The thing is: Ginny Baker does not like pears. So when Mike Lawson tells her that she has a pear-shaped ass, Ginny takes it as a declaration of war. (Also, his whole “I am an ass slapper, rookie” speech? We get it.)
(But he does think her ass is perfect.)
(Which is, factually, true.)
Weeks pass by, however, and the apparently core part of Lawson’s identity, ass slapping, doesn’t happen. It seems like some part of her retort got through that thick crash helmet of his brain. She pitches games, some bad, some good, and Lawson gets in her face sometimes, but that’s normal; that’s what pitchers and catchers do.
But then he finds out she likes grape soda. They’re working out in the gym, early, which is something Ginny has always done (and something Lawson says he won’t do, doesn’t do, but then does). She’s on the treadmill for her usual warm up: five miles, fast. Mike’s stretching in front of the treadmill.
“So: grape soda,” he says. Ginny hears him and turns up Katy Perry in response. Do you ever feel like a plastic bag? All the damn time, Katy. All the damn time.
Can’t hear you, she mouths, gesturing at her earbuds.
“Grape soda,” Lawson says again, flatly. “Grape soda. Grape soda.”
When Ginny punches up the elevation on the treadmill, Lawson loses it. “Godamnit, Baker, GRAPE SODA.”
Five miles, done. Ginny stops the treadmill, takes out the earbuds, and smiles. “Yes?”
“It’s toxic purple shit.” Lawson is stretching out his glutes now, one leg crossed over the other, and Ginny sees his thighs contract and relax.
He snorts. “Purple is for idiots, rookie. Everybody knows that. Orange is the only flavor worth talking about.”
“Gatorade is the biggest sponsor in the MLB, Lawson. We drink what Gatorade tells us to drink.” Ginny leans down to touch her toes, bending one knee at a time, and sighing in release. Running is important, not because she runs a lot on the field, but because it knocks out her racing mind. She feels Mike watching her.
“And for your information: I like grape soda because I like grape soda.”
Mike is still watching her, she knows it. “That’s not an answer.”
“It could be,” she says, and for once, Mike leaves it alone.
Then, after the game—Ginny pitched five innings, struck out seven batters, ignored Lawson on the way back to the bench; the Padres won 5-3—after she’s back at the Omni, after she’s finally, finally alone, and when she’s still thinking about how she could have gotten Bryant out, she gets a text from Lawson. It’s a picture of purple Gatorade.
This is stupid and I blame you
Ginny likes grape soda because it’s nice. Ginny doesn’t know that many nice things; or at least, she doesn’t remember them.
“Baker has a fruit thing,” Lawson announces to the whole team from his spot dead center in the clubhouse, like he’s a circus ringmaster or something. “It’s official.”
They’d lost the game, badly, and this, apparently, is his idea of a pep talk: shitting on fruit. Ginny closes her eyes and counts to ten.
10: You have his rookie card on your wall. 9: Had. 8: He was—is—a great catcher. 7: He is also a jackass. 6: With good thighs. 5: Really good thighs, actually. 4: I am not thinking about Mike Lawson’s thighs. 3: Please stop thinking about Mike Lawson’s thighs. 2: He hates grape soda. 1: WHO HATES GRAPE SODA
Blip sticks his head out from his locker, and Ginny breathes a sigh of relief: He’ll stop Lawson’s tirade, he’s one of her friends, he will do the right thing. “It really is.”
Blip is a traitor who Ginny wants to hit with a 100 MPH pitch. Evelyn will be mad, but only because Ginny won’t let her throw first, and their boys love her regardless, so.
“I like grape soda! That’s it!” Ginny doesn’t get why she has to defend herself. Or why Mike is hung up on it.
“False,” Blip says, pointing a finger at her. Livan snorts. “You hate pears.”
Lawson turns on the spot to face her. “Is that true?”
The guys are all watching her now, which is, Ginny wants to say, ridiculous, because they just lost—badly!—and everyone, herself included, is still sweating through their uniforms and needs to shower and leave to either get drunk or get food, whichever one is cheaper; and yet. Here they are, gaping at her.
