Released from Prison

    Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

She hated the thought of leaving Mitch, leaving him so young and healthy and vibrant, leaving him to find another woman once she was gone.

Hated it.

But she loved Mitch, and she hated more the fact that he’d given up ten years of his life to tend to her. In her more lucid moments, she could understand the depth of what he suffered because she did. She could feel sorrow and pain for that.

She had never meant to be such a burden on him, and so she would give him her blessing to find someone to match him.

He’d grown, intellectually and financially, and she had withered because of her stupid body. She would have liked to have gone to college, and she could have if her stupid body hadn’t given out. He’d left her behind some time about fifteen years ago, when her lifelong fatigue had caught up with her in the worst of moments.

He had grown in power both secularly and spiritually, and now he was a bishop and had been for years. It rankled her father, who had never gotten past bishop nor called again—and Mitch had been called twice!—and, once Mitch and Mina had moved back to Pennsylvania, with a plan and backing and powerful people behind them, her parents had moved out of their stake so as to avoid them.

When Mitch had been called as bishop, Mina imagined she could hear the howls of rage from miles away.

Greg Sitkaris didn’t move out, though. He stayed, flaunting his gorgeous, rich (healthy) wife in front of her, particularly on the Sundays she had to use her wheelchair.

Even as the mill made more money and the Hollanders’ bank account outstripped both her father’s and Greg’s put together—as Mitch had promised her—Mina was still seen as an object of pity and, under Greg’s nurturing hand, that turned to derision.

Poor Mitch, having to care for his wife.

Poor Mitch, deserving someone strong and smart.

Poor Mitch, saddled with an invalid and three kids to raise.

Poor Mitch, with the mill and the ward and his family . . .

Oh, yes, Mina had heard them all, when people thought she was out of it because her body was spasming and she couldn’t move. Her ears worked. Her brain worked for the most part, although that was slipping.

So while Mina hated the idea that Mitch would find someone else when she was gone, someone who could be the kind of wife Mina could never have been, even if her stupid body hadn’t broken down, she hoped and prayed it would be someone who could deal with Greg Sitkaris.

Mitch didn’t see the evil. He saw someone useful.

Mitch didn’t see the way Greg undermined him. He saw someone doing what was right, albeit with a chip on his shoulder.

Mitch didn’t see the Greg Mina always knew was there because he didn’t care about Greg enough to look.

To Mitch, it was enough that he had succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings and Greg didn’t do anything to catch Mitch’s notice, so much so that Mitch had called Greg to the Young Men’s presidency.

Mina tried to tell Mitch this was a bad idea, but her brain wasn’t working very well, and so her mouth didn’t work at all, and she had no way to communicate with him, and would wait for a lucid moment to do so.

But when she had that lucid moment, she only had enough strength to tell him she loved him and to instruct him to find someone else. She didn’t have the time or energy to tell him what she knew about Greg.

And then it was too late, and Mina was floating above her bed in a body that felt free and light and without pain, watching Mitch clutching her cold, stiff hand, bent over her bed, his face buried in her lap, and sobbing.

Oh, look, there was the light one was told to go toward, but she stayed where she was and watched Mitch, seeing his future unfold and knowing that whatever else Cassandra St. James had done in her life, she would love and take care of Mitch for the rest of his life—and in ways Mina never would have been able to.

She shouldn’t have worried, she mused as she left Mitch behind after one last brush of her hand against his hair.

Mitch was a good man. Faithful. And the Father and Mother loved him dearly.

As they loved Cassandra, who, right now, sat in her living room with a sad little Christmas tree (when she could have afforded better) and ate ice cream alone while watching It’s a Wonderful Life, silent tears coursing down her cheeks.

Mina thought she had never met anybody so sad and alone, surrounded by so much wealth.

It wasn’t what Cassie had chosen to do with her life that had her crying. It was what had been taken away from her when she was too young and weak to know what was happening to her.

“Ah, okay, I get it,” she murmured as Cassie’s life flashed before Mina’s eyes. Only where Mina had escaped, Cassie had not and Mina shuddered, thinking of the life she would have had with Greg had Mitch not whisked her away.

Cassie hadn’t had a Mitch to rescue her.

Mina sat down on the couch next to Cassie and said, “You can’t hear me. But you can feel me. You know me. You and I are alike, you see. Your dreams, my dreams. They were the same. They were cut short for both of us.” Cassie shifted a little toward Mina, who wrapped her arm around her. “I had Mitch to take me away from Greg, but now I’m leaving so Mitch can take you away from this loneliness. I know you’ll take care of my husband, Cassie. I know what you’ve done. I know why you did it. I know why it was necessary for you to have done it and how it will serve my husband in the end.

“I also know that you’ve never been in love, and that the first time you fall in love will be the last time you fall in love, and, like for me, Mitch Hollander will be the only man you have ever loved. And there is no better man in the world who ever lived who’s better than Mitch Hollander.”


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