picks up her phone again from the couch, there isn’t anything from Mike, but there is a missed call from Amelia and another from an unfamiliar number. Only Amelia left a message, to tell her that she’s only started the conversations with Toronto, to keep a low profile while it’s in the works.

Well, that’s something Ginny can do.

Ginny mills around her living room for a long time after that, absently moving things around. Deciding how she’ll organize the move, how long before she has Amelia sell this place so she can find something better in Toronto, or whatever. Someone else will pack everything up for her, but there are some things she doesn’t want anyone else to touch. The game ball from her no-no. The glove her father gave her before he died. A black dress shoved in the corner of her closet.

And she tries not to think about Mike too much. Ginny passes the day like she has every other day since the end of the season. She calls Amelia again and tells her to probe the other teams and tries not to answer too fast when Amelia asks if that includes San Diego. She doesn’t want to think too hard about what her reasons are for it, except that it’s all she can think about. Maybe she wants to have a career in San Diego, or she just likes her apartment in the Gaslamp Quarter, or it’s really the best place for her career. Maybe change frightens her.

That night, she puts on a horror flick and lays out on the couch, barely paying attention to the dark screen and jerky camera angles. She grabs her phone and opens a blank message to Mike, hesitates a second, then types quickly: do you have a few?

Then she just flicks from app to app on her phone, unable to focus on anything. She glimpses a headline while scrolling through the news: Has the sugar high passed on Ginsanity? She watches a cheesy holiday commercial, reads half an article about trade news, plays a half-hearted round of a bright, colorful app game. Nothing is wrong, really. It’s only that she can’t focus, only that she’s so amped up that she feels like she’s going to vibrate out of her body.

When her phone buzzes next to her, half a second before it rings, Ginny almost leaps out of her skin, but it’s actually an enormous relief. For a full second, she forgets to be nervous that it’s Mike and answers brightly, and hopes he can’t tell that her heart is racing.

“I, uh,” Mike begins, so awkwardly that Ginny can hear him scratching a hand through his beard to shake off his nerves. “I thought this would be easier than texting.”

“Your arthritic limbs needed a break from typing?” she teases, shakily lowering herself down onto the cushions of the couch again, her whole body trembling with the sudden rush of adrenaline. Playing it casual is apparently the game, it’s just that Ginny decided that before she knew she would.

“I don’t type with my knees,” Mike grumbles at her, and the sound he makes is long and satisfied. A long sigh at the end of the day. Ginny’s heard it a hundred times before now.

Inappropriately, Ginny wonders if he’s in bed, or if he’s on his couch, like she is. She never asked him things like that before, not for that entire summer they talked every night, even if they spent the entire day together. She bites at her lower lip, worrying the slightly chapped edge with her tongue.

“I should…” Ginny begins, sucks in a soft breath and starts over. “I actually appreciate your help the other night.”

“Sorry it got weird at the end.” There’s a noise on the other end of the line, Mike moving around to get more comfortable. “I’d blame the aches in my joints, but–”

“It’s all right,” Ginny rushes out. Well, it’s not entirely all right, and it’s not like anything has been resolved, but Ginny needs this, needs Mike to be her friend, if he’s not anything else. “I really needed the help.”

Mike is quiet on the other end for a few seconds, and then he asks: “Is it official?”

“No.” Ginny says with a sharp little laugh, feeling her heart skip in her chest. “I said I’d tell you, right? No, Amelia’s still working on it.”

“She going to make you do the press conference thing?”

If Mike is trying to make this less weird, he isn’t doing a very good job. Ginny doesn’t want to talk about whether or not she’s going to answer questions from the local and national press. She doesn’t even want to talk about whether she’s going to Toronto. She wants to know if this is some weird self-sabotage thing, dredging up old feelings because she’s afraid of change. She wants to know if Mike feels the same way.

The surge of things she wants, wants to know, overcomes her. From the same distance as earlier that week, she says, “Can I ask you something?”

And Mike just doesn’t answer. The line is so quiet that Ginny would think that he’s hung up, but he hasn’t. The exhale she hears next is long and broken, like he’s been holding his breath. It’s an uncharacteristic tell for someone who made a career of never telegraphing his signals.