“Pears are controversial,” someone says. “Weird texture, you know?”
“Pears are amazing,” Mike snaps. “Pears are fantastic. Pears are perfect.”
Like clockwork, the guys swing their heads in Mike’s direction.
“You good, Mike?” Blip’s looking at him like Lawson just shouted the earth is flat, or that he is, in fact, not an ass slapper.
Lawson’s face is red. Like, really red. And when Ginny suddenly remembers something—that he’d not only called her ass pear-shaped, he’d also called it perfect—her face starts to heat up, too. He doesn’t like grape soda, she reminds herself. He does not like grape soda. Also, he is your catcher. He’s yours.
Al enters the clubhouse and yells at them to move it, he’s not getting any younger. The skipper saves Ginny from thinking further about things she shouldn’t think about, including the one that Mike Lawson is hers, and hers alone.
Some nice things that Ginny does remember: Sunday brunches with the Sanders—the first time it happened; then, when it became a regular thing, a ritual. The feeling she gets when she arrives early at Petco Park, nobody else is around, and she spreads her arms up to the sky, as if her fingers could say, Pop, I made it. When she doesn’t wake up covered in her own sweat. Drinking flat, warm grape soda with Jordan after practice: two kids who didn’t know anything but the widest horizons. That look on Mike’s face, once, when he thought she couldn’t see him; if Ginny weren’t Ginny, she would say it was awe, open and innocent.
This is what Ginny thinks about after nightmares like the once she just had, where Evelyn and Blip and the boys and their dog all die in a car crash, and where she’s throwing pitches to try and save them—because that’s the deal, God told her, pitch or they die—but her pitches aren’t anywhere on target, and Lawson’s screaming at her They’re gonna DIE, Baker, what part of that do you not understand? and the balls are pears rotten down to the core.
Ginny rubs her eyes furiously. Her phone tells her it’s a little past 5AM. The therapist had told her that nightmares like this were part of her “issues” that she needed to work on. She just wishes they would go away.
She scrolls through her contacts, wondering if she should text anybody, and decides that while she could tell Evelyn, that would just make her worry. Same with Blip. (Also, Blip needs all the sleep he can get; being married to Evelyn is a full-time job). And Mike?
MIKE LAWSON (really) stares up at her. She’d typed his full name in and added the (really) as a joke for his benefit. When she showed it to him, he’d laughed and smiled down at her. Really? He’d asked, and she’d told him: Yes, really.
Tired, frustrated, and unable to stop her mind from wandering, she texts him:
When you told me my ass was pear-shaped, what direction was the pear? Up or down?
Then she turns off her phone, hugs her legs to her chest, and waits for the sky to wake up, too.
Mike doesn’t text back.
But after the Padres sweep the Dodgers in a four-game series (“Your ERA is unbelievable,” Amelia tells her, pronouncing the stat as era, like it’s historical), she gets a notification that a package has been delivered at the Omni.
“It’s probably a fan thing,” Evelyn tells her over the phone as Ginny heads down from her apartment. At the front desk, there’s a giant fruit basket.
“It’s a giant fruit basket,” Ginny says out loud.
On closer inspection, it’s a giant fruit basket from “Pears R Us: San Diego’s Original Pear Farm!” There’s a note: Don’t ask me about direction, I’m not a GPS. It’s unsigned, but.
“Ginny? Are you still there? Ginny? Hello? Is the fan thing a kidnapping thing? GINNY BAKER, I SWEAR IF YOU DO NOT TELL ME YOU ARE OKAY RIGHT NOW I AM SENDING BLIP OVER -”
“I’m okay, Ev,” she says quietly. “I’m okay. It’s just a fruit basket.”
“Who sent it?”
“Mike,” she says, even quieter this time.
