Slumming

SUMMER 1987
    Bethlehem Pennsylvania

Mina’s father caught her glancing at him all through sacrament meeting, but, thankfully, all he could do, since he sat on the stand, was scowl at her. She’d hear about it when she got home, though.

She wondered if Greg, sitting on her right and holding her hand, had noticed. When she looked at him, he simply smiled that devastating smile. She gave him a weak smile in return and lowered her eyes.

She had a hard time looking him in the eye, which was not normal for her.

Once again, Mina wondered what was wrong with her. Half the girls in the stake wouldn’t speak to her, and the other half said hurtful things about having a daddy who’d give her anything she wanted, including a handsome, promising fiancé.

Which was mostly true, but she didn’t want Greg. She wanted—

Oh, boy.

She had a full-on crush on Mitch Hollander, and she’d never even talked to him.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on what mood she was in when she thought about it, Elder Hollander hadn’t so much as glanced her way all summer.

“You’re looking a little peaked, love,” Greg purred in her ear, and she shivered. She knew how it must seem to him, her shivering like that. But it wasn’t the good kind of shiver, the kind of shiver she got from looking at not-quite-Elder Hollander.

“I don’t feel very well,” she whispered. That wasn’t true at the moment, but, unlike her father, Greg left her alone when she said that.

True to form, he patted her hand and went back to listening to the talks.

• • •

“Hi.”

Mina, standing in the hallway down range of the gym, started and turned to stare up at the boy she’d been fantasizing about for the last two months. He was talking to her! “Hi,” she squeaked, trying to calm her pulse, moisten her mouth, and think of something not stupid to say all at the same time.

“You’re Mina Monroe, right?”

“Um … yes … ?”

“I’m Mitch Hollander. Would you like to dance?”

Would she ever! “I can’t— I don’t know how to dance.” Like you do.

He smiled at her and she caught her breath. She’d never seen him smile like that before, and it transformed his whole face, that wide smile that dug curved lines into his cheeks. “That’s okay. I can teach you or … not. Doesn’t matter to me. Do you want to dance or not?”

Truthfully, she didn’t. She’d had three soccer games that week and she was tired, but for Elder Hollander—Mitch

“Yes, thank you.”

They didn’t talk, but it was impossible, with the music playing, pounding fast, club music really. She tried to keep up, but it was all she could do to bounce up and down in time.

“Mina,” he half-yelled halfway through the song. She looked up at him to see concern written all over his face. “Are you okay?”

“Um … ”

“C’mon,” he murmured, taking her elbow, then carefully guiding her down the hall to the back of the building, weaving through the mass of bodies lining the walls, some of whom were bouncing up and down in time to the music while they talked.

It was hot and muggy in August in Allentown, but she didn’t really notice when he led her outside, across the lawn to a dark and secluded spot, and said, “Sit down. I’ll be right back.”

Mina didn’t like this one bit. She was alone in the dark—okay, well, there were several couples out here, but they were … busy. She tried not to stare.

“Here,” he said, scaring her half to death.

She looked up and took the plastic cup of water he’d gotten her. He dropped beside her while she drank, and she had to admit that she felt much better. Whether that was because she was being taken care of or because it was Elder Hollander—Mitch—doing it, she didn’t know.

“Thank you,” she whispered when she finished, then stared at the empty cup in her hands to keep from looking at him and betraying everything she’d thought about him since she’d first seen him six months ago.

“Are you sick?” he said.

That got her attention and she looked at him. “No. Why?”

He shrugged. “Sometimes you don’t look so great.”

Mina felt the sting of tears as she looked at him, aghast that he would say such a rude thing. But … it was no more than what Coach Leonard had said to her father, and he was still taking her out of the game at the end of the third quarter no matter how much her father yelled at him.

Mitch blinked. “Um … I’m sorry?” he said uneasily. “I guess that was kinda rude, huh?”

“Yes, it was,” she said crisply as she stood, her tears drying with her outrage.

He shot to his feet and lightly clasped her fingertips in his to keep her from going back into the building. “Hey, I’m sorry. Really.”

“Why did you talk to me?” she snapped. “Did my father say something to you and you’re only talking to me to get back at him?”

“He did say something to me,” Mitch said.

Mina’s mouth dropped open. “He did?”

His face shuttered. “Yes. But that’s not why I’m talking to you.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “Then why are you?”

“You just—” He sighed. “You always look so sad and alone,” he finally said, no emotion in his voice. “You hardly ever dance. I was just trying to be nice. It won’t happen again.”

Mina turned to walk across the lawn back to the building. He walked with her, but was silent. When they reached the building, he opened and held the door for her. With a gentlemanly sweep of his arm, ushered her in, then disappeared.

You always look so sad and alone.

The phrase kept looping in her mind as she walked, her head bowed, back to the cacophony in the cultural hall, a mix of loud dance music and hundreds of people trying to talk over it. She had to dodge people in the halls and people gathered at the entrance to the gym, but … why did it bother her so much?

It was true, what he’d said.

She never danced because she didn’t know how—

No. Her mouth pursed. She wouldn’t lie to herself.

She didn’t dance because it felt funny being almost engaged to Greg, and Greg never coming to the dances, and dancing with other boys, even though both her father and Greg felt that was all right as long as she didn’t dance with any one boy too much.

