She turned at the sound of that beloved voice and saw Mitch running toward the soccer field at practice Monday afternoon. It was the last place she would have expected him, as he would have had to take time off from the mill to be here at this time of day.
Choking, she ran to him and launched herself in his arms, then buried her face in his shoulder and cried.
“Talk to me.”
“I ca—can’t—” She hiccuped. “I have to practice.”
“No you don’t,” Coach Leonard said from behind her. “Mina, take him to my office.”
“Thanks, Kyle,” Mitch said over Mina’s head.
Once they were in Coach’s office, Mitch lifted Mina and set her on the edge of the desk, then went and rummaged for tissues to clean her face. He found bandages, but she figured it was applicable, since her heart was broken.
He got her a drink of water and hitched himself up on the desk beside her. “So … what happened? You weren’t at church yesterday and your dad wanted an interview with me, but I told him to get lost.”
“You said that?” she whispered in horrified awe.
“Yeah, I said that,” he said flatly. “My mission president was like him. I sat there and took whatever he had to dish out, but my companion didn’t. I regret what I didn’t do that I should’ve done, and I’m never going to let somebody walk all over me like that ever again.”
It was like dawn had broken, and Mina poured out her heart and soul.
It took a while.
“Where’s my daughter? I know that no-good kid’s here!” Mina’s father’s voice echoed off the walls of the school halls.
“Quick, hide,” she whispered.
“I am not hiding from him, Mina,” Mitch said. “That’s not who I am.”
“For my sake, Mitch. You don’t know what’ll happen to me at home.”
He struggled, she knew, but because he knew she was telling the truth, he hid.
She propped her ankle up on her knee and busied herself wrapping it with the bandages she’d thoroughly soaked with her tears.
Her father burst in and glanced around, looking for all the world like a wildman. “Where is he?” he roared.
“That no-good Hollander kid.”
“Uh … Daddy, it’s six o’clock. He’d be at the mill.” She’d never lied to her father before, but it rolled off her tongue so easily it almost frightened her.
He stopped short, as if he’d been sucker punched. “What happened to your ankle?”
“I twisted it. I’m wrapping it.”
“I can see that,” he snapped. “I’m not an idiot. Hm. Well. Are you going to be able to play Wednesday?”
“Um, yes, I think so. But, um, what about my birthday?”
“What about it? You have a game. You play. I have to work on my birthday.”
“Oh,” she whispered, unaccountably hurt. She’d hoped for a nice surprise birthday party for her eighteenth birthday, when she would get to vote.
He turned and strode out of the room. “Find a crutch if you need one and get in the car. I’m hungry and I want to get home.”
She waited until she had heard the last of his footsteps echoing.
“Mina,” Mitch said once he’d un-hidden. “I have an idea. You aren’t going to like it, but will you at least think about it?”
She gulped. “Um, okay.”
“You have an out-of-town game the first week of December in Atlantic City, right?”
“You and I could get married.”
Her mouth dropped open.
“I love you, Mina,” he said as if he said it every day in passing, and not for the first time ever, because he was rushed and listening for her father’s footsteps. “I promise, somehow, I will give you everything you ever wanted in life. So, think about it.”
“I wanted to get married in the temple,” she wailed.
“Your father would never allow it,” he replied. “We can get sealed in a year, I promise, but he’s the bishop, and he’ll never sign off on your temple recommend. After we’re married, we’ll find an apartment in another ward and do it there.”
“No, wait,” she said. “I have a temple recommend.”
His brow wrinkled. “How?”
“It was for whenever I was going to get married to Greg.” She leaned forward. “Mitch, I can go. I don’t need his permission as long as I have the recommend and I’m eighteen.”
His eyes widened.
“So all we’d really have to do is make an appointment at the Washington, DC temple. We could do it.”
He stood stunned. “What about a wedding dress?”
“I have to go,” she whispered, near tears.
