me, banging my fists on the table: I! WANT! GINNY! BAKER! BACK!
“We ain’t done nothing yet.“
"What if I’m coming to the end of phase one, and it turns out I’m no good at phase two?”
Old doodles of these baseball dorks
I was told that it was unacceptable to leave forgetting is too long the way it is, and, given the current state of things and my inability to imagine anything but roses and rainbows for these two, I kind of agree. but dear lord work had to go in before we can get there.
Heads hung and feet shuffled as the San Diego Padres trudged back into the clubhouse after yet another crushing defeat. Captain Mike Lawson brought up the rear.
The team was enjoying a miserable start to the regular season and morale was at an all time low.
Mike would have to be an idiot not to know he was partially (mostly) responsible for the latter and that the latter had definitely affected the former. While he was definitely an idiot about many things, baseball typically wasn’t one of them.
He’d been at a loss when they first started down this losing streak and, seven games later, still couldn’t quite figure out what to say to pull the team out of its funk. Not when he was in such a rut of his own and had been since the end of Spring Training.
In retrospect, it was something of a miracle that they’d had an okay run in Arizona, coming out of the Cactus League with more wins than losses and a solid 25-man roster.
Well, 24-man-and-1-woman roster.
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.
those who wait | ao3
Mike looked up from slicing tomatoes when Ginny came in, an inquisitive tilt to his head.
She practically skipped through the kitchen, freshly showered and grinning. No question was forthcoming as she slid onto a stool at the island to watch him prep dinner. Most likely, she’d been summoned by the smell of sizzling bacon and wanted to know when food would be ready. There were days that he thought he should regret inviting Ginny—and Blip, who’d declined, and Livan, who hadn’t—to stay in his Arizona house, but he never quite managed to do it. Then of course, she’d do something like grin so openly at him, happy and healthy and on her way to the top, and regret was the least of his worries.
“Back to San Diego next week,” she observed, sneaking a piece of bacon from the paper towel where it was draining and crunching into it. “You excited?”
It hardly mattered whether or not Mike was excited, not with the giddy energy rolling off Ginny. Ever since she’d cemented her spot as a starter again, having made her comeback from last season’s injury, she’d been irrepressible, practically floating everywhere she went. It didn’t dull her competitive edge, but off the field, her enthusiasm and energy were hard to resist.
Well. That was easier to think than the alternative.
(That she was hard to resist.)
“It’ll be good to get back home, get you and Livan outta my hair.”
She wrinkled her nose at him and he laughed automatically. How had she managed to condition him to laugh like that? Maybe because she always smiled, even when she didn’t want to, when he laughed. He’d do worse things for that smile pointed his way.
“Don’t lie, Lawson. You’re gonna miss us.”
“Will not,” he replied, grabbing a loaf of bread. He shot Ginny a questioning look and she nodded eagerly, just like he knew she would. The woman happened to love his grilled BCTs—bacon, cheese, and tomato sandwich. If anything, she’d be the one missing him. Him and his ability to feed himself and others from more than frozen dinners.
“You will,” she repeated, firm. “Who else is going to keep you from turning into even more of an old man?”
“Who says I want to stop? Maybe I’m looking forward to getting my live-in nurse. Sponge baths whenever I want ‘em.”
Her jaw dropped open and she gagged, though Mike was more distracted by the sight of her tongue than he should have been given the circumstances.
“You are disgusting,” Ginny said, but the laugh running through the words told Mike she wasn’t that serious.
“That’s me,” he agreed, placing both assembled sandwiches on the hot griddle. He looked at the spread of ingredients. “Should I assume wonder boy is feeding himself?”
She nodded. “I think he’s trying to convince that restaurant he found to freeze their food and ship it to San Diego. And probably go home with the owner while he’s at it.”
“Sounds about right,” Mike grumbled.
Even though there was a guest room in the house set up just for the Cuban catcher, Mike was sure he’d spent more of his nights sleeping somewhere else. Probably with his choice of company, if his habits from last season held true. Mike wasn’t jealous, though. He had all the company he wanted.
Ginny grinned mischievously, but let Mike finish cooking in peace. She collected plates and silverware and a couple beers and waters from the fridge. Everything got set up on the patio table because she loved the unimpeded view of the desert and hadn’t quite gotten over the fact that Mike even had a patio. Between her apartment back in El Paso and the suite that was still hers at the Omni, Ginny hadn’t exactly been rolling in amenities like patios or rain showers or homemade dinners—though the Omni did have a pretty good room service menu.
She came back to the kitchen to start tossing together a salad. It was the one culinary undertaking that Mike allowed her, and only because it involved “nothing that could set the house on fire.” Ginny was the first to admit that she wasn’t the most skilled cook, but even she had yet to actually burn a house down. Set off the smoke detectors, sure, but she’d wanted her burger well done, anyway.
