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Ginny sits in the doctor’s office and waits, her hands clenched in her lap. The room is tiny and sterile, bare white walls, pristine white tile, an examining table covered in a crisp white sheet. Ginny longs to muss it up a little bit, get her hands dirty and leave black splotches on the perfect walls. Maybe tear that sheet to pieces, or dump the doctor’s jar of lollipops on the slick white linoleum floor.

A hand lands on Ginny’s shoulder and squeezes gently. Ginny tenses for a moment, before rolling her shoulders and letting out a long sigh.

“How you holding up?”

Ginny turns to face Evelyn, plastering a phony smile on her face. “Doing just great.”

Evelyn cocks her head at Ginny as she slips her hand away. “Mmhm.” She crosses her arms under her breasts and raises a perfectly manicured eyebrow at Ginny in disbelief.

Ginny sighs and wilts under her impenetrable gaze. She lowers her head and runs her hands over her face. “I’m…I’m scared. What if it’s—”

The office door swings open then, cutting Ginny short. The doctor, a short, pudgy man in glasses, steps in and gently closes the door behind him. He’s older, looks almost fatherly. Ginny eyes the thin folder clasped in his chubby hand and wonders.

“Ms. Baker?” He nods toward Ginny, who straightens up in her seat.

Evelyn’s hand finds its way back to Ginny’s shoulder and squeezes.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Ginny says. She thinks she sounds braver than she really feels.

“I have your test results,” the doctor says, sitting across from Ginny and Evelyn. He opens the folder and Ginny sucks in a whistling breath between her teeth.

Ginny clasps suddenly clammy hands in her lap and waits.

Evelyn’s hand is still on her shoulder, a comforting anchor. Ginny reaches up and grabs her hand, squeezes it appreciatively. She’d have asked Mike to come with her but, honestly, Ginny hadn’t felt entirely comfortable with that. Evelyn would—probably—eventually spill everything to Blip, and Blip would probably spill to Mike not long after that, but she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Evelyn would never judge her. Evelyn wouldn’t criticize or blame her.

Mike probably wouldn’t either, but…

“Ms. Baker, congratulations,” the doctor says, beaming at her. “You’re six weeks along.”

Ginny feels the world drop out from under her like a trapdoor. Evelyn’s hand tightens on her shoulder.

“I’m—I’m pregnant?” Ginny manages to croak. She’d known it was a distinct possibility but to actually hear the words coming from the doctor’s mouth… It was a bit of a shock, to say the least. Ginny feels like she’s just had ice water dumped over her head.

“Indeed,” says the doctor. He puts up the sonogram and Ginny gets up to inspect it closely.

It doesn’t look like much yet, certainly not a baby, but it is. Her baby. Ginny presses a hand lightly over her stomach. Her throat tightens and she tries to swallow past it.

Ginny and Noah are going to be parents.

Tears suddenly, inexplicably, sting the corners of her eyes and Ginny starts to sob.

“Ginny? Ginny, what’s the matter?“ Evelyn is at her side in an instant, an arm encircling her shoulders.

Ginny dabs at the corners of her eyes with her sleeve, while Evelyn leads her back to her seat and passes Kleenex into her hands.

“N-nothing, nothing’s wrong,” Ginny manages, wiping her nose with the Kleenex. “I’m…I’m gonna be a mom.”

Evelyn beams at her. “I make a mean fairy godmother, just saying.”

Ginny can’t help but smile a little at Evelyn’s enthusiasm. “I wouldn’t doubt it for the world.”

Evelyn grabs Ginny’s hands in hers and squeezes reassuringly. “It’ll be okay,” she says. “I know it seems scary right now, especially without Noah… But you got me, you got Blip…” Evelyn pauses, a small, sly smile curling the corners of her lips. “You’ve got Mike in whatever way you want him.”

“Evelyn. Don’t go there.” Ginny scowls at her.

“I swear that man thinks you hung the moon,” Evelyn says.

Ginny scrubs at her wet, aching eyes. “Stop trying to foist me off on a new man,” she grumbles, letting her hands drop into her lap. “My boyfriend of two years—no, my fiancé of a month just up and dumped me for a Brazilian model last Tuesday. And come to find out, I’m pregnant with his baby.”