The Spanish music started, which it always did around this time of night, if Mitch Hollander had shown up. She stared at the dance floor, at him, at some of the other guys, the girls … Some time in the last few weeks, several people had learned how to dance like Mitch and Inez had danced—or at least, they made a decent attempt at it.

He danced with several of the girls, and it was clear to Mina that while he danced down to their level, he had taught each one of them, was teaching even as they danced now.

Suddenly, she was mad and sad and frustrated and regretful all at the same time. She squared her shoulders and barged through the rings of people watching Mitch and his students dance to Latin music. She stomped across the dance floor and grabbed his arm. He stopped, gaped at her, but didn’t protest when she pulled him away from his partner, off the dance floor, out the gym door, and outside, far enough away from the door to speak privately.

“I’m practically engaged,” she announced softly. “But it’s not like … that. I mean, I don’t— My almost-fiancé, he’s—” Oh, no. This was going so badly. “I like you,” she blurted.

His mouth dropped open.

“I want to know why you asked me to dance. The real reason. Because I saw you making out with Inez when you first got home.”

He took a deep breath and looked off into the distance, let his breath out in a long whoosh, and ran his fingers back through his shaggy curly blond hair that looked awful cute right then.

“Mina, um … ” He opened and closed his mouth. Opened it again. “I think the more important question is why you’re telling me you like me if you’re engaged.”

“Not yet,” she hastened to assure him, not liking that he’d turned the tables on her. She didn’t feel engaged. “I’m not engaged yet. It’s … something my father wants.” That sounded ridiculous.

“Are you telling me your father arranged for you to marry somebody?” he asked, dumbfounded.

Oh. That did sound bad. “Well,” she said in a very small voice. “Yeah. I guess. Kind of.”

“And you’re just going to go along with it?”

“Well, I don’t know what else to do!” she cried and stomped her foot. “I would be stupid not to marry him.”

“Who, exactly?”

“Greg Sitkaris.”

Mitch stiffened, stared at her stonily. “Is this a setup your father and Greg cooked up to embarrass me?”

“What?!” she squeaked, about to cry, seeing an obstacle she hadn’t thought about. “No!”

“Look, I don’t know what your game is, but I thought you were a cute, sad, lonely looking girl who needed a friend and a hug, and maybe a kiss or two. But I don’t really want to get mixed up in your dad and fiancé’s plans.” She opened her mouth to protest, but he held up a hand. “I’ll admit I wouldn’t have noticed you if your dad hadn’t warned me off pretty hard, but if I didn’t think I might like to get to know you, I wouldn’t have talked to you just to make your dad mad. I don’t care what he thinks.”

“Wait, what? You only noticed me because of my dad?”

“Yeah,” he drawled caustically. “So you can see how I’d be a little suspicious that you’re saying you’re engaged but not really but you like me.”

“How can I prove to you it’s not?”

He blinked. “Uh … ”

“Do you like me?” Mina insisted.

He hesitated. “Well, so far so good, I guess,” he said slowly. “I’d like to find out better, but … I’m still not sure you aren’t playing me.”

“Then let me prove it to you,” she said, almost desperate now.

“Okay, so either you’re setting me up or you want me to rescue you from this thing.”

Rescue … It wasn’t a bad idea, but that wasn’t the idea. The idea was that Mina liked Mitch.

And he would never believe it.

“Never mind,” she murmured.

“Go out with me,” he said. “That’s how you can prove it. Tell your dad I’m taking you out. I’ll pick you up, take you home.”

Everything her father had ever said about that kid Mitch Hollander ran through Mina’s head and her heart stopped. “Um … I—” There was a price to pay to have Mitch Hollander’s attention, and she had never thought about how high that price might be. “Oh, I don’t think so. My dad would … ”

His lip curled. “I see. I’m just a low-class steeler bad boy and you wanted to go slumming in secret for a while before your rich boyfriend decides to marry you. What, was I the one thing daddy won’t give you and you’re throwing a fit?”

Mina thought her chest had been kicked in, but she was well trained and she did not cry.

“All right,” she said, lifting her chin. “I’ll do it.”

He stared at her for what seemed forever, still suspicious. “All right,” he echoed slowly, “I’ll pick you up next Friday at seven. Dinner and a movie. I can’t afford much more. I’m saving to go to college.”

“I can’t Friday.”

His mouth tightened.

“It’s not what you think,” she said in a rush. “I have a soccer game. I can’t miss it. I’m starting forward.”

That got his attention.

“Oh.”

“Would you come see me play?” she asked, breathless. Greg had never gone to one of her games.

“Um, okay,” he said. “Sure. I’d like that. Maybe … after?”

This is where it got tricky. Mina bit her lip. “Not after. I’m always … I’m tired after. I have to sleep. I don’t— My coach won’t let me play the fourth quarter ever.”

He looked at her and tilted his head. “There is something wrong with you, then?”

“No,” she said. “I don’t think so. Just … I don’t have as much stamina as everybody else.”

“But you’re a starter.”

“Yeah. I rack up the goals and then let everybody else carry it.”

He flashed her that wonderful grin then. “Is that right?

“Yeah.”

“That’s rad. Okay, what about Saturday night? Dinner and a movie?”

Greg was supposed to be out of town again.

“Okay,” she whispered, the problem having resurfaced.

“One condition.”

“What?” She didn’t really want to know.

“Don’t lie about where you’re going or who you’re going with. No girlfriends or mom or sisters running interference.”

Mina gulped. “Okay.”

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