In companionable silence, having completed this ritual nearly every night of the past six weeks, they finished cooking. Well, Mike cooked and Ginny assembled.
The salad was done just as Mike lifted the warm, crisp grilled cheeses from the griddle and laid them on a platter.
“Outside again?” he double checked, though he wasn’t sure why he bothered. Ginny always ate outside.
She nodded anyway, leading the way with her creation and Mike following along with his.
Once they were settled in, tucking into dinner, they allowed themselves to start talking. Go over their day together. Mike tried to tell himself that it wasn’t all disgustingly domestic, and he even believed it. If only because there wasn’t a single part of him that was disgusted by this.
“How’s your arm feeling? This was the closest Skip’s let you get to your pitch count, wasn’t it?”
Ginny shrugged. “I’m a little sore, but made sure to check in with the trainer after the game. Nothing felt wrong, not like it used to, at least.”
Mike frowned, though he took a bite of the sandwich to keep from saying anything. Apparently, he’d become something of a mother hen since sharing a house with Ginny. He thought it was only natural, having never shared space with an injured athlete who wasn’t himself; of course he was going to make sure she was taking care of her self. Ginny, though, thought it was overbearing.
Still, she grinned, a little indulgent, and said, “If it’s still bad after my massage and flush run tomorrow, you can be the one to tell Skip off.”
He rolled his eyes, but he was definitely gonna hold her to that.
“Yeah, yeah, rookie,” he replied, “I’m a—”
“You know you’re gonna have to come up with a new nick name for me soon, right?”
“How do you figure?”
She looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. “I’m not a rookie anymore.”
The response that he wanted to give, unthinkingly, was that she’d always be his rookie, but that felt dangerous or condescending. Or both. Instead, he frowned in consideration.
“I’ll tell the guys to get on it,” he finally replied, knowing he’d do no such thing.
“Isn’t that your job? As captain.”
“Nah, I’m big picture. Getting the final say in kangaroo court, delivering inspirational speeches in the eleventh hour, deciding when to let Voorhies drag us all to a karaoke bar. That kinda stuff.”
She grinned, her dimples popping in the fading light. “Karaoke bars? How haven’t I heard about this?”
“It happens very rarely. And only when I’m in a really good mood.”
“So never, then.”
He barked out a laugh, shaking his head. “Not often enough to hear Dusty tell it.”
“And me,” she declared, polishing off the last of her sandwich. “I am amazing at karaoke.”
Mike snorted and Ginny’s jaw dropped in outrage.
“I am! I bring the house down, Lawson!”
“Baker, if your humming is any indicator, you couldn’t carry a tune if you had a bucket.”
She let out a disbelieving little huff of laughter. “That’s rude. You’re rude.”
“You’re just figuring that out now?” he grinned.
Ginny just rolled her eyes and she tried to remember if she’d done that quite so often before meeting Mike, or if his habits were just rubbing off on her. It was hard to tell.
They finished the rest of their dinner as the sun slowly sank into the western horizon.
Ginny allowed herself to bask in the dying glow for a moment, but the restlessness that had defined most of her life caught up with her. It always caught up with her.
“Shoot some hoops?” she asked, nodding out to the detached garage and the lone basketball hoop a previous owner had installed.
Mike nodded, pushing himself to his feet. Technically—contractually—they weren’t allowed to play basketball. Not a real game, anyway. Not that Ginny would put up much of a fight in a one on one game. She was scrappy and naturally athletic, but too much of her childhood had been focused on baseball. Mike doubted that she’d ever picked up a basketball outside of gym class (and ill-advised poolside dunk contests) before this February.
So, they’d contented themselves with games of PIG and then HORSE and finally HIPPOPOTAMUS when Ginny complained the games were too short. For someone whose entire job was throwing a small ball at a small target, she really sucked at getting a larger ball to a larger target.
But it wasn’t like Mike was going to pass up on spending time with her.
Especially not if he got to tease her mercilessly while he did it. It was so much easier to pretend they were just regular friends when he got to tease her. When they were both laughing, trading insults and trying to get the other to miss.
But when Ginny made a shot Mike had been sure she’d miss—an over the shoulder hook shot with her left hand—and she lit up, practically throwing herself into his arms with glee; when he could feel every inch of her toned, perfect body pressed up against his; when her breath ghosted, tantalizing and warm against his neck—
Well, it was much harder to pretend, then.
Mike’s heart thudded heavily against his rib cage. His arms had wrapped around her on instinct, tight enough that his hands gripped her waist. There wasn’t a single cell of him that wanted to let her go. No, he wanted to take his face from where it was buried in her hair, wait for her to look up at him, and finally find out what it would be like to kiss Ginny Baker.