“When you put it like that,” Evelyn says, trailing off. She sighs and pats Ginny on the shoulder. “Like I said. You’re like family to Blip and me. We’ll help you with whatever you need.”

Ginny reaches up and squeezes Evelyn’s hand. “Thank you.”

Evelyn smiles at her and Ginny finds herself returning it, despite not feeling very much like smiling.

***

“Of course I’ll be in the baby’s life. I wouldn’t just abandon you and leave you to do it all by yourself.”

But you did abandon me, Ginny thinks but doesn’t say.

She paces her sunlit kitchen with her phone in one hand and a half-empty glass of orange juice in the other. Ginny lowers the phone to flip it the bird before pressing it back to her ear.

“How’s Brazil, Noah?” Ginny can’t help but ask. Her tone could probably curdle milk.

“Um,” Noah stammers, “Brazil’s fine. I’ll be flying back in on—”

“Whoa, whoa, I didn’t call to ask you to drop everything and come back. I thought you’d like to know about the baby. But I’m doing this on my own.”

“Ginny, come on.” Noah lowers his voice, like he’s trying to calm a fussy child, which instantly rankles. “Regardless of whatever you think of me right now, I’m still the baby’s father. We—we made a life together!”

“More like, I got pregnant and then you left me for a 20-year-old Brazilian model,” Ginny sneers.

Noah sighs. “That’s not how it happened.”

“How did it happen?” Ginny pauses to press a hand over her face. “You know what? On second thought, I don’t even want to know.”

“Ginny,” Noah tries again, gentling his tone. “We had a lot of great times together, didn’t we?”

“I thought we did,” Ginny allows. She pauses in her pacing to stare out the kitchen window of the home she’d been planning to move into with her husband. The home she now lives in on her own. “Apparently you didn’t.”

“I still care about you.”

Ginny dumps her empty glass in the sink with a loud thump and swipes the back of her hand across her mouth. “You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to play on my emotions anymore. I called you out of courtesy, which I didn’t even have to do. I want nothing to do with you. And you are not going to be in this baby’s life. If you want to man up and pay child support, great. But I want and expect nothing from you.”

“Ginny, please be reasonable—” Noah begs.

“I am being reasonable. If you want to discuss child support, have your lawyer take it up with mine,” Ginny snaps. “But other than that? I’m done. You made your bed. With your Brazilian model. Lie in it.”

Ginny smashes the end button and tosses her phone on the kitchen counter haphazardly. She kind of wishes she had a landline so she could slam the receiver just to further emphasize her point.

Oh well.

Ginny sighs and lifts her head—just in time to see a yellow taxi pull away from the curb outside her house. And Mike Lawson limping up the sidewalk with a small present, topped off with a shiny satin bow, in his hand.

“Oh, come on, Evelyn,” Ginny groans. “You couldn’t even keep it a secret for more than a week?”

Ginny goes to the front door and pulls it open. Mike stands there with his hand poised over the doorbell, his hastily wrapped gift curled into his elbow.

“Hi,” Ginny says.

“Hey. I, uh… Evelyn told Blip and Blip told me. But in Evelyn’s defense, she told Blip not to tell anyone this time,” Mike blurts.

“C’mon in.” Ginny steps aside and Mike slips in behind her. She shuts the door gently and leads him into the kitchen. “You thirsty? Hungry?”

Mike settles at the kitchen counter, on one of Ginny’s stools, and sets the present in front of him. “Nope. I’m good.”

Ginny studies him, slouched at her kitchen counter like a guy on a barstool. She hasn’t spoken to him much since the end of the season. It’s not really much of an excuse but she was just so wrapped up in Noah, in planning her wedding, in planning her life with Noah. And now it’s all gone. All evidence of Noah is gone—in trash bins sitting in front of her sidewalk—except for this baby. Ginny slides a hand over her middle and she doesn’t miss Mike’s eyes following the movement of her hand.

“So Evelyn told you everything?” Ginny inquires casually.

“Well, Blip did. And I… Ginny, I’m sorry. You know I never really trusted him, but even I didn’t think he’d—”

Ginny lifts a finger and cuts him short without so much as a word. “I don’t want to talk about Noah.” She reaches up to her neck and pulls Noah’s engagement ring out from under her collar. She slips the chain off and drops the ring on the counter. “I’m done. I’ll do this on my own.”

