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===

Ginny couldn’t believe it. Warmth flushed her cheeks, her mouth tingled from his kiss. Kisses. It had been so long since her stomach did a floor routine. She screamed, immediately regretting not inviting him inside. She imagined him naked, hot and serious and all over her. 

She tossed her shoes in the closet and flopped onto the bed. This was too good to keep to herself. Evelyn would die. Cara would rightly point out how dumb she was for not getting her body worked. Evelyn would ask her to detail the night. Cara would ask her to send a picture. Evelyn would ask about the guy. Cara would brush aside the thorny bits. Basically, Evelyn was magical realism and Cara was carpe diem.

Her phone rang. Nanny . The hot feeling cooled to warm. Bad idea. Terrible idea. It could only go to hell. Or maybe it would be fine. Maybe they could be that to each other. Maybe, after two weeks of daily chattering, the past was the past and they could be friends. 

“You’re calling late,” Ginny answered.

“Wanted to tell you I just had a drink named after you. You’re only allowed to order two.”

“Two?” Ginny scoffed. “Lola’s on 7th has a Ginny shot that will knock you on your ass as soon as it hits your lips. Kid you not.”

“Sure,” Mike laughed. “Probably has all the strength of syrup with a splash of Prosecco.”

“That’s your drink. We all know you’re a lightweight.”

“Am I?”

“Let me guess -- by the third sip on the first drink the guys had to call you an Uber.”

“Nobody calls Mike Lawson an Uber.”

“Okay, babe.”

Shit. Ginny silently screamed into her pillow until Mike mercifully broke the pause.

“It’s after one your time. Can’t sleep?”

Ginny relaxed. She couldn’t hear any cracks in his tone, and he obviously just wanted to talk, minor slips and all. Maybe she was overreacting, getting in her head too much. She wanted this easy, so, Ginny exhaled, be easy.

“Actually,” Ginny drew out the word, “I just came back. From a date.”

“A date?” Pause. “What is that?”

Relief made her smile.  “I believe they called it ‘courting’ in your time.”

“Ah, that. Huh. So, how was it?”

“That’s a loaded question.”

“You’re right. Place the needle between Evelyn and Duarte.”

“Duarte is Evelyn.”

“Okay, Evelyn and...Katie Nolan. Go.”

Ginny went. She parsed the details that made her swoon, like how Kel smiled and smelled of smoky pine and linen and gripped her wrist when they tripped over a wire and the softness of his lips and tongue and the solidity of his body. Those were things Evelyn appreciated. Mike (and Katie Nolan) appreciated she didn’t hold back while go-karting (although Nanny Mike nagged about the shoulder), that he wasn’t a whiny dick when he lost, that he took her to El Cochino for the best paella in San Diego, and that he wasn’t a slouch when it came to sports (although sports for him was Football (non-American) and Cricket).

“You’re all breathy just from the basics,” Mike said.

She heard the curve in his voice, the one indicating a sharp corner up ahead. “What?” 

“If this guy’s got you all hot, why didn’t you sleep with him?”

The sly curiosity shocked her. Ginny forgot he had made a career out of reading people. 

“Well,” Ginny pulled at her earrings, “not that it matters, but he has a kid.”

“Obviously didn’t stop him from staying out past midnight on a weekday. What’s six more hours?”

Ginny coughed. “And he’s currently separated.” 

“Is it a legal separation?”

“Why are you asking all these questions?”

“Why are you reluctant to answer them?”

There was a weird neutrality to his voice, she couldn't gauge it. Was he working towards giving her dating advice? Was this tempered jealousy? Was it even normal to talk about other guys with the one who used to be the guy? Ginny sighed, agitated. “Nevermind, forget I said anything. I’m tired.”

“And now you’re going to stomp around and cuss me out for the next two days.” Ginny heard his eyes roll. “I’ll make it easy on you and not call.”

“Good. I’ll make sure to catalogue every name I call you from now to Friday,” Ginny said. She hung up.

Contrary to Mike’s prophecy, Ginny did neither. She drank a glass of wine and stared at her phone for the duration, wondering if the weird, furry taste in her mouth came from the tannins or Mike.

Two days turned into a week. Not by choice or out of spite, but because the universe took the opportunity to step in and do some work, namely on the Padres. They began winning. Mike didn’t think too much of it, it was early July, no one got excited yet when shit could fly any minute, but there was something, some resonance in the way the team gelled, that recalled the time they brought the trophy home.

Palomar dropped out of his shitlist top ten after a solid performance against the Braves. Kiki realigned his hip and started hitting into the stands again. Jackson and Duarte finished their suspensions. Management seemed content to let everyone play in peace, and the weather was certified perfect. Mike read it on everyone’s face--the stars had aligned.

He thought about calling or at least sending a quick text, but something bright and shiny diverted him until the next moment, and the next, and the next, until a week went by and then one Sunday morning he spotted Ginny laughing on the arm of some guy at the farmer’s market.

Not saw, heard. It floated above the general noise and hit his ears right as he reached for the kale. Mike turned and spotted her. She looked good. That registered first. No washed out lighting, no sling, just naked limbs shining, dimples flying everywhere, hair in a loose braid, muscles flexing as she fought the guy for a taste of a popsicle. Then the guy. Taller, glasses, more hair. They looked good together. That registered second. Third, that his stomach evaporated and his mouth went dry and his body flushed, all at once, to maximize the discomfort. Fourth, and this was the worst, that he was still a fucking coward.

Mike returned to scoping out kale. He picked up a bunch and held onto it until her sputtering laugh passed by, then dropped it and left. The closer he got to his house, the clearer it became, so he made an awkward u-turn and drove fifteen minutes to a bar big enough for six people, bartender included. He drank two whisky neats before pulling out his phone.

===

“It’s two p.m. on a Sunday, Mike,” Livan said by way of greeting.

“But you came anyway.”

Livan sat and ordered a beer. Mike didn’t look at him. “Remember when I decked you four years ago?”

“Yeah,” Livan worked his jaw, “I haven’t repaid you for it.”

“You were right.” Mike gazed ahead. “And if I had an exit plan, I’d probably go running off like a dickless dog again.”

Livan said nothing, just drank his beer. He knew this was gonna happen, knew it as soon as he witnessed Lawson swing his eyes to the cubby where her shirt hung before he batted an eye at anyone else. Baker never talked about it, not even when asked outright, but she had tells, like everyone. Didn’t make the confirmation any less sweet.

“Maybe you should tell her the truth,” Livan said after Miked swallowed a third whisky neat.

“Tell her the truth?” Mike winced. “What a shitty joke.”

Livan shrugged. “Then love her now like she loved you then.”

Mike mulled it over. Not so shitty advice. Except Ginny loved with a kind of blind, simple ferocity that melted steel. He had no practice loving someone like that without turning them into ash. 

They sat there for another minute before Livan stood and pulled out his wallet. Mike stopped him by putting down a fifty. “On me."

Mike slid off the stool. A glimmer of pain spread through Livan’s knees. This happened whenever he watched Mike do anything. The way the guy moved bothered him, like Mike knew it hurt but didn’t want to show it. Livan didn’t want to be around a guy like that, who still existed after the end of baseball, but he thought of Baker, and of Imelda and how her liquid eyes regarded him when Lawson called. 

Livan tucked his keys back in his pocket. “There’s a good empanada place around the corner.”

He didn’t give Mike a chance to decline, just walked out into the afternoon. Mike, after a moment, slipped on his shades and followed.