Pretty Little Head

SUMMER 1987
    Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

“You are not going out with that loser, Wilhemina Beth Monroe!”

“Now, Shane.”

“You stay out of it, Penny.” Mina’s mother shrunk into herself, and Mina knew that was all the help she was going to get. But she thought about Mitch Hollander and his wonderful grin, and steeled her spine.

“I’m not engaged, Daddy,” Mina said calmly. “I would like to go out with a boy who likes me for me, not because he’s your friend. Somebody more my age.”

“Well, it won’t be Mitch Hollander!” he roared.

“I like him, Daddy!”

“Why?! He has nothing. He couldn’t even hack out an eighteen-month mission. He works in a steel mill that’s about to close. He goes to the junior college. What does he have that you could possibly want?”

“He’s nice.”

“So is Greg.”

No, he’s not.

She didn’t know where the thought came from, because she had never not known Greg to be nice.

“I thought we agreed that we’d wait until you graduated before Greg proposed to you. Is this a trick to hurry up and get a ring on your finger? Because if that’s the case, I’ll get him over here with a rock right now.”

No!” she cried, so very frustrated at being accused of trickery at every turn.

“I’ll not have my daughter out with the likes of a loser like Hollander, just like his father and his father’s father, from the coal mine to the steel mill and never an ambition to get further than that.”

“But—”

“I did not raise you to settle for also-rans, Wilhemina! I raised you to understand and appreciate wealth. What, is this some kind of an experiment for you? Go out with a bad boy for a while?”

“No, I—!”

“Go to your room. We’ll talk about this later, when you come to your senses.”

She went.

• • •

For whatever reason, Mina was over the moon when she saw Mitch arrive at the soccer field during practice and seat himself. She was happier than she remembered being in a long time and she waved at him.

He grinned and waved back at her.

“That Greg?” one of her teammates asked.

“No. That’s Mitch.”

“Greg doesn’t exist,” another teammate drawled, and Mina blushed, uncomfortably aware that anyone who knew about Greg but had never seen him thought him a figment of Mina’s imagination.

“Yes, he does,” Coach Leonard rumbled. “But at least Mitch showed up.”

Mina blinked. “You know Mitch?”

“Yup. Worked at the steel mill with him before I hired on here as coach. Hard worker. Smart as a whip. A gentleman. Comes from a good family. You couldn’t do better for yourself than Mitch. No girl could.”

She looked down at the ground and scuffed her toe. “I, uh— My dad—”

Coach Leonard only grunted and turned away to holler something at his kid, then turned back. “Mina, think about this: Any man who doesn’t show up to his fiancée’s events to cheer her on? That’s a problem. A big one.”

He looked around at the entire team. “That goes for every one of you. You’re not pansy-ass girls on the field, and I don’t want you to be pansy-asses off the field, either.” He glanced at Mina. “Got it?”

She gulped. “Yes, sir.”

• • •

The next afternoon, Greg asked her to marry him.

On bended knee.

With a ring that had a huge diamond.

In front of her mother and father.

Mina almost vomited, knowing what she had to do.

It was the hardest thing she’d ever done in her life.

“No.”

She could feel the shocked tension in the room. “Mina Monroe,” her father barked. “Is this about Mitch Hollander?”

Greg started. “Mitch Hollander?” he demanded as he arose smoothly from the floor. “The kid who came home early from his mission?”

“Yes, that one,” he father snapped. “Why do you think I told you to get your behind over here?”

“What’s he got to do with anything?”

“It appears that Mina has caught herself a little crush.”

Greg looked at her incredulously, but there was an emptiness in his eyes she had never seen before. She shivered. “What does he have that I haven’t?” Greg asked smoothly, with a flat tone that frightened her.

Mina’s mouth opened and closed. Opened. Closed. “Um. He— He came to my game last night. He’s nice.” She couldn’t explain it. It was as wispy as her fear of Greg. “I thought— You always say to dance with other boys at dances, so I did. And, um, you aren’t there, and you’re always gone.” They were stupid reasons. They should make her want to be with him, not make her glad he stayed away so much, which actually made what she said a lie. “I want to date somebody else,” she finished weakly, feeling all the animosity in the room directed at her. “I like him.”

Mina’s father opened his mouth, but Greg held up a hand. “Shane, it’s all right,” he said quietly. “I know what this is. She wants to date a bad boy. Let her. My sisters went through it and everything turned out just fine. They just needed to get it out of their systems. It didn’t take long for them to figure out their best options.”

“But—” Mina’s father said weakly.

“No, Shane. If you forbid her, if you force her to marry me, she’ll just get her back up. What you want is for her to realize the error of her ways herself. Maybe she needs to learn the hard way.” Greg looked at her sharply. “Some girls,” he said low, with a slight sneer, “don’t learn anything the easy way. Some girls have to be taught the hard way.”

Mina’s mouth went dry.

“So, Mina,” he continued kindly. “When you’re finished slumming, your father knows where to find me. I’ll just spend this next little while building up our nest egg to buy you a nice house.”