“You don’t have to do it alone, not if you don’t want,” Mike says. “Evelyn and Blip will—”

“I know,” Ginny says with a weary sigh. “Ev told me.”

“You didn’t let me finish,” Mike says. “Evelyn and Blip will be with you every step of the way. And me too, if you want.”

Ginny lifts her eyes to him. “What are you saying?” she asks, curling her hands into fists on the counter.

If Mike offers to step in as surrogate dad, or surrogate non-deadbeat-fiancé or whatever, Ginny’s going to scream. She doesn’t need some man trying to swoop in and save her just because her fiancé left her pregnant and alone. She doesn’t need Mike to try and rescue her. And, as much as she once longed for it, she doesn’t need Mike trying to insert himself into her life as a surrogate lover.

“I know what you’re going to say,” Mike says before she can protest. “I’m not doing this because I don’t think you’re capable of doing it on your own. I’m doing this because I know you won’t ask for help if you need it. You won’t want to impose on Evelyn and Blip, or you won’t want to take me away from my job. So, I’m offering my goods and services.”

Ginny tilts her head at him. “You think you can just waltz in here, ply me with presents—“ Ginny picks up the gift “—and insert yourself into my life?”

“Yep,” says Mike, grinning.

Ginny grins back and, despite the prickly feeling settling between her shoulder blades, reaches out and laces her fingers loosely with Mike’s.

***

A few days later, the Padres hold a press conference where Ginny announces she’ll be taking the season off. Effective immediately, the Padres place her on the maternity list, where she’ll stay until season’s end.

Despite her agent’s urging, Ginny opts to take some questions from the crowd of hungry-eyed reporters. She plans on going underground after this; it wouldn’t do not to take any questions at all. That would probably just lead to more and more baseless speculation, and Ginny’s had more than enough of that in her life.

A woman with slick black hair and bright red lipstick jumps in over the objections of some of her colleagues. Ginny doesn’t miss the rolled eyes or huffy sighs. This is gonna be good.

“Ms. Baker,” the pretty reporter drawls in an exaggerated Southern accent, “I’d just like you to clear some things up for me, if you would. There’s a rumor floating around on Twitter that the father of your baby is your teammate, Mike Lawson. Can you confirm or deny?”

“What?” Ginny blinks in disbelief, fisting her hands in the tablecloth.

“There’s a rumor on Twit—”

“No, I heard that part loud and clear. It’s just that it’s bullshit,” Ginny says.

The reporter grows flustered, her cheeks reddening. “Ms. Baker,” she tries again, “you and Mr. Lawson had an awfully close relationship your first year with the Padres. Some of your former teammates have spoken out—”

“He was my catcher,” Ginny says evenly, lancing the reporter with a razor-sharp glare. “That’s all.”

A team employee weaves his way through the mess of media to take the microphone away from the reporter and escort her away from the dais. Ginny sighs and rubs her hands over her face. She feels a hand land gently on her elbow and she looks up. Her agent, Scott, tilts his head toward the media and draws a finger across his neck. Ginny nods.

“This media session is over,” Scott says, leaning into the mic. “Thank you.”

***

GINNY BAKER PREGNANT WITH TEAMMATE’S BABY?

WHAT ISN’T MLB SAYING ABOUT SCANDALOUS PREGNANCY?

COULD MLB REVISE RULEBOOK AFTER GINNY’S RUMORED AFFAIR?

Ginny closes her browser and slams her laptop shut. Evelyn settles on the couch next to her and hands her a bottled water.

“What? What is it?” Evelyn asks. Her head snaps up suddenly, eyes toward the ceiling. “Y’all better not be doing what I think it is you’re doing,” she yells.

The only response is a loud thud.

“You want me to go check on them? I could use the practice,” Ginny offers, laughing weakly.

“Nah, I’ll check on ’em. They’ve been playing cowboys and robbers all afternoon,” Evelyn says with a dismissive wave.

“Cowboys and robbers?” Ginny asks, raising her eyebrows.

“Like cops and robbers, except…cooler,” Evelyn says, shrugging and laughing. She heads off to check on the twins. Ginny curls up on the couch and pulls a pillow against her chest.

