chapter summary: … come to an end
Mike couldn’t say when, exactly, Ginny’s belongings begin to disappear from his apartment.
It happens too gradually, and he’s got too many irons in the fire, but one day, Mike looks around and the apartment feels empty. Lonely.
There isn’t a crumb-filled plate on the side table next to Ginny’s corner of the couch. His shaving cream stands alone on the bathroom counter, surrounded by the space all of Ginny’s toiletries left behind. Her side of the bed remains untouched, and all of it is hitting him out of nowhere.
It’s not that he hasn’t noticed that she’s spending fewer nights with him, but that’s economy more than anything else. Ginny’s started her physical therapy in earnest now. It makes more sense for her to be close to Petco, and that means staying at the Omni. Anyway, Mike’s taking more shifts at the dealership than usual, so it’s not like he’s spending much time at the apartment either.
If she were around more often, Mike’s sure he wouldn’t get away with avoiding questions about his suddenly full schedule. Not that he really knows how he’d answer.
As it is, Ginny doesn’t ask many questions.
(She’d frowned the first and last time she brought it up. “It’s Saturday. You’re really going into work?”
Mike had just shrugged, as if to say, “Rich people and their cars. What can I do?” and dropped a kiss to her forehead. What he did say, when he pulled back and she was still frowning, was, “My landlord will thank me when my rent check doesn’t bounce. I’ll be back by seven. Let me know if I should bring back dinner.”
If he were less distracted by his mental calculations, trying to figure out how many commissions he needed before life could go back to normal, he might’ve noticed the anxiety on Ginny’s face. He might’ve read the tension in her shoulders and neck, the way her eyes squeezed shut as he pressed his lips to her furrowed brow.
He wasn’t, though, so he didn’t.)
He might feel better about it if she did, though. Feel less like he’s keeping secrets.
Which. He definitely is, but that’s semantics.
How can he explain these new long hours without outright lying? Strange as it is, money’s never been a big issue between them. The fact that she’s got a multi-million dollar contract with the Padres and most of his income comes from commission, not his pittance of a salary, hasn’t bothered him before.
If anything is going to make Mike uncertain or self-conscious about his relationship with Ginny, it isn’t money. Not when photographers and fans and so-called journalists follow her every move.
Besides, It’s not like Ginny’s begging to go out to expensive restaurants or on fancy vacations. And if she did, Mike’s pretty sure she wouldn’t expect him to pay. He likes to think he’s evolved enough to be comfortable with letting his girlfriend pay his way around. Occasionally. If he got a really fancy vacation and vacation sex out of the deal.
As it is, there’s no point in trying to impress her with more than his ability to prepare a home-cooked meal and make her forget everything aside from his name in bed.
Luckily, Mike’s pretty fucking good at both of those things.
Unluckily, he’s also pretty fucking good at keeping secrets.
It’s almost unconscious, the way he manages this one, keeps the truth from Ginny as deftly as he’s ever conned a mark. But it’s not like Mike’s proud of it. The fact of the matter is that he’s no stranger to the strategic manipulation of information.
Which doesn’t mean he’s lying to Ginny. She hasn’t come out and asked him why he needs to work so much when he’s never been more than ambivalent about his career. If anything, it’s a sin of omission. And one that should keep her from getting hurt.
That has to matter. Right?
(Just because he tries to make himself feel better, doesn’t mean he’s that successful.)
There are too many questions and none of them have easy answers. He torments himself all day at work, only half his attention on clients and cars, the other half focused on the endless litany churning through his mind.
How the hell is he supposed to tell her that his mom’s a con artist? How does he tell her he used to be one, too? How does he say his mom thinks their relationship is just another con? Or that she wants in on the payout? How does he tell Ginny that he hasn’t set his mom straight? How does he tell her that he’s going to pay her off, just with his own money? How does he break that news without making her question everything else he’s ever told her?
How does he get out of this without breaking Ginny’s trust?
And that’s the heart of it.
Ginny had a rough childhood of her own and Mike wants to believe that she wouldn’t judge him for his own past, not if he tells her the truth of it all and how it’s threatening to detonate in the present. But there are years, decades even, of his mom’s warnings and threats and scare tactics keeping him quiet. As a kid, the truth could, and sometimes did, get them run out of town, once someone figured out Jackie Lawson’s game and Mike’s place in it all.
For nearly eighteen years, he’d been his mom’s literal partner in crime. Her shill.
It’s not something Mike’s ever admitted to anyone, doesn’t even like admitting it to himself. He just can’t imagine anyone’s opinion of him not changing in the face of that knowledge.
And if there’s anyone in the world whose good opinion and trust he craves, it’s Ginny Baker.
The fact that he currently has it makes its potential loss all the more gutting.
Jesus, this is quite the bed he’s made for himself.
After the months they’ve spent together, all the things he’s learned about Ginny, this isn’t the kind of information he can just laugh off.
“Oh, did I not mention that my estranged mother wants me to extort you for thousands of dollars? No? Haha, my bad, Gin. Anyway, what should we have for dinner?”
