Mrs Hollander Stakes Her Claim

WINTER 1987
    Allentown, Pennsylvania

Well, her mother was right about one thing: The books and movies lied.

“Kinda awkward, huh?” Mitch said hesitantly as they lay in bed together Saturday night, naked. The room stank. They don’t tell you that in books and movies. He reached for her hand and twined her fingers in his.

She pulled the covers up over her body, and wondered if it would be impolite to get up and put her garments back on. “Yeah, it kinda hurt.”

“I’m sorry.”

And he was. His voice was full of regret and confusion.

“Maybe it’ll get better,” she said, not really believing that, but she loved this man and so it wouldn’t matter anyway. As long as she got her babies.

And him.

And a life together.

And not Greg.

They tried again a couple of times over the weekend. They figured out another couple of things, but it didn’t really get better. Not like the books and movies.

But whatever Mina didn’t care for about that, it disappeared the minute she stepped into their apartment late Sunday night.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Mitch said hesitantly. “My mom and sisters came in and kind of cleaned, and spread your stuff around. Maybe so you’d feel more at home because you didn’t get a chance to do it before we left.”

She was so touched she started to cry, and she turned into Mitch, knowing he thought she was crying in the bad way but unable to explain it right then, and he apologized. Kept apologizing.

No, she wouldn’t mind being isolated from her family with Mitch.

Monday morning she started at a new high school—an inner city school—with a new name and a ring on her finger. It was an odd feeling, but she kind of liked the looks of shock on the faces of her teachers when they said, “Miss Hollander,” and she said, “Actually, that’s Mrs. I’m married.”

Homeroom was so shocked, the girl in front of her turned around and said, “When are you due?”

Mina stared at her. “Due? I just got here. I don’t have anything due.”

“No, your baby.”

Mina felt herself blush dark red. “I’m not, uh, I’m not pregnant.”

“Sure you ain’t. Okay, when’d you have your baby?”

“I don’t have a baby.” Then it dawned on her. “I didn’t have to get married, if that’s what you’re asking. I wanted to. So I did.”

That was foreign to everyone, and no less Mina and Mitch and their parents. Paperwork was a nightmare, since Mitch, barely twenty-one, was in fact Mina’s legal guardian now and would be until she turned twenty-one.

“Ugh,” he said when he realized that.

They stayed up late at night at their kitchen table, going over their finances. Mina had never had to learn how to handle money. If she wanted something, she told her mother, and her mother made sure she got it, but she knew that wouldn’t work with Mitch.

He had no money.

Well, he had some, but it was collecting interest in a savings account.

“I have a friend,” he said, “my best friend, actually. He knows this stuff. Taught me what to do and how to do it. When we get enough, I’ll start investing it and we’ll get student loans.”

“But … that costs interest.”

“The interest we make on our investments is more than the interest we would pay on student loans. Watch. You watch. We’ll make money on our debt.”

They could have stayed with Mitch’s parents, but they would be in the same ward and stake as her father and Greg, and neither of them wanted that headache.

Mitch would sketch out his plans so he could show Mina, and she would get excited that she could help if she learned how to be frugal, how to cook, how to pinch pennies until they screamed. It was more fun than calculus, although it took a great deal more discipline than calculus did.

She had to learn how to use the public library and public transportation, what there was of it. She took Mitch to work when she got home from school, and picked him up from work the next morning because he wouldn’t let her go without a car. In the afternoons, she’d go shopping at thrift stores and grocery stores and figured out how to most effectively spend what little they had.

She never, ever wanted to give Mitch a reason to be sorry he’d married her, especially after the afternoon she’d met up with Inez Guerrero at the grocery store. She was decked out in clothes that Mina recognized as designer, and expensive. She would never forget the way Mitch had kissed Inez the first night she had become aware of Mitch as a person and not a name.

“Mina?” Inez said when Mina attempted to pass her with her head down. She wasn’t dressed anywhere near the way Inez was. Mitch had told her when she dropped him off at the mill that she looked hot, and she believed him. Then.