But he couldn’t.
So, he convinced himself to release her, to take a step—a tiny shift of his weight, really—back.
She did look up at him, eyes wide, and lips so close to parting.
“Ginny, I can’t keep doing this with you,” he sighed, his breath gusting against her cheek.
For a moment, the world froze. Ginny couldn’t move, couldn’t complete the circuit by collapsing back into Mike and couldn’t step away to avoid overloading it. She was stuck in the middle ground, hovering too close for comfort, but too far away for it, too.
“I can’t keep having these almosts with you,” he said, more raw than she’d heard him in a long time. “Because I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make myself stop next time.”
The world thawed. Her heart began beating a jackrabbit’s rhythm against her ribs. But before she could capture his hand or his face or anything, he backed away, hands clenched into fists at his side.
“I mean, you have a code. That’s fine, I— I get it. You’ve already had your exception.”
She started towards him at that, mouth open to say— something, but he barreled on.
“But I don’t want to be something that you come to regret. Not like he was.”
Ginny didn’t say that not acting on whatever this thing between them was might be more regrettable than the alternative, but she thought it. Just as she thought it every time they brushed up against the implications of that almost outside Boardner’s. Which had been happening more and more frequently over the past six weeks.
Apparently, Mike had noticed, too.
Still, she couldn’t let him go on thinking—
“It wouldn’t be you,” she blurted. He rocked back, confusion and more than a little hurt flashing across his face. That was worse. Immediately, Ginny let the words tumble out of her mouth, anything to make him look less wounded. “If I ever regretted something happening between us, it wouldn’t be that it was you. It would be letting it happen too soon or getting caught and all the bullshit we’d manage to stir up. But not you, Mike. Never you.”
Well, he definitely didn’t look wounded anymore. Ginny couldn’t quite identify the look on his face, not before he was sweeping her up into his arms, practically spinning them around.
She half gasped, half laughed, burying her face in his throat as her arms wound around his neck.
When he’d finally set her back on her feet, arms still wrapped tightly around her, he rubbed his cheek against the top of her head.
Quietly, but still certain, he murmured, “I can wait.”
“Really,” she rasped, just enough disbelief in her tone to make him laugh.
“I’m not good at it,” he clarified, pulling away to look her in the eye, “but I can.”
Ginny believed him.
But if she remained cradled so securely in his arms for one more minute, she wasn’t sure she could wait. Reluctantly, she pulled away, her hands trailing across his neck and shoulders and chest before she finally disengaged.
“So what are we, then? While we wait. Friends?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “It’s not that I don’t want to be your friend, that I’m not your friend already, but I don’t know if I can keep myself from wanting to be more, too.”
“You’re not the only one who wants more, you know,” she replied, dry as the desert surrounding them.
“Well, as long as we’re on the same page.”
“Same page, old man,” Ginny affirmed, wanting to reach out and touch him again, but even the small taste she’d already gotten told her that was a dangerous path to tread.
Instead, she stuck out her hand.
Mike eyed her hand for a long moment before letting his gaze trail up to hers.
“C’mon, Lawson. Just shake on it.”
“What am I even shaking on?” he protested. “Waiting? ‘Til when?”
“We’ll know,” she replied, sounding more confident than she felt. At least her hand didn’t quiver, hanging in the air the way it did.
Mike took one more long look at her before finally clasping his (big, warm, callused) hand in hers and shaking to seal the deal. For a moment, neither released the other, their breath shuddering as Mike’s thumb caressed the back of her hand and her fingertips curled against his palm.
Finally, though, he offered her a single nod and pulled away.
Ginny nodded back, resisting the urge to curl her hand against her heart, hold the warmth of his grip against her as long as it was fresh in her memory.
Almost in sync, they both loosed gusty sighs, trading nearly shy smiles.
“Back inside?” he asked, calling attention to the falling dusk, the first stars beginning to twinkle into view overhead.
Ginny agreed easily enough, following him back to the patio to clean up the remnants of their dinner before heading into the kitchen. As they washed dishes side by side, their newfound understanding settled easily between them. It—and the feelings it involved—wasn’t exactly new even if giving voice to them was.
She still blew soap bubbles at him and he still flicked her with the dish towel, the same easy banter that they’d developed filling the air.
They were still Ginny and Mike.
Neither pretended it was anything other than a relief, trading brief, grateful grins.
If this was how waiting was going to be, then maybe it wouldn’t be quite so bad.
It took longer than either of them would’ve liked, with maybe more tension than either would’ve guessed, too, but eventually, the day came.
The day they both knew.
Ginny grinned at Mike and he was already grinning back.
“You ready for this?”
“Been ready for a long time.”
And that didn’t even begin to describe what they were together.
No. That was was nothing short of perfect.