Yeah fucking right.
Even if she believes that he doesn’t actually have a plan to pull a long con on her, there’s no way that Mike gets out of this without telling her about his past. And his past isn’t like Ginny’s: tough but ultimately the backbone of her success.
Mike’s past was just tough.
Much as he tries to leave that past behind him, he should have known better than to expect it to stay there.
(“Hey, ma,” he’d said, that first call, some sixth sense kicking in despite the unknown number listed on caller ID.
“Mikey,” she’d greeted, as sweet as ever. Well, when she wanted something at least.
The last he’d heard, Jackie Lawson had been running a clip joint somewhere near Bakersfield. This was after stepdad #3 decided he was no longer interested in funding her spending habits. Gone were the days of short game after short game, cutting and running at the first whiff of trouble. It was almost as if she was growing as a person.
“What do you want?” he sighed, muting the television. Something told him it would be better to give all his attention to this conversation.
“A woman can’t call her son?”
“Not when it’s been five years since the last call.”
Jackie sighed, sounding put upon. Perversely, Mike couldn’t help but feel guilty. This was his mother, for God’s sake. It was easy to get hung up on her questionable qualities, but there had been good times. His mom wasn’t a complete monster. He could’ve picked up the phone, too.
Like she could sense him weakening, Jackie pounced.
“Phones work two ways, you know,” she sniffled, sounding genuinely distressed. Then again, his mom was the person who’d taught him how to make crocodile tears convincing at the tender age of six. “A mother shouldn’t have to find out about the new woman in her son’s life from the papers. Why wouldn’t you tell me about her, Mike? She’s lovely. And so successful…”
There it was. Leave it to her to come out of the woodwork only after paparazzi shots of him and Ginny out at the San Diego Zoo went viral.
Good old mom.
She’d gone on to congratulate him, in a mostly roundabout way—plausible deniability after all—about his future score, probing at his methods and testing for weak spots or whether there was any chance he’d let her in on it.
He got so turned around that he ended the conversation without denying, emphatically, everything. For Jackie, that’d been as good as a confirmation.)
Mike can’t blame her— Well, he can and he does, but Jackie Lawson is and always has been a two-bit con artist. She doesn’t have the patience for long games, always opting for the quick pay day, even when the risks are greater. After 36 years, Mike’s finally learned not to expect more of her. That ship has long since sailed. The scent of the biggest payoff she’d ever see, even if it isn’t strictly real, was bound to draw her out.
Which is why he still hasn’t corrected the confusion. Why he hasn’t told her that he’s just in love, or something dangerously close to it. And why he is going to send his mom some money from this nonexistent con.
He’s got some savings built up. A few more big commissions and he can offer Jackie Lawson a pay day. One that will maybe convince her to give up on the ever-elusive big score and go into retirement. Or whatever it is that second-rate grifters do in their twilight years.
If it also keeps her from showing up in San Diego herself and detonating his entire life, then all the better.
Most importantly, it shields Ginny from all of this bullshit. It gives Mike room to tell her about his childhood and his mom and everything that goes with them on his own terms. Hopefully, he could preserve the fragile, perfect bubble insulating the honeymoon stage of his relationship with Ginny.
With all the time Ginny’s been spending at the Omni, her steadily disappearing possessions from his apartment, and the way she’s been texting him less and less, though, maybe the bubble’s already popped.
When he shuffles into his quiet apartment after a long day at the dealership—managed to upsell some bored, young finance guy on a Maserati that he’d probably end up totaling within three months. Good for his future commission cuts if not that beautiful piece of machinery—Mike lets himself hope for a moment that Ginny will be there, waiting for him.
He can practically see her, sitting cross-legged on the couch, her hair piled on top of her head and yelling at the TV. Whether it’s because of NC State’s poor performance or clueless Jeopardy! contestants is always up for debate, but the smile she’d give him isn’t. Wide and bright and quick, it’s enough to make Mike melt, no matter how awful his work day went.
God, he loves that smile.
All that waits for him on the couch, though, are a pile of bills and the hoodie she’d forgotten when they had dinner together four nights ago.
Idly, he picks it up and inhales the lingering scent of Ginny. It’d probably be embarrassing if anyone saw him do it, but Mike might actually be beyond caring.
She’d shown up at his door, looking as fresh-faced and energetic as ever in spite of the long workout he knew she’d just completed—couldn’t neglect her legs or core, even with a bum arm. And she didn’t come alone. A bag from the burger place in Encinitas he’d shown her hung by her side. Before he could ask how she’d gotten them—her appointment to take her license exam was still a few weeks away—she’d given him a lopsided smile and admitted to asking a clubby to go pick them up for her.
Mike shook his head, rolling his eyes, but still reeled Ginny into his side so he could revel in the feel of her against him. Slumping, she leaned most of her weight on him, the only indication she gave of how worn out she was. Well, he’d gladly bear that weight for her. As long as Ginny let him. She’d sighed and held him as tightly as he did her.