“Yeah,” he says at last, and Ginny doesn’t need to see his face: she knows that Mike knows what she needs to know, and she knows that he needs to know, too. Why else would he have called now?

“Why didn’t we ever talk about that night I almost kissed you?”

“Why?” Mike’s laugh is forced, on just this side of hysterical. “Maybe because you told me we were never talking about it, Ginny?”

“Yeah, and I’m glad you respect my boundaries, but–”

But what, Baker?

Ginny wipes her fingers over her mouth, feeling like she’s just inhaled a mouthful of dust from one of the poorly maintained fields she played on as a kid. She doesn’t know how to talk about this. It’s not like anyone in her family ever modeled good communication skills. Her best reference point for a functional relationship is Blip and Evelyn, maybe Livan’s steadfast devotion to Isabella or Al’s quiet grief for his dead wife.

“I’m coming over,” Mike announces in his captain’s voice. The display on her phone flashes, the call disconnected.

There’s a text from Amelia when she looks down at it: Got an affirmative for the bonus from the Blue Jays. Oscar waiting for okay from ownership to amend offer.

For the first time in almost two months, Ginny doesn’t care about contracts. She sends a quick affirmative to Amelia and turns off her phone. By the time she gets the buzz from the concierge, Ginny doesn’t even know why Mike wanted to come over. What does he think he could accomplish face-to-face that they can’t talk about on the phone, with the safety of some thirty miles between them?

She feels amped up when she opens the door for Mike, locking it behind him and holding onto the doorknob like a lifeline. “I was just wondering. You didn’t need to come over.” Ginny sounds pathetically insincere, even to her own ears.

The night Mike almost left San Diego, Ginny had thought there might not be anything to lose if she let herself have what she wanted. There had been months of tension building between her and Mike, between little moments in the clubhouse and long nights talking on the phone before they went to bed. It was like a runaway truck, the only way to stop it was to switch course and throw up a roadblock. After enough time, Ginny had been able to convince herself that they’d only gotten carried away, that all they’d ever been was good friends. That it was the sort of thing that just happened when two people who were reasonably attracted to one another were thrown together for long hours.

Mike’s voice drops, barely loud enough for her to hear without straining. “Ginny,” he says, and it’s the use of her first name that seems overly intimate all of a sudden, even though they’ve been using first names off and on for years now.

Oh.

Mike may be afraid to move, afraid to be the one to pull back that thin veil to expose what’s been simmering below monthly games of golf and weekly dinners and nightly calls, but Ginny suddenly isn’t. The long fingers of her free hand curl around the hair on the back of his neck before she can think anything else but that, the thundering revelation of why Mike is here now.

She might only be passingly aware of the motion of the room around her, but Ginny does feel the hardwood of her door against her back, the door knob clutched in one hand in an awkward position, and Mike’s hands holding her shoulders with desperate urgency. Immediately after the almost-kiss, Ginny wondered what it might have been like, but actually doing it – frenzied and pressed up against her door, close enough to feel the heat radiating off Mike – is the sort of thing she’d barely have been able to imagine as a teenager.

His mouth follows the seam of hers, waiting for her to answer. When Ginny muffles a soft, encouraging moan into his mouth, one hand collapses from her shoulder to her hip and pulls her closer with a firm grip. Where they'd been tentative and the first time, Ginny is decisive and Mike encouraging.

“My room,” Ginny whimpers, her pulse racing so loud her voice sounds distorted. “Down the hall.”

“I know.” He knows. He's thought about this, doing this with her. He knows where her room is.

“Okay.” Ginny takes him by the hand and leads him there. She doesn't know if this is a good idea or not. She's probably leaving San Diego, and then what? They're just a one night fling with no future. Or not. All she knows is that she wants this and whatever will happen with it while she can have it.

She starts to undress with haste, but Mike slows her down, lifting her oversized hoodie over her head and kissing her when she emerges from its depths. Ginny pushes the waistband of her leggings away, wriggling away to pull them off. When she straightens, Mike is staring after her with his buckle in his hands, the red fabric of his boxers just visible. Ginny peers up at him, wide eyed and wanting, then bursts into nervous laughter at the thunderstruck expression on his face.

“Fuck,” says Mike.

