“Go, Mina, go! Get the ball! Get the darn ball!”
Mina struggled to remain ahead of the other girls, dribbling the ball between her feet, her father’s bellow ringing in her head. This was the end of the third quarter and if she hit this—
Her father’s proud shout should have made her happy, but it didn’t.
“Mina,” her coach barked. “You’re out the last quarter.”
“What?!” Shane Monroe yelled. “Why are you benching her? She’s played a perfect game.”
“Siddown, Mr. Monroe!”
It was moments like these Mina was glad to have a male soccer coach who wasn’t afraid of her father. Coach Leonard didn’t go to their church, so he didn’t care that her father was the bishop. He was bigger than Mina’s father, so he could (and had) backed her father into a corner. He was lower middle class, but he didn’t care, so Mina’s father couldn’t intimidate him with money or connections. In short, he had no reason not to do exactly what he pleased with Mina when she was on a soccer field.
Mina plopped down on the bench and took the Gatorade Coach Leonard handed her. Sometimes, she thought as she gulped and gulped and gulped, it felt like Coach Leonard was protecting her, but she didn’t know what she had to be protected from. Her father wasn’t abusive.
Maybe he knew how tired she got toward the end of the third quarter. Maybe he knew how hard she tried to get enough goals to let second string take over so she could rest, because she knew she wouldn’t be able to last through the last quarter without stumbling.
“Yo, Adrian!” Coach Leonard yelled at his assistant. Her name wasn’t really Adrian, but it was a joke from the Rocky movie Mina had loved so much, one her father would be horrified to know she had seen. Sasha jogged over and they put their heads together. She nodded and Coach Leonard headed to the bleachers—and Mina’s father.
She gulped and watched her father’s mouth tighten, then more, as Coach Leonard spoke and gestured. They left the bleachers and headed toward the parking lot. She could feel the anger in the air from here.
“What have you been telling him, Wilhemina Beth?” her father ground out as soon as he started the car after the game was over.
“Nothing,” she said warily, unable to think of anything she’d ever told Coach Leonard that would make her father angry.
“He seems to think you’re sick.”
“Sick? Like, sick how?”
“Like, the reason he benches you at the end of the third quarter is because you can’t physically play anymore.”
So he did know, but how did that translate to her being, well sick?
“I get really tired,” she said matter-of-factly, too well trained to let a hint of sullenness or tears creep into her voice. “But I haven’t said anything to him about it.”
“Well, I told him it was baloney and that you’re to play all four quarters next game. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you.”
“Daddy, I really am tired, and my body hurts.”
“Good. Shows you worked hard. Work harder next game.”
Mina sighed and hoped Coach Leonard would do exactly what he always did. Mina loved soccer and she loved her coach. She couldn’t wait to have children and teach them how to play. If she had her way, she’d grow an entire soccer team.
But that was a long way off and it required a husband and … sex.
Don’t get your hopes up, Mina, and don’t believe the magazines and novels. Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Pffftt. It’s not all it’s made out to be.
Her mother’s vaguely sad commentary during The Talk was really the only thing she remembered about their conversation. Of course, Mina understood the mechanics, and though she had enjoyed a kiss or two snuck during church dances, she didn’t find it an attractive prospect.
Except that was how one had babies, and she would do what she had to do to have her own soccer team.
Her father startled her out of her thoughts.
“Greg Sitkaris is coming over for dinner tomorrow night,” he said abruptly. Mina’s heart stopped. “I want you to dress in your Sunday clothes and be on your best behavior.”
“Yes, Daddy,” she murmured.
“You mark my words, young lady. That boy is going places, and it would please me greatly if you caught his eye enough that he’d take you with him.”
She gulped. Brother Sitkaris was so much older than she … He had gone on a mission (to China) and graduated from college already. He was twenty-four and so much older than she that she couldn’t bring herself to even think of him by his first name.
“Um. You mean … ”
“Yes, Mina. I would like to have him for a son-in-law, if you get my drift.”
She didn’t know how to do that.
“How do I do that? I mean, it’s kind of … I mean, don’t you have to, you know, fall in love or something?” She would never fall in love with Brother Sitkaris. He was old and there was something about him …
Like her mother’s uncle that one of Mina’s cousins said was “funny.” She didn’t even like to be on the same floor of the house as Uncle Jesse and she hated Thanksgiving.
“Mmm, well, I do believe he has feelings for you. Of course, seventeen’s a bit young, but you don’t seem interested in dating anyone, and I thought I might help things along a bit in that area. I think you’d like him if you’d talk to him a little.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. School. Soccer.” He slid his glance sideways at her. “How well you cook and bake. How much of a help you are around the house. In fact,” he said, striking the heel of his palm against the steering wheel. “Why don’t you make dinner tomorrow night? Oh, that’s a fine idea.”
“Daddy, I can’t. I have to study for a calculus test.”
He waved a hand. “Oh, calculus. It won’t kill you to get a lower grade. I don’t know why you took that anyway. You aren’t going to need it for anything.”
Mina stared out the car window and didn’t see the passing scenery. Tears pricked her eyes as her father went on about her exceptional domestic skills, but she would not cry.