The Padres game is on the TV. The pitcher toeing the mound should have been Ginny but isn’t. It’s a rookie, some emergency call-up from San Antonio, because the triple-A team is currently playing in Memphis. He looks like a baby, scared, completely in over his head. Livan can hardly conceal his frustration behind the plate, cycling through signs over and over, gritting his teeth behind his mask, wearing a path from the pitcher’s mound to home plate.

Ginny longs to be the one out there on the mound, throwing to Livan. Lifting her cap off her curly tresses to wave to the appreciative crowd.

Instead, she wraps an arm around her midsection and sighs heavily.

Evelyn comes back into the living room, followed by the twins. Marcus has a red plastic lightsaber and Gabriel is carrying a stuffed green dinosaur.

“Hi Ginny!” The boys greet her with matching gap-toothed smiles.

Ginny grins. “Did you get anything neat from the tooth fairy?” she asks.

“I got a whole dollar,” Gabriel brags, clutching his dinosaur in his tiny hands.

“I only got seventy five cents ’cause the tooth fairy doesn’t think I brush enough,” Marcus pouts.

Ginny catches Evelyn’s eye and they both laugh. “Well, she knows what she’s talking about. You ought to listen to her,” Ginny says.

“Yes, Ginny,” the boys echo, the perfect image of obedience.

Both Ginny and Evelyn know better than to be fooled.

“You two go on,” Evelyn tells them. “I gotta talk to Aunt Ginny about grown-up stuff. Go play cowboys and robbers.”

“We got bored with cowboys and robbers,” Gabriel says. “We’re playing Jedi and dinosaurs now.”

Evelyn laughs and shoos them off. Once they’re gone, she curls up on the couch and turns her full attention to Ginny.

“Blip told me Mike went to see you,” she begins.

“There’s nothing to tell,” Ginny interrupts, sitting back against the couch and clasping her hands over her face. “He came over and offered to help. And he gave me this.” Ginny reaches into the pocket of her jeans and pulls out Mike’s gift, a tiny pacifier with the Padres’ logo stamped all over it.

Evelyn plucks the pacifier from Ginny’s fingers and inspects it, turning it over in her hand. When she looks up at Ginny, her eyes are twinkling. “You look a little stressed out,” Evelyn says slyly, placing the pacifier back in Ginny’s hand. “And sex is a great stress-reliever. I bet Mike can’t wait to relieve y—”

“Don’t even start with me.” Ginny laughs, snatching up Mike’s gift and shoving it in her pocket. “I’ve got more important things to worry about.”

“Like?” Evelyn’s all business now, leaning back against her couch, arms crossed over her chest.

“I’m not hurting for money, of course,” Ginny says, raising her hand and ticking her concerns off on her fingers, “but I need to set up a nursery. I have to buy baby clothes, furniture, toys, food… When am I ever gonna find the time?”

Evelyn puts a gentle hand on Ginny’s shoulder and smiles. “You got me, you got Blip. And I bet the Padres wives would love to help out.”

Ginny sighs and sweeps her hands through her messy hair, pulling it back into a pony tail. “I appreciate it. I really do, Ev,” she says, dropping her hands over her knees. “I—I just don’t know… Last month, I thought I’d be planning my future with Noah. And today? No fiancé, no baseball.”

Evelyn pulls Ginny into a hug, pressing her chin against her shoulder. “I know it seems really hard right now,” she says squeezing her. “And it is hard. It feels like someone took your safety net out from under you.”

“It does,” Ginny admits. She blinks her eyes rapidly and wills the sudden onslaught of tears back into her tear ducts. She is not going to start crying, and especially not on the shoulder of Evelyn’s five-hundred-dollar cashmere sweater. Ginny sits back and rubs at her eyes surreptitiously with the sleeve of her sweatshirt.

Evelyn smiles sadly at her and grabs Ginny’s hand in hers. “You wanna stick around for dinner? Blip’s at the gym, but he should be back in a couple hours.”

Ginny lets out a long, shuddery sigh. “That sounds nice, actually.”

“Great!” Evelyn looks up, forehead wrinkling. “My Spidey-senses are tingling. You go round up the munchkins and I’ll start getting ingredients together.”

Ginny goes off in search of the twins, grateful for something to do. Grateful to keep her mind occupied.