“That's the idea,” she laughs, reaching for him and drawing him onto the bed with her. The clatter of his jeans hitting the floor is lost entirely when her laugh turns back to a long moan. The clasp of her bra comes loose under Mike's hand, going slack around her shoulders and into his hands. Mike drops a kiss on her collarbone, teeth grazing at the bone with a sparking sensation that warms Ginny through to her core.

“I need you to tell me you want this.”

“Mike,” breathes Ginny, “I don't know how much clearer I can be.”

The next few seconds extend to eternity, Mike sliding her underwear down past her knees, bending to kiss the smooth, sensitive skin of her inner thighs, all the way to her core. Ginny sucks in a sharp breath, scratching trimmed nails over his hair. But Mike doesn't stop there, drawing his mouth over her stomach, hands grasping her hips when Ginny bucks underneath him.

“Mike,” she begins in a hoarse whisper, then again, and again, until Ginny stuffs the heel of her hand in her mouth to stifle the noise. “Please, I don't want to wait. I want you.”

That's enough.

Mike leans over the side of the bed to fumble with his jeans, pulling a condom from one of the pockets and holding it up for her. Ginny nods, beckons him back to her urgently, and watches him tear open the foil packet, slide it down his length, and move back over her, hesitating when the head of his cock nudges against her entrance. They pause, too aware of the gravity of what they’re doing, in ways that Ginny knows neither of them were before. There's no way to come back from this. If there's any doubt. Maybe it’s better it’s taken this long, if only so they’d know what they were gambling by giving in to each other.

Then, Ginny rolls her body upward and feels Mike’s whole body shudder when he finally slides home with a strangled whimper.

“Mike,” she whimpers, shifting her hips up against him. He isn’t moving, except for the fingers that push aside her hair, and it’s torturous to be so full of him and to have no relief at all from it. Ginny twists, grabbing at his shoulders. His skin is blistering under her fingertips. Every part of him feels like it’s burning, like he’ll set her on fire. “Mike, please.”

“Hey, Baker.” His hand slides under her hip, squeezes her ass when he lifts her hips underneath him, sinking deeper. Mike shivers at the bite of her fingernails curling into his shoulders and pants, “Look at me.”

Ginny’s eyelashes flutter a dark veil over her vision, but she does. Mike’s expression is serious and he’s looking directly at her. There’s no choosing her words carefully. Not a glove to talk behind. Just them, as vulnerable to the other as they can be. One hand combs into her hair, moves the curls aside with a tender brush of his knuckles on her cheek. Ginny's heart stops, restarts, and buckles under the shock of his raw affection.

She tries not to think of anything but how good, how much she feels; how full she is, how sore she’s going to be. She wants to crack a joke. For a full second, she wants this to be lust and nothing more than the culmination of all the tension building over the years. Anything more – that maybe it’s not just anxiety or a self-destructive impulse, but the real deal – would be too much.

Still, she wonders how long Mike’s been watching her with this same adoration without her noticing what it meant. Ginny wonders how long she’s done the same. But Mike doesn’t say anything at all, and it’s still there, unmistakeable and real, big and more than a little frightening.

“Hey,” she says at last, a nervous grin wavering on her mouth. “I'm not scared.”

It seems to be the right thing to say. Mike presses his face into her shoulder and begins to move like he's savoring this. “Good,” he murmurs into her ear, then repeats it again, his fingers shaking, his voice breaking, his control obviously slipping.

And then everything comes together like it was always supposed to be this way.

After the last glow fades away, when Mike rests his head in the curve of her arm, staring at her in the dark like he can hardly believe she's real, Ginny examines his fingers carefully.

“I really did wonder why we never talked about it.”

Mike frowns, like he's still anxious about doing this. Having this conversation.

Ginny presses on, because this is it. There's no going back. She doesn't want to go back. “I always thought if you meant it, we’d talk about it again. Then you and Rachel got back together, and you retired, and–”

“And you thought I forgot.”

“I thought we might have gotten carried away.”

“I did get carried away,” Mike admits, staring up at her ceiling, the pads of his fingers gently massaging circles into Ginny’s scalp. “You came here to play baseball, and there was Mike Lawson, mooning over you. I thought I could ruin your whole career if I wasn’t careful.”