To be fair, Mina had to admit, she wanted to get married in the worst way. Have babies. Really, she did, but she just didn’t have any feelings for any of the boys she knew who weren’t attached to some other girl. She’d be eighteen in November and still no prospects, so the only thing she could do was go to college.
It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go to college, she’d just rather get married. But since it hadn’t looked like she’d be getting married any time in the near future, she could go to college while she waited for Mr. Right to show up.
And she didn’t like showing badly on a test, either.
“If— If Brother Sitkaris—” She could barely choke out the name. “If he— Um, how would that work?”
“Well, you know,” her father said expansively, pleased. “If he asks you to marry him, you say yes and then you can plan your wedding. I mean, you’ve been planning one since you were twelve.”
That was true. Her hope chest was full of wonderful things. She just … didn’t want to marry someone she didn’t want to marry.
“But what if I don’t want to marry him?”
“Nonsense. Greg’s a handsome, charming young man with a bright future ahead of him. What girl wouldn’t want to marry him? A girl would have to be pretty stupid not to.” Mina’s breath caught in her chest. “And I know you are not stupid.”
She did, in fact, make dinner the next night. She determined to stay up late to study, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to. By the time dinner was on the table and she was showered, dressed, and made up, all she wanted to do was go to sleep.
Brother Sitkaris was charming. He kept her laughing and smiling all through dinner, complimenting her on her food, her dress, her hair. He made her blush once with a gentle tease, and he smiled right at her.
Goodness, he was handsome.
She wished … She wished she could see a life with him, but she couldn’t.
Not that she could see one with anyone else, either.
There was no one else.
• • •
Mina stared across the darkened cultural hall at the boy she’d watched for the last ten minutes. He wasn’t all that good looking, and certainly not as good looking as Greg (well, nobody was, not even movie stars), but there was something about him …
“That’s Mitch Hollander,” murmured Mina’s best friend, Lori. She could barely hear her over the throbbing dance music and the sound of one hundred fifty young adults dancing and talking, laughing and making a general ruckus in a gym. “You know. Him.”
Mina’s heart sank a little. Him. The boy her father and Greg had talked about in disapproving tones over Sunday dinner for the past two months.
“I can’t believe he had the nerve to show up here,” Lori continued. “After he— Well, you know.”
Yes, Mina knew what he’d done. Everybody in the stake knew.
“I think it was a girl. It’s always girls.”
Mina’s mouth tightened a bit. “I don’t think that’s very fair,” she finally murmured, unable to resist defending someone.
“Oh, Mina,” Lori sighed. “You think everybody’s as sweet as you are.”
“I heard it was medical,” Mina returned.
“Yeah, that’s what they say … ”
Mina had heard it from her father and she had no reason to doubt his word.
“My dad says. He talked to the mission president personally.”
“Oh. Well, okay.”
If Mitch Hollander had been sent home from his mission because he got in trouble for any reason, her father would’ve been far more insulting than he was.
Weak. You watch. That kid’ll end up slinging hash at the corner McDonald’s after the mill shuts down, which should be any day now. Any kid that can’t hack an eighteen-month mission wouldn’t be able to hack four years of college and nowadays, that’s pretty much a requirement for a good job. I don’t want my daughter dating a kid with no prospects. You hear me, Wilhemina? You stay away from him. Two weeks in the hospital for ulcers. Ha! No, that boy isn’t right.
But the longer she watched him, the more … right … he seemed.
He was alone, standing in the opposite corner of the gym from her, in the circle of light the overhead bulb threw out to dispel the darkness of the dance floor. He was dressed like every other guy in attendance: tight Levi’s (501s, probably), a polo shirt (surprisingly not pink), and deck shoes. Every once in a while, a sparkle of light from the mirror ball would flash on him.
He had wavy hair that gleamed blondish under the halogen, not as short as her father would have deemed appropriate for a freshly returned missionary— He seemed to be fairly tall, lean with broad chest and shoulders.
“Where’s Greg?” Lori asked.
“He had to go out of town,” Mina murmured, still intent on him.
Suddenly Mina wished she could see what color his eyes were.
“Has he proposed yet?”
Mina blushed at the delight in Lori’s voice. “Not … officially,” Mina muttered, hoping he wouldn’t. It had been almost three months since her father had set out his expecta—hopes for Mina and Greg. Greg had taken her out on dates, proper ones, which suited Mina just fine. He was gearing up for it, she knew. Taking it slow and easy because he was a nice man and every time Mina thought about saying no, she felt—
What girl wouldn’t want to marry him? A girl would have to be pretty stupid not to. And I know you are not stupid.
“Oh, he looks kinda sad over there all by himself,” Lori said, pity tingeing her voice. Not that she would do anything about it. She had stationed herself to wait for her fiancé to arrive from work, and had no interest in being nice to any other boy.
Mina hadn’t stopped watching him, standing there alone.
No one would talk to him. They looked at him warily, but no one approached him. It seemed to Mina that he looked at the dancers in the middle of the gym as if trying to ignore the fact that he wasn’t welcome, but then …
… a gorgeous brunette approached him, and he smiled at her as if he knew her. She embraced him and he her, then she took his hand and led him into the fray when the beginning of “La Isla Bonita” came out of the speakers.