After she locates Marcus and Gabriel and brings them downstairs to help prepare the dining room table, Ginny joins Evelyn in the kitchen. Evelyn is reading the label on a package of hamburger meat and sipping from a glass of red wine. Ginny feels a tiny, sharp pang; what she wouldn’t give for a glass of wine right about now.

“Here,” Evelyn says, handing her the glass of wine. “You can have a little of that, if you want.”

“I thought you weren’t supposed to drink during a pregnancy,” Ginny says, swirling the wine around in the glass.

“You should be fine as long as you don’t overdo it,” Evelyn says as she comes at the package of hamburger meat with a knife. “I had a small glass of wine once a month.”

“There’s so much I don’t know,” Ginny says, sighing heavily. She takes a modest sip of Evelyn’s wine and swishes it in her mouth before setting the glass back down on the kitchen counter.

“That’s why you’ve got me,” Evelyn reminds her, smiling sweetly at Ginny over her shoulder.

Ginny smiles for what feels like the first time since she got the news of her pregnancy. “Believe me, I’m counting my blessings.”

***

Ginny drives out to Peoria a few weeks later to surprise her teammates with a visit. She’s been laying low since her pregnancy announcement, and she hasn’t really seen any of the guys since October. In fact, Mike’s the only teammate she’s actually had a conversation with since the season ended and everyone went home for the winter.

When Ginny walks into the clubhouse, a hush falls over the room. Ginny’s teammates—a mix of faces she both recognizes and doesn’t—stare at her like she’s a ghost for a few very long seconds, before Salvy breaks the silence by jumping up to greet her with a bear hug.

Sonny, Dusty, and Javanes come over to her and welcome her with elaborate handshakes and knuckles in her hair, mussing up her pony tail.

Livan slaps her on the back and pulls her into his chest with a genuinely warm, pleased, “Missed you, hermanita.”

After Ginny fixes her hair and tugs her sweatshirt down over her slightly rounded belly, she looks around for Mike. He’s not at his locker.

“Where’s Lawson?” she asks Livan.

“Al’s office, probably. Shooting the shit.” Livan grins at Ginny, cheeks dimpling. “Rallying for more playing time. Trying to put me outta a job.”

Ginny laughs, socking Livan in the shoulder. “You’re not afraid Al’s gonna suddenly start listening to him, are you?” she teases.

Livan pauses for effect, before drawing out a “Naaah,” to impossible lengths.

After Ginny extracts herself from the clubhouse, she goes off in search of Mike and finds him in the trainer’s office. He’s stretched out on a training table, an arm slung over his face. His left knee is wrapped up in Ace bandages and his right one is dangling off the table.

Ginny knocks on the doorframe. “Hey, Gramps.”

Mike lifts his arm from his face to shoot daggers at her. “Hey, rookie,” he replies, but he’s smiling and his tone is light, lilting. Mike sits up gingerly, rubbing his knee. “How’s the little nugget?”

“The nugget?” Ginny rolls her eyes, curling an arm over her belly. “Nugget’s doing just fine.”

“And you?” Mike asks, swinging his legs off the edge of the training table. He hobbles over to Ginny and leans against the wall, trying his hardest to look nonchalant and comfortable, as if it didn’t take everything in him to get up and not scream in pain.

“I’m good, but how about you?” Ginny asks.

“Knee’s barking louder than usual,” Mike admits. “It’s getting harder to manage.”

“The shots don’t help?”

“For a time,” Mike says, shrugging. He pauses, studying Ginny, his knowing eyes searching her face for—something. She has to look away. “You heard from the deadbeat at all?”

Ginny frowns. “No. Why?”

“No reason,” Mike says, shifting his gaze away.

“What did you do?” Ginny grabs him by the shoulder.

“Nothing!” Mike tugs away from her grip and rubs awkwardly at the back of his neck. He shuffles back over to the training table.

“Lawson!” Ginny protests.

Mike stretches out on the table with a groan and slings his arm back over his eyes. “Me and him, we had a little conversation. That’s all.”

Ginny rushes over to Mike’s side and stares down at him. “What did you do, Lawson?”

“You only use my last name when you’re pissed off,” Mike deflects, not moving his arm from his face. “Don’t worry. It was nothing bad. I didn’t beat him up or anything. Not that he doesn’t deserve it.”