“How would kissing you have ruined my career?”

“You mean, how would having that image blasted on the cover of every tabloid in the world have ruined your career?”

Ginny raises one eyebrow at him. “More than a few nude photos?”

“No, seriously,” Mike presses her urgently, even while Ginny curled closer into the heat radiating off his body. “No one would have ever talked about your ERA again, or your cutter, or how hard you work, or the legendarily beautiful game you pitched in the World Series.” Mike’s hand twitches, as if reflexively recalling the distress the thought gave him. “I couldn’t make your career about me.”

She peers up at his face, her fingers following a hard line on his side, rippling her fingers along each of his ribs. “How would it be any different now?”

Mike doesn’t answer, but he does gather her closer to him. “I don’t know if it wouldn’t be,” he confesses at last. “But I tried forgetting about it and I tried moving on, because I thought that’s what you wanted me to do.”

“But if I don’t want you to forget about this?”

“Then I don’t think I’m ever getting over you, Baker.”

Ginny dips her head down to kiss him, long and slow, in the way she wanted to kiss him three years ago. “No pressure, or anything,” she mumbles into his mouth, remembering Amelia’s message from earlier, the one she ignored.

“No pressure,” he agrees, pulling her closer. “Good night, Ginny.”

*

After her alarm goes off shortly before six, Ginny slips out of bed and into a clean pair of sweats, surprised to find that she’s more than a little bit saddlesore. Mike barely moves when she does, but he’s retired now and out of the habit of waking up before dawn. He rolls toward the edge of the bed and cracks one eye at her.

“I’m going to get coffee,” Ginny tells him, pulling her Vans on with a shy grin.

“If you’re not a dream, make sure you get hemp milk in mine.”

“Gross,” she laughs, feeling like at least the ice is broken, like maybe this is just the natural continuation of their friendship. Not even a conclusion, just the next thing.

The rest of the morning feels just like a dozen others, except that Mike is just wearing his shorts and the t-shirt he’d worn over the night before. Ginny checks her phone, but there’s no word from Amelia, or even Oscar, who she expected to call her first.

“Hey,” Mike says, catching her hand when she does it for the fourth or fifth time, while he’s pulling on his jacket at the door. “Don’t worry about it.”

Ginny kisses him quickly, feeling suddenly and irrationally vulnerable, like the night before will stop existing the moment Mike leaves. “Will you be at Blip and Evelyn’s party tomorrow?”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Mike promises, the last thing he says before the door closes behind him.

When he’s gone, the first thing Ginny does is call Amelia.

*

Evelyn picked out Ginny’s dress for her party weeks ago, when they went shopping together during her fall break. A tight, sparkling red number with a black leather moto jacket, Ginny hadn’t thought much about it before, but she’s grateful to have it now.

In the past twenty-four hours, she’s been on the phone with Amelia at least ten times, with two separate GMs and their managers, and a pitching coach. She hasn’t had time to think about party dresses, or even what she’s doing with her hair, even though there’s no doubt that pictures of her tonight will surface and fuel speculation about what moves she’s making next. And after all that, it’s just Amelia standing in Ginny’s kitchen with a sheaf of papers in one hand.

“You’re sure about this, right, Ginny?” she asks, reaching over to adjust Ginny’s earring where it’s tangled in her hair.

“No,” Ginny answers honestly. “But I don’t think I’ll ever know more than now. And if it doesn’t work out, we’ll do something different in six years.” She scans the paper in front of her before signing it with no flourish at all, feeling only the absence of the lightheaded anxiety that’s haunted her for months.

Amelia takes back the file from her and examines her dress with the critical eye of a woman who used to dress celebrities for the red carpet. “You look amazing. Go celebrate tonight.”

Her driver is a good-natured old man who tells her about his children for the whole drive to the Sanders’ house, which comes as a relief to Ginny. She resolves to find Mike as soon as she gets there, but when her jacket is hung up and she spots him in the living room, even that steadfast determination seems to dissolve into nerves. Ginny might have made the biggest mistake in her life, or she might have made it possible for her to be happy. She’s afraid to find out which it is.

Mike gets to Ginny first, taking full advantage of the way people give him the space they think he needs. Holding out a glass of something brightly colored and distinctly punch-like to Ginny, he complains, “Jesus, it’s crowded in here.”