It’d been a quiet night, the two of them settling on the couch to watch basketball and eat their burgers. She was quiet, but Mike mostly thought that was because she didn’t have much of an opinion on the Lakers-Wolves game he’d put on. He asked a few questions about her PT and she shrugged them off, not that he could blame her. Mike had to imagine pretty much everyone in her life wanted to talk about her PT: how it was going, did she feel stronger, when could she start throwing again. If Ginny needed him to be the one person who didn’t, he would gladly be that for her.
So, he let his arm drop around her shoulder and let her lean against his side and just relax.
When she eventually rose to go, Mike didn’t argue, much as he wanted her back in his bed. He hadn’t been sleeping well and wanted to believe having her with him would help. At the very least, when he woke in the middle of the night, he’d be able curl around her. Instead, he simply followed her to the door, pressed a goodnight kiss to her full lips, and told her to sleep well. She’d pulled back and searched his face for a long moment before turning and walking away, out of sight.
That was four days ago, though.
Now, Mike is reduced to burying his face in his girlfriend’s sweatshirt and pretending it’s even close to actually having her here.
With a sigh, Mike looks around the dead apartment and tries to muster up any kind of desire to make dinner or do some of the dishes piling up in the sink.
Instead, he fishes his phone out of his pocket and hopes that Ginny hasn’t already gone to bed.
As the line rings, he shrugs out of his jacket and loosens his tie, sitting on the end of his bed to unlace his shoes. He stops all that, though, flopping back on the mattress when the ringing stops and Ginny’s familiar, low rasp comes in.
“Fuck, Gin,” he sighs down the line without preamble. Laying in bed isn’t the same without her curled beside him, without the smell of her shampoo drifting into his nose as she tucks her head against his shoulder. “I miss you.”
She hums and Mike has a visceral memory of her making that same sound and how it vibrated through her lips, straight into him.
(That she’d had those lips wrapped around his dick at the time doesn’t make him ache for her any more, but that’s just because Mike doesn’t think it’s physically possible.
God, how deep in this thing is he?)
“You sure you don’t wanna come stay over tonight?” he offers weakly, already knowing her response.
“You know I’ve got an early appointment with the team physicians.”
“I do,” Mike allows. “Still wish you were here with me.”
“Well, I’m not, old man,” Ginny teases. If there’s something a little off in her delivery, he figures it’s just how tired she must be. “Deal with it.”
He chuckles. “Maybe if I had more to keep me company than this rank sweatshirt of yours, I could handle it better.”
Mike definitely expects her to laugh it off and ask about her sweatshirt. How the woman manages to keep her closet full of lycra and spandex-based workout clothes straight is a mystery, but Ginny’s got a an encyclopedic knowledge of each and every one. He’s sure she’s been going mad trying to figure out where this one got to.
Instead, there’s a long pause. He can practically hear her thinking.
“Like what?” she finally asks, slow and hesitant. “You want a picture?”
(If Mike were feeling less lonely, less turned on by the mere thought of Ginny arranging herself for an impromptu photoshoot, he would probably remember the hack and the selfies and the scramble and circus surrounding them. He’d probably hear the edge in her voice, the slight tremble of suspicion and anxiety. As it is, all he can think about is how hard he is at the mere suggestion of Ginny sprawled out on the pristine white sheets in her hotel room, snapping a picture just for him.)
He groans and doesn’t resist palming himself through his slacks.
“There’s not a chance in hell I’m gonna say no to that, Gin.”
“How did I know?” Ginny laughs, but it’s not the bright, hoarse thing he’s used to. There’s definitely something off-key in it, more resigned than amused.
Mike frowns and stops groping himself. “Hey, you okay?”
“Yeah,” she replies, quick and much closer to her usual tone. “Just tired. I think I’m gonna go to bed.”
“Oh. Yeah, all right,” he says, more than a little disappointed, and not just because it would be only him and his hand tonight. If Ginny doesn’t want to tell him what’s wrong, though, he can be patient, wait her out. Maybe she needs to figure it out on her own before she opens up. “Talk to you later?”
She hums again, murmurs a soft “Good night,” and the line goes dead.
When he comes home from work the following day, the last of Ginny’s things are gone, odd little voids that makes the apartment feel emptier than it is. He trails through the space, taking in the dust ring from Ginny’s bottle of lotion on the coffee table and the absence of her spare running shoes in the closet. When he gets to his bedroom, a heavy sense of foreboding pooling in his gut, the nightstand where he’d left her sweatshirt (after falling asleep with his nose pressed in its folds) is empty, a short note left in its place.
There’s no other way to say this. I think it would be better if we don’t see each other any more.
Please don’t try to contact me.
He reads it, over and over again, but the words never once rearrange themselves into anything less gut-wrenching.
Automatically, he reaches for his phone, Ginny’s contact information appearing on the screen in spite of her last request.
The line rings. Once.
“The number you are trying to reach is currently unavailable, please leave a message after the tone.”
He doesn’t bother, instead sinking to the bed, a mirror of the position he was in last night, talking to Ginny on the phone. Today, though, his head sinks to his hands, elbows propped on his knees, and there’s really only one thing to say.
Fuck is right.