Ginny sighs. “Mike…”

Mike moves his arm and crosses his hands over his chest. “Just let him know what I thought of him for leaving you high and dry. That’s all.”

Ginny drags her hands over her face. “I don’t need you fighting my battles for me,” she snaps. “I can handle Noah on my own.”

“I’d say I’m sorry for going over your head and giving the deadbeat the tongue lashing he very much deserves, but that’d be a lie,” Mike says.

Ginny huffs unhappily and leans back against the wall. Mike avoids making eye contact with her now, appearing just a little bit chastened. “Thanks for having my back,” she says, “but don’t ever do that again.”

“Duly noted,” Mike says. “I’m sorry.”

“Thanks.” Ginny pushes away from the wall and tugs the hem of her sweatshirt down. “I’ve gotta run. Ev is taking me to my check-up.”

“Are you gonna come around again?” Mike asks, sounding suddenly uncertain and small. As if he thinks she might not actually come back? Ginny’s not sure what to do with this, so she tucks it away for later.

“Sure. Oscar told me the team’s having some sort of fundraiser for a pregnant women’s shelter later in the season, so I’ll come back for that,” Ginny says.

“Ginny,” Mike begins.

“Mike,” she cuts him off, “I’ll be back. I’m not gonna ghost the team.”

“Okay, okay. See you around then,” Mike says.

Ginny leaves the Padres’ spring training complex, an odd feeling settling low in her chest, the conversation with Mike weighing heavily on her mind.

***

Ginny had thought she might enjoy the time away from the game, but reality is never quite as glamorous or as enjoyable as fantasy. Nowhere in her fantasies had she accounted for migraines, painfully swollen ankles, or vicious moodswings.

Ginny also hadn’t accounted for Mike Lawson.

Sure, Mike had offered to help her out in any way possible, but Ginny supposes she hadn’t taken him seriously. Or, rather, she hadn’t taken him as seriously as he’d intended.

Mike comes over to her condo on off-days with food and baby clothes and toys, and sometimes he stays for dinner. Ginny’s been teaching herself all sorts of recipes in her downtime; her favorite so far is chicken cacciatore.

It’s not perfect, of course. She’d much rather be in the dugout with her boys, cheering them on, or on the mound, staring into the eyes of her catcher and waiting for his signs.

Ginny sighs heavily and leans back against the kitchen counter.

“Long day?” comes the gruff, teasing voice by her side.

Ginny turns to find Mike watching her, his mouth pulled into a half-smirk. “What?” she asks, rolling her eyes and glancing back at the oven.

“Watched pots never boil,” Mike says, nudging her in the shoulder gently.

Ginny shoves him away gently. “My ankles are sore. It’s nothing,” she says.

“Get off your feet then,” Mike says, trying to wave her out of her own damn kitchen. “I can handle dinner.”

“I’m not about to let you blow up my oven,” Ginny jokes.

“I’m not that bad,” Mike grumbles, sliding his hands over her shoulders and trying to maneuver her to the kitchen door.

Ginny digs her heels in, and reaches up to wrap her hands around Mike’s wrists. “I can handle another half hour on my feet.”

“Ginny,” Mike says, in his sternest team captain voice.

“Are you seriously pulling rank on me in my own kitchen?” Ginny can’t help but laugh.

Mike flicks his eyes at her mouth, briefly. Ginny realizes then that she’s still holding onto his wrists and she really should let him go. She should move away and push him out of the kitchen. She should probably send him back to his own place.

“C’mon, Ginny,” Mike murmurs, finally meeting her gaze. His eyes burn like hot coals, searing her. A sudden flash of heat surges in her gut, then twirls and dances.

Ginny lets go of his wrists to press a hand gently over his chest. “Mike…”

Mike leans in, moving a hand to her cheek, his fingers tangling loosely in her dark curls. Ginny wraps a hand in his t-shirt and brings him closer, close enough that she can feel his hot, damp breath curling over her flushed skin.

“Gin,” Mike says, pausing, his lips mere inches away from her own. “I—I really want this. I want to kiss you. But I don’t want to cause—”

“Shut up and kiss me then,” Ginny demands.