Ginny lifts the glass in thanks and drinks deeply. It’s strong and tart and smells sort of like Christmas, and she needs it urgently. “Evelyn knows how to throw a party.” There’s an elaborate sushi display next to the bar, a star-studded selection of people laughing between trays of tiny food. She tucks back into the drink, looking directly at Mike over the rim of her glass. He looks back, undaunted.

“We could move outside if it’s that bad,” she offers, wanting to reclaim some of the intimate privacy they’d had the morning before. It feels like it’s been so much longer than that.

“Ryan Gosling is right over there,” Mike points out with his beer when he starts toward the door, an unguarded smile obvious under his beard, like he’s pleased with himself that Ginny is already opening the door and leading him out.

“Ryan Gosling didn’t bring me a drink,” Ginny says, leaning against the stone and ironwork rail surrounding the veranda. It’s a beautiful night in San Diego, a cool wind coming up off the coast. It smells like the wide, open ocean. It smells like there’ll be cool rain in the morning, sun in the afternoon. It smells like home.

Ginny drinks half the punch in her glass, turning the sweet-tart drink over her tongue, savoring the bubbles against her teeth. She feels reckless, ever since Amelia left her apartment. Her whole future teeters ahead of her. And Mike, too.

“Are you in love with me?” she asks.

“That's the sort of question you ask in the final scene of the movie,” says Mike, leaning against the railing next to her. He laughs roughly, looking anywhere but at Ginny. “Sweeping gestures, confession of love. A dramatic kiss, roll the credits.”

“So, you're saying you are,” Ginny concludes breezily, like the answer doesn't make her heart pound in her chest.

“You haven't told me you're planning to stay in San Diego for me, or begged me to move to Canada with you.” His eyes betray him, though, looking down at her like she's holding his beating heart in both her hands. Like he wants her to do just that, one or the other, or both. Then he lifts the bottle back to his smiling mouth. “Canada’s fucking cold.”

“I said that you’d know as soon as it’s final,” Ginny explains, but he knows what she’s done. She doesn’t want him to think it’s because of him, but – what if it were, a little bit? “Anyway, you didn’t answer.”

“Yes,” Mike answers immediately. “Aren’t you?”

Still, she tries to dampen her grin. “Really?” At the skeptical look Ginny delivers from where she's limp against the edge of the balcony, he grins.

“Since the second day I knew you. We had a rough start that first day.”

“You were a huge asshole,” she says, her dimples peeping on her cheeks. Her heart beats hard against her ribs, like she’s just run through her morning workout three times in a row at double speed.

Mike clinks his bottle to her glass and shrugs. “You wanted the truth. There it is.”

Ginny wants to blame the champagne punch for the reckless urge to reach for him, but it’s just the same feeling as before: a warm, lingering affection for him that’s aged into something else. Something better. For the first time she can remember since she started playing baseball, Ginny knows what she wants.

“Come here,” she commands, taking his bottle from him and setting it aside. Mike obeys, looking down at her with one arm raised, halfway to reaching for her cheek. The other hand hovers half an inch from her hip, close enough that his thumb grazes her lower back where it curves downward.

He says, “We shouldn’t do this here,” and Ginny hates that he’s right. The party feels a hundred miles away, like no one should be able to see them, but she knows better. A stray picture on a back-up somewhere can cause a lot of grief for her. For both of them before they’re ready for it.

“Blip will kill us if we ghost on his party,” she offers, not moving an inch.

“You want to have a whole conversation with Blip Sanders about taking me home with you?”

Something about the way he says it is like a live wire, either the gravely quality Mike’s voice assumes, or that it’s Ginny taking him home this time, or that there’s no question anymore about how it won’t be the last time. There doesn’t need to be.

“He’ll figure it out,” she says at last. Ginny sets her glass on the same brick that Mike leaves his beer bottle, slips her hand into his and grins up at him.

“Where do you want to go, Baker?” asks Mike, like he’s asking about more than tonight. His forefinger traces a shape on the inside of her wrist, like a pitch call.

Ginny nods, squeezes his hand encouragingly, and he follows when she says: “Home, Lawson. I want to go home.”