Mina’s father glared at her after Greg had left. “You just don’t know a good thing when it steps in front of you, do you?”

“Yes,” Mina whispered at his back as he climbed the stairs, leaving her in the living room with her mother. “Yes, I do.”

• • •

Truly, Mina expected it to be awkward with long spots of silence, because that was how it was with Greg.

So she was pleasantly surprised when, at dinner, Mitch peppered her with questions consisting of what she liked to do and what she was interested in doing with her life. She had never talked about herself this much in her whole life, and she’d never really given much thought to what she wanted to do.

“No, I mean, I know you want to get married and have babies. All Mormon girls want that. If you didn’t want that, what would you want?”

“Um, I don’t know,” she said in a bewildered tone for only the thousandth time.

“Well, think about it a minute,” Mitch said encouragingly.

“Okay, but what do you want to do with your life?”

“I want to be a metallurgist.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s somebody who mixes metals and makes alloys.”

She blinked. “Oh. That’s kind of neat, I think.”

“Well? Did you think about it?”

“Think about what?”

“About what you want to do.”

“I want to learn how to drive,” she blurted, then clapped her hands over her mouth.

He stopped sipping at his malt to stare at her. “You don’t know how to drive?”

She shook her head, more embarrassed than she had ever been. “Please don’t laugh at me.”

“Um, I’m not,” he said slowly, still watching her. “Why don’t you know how to drive?”

“My father said I don’t need to know.”

“Why?”

“Um, he says since I’m going to be a wife and mother, I don’t need to.”

He continued to stare at her, not a trace of amusement on his face. “You’re kidding,” he said finally. Flatly.

She flinched. It sounded ridiculous, but she’d gotten used to it.

Then he grunted and went back to his shake. “I guess we’re not going to see a movie tonight.”

Heart sinking, she said, “Um, okay. Why?”

“I’m going to teach you how to drive.”

Her mouth dropped open.

“You have a curfew?”

“Eleven,” she whispered.

His mouth tightened. “Okay. Well, tomorrow at church— Can you skip Young Women’s and Sunday school? We’ll go out then too.”

“You really mean it?”

“Yes,” he said tightly. “Not teaching you how to drive is a control thing.”

“Even if I knew how to drive, I don’t have a car and can’t get one.”

He sighed. “There are ways around that, but whatever. The first thing you have to do is learn how to drive one.”

It was while Mitch Hollander was teaching her to drive in his old pickup truck in an abandoned parking lot that Mina fell in love.

Mitch didn’t sit with her in sacrament meeting nor did Greg, but as soon as it was safe, Mina ducked out to find Mitch.

It was the funnest two hours of her life.

Monday at practice, she cornered Coach Leonard and spilled everything. He listened without saying a word, his palms tucked under his armpits and his head bowed, rocking back on his heels now and then.

Then she stopped speaking.

“Mina,” he said finally, “there’s more to a man than his money. We all struggle in life. Money is important. I’m not going to lie. But I’d rather be poor than live with somebody who scared me half to death.” He paused. “For the rest of my life.”

He did. Greg did. Scare her half to death. She had to admit it, in those words. Because those words were the only things she could use to save herself from a fate worse than death. Nobody could do that but her: not her mother, not Mitch.

August ran into September into October, and every minute she spent with Mitch was like a lifetime of joy, and even her father’s increasingly black scowls couldn’t diminish her happiness until …

“When are you going to get over this phase?!” he roared when she came in just before her curfew one Saturday in early November.

“Daddy, I lo—like him. He makes me laugh.”

“That’s not going to feed you or put a roof over your head!”

Mitch could make it work.

“Look around you, Mina!” he roared again, more loudly this time, gesturing to the house that looked so very fine in comparison to Mitch’s family’s home, decorator perfect, spotless. “You will never have this from a kid like Mitch Hollander.” He spat Mitch’s name and Mina didn’t like that very much. The man who made her laugh, who had dug into her soul and pulled out all her hopes and dreams that she didn’t even know she had, who’d taught her to drive and let her borrow his truck when he was at the mill—

“He’s not a kid, Daddy,” she murmured. “He’s a man. He wants to be a metallurgist.”

“What for?!” her father screamed, his face turning red. “Steel is dying. What, is he going to go to China and work for a steel mill there? That kid hasn’t got any more brains than this rug we’re standing on.”

“Daddy, please—”

“Please what? Please stand around and watch while my daughter passes up the best prospect any girl ever had short of Prince Charles, and makes a fool of herself with a good-for-nothing steeler? You are going to marry Greg, and you’re going to do it the minute you graduate from high school.”

“No!” she whispered, horrified.

Terrified.

Of Greg.

Of never seeing Mitch again.

“Yes. Go to your room. You’re staying home from church tomorrow while I figure out how to fix this and you are not seeing that kid again.”

She obeyed because she had no car with which to leave.

Or she would’ve.

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