That’s all the urging Mike needs. He pulls Ginny firmly against his chest, slotting their mouths together. Ginny wraps her arms around his neck, sipping at his lips, savoring the rasp of his beard against her skin. Mike’s hand trails under the back of her shirt, nails scratching gently across her skin.

Ginny breaks the kiss, resting her forehead against Mike’s shoulder. This kiss feels like the culmination of every sly, heavy-lidded glance, every innocent brush of fingertips over the back of callused knuckles, every hitched breath and soft sigh. Ginny wants it—wants more—so badly, and yet…

“What’s up?” Mike asks, holding her at arm’s length. He rubs a thumb in circles over Ginny’s shoulder.

Ginny sighs. “What are we doing?”

“What we should’ve done two years ago,” Mike says, running his thumb over the curve of her cheek. He pauses, stilling his thumb along her jawline. “Unless you changed your mind…?”

“Everything’s so hectic right now.” Ginny backs away a little bit to rest hand over her belly. She starts laughing. “I’m gonna have a baby, Mike.”

Mike raises his eyebrows. “Yeah. And?”

“That doesn’t freak you out?” Ginny asks. “And what happens once the kid is born and I start playing again?”

What happens when you realize you don’t want to play surrogate dad to Noah’s child? Ginny bites her bottom lip.

“I guess I didn’t think that far into the future,” he says.

“I have to,” Ginny says simply.

“You don’t, though. You could just…wing it,” Mike says, reaching for her again.

“You know that’s not how I operate.” Ginny arches her back and winces, sliding a hand to the small of her back.

“I hear you, though,” Mike says, motioning for her to come closer. When she does, Mike moves Ginny’s hair over her shoulder, away from her neck, and begins to knead gently. As he continues speaking, he kneads his hands lower, down her spine. “I get you’re feeling kinda overwhelmed. You’ve got a lot on your plate. I, uh, I hope I’ve proven you can rely on me.”

“Mm.” Ginny lets her eyes close and she rolls her shoulders as Mike’s fingers work slowly down her back. “Yeah. I do. Trust you, I mean.”

“Good.” Ginny feels Mike’s beard scrape lightly over the side of her neck as he leans in.

“If we took this anywhere,” Ginny begins, faltering for a moment. “If we took whatever this is anywhere, it would have to stop once I come back and… I wouldn’t want to give this up.”

“That’s why you don’t want to take it further?” Mike asks, slipping his hands away from her back so abruptly that Ginny misses his touch.

Ginny crosses her arms under her breasts. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“We’d figure something out,” Mike says, narrowing his eyes at her, scrutinizing her like a butterfly pinned under his gaze.

Ginny studies him, tracing her eyes along the curve of his smile. It’s a pleasant view, one she wouldn’t mind having in her life.

“What about the baby?” she asks.

“What about him? Er, her. Them?” Mike asks.

“I haven’t looked at the results yet,” Ginny says. “I’d been hoping Noah would be around but…”

“I’ll go, if you want. You don’t have to do this alone,” Mike says. “Ginny, I really think we could do this. We can figure out all the other stuff later.”

Ginny wants to believe him. Wants to be with him like he wants to be with her. Can she take that leap though? She looks at Mike, who holds a hand out toward her.

“You—you don’t care that Noah’s going to be in my baby’s life in some way?” she asks, reaching hesitantly for Mike’s hand.

“I mean, I think he’s an asshole, and of course I care. But I want this. I’ll do whatever I have to,” he says.

Ginny slides her hand into Mike’s and squeezes. “You’re in?”

“Absolutely, one-hundred percent,” he says, squeezing back. “You?”

Ginny pulls him in for a kiss, pausing for a moment, her lips poised over his. “I’m in,” she says, lacing her fingers behind his neck and grinning.

Mike leans in and kisses her deeply, tongue parting her lips, a hand clasped gently against the back of her neck. There’s a tiny fluttering motion, like butterflies tumbling in Ginny’s stomach, and she can’t help but laugh against the corner of Mike’s mouth.

“Someone’s excited,” she says.

Mike presses a hand gently over her belly and Ginny slides her hand over his.

They’re gonna do this. They’re really gonna do this.

It won’t be conventional and it certainly won’t be easy, Ginny thinks, as she runs her thumb over the back of Mike’s hand, but it’s undeniably theirs. She wouldn’t have it any other way.