It’s not that Ginny doesn’t have nice things, it’s really not. If anything, the avalanche of nice things is what gets to her: that it’s happening not necessarily because of who she is, but what she represents, something simultaneously concrete and abstract. First female MLB pitcher. First Black female MLB pitcher. Her face in ads, her face on the banners around Petco Park, her face, period—it means something.
And she’s grateful, she’s glad, that it does; but sometimes (mostly nights, if she’s being honest), it drives her crazy. Nobody knows her, but everybody knows who they want her to be. And she can’t be that—she doesn’t know how, she doesn’t want to know how—and still, that’s what gnaws at her, holding its hands around her lungs and twisting them, hard.
Amelia tells her it’s part of the deal: fear and fame. But that’s not what Ginny’s feeling. It’s not.
She thinks about this while she’s perched on the island in her kitchen, drinking flat, warm grape soda and rolling a pear around. Her kitchen, like it’s an apartment she owns. It’s a hotel room. It’s a fucking hotel room.
Ginny sighs. The pear is rotten; she kept it too long.
Her phone buzzes. Evelyn. Still on for Sunday?
Good!! Bring whatever. Scratch that, bring a bat. Mike will be there.
Ginny chews at her lip, wondering how much she should say. The empty fruit basket is still on her countertop. No bat necessary. Lawson’s been on good behavior.
She adds: Unrelated but when someone calls somebody else’s ass perfect and also pear-shaped, is the pear facing up or down, like stem up or stem down. Just wondering.
Evelyn doesn’t text back for four minutes. Then: This is about Mike, right? I blacked out. This IS about Mike Lawson. Oh my GOD. Also, he’s totally right, your ass is a pear.
I KNEW IT
Sunday will be excruciating.
Spoiler: Sunday IS excruciating. Ginny shows up on time, 11AM, with a giant pack of La Croix for Evelyn (pamplemousse, “the only acceptable choice”) and a bear hug for Blip.
“Evelyn told me I owe her?” he says as they hug. “Anything I should know about?”
“Nope!” Ginny chirps. (Ginny is not a chirper.)
Evelyn pokes her head out from the dining room. “Great, now we can eat! Ginny, Mike’s here already.”
“But it’s always 11,” Ginny complains.
Mike walks out to the hallway, a cup of coffee in his hand. “Evelyn told me it was 10:30.”
Ginny’s seen Mike outside of his uniform, obviously, in suits for promos and whatever, but it’s still weird to her, seeing him in jeans. It’s also weird to see him like this, holding coffee and leaning against the wall, almost like it’s a regular thing; like this is a Sunday for them, and just them, and he’s offering her coffee.
“Coffee,” he says, holding it out to her.
Blip looks between Ginny and Mike, and that’s when Ginny realizes she’s fucked.
“Baby, how much did you say I owe you?” Blip shouts at Evelyn. “$100?”
“$150, actually, and I don’t take checks,” Evelyn replies smoothly. “Ginny, Mike, let’s eat.”
The Sanders boys are already at the table, jostling each other about who gets to sit next to Aunt Ginny. She laughs and sits between them—half compromise, half preventative measure.
Evelyn flashes her a grateful smile. Ginny smiles back, but her smile falters when she realizes that Mike’s looking at her strangely, almost like he’s in pain.
“Your knees okay?” she asks him across the table.
His face falls flat. “I’m fine, rookie.”
“You looked bad,” she says.
“I didn’t dress up for you,” he says. Ginny feels her phone buzz but ignores it. “If I did, you’d know.”
Ginny’s phone buzzes again, then again. She looks down at it.
I live vicariously through this
and by this I mean the sexual tension!!!!
has anyone ever told you Mike looks at you like your the seventh wonder of the world
Ginny I swear if you two don’t bang this one out I WILL kill you both
Evelyn is practically radiating glee from the corner. Blip, meanwhile, is invested in pouring maple syrup over his pancakes, and is totally worthless.
Mike coughs. “Anyway. I, uh, brought something.” He reaches down into a bag—since when did Mike bring bags?—and pulls out a cardboard box. “For the table or whatever.” He coughs again and shifts in his seat.