Not now.

“Mina Monroe?”

Mina gulped and looked up into Inez’s smiling face, but the smile didn’t seem right. It seemed … sad.

“Hi, Inez. I didn’t— Uh, I didn’t know you knew who I was.”

She laughed. “Oh, everybody always knows the bishop’s kid.”

Mina flinched.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I say something wrong?”

“Ah, well, I’m not really a bishop’s kid anymore. I, uh—” Got kicked out of the family. “I got married,” she said abruptly.

“You did?” she exclaimed, half puzzled, half delighted. “Well, that’s … good, right? Who’s the lucky guy?”

And jealousy hit her in the gut. Hard. She looked Inez square in the eye and said, “Mitch Hollander.”

Inez’s smile dropped and she drew back a bit. “Ah,” she said after a bit. “Um, well. Congratulations.”

“And I’ll fight you for him,” Mina blurted.

Her mouth tightened, but she shrugged and looked away. “I had my chance,” she said. “He asked me to marry him, but I said no. I wanted more than what he could give me.”

Mina felt like she’d been kicked in the head.

“You know, the night you saw us making out in the parking lot.” Her face flushed deep read, but Inez only laughed. “I’m sure he’s terrible in bed, though.”

“Why are you saying these things to me?” Mina whispered. “What have I done to you?”

“You took the only good thing I had left.” Inez flicked her gaze up and down Mina’s shabbily dressed body. “But clearly you aren’t living on daddy’s money, so I’m not sure what he sees in you. What, was he rescuing you? He has a terrible rescue complex.”

Now Mina got it.

Why Mitch wanted to get her away from Greg and her father.

Because she wanted to get Mitch away from this woman, but she would also have to get this woman out of his mind.

Rescue?

Maybe so, but Mitch needed as much rescuing as Mina did, and she was the only one who could do it.

“You listen to me good, girl. He loves me. He’s loved me since he was fourteen, and marrying a little girl still in high school, wearing rags and pretending to know how to be thrifty, isn’t going to change that.”

Mina gulped. Okay, maybe Mitch still had a thing for Inez, but if he did, he hid it well, and in the those moments when he was inside her, stayed still, and they were kissing and she could concentrate on how good he felt against her, in her, his tongue in her mouth—and not how much it hurt her whole body when he moved—she knew who he loved.

“Say what you want, Inez,” Mina said, with suddenly clarity of exactly who had the power here and how to wield it in this case, no matter how much against the grain it went, “but I’m the one he married. He sleeps with me.” Mina saw her flush underneath her creamy olive complexion and suddenly felt powerful. But her dignity would not allow her to take any more cheap shots. “Good evening, Inez.”

She walked away.

• • •

The letter should have hurt, but it didn’t.

It was from her father’s lawyer, apprising her of her place in the family, which was to say, she had no place. Her trust had been converted back to the family trust. She had been cut out of the will. She was not welcome to the family’s home, and if she showed up, she would be escorted off the property and, likely, arrested for trespassing.

It didn’t hurt because Mina had just graduated from high school with honors, having lettered in soccer. Coach Leonard and her teammates, her new ward family, and Mitch’s family had shown up to give her a big surprise party.

It didn’t hurt because Mina was too busy packing for their move to Missouri. Mitch was pulling double shifts at the mill, and they had a good nest egg to start there. It was cheaper there where they were going, and Mitch had a long, detailed letter from his clever friend telling him exactly what to do with their student loans and how to do it.

It didn’t hurt because her in-laws had welcomed her into the family genuinely if a bit gingerly, as if they expected her to be a rich witch spoiled brat. Mina might miss the finer things in life (desperately, at times), but she was a good girl and she knew how to act, especially when her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law were helping her pack.

It also didn’t hurt because Mina was pregnant.

Her life was just starting now, in a new place with her new husband and a baby on the way. They could use a little—okay, a lot—more money, but otherwise, it was all she’d ever dreamed of.

Mitch had made her dreams come true.

Now it was time to make his come true.

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