The thing that surprises Mike most when he gets the invitation isn’t that he got one at all, but how Rachel got his new address.
He’d kept the move quiet; well, as quiet as you can be when you’re the subject of every sports news show. But “Mike Lawson Traded to Chicago” doesn’t come with public details of his sublet. Hell, Blip had to beat it out of him, and even he was just a proxy for Evelyn.
(“She’s insane about Christmas cards, man.”)
Just the paper feels expensive, cream cardstock with gold calligraphy, and an RSVP card asking if Michael Lawson will be attending Rachel Patrick’s wedding, plus one.
A few dozen therapists up and down San Diego once told him that it takes two to break up a marriage, though Mike always figured that second person was the bartender she went home with while he was busy losing a series to Atlanta.
But this invitation and everything it represents is classic Rachel. Either he doesn’t go and she sleeps well at night knowing she tried, or he goes and watches her walk down the aisle, nailing his heart closed with every step.
He has half a mind to burn it, watch the paper crumple in the dual-sided fireplace that his realtor assured him “you’ll just love, California boy.” He could use it as a coaster. He could make a fucking paper boat and let it sail free across Lake Michigan.
Instead, he texts a picture of it to a number he hasn’t touched in months.
How do I respond?
A few minutes later--because tendon injuries slow down your texting hand--he gets a reply: her middle finger poking out from her cast.
He laughs, hard, and it rings out in his apartment.
“When is it?” Ginny asks. He keeps forgetting about time zones, and it’s early in California, even for her.
“October. Not that it matters. She sent it because she knew I wouldn’t go.”
“All the more reason to go, right?”
Mike leans his arm against the window in his living room, looking down at the city.
She huffs a laugh like duh.
“I’ve seen you in a tux, Lawson. Make her regret inviting you.”
“You’ve seen me in a suit.”
“I have a good imagination.”
He’s not going.
There’s absolutely no way he’s going, even as he checks flights and does some game math and maybe he could swing it if he plays Friday and leaves that night--
But it doesn’t matter, because he’s not going.
It’d be easier with someone.
He’s indulged in his fair share of self-destructive tendencies, but going to his ex wife’s wedding alone seems like a particular brand of cruel.
(This coming from the guy who willingly signed to a team that gets weather with a negative sign in front of it.)
He thinks of Amelia, has a text poised and ready, and then deletes it. She’d say no, and she’d be right.
He thinks of Ginny and that night at the bar. It’s exhausting, the weeks he’s spent not thinking about how her curls grazed his forehead, her breath hot and sweet on his mouth. How hard he’d tried to hold on to her, how he still let her go.
He texts her.
What are you doing October 8th?
When she doesn’t respond, Mike thinks he’s done it, that this was the step too far. But his phone buzzes a few hours later.
Bailing you out, I’m guessing.
When his plane touches down in San Diego, it hurts to look.
It’s just that everything is brighter than he remembered.
When he picks her up, it’s from Blip and Evelyn’s, and he’s one corsage away from this whole stupid thing feeling a little like prom.
Ginny looks...she’s so beautiful it makes his heart hurt, but that’s not exactly breaking news anymore. Orange satin sings from her skin, and there’s a purple orchid tucked behind her ear.
It takes him a minute to even notice the arm brace.
“Hey,” he says.
“Hey?” she echoes. “I had to get written medical approval just to get into this thing, and all you’ve got is ‘hey’?”
“Don’t fish, Baker.”
“You look nice, too,” she says, even though she’s not actually looking at him, fascinated with the tile flooring of the entryway instead.
“Yeah, well.” He clears his throat, tugging at the knot of his tie. He hates ties. They make him think of funerals and court appearances.
Ginny steps toward him, stilling his hand and moving it away. He watches her as she tugs the tie loose, slipping it over his head.
“Let’s get this over with,” she says with a smile, tossing the tie behind her as she heads toward the door.
The wedding is in Malibu, which means it takes the better part of a day to get there.
“I could have met you there, you know,” Ginny says, absently playing with the straps on her brace, as he moves from one slow lane to another.
“Where’s the fun in that?”
“Where’s the fun in this?”
“How’s the arm?”
She shrugs her non-injured shoulder.
“About as good as your knees.”
“I doubt that.”
“Some days it feels like it’s all over. Before I ever really got a chance to start.”
He looks at her out of the corner of his eye, then back at the road.
“You have plenty of starts left.”
“You do. And you’ve got a better shot at them if you stay positive. Your arm can hear you every time you say it’s not gonna happen.”
“Here we go, a Lawson Speech”
“No speech,” he shrugs. “Just telling you what I know. I may not have a shred of cartilage left, but I swear it hurts less on the days I tell the pain to fuck off.”
“What about days like today?”
He laughs thinly.
“Today? It has selective hearing.”
There was one time, early in Mike’s career, when he took a bat to the head. It was a freak thing, a zig when the batter zagged, and boom, he got a black eye and a concussion that took him out of the game for a month.
Watching Rachel say “I do” to another man registers just below the moment the wood connected with his skull.
It’s just as startling, and the whole thing makes time move in the same slow-motion way.
But then suddenly it’s over, and everyone is clapping. Except for Ginny, because at some point during the ceremony, he took her hand and never let go.
“Sorry,” he mumbles, releasing her palm, wiping his own on his slacks.
“You’re okay,” she says, and it sounds a lot more like reassurance than an excuse.
Rachel finds him, predictably, at the bar.
“You didn’t think I would.”
“I…” She opens her mouth to rebut, then thinks better of it. “No, I didn’t. But I’m glad you did.”
She looks at the second glass of champagne he’s holding, then to the table where Ginny is waiting, chatting up some distant relative with a smile he knows is real.
He watches Rachel’s face fall, just for a moment, before she pulls herself back together. It doesn’t feel as good as he thought it would. It doesn’t feel like anything, really. He’s numb, and maybe it’s not the same thing as recovered, but it’s a hell of a lot closer.
“I’m really happy for you, Rach,” he says, placing a kiss on her achingly soft cheek before heading back to the table.
After the toasts, Ginny drags him onto the dance floor, and he thinks maybe her moves that one night at the club were a fluke.
“You’re just doing this to cheer me up, right?” he asks, as she does a variation on the sprinkler that no one with a torn ligament should even attempt.
“Is it working?”
“No,” he smiles.
The band moves into something slow and he barely has to tug on her hand before she folds into his arms. There’s a respectable distance between them, but the orchid in her hair teases his cheek as they sway.
“Thank you,” he says. “For coming. You didn’t--”
“You’d do the same for me. I mean, maybe. I’m a much better person than you.”
He closes his eyes, dizzy with the smell of the ocean and her.
“That’s for damn sure,” he says, a little closer into her ear.