And then he kissed her for the first time, the same mouth that had kissed Inez so lustily, and she felt something low in the pit of her belly when his tongue slid along hers.
“I’ll get it arranged,” Mitch whispered once he’d broken the kiss and leaned his forehead against hers, breathing hard, just like she was. “I’ll get the first Saturday morning appointment I can get, okay? We’ll figure out the rest once I get that, okay?”
“I love you, Mina.”
“I love you, too, Mitch.”
• • •
It didn’t matter that her parents weren’t there when Mina became Mrs. Mitchell Grant Hollander. It only mattered that she had a wonderful man as her husband, that she’d married him in the temple, and that she had a lovely dress, courtesy of her new mother-in-law.
Her new in-laws weren’t exactly pleased with the timing, as Mina was still in high school, but that was their only gripe and they understood the necessity.
In the month since Mitch had come up with this plan, he had found a ratty little apartment into which Mina quietly moved her things via Coach Leonard, who was only too happy to assist them in this scheme, even though it meant he would lose his star player.
For the longest time, her parents didn’t notice her bedroom becoming more and more barren until it looked designer perfect, without all the touches she had put on it throughout the years. She shrugged when her father remarked on it. “Just putting away the little girl things.”
That pleased her father even more since she appeared to have settled down about “the Mitch issue.”
But not a speck of her treasures remained when her father dropped her off at school Thursday morning. “Game tonight, Mina. Ramp it up. You’ve been lagging.”
“Yes, Daddy,” she said meekly and alit, throwing her backpack, filled to bursting with two changes of clothes and all her most basic toiletries, over her shoulder.
She watched as he drove off, wondering at how her life was going to change in about—
Mitch’s truck had pulled in front of her and he had hopped out to open her door for her.
She grinned and cast herself in his arms, kissing his face, joy flooding her soul.
She was free!
She nodded, her grin irrepressible.
“We have to book it, Meen,” he said as he helped her in and strode around the front. “We have to get our license, and then … sightseeing.”
They talked and laughed and made plans all the way to Washington, DC. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t talked about children, but they hadn’t spoken of them with a view to getting married—or how quickly—building a family together. From scratch. Just the two of them against the world.
“I’m sorry you have to transfer high schools.”
“Why can’t I just get my GED?”
He looked at her sharply. “Do you really want to not graduate from high school after all the work you’ve put into it?”
Well, no, she didn’t. At all. It was what her father had suggested in order to get her and Greg married off faster, but her wish for a high school diploma had prevailed.
“We’re leaving after you graduate.”
She started, and looked at him wide-eyed. “Leaving? To where?”
“Missouri. I got into Missouri University S&T.”
“Um, isn’t that something you’re supposed to talk about with me?”
“Normally, yes,” he said as he navigated traffic with the lead foot she’d gotten used to. “In this case, I want to get you away from your dad, so it’s kind of not an option. Besides, it’s the best school in the country and I have a full scholarship and I just got the letter last night.”
“So … you’re … taking me from my family?”
He looked at her sharply. “Yes. Mina, would you rather be taken by me or by Greg? We both seem like really nice guys on the surface, right? What is it about me that you like more than Greg? He has money. I don’t. He has power. I don’t. He has your father’s approval. I don’t. He finished out his mission. I didn’t. By all rights, you should like him more than you like me, but here you are with me, on your way to DC to marry me. So maybe you should ask yourself if being away from your family is a bad thing in this instance, or even if that’s maybe what you really want and are scared.”
Her nostrils flared as she looked at him, those shaggy blond curls, that rough face that could carve into laugh lines, even as young as he was. His body was broad, much bigger than it had been when she had first seen him, but now she knew it was because he’d been starved before he’d gotten home and went into the hospital. His big hands were rough and calloused, with dirt and grease tattooed into his fingerprints.
Greg had brought her dread and fear.
Mitch brought her joy and light.
“Okay,” she said, and promptly fell asleep, trusting Mitch to get them there safely.