When one is not used to cleaning, the endeavor is draining… emotionally and physically exhausting. Mina had barely finished sorting clothes, dusting surfaces, and vacuuming the floor before she collapsed onto her bed. She sighed deeply, the inhalation of a satisfied laborer. As her eyes closed, surrendering to sleep, the phone rang yet again.
Mina groaned, turning her head to see that it was all the way on the kitchen counter. That was farther than an arm’s length and so Mina dismissed it.
As Mina began to drift, the phone rang again. This was clearly the sanitation police sending her a friendly reminder that showering after cleaning is a necessary component to a civilized existence. She hated those fuckers.
Mina reluctantly relinquished her spot on the bed to answer her phone. This time she would at least screen the phone call, because if this was Ella she would take the phone right to bathroom and submerge it in toilet water. But when Mina saw the name, her heart dropped.
It was Luke.
At one in the morning.
Like two disparate soldiers in a Texas-style showdown, Mina’s pride and her heart waged war on each other. It was late and he was probably drunk and she picked up the phone one too many times before when it was late and he was drunk. She was sending the wrong message. If she didn’t pick up the phone then she wouldn’t get to hear his voice. How could she pick up? How could she not pick up?
"Good evening," Mina said, her heart drumming rapidly right at the base of her throat. Yes, it's possible.
"Heyyyyy!" Luke yelled into the phone.
For a moment, they allowed the silence between them to speak. She had not heard from him in two months. A phone call late at night similar to this one when he told her he drove by their house and had felt like she was in the car with him for the rest of the day. How was she? Did she still love him?
He was so much a part of her childhood that she couldn’t really remember the first time she had met him. Her concept of home was affixed to the image of him knocking on her door or the sound of him laughing with her when they were in the small playground in their apartment complex.
Although Brookview was the most meager colony of apartments in a town filled with wealth, it had everything—a pool, tennis court, playground, and even a fountain in the middle. Their parents had similar stories, they discovered. They were people who moved to a great neighborhood despite the high property taxes for the sake of their children’s education. Their parents hoped that they could associate with the right people and make it in life.
Luke would slip into Mina’s house. They would play Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers Nintendo games. Mina’s mother, home from work by around 5:30 p.m., would make them plate after plate of “green eggs and ham.” Mina’s mother complained that the store clerks at the grocery store would always give her strange looks when she purchased handfuls of green food coloring.
During the summers and early fall, Luke would take her by hand to a forgotten patch of earth covered by tall, slim trees. Though it was yards away from a busy street, it remained wild and untouched. It was a place where Mina and Luke could just be lost together. When they weren’t playacting or hiding from each other, they shared themselves. They made the forest their private universe.
When Mina and Luke agreed on a tree, Luke carved their names into the trunk with his father’s Swiss army knife. They would stuff keepsakes into holes of the tree: letters, pictures, books, and jewelry.
They found a small gap near the middle of the trunk that went clear through the other side. Though Luke was convinced that it was a bullet hole, Mina was pretty sure it was a fortuitous coincidence…or the concerted effort of a large family of ants. Regardless, Luke and Mina used it as a confessional: whispering secrets into one end while the other pressed an ear up at the other end to listen. They swore that whatever they told the tree would stay with the tree.
"How's my favorite East Coast nerd?" he said, slurring his words. He was drunk, she knew. Copious amounts of alcohol were apparently the sole inspiration for these phone calls. Four, exactly, since she had seen him last. They fueled him long enough to reawaken a longing that she would spend the next couple of months burying away—the memory that she was once loved madly and completely by a boy that she loved madly and completely in return. He was her childhood, the root of her, her home. His voice lifted her. The fact that he pined for her still was the deepest, most poetic form of human connection that she had left.
“Alive and kicking,” Mina returned, “And to what do I owe this pleasure?”
A low, throaty laugh erupted on the receiver.
“I’ve been drinking,” he said, as if it wasn’t obvious.
“And not driving, right?” Mina asked.
“No, no. Walking. I’m walking around. It’s warm tonight and there’s this little breeze I feel once in a while. It’s magic, it feels like you,” he said, his rolling huskiness like a palm sliding up her cheek.
Mina lay back on the bed and closed her eyes. Life can be uninspiring. Underwhelming. When Luke said these things to Mina it was as if he were reading from a private note that she had hid in the trunk of that tree that bore their names and all their other secrets. It was everything.
“You’re getting married,” she said.
And a well-placed silence entrapped them in some sort of paralytic camaraderie. It lasted for about five heavy seconds.
“Mina,” he murmured.
“You’re getting married,” she repeated, the tears streaming down her cheeks now. She looked in the mirror at her red, puffy eyes. Christ.
“Yes…” he said, his voice breaking.
“Should I congratulate you?” Mina demanded, her voice harsher than she intended.
“If you want to.”
“Is that why you called? To tell me?”
“Why are you still calling me? What do you want from me?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes I just need you,” he confessed.
“Luke,” she murmured, her voice heavy with her own need.
His voice carried a helplessness that gave Mina the wings she needed. Maybe she never showed him how much she loved him. What she was willing to do for him. And the distance…well, it made it easier for him to ignore that he was still in love with her.
“I should go. I’m sorry if I woke you. Did I wake you?”
In that moment, Mina made her decision. She wasn’t going to let him marry Ella Hutchinson because he didn’t love her and they weren’t supposed to be together. Luke was supposed to be with Mina and it was about time that she went after what was hers.
“Yes, you woke me up,” she said simply. “Good night, Luke,” she said softly knowing that she would see him soon.
Mina hung up the phone and turned over to the stack of cash that Ben had given her, now sitting like the devil’s bargain in the center of her antique mahogany desk.
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