“What do we say to Mike?” Evelyn prompts the boys, who scream, “THANK YOU, MIKE LAWSON.” Blip chuckles through a mouthful of syrup.
Mike stares sternly down at the box as he opens it, almost like he’s scared it will run away. “It’s from that place that Al told me to go. Old-school Italian.” He holds it up, looking somewhere beyond Ginny’s shoulder. “It’s, uh, pear.”
“But Aunt Ginny hates pears,” one of the boys says.
Oh my god
He brought you a pear tart
HE BROUGHT YOU A PEAR TART
LOOK AT YOUR DAMN PHONE
THE MAN IS SMITTEN
Ginny chokes on her water. Mike asks if everything’s okay.
“I’m fine,” she splutters, quickly putting her phone in her pocket. “Everything’s fine.”
“What’s the tart about, Mike?” Evelyn is all bright eyes.
Blip rubs his hands together. “I love tarts.”
“Tarts are good,” Evelyn agrees. “Tarts are very good.”
“I saw it and thought it looked good,” Mike shrugs.
Evelyn nods sagely. “I bet you did. It’s perfectly shaped, too, Mike.”
Ginny wants to slide off her chair and die now, please.
The Padres are on the road, travelling in one of the team-approved buses (approved by Oscar, that is, because the deal was too good to pass up, and also because he flies first class) to play the Rockies for one game. MLB screwed them over with a delayed game a few weeks back; now, they’re playing a makeup game as a one-off. Ginny has cursed Manfred to hell and back, but nothing seems to work on the commissioner.
The bus fits the whole team, barely, and per usual, Ginny and Mike find themselves crammed next to each other. To go over hitters was the first reason. Other reasons: Mike is actually really good at bringing snacks (“Baker, if you die on the mound, it’s not gonna be my fault”); Ginny needs someone to sing Katy Perry at; Ginny also needs somebody’s shoulder as a pillow, and Mike’s just happens to be the perfect height. Not, you know, that she thinks about how their bodies fit together seamlessly, like they knew each other in another life and are finding each other in this one, too.
They haven’t talked about it—pears, the tart, the texts—and Ginny is grateful. She’s chalked it up to one bad text on her part; one bad, extended attempt at a joke on Mike’s. Things can go back to normal, she thinks. And if that normal makes her lungs hurt, well, so be it.
Blip leans over the aisle. “Look, I’m not trying to start something, but is a tomato a fruit?”
“It’s a vegetable,” Robles shouts from the front.
“I don’t know, man,” Blip yells back. “It’s got seeds.”
“So does a lot of crap,” Mike says. Ginny feels his hips shift next to hers and counts down to 10. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1
“Like, pears have seeds,” Blip adds. “A fruit. Totally a fruit, Robles.”
“Blip.” Ginny says his name, pleading. “I’m trying to sleep.”
“I’m trying to solve science!”
Al chooses this moment to pipe up. “So, my grandkid thinks it’s a vegetable.” He holds up the phone as proof. “Pete says so. Says his school says it’s one.”
Robles points at Al. “Pete’s my boy.”
“That’s two for vegetable,” Livan says from behind Ginny. “Blip’s a maybe. Mamí?”
Mike shifts his hips again, and Ginny wonders if it’s deliberate. She can feel his hip against hers, digging in—warm, present, insistent. She looks at him.
“What do you think, Lawson? Is it a fruit?” His face is so close to hers. They’ve never been this close. She can see his eyelashes, which are longer than she’d thought they’d be. For a man with such a solid face, his eyelashes are so gentle. So, so gentle.
“It is,” he says.
“Then it’s a fruit,” she says.
“Is this you agreeing with me, Baker?” His voice is low, quiet. Close.
“That’s a first.”
“You got me a fruit basket, Mike.”
“Ginny, I got you a pear basket.”
This is the first time he has called her Ginny. His face is so, so close to hers.
“THREE VOTES TO TWO, A TOMATO IS A FRUIT,” Livan shouts. “Now we talk about guayaba, yes?”