“Look at that,” Lori said with some confusion. “Inez never dances with anybody because they don’t know how—” Then she drew in a long, amazed breath.
So did Mina.
Whatever Mitch Hollander had or hadn’t done on his mission to get sent home early, Mina didn’t care.
“Fetch, he can dance,” Lori whispered.
Indeed he could. The DJ must have noticed Inez (who was notorious throughout the stake anyway, for a lot of different reasons), saw that her dance partner could keep up with her, because as Madonna’s voice faded, a new kind of music came pounding out of the speakers.
Spanish or something. Fast, with deep bass and a pounding rhythm.
Inez threw back her head and laughed loudly (Mina might have said “lustily,” but she didn’t like that word and wasn’t quite sure it was what she meant anyway), and Elder—well, not—Hollander raised her right hand in his left and jerked.
Suddenly, Inez was spinning on her toes, around and under his left hand, while he stood watching her as if detached from his hand, which calmly guided her spins, his right arm tucked behind his back.
He stopped her mid-spin with his right hand clapped to the curve of her waist, and they began to dance in a way Mina had only ever seen on the PBS ballroom specials.
Couple after couple stopped dancing to watch this impromptu display, but neither of them seemed to notice or care.
“Looks like we’ve got us a couple of people who know what they’re doing,” the DJ said smoothly over the microphone and under the music. “Back off and let them teach you all a thing or two.”
Mina knew she could never dance like that, the intricate turns, the flashing feet, the speed of the music that demanded they keep up or collapse in defeat. It was an entirely different physical process from soccer, and even that wore her out.
And she could never compete with Inez, twenty-five, beautiful and vivacious, and already divorced with two small children.
Inez, older than Mina by seven years, had always fascinated Mina, no matter her father’s opinion. Mina didn’t know why her father didn’t like Inez (because he was the bishop and couldn’t talk about what he knew about people), but Mina always thought she might like to spend a day with her.
Now, though, Mina only felt wistful resentment rise in her and for no reason.
For one, she was practically engaged. For two, she had no chance at catching Elder Hollander’s eye. For three, her father would blow his stack.
It wouldn’t matter how good he was on a dance floor.
Two weeks in the hospital for ulcers. Ha! No, that boy isn’t right.
Mina sighed and turned away, unable to watch any longer.
She left the cultural hall with a murmured excuse to Lori and wandered vaguely toward the wall phone in a tucked-away corner of the ward building. She could still hear and feel the music faintly, even from this far away, with the chapel between the gym and the phone hall.
“Hi, Daddy,” she said when her father answered. “I’m ready to come home now.”
“Mina, you just got there!” he said. “Stay a while. I know Greg’s being out of town probably leaves you a little bit lonely, but go ahead and dance with some other boys. Get your exercise or something.”
She sighed. He didn’t understand; he never did.
“Tell you what, I’ll split the difference. Dance is over at midnight? I’ll be there at ten-thirty.”
Another forty-five minutes. She wished she’d brought a book so she could go sit in a corner without dying of boredom.
She wished her father would teach her how to drive already. She was almost eighteen, and not being able to drive embarrassed her.
“All right,” she said, because she had no choice. Well, maybe she could push him to it. “Um, Mitch Hollander is here.”
Her father grunted. “Don’t know how he can show his face.”
Not only his face, but his feet and his chest and his … backside. In those tight Levi’s. Mina swallowed.
“Well, you stay away from him and have a good time. See you at ten-thirty.”
Mina wandered the church halls, her head down, threading her way through young single adults from eighteen to thirty, feeling a very young almost-eighteen.
“There you are,” Lori said in a rush, from behind Mina. “They’re still dancing and no one else is.”
Mina shrugged. “Okay.”
Lori drew abreast of her. “Mina, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t feel well.”
Mina very often didn’t feel well, everyone knew it, no one could do anything about it, so there was nothing to say to that. She would rather not have come tonight at all, as it was the end of soccer season and Coach Leonard had told her to rest.
“Go on ahead and find Dean. I’ll be okay.”
But Lori was already down the hall to find her fiancé and hadn’t waited for Mina’s answer. Sometimes that bugged her because the only thing Mina wanted in the world was to get married to a nice Mormon boy and have lots of babies—
Well. She supposed she’d be getting married within the next year, but it didn’t feel like she thought it should.
A flash of sandy hair caught her eye. Elder Hollander burst through the gym doors with his arm around Inez. They were both flushed, laughing, out of breath.
“I missed you,” he said before grasping Inez’s face in his hands and kissing her— French kissing!— In front of everybody!— Like on Love Boat!— For a long time!
“Mmm, I missed you too, Mitch,” Inez murmured when the kiss finally faded, before they headed toward the water fountain. “You didn’t write, naughty boy.”
“You were married, ma chérie.”
“And now I’m not.”
“Lucky me,” he purred, apparently uncaring that a bunch of people were around and listening to their conversation. “Let’s go outside.”
Mina gathered her dignity and slipped into the chapel, up the three stairs to the dais, to the dark corner behind the piano, and sat down.